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Area Administered by Turkish Cypriots

Read A Section: The Area Administered By Turkish Cypriots

Republic of Cyprus

Since 1974 the southern part of Cyprus has been under the control of the government of the Republic of Cyprus.  The northern part of Cyprus, administered by Turkish Cypriots, proclaimed itself the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” in 1983.  The United States does not recognize the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus,” nor does any country other than Turkey.  A substantial number of Turkish troops remain on the island.  A buffer zone, or “Green Line,” patrolled by the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus, separates the two sides.  This report is divided into two parts:  the Republic of Cyprus, and the area administered by Turkish Cypriots.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The northern part of Cyprus has been administered by Turkish Cypriots since 1974 and proclaimed itself the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” in 1983. The United States does not recognize the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus,” nor does any country other than Turkey. In 2020 Ersin Tatar was elected “president” in free and fair elections. In 2018 voters elected 50 “members of parliament” in free and fair elections. The “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” “constitution” is the basis for the “laws” that govern the area administered by Turkish Cypriot authorities.

Police are responsible for enforcement of the “law.” The “chief of police” reports to a “general,” who is nominally under the supervision of the “prime ministry,” which holds the security portfolio. Police and Turkish Cypriot security forces are ultimately under the operational command of the Turkish armed forces, as provided by the “constitution,” which entrusts responsibility for public security and defense to Turkey. Authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: serious restrictions on freedom of expression and the press including criminal libel laws; refoulement of asylum seekers; serious acts of corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women; trafficking in persons; and crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting members of national minorities.

Authorities took steps to investigate officials following allegations of human rights abuses. There was evidence, however, of impunity.

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

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

There were no reports the “government” or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. The police force and “military court” are responsible for investigating and pursuing prosecutions for alleged arbitrary or unlawful killings.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The “law” prohibits such practices, but there were reports during the year that police abused detainees. The “law” does not refer explicitly to torture but does prohibit police mistreatment of detainees under the section of the “criminal code” that deals with assault, violence, and battery.

The “attorney general’s office” reported they received three complaints concerning police battery and use of force during the year and had launched investigations into all three cases.

The “attorney general’s office” reported investigating two complaints concerning police battery and use of force in 2019. One of the cases involved alleged police brutality. Based on hospital documents and nurse testimony, the “attorney general’s office” determined that the complainant’s injuries resulted from a traffic accident that occurred three days prior to the alleged abuse. The complainant was charged with providing false statements to the police. The “attorney general’s office” was considering whether any further action was needed at year’s end.

The “attorney general’s office” completed a 2018 investigation against a police officer. Due to the pandemic, the trial had not yet started at year’s end.

In August 2019 local press published a video showing a Turkish Cypriot police officer kicking a detained tourist in the presence of other officers at the Ercan (Tymbou) airport. According to local press, the detainee was drunk and yelled at police for getting his cell phone wet during the security screening. Police suspended the officer from duty and completed the investigation. A “court” hearing was scheduled to take place in October.

In July a local newspaper interviewed two female international students who reported that while they were waiting for a cab, they were forced into a vehicle by four undercover police officers, beaten in the vehicle and police station, and then released 24 hours later without any explanation. The students reported that the police officers hit their heads on the concrete at the station. The women reported the incident to the press and filed a complaint at a police station. Press published photos of their bruised faces. The “attorney general’s office” reported appointing a “prosecutor” and launching an investigation.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions did not meet international standards in a number of areas, in particular for sanitary conditions, medical care, heating, and access to food.

Physical Conditions: The “Central Prison,” the only prison in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots, is in the northern part of Nicosia and has a stated capacity of 311 inmates. According to authorities, additional rooms were converted into cells and a bunkbed system was installed to increase the capacity to 568. As of September it reportedly held 587 prisoners and pretrial detainees. Authorities reported that at its peak during the year, the total number of prisoners and pretrial detainees at the “Central Prison” reached 635. As of October there were no juveniles at the “Central Prison.”

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), media, and the “ombudsman” reported overcrowding remained a problem. An NGO reported receiving complaints about overcrowding and police mistreatment of detainees in police detention centers. Most of the complaints alleged inhuman detention conditions and that police officers verbally abused the detainees. The prison did not separate adults and juveniles, and there were no detention or correction centers for children. Due to lack of space, pretrial detainees and prisoners occupied the same cells. NGOs reported conditions were better in the women’s section of the prison.

In March media outlets reported the “Central Prison” was operating above capacity and inmates were sharing mattresses placed on the ground and in the corridors. In the same month, inmates began a hunger strike citing unhealthy conditions due to the COVID-19 pandemic and demanding temporary release. Their families gathered outside the prison urging the “government” to improve prison conditions. When tensions rose after protesters started a fire, 10 persons were detained and then released.

In March a local newspaper reported that approximately 93 pretrial inmates were released due to a change in the “parole board regulations.” They had been unable to post bail and were being held pending trial but were offered lower bail amounts as part of their release. In April the “ministry of interior” claimed that the release of inmates from the “Central Prison” helped minimize the risk of COVID-19 but offered no specifics on those released.

NGOs reported that lack of security cameras at detention centers and in parts of the “Central Prison” allowed police officers and prison guards to abuse detainees with impunity. An NGO reported there were two deaths at the “Central Prison” that were not investigated and alleged that there were signs of drug overdose.

In June a local newspaper reported that the “Central Prison” had admitted a new convict without administering a COVID-19 test, in violation of standard practice, and therefore had risked the health of approximately 500 inmates.

NGOs reported that detainees frequently received no food while held, sometimes for periods longer than a day. They instead relied on relatives to bring them food.

NGOs reported sanitation remained a significant problem in the “Central Prison” and that inadequate access to hot water failed to meet inmates’ hygiene needs. Authorities said hygiene supplies were insufficient due to an increasing number of inmates. An NGO also reported the police detention facilities lack hygiene conditions, direct sunlight, proper ventilation, and access to water.

NGOs claimed that prison health care was inadequate, lacking sufficient medical supplies and a full-time doctor. NGOs reported testing for contagious diseases at the “Central Prison” was haphazard and inconsistent. In June the Prison Guards’ Association chair stated that overcrowding in prison cells created a breeding ground for contagious diseases. Authorities reported all inmates were subject to hospital health checks before entering the “Central Prison.” Authorities said a doctor visited the prison twice a week and was on call for emergencies. A dentist visited the prison once per week, a dietician visited twice per week, and there were two full-time psychologists at the prison, according to authorities.

An NGO reported the detention center at Ercan (Tymbou) airport lacked proper ventilation and access to natural light. The NGO said hygiene was a concern because there is only one bathroom inside each detention room and no regular cleaning.

Administration: The “ministry of interior” reported receiving only nonadministrative personal complaints, which the “Central Prison” administration took into consideration. Authorities stated facilities were available for Muslim prisoners and detainees to conduct their religious observance and that an imam visited the “Central Prison” on the religious days of Bayram.

Independent Monitoring: Authorities generally permitted prison monitoring and reported that foreign missions visited the “Central Prison” during the year. An NGO reported the physical conditions at the “Central Prison” could not be observed in detail, as their staff were not allowed to visit the cells. They were only allowed to conduct detainee interviews in the visitor waiting room or areas designated for private conversation.

Improvements: Authorities reported the “ministry of health” provided disinfectant and masks to the “Central Prison” to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Authorities also said they attempted to keep pretrial detainees and convicts separated as much as possible.

The “Central Prison” was closed to visitors during March and April due to COVID-19 concerns. Beginning in May, authorities enabled inmates to visit virtually with family and friends through online video conferencing.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The “law” prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge his or her arrest or detention in court. Authorities generally observed these requirements.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

“Judicial warrants” are required for arrests. According to the “law,” police must bring a detained person before a “judge” within 24 hours of arrest. Police can then keep the detainee in custody for up to three months, but a “judge” must review the detention after the third day and every eight days thereafter. Authorities generally respected this right and usually informed detainees promptly of charges against them, although they often held individuals believed to have committed a violent offense for longer periods without charge.

Bail may be granted by the “courts” and was routinely used. “Courts” confiscated detainees’ passports pending trial. An NGO reported that translators were not available for non-Turkish speakers, forcing defense attorneys or NGOs to provide one. According to one lawyer, during the detention review process officials pressured detainees to sign a confession in order to be released on bail. The lawyer cited situations in which police used the threat of prolonged detention to induce detainees to plead guilty.

According to the “constitution,” indicted detainees and prisoners have the right of access to legal representation. Authorities usually allowed detainees prompt access to family members and a lawyer of their choice, but NGOs reported there were cases in which authorities prevented detainees from seeing a lawyer. Authorities provided lawyers to the indigent only in cases involving violent offenses. Police sometimes did not observe legal protections, particularly at the time of arrest. Suspects who demanded the presence of a lawyer were sometimes physically intimidated or threatened with stiffer charges.

A lawyer said a “Central Prison” “regulation” prohibits sentenced individuals in solitary confinement from meeting with a lawyer without the “prison director’s” permission. The “prison director” may deny the visit without providing justification.

In January a lawyer announced two university student clients were beaten by police and forced to sign a statement. The students allegedly had cannabis in their dormitories. During the hearing the lawyer testified that police beat his clients with a wooden mop handle, resulting in bruises on their faces and legs. The lawyer also claimed his clients were not provided appropriate medical treatment.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The “law” provides for an independent judiciary, and authorities generally respected judicial independence and impartiality.

Most criminal and civil cases begin in “district courts”, from which appeals are made to the “supreme court.” Civilian “courts” have jurisdiction in cases where civilians face charges of violating military restrictions, such as filming or photographing military zones.

Trial Procedures

The “law” provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and independent judicial authorities generally enforced this right.

Defendants enjoy the right to a presumption of innocence. NGO representatives and human rights lawyers said defendants generally enjoyed the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them. The “constitution” provides for fair, timely, and public trials, the defendant’s right to be present at those trials, and the defendant’s right to consult with an attorney in a timely manner (or, in cases of violent offenses, to have one provided at public expense if unable to pay). Criminal defendants enjoy the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense.

There was insufficient free interpretation for some languages and insufficient professional translation in “courts.” Lawyers and NGOs claimed authorities haphazardly recruited nonprofessional translators who did not translate everything said during proceedings. Inadequate translation delayed hearings and prolonged defendants’ detentions.

Defendants may question prosecution witnesses and present evidence and witnesses on their behalf. They cannot be compelled to testify or confess guilt and have a right to appeal.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were reports of detention and deportation to Turkey of persons with alleged ties to Fethullah Gulen and his movement. The Turkish government holds Gulen responsible for the 2016 coup attempt in Turkey and designated his network as the “Fethullah Gulen Terrorist Organization” (“FETO”). In July the Turkish “ambassador” said the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” (“TRNC”) was the first “foreign country” to define FETO as a terror organization and that cooperation between Turkish and “TRNC” authorities would continue toward identifying additional members of Gulen’s network.

In June police arrested Caner Sahmaran, a fellow police officer on charges of being affiliated with the Gulen movement. Police confiscated approximately $35,000 in cash, mobile telephones, and other electronics during the arrest.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Individuals or organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations through domestic “courts.” After exhausting local remedies, individuals and organizations may appeal adverse decisions that involve human rights to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

Property Restitution

Greek Cypriots continued to pursue property suits in the ECHR against the Turkish government for the loss of property in the area administered by Turkish Cypriot authorities since 1974.

A property commission handles claims by Greek Cypriots. As of October the commission has paid more than 312 million British pounds ($414 million) in compensation to applicants.

For information regarding Holocaust-era property restitution and related issues, please see the Department of State’s Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act report to Congress, released publicly on July 29, 2020, at https://www.state.gov/reports/just-act-report-to-congress/.

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

The “law” prohibits such actions. There were reports police subjected Greek Cypriots and Maronites living in the area administered by Turkish Cypriot authorities to surveillance. A Maronite representative asserted that during the year the Turkish armed forces occupied 18 houses in the Maronite village of Karpasia.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

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

Freedom of Speech: It is a criminal offense to insult the “government,” the Turkish government, or “government” officials. This often led journalists and others to self-censor. According to a journalist association, authorities advised some journalists not to criticize the Turkish government. A journalist association reported that due to perceived pressure and potential reaction from Turkey, some journalists did not express their thoughts and preferred to remain silent.

In April then “prime minister” Ersin Tatar filed a criminal complaint with police after a well-known visual arts and communications lecturer, Senih Cavusoglu, posted on social media a photoshopped image of Tatar portraying him in a straitjacket with the caption, “boss went mad.” Police called Cavusoglu in for interrogation, but no criminal charges had been filed at year’s end.

In June former “president” Mustafa Akinci filed a complaint with the “attorney general’s office” to block access to a video posted online showing a man stuck at Istanbul airport. The person filming the video can be seen making derogatory comments towards Akinci. The “presidency” confirmed that “the government” banned access to the video in June for allegedly threatening liberal and democratic thought as well as to a second video that allegedly proposed to kill Akinci by stating, “There’s an easy way; send two people and make it seem like Akinci had an accident.” In July the “presidency” announced Akinci withdrew his complaint on the airport video after the person posting it allegedly apologized and erased the video on social media.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: While authorities usually respected press and media freedom, at times they obstructed journalists in their reporting.

In October the Turkish Cypriot Journalists Association criticized then “prime minister” Ersin Tatar for claiming that a local online news website Ozgur Gazete was allegedly “collaborating with foreign intelligence organizations to affect elections.” The association said Tatar’s statement threatened freedom of the press. Basin-Sen, another journalist union, said Tatar targeted journalists in an attempt to prevent reporting of such stories.

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

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

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists cannot interview or report on persons under control of the armed forces.

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

Reporters without Borders (RSF) reported that Kibris, the largest Turkish Cypriot daily, censored a pre-election poll favoring the incumbent, who was at odds with the president of Turkey, in favor of his challenger who was reportedly closely aligned with the Turkish president. RSF also reported that the owner of the newspaper allegedly met with the Turkish president prior to the poll’s publication.

An activist reported that in May a local Turkish Cypriot television channel DIYALOG TV was removed from Turkey’s TURKSAT satellite network, allegedly due to criticism aired on the channel that targeted Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Turkish Cypriot television channels can only broadcast through TURKSAT. DIYALOG TV continued to broadcast only on social media.

Libel/Slander Laws: The “law” criminalizes libel and blasphemy, although in practice “courts” often declined to convict defendants on those charges, citing free speech precedents.

In July a cybercrime “law” was passed in “parliament” and approved by the “presidency.” According to the “law” any attacks (physical or verbal) made with deliberate intent to harm individuals, institutions, or organizations over the internet is considered a crime. Penalties range from six to 200 times the minimum monthly wage and from one to 10 years imprisonment.

Internet Freedom

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

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were some “government” restrictions on cultural events. There were no reports of blocked visits during the year, although for much of the year foreign tourists were not permitted to enter.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The “government” sometimes limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

According to local press reports, in July police prevented TC Secondary Education Teacher’s Union (KTOEOS) members from entering and conducting a sit-in protest inside the “public service commission’s” building. KTOEOS members continued their demonstration outside the building and protested the “commission” for hiring temporary teachers and delaying appointment exams for permanent teachers until after elections.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The “law” provides for the right of peaceful assembly, and the government usually respected this right, although some restrictions were reported. A labor union reported “police” interfered in demonstrations and at times used force against peaceful demonstrators.

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

Freedom of Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

The “law” provides for freedom of movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. Authorities generally respected these rights.

In-country Movement: Authorities required individuals to show identification when crossing the “Green Line.” Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some border crossings on the island were closed during the year, at times causing altercations with authorities (see section 2.d. of the Republic of Cyprus report).

In March approximately 200 Turkish Cypriot demonstrators in the north gathered at Ledra Street checkpoint to protest the Greek Cypriot decision to close four checkpoint crossings as measures against COVID-19. Press reported Greek Cypriot police used pepper spray and clubs on peaceful Turkish Cypriot demonstrators calling for the opening of the closed checkpoint. Several Turkish Cypriot demonstrators and journalists were taken to hospital. Several were treated in ambulances onsite for pepper spray inhalation.

UNFICYP officials requested that Turkish Cypriots not go to the government checkpoint for their own safety and asked families and children to leave the demonstration site immediately. The Turkish Cypriot Foreign Press Association and Journalists Association condemned the use of pepper spray on demonstrators and claimed government police violated press freedom. Former “president” Akinci condemned the use of pepper spray by Greek Cypriot police and added that it was a disproportionate use of force.

The Turkish Cypriot Bar Association stated, “Tear gas and pepper spray are life threatening chemical weapons whose use is even prohibited in international warfare under both the 1925 Geneva Protocol and the Chemical Weapons Convention, and can only be used during domestic violent riots by the police.”

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

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

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

f. Protection of Refugees

Turkish Cypriot authorities at times cooperated with Office of the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) NGO implementing partner, the Refugee Rights Association, and other humanitarian organizations with regard to asylum seekers and refugees. UNHCR reported cooperation was more frequent during the first half of the year, when authorities allowed Refugee Rights Association lawyers to interview Syrian asylum seekers seeking access to international protection in Cyprus. Following the introduction of a “visa” requirement for Syrian nationals in June, cooperation between Turkish Cypriot authorities and UNHCR was less frequent. With the involvement of these organizations, several asylum seekers gained access to asylum procedures in Turkey or in the government-controlled area.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: UNHCR reported asylum seekers generally were treated as illegal migrants because an official framework for asylum does not exist in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots. Most were either denied entry or deported, irrespective of the risk of refoulement.

In May some 100 Syrian asylum seekers who had been housed in a building in Iskele were deported to Turkey. The asylum seekers had arrived in the north on March 21 and were a part of a group of 175 asylum seekers who were denied entry by Republic of Cyprus officials. The Refugee Rights Association (RRA) reported sending their staff to monitor the housing in Iskele. Each family of asylum seekers were provided separate apartments. The RRA also reported that a nurse was on duty 24 hours a day and food and water was provided by the Iskele “municipality.” Each apartment had its own balcony, proper bedding, and a kitchen. Some apartments were crowded and leaving them was forbidden. Doors were locked at all times other than for food delivery.

On July 9, a boat carrying 30 Syrian asylum seekers who landed near Morphou were shot at by “TRNC” police, allegedly for not stopping despite warnings and for trying to flee. The boat’s captain and two of the asylum seekers were shot and injured by police after attempting to flee. The “president” requested a police investigation of the incident which had not yet concluded at year’s end. Several refugee rights groups, including the Turkish NGO Refugee Rights Center, issued a statement criticizing police for shooting at asylum seekers seeking safety.

Refoulement: Authorities did not provide protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom could be threatened. According to NGOs “authorities” at ports often denied entry to asylum seekers and extradited a number of persons designated by the Turkish government as alleged affiliates of Gulen. Some observers considered these deportations refoulement, as the individuals were denied the opportunity to seek refuge in the territory of Cyprus and were at substantial risk of mistreatment in Turkey or forcible return to Syria by Turkish authorities (also see section 2.f., Protection of Refugees in the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Turkey).

Access to Asylum: The “law” does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and authorities have not established a system for providing protection to refugees. An NGO reported approximately 100 persons of concern to UNHCR were able to stay in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots with UNHCR protection papers.

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

Freedom of Movement: Asylum seekers in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots could not travel abroad because they would be unable to return due to their lack of “legal” status.

Employment: According to immigration “law,” employers need official permission from the “department of labor” to register foreign workers. Persons holding UNHCR protection papers receive the same access to the labor market as third country nationals, although NGOs reported “authorities” refused to issue work permits to some individuals with UNHCR protection papers. An NGO reported that many refugees were unemployed during the COVID-19 mitigation lockdown and suffered economically. The NGO also reported asylum seekers were prohibited from receiving “state” social welfare benefits. UNHCR reported access to employment improved during the year after authorities lifted requirements that job seekers post a guarantee and hold a valid passport.

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Turkish Cypriots choose a leader and a representative body at least every five years. In 2018 Turkish Cypriots held “parliamentary elections” that observers considered free and fair. In October Turkish Cypriots elected Ersin Tatar as “president” in elections that were also considered free and fair.

Political Parties and Political Participation: While membership in the dominant party did not confer formal advantages, there were widespread allegations of political cronyism and nepotism.

In August the Turkish Cypriot Public Sector Employee’s Union (KTAMS) announced in a press release that over 290 persons were employed by the National Unity Party-HP “government” unjustly and unfairly, and that the move was an “election investment” right before the “presidential” elections. Unions said the “government’s” approach was partisan.

In September Rebirth Party “member of parliament” Bertan Zaroglu, who had tested positive for COVID-19, released a recording complaining about the hygiene of the hospital room that he was placed in. Local press reported that Zaroglu allegedly called the National Unity Party “minister of health,” yelled at him, and then the “ministry” placed him at a hotel because of his status as a “member of parliament.” Press outlets also reported that Zaroglu left the hospital room and drove himself to the hotel, risking spreading the virus to others. He was subsequently transferred to Turkey for further treatment.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No “laws” limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Women remained underrepresented in senior political positions. Only nine of the 50 “members of parliament” were women.

Turkish Cypriot authorities did not permit Greek Cypriots and Maronites residing in the north to participate in elections they administered. Greek Cypriots and Maronites residing in the north were eligible to vote in elections in the government-controlled area but had to travel there to do so. Greek Cypriot and Maronite communities in the area administered by Turkish Cypriot authorities directly elected municipal officials, but Turkish Cypriot authorities did not recognize them. There was no minority representation in the 50-seat “parliament” or in the “cabinet.”

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The “law” provides criminal penalties for corruption by “officials.” Authorities did not implement the “law” effectively, and “officials” sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of “government” corruption during the year. Observers generally perceived corruption, cronyism, and lack of transparency to be serious problems in the legislative and executive branches.

Corruption: In 2018 National Unity Party “member of parliament” Aytac Caluda was investigated for claims of misconduct/malpractice, allegedly losing 283 million Turkish lira ($37 million) in “state” funds for signing foreign worker permits without necessary prepermissions and waiving the fee. Caluda’s “parliamentary” immunity was lifted in 2018 for the investigation. In March the “high court” announced that Caluda could not be prosecuted because the alleged crimes did not fall under “high court” jurisdiction. The “attorney general’s office” reported that another court hearing was scheduled for December.

In July a civil servant working as a cashier at the “tax department” was arrested for embezzling one million Turkish lira ($130,000) in driver’s license fees since 2016. The “court” ordered an asset freeze for the cashier. According to a police report, other senior officials did not report the missing funds and will also be investigated. The case was under investigation at year’s end.

Financial Disclosure: The “law” requires persons who hold elective office, appointees of the “council of ministers,” “judges” and “prosecutors,” the “ombudsman,” the chair of the “attorney general’s office,” and members of the “attorney general’s office” to declare their wealth and assets. Every five years employees subject to this “law” must declare any movable and immovable property, money, equity shares, stocks, and jewelry worth five times their monthly salary as well as receivables and debts that belong to them, their spouses, and all children in their custody. The disclosure is not publicly available. Once a declaration is overdue, the employee receives a written warning to make a disclosure within 30 days. If an employee fails to do so, authorities file a complaint with the “attorney general’s office.” Penalties for noncompliance include a fine of up to 5,000 Turkish lira ($650), three months’ imprisonment, or both. The penalties for violating confidentiality of the disclosures include a fine of up to 10,000 Turkish lira ($1,300), 12 months’ imprisonment, or both.

In January 2019 local press reported that former National Unity Party leader and “prime minister” Huseyin Ozgurgun inaccurately declared his assets, according to an “attorney general” investigation. Although police charged Ozgurgun with failing to accurately declare wealth and for abuse of public office for private gain and the “parliament” voted to remove Ozgurgun’s immunity, no trial has yet been held as Ozgurgun has been living in Turkey since January. Ozgurgun announced that he resigned from his position as “member of parliament.” In October the “parliament” announced an asset freeze for all of Ozgurgun and his spouse’s assets in the “TRNC.”

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

A limited number of domestic human rights organizations operated in the area administered by Turkish Cypriot authorities. Authorities were rarely cooperative or responsive to their views and requests. NGOs promoted awareness of domestic violence; women’s rights; rights of asylum seekers, refugees, and immigrants; trafficking in persons; police abuse; and the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex (LGBTI) persons. These groups had little effect on “legislation” to improve the protection of human rights. Local NGOs liaised with the United Nations, UNHCR, and international NGOs on human rights issues. Government Human Rights Bodies: There is an “ombudsman,” whose portfolio includes human rights issues. The “ombudsman” investigates and reports on institutions that exercise administrative and executive powers and ensures that “legislation” and “court” decisions are properly implemented. The “ombudsman” can initiate investigations in response to media reports, complaints from individuals and organizations, or on its own initiative. The “ombudsman” was not always effective because it could not enforce its recommendations.

Government Human Rights Bodies: There is an “ombudsman,” whose portfolio includes human rights issues. The “ombudsman” investigates and reports on institutions that exercise administrative and executive powers and ensures that “legislation” and “court” decisions are properly implemented. The “ombudsman” can initiate investigations in response to media reports, complaints from individuals and organizations, or on its own initiative. The “ombudsman” was not always effective because it could not enforce its recommendations.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The “law” criminalizes rape, including spousal rape, and provides for a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. Authorities and police did not enforce the “law” effectively. No “laws” specifically address domestic violence. The “law” prohibits domestic violence under various assault and violence or battery clauses, with a maximum sentence of four years’ imprisonment.

Violence against women, including spousal abuse, remained a major problem. The Nicosia Turkish Municipality operated a shelter for victims of domestic violence, and there were local NGOs that supported rape and domestic violence victims. Turkish Cypriot authorities also reported establishing gender focal points at relevant “ministries” to respond to complaints of violence against women.

In one example police arrested a man in April 2019 on suspicion of killing his 47-year-old wife in Alaykoy (Yerolakkos). The victim’s daughter and sister told press outlets the suspect had physically abused and threatened to kill the victim on many occasions. They claimed the victim complained to police many times and alleged that police did not take her complaints seriously. In 2019 the suspect was sent to prison pending trial, which continued at year’s end.

Nicosia district police in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots operated the specialized Combating Violence against Women Unit to respond to complaints of domestic violence, including calls to a dedicated hotline. Turkish Cypriot police reported they investigated 801 reports of abuse against women from January to September. The unit reported they received 241 complaints regarding physical violence, 135 complaints of verbal violence, and 124 general disturbances. The unit reported they receive 89 cases per month on an average basis. The unit reported there was a 12 percent decrease in the number of cases during the lockdown between March and May.

In April the Nicosia Turkish Municipality’s Domestic Violence Project coordinator reported that “there is an increase in domestic violence cases due to COVID-19 because women are forced to stay at home” and that women’s access to support mechanisms was limited. The coordinator noted that, according to an EU-funded survey conducted in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots, in January, 40 percent of women were subject to physical violence, 60 percent were subject to psychological violence, and 25 percent to sexual violence.

In May the Side-by-Side against Violence project coordinator stated that 35 female survivors of violence applied for protection in March and April, marking an increase in domestic violence cases due to COVID-19 and lockdown. The group stated that the municipality received an average of seven complaints monthly in 2019.

At the end of August, the Combating Violence against Women Unit reported that it received 1,765 complaints from women since it opened in 2018. The unit reported that 41 percent of the complaints were for verbal violence; 38 percent were for physical violence; 5 percent were for violence towards property (including cell phones, houses, cars, etc.); and 4 percent concerned sexual violence, including rape, sexual abuse, and sexual harassment.

In January the Kyrenia “court” sentenced a man to six years in jail for torturing his wife with a belt. The penalty was reported to be the highest given by a “court” for domestic violence in the history of the community.

On March 8, International Women’s Day, a 45-year-old woman, Elif Lort, was stabbed repeatedly in the middle of the street in Kyrenia by her husband. Lort died in the hospital; police apprehended and arrested the husband. An investigation was ongoing at year’s end.

Sexual Harassment: The “criminal code” prohibits sexual harassment and considers it a misdemeanor punishable by up to 12 months’ imprisonment, an unspecified fine, or both. According to NGOs sexual harassment went largely unreported. A group of international students reported widespread sexual harassment of female international students and that police routinely dismissed complaints of sexual harassment from international students.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of “government” authorities.

Discrimination: The “law” provides the same “legal” status and rights for women and men, but authorities did not enforce the “law” effectively. Women experienced discrimination in such areas as employment, credit, owning or managing businesses, education, and housing. For example, female teachers were reportedly instructed to schedule their pregnancies in order to deliver during summer break.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive “citizenship” from their parents, and there was universal registration at birth, including of children born to migrants.

Child Abuse: The “law” does not explicitly prohibit child abuse, but it does prohibit sexual abuse of children, which carries a penalty of up to six years’ imprisonment. There were reports of child abuse. As with domestic violence, there were social and cultural disincentives to seeking legal remedies for such problems.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum age of marriage for girls and boys is 18. A “court” may allow marriages of minors who are 16 or 17 if they receive parental consent.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The “law” prohibits commercial sexual exploitation of children, and authorities generally enforced the prohibition. The age of consent is 16. Statutory rape or attempted statutory rape of a minor younger than 16 is a felony, and the maximum penalty is life imprisonment. If the offender is younger than 18 and two years or fewer apart in age from the victim, the act is a misdemeanor punishable by up to two years in prison, an unspecified fine, or both. The new cybercrime “law” enacted in July makes possession or production of child pornography punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

Anti-Semitism

There were approximately 150 persons in the Jewish community, which primarily consisted of nonresident businesspersons. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The “law” protects the rights of persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities, including their access to social benefits, and prohibits discrimination against them. Authorities did not effectively enforce all parts of the “law.” For example the disability community complained of the absence of accessible infrastructure in public areas, including lack of sidewalks, blocked sidewalks, and inaccessible public transportation.

The Turkish Cypriot Orthopedic Disabled Persons Association reported many buildings, sidewalks, and public bathrooms were not accessible to persons with disabilities. The association claimed the “government” had not employed a single person with disabilities since 2006, although the “law” requires 4 percent of public-sector positions be filled by persons with disabilities.

Children with disabilities attend specific schools that are “state” funded.

Authorities reported as of August 2019, more than 270 persons with disabilities worked in the “government.” In September the “council of ministers” decided to provide social security and provident fund contributions to persons with disabilities employed in the private sector to create incentives for private-sector employment. Authorities also reported that nearly 4,986 persons with disabilities received financial aid from the “government” as of September.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

The “law” prohibits discrimination, and the 1975 Vienna III Agreement remains the legal source of authority regarding the treatment of the 310 Greek Cypriot and 62 Maronite residents in the area administered by Turkish Cypriot authorities.

Greek Cypriots and Maronites living in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots could take possession of some of their properties in that area but were unable to leave their properties to heirs residing in the government-controlled area. Maronites living in the government-controlled area could use their properties in the north only if those properties were not under the control of the Turkish military or allocated to Turkish Cypriots.

Foreign domestic workers faced discrimination and, at times, violence.

Public Sector Workers Union (KTAMS) reported that many foreign workers receive salaries below minimum wage.

An NGO reported that seasonal workers who came from Turkey during the pandemic were not paid and were stranded in Cyprus for several months until authorities ultimately provided transportation back to Turkey. In February, approximately 300 Bangladeshi, Pakistani, and Sri Lankan foreign workers employed by Omag Construction reported to police that they had not received their salaries for four months. The foreign workers told police they each gave $1,390 to the company for “visa/permit fees,” and were threatened by people at Omag Construction posing as police officers to remain silent about not receiving their wages. The workers also reported they believed the false “police officers” to be members of the mafia and that they had taken three of the workers, who had not been heard from since.

On March 13, the “council of ministers” adopted a decision to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and barred private sector workers in the north, including domestic workers, from traveling to households to work. The “government” announced a 1,500 Turkish lira ($195) monthly assistance payment for some private sector workers affected by COVID-19 pandemic-related business closures but limited the subsidy to “TRNC” and Turkish citizens and excluded all other foreign workers.

There were reports of social and job discrimination against Kurds in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots, as well as allegations that police closely monitored Kurdish activities.

Some of the approximately 10,000 African students reportedly studying at universities in the area administered by Turkish Cypriot authorities reported racial discrimination in housing, employment, and interactions with law enforcement. Thirty to forty thousand foreign students, excluding Turkish students, study at universities in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots. In April the Voice of International Students in Cyprus (VOIS) said authorities excluded foreign students from receiving food packages that citizens were receiving. VOIS claimed that authorities ignored foreign students and deprived them of medical and other support during the lockdown and pandemic. A student organization reported an African student, a single mother, asked authorities at the Famagusta police station to arrest her hoping that she and her child would be provided food in jail.

In March, VOIS criticized former “prime minister” Ersin Tatar for making a racist statement on television when he said, “The responsibility to take care of the thousands of African students who live in the ‘TRNC’ lies on those who brought them here. Either universities or employers. Before the COVID-19 crisis this was already a problem. This is now an opportunity to clean them out. This is not racism, but we have to protect our citizens.”

In June, VOIS announced the results of an online survey of foreign university students living in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots: 88.2 percent of those interviewed said they had been victims of racism; 52.6 percent of this racial discrimination happened on campus, and 40 percent happened off campus. In addition 81.4 percent said racism was a serious problem in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots that needed to be addressed within society.

The RRA said the minister of interior did not provide enough support to foreign students. The RRA identified the groups at highest risk, whose numbers were unknown, as unregistered students, workers, and migrants. The RRA also said NGOs were unable to leave their houses to investigate complaints or distribute donations to those in need due to COVID-19 related restrictions.

Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The “law” prohibits discrimination against LGBTI persons in housing, employment, nationality laws, and access to government services based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Authorities did not effectively enforce the “law.”

While there were no cases recorded of official or societal discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing, or access to education or health care, members of the LGBTI community noted an overwhelming majority of LGBTI persons concealed their sexual orientation or gender identity to avoid potential discrimination.

The Queer Cyprus Association said LGBTI persons often could not access legal remedies to discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity because authorities declined to enforce them.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The “law” provides for the rights of workers, except members of police and other Turkish Cypriot security forces, to form and join independent unions of their own choosing without prior authorization. The “law” allows unions to conduct their activities without interference and provides for their right to strike, with the provision that a union notify authorities in writing if members planned to strike for longer than 24 hours. The “law” does not permit “judges,” members of the police force, or other Turkish Cypriot security forces to strike. The “council of ministers” has the power to prohibit a strike in any individual sector twice a year for up to 60 days if it affects the general health, security, or public order, or if it prevents the provision of essential services. There is no list of what constitutes essential services.

The “law” provides for collective bargaining. The “ministry of labor” reported that employers could not condition employment on membership or nonmembership in a union or participation in strikes. The “law” does not provide for reinstatement of workers fired for union activities.

The “government” did not effectively enforce applicable “laws.” Despite having freedom of association and the right to engage in collective bargaining, very few private-sector workers were unionized, according to labor union representatives. A union representative said that if private-sector workers affected business operations while exercising their rights, employers would likely dismiss them. Some companies pressured workers to join unions that the company led or approved. Officials of independent unions claimed authorities created public-sector unions as rivals to weaken the independent unions.

Turkish Cypriot Public Sector Workers Union (KTAMS) reported that 35 percent of the public sector and 0.5 percent of the private sector workers are members of labor unions. Police and members of other Turkish Cypriot security forces cannot join unions.

Labor authorities did not effectively enforce the “law.” Penalties for employers convicted of violating the “law” were not commensurate with those for violating other “laws” involving the denial of civil rights and were sporadically enforced.

In March the DEV-IS labor union began an indefinite strike for their members employed at the Buyukkonuk municipality. The union claimed their members had not received their salaries since November and their customary 13th month bonus from 2019. On the eighth day of the strike, the “council of ministers” banned the strike on the grounds that “it prevented the provision of essential services.” Union members employed at the municipality then began a work slowdown. Police launched an investigation on the grounds that they did not comply with the “council of ministers’” decision. In April, DEV-IS members and the “mayor” of Buyukkonuk were invited to the “ministry of interior” to sign an agreement that included the payment of December and January salaries, and the payment of the 13th month bonus in installments. The union reported the 13th month bonus has not been paid, but all other salaries were paid with a one month delay.

Public and semipublic employees benefited from collective bargaining agreements. Semipublic employees worked for companies run jointly by public and private enterprises where, for example, the “government” handled administration while the company’s budget came from private sources.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The “law” prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but the “government” did not effectively enforce it. Penalties for violations of the “law” were not commensurate with those for other serious crimes.

There were reports of forced labor during the year, primarily in agriculture, construction, and the industrial sector. A labor union representative reported migrant workers in the construction and agricultural sectors were subjected to reduced wages, nonpayment of wages, beatings, and threats of deportation.

A researcher reported that universities were used to smuggle and traffic large numbers of Africans and South Asians. Some foreign students who could not pay their tuition after arriving in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots became vulnerable to exploitation, including forced labor.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The “law” prohibits the worst forms of child labor. The minimum age for restricted employment is 15, the last year at which education is compulsory. Employers may hire children between the ages of 15 and 18 in apprentice positions under a special status. Children older than 15 are restricted to not more than six hours of work per day and 30 hours per week. The “law” prohibits children between the ages of 15 and 18 from working during mealtimes, at night, in heavy physical labor, and under dangerous conditions. The “law” also states that every six months the employer must prove, with medical certification, that the physical work done by a child is suitable for children. Written parental consent is also required, and children are entitled to the hourly wage of a full-time employee.

Authorities reported they received three complaints to the child labor hotline during the reporting period: two children working at construction sites and one at a market.

The “ministry of labor and social security” is responsible for enforcing child labor “laws” and policies. Resources and inspections were not sufficient and penalties for violations were not commensurate with those of other serious crimes.

Authorities did not always effectively enforce the “laws,” and NGOs reported that primarily Turkish children often worked alongside their families in the agricultural, manufacturing, automotive, and construction sectors. NGOs reported children worked in dangerous conditions, such as on construction sites, and were subjected to heavy physical work despite “legal” prohibitions.

Child labor in the urban informal economy was also a problem, albeit to a lesser extent than in agriculture and manufacturing. It was common in family-run shops for children to work after school and for young children to work on family farms.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The “law” generally prohibits discrimination with respect to employment or occupation on the basis of race, sex, gender, disability, language, sexual orientation or gender identity, and social status. The “law” does not specifically address discrimination with respect to religion, political opinion, or HIV-positive status, which were addressed by general “regulations.” Authorities did not effectively enforce the “law” and penalties for violations were not commensurate with those for violating other “laws” related to civil rights. Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to race, ethnicity, sex, disability, and gender.

Authorities reported there were more than 49,495 registered foreign workers in the area administrated by Turkish Cypriot authorities, mainly from Turkey, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Bangladesh, and the Philippines. Foreign migrant workers faced societal discrimination based on their ethnicity, race, and religious belief. Greek Cypriots faced social and employment discrimination.

Women faced sexual harassment in the workplace, but most instances of sexual harassment went unreported. Women held far fewer managerial positions than men.

LGBTI individuals often concealed their sexual orientation and gender identity in the workplace to avoid discrimination. Persons with disabilities routinely found it physically difficult to access workplaces.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The “government” increased the minimum wage during the year, but it remained below the poverty level for a family of four, as inflation and the cost of living outpaced the increase. The “ministry of labor and social security” is responsible for enforcing the minimum wage, but it did not effectively do so. The penalties for noncompliance were not commensurate with those for other similar crimes.

According to the “statistics department,” the poverty threshold was estimated at 3,769 Turkish lira ($450) per month.

There was premium pay for overtime in the public sector. Premium pay for overtime is also required, but frequently not paid, in the private sector. The “law” prohibits compulsory overtime and provides for paid annual holidays.

Occupational safety and health standards were insufficient. Authorities did not effectively enforce safety and health standards, and the number of inspectors was not sufficient to enforce compliance. Multinational companies reportedly met health and safety standards. Workers could not remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardizing their employment. Authorities could conduct unannounced inspections or initiate sanctions, but according to unions and associations, inspections were not adequately carried out. Authorities commonly deported migrant workers claiming violations. Authorities did not penalize violators, and inspections were not adequate to protect worker rights. The “government” has not established social protections for workers in the informal economy. Accommodations for migrant workers, either as part of their compensation or for those made to pay, were substandard.

There was little improvement in working conditions, particularly in hazardous sectors and for vulnerable groups. Authorities reported there were 179 major industrial accidents occurred during the year that caused two deaths. “Authorities” also reported they provided eight persons with pensions (based on their) incapacity to work.

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Republic of Cyprus

Croatia

Executive Summary

The Republic of Croatia is a constitutional parliamentary democracy. Legislative authority is vested in the unicameral parliament (Sabor). The president serves as head of state and nominates the prime minister, who leads the government, based on majority support of parliament. The latest presidential election was held in December 2019 with a second round for the top two candidates held on January 5. President Zoran Milanovic was elected by a majority of voters. Domestic and international observers stated that the presidential election and parliamentary elections held on July 5 were free and fair.

The national police, under the control of the Ministry of the Interior, have primary responsibility for domestic security. In times of disorder, the prime minister and the president may call upon the armed forces to provide security. The president is commander in chief of the armed forces. The armed forces report to the Ministry of Defense and to the president as commander in chief. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were allegations that some members of the border police committed abuses of irregular migrants.

Significant human rights issues included: instances of violence against, and intimidation and censorship of, journalists and the existence of criminal libel laws; reported acts of unjustified police violence against irregular migrants, some of whom may have been asylum seekers; corruption; and discrimination and violence against members of ethnic minority groups, particularly Serbs and Roma.

The government took significant steps to prosecute and punish individuals who committed abuses of human rights.

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities; however, a significant number of cases of missing persons from the 1991-95 conflict remained unresolved. The Ministry of Veterans Affairs reported that as of October 20, 1,468 persons remained missing, and the government was searching for the remains of 401 individuals known to be deceased, for a total of 1,869 unsolved missing persons’ cases. The ministry reported that from October 10, 2019, to October 20, the remains of 18 individuals were exhumed, and final identifications were made for 30 individuals. Progress remained slow primarily due to lack of reliable documents and information about the location of mass and individual graves, as well as other jurisdictional and political challenges with neighboring countries. The ministry reported that since January 1 it received seven new requests for searches, five for missing persons, and two for remains of those known to be deceased. In April the ministry implemented a regulation that provides monetary rewards for those who provide information or documentation that leads to the resolution of missing persons cases. This tool was being utilized to enhance the search for missing persons. On August 30, Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic and Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Veterans Affairs Tomo Medved marked International Day of Missing Persons by participating in a Conference on Missing Persons from the Homeland War.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices, but, according to the Office of the Ombudsperson, there were several reports of physical and verbal mistreatment of prisoners and detainees. Impunity was not a significant problem in the security forces.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Some reports regarding prison or detention center conditions raised human rights concerns.

Physical Conditions: The ombudsperson’s 2019 annual report stated that in six of the 14 high-security units, the occupancy rate was more than 120 percent (considered critical according to the Council of Europe’s European Committee on Crime Problems). The prisons with the greatest overcrowding were those in Karlovac (175 percent of capacity), Osijek (174 percent), and Pozega (167 percent). The report noted that many prisoners resided in conditions that did not meet legal and international standards, and in some cases they were degrading and dangerous to inmates’ health.

In addition the ombudsperson reported the most frequent complaints were inadequate health care, followed by accommodation conditions, prison officers’ conduct, and inappropriate use of privileges. In its 2018 report, the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) stated it received several allegations of physical mistreatment of prisoners by police officers, including slaps, punches, and kicks to various parts of the body.

The ombudsperson’s report described regular site visits to 12 police stations in the country that showed partial compliance with the standards of the CPT. According to the report, in some police stations video surveillance coverage was limited, increasing the risk of an untimely response to incidents during police detention. In some stations, however, video surveillance extended to sanitary facilities, compromising the privacy of detained persons. Lacking their own detention facility, Varazdin border police used the local police station at Ivanec for short-term detention of irregular migrants, although the facility’s size was insufficient for holding large groups and was difficult to keep sanitary. The report noted some police stations did not have dedicated vehicles for transportation of detained persons and sometimes used vehicles without ventilation and heating in violation of CPT standards.

Administration: The ombudsperson’s report stated detained persons frequently turned to the ombudsperson to address these issues due to the ineffectiveness of legal remedies. The ombudsperson investigated credible allegations of mistreatment and issued recommendations to improve conditions for detained persons. In 2019 her office took actions in response to 203 cases of violations of the rights of persons in the prison system, conducted 25 field administrative procedures, and the National Preventive Mechanism (NPM) implementers visited four prisons, 23 police stations, and four investigative units.

The report of the European Network of National Human Rights Institutions (ENNHRI) published in June noted that as of June 2018, the Ministry of the Interior continued to deny the ombudsperson immediate access to data on the treatment of irregular migrants in police stations. In 2019 the ombudsperson recommended that the Ministry of the Interior ensure unannounced and free access to data on irregular migrants to the ombudsperson and NPM implementers in line with existing legislation.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by independent, nongovernmental observers. The ombudsperson carried out tasks specified in the NPM and is authorized to make unannounced visits to detention facilities. The CPT and the ENNHRI also made visits in recent years.

Improvements: The ombudsperson’s report noted some improvements regarding accommodation conditions from the previous year, such as the addition of 50 newly constructed places in the Pozega penitentiary. The Ministry of Justice and Administration reported the overall security and accommodation situation in all correctional institutions, including penitentiaries, prisons, juvenile correctional institutions, and the Diagnostics Center in Zagreb (a health-care facility), improved despite temporary measures introduced to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Beginning in March, prisoners were offered more frequent and longer telephone calls, and, with the support of UNICEF, video visits from children to their incarcerated parents were increased. Compared with 2019, prisoners were allowed more time outside and provided additional structured activities. The ministry reported the capacity of the prison in Bjelovar was increased.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Other than those apprehended during the commission of a crime, persons were arrested with warrants issued by a judge or prosecutor based on evidence. Prosecutors may hold suspects for up to 48 hours in detention. Upon request of prosecutors, an investigative judge may extend investigative detention for an additional 36 hours. Authorities informed detainees promptly of charges against them. The law requires a detainee be brought promptly before a judicial officer, and this right was generally respected. In 2019 the ombudsperson received 6 percent more complaints relating to the work of the Office of the Chief State Prosecutor, mostly due to lack of communication with citizens in reference to charges against them. The law limits release on bail only in cases of flight risk. In more serious cases, defendants were held in pretrial detention. Authorities allowed detainees prompt access to a lawyer of their choice or, if indigent, to one provided by the state.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. Cases of intimidation of state prosecutors, judges, and defense lawyers were isolated.

Trial Procedures

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, and the independent judiciary generally enforced this right.

Defendants enjoy the presumption of innocence. They must be informed promptly of the charges against them. Defendants have a right to a fair, public, and timely trial and to be present at their trial. Despite the decreased number of cases, the backlog in domestic courts (462,200 as of September 30, down from 500,578 at the end of 2019) continued to raise concerns regarding judicial effectiveness, efficiency, legal uncertainty, and the rule of law. Lengthy trials remained one of the main problems in the judiciary. In June the ENNHRI reported that during 2019, the last year for which data was available, the number of complaints received by the ombudsperson regarding the judiciary decreased by 22 percent compared with 2018. Regarding the content of complaints, 38 percent expressed dissatisfaction with the work of the courts, a decrease of 34 percent compared with 2018. Complaints pointed to inconsistent application of case law, as well as insufficiently reasoned court decisions that seemed arbitrary. Complaints about the manner in which judges conducted proceedings and made decisions showed a growing distrust in the legality of the proceedings and raised fears of corruption.

Defendants have the right to communicate with an attorney of their choice or to have one provided at state expense. Defendants enjoy the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Any defendant who cannot understand or speak Croatian has free access to an interpreter from the moment charged through all appeals. Defendants have the right to confront witnesses against them and to present witnesses and evidence on their behalf. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants and prosecutors may file an appeal before a verdict becomes final, and defendants may file an appeal through the domestic courts to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Individuals may seek damages for, or cessation of, an alleged human rights violation. They may appeal to the ECHR after all domestic legal remedies have been exhausted or after a case has been pending for an excessive period in domestic courts. Administrative remedies were also available.

Property Restitution

The government has endorsed the Terezin declaration but does not have adequate legal mechanisms in place to address Holocaust-era property restitution. The country has not effectively compensated claimants for property seized during the Holocaust period (1941-45) and has inconsistently permitted noncitizens to file claims.

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and advocacy groups reported the government did not make significant progress on resolution of Holocaust-era claims, including for foreign citizens. The law limits restitution of property seized during the Communist era to individuals who were citizens of the country in 1996 and permitted claims to be filed only within a specified window, which closed in January 2003. Consequently, the law does not provide effective compensation to persons, including Holocaust survivors, whose property was expropriated but who left the country and obtained citizenship elsewhere. A 2002 amendment to the law allows foreign citizens to file claims if their country of citizenship has a bilateral restitution treaty with Croatia. In 2010, however, the Supreme Court ruled that the government cannot require such a treaty as a necessary condition for restitution. In 2011 the Ministry of Justice attempted unsuccessfully to amend the legislation to reflect this finding and reopen claims. At the time the government estimated the amendment might benefit between 4,211 and 5,474 claimants. As of year’s end, the government had taken no subsequent steps to amend the law.

Restitution of communal property remained a problem for the Serbian Orthodox Church and the Coordinating Committee of Jewish Communities in Croatia. The government reported that since 1999 it had resolved 323 property claims related to the Serbian Orthodox Church, and there were no outstanding appeals. The Serbian Orthodox Church stated several outstanding claims remained.

The Department of State’s Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act report to Congress, released publicly on July 29, 2020, can be found on the Department’s website: https://www.state.gov/reports/just-act-report-to-congress/.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press and a functioning democratic political system combined in most cases to promote freedom of expression, including for the press, but judicial ineffectiveness at times delayed resolution of cases.

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

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. Restrictions on material deemed hate speech apply to print and broadcast media.

Violence and Harassment: NGOs reported that intimidation and threats, especially online threats, against journalists had a chilling effect on media freedom and that the government insufficiently addressed this problem.

On January 23, in Ivanbegovina, four men attacked Slobodna Dalmacija journalist Andrea Topic while she was investigating the property of then health minister Milan Kujundzic. Topic said she was photographing the property from the road when the men threatened her and intimidated her for half an hour by shouting, filming her, and sitting on and shaking her car. On July 28, media reported that the Imotski Municipal State Attorney’s Office filed an indictment against the four men, charging them with unlawful deprivation of liberty. Kujundzic later resigned, and media attributed his resignation to press coverage of the unexplained large number of houses he owned.

The Croatian Journalists’ Association (CJA) strongly condemned “this disgusting attack on [our] colleague Andrea Topic, who was only doing her job in the public interest. The attack is a consequence of a hostile atmosphere in Croatia that points the finger of blame on journalists for everything.”

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

Libel/Slander Laws: According to results of an annual survey conducted by the CJA, 905 lawsuits were filed against journalists and the media, with claimed damages of almost 68 million kuna ($10.5 million). Of the 905 lawsuits, 859 were for civil alleged violations of honor and reputation against publishers, editors, and journalists, while 46 were criminal lawsuits. Of the 23 media outlets that responded to the CJA’s poll, 18 had a standing lawsuit alleging violations of honor and reputation. The CJA was defending itself against three active lawsuits. The country’s public broadcaster, Croatian Radio and Television (HRT), had an active criminal proceeding against CJA President Hrvoje Zovko, including a claim for damages of 250,000 kuna ($39,200), claims against the CJA in the amount of 200,000 kuna ($31,430), and within the same lawsuit, a claim for 50,000 kuna ($7,860) against Sanja Mikleusevic Pavic, president of the CJA’s branch at HRT.

Nongovernmental Impact: On April 12, several unidentified men attacked Zivana Susak Zivkovic, a reporter working for the news website Dalmatinskiportal, and Ivana Sivro, a camera operator for N1 TV. According to local news reports, the journalists were attacked while documenting an Easter mass held despite a ban on public gatherings due to COVID-19. The regional news website Balkan Insight reported that the rally by the masked, black-clad protesters was held to support a priest who called on worshippers to attend mass, breaching measures imposed to curb the spread of COVID-19 in the country, with two of the protesters displaying World War II Ustasha movement’s insignia and a banner with the slogan “Journalists are worms.” They were objecting to earlier media reports that the day of criticism of priest Josip Delas was held because he led a mass with 20 worshippers despite appeals from the archdiocese and the coronavirus crisis authorities in Split to avoid gatherings. Zivkovic suffered minor bruising from the attack, her employer reported. Another man hit Sivro in the arm and shoved her camera, as seen in a video published by N1 TV. Three men were under prosecution for the assault. In a statement, the Roman Catholic archdiocese of Split-Makarska apologized for the attack.

Internet Freedom

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

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

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

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Domestic NGOs working on migrants’ rights issues documented 688 cases of pushbacks or abuse of irregular migrants. In May the British newspaper The Guardian accused border police of humiliating irregular migrants on religious grounds during the month of Ramadan. According to the report, police officers allegedly spray-painted crosses on the heads of migrants who attempted to enter the country illegally to mark, humiliate, and traumatize them. In the same article, The Guardian reported that on May 6-7, police pushed several mainly Afghan and Pakistani migrants and asylum-seekers back across the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). The NGO Danish Refugee Council stated the migrants and asylum seekers were forced to enter a van and driven to the BiH border, although some requested asylum in Croatia. At the border they were reportedly beaten and their personal belongings burned. The Ministry of the Interior disputed the allegations and claims in The Guardians article and stated the police respected migrants’ fundamental rights and dignity and allowed them access to the international protection system if they were in need of such protection, in accordance with general human rights documents, European Union regulations, and national legislation. The ministry also stated police took no action against migrants at the reported time in the area in question and had excellent relations with the Muslim community. On June 5, a human rights NGO, Centre for Peace Studies (CMS), filed a criminal complaint to the State Attorney’s Office against “unknown perpetrators” from the police for “degrading treatment and torture of 33 persons and their violent, illegal expulsion from the Croatian territory to Bosnia and Herzegovina,” based in part on the incident described in The Guardian. As their press release explained, “those were four separate cases [recorded in May] combined into one criminal complaint due to similarities in treatment.” On July 23, the CMS filed a second criminal complaint against unknown perpetrators for torturing, humiliating, and pushing back 16 migrants from Croatia to BiH in late May. The Ombudsperson’s Office said they had repeatedly made requests for investigations into allegations of violence against migrants.

On June 18, police arrested two Karlovac-based police officers for the beating of an Afghan asylum seeker who crossed the border from BiH. The officers were removed from service pending disciplinary proceedings and were detained for 30 days. One reportedly faced a charge of causing bodily harm, while the other faced charges for failing to report a crime. Interior Minister Davor Bozinovic condemned the beating incident and emphasized it was an isolated case. Karlovac police officials said there was zero tolerance for such violence.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of refugee status and subsidiary protection status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to asylum seekers. Despite restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ministry of the Interior reported that it continued work with asylum seekers and persons granted international protection, and it provided access to the asylum procedure in accordance with epidemiological measures and recommendations adopted by the European Commission on April 16.

Durable Solutions: In 2019 the government resettled 250 pledged Syrian refugees from Turkey according to the EU Resettlement Program from 2015. In August the Ministry of the Interior reported the government was unable to resettle 150 pledged refugees from 2019 due to operational and technical difficulties caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and an earthquake that struck the city of Zagreb on March 22. The government continued to participate in a joint regional housing program (RHP) with the governments of BiH, Montenegro, and Serbia. The RHP aimed to contribute to the resolution of the protracted displacement situation of the most vulnerable refugees and displaced persons following the 1991-95 conflict. As of August the RHP had provided housing to 314 families (748 individuals) in the country. In March the country offered to participate in the European Union’s scheme to relocate unaccompanied minors from overcrowded reception centers in Greece. Media reported that on September 11, following a fire that destroyed a migrant camp on the Greek island of Lesbos, the government would receive 12 unaccompanied minor female migrants under a European Commission plan to provide them permanent accommodation.

Temporary Protection: The Ministry of the Interior reported that from January to August 18, the government granted asylum to 27 refugees who had a well founded fear of persecution if they returned to their home country. The country also has a mechanism for subsidiary protection for those who do not qualify for asylum and granted protection to one person during the year.

g. Stateless Persons

According to the last census in 2011, there were 2,886 stateless persons or persons at risk of statelessness in the country. Many of these persons were Roma who lacked citizenship documents. The Ministry of the Interior is responsible for granting stateless individuals residency and eventual citizenship.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: On July 5, the country held national parliamentary elections. The first round of the presidential election was held in December 2019, with a second round for the top two candidates on January 5, 2020. European Parliament elections were held in May 2019. According to observers, elections took place in a pluralistic environment and were administered in a professional and transparent manner.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political processes, and they did participate. By law minority groups are guaranteed eight seats in the 151-seat parliament. Representation of women in major political parties remained low. The law requires that the “less represented gender” make up at least 40 percent of candidates on a party’s candidate list, with violations punishable by a fine. After the 2020 elections, the electoral commission noted that the largest political party, the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), failed to comply with the gender law on any of its election lists, while the main opposition Social Democratic Party (SDP) complied in all electoral constituency lists except for two. Many smaller parties also met the threshold. The percentage of women elected to the parliament was 35 of a total of 151 parliamentarians (23 percent), the highest percentage since parliament’s constitution in 1990.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. State prosecutors continued to prosecute several major corruption cases involving mayors, politicians, and public figures, and the judiciary generally imposed statutory penalties in cases in which there was a conviction. High-profile convictions for corruption, however, were frequently overturned on appeal. Corruption remained a problem, and significant numbers of high-profile corruption cases were underway. On September 30, the European Commission issued the annual rule of law report for EU member states and noted the country’s anticorruption institutions were impeded by a shortage of specialized investigators and that lengthy court proceedings and appeals often hindered closure of cases, including those involving former senior officials.

Corruption: Several corruption cases against former high-level government officials reported in previous years were still pending.

On May 29, police arrested 13 prominent members of the governing HDZ party, including civil servants, elected officials, and businessmen, on suspicion of abuse of office and economic crimes related to the construction of the 1.8-billion-kuna ($264 million) Krs-Padena windmill farm project near the town of Knin. Notable figures arrested include former state secretary of the Ministry of Administration Josipa Rimac, Director of Croatian Forests Krunoslav Jakupcic, Assistant Minister of the Economy, Entrepreneurship, and Crafts Ana Mandac, and other prominent local and regional officials. The government fired Rimac and Mandac after the arrests. On August 27, the Office for Suppression of Corruption and Organized Crime expanded its investigation to add 18 additional suspects. The investigation continued as of October.

In another case on September 17, media reported that the CEO of the state-owned oil pipeline operator JANAF, Dragan Kovacevic, and 10 other individuals were arrested on suspicion of influence peddling, bribery, and illicit preferential treatment. Kovacevic was accused of receiving 1.9 million kuna ($292,000) in bribes from the CEO of a company that landed a 40-million-kuna ($6.2 million) deal with JANAF. Parliament stripped the immunity of parliamentarians Drazen Barisic (HDZ) and Vinko Grgic (SDP) for involvement in the case, and police arrested both on September 19 pending investigation of charges of influence peddling, misuse of position and authority, and bribe taking.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires that public officials declare their assets and income, and government officials generally complied with this requirement. This information was available to the public. Fines are the penalty for noncompliance. Judges are not covered by this requirement but must make disclosures of assets under a separate law. During the year the Commission for the Resolution of Conflict of Interest fined three members of parliament, Franko Vidovic, Franjo Lucic, and Anka Mrak Taritas, for irregularities in their disclosure forms. Minister of Labor, the Pension System, the Family, and Social Policy Josip Aladrovic was also fined for irregularities in his form. Two former members of parliament, Ivan Kovacic and Marijan Kustic, were cited by the commission, but no sanctions were imposed since more than 12 months had passed since the officials left their public duties. On January 28, Prime Minister Plenkovic replaced Minister of Health Kujundzic following a series of media reports that alleged he misrepresented the value of his property on his asset declaration forms.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

In most cases domestic and international human rights groups operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials often were cooperative and responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The country has an ombudsperson for human rights who investigated complaints of human rights abuses, as well as three additional ombudspersons for gender equality, persons with disabilities, and children. The law stipulates that parliament cannot dismiss the ombudsperson for human rights because of dissatisfaction with his or her annual report. Parliament may dismiss the other three if it does not accept their annual reports. Ombudspersons admitted that this limited their ability to do their jobs thoroughly and independently and imposed political influence over their work.

The law authorizes ombudspersons to initiate shortened procedures in cases where there is sufficient evidence of the violation of constitutional and legal rights.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes the rape of men or women, including spousal rape and domestic violence. The law was in most cases enforced. Sentences range from fines to jail, depending on the crime’s severity. Rape, including spousal rape, is punishable by a maximum of 15 years’ imprisonment. Conviction for domestic violence is punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment. Amendments to the penal code, which entered into force in January, introduced stricter penalties for violence among closely related family members and violence against women. In the amendments, sexual intercourse without consent is classified as rape, punishable with three to 10 years’ imprisonment. A separate law (Law on Protection from Domestic Violence), last amended in January, provides sanctions (fines and up to 90 days’ imprisonment) for misdemeanor domestic violence. According to the ombudsperson for gender equality, despite recent legislative changes, violence against women, including spousal abuse, remained a problem largely due to limited education on gender-based violence laws for investigators, prosecutors, and judges that often led to cases being decided in favor of alleged perpetrators.

On January 22, the municipal court in Slavonski Brod convicted Pozesko-Slavonska County Prefect Alojz Tomasevic to a 10-month sentence, suspended for two years, for domestic violence. State prosecutors reportedly did not request a prison sentence in the case, and Tomasevic remained in his position. Civil society organizations and the ombudsperson for gender equality criticized the verdict as too lenient and asserted that victims of domestic violence could have “no trust” in the country’s judiciary with such a punishment.

On April 19, Interior Minister Bozinovic publicly acknowledged increased public reports of domestic violence during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the 2019 report by the ombudsperson for gender equality, the latest available, the number of misdemeanor cases of domestic violence decreased by 6.3 percent compared with 2018, while the number of criminal acts committed against “closely related people” (i.e., domestic violence cases) increased by 28 percent. The report stated that 78 percent of the victims of domestic violence were women (29 percent more than in 2018).

On March 12, the Croatian Association of Employers (HUP) signed a consensual termination agreement with former deputy director Bernard Jakelic after more than 10 female employees presented sexual harassment claims over the course of his 24-year career. Upon his dismissal, Jakelic received a significant severance pay package. The ombudsperson for gender equality filed a criminal complaint against Jakelic with the state prosecutor and warned HUP against revictimizing victims with its decision to sign a consensual termination employment agreement with the perpetrator instead of firing him.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; to manage their reproductive health; and to have access to the information and the means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. No legal, social, or cultural barriers adversely affect access to contraception. The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence, including survivors of conflict-related sexual violence.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: Women have the same legal status and rights as men with regard to family, employment, labor, religion, inheritance, personal status and nationality laws, property, access to credit, owning or managing businesses or property, and voting. The law requires equal pay for equal work. The government did not enforce the law effectively. Women experienced discrimination in employment and occupation.

Children

Birth Registration: Authorities registered all births at the time of birth within the country or abroad. Citizenship is derived by descent from at least one citizen parent or through birth in the country’s territory in exceptional cases.

Child Abuse: Amendments to the penal code, which entered into force in January, provide stricter penalties for grave criminal acts of sexual abuse and abuse of children. Penalties depend on the crime’s gravity and include long-term imprisonment if the child dies as a consequence of the abuse. Child abuse, including violence and sexual abuse, remained a problem. The ombudsperson for children reported in 2019 her office received almost 10 percent more overall complaints regarding children than in 2018. The office received 97 complaints of domestic violence against children, 35 more than in 2018 (a 56 percent increase). Violence was most frequently reported by parents, followed by institutions such as schools and kindergartens.

On March 18, media widely reported an incident from February 2019 in which a 54-year-old man allegedly threw his four children, ages three, five, seven, and eight, off the balcony of their home on the island of Pag, significantly injuring one. On March 18, the Zadar County Court convicted the perpetrator to 30-years’ imprisonment and mandatory psychiatric treatment for attempted murder.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18; children older than 16 may marry with a judge’s written consent.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation of children; the sale, offering, or procuring of a child for prostitution; and child pornography. Authorities enforced the law. Amendments to the penal code, which entered into force in January, provide stricter penalties for the sexual exploitation of children. The Office of the Ombudsperson for Children stated that crimes and violence committed against children increased during the year and claimed many crimes remained unreported. The Ministry of the Interior conducted investigative programs and worked with international partners to combat child pornography. The ministry operated a website known as Red Button for the public to report child pornography to police. The minimum age for consensual sex is 15.

International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.

Anti-Semitism

The World Jewish Congress estimated the country’s Jewish population at 1,700. Some Jewish community leaders continued to report anti-Semitic rhetoric, including the use of symbols affiliated with the Ustasha and historical revisionism. Historian Ivo Goldstein and Director of the U.S. Simon Wiesenthal Center Efraim Zuroff criticized the government for tolerating the rise of pro-Ustasha sentiment in the country.

During the observance of International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27, the Office of the Prime Minister characterized the Jasenovac concentration camp as a “painful and tragic part of the Croatian history” and stated that “remembering victims and strongly condemning atrocities are a pledge for Croatia’s European future.” On February 5, Prime Minister Plenkovic opened a Holocaust exhibition in Zagreb entitled If I forget you…The Holocaust in Croatia 1941-1945Final destination Auschwitz. The exhibition was open until mid-April and was located near the site where Jews were transported to Croatian and other European concentration camps.

On April 22, the government held its official annual commemoration for victims killed by the Ustasha regime at Jasenovac, which was also attended by President Zoran Milanovic. For the first time since 2016, after having boycotted previous government commemorations, representatives from the Jewish community, Serb National Council (SNV), Romani community, and Alliance of Antifascist Fighters joined the official commemoration. Head of the Jewish Community of Zagreb Ognjen Kraus was quoted by the media saying he attended to “extend the hand of friendship and goodwill” but still sought tangible results from the government in the fight against historical revisionism. Serbian Independent Democratic Party (SDSS) president and member of parliament Milorad Pupovac stated the participation represented a show of solidarity in light of the March 22 earthquake in Zagreb and COVID-19 crisis.

On June 3, the Zagreb High Misdemeanor Court ruled that the use of salute Za Dom Spremni (For the Homeland, Ready) when used by singer Marko “Thompson” Perkovic in his song did not violate the law. The Zagreb-based chapter of NGO Human Rights House claimed the constitution prohibits incitement of national, racial, or religious hatred.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities, including in access to education, employment, health services, information, communications, buildings, transportation, and the judicial system and other state services, but the government did not always enforce these provisions effectively. While the law mandates access to buildings for persons with disabilities, building owners and managers did not always comply, and there were no reported sanctions.

The 2019 report of the ombudsperson for persons with disabilities stated there were insignificant advances in policies aimed at persons with disabilities. The ombudsperson further stated that systemic solutions were lacking for special categories of persons with disabilities and children with early on-set developmental challenges. The ombudsperson also noted the law still lacks provisions to provide for the basic rights for persons with disabilities.

Children with disabilities attended all levels of school with nondisabled peers, although NGOs stated the lack of laws mandating equal access for persons with disabilities limited educational access for those students.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

Constitutional provisions against discrimination applied to all minorities. According to the ombudsperson for human rights, ethnic discrimination was the most prevalent form of discrimination, particularly against Serbs and Roma.

According to the SNV, the Serb national minority faced increased hate speech and anti-Serb graffiti. Serbs were subject to physical assaults especially in Vukovar, where Serb youths reportedly were attacked several times by Croatian youths. The SNV also said members of the Serb national minority faced significant discrimination in employment, and there were unresolved, long-standing issues of registration of Serb schools in Eastern Slavonia and in the justice system, particularly with respect to missing persons and unprosecuted war crimes cases.

On June 13, police arrested six Zagreb Dinamo soccer club fans after a photograph was circulated online of them posing with a banner depicting a vulgar and hateful anti-Serb message. Charges against the suspects were pending at year’s end. Separately, on June 14, Zagreb police reported they were investigating anti-Serb graffiti near a children’s park that depicted a “Serbian Family Tree,” with several individuals hanging from its branches, accompanied by a Nazi SS logo.

The eight parliamentary seats held by representatives of the national minorities became the main partner to the ruling HDZ’s coalition government following the July 5 parliamentary elections. Boris Milosevic, a member of parliament from the Serb national minority was appointed deputy prime minister in charge of social affairs issues and human rights.

On August 12, police confirmed they questioned a man from Perusic, later identified as the mayor of Perusic, Ivan Turic, on suspicion that he threatened a Romani woman with a handgun and shot at her children, allegedly because the woman’s goats entered the man’s field. Turic denied the accusations but confirmed police questioned him and told him to stay a minimum 328 feet away from the family who accused him.

The government and representatives of the Serb national minority publicly delivered positive messages of reconciliation on the 25th anniversary commemoration of Operation Storm in the town of Knin on August 5. In a speech at the event, Prime Minister Plenkovic acknowledged all victims, including Serbs, and expressed regret for war crimes committed by Croats. President Milanovic highlighted the victory, giving credit to the role of those who fought, but stated that unity required “different perspectives.” He acknowledged that crimes had been committed during the war and emphasized the need for better relations with Serbia, pledging to do everything he could do to accomplish that goal and calling on the Serbian leadership to do the same. Deputy Prime Minister Milosevic from the SDSS considered his participation at the commemoration to be a pledge for the future and the first step to reconciliation. Milanovic, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Veterans’ Affairs Medved, and Milosevic attended a commemoration for Serb civilian war victims in the village of Grubori on August 25. At the event Milanovic stated the commemoration was a “debt of honor,” adding that the “murder in Grubori was a moral disaster which harmed Croatia.” Medved declared establishing trust between the majority Croatian people and ethnic minorities was a prerequisite for development and a safe future together, while Milosevic stated the acknowledgement of all civilian victims was a prerequisite for reconciliation [between Serbs and Croats] in the country. On September 28, Prime Minister Plenkovic headlined a commemoration for nine Serb civilians killed in Varivode in the aftermath of Operation Storm in 1995, the first time a prime minister attended the event.

Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The law prohibits discrimination in employment and occupation, nationality laws, housing, access to education, and health care based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. Representatives from minority groups said these provisions were not consistently enforced. A June report published by NGO Zagreb Pride stated that 60 percent of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons experienced some form of discrimination, either at school, at work, or through contact with institutions such as the police, judiciary, and health systems. In June an NGO reported that two LGBTI persons experienced discrimination because of their sexual orientation and gender identity, one of whom claimed being verbally insulted and humiliated on a bus commuting from Rijeka to Zagreb. In the other, during the police questioning of the perpetrator, a witness was verbally attacked and spat upon because of her sexual orientation. The perpetrator was sentenced to a misdemeanor fine of 5,000 kuna ($770).

LGBTI NGOs noted the continuation of the judiciary’s uneven performance in discrimination cases. They reported members of their community had limited access to the justice system, with many reluctant to report violations of their rights due to concerns regarding the inefficient judicial system and fear of further victimization during trial proceedings. NGOs reported that investigations into hate speech against LGBTI persons remained unsatisfactory. According to Zagreb Pride’s report, since 2013 fewer than 10 percent of LGBTI persons had been subjected to physical or verbal violence at least once, of which 64 percent involved verbal abuse.

Anti-LGBTI organizations continued to promote anti-LGBTI sentiment in their rhetoric, declaring same-sex couples, same-sex parents, and transgender persons a threat to the country and to traditional society. In February during the traditional Mardi Gras festivities in the southern town of Imotski, three dolls depicting a same-sex couple and their child were publicly burned. Following the event, LGBTI organizations reported the organizers to police for public incitement of violence and hatred, while in Split the municipal state prosecutor pressed charges against them in June.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Societal discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS remained a problem. The NGO Croatian Association for HIV (HUHIV) reported some physicians and dentists refused to treat HIV-positive patients. HUHIV reported violations of the confidentiality of persons diagnosed with HIV, causing some to face discrimination, including in employment, after disclosure of their status. There were reports that transplant centers refused to place HIV-positive patients on their lists of potential organ recipients.

HUHIV reported that the government’s National Plan for Fighting HIV helped combat the stigmatization and discrimination of persons with HIV/AIDS. Additionally, HUHIV reported that an HIV diagnosis was no longer listed on government-supplied sick leave forms, protecting the privacy of HIV-positive individuals.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions of their choice, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and allows unions to challenge firings in court. The law requires reinstatement of workers terminated for union activity.

Some limitations of these rights exist. There are restrictions on strikes and union activity for members of the military, who are not allowed to organize or participate in a strike, while civilian employees of the military are permitted to organize but are not permitted to strike. Workers may strike only at the end of a contract or in specific circumstances cited in the contract, and only after completing mediation. Labor and management must jointly agree on a mediator if a dispute goes to mediation. If a strike is found to be illegal, any participant may be dismissed and the union held liable for damages.

The government and employers generally respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. The government generally enforced relevant laws effectively. Penalties were commensurate with similar violations. Judicial procedures were lengthy in the country overall and could hamper redress for antiunion discrimination.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits and criminalizes all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Through July 31, the state prosecutor brought one case of criminal charges for forced labor, which remained pending at the end of the year.

The government effectively enforced the law. Penalties for conviction of forced labor were commensurate with other serious violations. Inspection was sufficient to enforce compliance. The government collaborated with several NGOs on public awareness programs. Following the introduction of a national action plan in 2018, prosecutions and monitoring increased, and reports and prosecutions of forced labor fell precipitously.

There were isolated reports that Romani children were at risk of forced begging (see 7.c.). Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. The minimum age for the employment of children is 15, the age at which compulsory education ends for most children. Minors between ages 15 and 18 who have not completed compulsory education may work only with prior approval from the government labor inspectorate and only if they would not suffer physically or mentally from the work. Children younger than age 15 may work only in special circumstances and with the approval of the ombudsperson for children. In 2019 (the last year for which data were available), there were 202 such requests, of which 195 were approved, usually for children to act in film or theatrical performances. The law prohibits workers younger than age 18 from working overtime, at night, or in dangerous conditions, including but not limited to construction, mining, and work with electricity. The Ministry of Labor, the Pension System, the Family, and Social Policy; the State Inspectorate; and the ombudsperson for children are responsible for enforcing this regulation.

The government effectively enforced the law. Penalties were generally commensurate with similar violations (see also section 7.b.). There were isolated instances of violations of the child labor law. Labor inspectors identified 35 violations involving nine minors in 2019. Violations involved minors working overtime or past curfew and occurred mainly in the hospitality and construction sectors. Some children were reportedly subject to early marriage that could result in domestic servitude. Romani children were reportedly at risk of forced begging.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family obligations, age, language, religion, political or other beliefs, national or social origin, wealth status, birth, social position or standing, political party membership or nonmembership, union or nonunion membership, or physical or mental disabilities.

The government enforced the law in all sectors, but sporadic discrimination in employment or occupation occurred on the basis of gender, disability, sexual orientation, HIV-positive status, and ethnicity, particularly for Roma. Penalties were commensurate with similar crimes, and inspection and remediation were sufficient. Some companies, state institutions, and civil society organizations, however, sometimes chose to pay a fine rather than comply with quotas for hiring persons with disabilities. According to the ombudsperson for gender equality, women experienced discrimination in employment, including in pay and promotion to managerial and executive positions. Women generally held lower-paying positions in the workforce.

The 2019 annual report of the ombudsperson for disabilities assessed limited growth of employment of persons with disabilities, putting persons with disabilities at greater risk for poverty, especially because of low salaries and pensions. The Agency for Professional Rehabilitation and Employment of Persons with Disabilities reported that in 2019 companies, state institutions, and civil society organizations had to pay 200 million kuna ($31.6 million) in fines for not satisfying hiring quotas of 3 percent of employees being persons with disabilities in workplaces with more than 20 employees. According to LGBTI advocacy organizations, although legislation protects LGBTI employees against discrimination at the workplace, employers did not have adequate policies and procedures in place to provide protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. NGOs reported LGBTI persons sometimes refrained from publicly revealing their sexual orientation or gender identity because they were vulnerable to termination of employment or demotion.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law establishes a national minimum wage slightly above the official poverty income level. The law provides for a standard workweek of 40 hours and limits overtime to 10 hours per week and 180 hours per year.

The law establishes occupational safety and health standards that are appropriate. Responsibility for identifying unsafe situations remains with occupational safety and health experts, not the worker. Workers may remove themselves from situations that endangered health without jeopardy to their employment.

There were instances of nonpayment of wages in the hospitality and construction sectors, as well as nonpayment for overtime and holidays. The law allows employees to sue employers for wage nonpayment and provides a penalty commensurate with other similar violations, although the law exempts employers who fail to pay wages due to economic duress. Workers may sue employers who do not issue pay slips to their employees in order to bypass mandatory employer contributions to social insurance programs.

Accidents were most frequently reported in the construction sector, where foremen could be held criminally responsible for injuries or deaths resulting from safety violations.

Cyprus

Read A Section: Republic Of Cyprus

Area Administered by Turkish Cypriots

Since 1974 the southern part of Cyprus has been under the control of the government of the Republic of Cyprus.  The northern part of Cyprus, administered by Turkish Cypriots, proclaimed itself the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” in 1983.  The United States does not recognize the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus,” nor does any country other than Turkey.  A substantial number of Turkish troops remain on the island.  A buffer zone, or “Green Line,” patrolled by the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus, separates the two sides.  This report is divided into two parts:  the Republic of Cyprus, and the area administered by Turkish Cypriots.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The Republic of Cyprus is a constitutional republic and multiparty presidential democracy. In 2018 voters re-elected President Nicos Anastasiades in free and fair elections. In 2016 voters elected 56 representatives to the 80-seat House of Representatives (Vouli Antiprosopon) in free and fair elections. The remaining seats are designated for Turkish Cypriots and are left vacant.

Police enforce the law and combat criminal activity. Police report to the Ministry of Justice and Public Order. The president appoints the chief of police. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: serious acts of corruption; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting members of national and ethnic minorities; and lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women.

The government took steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed human rights abuses.

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

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

There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. The attorney general and deputy attorney general have the authority to order investigations and pursue prosecutions for arbitrary or unlawful killings committed by the government or its agents.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices. There were reports that police at times engaged in abusive tactics and degrading treatment, sometimes to enforce measures adopted by the government to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Members of ethnic and racial minorities were more likely to be subjected to such treatment.

On May 3, the Independent Police Complaints Authority reported receiving 39 complaints against police officers for abuse of power, inappropriate behavior, and unjustifiably issuing fines during the enforcement of COVID-19-related restrictions. Three complaints concerned the use of violence during arrest. For example according to a complainant’s lawyer, on March 31, police in Nicosia pushed a garbage collector to the ground and brutally beat and handcuffed him. Police charged the alleged victim with reckless driving, resisting arrest, and failure to present his identification and proof of permission to be outside during curfew.

The most recent report of the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT), published in 2018, on the country’s prison and detention centers noted persistent credible allegations of police mistreatment of detainees, including allegations received in 2017 that a woman was sexually abused; that three juvenile detainees reported officers kicked, punched, and hit them with clubs during questioning at the Limassol Central Police Station; and that persons detained by police, particularly foreigners, risked physical or psychological mistreatment at the time of apprehension, during questioning, and in the process of deportation.

The ombudsman, who also acts as the country’s national preventive mechanism under the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture, reported a continued decrease in the number of complaints of mistreatment and discriminatory and degrading behavior, including complaints of verbal, physical, and sexual abuse, from inmates in detention centers and the Cyprus Prisons Department (CPD), the country’s only prison. The ombudsman reported complaints received during the year regarding abuse at police detention centers were generally insufficiently substantiated. The ombudsman reported that complaints received during the year regarding prisoner abuse at the CPD were still under investigation. Overall the ombudsman noted continued improvement in the treatment of prisoners and detainees in the CPD and in detention centers.

Impunity was not a significant problem in the security forces.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Physical conditions in some prison and detention centers, including detention centers for asylum seekers and undocumented migrants pending deportation, did not meet international standards.

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding remained a problem in the CPD. The prison’s capacity is 547; the maximum number of inmates held during the year was 820. In its 2018 report, the CPT noted that in Blocks 1, 2, 5, and 8 of the CPD, many cells did not have toilets, and prisoners lacked reliable access to toilets at night. Overcrowding was not a problem in the area housing female inmates.

Prison authorities held juvenile pretrial detainees in cells separate from convicted juveniles, but the two groups shared the same grounds in their daily activities under the supervision of prison staff. Authorities reportedly held migrants detained on deportation orders together with detainees charged with criminal offenses in nearly all police stations. Such detentions were limited to a maximum of 48 hours except in cases when the Mennoyia Detention Center for undocumented migrants was full. The ombudsman noted that in practice authorities detained undocumented migrants for longer than 24 hours, which the ombudsman asserted violated international principles for the treatment of detainees.

The ombudsman reported that it had not received complaints from prisoners related to overcrowding or the failure to separate prisoners at the CPD. It did, however, on its own initiative launch an investigation into these problems during the year which was still ongoing.

In response to the March CPT Statement of Principles Relating to the Treatment of Persons Deprived of their Liberty in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the government amended the prison law in April to reduce the prison population. Some prisoners received early release, were shifted to an open prison scheme (allowed to work outside the prison and visit family on some weekends), or were allowed to serve the remainder of their sentence under electronic surveillance (bracelet) at home.

During the year the ombudsman inspected Aradippou and Paphos police stations as well as the holding facility at Larnaca Airport. The ombudsman reported that persons convicted for criminal offenses and detained for deportation were held at Paphos police station longer than the 48 hours allowed by law. The report noted that the Paphos police station lacked entertainment and recreation facilities, written information on the rights of detainees were not available in every cell, and there was damage to the infrastructure of the detention center that had not been repaired. The ombudsman also noted insufficient access of detainees to telephone communication at the same police station. A report on the inspection of Aradippou police station was pending.

The nongovernmental organization (NGO) Action for Equality, Support, Antiracism (KISA) reported satisfactory physical conditions at the Mennoyia Detention Center for undocumented migrants.

Approximately 44 percent of prisoners in the CPD were non-Cypriots convicted for criminal offenses, mainly theft. Unlike some Cypriot prisoners, foreign prisoners without a temporary residence permit are not permitted to leave the prison to work, spend weekends with family, or apply for parole.

Administration: Authorities generally conducted investigations into credible allegations of mistreatment. In 2018 the CPT raised concerns that insufficient resources as well as personal ties between accused police officers and investigators (most of whom were former police officers) weakened investigations into allegations of police abuse. The ombudsman conducted regular visits to the CPD and detention centers to assess whether conditions and treatment of prisoners and detainees met national and international standards and regulations. In September the ombudsman, acting as the national preventive mechanism, launched an investigation into the overall treatment of prisoners and detainees and the physical conditions at the CPD. By October 22, the ombudsman had conducted six visits to the CPD. Detention centers lacked facilities for religious observance, but religious representatives were permitted to visit inmates. The ombudsman received several complaints from prisoners who claimed they faced health risks due to COVID-19 and requested to be released under conditions of electronic monitoring. The ombudsman was examining the complaints.

The ombudsman conducted regular visits to the CPD and detention centers to assess whether conditions and treatment of prisoners and detainees met national and international standards and regulations. In September the ombudsman, acting as the national preventive mechanism, launched an investigation into the overall treatment of prisoners and detainees and the physical conditions at the CPD. By October 22, the ombudsman had conducted six visits to the CPD. Detention centers lacked facilities for religious observance, but religious representatives were permitted to visit inmates. The ombudsman received several complaints from prisoners who claimed they faced health risks due to COVID-19 and requested to be released under conditions of electronic monitoring. The ombudsman was examining the complaints.

On September 22, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) declared inadmissible the application of a CPD prisoner that claimed his detention conditions aggravated the state of his mental health. The ECHR found that the prisoner, diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and convicted for murder, received adequate medical, psychiatric, and psychological support at the CPD.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted visits to prison and detention centers by independent human rights observers, and unrestricted and unannounced visits occurred during the year. Prison officials from other EU countries and diplomats stationed in the country visited the prisons during the year. Representatives of the Council of Europe Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings, the Cyprus Red Cross, KISA, and the Cyprus Refugee Council visited the Mennoyia Detention Center multiple times during the year.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. The government generally observed these requirements, with the exception of an incident involving several asylum seekers.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law requires judicially issued arrest warrants, and authorities respected this requirement. Authorities may not detain a person for more than one day unless a court grants an extension. Most periods of investigative detention did not exceed 10 days before the filing of formal charges. Authorities promptly informed detainees of the charges against them in a language they could understand. The attorney general made efforts to minimize pretrial detention, especially in cases of serious crimes.

There is a functioning system of bail. The government claimed the right to deport foreign nationals for specified reasons of public interest, regardless of whether criminal charges had been filed against them or they had been convicted of a crime. Trial delays were common and partially caused by lengthy legal procedures, which created a larger workload for the courts.

Detainees generally had access to an attorney. The law permits detainees to speak to their attorney at any time, including before and during interrogation by police. The CPT reported in 2018, however, that police officers regularly prevented detainees from contacting a lawyer until they had given a written statement, and the bar association reported that the presence of lawyers was not permitted during police interviews.

In one example, in 2019 a British teenager claimed Ayia Napa police denied her access to a lawyer during questioning and pressured her to sign a statement revoking her claim of rape against several Israeli teenagers. After she signed the confession, police charged her with causing public mischief for filing a false police report. The British teenager’s attorney told the press that police had questioned her for eight hours at the police station without a lawyer. On January 7, the court sentenced her to a four-month suspended sentence.

In criminal cases the state provides indigent detainees with an attorney. To qualify for free legal aid, however, detainees first require a court decision confirming their financial need. The Republic of Cyprus Bar Association prohibits lawyers from doing work pro bono. NGOs complained that this has a significant impact on their ability to take the government to court and hold officials accountable for the treatment of asylum seekers.

NGOs reported arbitrary arrests and detention of asylum seekers. According to the UNHCR, on May 11 and 15, police rounded up 67 asylum seekers from hotels and homes, handcuffed them, and transferred them by bus to Kokkinotrimithia reception center, where other refugees and asylum seekers were housed. They were confined to the center due to COVID-19-related movement restrictions. Police reportedly did not present arrest warrants, explain the reason for the arrests, or allow those arrested to bring any personal belongings, including medications.

The ombudsman reported some cases of authorities detaining migrants and asylum seekers, allegedly for the purpose of deportation, for extended periods despite there being no prospect they would actually be deported, either because their country of origin refused to accept them or the detainees refused to consent to the issuance of travel documents by their country of origin. The ombudsman reported that in those cases detention did not exceed the maximum of 18 months permitted by the law. A considerable number of detainees at the Mennoyia Detention Center were awaiting a decision on their request for international protection or for adjudication of their appeals against the rejection of their asylum applications. KISA said that authorities continued to provide only limited information to detainees about the status of their cases. The ombudsman recommended that Civil Registry and Migration Department adopted its past recommendation to have its officers visit Mennoyia Detention Center more frequently to better inform detainees about their cases.

Unlike in some previous years, the ombudsman and NGOs did not encounter cases of detainees deported before final adjudication of their asylum applications. An NGO reported, however, that instead of deporting detainees before final adjudication of their cases, immigration authorities pressured them to sign a voluntary return consent by threatening them with indefinite detention. The ombudsman received a complaint from a female detainee at the Mennoyia Detention Center about the type and quality of food provided. During the course of the ombudsman’s investigation, the detainee was provided the specific diet recommended by the doctor and the investigation was closed.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law and constitution provide for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality.

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right.

Defendants enjoy the right to a presumption of innocence. Officials informed defendants promptly and in detail of the charges against them. The constitution provides for fair and public trials without undue delay, and defendants have the right to be present and to consult with an attorney in a timely manner. Authorities provide an attorney for defendants who are unable to afford one and allow defendants adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Authorities provide free interpretation as necessary through all stages of the trial. Defendants have the right to confront prosecution or plaintiff witnesses and present evidence or witnesses on their behalf. Criminal defendants enjoy the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants have the right to appeal. The Cyprus Bar Association reported that chronic court delays, particularly in civil trials, impaired the right to a fair trial.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Individuals and organizations can seek civil remedies for human rights violations through domestic courts. Individuals can appeal cases involving alleged human rights violations by the state to the European Court of Human Rights once they have exhausted all avenues of appeal in domestic courts.

Property Restitution

According to the law, the minister of interior is the guardian of the properties of Turkish Cypriots who have not had permanent residence in the government-controlled area since 1974. Ownership remains with the original owner, but the sale or transfer of Turkish Cypriot property under the guardianship of the minister requires the approval of the government. The minister has the authority to return properties to Turkish Cypriot applicants after examining the circumstances of each case. Owners can appeal the minister’s decisions to the Administrative Court.

During the year Turkish Cypriots filed four court cases seeking to reclaim properties located in the government-controlled area. The Administrative Court, the Supreme Court, and Larnaca District Court issued a ruling in five separate cases filed against the guardian by Turkish Cypriot property owners in previous years. The Administrative Court found in favor of one Turkish Cypriot owner who had not received a reply from the guardian to his request to have his property disengaged from the guardianship. The court ruled that the 16 months that had lapsed since he submitted the request until the time of the appeal was not a reasonable period of time and ordered the minister of interior to correct the omission.

For information regarding Holocaust-era property restitution and related issues, please see the Department of State’s Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act report to Congress, released publicly on July 29, 2020, at https://www.state.gov/reports/just-act-report-to-congress/.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

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

Freedom of Speech: The law criminalizes incitement to hatred and violence based on race, color, religion, genealogical origin, national or ethnic origin, or sexual orientation. Such acts are punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment, a fine of up to 10,000 euros ($12,000), or both.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction.

The law penalizes the use of geographical names and toponyms in the country other than those included in the gazetteer the government presented at the 1987 Fifth UN Conference on the Standardization of Geographical Names. According to the law, anyone who publishes, imports, distributes, or sells maps, books, or any other documents in print or digital form that contain geographical names and toponyms on the island other than those permitted, commits an offense punishable by up to three years in prison, a fine of up to 50,000 euros ($60,000), or both.

Internet Freedom

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

The law criminalizes the use of computer systems to incite and promote racism, xenophobia, prejudice, racial discrimination, hate speech, and violence. Such acts are punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment, a fine of up to 35,000 euros ($42,000), or both.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

The government maintains a policy of preventing visiting foreign academics and artistic groups from attending conferences or performing in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots, in accordance with laws that provide them the right to deny entry to visitors who declare a hotel in the area under Turkish Cypriot administration not originally owned by Turkish Cypriots as the place of stay. There were no reports of blocked visits during the year, although for much of the year foreign tourists were not permitted to enter the country due to COVID-19.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

In-country Movement: The government imposed restrictions on some internal movements and movements through crossing points to the areas administered by Turkish Cypriots to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and these restrictions were applied equally to all. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government did not restrict Greek Cypriots from traveling to the area administered by Turkish Cypriots, but the Ministry of Foreign Affairs warned foreigners against spending the night at Greek Cypriot-owned properties occupied by Turkish Cypriots or Turks, gambling in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots, or buying or developing property there. Authorities at ports of entry denied admission to nonresidents who listed hotels in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots as their intended place of residence during their visit. NGOs reported the government prohibited recognized non-Cypriot refugees with temporary residence status and asylum seekers from crossing to the area administered by Turkish Cypriots, asserting it could not assure their safety in an area not under its control. Local media reported police officers at the crossing points occasionally harassed Greek Cypriots returning from the area under Turkish Cypriot administration.

On February 29, the government closed four of the nine buffer zone crossings as a temporary measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19. In mid-March, Turkish Cypriot authorities suspended the operation of the remaining crossings, effectively banning all travel across the buffer zone. Movement was partially restored in stages beginning June 8. The Ledra Street pedestrian crossing in Nicosia remained closed by the government as of December. Protests against the crossing point closures staged by Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots in late February and early March led to skirmishes with police and the arrest of three protesters. In March Turkish Cypriot press reported Greek Cypriot police used pepper spray and clubs against Turkish Cypriot demonstrators at the Ledra Street crossing. Several demonstrators and journalists were taken to the hospital. The Turkish Cypriot Foreign Press Association condemned the use of force and claimed Greek Cypriot police violated press freedom.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

The government considers Greek Cypriots displaced as a result of the 1974 division of the island to be refugees, although they fell under the UN definition of internally displaced persons (IDPs). As of December 2019 there were 228,000 such individuals and their descendants. UNHCR provided assistance to Greek and Turkish Cypriot IDPs from 1974 to 1988, after which it transferred assistance programs to UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) and other UN agencies. Depending on their income, IDPs were eligible for financial assistance from the government. They were resettled, had access to humanitarian organizations, and were not subject to attack, targeting, or mandatory return under dangerous conditions.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government generally cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees and asylum seekers. In 2019 the Asylum Service accepted the secondment of a UNHCR consultant and established a quality assurance unit to ensure the quality of the refugee status-determination procedures. The government did not accept UNHCR’s offer to second officers to Social Welfare Services to help ensure the mandatory vulnerability assessments of asylum applicants were conducted in a timely and comprehensive manner.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: NGOs reported that some Social Welfare Service officers and judges subjected asylum seekers to racist verbal abuse. On April 28, the NGO KISA reported that security personnel at the Social Welfare Services office in Lakatamia physically attacked two asylum seekers and an infant child who had visited the office to inquire about the delay in receiving their food coupons and rent subsidy. The Ministry of Labor reported the incident to the police and asked the private company providing security services to transfer the security guard involved from Social Welfare Services office. The security guard was charged and the case was pending trial at year’s end.

In June UNCHR reported three unaccompanied minors at Kokkinotrimithia reception center renewed their claim that they were sexually harassed by adult residents of the center. The minors reported they were touched inappropriately while waiting in line for food or medical examinations and that adults violated their privacy while showering. The commissioner for the protection of the child, the ombudsman, members of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Human Rights, and UNHCR criticized the government for keeping unaccompanied minors in the reception center until their age could be verified. The Asylum Service reported in September that according to its investigation the sexual harassment complaints were unfounded. It did, however, acknowledge it was a mistake and inappropriate to keep those who claimed they were unaccompanied minors with the general population. As a result the Asylum Service established a “safe zone” in the camp for persons claiming to be unaccompanied minors until their age could be verified. The Ministry of Labor reported that Social Welfare Services transferred two of the minors to a shelter for unaccompanied minors and the third to his sister’s house. Authorities referred the cases to the Children’s House, a multidisciplinary government center providing services to victims of child sexual abuse. According to the Ministry of Labor, two of the children interviewed by the center’s specialists did not report that they had been sexually harassed at the center. The third minor did not report sexual harassment and refused to be interviewed.

The government’s policy was not to hold irregular migrants in detention for long periods and to release them and provide them residency permits if they were not deported within 18 months. An NGO reported immigration authorities pressured migrant detainees to sign a voluntary return consent by threatening them with indefinite detention. The same NGO reported that some asylum seekers were detained for reasons of national security and remained in detention for several months without being informed of the evidence against them.

Refoulement: On March 20, marine police directed a boat carrying 115 Syrians to leave Republic of Cyprus territorial waters and return to Syria. Authorities cited COVID-related entry restrictions as the justification. The boat eventually capsized in waters under Turkish Cypriot administration, and Turkish Cypriot authorities deported the Syrians to Turkey. On June 4, a boat reportedly carrying 30 Syrians attempted to enter the country and was pushed back by marine police. The vessel eventually landed in the area under Turkish Cypriot administration. The Syrian passengers reportedly crossed irregularly into the government-controlled area. A third pushback of a boat reportedly carrying 10 Syrians was reported in late July. It also landed in the north and its passengers crossed irregularly into the government-controlled area. Between September 1 and 8, police pushed back six more boats arriving from Lebanon. According to UNHCR, government authorities kept two additional boats, reportedly carrying Syrian nationals, at sea for days. NGOs reported that passengers that came ashore on vessels from Lebanon were not given the opportunity to submit asylum claims. Instead they were immediately quarantined and quickly deported. NGOs claimed some asylum seekers were tricked into boarding buses they believed were going to a hospital, only to be taken to the port and deported on government-chartered vessels.

As of September 8, authorities reportedly deported a total of 115 persons who had arrived by boat from Lebanon. On September 9, a Ministry of Interior spokesperson stated that government officials had boarded the boats and verified the passengers were not asylum seekers but economic migrants. The ministry therefore decided to send them back to Lebanon. A UNHCR spokesperson responded on September 9 that UNCHR was not given access to the passengers of the boats that were pushed back and was therefore not in a position to verify that the passengers did not ask for asylum.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. On March 16, however, the government suspended asylum processing procedures as part of measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Registration of asylum applications resumed in late May. UNHCR and NGOs reported the suspension left many asylum seekers, including vulnerable populations, homeless and without benefits. The ombudsman received one official complaint from an asylum seeker who arrived on March 11 that authorities refused to accept the asylum seeker’s application, citing COVID-19 measures and that their passport had expired. The ombudsman’s investigation continued at year’s end.

Due to a significant increase in asylum claims in recent years and long delays in the examination of applications, more than 18,700 asylum claims were pending examination as of the end of September. The Asylum Service, the ombudsman, UNHCR, and NGOs reported some accelerated examination of asylum applications but the existing backlog remained and delays persisted in the appeals process. The government, UNHCR, and NGOs agreed that a significant proportion of registered asylum claims were not credible. In June 2019 the government established an International Protection Administrative Court (IPAC) to streamline the examination of asylum appeals. NGOs reported the establishment of IPAC was an improvement over the previous system, but there was not sufficient data to evaluate its effect on the duration of appeals.

Freedom of Movement: The government temporarily converted the two reception centers for asylum seekers in Kokkinotrimithia and Kofinou into closed centers with restricted entry and exit as part of the country-wide COVID-19 lockdown. The closure sparked a series of protests by camp residents in Kokkinotrimithia, a center designed to hold asylum seekers no more than 72 hours, who demanded to be allowed to freely exit. While movement restrictions were eased at Kofinou on May 21, entry and exit to Kokkinotrimithia remained restricted due to an outbreak of scabies. On May 27, UNHCR reported the decision effectively confined some 773 asylum seekers, including unaccompanied minors and other vulnerable persons, to the camp while only two residents were actually treated for scabies.

Media and NGOs reported unsanitary and harsh conditions for some asylum seekers, with insufficient food and lack of basic hygiene facilities, soap, and electricity. On April 23, after a visit to Kofinou and Kokkinotrimithia reception centers, the ombudsman reported that some of the newly installed tents at Kokkinotrimithia were placed on dirt that turned into mud after a heavy rainfall and some did not have electricity. She recommended opening of the centers as soon as pandemic conditions allowed, resumption of asylum procedures, and expediting the interviews of those who claimed to be minors to ensure no minors were left in temporary reception facilities.

There were several reports of arbitrary arrest and detentions of asylum seekers, including the May detention and confinement of 67 asylum seekers reported by the UNHCR (see section 1.d., Arbitrary Arrest or Detention).

Several NGOs reported concerns about deteriorating conditions at the Pournara Migrant Reception Center in Kokkinotrimithia in October and November. The pandemic’s effect on the economy impacted camp residents, and while asylum seekers were free to leave once processed during that time period, many chose not to because they could not find jobs or afford outside accommodation. Adding to the hardship, according to NGOs and government officials, the Social Welfare Service was not functioning effectively, leaving many without basic necessities such as access to food, rent subsidies, or healthcare. UNHCR reported some asylum seekers stay at the center for months.

In November the center reported operating near capacity with 549 total residents, including 52 children. A total of 37 migrants had tested positive for COVID, and 260 residents were confined to the quarantine section of the camp. New arrivals had slowed during the period of April to June when flights to the country were halted or reduced, but from September through early November, the center had processed an average of 20 arrivals per day.

The ombudsman made an unannounced visit on December 4 and issued a report on December 10 with a set of recommendations, including 1) the immediate release of 200 residents who meet the established conditions to leave; 2) the immediate transfer of 13 unaccompanied minors, being held on the basis of COVID mitigation protocols, to other appropriate facilities; 3) the creation of a safe zone for unaccompanied minors in quarantine; 4) an immediate vulnerability assessment of all individuals in the center and transfer of vulnerable persons to other facilities; 5) institution of a preliminary medical screening for all asylum seekers upon admission into the center; 6) speeding up efforts for the establishment of a second, specially designed accommodation facility outside the center to transfer any COVID-19 positive asylum seekers in the center; and 7) immediately transferring individuals who complete 14 days in the quarantine area and test negative for COVID-19 to the main area of the center.

Employment: Authorities allowed asylum seekers whose cases were awaiting adjudication to work after a one-month waiting period. In May 2019 the Ministry of Labor expanded the number of sectors in which asylum seekers could work to include employment in animal shelters and kennels, night shifts in bakeries and dairies, auto-body paint and repair, garden cleaning, and as kitchen assistants and cleaners in hotels and restaurants. The law previously restricted asylum seekers to employment in fisheries, the production of animal feed, waste management, gas stations and car washes, freight handling in the wholesale trade, building and outdoor cleaning, distribution of advertising and informational materials, and food delivery. NGOs and press reported refugees and asylum seekers lost jobs due to the long-term closure of many establishments in the tourism and hospitality sectors due to COVID-19 mitigation efforts. Prior to the pandemic, many were already dealing with tenuous financial situations and had difficulties finding and maintaining employment due to limited access to the labor market, lack of skills or education, and the lack of social capital and networks.

There were reports of racism by Labor Department officers who met with valid residency applicants seeking a contract of employment. During the year the Ministry of Labor and Social Insurance received 2,771 labor contracts applications for asylum seekers and by year’s end had approved 2,269 and rejected 54. NGOs reported the procedure for employing asylum seekers was slow and costly and discouraged employers from hiring asylum seekers.

Access to Basic Services: Recognized refugees have access to public services, such as education, health care, and the courts. The only permanent reception center for asylum seekers, located in Kofinou, remained full, and the majority of asylum seekers lacked proper housing. UNHCR and local NGOs noted a high number of asylum seekers faced homelessness and destitution. They reported that many asylum seekers slept in outdoor parks or temporarily stayed with friends, relatives, or strangers, often sleeping on floors without adequate access to hygiene facilities. The growing number of new arrivals, the limited supply of affordable accommodations, delays in the provision of government financial support, and the backlog in the examination of asylum applications increased the risk of homelessness, according to local NGOs.

Emergency measures introduced to contain the spread of COVID-19 included restrictions on freedom of movement, social distancing requirements, and limits on gatherings, as well as the closure of public spaces and certain businesses, government institutions, and facilities. NGOs and UNHCR reported that these actions had personal, public, economic, and social implications on the human rights and living conditions of refugees and asylum seekers. Primarily these included prolonged detention at overcrowded government reception facilities in poor conditions (see “Freedom of Movement” above); the loss of jobs and livelihoods (see “Employment” above); restrictions in access to healthcare; adverse mental health impacts; delays in social welfare payments; a lack of access to technology, education and personal development opportunities; delays in asylum and migration procedures; and limited access to the legal and judicial systems.

The ombudsman received several complaints concerning the delivery of welfare support and has requested the views of the Ministry of Labor on the matter. NGOs reported that during the lockdown to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, the government suspended housing subsidies provided to asylum seekers who were reportedly forcibly removed from their rented accommodations and transferred to the Kokkinotrimithia reception center. An unspecified number of asylum seekers accommodated by the government in hotels were also moved to Kokkinotrimithia, which the government temporarily turned into a closed reception center for the duration of the restrictions (April 8 to June 15).

UNHCR, NGOs, and asylum seekers reported delays and inconsistencies in the delivery of benefits. On March 18, the Council of Ministers abolished the coupon system for welfare support provided to asylum seekers and replaced it with direct payments. In previous years the ombudsman and NGOs reported that the system of providing welfare support to asylum seekers via coupons did not appropriately accommodate the special needs of vulnerable groups. The coupons could be redeemed only in specific shops that may lack some supplies, were usually more expensive than other grocery stores, and were often inconveniently located. The NGO KISA reported these shops exploited the vulnerable position of asylum seekers and charged up to 20 percent in fees to cash government checks. In October the Social Welfare Service began printing and mailing benefit checks to asylum seekers or paying welfare benefits directly into beneficiaries’ accounts, in accordance with the new system. NGOs complained that many asylum seekers lack reliable, stable mailing addresses and the ability to cash checks, and noted that banks are unwilling or reluctant to open accounts for asylum seekers. Homeless asylum seekers faced difficulties in opening a bank account without a valid address.

Asylum seekers who refused an available job could be denied state benefits. An NGO reported that mothers with young children and asylum seekers with medical conditions that prevented them from working in the permitted sectors of employment were sometimes refused state benefits. The Ministry of Labor reported that it examines the reasons an asylum seeker declined a job offer and if found valid, benefits remain in place.

In May 2019 the Council of Ministers introduced a series of changes to improve the housing condition of asylum seekers. It approved an increase, effective June 1, 2019, in the housing subsidy provided to asylum seekers by Social Welfare Services, established criteria for the number of persons who can reside in a rented establishment based on the number of rooms, and began providing the initial rent deposit directly to the asylum seekers instead of to the landlord. An NGO stated the increase was not sufficient to cover the steep rise in rent prices. The Council of Ministers also authorized continued financial support to asylum seeker families even if a member of the family finds employment, provided that the salary does not exceed the total assistance to which the family is entitled.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary protection, called subsidiary protection, to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. The government provides subsidiary protection status for citizens or residents of Syria who entered the country legally or illegally. All persons seeking such status were required to provide a Syrian passport or other identification. Authorities granted subsidiary protection to 1,209 persons during the first nine months of the year.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law and constitution provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. In national elections, Turkish Cypriots who resided in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots were ineligible to vote and run for office in the government-controlled area, although Greek Cypriots living in the north faced no such restrictions. In elections for the European Parliament, Cypriot citizens, resident EU citizens, and Turkish Cypriots who live in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots have the right to vote and run for office.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2018 voters re-elected Nicos Anastasiades president in free and fair elections. In 2016 the country held free and fair elections for the 56 seats assigned to Greek Cypriots in the 80-seat House of Representatives. The 24 seats assigned to Turkish Cypriots remained vacant.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women and members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Women remained underrepresented in senior political positions. Only 27 percent of ministers and 21.4 percent of the members of House of Representatives were women.

In May 2019 more than 5,600 Turkish Cypriots voted in the European Parliament elections at 50 polling stations near buffer-zone crossing points, compared with 1,869 who voted in 2014. According to press reports, between 1,100 and 1,500 Turkish Cypriots were unable to vote because their names did not appear on the electoral list. Voters elected a Turkish Cypriot to one of the country’s six seats in the European Parliament for the first time. The law provides for the registration of all adult Turkish Cypriot holders of a government identity card who resided in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots in the electoral roll for the European Parliament elections. Turkish Cypriots not residing in that area needed to apply for registration in the electoral roll, as did all other citizens residing there. The government did not automatically register an unspecified number of Turkish Cypriots residing in the north because they were incorrectly listed in the official civil registry as residents of the government-controlled area. This problem persisted but to a lesser extent than previous years, as the number of registered Turkish Cypriot voters increased from approximately 56,000 in 2014 to 81,000 in 2019. The media attributed much of this increase to the successful campaigning of the first Turkish Cypriot elected to European Parliament.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the laws effectively. Although the government generally investigated and prosecuted cases of corruption, there were numerous reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: On October 12, Al Jazeera aired an expose, The Cyprus PapersUndercover, in which undercover reporters captured extensive evidence of government corruption related to the Citizenship by Investment scheme (CBI). In the video the president of the House of Representatives, Demetris Syllouris, House of Representatives member Christakis Giovani, and CBI facilitators indicated their willingness to assist a fictitious Chinese CBI applicant whom they were told had been convicted of money laundering and corruption. On October 13, the government announced it was terminating the CBI program, effective November 1, and Attorney General George Savvides ordered an investigation into any possible criminal offenses arising from the Al Jazeera report. Syllouris and Giovani resigned from the House of Representatives. On March 11, the former mayor of Larnaca, Andreas Louroudjiatis, was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment for corruption, bribery, money laundering, and other related charges in connection to waste management plants operated by the municipalities of Larnaca and Paphos. The financial director of the Municipality of Paphos was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment and two engineers of the town planning department were sentenced to 42-month and 18-month prison terms in relation to the incident. The company involved, Helector Cyprus Ltd, was fined 183,000 euros ($220,000).

Financial Disclosure: The law requires the president, members of the Council of Ministers, members of the House of Representatives, and members of the State Health Services Organization board to declare their income and assets. The publication of their declarations is obligatory, but there are no specific sanctions for noncompliance. Spouses and children of the same officials are required to declare their assets, but the publication of their declarations is prohibited. Other public officials are not required to declare their assets.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

Domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were somewhat cooperative and responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: There is a government ombudsman, whose portfolio includes human rights, and a legislative Committee on Human Rights.

During her independent investigations, the ombudsman generally enjoyed good cooperation with other government bodies. NGOs complained, however, that the Office of the Ombudsman routinely refused to investigate their complaints on the grounds that similar complaints had been investigated in the past. The Office of the Ombudsman reportedly made increased interventions, including at least 52 ad hoc reports during the year to support vulnerable groups, such as migrants, refugees, asylum seekers, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons, and women.

The legislative Committee on Human Rights, which most local NGOs considered effective, consists of nine members of the House of Representatives who serve five-year terms. The committee discussed a wide range of human rights problems, including trafficking in persons, violence against women, sexual abuse of women and children, prison conditions, and the rights of foreign workers. The executive branch did not exercise control over the committee.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, including spousal rape, with a maximum sentence of life in prison. The law also criminalizes domestic violence, with a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison for violations. The government generally enforced the law effectively, although many cases continued to go unreported.

The law establishes clear mechanisms for reporting and prosecuting family violence. A court can issue a same day restraining order against suspected or convicted domestic violence offenders. The number of reported cases of domestic violence increased in recent years. In the first nine months of 2019, 519 cases of domestic violence were reported to police. As of October 2019, police had investigated 181 of the cases and filed 111 cases in court. The NGO Association for the Prevention and Handling of Violence in the Family (SPAVO) stated increased reporting reflected greater awareness of and access to services, rather than an increasing number of incidents. SPAVO said domestic violence victims often faced significant family and social pressure not to report abuse and to withdraw complaints filed with police. The media and NGOs criticized the Social Welfare Services for not providing sufficient support to female victims of domestic violence. In one example, in January a man stabbed and killed his estranged wife, Ghada Al Nouri, while three of their seven children were in the house. Al Nouri had reported abuse to police two weeks earlier, culminating in the man’s arrest and issuance of a restraining order. The perpetrator was released on bail just days later, pending the start of his trial. The director of the Social Welfare Service denied reports that the service did not ensure the victim was protected, stating that social workers were in constant contact with the victim and had offered her the option to move to a safe house. In July the perpetrator was convicted and sentenced to 18 years in prison.

SPAVO reported a steep increase in domestic violence during and immediately after the mandatory lockdown imposed due to COVID-19. In the period March 16 to June 30, the association recorded a 50 percent increase in SPAVO’s call center cases and a 46 percent increase in the number of victims at shelters, compared to the same period in 2019. Survivors of domestic violence had two shelters, each funded primarily by the government and operated by SPAVO.

Police conducted detailed educational programs for officers on the proper handling of domestic violence, including training focused on child abuse. NGOs reported, however, that some police officers continued to dismiss claims of domestic abuse by foreign women and children.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace with a maximum penalty of six months in prison, a 12,000 euro ($14,400) fine, or both. A code of conduct outlines the prevention and handling of sexual harassment and harassment in the public service. NGOs and foreign domestic worker associations reported that authorities did not adequately investigate sexual harassment complaints submitted by foreign domestic workers.

Sexual harassment reportedly remained a widespread, but often unreported, problem. NGOs said permissive social attitudes, fear of reprisals, and lack of family support for victims discouraged victims from reporting instances of sexual harassment. The Department of Labor reported receiving eight sexual harassment complaints, including two from foreign domestic workers, but stated that all the complaints lacked supporting evidence. The ombudsman continued to receive and examine complaints of sexual harassment in the workplace. In July 2019 the major labor unions–the Confederation of Cypriot Workers and the Pancyprian Labor Federation–agreed with the Employers and Industrialists Federation on a code of conduct covering how to treat cases of harassment and sexual harassment at the workplace. Due to the pandemic, the ombudsman cancelled planned training and seminars on sexual harassment and gender mainstreaming for the public sector during the year.

In April 2019 a university student reported to police that her 48-year-old employer at a Nicosia kiosk tried repeatedly to touch, hug, and kiss her without her consent. Following an investigation, including the examination of video footage, police brought charges against the employer, who was released on bail and restraining orders pending trial.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; to manage their reproductive health; and to have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence.

The government funded an NGO that provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: The law provides the same legal status and rights for women and men. The government generally enforced the law, but women experienced discrimination in employment and pay in the private sector. Although reporting by Eurostat showed pay parity between the genders in the public sector, NGOs reported vertical and occupational segregation remained a challenge.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship from their parents, and there was universal registration at the time of birth. Citizenship is denied, however, when either of the parents entered or resided in the country illegally. The government considers as illegal settlers Turkish citizens who entered and reside in the area under Turkish Cypriot administration. Children born to a Turkish Cypriot parent are not automatically granted citizenship if one or both of their parents were a Turkish national who entered and resided in the country illegally. Their applications for citizenship are reviewed by the Council of Ministers, which has the right to override this provision of the law and grant them citizenship, provided the applicants meet a set of criteria adopted by the Council of Ministers in 2007.

Child Abuse: The law criminalizes child abuse. The maximum penalty for child abuse is one year imprisonment, a fine of up to 1,700 euros ($2,000), or both.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal age of marriage is 18, but persons ages 16 and 17 may marry, provided there are serious reasons justifying the marriage and their legal guardians provide written consent. A district court can also allow the marriage of persons ages 16 and 17 if the parents unjustifiably refuse consent, or in the absence of legal guardians.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation of children, child pornography, offering or procuring a child for prostitution, and engaging in or promoting a child in any form of sexual activity. The maximum penalty for sexual abuse and exploitation of a child who is 13 through 17 years old is 25 years in prison. The penalty for sexual abuse and exploitation of a child younger than 13 is up to life in prison. Possession of child pornography is a criminal offense punishable by a maximum of life imprisonment. Authorities enforced these laws. The minimum age for consensual sex is 17.

International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.

Anti-Semitism

There were approximately 4,500 persons in the Jewish community, which consisted of a very small number of native Jewish Cypriots and a greater number of expatriate Israelis, British, and Russians.

Unlike in previous years, the Jewish community reported that there were no attacks against members of their community.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law protects the rights of persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities and prohibits discrimination against them. The government generally enforced these provisions.

Children with disabilities attend mainstream schools. The government provides a personal assistant to children with disabilities attending public schools but not to children with disabilities attending private schools. The ombudsman issued a report in September noting that the law obligated private secondary education schools to provide personal assistants for children with disabilities.

During the year the ombudsman examined several complaints from persons with disabilities concerning accessibility issues and discrimination. In May the ombudsman’s office reported that it examined a complaint submitted by parents of children with disabilities that their children were subjected to different conditions and procedures for their return to school under COVID-19-related restrictions. The ombudsman concluded that the additional conditions imposed by the Ministry of Education for their return to school violated the principle of equal treatment and nondiscrimination and called on the ministry to immediately revoke the additional requirements. The Ministry of Education complied with the recommendation.

Problems facing persons with disabilities included limited access to natural and constructed environments, transportation, information, and communications. The Cyprus Paraplegics Organization reported that several public buildings were still not accessible to wheelchair users. The ombudsman examined several complaints from persons with disabilities. In January the ombudsman reported that, in violation of relevant legislation, television broadcasters failed to provide audiovisual services accessible to persons with hearing disabilities. At the ombudsman’s recommendation, the Cyprus Radio-Television Authority (CRA) requested all broadcasters comply with their legal obligations. All broadcasters submitted accessibility action plans to the CRA. The CRA will evaluate their implementation during the course of the next year.

During the year government services implemented recommendations in the ombudsman’s April 3 report to ensure persons with physical and mental disabilities and persons in social care shelters had access to COVID-19 information and protection measures. The ombudsman intervened in a case of several persons with disabilities who were not allowed to abstain from coming to their workplace after colleagues tested positive for COVID-19 and in a case of a single parent of disabled children who was not granted leave to care for them during the pandemic. Both cases were resolved in favor of the complainant.

In February, three nurses at the public Athalassa Psychiatric Hospital reported appalling physical conditions, serious overcrowding, and personnel and medication shortages to the Cyprus Mail newspaper. The nurses reported that the building’s poor condition led to injuries of patients and staff. The ombudsman issued two reports in March and September that confirmed a shortage of nurses, the lack of a permanent pharmacist, and that past improvements to the building failed to create a suitable environment for patients.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Insurance’s Service for the Care and Rehabilitation of the Disabled is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. Observers did not consider fines for violating the law against employment discrimination sufficient to prevent abuses (see also section 7.d.).

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

Minority groups in the government-controlled area of the country included Catholics, Maronites, Armenians, and Roma. Although legally considered one of the two main communities of Cyprus, Turkish Cypriots constituted a relatively small proportion of the population in the government-controlled areas and experienced discrimination.

Christ Mayuba, a British soccer player on a local professional team, reported to police that he was the victim of a verbal racist attack by spectators during a match in February. Although Mayuba’s teammates stopped play as a show of support when a spectator called him a “slave,” the referee ejected Mayuba and eventually gave the opposing team the win by forfeit. At first police stated that a preliminary investigation did not appear to confirm Mayuba’s claims. The ombudsman conducted an investigation into the incident and concluded in March that Mayuba suffered verbal racial abuse. Following the ombudsman’s report, the police launched an investigation and submitted its findings to the attorney general for the criminal prosecution of those involved.

NGOs reported police racial profiling and discriminatory treatment of ethnic minorities in the enforcement of movement restrictions imposed to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. KISA reported that police illegally entered the homes of migrants without a warrant and fined them for violating the rule prohibiting home gatherings of more than 10 persons in spite of the fact that they were residents of the house. It reported that police targeted migrants in the streets to issue fines and in some cases intimidated and physically mistreated them. For example KISA reported in May that police fined three migrants playing soccer in the street outside their home for violating COVID-related movement restrictions. All three were living in a single-room apartment in the old city of Nicosia. The NGO reported the police had shown tolerance in similar cases involving local citizens. Caritas received reports from migrant workers that police fined them on the bus because their facemask was not covering their nose, as stipulated by the relevant decree, but did not fine nonmigrants, including the bus driver, wearing the mask in the same manner.

There were incidents of violence against Turkish Cypriots traveling to the government-controlled areas as well as some incidents of verbal abuse or discrimination against non-Greek Cypriots. In July 2019 Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci reported to the UN Secretary General’s special representative in Cyprus that a Turkish Cypriot tourist bus driver was harassed by Greek Cypriots at Larnaca airport and called for a proper investigation. President Anastasiades instructed police to open an investigation into the complaint, which continued at year’s end.

The Ministry of Education applied a code of conduct against racism in schools that provided schools and teachers with a detailed plan on handling, preventing, and reporting racist incidents.

A May 2018 European Commission report prepared as part of the Roma Civil Monitor pilot project stated that Cypriot Roma continued to face discrimination in housing, employment, and education. The report asserted government actions to promote the inclusion of Roma were insufficient.

The ombudsman continued to receive complaints that the government delayed approval of citizenship for children of Turkish Cypriots married to Turkish citizens residing in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots (see section 6, Birth Registration). The ombudsman reported that the government did not make progress towards implementing her past recommendations to ensure such applications were processed within a reasonable time and applicants are promptly informed in writing when their application does not meet stated criteria. The government reported granting citizenship to 50 such children in 2019.

A member of the Armenian community reported difficulties in registering with the Cyprus Scientific and Technical Chamber, the body responsible for the accreditation of engineers, allegedly due to his ethnicity. The ombudsman continued to investigate the case at year’s end.

Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

Antidiscrimination laws exist and prohibit direct or indirect discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Antidiscrimination laws cover employment and the following activities in the public and private domain: social protection, social insurance, social benefits, health care, education, participation in unions and professional organizations, and access to goods and services.

Despite legal protections, LGBTI individuals faced significant societal discrimination, particularly in rural areas. As a result many LGBTI persons were not open about their sexual orientation or gender identity, nor did they report homophobic violence or discrimination.

On September 7, authorities deported a Brazilian man who had entered a civil partnership with a Cypriot national while both were in prison. The NGO Accept LGBTI Cyprus (ACCEPT) and members of the House of Representatives Human Rights Committee publicly called on the minister of interior to cancel the deportation. The Brazilian was arrested immediately after his release from prison and detained at the Paphos police station for several weeks, exceeding the maximum of 48 hours that detainees can legally be held at police stations. The ombudsman concluded that the prolonged detention violated his rights and called for his immediate transfer to the Mennoyia Detention Center for irregular migrants. The ombudsman’s investigation did not examine the reasons for his deportation. ACCEPT protested his deportation in a press release September 9, asserting that authorities had followed irregular proceedings in breach of due process and violated the victim’s rights.

ACCEPT reported police routinely declined to investigate violence against LGBTI individuals as possible hate crimes. According to ACCEPT, police inaction discouraged LGBTI individuals from reporting complaints. The NGO reported two known attacks during the year against LGBTI individuals. On March 7, two young transgender individuals were attacked by a gang of seven hooded persons while leaving a party in Nicosia. The victims were hospitalized but did not report the attack to the medical personnel, or the police, and instead said that they fell down the stairs.

There were reports of employment discrimination against LGBTI applicants (see section 7.d.).

ACCEPT reported that transgender persons undergoing hormone replacement therapy experienced discrimination in access to health care following the introduction of the new national universal health insurance system in June 2019. The NGO reported that the same category of LGBTI individuals faced increased difficulties accessing hormone treatment due to the COVID-19 lockdown.

The law criminalizes incitement to hatred or violence based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

In 2018 the president of the HIV-Positive Persons Support Center stated that HIV-positive persons faced prejudice in employment both in the private and public sector as well as from society and their own families, largely due to lack of public awareness. Activists complained that raising public awareness of this problem was not a government priority and reported that even medical staff at hospitals were prejudiced and reluctant to examine HIV-positive individuals.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions, strike, and bargain collectively with employers. Both antiunion discrimination and dismissal for union activity are illegal.

The law requires labor unions to register with the registrar of labor unions within 30 days of their establishment. Persons convicted for fraud-related and immoral offenses are not allowed to serve as union officials. Unions’ accounts and member registers can be inspected at any time by the registrar. An agreement among the government, labor unions, and employers’ organizations established the procedure for dispute resolution for essential services personnel.

The government generally enforced applicable laws, and resources and investigations were adequate in the formal sector. Administrative procedures were efficient and immediate, but judicial procedures were subject to delays due to a case backlog. Penalties for violations, which occurred primarily in the informal sector, were not commensurate with those for other similar civil rights violations. Violations rarely occurred in the formal sector.

The government generally protected the right of unions to conduct their activities without interference, and employers generally respected the right of workers to form and join independent unions and to bargain collectively. Although collective agreements are not legally binding, they are governed by a voluntary agreement between the government and employer organizations. Unions, employers, and employees effectively observed the terms of collective bargaining agreements. Workers covered by such agreements were employed predominantly in the larger sectors of the economy, including construction, tourism, health care, and manufacturing.

Private-sector employers were able to discourage union activity in isolated cases because of sporadic enforcement of labor regulations prohibiting antiunion discrimination and the implicit threat of arbitrary dismissal for union activities.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The penalties were not commensurate with those for other serious crimes. The government did not effectively enforce the law, and forced labor occurred. Inspections of the agricultural and domestic service sectors remained inadequate, and resources at the Department of Labor Inspections within the Ministry of Labor were insufficient.

Forced labor occurred primarily in agriculture and in domestic work. Foreign migrant workers, children, and asylum seekers were particularly vulnerable, according to NGOs. Employers reportedly forced foreign workers, primarily from Eastern Europe and East and South Asia, to work up to 15 hours a day, seven days a week, for very low wages and in unsuitable living conditions. From January to September 2019, police identified six victims of labor trafficking. Some employers reportedly retained a portion of agriculture workers’ salaries as payment for accommodations, in violation of the law. In one example police arrested a 68-year-old retired police officer in July after videos posted on social media recorded by his foreign domestic worker indicated that he physically assaulted and terrorized her. Police charged him with trafficking in persons, labor exploitation, and other serious offenses. He was initially released on bail and then rearrested two weeks later after police found new evidence against him. The domestic worker was identified as a victim of trafficking and was transferred to the government shelter. A trial began September 28.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the employment of children, defined as persons younger than 15, except in specified circumstances, such as combined work-training programs for children who are at least 14, or employment in cultural, artistic, sports, or advertising activities, subject to rules limiting work hours. The law prohibits night work and street trading by children. The law permits the employment of adolescents, defined as persons ages 15 through 17, subject to rules limiting hours of employment and provided it is not harmful or dangerous. The law prohibits employment of adolescents between midnight and 4 a.m. The minimum age for employment in industrial work is 16. The government effectively enforced the law, and penalties for violations were commensurate with those for other serious crimes.

Ministry of Labor and Social Insurance inspectors were responsible for enforcing child labor laws and did so effectively. The Social Welfare Services Department of the ministry and the commissioner for the rights of the child could also investigate suspected cases of exploitation of children at work.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits direct or indirect discrimination with respect to employment and occupation based on race, national origin or citizenship, sex, religion, political opinion, gender, age, disability, and sexual orientation. The government did not effectively enforce these laws or regulations and penalties for violations were not commensurate with those for other civil rights laws. Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, and HIV-positive status.

Despite a strong legal framework, the Ministry of Labor and Social Insurance’s enforcement of the law governing employment and labor matters with respect to women was ineffective. The law requires equal pay for equal work. Women experienced discrimination in such areas as hiring, career advancement, employment conditions, and pay. European Institute for Gender Equality data indicated the average pay gap between men and women was 13.7 percent in 2017. NGOs reported the relatively small overall gender pay gap masked significant vertical and occupational gender segregation. The ombudsman reported receiving complaints related to gender discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace.

Discrimination against Romani migrant workers occurred. Turkish Cypriots faced social and employment discrimination (see section 6).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Although there is no national minimum wage, there are minimum wages for groups deemed vulnerable to exploitation. The minimum wages for shop assistants, clerks, assistant baby and child minders, health-care workers, security guards, cleaners of business premises, and nursery assistants were above the poverty line. The Ministry of Interior established a minimum wage for foreign domestic workers that was well below the poverty line.

Collective bargaining agreements covered workers in almost all other occupations, including unskilled labor. The wages set in these agreements were significantly higher than the poverty level.

Foreign workers were able to claim pensions, and some bilateral agreements allowed workers to claim credit in their home countries. The Migration Service was responsible for enforcing the minimum wage for foreign workers but did not effectively do so.

The legal maximum workweek is 48 hours, including overtime. The law does not require premium pay for overtime or mandatory rest periods. The law stipulates that foreign and local workers receive equal treatment. The Department of Labor Relations within the Ministry of Labor and Social Insurance is responsible for enforcing these laws. The penalty for violating the law was commensurate with those for similar crimes, but laws for wages and hours were not adequately enforced. Labor unions reported enforcement problems in sectors not covered by collective agreements, such as small businesses and foreign domestic workers. They also reported that certain employers, mainly in construction and agriculture, exploited undocumented foreign workers by paying them very low wages.

The law protects foreign domestic workers who file a complaint with the Ministry of Labor and Social Insurance from deportation until their cases have been adjudicated. The Department of Labor Relations reported that from January to December 10, it received 421 complaints from migrant workers against their employers. Of those, 406 were examined by year’s end.

The ombudsman continued to receive complaints from foreign domestic workers concerning the conditions of their employment and authorities’ handling of their requests to change employers. The ombudsman issued a report in November 2019 evaluating the government’s policies on foreign domestic workers. The report noted in particular domestic workers’ high dependence on their employers, combined with the lack of consequences for employers that violate the terms of the employment contract or physically abuse the employee, prevented domestic workers from filing complaints. Domestic workers also feared deportation. A domestic worker’s residence permit can be cancelled at the employer’s request in the event the employer files a complaint with the police about theft regardless of whether the alleged crime was investigated or proved. Some domestic workers complained their employers or employment agencies withheld their passports. The ombudsman’s report also noted that the lack of action by authorities to stop the practice encourages employers and employment agencies to continue to illegally hold domestic workers’ passports. NGOs reported many foreign domestic workers remained reluctant to report contract violations by their employers for fear of losing their jobs and, consequently, their work and residency permits. NGOs reported Department of Labor and police skepticism of complaints about sexual harassment and violence discouraged domestic workers from submitting complaints.

Occupational safety and health standards were appropriate for the main industries and the responsibility for identifying unsafe situations remains with safety and health experts. The Department of Labor Inspection in the Ministry of Labor and Social Insurance is responsible for enforcing health and safety laws. Workers have the right to remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, but authorities did not effectively protect employees in these situations. Authorities enforced health and safety laws satisfactorily in the formal sector but not in the informal sector, which included approximately 8.5 percent of workers. The penalties for failing to comply with work safety and health laws were commensurate with those of other similar crimes.

The Ministry of Labor employed an insufficient number of inspectors to effectively enforce labor laws in the agricultural sector and in the informal economy, where the majority of employees were migrant workers and undocumented workers. Inspectors had the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions in most industries but were not allowed to inspect the working conditions of domestic workers in private households without a court warrant. Four major industrial accidents occurred during the year that caused death or serious injury of workers.

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Area Administered by Turkish Cypriots

Greece

Executive Summary

Greece is a constitutional republic and multiparty parliamentary democracy. Legislative authority is vested in a unicameral parliament, which approves a government headed by a prime minister. In July 2019 the country held parliamentary elections that observers considered free and fair. A government formed by the New Democracy Party headed by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis leads the country.

Police are responsible for law enforcement, border security, and the maintenance of order. They are under the authority of the Ministry of Citizen Protection. The same ministry undertook responsibility for prison facilities in 2019. The Coast Guard, responsible for law and border enforcement in territorial waters, reports to the Ministry of Shipping Affairs and Island Policy. The armed forces are under the authority of the Ministry of National Defense. Police and the armed forces share law enforcement duties in certain border areas. Border protection is coordinated by a deputy minister for national defense. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the police, Coast Guard, and armed forces, and the government had effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse. Members of security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: the existence of criminal libel laws; unsafe and unhealthy conditions for migrant and asylum-seeking populations detained in preremoval facilities or residing at the country’s six reception and identification centers, including gender-based violence against refugee women and children in reception facilities; allegations of refoulement of refugees; acts of corruption; violence targeting members of national/racial/ethnic minority groups, including some by police; and crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex persons.

The government regularly took steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed human rights abuses, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government. There were, however, complaints from nongovernmental organizations and international organizations regarding the lack of government investigation of and accountability for allegations of forced returns of asylum seekers.

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices. There were reports, however, that at times police mistreated and abused members of racial and ethnic minority groups, undocumented migrants, asylum seekers, demonstrators, and Roma (see section 2.f., Protection of Refugees, and section 6, National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups).

In April a report published by the Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment (CPT) referenced cases of mistreatment by police, especially of foreign nationals and persons from the Roma community, a problem that is a frequent practice throughout the country. CPT also reported receiving a high number of credible allegations of excessive use of excessive force, of unduly tight handcuffing upon apprehension, and of physical and psychological mistreatment of criminal suspects during or in the context of police interviews. Some allegations involved the application of a plastic bag over the suspect’s head during police interviews, reportedly with the aim of obtaining a confession and a signed statement. None of the persons who alleged mistreatment was allowed to make a phone call or to contact a lawyer during their initial questioning by the police.

The CPT received a great number of allegations of verbal abuse of detained persons, including racist and xenophobic remarks by police officers. The CPT conducted ad hoc visits to detention and reception facilities around the country on March 13-17, publishing findings from these visits in a report issued on November 19. The report reiterated findings from previous visits, with a number of detained migrants alleging they had been mistreated by Hellenic Police and Coast Guard officials upon apprehension or after being brought to facilities for detention. According to the report, several migrants alleged they were slapped in the head, kicked, and hit with truncheon blows. In some cases the reports were supported by medical evidence. The report also concluded that conditions for detainees held in at least four facilities in Evros and in Samos amounted to inhuman and degrading treatment (see “Prison and Detention Center Conditions”).

The nongovernmental organization (NGO) Movement United Against Racism and the Fascist Threat (KEERFA) reported police at the Menidi police station physically abused 11 Pakistani, Palestinian, Indian, and Albanian migrant detainees after the detainees asked to contact their relatives (see section 6, “National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups”).

Impunity was not a significant problem in the security forces, although NGOs and international organizations complained there was a lack of government investigation of and accountability for violence and other alleged abuses at the border by the coast guard and border patrol forces.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions included severe overcrowding, insufficient security, lack of access to health care, inadequate access to food and sanitation, and inadequate supplies of resources. Prisoners alleged police mistreatment and physical and verbal abuse (see section 2.f., Protection of Refugees).

Physical Conditions: According to government statistics published in November, prisons exceeded capacity. Nationwide, prisons can accommodate 10,055 individuals; as of November 16, they held 11,468 inmates. Facilities in Volos, central Greece, in Komotini, Evros, and in Tripoli, Peloponnese, exceeded capacity by 219, 220, and 194 percent respectively. An April 9 CPT report referenced instances of women being placed in the same detention area with unrelated adult men, with cell doors left open during the day, thus allowing men to mix with women without adequate supervision. According to the CPT, for most prisoners, work inside prison was largely notional with a lack of organized recreational sports or vocational activities.

On July 23, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Greece violated Articles 3 (prohibition inhuman and degrading treatment) and 13 (right to an effective remedy) during the detention of two foreign nationals in overcrowded and substandard conditions in the Malandrino prison. The court awarded damages of 24,000 euros ($28,800) for both complainants and an additional 2,000 euros ($2,400) for trial expenses.

Fewer violent incidents among detainees occurred in prison facilities compared with the previous year, and there was no loss of life. The government conducted regular and extraordinary inspections for drugs and improvised weaponry. In March prison authorities reportedly conducted 639 inspections in facilities throughout the country. In April the government reported special measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the penitentiary system, including disinfecting prison facilities and government-owned vehicles, and establishing special wings in Athens and in Thessaloniki to isolate confirmed COVID-19 cases. On several occasions, inmates complained that government COVID-19 protection measures were inadequate, with over-congested conditions, insufficient testing, and a lack of access to medical and pharmaceutical care.

On November 19, the government began demolition and construction activities at the site of a former NATO base, in Aspropyrgos, in western greater Athens, where a new prison facility will be built to replace the Korydallos prison complex.

Police detained undocumented migrants and asylum seekers in overcrowded reception and identification centers (RICs) on five islands (Lesvos, Chios, Samos, Leros, and Kos) and one on the mainland in Evros until the individuals were identified and registered. Individuals were also held in detention facilities and preremoval centers. Following registration at the RICs, residents were allowed some freedom of movement, although it was significantly reduced as part of the government’s efforts to avoid a COVID-19 outbreak.

The RICs, in addition to being overcrowded, provided generally poor housing conditions, insufficient washing and sanitation facilities, as well as poor health services and low security, according to reports by local and international organizations such as Oxfam, Human Rights Watch, the Greek Council for Refugees, and Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF). Citing concerns related to COVID-19, MSF warned about the impossibility of maintaining social distancing and engaging in frequent hand washing under such overcrowded and poor conditions. MSF reiterated concerns regarding serious negative mental health impacts from overcrowding. In August and September, several cases of COVID-19 were confirmed among residents of the Vial RIC on Chios and the Moria RIC on Lesvos. On September 9, the Moria Center was destroyed by fire, leaving its more than 12,000 residents without immediate shelter.

On May 22, a female Afghan asylum seeker allegedly stabbed in the neck and killed another female conational at the Moria Center. On July 27, an Afghan resident at the Moria RIC was stabbed to death by three other residents. From January 1 through July 27, local police in Lesvos reported 18 knife attacks at the Moria Center, resulting in six deaths and 14 individuals seriously injured and hospitalized. Gender-based and domestic violence in migrant sites continued to be a major concern, especially during the COVID-19 lockdown.

To address chronic problems at the RICs exacerbated by increased migrant and refugee flows from Turkey to Greece throughout 2019, the government on January 15 issued a presidential decree reinstating a separate and independent Ministry for Migration and Asylum which took over responsibility for the RICs and the refugee sites from the Ministry of Citizen Protection. As part of the government’s measures to contain the spread of COVID-19, approximately 2,000 asylum seekers with health vulnerabilities were transferred from the RICs to the mainland by June. Other measures included placing special containers at the RICs wherefor medical doctors could examine suspected COVID-19 cases, hiring additional medical staff, establishing automated bank teller machines inside the RICs to reduce movement outside the RICs, and a temporary ban on travel to the islands. Movement restrictions outside the RICs applied for most of the year (see section 2.d., Freedom of Movement).

Police also detained in predeparture centers rejected asylum applicants scheduled to be returned to Turkey (which stopped accepting returns on March 16 due to COVID-19), migrants waiting to return home under the International Organization for Migration’s (IOM) Assisted Voluntary Return Program, undocumented migrants, and migrants suspected of committing a crime. Predeparture centers suffered from overcrowding, limited access to outdoor areas, unsanitary conditions, and limited access to medical treatment, psychological counseling, and legal aid.

In its November 19 report, the CPT reiterated similar findings after visiting a number of migrant detention facilities around the country. The CPT noted that conditions for detainees, including women and children held in at least four facilities in Evros and in Samos, amounted to inhuman and degrading treatment. Detainees in those facilities were allocated less than one square meter of surface per person. The CPT noted that migrants continued to be held in detention facilities with large, barred cells crammed with beds (or sometimes no beds, just filthy mattresses or blankets on the floor), poor lighting and ventilation, and broken and dilapidated toilets and washrooms, inadequate food, insufficient personal hygiene products and cleaning materials, no access to outdoor daily exercise, including for children, no interpretation services, and no access to doctors or lawyers. Often, individuals were held without having knowledge of the reason for their detention.

Administration: Independent authorities investigated credible allegations of inhuman conditions. The Ministry of Citizen Protection, through the Secretariat General for Anticrime Policy, published bimonthly detention-related statistics on the occupancy rate and the design capacity per prison.

Independent Monitoring: The government generally permitted independent authorities and nongovernmental observers to monitor prison and detention center conditions. Government officials controlled access to RICs and official migrant and asylum-seeker camps for NGOs, diplomatic missions, and foreign and domestic journalists, requiring them to submit formal access requests with advance notice for each specific site. For most of the year, special COVID-19-related restrictive measures applied to the RICs and to refugee and migrant accommodation facilities. These measures banned outside visits and limited the range and the duration of residents’ movement outside these facilities.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

Both the constitution and the law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and give any person the right to challenge the lawfulness of an arrest or detention in court. The government generally observed these requirements. The ombudsman, through the National Preventive Mechanism for the Investigation of Arbitrary Incidents, received 208 complaints in 2019, most of which related to police. The CPT noted that the system for investigating allegations of mistreatment was not effective, as only a few cases resulted in disciplinary sanctions or criminal sentences.

NGOs reported incidents of security forces committing racially and hate-motivated violence. In a July 16 report, the Racist Violence Recording Network (RVRN), a group of NGOs coordinated by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and the National Commission for Human Rights reported that law enforcement officials committed or were involved in 11 of the 100 incidents of racist violence recorded in 2019. Victims in these incidents included, among others, refugees, migrants, and asylum seekers, including unaccompanied minors, a same-sex couple, and a transgender woman. The victims alleged inappropriate behavior by law enforcement officials during police checks and operations in public spaces, inside police departments in Athens, and in reception or detention centers. The report included 282 cases of racist violence reported to police in 2019, of which 19 were allegedly committed by police.

NGOs, universities, international organizations, and service academies trained police on safeguarding human rights and combating hate crimes and human trafficking.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and requires judicial warrants for arrests, except during the commission of a crime. The law requires police to bring detainees before a magistrate, who then must issue a detention warrant or order the detainee’s release within 24 hours. Detainees are promptly informed of the charges against them. Pretrial detention may last up to 18 months, depending on the severity of the crime, or up to 30 months in exceptional circumstances. A panel of judges may release detainees pending trial. Individuals are entitled to state compensation if found to have been unlawfully detained. There were no reports that police violated these laws.

Detainees may contact a close relative or third party, consult with a lawyer of their choice, and obtain medical services. Police are required to bring detainees before an examining magistrate within 24 hours of detention, but detainees may be granted additional time to present an adequate defense. The CPT reported complaints from individuals who said they were not allowed while in custody to promptly notify a close relative or a lawyer during the initial period of detention, particularly before or during questioning by police, when the risk of intimidation and mistreatment is greatest. The law typically provides such guarantees only after a person is formally accused of a criminal offense rather than from the outset of custody. Regarding access to a lawyer, the CPT noted that individuals who lacked financial means often met a lawyer only during their bail hearing for bail. The CPT reiterated such findings in its November 19 report.

Rights activists and media reported instances in which foreign detainees had limited access to court-provided interpretation or were unaware of their right to legal assistance. The CPT reported receiving many complaints from foreign detainees that they had not been informed of their rights in a language they understood or had signed documents in Greek without knowing their content and without assistance from an interpreter. The CPT reported these findings in November. Indigent defendants facing felony charges received legal representation from the bar association. NGOs and international organizations provided limited legal aid to detained migrants and asylum seekers. On May 26, parliament amended the law regarding free legal assistance. The new law allows more experienced lawyers to undertake penal cases as part of a free legal assistance program and expands the program during the stages prior to trial.

On April 28, the Greek Helsinki Monitor, as part of its Racist Crime Watch program, filed a report to the police department tasked with combatting racist violence accusing a police officer at a police station in Agia Paraskevi, in Athens, of legal violations against undocumented foreign nationals by using racist language and making insults each time the inmates asked for food or hygiene products while detained for months in the station’s holding cells.

Arbitrary Arrest: The government placed some unaccompanied minors into what it called protective custody at local police stations, due to a lack of other suitable housing. The CPT found during a visit to the Omonia police station in Athens that three unaccompanied minors, including a 14-year-old boy, waiting for a medical screening, were kept under protective custody in a cell with unrelated adult men for between one and five days (see section 1, Prison and Detention Center Conditions, Physical Conditions). On November 18, the Ministry for Migration and Asylum reported that no unaccompanied minors were in protective custody, ending the practice that had been criticized by human rights organizations. All unaccompanied minors are to be housed in suitable long-term and short-term facilities.

Pretrial Detention: Prolonged pretrial detention resulting from overburdened and understaffed courts remained a problem. By law pretrial detention should be authorized only if house arrest with electronic monitoring is deemed insufficient. Judicial authorities may impose limitations on freedom, including bail; require regular appearances at the local police station; and ban a suspect from exiting the country when there are strong indications the defendant is guilty of a crime punishable by at least three months in prison. In the case of final acquittal, the affected individual may seek compensation for time spent in pretrial detention. Compensation procedures, however, were time consuming, and the amounts offered were relatively low–nine to 10 euros ($11.00 to $12.00) per day of imprisonment. Ministry of Justice statistics show that as of January approximately 26 percent of those with pending cases were in pretrial detention.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. Observers reported the judiciary was at times inefficient and sometimes subject to influence. Authorities respected court orders. Observers continued to track the case of Andreas Georgiou, who was the head of the Hellenic Statistical Authority during the Greek financial crisis. The Council of Appeals has cleared Georgiou three times of a criminal charge that he falsified 2009 budget data to justify Greece’s first international bailout. At year’s end the government had made no public statements whether the criminal cases against him were officially closed. Separately, a former government official filed a civil suit in 2014 as a private citizen against Georgiou. The former official said he was slandered by a press release issued from Georgiou’s office. Georgiou was convicted of simple slander in 2017. Georgiou appealed that ruling, and at year’s end the court had not yet delivered a verdict.

Trial Procedures

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. The law grants defendants a presumption of innocence, and defendants have the right to be informed promptly and thoroughly of all charges. According to legislative amendments passed in 2019, a suspect or defendant has the right to seek compensation for damages resulting from public officials disrespecting the individual’s presumed innocence at any time during legal proceedings. According to the same legislation, the burden of proof of guilt lies with the court and the defendant benefits from any doubt. Delays in trials occurred mostly due to backlogs of pending cases, understaffing, and the lockdown imposed due to COVID-19. Trials are public in most instances.

Defendants have the right to communicate and consult with an attorney of their choice in a fair, timely, and public manner, and they are not compelled to testify or confess guilt. Lawyers, whether chosen by the defendant or appointed by the state, are provided adequate time and space inside prison facilities to consult with their clients and to prepare a defense. The government provides attorneys to indigent defendants facing felony charges. Defendants may be present at trial, present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf, and question prosecution witnesses. Defendants have the right to appeal. Defendants who do not speak Greek have the right to free interpretation through a court-appointed interpreter, although some NGOs criticized the quality and lack of availability of interpretation.

A law enacted in 2019 limited the use of sharia (Islamic law) to only family and civil cases in which all parties actively consent to its use.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

The judiciary was generally independent and impartial in civil matters. The law provides citizens with the ability to sue the government for compensation for alleged violations of rights. Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic decisions to regional human rights bodies, including the European Court of Human Rights.

Property Restitution

The law addresses property restitution, and many Holocaust-era property claims have been resolved, but several issues remained open. The Jewish community of Thessaloniki had a pending case against the Russian government calling for the return of the community’s prewar archives. On several occasions throughout the year, Alternate Foreign Minister Miltiadis Varvitsiotis publicly urged the return of these archives. Additionally, the Jewish Historical Institute of Warsaw held religious artifacts allegedly stolen from the Jewish community of Thessaloniki in 1941; the community continues to request their return. The Organization for the Relief and Rehabilitation of Jews in Greece (OPAIE) claimed more than 100 properties owned by Jews before the war are now occupied as government facilities. In 2018 the Supreme Court ruled in favor of OPAIE regarding one of the properties. Following the ruling, a committee of government appointees and representatives of the Central Jewish Council was established in 2019 to negotiate the fate of the remaining properties. At the end of the year, negotiations were ongoing.

The Department of State’s Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act report to Congress, released publicly on July 29, 2020, can be found on the Department’s website: https://www.state.gov/reports/just-act-report-to-congress/

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the 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 Speech: The constitution and law protect freedom of expression but specifically allow restrictions on speech inciting discrimination, hatred, or violence against persons or groups based on their race, skin color, religion, descent, national or ethnic origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability, or who express ideas insulting to persons or groups on those grounds.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. Minority media owners in Thrace, northern Greece, where members of the country’s recognized Muslim minority reside, complained that unlike numerous other media owners throughout the country, they did not receive government funding to promote the widespread Menoume spiti (We stay at home) campaign during the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2019 the government passed legislation requiring vendors who sell print media to stock and display all Greek newspapers and magazines.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists were subjected to physical attack, harassment, or intimidation due to their reporting in at least 12 instances. On January 19, unidentified perpetrators, allegedly far-right supporters, attacked and injured a Deutsche Welle journalist, Tomas Jacobs, who was covering a rally against migrants and refugees. According to the journalist, who is also one of the scriptwriters of a documentary about the Golden Dawn neo-Nazi movement in the country, the perpetrators confirmed his identity before the attack. The victim also claimed that police in the area did not come to his rescue. The government, mainstream political opposition, and the Foreign Press Association denounced the attack.

On March 1, angry residents in Lesvos verbally and physically attacked three foreign journalists covering their attempts to stop a dinghy carrying migrants and asylum seekers from landing at a small port. On July 27, unknown perpetrators shot Stefanos Chios, journalist and publisher of the ultra-sensationalist news site Makeleio, injuring him severely. Anarchists spray-painted the walls of media outlets on January 16, wrote insults targeting a journalist outside his residence on February 6 and on March 24 claimed responsibility for setting fire to the entryways to two journalists’ residences. On February 3, unknown perpetrators exploded the publisher’s parked car.

On November 11, NGOs Media Freedom Rapid Response and Reporters Without Borders sent a letter to the chief of police and to the minister of interior protesting the eight-hour-long October 19 “arbitrary detention” of a four-member German media crew on Samos for the production of a film on climate-induced migration. During their detention, they claimed they were subjected to questioning and harassment, and were denied food by officers who were not wearing protective masks. The police reportedly suspected them of espionage because they had used a drone to take camera shots from a beach next to a military site but the crew members firmly denied they were filming the site in question.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government did not censor media. The government maintains an online register with the legal status of local websites, their number of employees, detailed shareholder information, and their tax office. Once registered, these websites are accredited to accept funding through state advertising, to cover official events, and to benefit from research and training programs of the National Center of Audiovisual Works. All registered websites must display their certification on their homepage. Although registering was an open and nonobligatory process, outlets failing to do so could be excluded from the accreditation benefits. In 2019 the government launched a similar electronic registry for regional and local press.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law provides criminal penalties for defamation and libel. A law passed in 2019 clarified that individuals convicted of crimes cannot claim slander for discussion of those crimes. The same law also removes the provision requiring journalists to appear immediately before a court, or wait in jail until the court opened, in the case they were accused of libel, a provision that had been abused by politicians to intimidate journalists. On September 14, media reported that a court awarded 160,000 euros ($192,000) to a Greek correspondent in the United States, Thanos Dimadis, for being slandered by a former minister. The court cited “personal and professional damage” against Dimadis, ruling he had been wrongly accused by the minister and his associates of spying on them during their visit to New York in September 2016. Members of the ministerial delegation had stated in public that the correspondent had been arrested by police in New York for his behavior, an allegation the journalist denied and proved to the court to be slanderous.

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 citizens’ online communications without appropriate legal authority.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events. Government restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic forced some cultural and artistic events between March and November to be rescheduled or cancelled.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights, albeit with restrictions as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

Due to COVID-19, the government banned gatherings of more than nine or 10 individuals during the lockdowns.  On July 10, the parliament separately passed non-COVID-related legislation on public open-air gatherings.  The law requires prior and timely announcement–in writing or via email–of the gatherings to the competent police or coast guard authorities and makes protest organizers accountable in case of bodily harm or property damage if they have not followed requirements for notification and precautionary measures.  Some parliament members and analysts called the law anticonstitutional and antidemocratic, arguing it infringes the right of assembly.

Freedom of Association

Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of association, the government continued to place legal restrictions on the names of associations of nationals who self-identified as ethnic Macedonian or associations that included the term “Turkish” as indicative of a collective ethnic identity (see section 6, National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities). Such associations, despite the lack of legal recognition, continued to operate unobstructed.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. Some of these freedoms were partially suspended as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, although the restrictions were put in place by region and did not target specific groups. The government enforced restriction measures at all six RICs, including a ban on movement outside nearby towns from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., with movement otherwise allowed only in small groups of up to 10 persons. Visitors were generally banned from RICs. Similar measures also applied to migrant and refugee accommodation centers. Human rights groups criticized the restrictions as being more severe than those on the general population.

In-country Movement: Prior to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, undocumented migrants and asylum seekers arriving at Greek islands were subject to special border reception and registration procedures and were not allowed to leave registration centers for up to 25 days. After this 25-day period, undocumented migrants remaining in those facilities were generally allowed to enter and exit but were prohibited from travelling to the mainland unless they successfully filed asylum applications.

To prevent the spread of COVID-19, border reception and registration procedures were adapted to provide medical tests to all newly arriving migrants and asylum seekers and require 14 days of quarantine in a special facility. A law passed May 12 states that asylum seekers deemed “vulnerable” are not eligible to receive expedited examination of their asylum claims or to be transferred to the mainland on vulnerability grounds alone. Once asylum applicants were granted refugee status, they could move off the islands. Those with admissible cases and likely to receive refugee status could also be transferred to the mainland, space permitting. The government also allowed some asylum seekers in poor health to transfer from congested island registration and reception facilities to less-congested facilities in the mainland as a precautionary measure against COVID-19.

Despite government efforts to increase placements in the mainland and decongest the north Aegean islands, local residents and authorities strongly resisted receiving asylum seekers, even in privately owned facilities such as hotels. Restrictions on movements also applied to mainland accommodation centers as a result of the pandemic.

Local and international NGOs reiterated criticism of the government’s practice of confining asylum seekers to the islands and employing “protective custody” for unaccompanied minors (see section 1.c., Prison and Detention Center Conditions, Physical Conditions). Local and international organizations expressed criticism and concern over a law passed on May 12 establishing closed and semi-closed facilities for the temporary reception of asylum applicants, arguing that deprivation of liberty would become the norm for most asylum seekers. NGOs such as MSF criticized the government’s decision to apply increased movement restrictions on residents of all six RICs and other reception facilities around the mainland due to COVID-19. MSF called the measure “discriminatory.”

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government cooperated with UNHCR, IOM, and other organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern.

On February 28, Turkish president Erdogan announced that the borders Turkey shares with the EU were “open,” prompting over 50,000 refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants to move to the border areas. Some local Turkish officials provided free buses to aid refugees’ mass movement to the border, according to humanitarian organizations and rights groups.

Citing national security concerns, Greece suspended receiving any asylum claims until April 3 but permitted those who had entered the country since February 28 to apply for asylum starting April 1. International and local human rights agencies and organizations, including Oxfam, the Greek Council for Refugees, and the UN special rapporteur for the rights of migrants, raised concern about the deprivation of liberties. On March 9, the European Court for Human Rights rejected an application filed by three Syrian nationals to lift the government’s suspension of reception of new asylum claims.

On March 11, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government again suspended asylum services that could not be conducted electronically or with social distancing, but required a physical presence. During this period the government extended the deadline for asylum seekers to apply for and renew residence permits. The government also extended the deadline from March 31 to May 31 for recognized refugees to remain in the cash assistance program and in government-funded housing.

On July 6, the NGO Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) reported that the public prosecutor on Lesvos pressed criminal charges for illegal entry against asylum seekers who arrived on the island during March, when the government had suspended asylum applications. HIAS reported that the lives of approximately 850 persons were impacted by the prosecutor’s decision. According to HIAS, “the criminal prosecution of asylum seekers for unauthorized entry, while the government itself had suspended submission of new asylum applications is illegal.”

During the year, the flow of migrants and asylum seekers to the country from Africa, Asia, and the Middle East continued, though in reduced numbers as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and enhanced border protection surveillance. As of September 30, UNHCR figures indicated 121,100 migrants and asylum seekers resided in the country.

On January 1, a law amending asylum regulations took effect. The law was designed to speed up decision-making on asylum applications. It established extended periods of detention for asylum seekers and ties the treatment of asylum applications to the applicants’ cooperation (or lack thereof) with authorities. It altered the composition of the appeals committees to consist exclusively of judges, dropping a position held by a UNHCR designate. The law required appeals to be filed and justified through court briefs instead of standardized documents, eliminated post-traumatic stress disorder as a factor for designating whether a refugee was considered “vulnerable” and therefore ineligible to be returned to Turkey or their country of origin if their asylum application is denied, and. It codified that rejected asylum applicants should immediately return to Turkey or their country of origin. UNHCR, local and international NGOs, including the Greek National Commission for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, the Greek Council for Refugees, MSF, and other organizations argued the law emphasizes returns over protection and integration, puts an excessive burden on asylum seekers, focuses on punitive measures, and introduces requirements an asylum seeker could not reasonably be expected to fulfill.

On March 10, the government passed legislation reducing free shelter and cash assistance benefits to asylum seekers to one month (down from six months) after receiving refugee status, with the exception of unaccompanied minors. On May 12, the government amended the asylum law so asylum seekers deemed vulnerable are not prioritized. The new law establishes a secretariat in charge of unaccompanied minors under the Ministry for Migration and Asylum instead of under the National Center for Social Solidarity. The law sets tighter deadlines for issuing decisions on claims filed by asylum seekers in detention from 20 to 10 days. The law precipitates the process for the issuance of decisions after appeals were filed; unifies the registration process at the RICs and the Asylum Service into one step; and introduces sign language, as appropriate, as well as the official language of a country as an acceptable alternative to the language requested by applicants for interpretation.

If authorities decide to halt an asylum case, the applicant can, within nine months, either request that the process be restarted or file a new claim. In such cases, until there is a final decision, the asylum applicant cannot be deported or returned. Under the same law, if an appeal is rejected, applicants (except unaccompanied minors), must be detained at a predeparture center until they are returned. The filing of a subsequent application or a request for annulment of a decision does not automatically end the detention.

On January 3, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Citizen Protection issued a joint decree naming 12 countries of origin of asylum seekers that the government considers safe: Ghana, Senegal, Togo, Gambia, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Albania, Georgia, Ukraine, India, and Armenia. Applicants from “safe” countries of origin undergo a fast-track process for reviewing their asylum claim and are required to demonstrate why their country is not safe for their return.

Human rights activists and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community argued that the vast majority of asylum applicants from these countries were either persecuted due to their sexual orientation and gender identity or faced serious threats to their lives, many due to their LGBTI status. On July 7, the Greek NGO Diotima reported on a Moroccan female transgender asylum seeker whose application and appeal had been rejected and who faced deportation. Diotima asked that she be granted international protection, arguing that her life would be at risk due to her sexual orientation if she returned to Morocco. On October 14, the court accepted her claim, annulling the deportation order on the grounds that she would face arrest, imprisonment, and abuse if sent back to her country (see section 6, Acts of Violence, Discrimination and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity).

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Authorities did not always provide adequate security or physical protection to asylum seekers, particularly those residing in the overcrowded RICs.

Local and international media, human rights NGOs, and international organizations reported that asylum seekers personally testified that at the Greece-Turkey land border they were physically abused and deprived of their personal belongings, including their money and cell phones, prior to being returned to Turkey.

On March 4, a man was shot and killed while trying to cross the border from Turkey to Greece amid violent clashes at the Evros border (see section 2.f., Refoulement). Some NGOs reported he was shot by Greek security forces, likely by accident. On May 12, more than 100 members of the European Parliament addressed a letter to the head of the European Commission, calling for a formal investigation into the death. A government spokesman on March 10 “explicitly denied” that Greek security forces were involved in the incident.

The CPT reported receiving “credible allegations of migrants being pushed back across the Evros land border to Turkey.” The CPT also raised concerns over the Coast Guard preventing migrants’ boats from reaching the country’s islands or pushing back migrants who had arrived within the country’s territory.

In many instances, newly arrived migrants and asylum seekers on the islands, including pregnant women and children, stayed for days in the open air, without shelter, food, and other care, waiting to be temporarily transferred to a quarantine facility and processed for registration to the RICs. The separation and protection of vulnerable groups was not implemented at some sites due to overcrowding, lack of alternative housing, and restrictions in movement due to the pandemic.

NGOs, including Diotima, stated the COVID-19 lockdown and restriction measures employed at the RICs for most of the year resulted in more gender-based violence but with fewer of these incidents being reported. Refugee and migrant women who are victims of gender-based violence are legally eligible for temporary shelter in government-run homes and for legal and psychosocial assistance, but few reported abuse, according to aid organizations. Some NGO representatives reiterated findings from previous years that even after reporting rapes to the authorities, some victims continued residing in the same camp as the perpetrators.

Authorities recorded numerous other violent incidents, including clashes among residents of various nationalities occurring mostly in the RICs, often resulting in injuries and deaths. The RVRN recorded 51 incidents involving racially motivated verbal and physical violence against refugees and migrants in 2019 (see section 6, National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities).

Refoulement: The government provided some protection against the expulsion or return of asylum seekers to countries in which their lives or freedom would be threatened due to race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

Several international media reported on allegations of pushbacks. A New York Times article on August 14 claimed the country illegally pushed back at least 1,072 asylum seekers and migrants who arrived in Greek territory, citing at least 31 incidents in which groups were sent back to Turkey. In a public statement on June 11, the IOM in Geneva expressed concern about “persistent reports of pushbacks and collective expulsions of migrants, in some cases violent, at the EU border between Greece and Turkey.” The IOM called on authorities to investigate the alleged incidents, for all states to avoid militarizing border patrols, and to continue “ensuring protection-sensitive border management, aligned with international law.” The following day, June 12, UNHCR issued a statement stating “the present allegations go against Greece’s international obligations and can expose people to grave danger.” Several respected media outlets published investigative reports between May and July saying security forces pushed refugees back into Turkey. The methods reportedly include disabling (sometimes by assailants covered head-to-toe in black) the engines of boats full of asylum seekers so the boats drift back to Turkey, putting the migrants on tent-like life rafts which have a motor but cannot be steered and were pointed toward Turkey, or simply towing the boats into Turkish waters and cutting the line.

The government stated border protection operations were carried out in cooperation with the European Union Agency Frontex. Prime Minister Mitsotakis publicly affirmed the country operated according to international law. On November 12, Frontex stated that a preliminary internal investigation found no evidence of direct or indirect involvement by Frontex or EU member-state officials in refugee pushbacks at the Greece-Turkey border. Media and NGO reports continued to allege that pushbacks were a standard practice. The Frontex Management Board agreed to organize a subgroup under its authority to carry out an investigation on the matter.

Prime Minister Mitsotakis and other government officials, including the ministers for migration and asylum, for citizen protection and for shipping affairs and island policy, denied any wrongdoing, affirmed the country’s commitment to international law, and blamed the reports on Turkish disinformation campaigns. In public remarks on March 3, after border guards repelled attempts over several days by thousands of apparent refugees to cross the land border with Turkey at Evros, Mitsotakis said the issue was “no longer a refugee problem” and called Turkey a “safe country.” He charged that Turkey was instead using “desperate people to promote its geopolitical agenda and to divert attention from the horrible situation in Syria. The tens of thousands of people who tried to enter Greece over the past few days did not come from Idlib. They have been living safely in Turkey for a long period of time; most of them speak Turkish fluently.” Other officials similarly have argued that the country is protecting its borders in response to Turkish efforts designed to pressure the country and the EU. They described Turkey as a “safe country,” meaning that returning asylum seekers to Turkey is not refoulement.

On March 31, the president of the Council of State agreed to temporarily halt the extradition of two Afghan women on vulnerability grounds. The applicants had filed a petition for the suspension of the order that temporarily barred asylum applications. The order would have forced their deportation without allowing them to seek protection through asylum. The president denied a similar request by a third Afghan female plaintiff.

Access to Asylum: The law establishes procedures for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing legal protection to refugees through an autonomous asylum service under the authority of the Ministry of Migration and Asylum. The law requires that applicants have access to certified interpreters and allows applicants to appeal negative decisions and remain in the country while their appeals are examined.

Authorities worked with NGOs, international organizations, and the European Asylum Support Office to inform undocumented migrants awaiting registration in the asylum system, as well as non-EU foreign national detainees, about their rights, asylum procedures, and IOM-assisted voluntary return programs. UNHCR assisted the government with briefings and the distribution of multilingual leaflets and information packages on asylum and asylum procedures.

The Asylum Service, including regional asylum offices and autonomous asylum units, suspended in-person services between March 13 and May 15 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. During that period, applications for international protection and appeals at second instance were not registered by the authorities and interviews were not conducted. With the exception of asylum applicants at the centers on Lesvos, Samos, Chios, Leros, and Kos, the government renewed for an additional six months asylum seekers’ residence permits that would have expired between March 13 and May 31. The Asylum Service resumed operations on May 18, with many administrative procedures (such as changes to addresses, telephone numbers, personal data, the separation of files, the procurement of copies from the personal file, the rescheduling and the prioritization of hearings, the provision of legal aid etc.) able to be completed online.

Starting March 22, authorities restricted movement and generally did not allow visitors at the RICs and several reception facilities. In a July 4 ministerial decree, these measures were expanded to all reception facilities around the country. Residents were required to stay within the perimeter of the reception center, and movement outside the camps was permitted only from 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., with no more than 150 residents allowed to exit every hour, and only in groups no larger than 10 persons. All visits or activities inside the RICs were banned unless they related to accommodation, food provision, or medical care, or were authorized by the management of the center or camp. Access to legal services was also subject to management authorization. Human rights groups criticized those restrictions as being more severe than those applied to the general population.

On May 19, human rights activists and NGOs working with asylum applicants, including Oxfam and the Greek Council for Refugees, expressed concerns about what they called “a practice by the authorities of issuing mass rejections,” arguing that the mass rejections undermined individuals’ right to a fair asylum procedure. In their statement both organizations estimated that only a fraction of those whose initial applications were rejected were able to access legal support granted by the state, due to restrictions in movement, the tight 10-day deadline for submitting an appeal, and the overall structural difficulties for navigating the highly complex asylum procedure. On April 27, the Greek Council for Refugees reported that in 2019 only 33 percent of the asylum seekers who had lodged an appeal at second instance had benefitted from free legal assistance. The Greek Council for Refugees called this “an administrative practice incompatible with the EU law,” albeit quasi-standardized and generalized.

Access to the asylum process for persons detained in predeparture centers remained a concern. According to the Asylum Information Database annual report, updated by the Greek Council for Refugees on June 23, the average processing time in 2019 for asylum applications exceeded 10 months. Out of 87,461 applications pending at the end of 2019, the personal interview had not yet taken place in 71,396 (approximately 82 percent) of them. For nearly 48,000 of the applications pending at the end of 2019, the interview was scheduled for the second half of 2020 or even after. Fast-track Syria Unit applicants received interview appointments for 2021, while applicants from Iraq and from African countries were scheduled to be interviewed in late 2023. Interview dates for applicants from Turkey, Iran, and Afghanistan were set as far ahead as 2024.

In his annual report for 2019, the ombudsman confirmed, while sourcing the Asylum Service regional offices in Athens and in Thessaloniki, that the average waiting time for the examination of asylum applications by nationals with high recognition rates (from Turkey, Afghanistan, and Iran) exceeded three years. On November 12, the Ministry of Migration and Asylum presented data indicating that the number of asylum decisions increased by 73 percent compared with 2019, and the number of pending asylum decisions decreased by 37 percent. According to the ministry, as of October 30, 82,646 initial decisions were pending and 4,976 more decisions were pending at the Appeals Authority.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country adheres to the Dublin III Regulation, according to which authorities may return asylum seekers to the EU member state of first entry for adjudication of asylum claims.

According to the 2016 EU-Turkey statement, every undocumented migrant crossing from Turkey to the Greek islands would be confined to a RIC for up to 25 days, during which time the individual would have the opportunity to apply for asylum in Greece. Individuals opting not to apply for asylum or whose applications were deemed unfounded or inadmissible would be returned to Turkey (see section 2.d., Freedom of Movement). Citing the COVID-19 pandemic, on March 16 Turkey suspended all returns of rejected asylum applicants from the five island centers until further notice. From the beginning of the year until then, a total of 139 rejected asylum seekers were returned to Turkey.

Employment: Recognized refugees and holders of asylum-seeker papers were entitled to work, although this right was not widely publicized or consistently enforced. There were limited options for employment, made scarcer by the pandemic.

Access to Basic Services: Legally, services such as shelter, health care, education, and judicial procedures are granted to asylum seekers with a valid residency permit. However, asylum seekers had limited access to these services due to overcrowding in reception sites, overburdened hospitals and health units, restrictions in movement, and staffing gaps due to the pandemic.

Everyone in the country is entitled to emergency medical care, regardless of legal status. Medical volunteers, NGO-contracted doctors, the National Organization for Public Health, and army medical doctors provided basic health care in reception centers and referred emergencies and complex cases to local hospitals, which were often overburdened and understaffed. MSF was forced to close a medical clinic on Lesvos after protesters threw rocks at volunteers. Their press release noted a rise in “aggressive behavior towards asylum seekers and refugees, as well as humanitarian organizations and volunteers.”

Some individuals suffering from chronic diseases encountered problems obtaining proper medication. Asylum seekers lacking a permanent or provisional social security number faced particular difficulty in accessing medical, mental health, and pharmaceutical care, with those suffering from chronic diseases being left without treatment for a considerable amount of time.

On October 11, Migration and Asylum Minister Notis Mitarachis announced that asylum seekers would receive a bank account, taxpayer identification number, and social security number upon completing their initial registration, allowing asylum seekers to rent an apartment, get a job, and receive medical care.

Once granted asylum, new refugees were provided one month in subsidized housing. It remained difficult in that time span to receive documents required to apply for a job, rent a house, or receive the health booklet needed for some medical services. Passports to leave the country temporarily were easily obtainable.

The government operated facilities staffed with basic medical personnel outside the RICs and reception facilities in the mainland for the examination and isolation of possible COVID-19 cases. Media and NGOs, including MSF, reported funding gaps which delayed or disrupted the operation of these facilities. They also underscored the difficulty in practicing social distancing in congested environments that lacked washing facilities, antiseptics, and sufficient masks.

The government enforced a different protocol for the management of COVID-19 outbreaks in reception camps than for other enclosed population groups. The government protocol, known as the Agnodiki Plan, requires facilities to be quarantined and all cases (confirmed and suspected) to be isolated. If outbreaks occur at other enclosed population groups (such as nursing homes), vulnerable individuals are to be immediately moved from the site to safe accommodations, while all confirmed and suspected cases are isolated off-site in a separate facility.

RICs on islands and in the Evros region continued to be overcrowded despite intense government efforts to decongest them. Shelter, health care, wash facilities, and sewer connections were inadequate, often raising security and health concerns. Housing conditions at reception facilities elsewhere on the mainland were generally better, although at times overcrowding and remoteness from urban centers hindered access to services.

Many vulnerable asylum seekers were eligible to be sheltered in apartments via the ESTIA housing program implemented by UNHCR in cooperation with some NGOs and local municipalities. Conditions in the apartments were significantly better than in reception facilities. IOM implemented a program for sheltering asylum seekers in short-term facilities such as hotels. Throughout July media reported on several cases of recognized refugees staying in the streets after they had to leave EU- and government-sponsored accommodation. An unknown number of homeless refugees were temporarily accommodated in big tents at reception camps around Attica (Elaionas, Skaramangas, Schisto, Malakasa.)

Unaccompanied minors living in “protective custody” in police stations had limited or no access to health care or medical services. As of October 15, according to the country’s National Center for Social Solidarity, 176 unaccompanied children were in protective custody (see section 1.c., Prison and Detention Center Conditions, Physical Conditions). On November 18, the Ministry for Migration and Asylum reported that all 170 unaccompanied minors who had been in protective custody were transferred to suitable facilities.

Durable Solutions: Refugees may apply for naturalization after seven years of residence in the country as a recognized refugee per a change in the law that took effect March 11. The previous requirement was three years. The government processed family reunification applications for asylum seekers with relatives in other countries. The IOM offered voluntary returns to rejected asylum seekers and those who renounced their asylum claims, offering in some cases 2,000 euros ($2,400) as an inducement.

Temporary Protection: As of February 29, the government provided temporary protection to approximately 599 individuals who may not qualify as refugees.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2019 the country held parliamentary elections that observers considered free and fair. As a result of the elections, the New Democracy party gained a majority of the parliamentary seats and party leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis became the country’s prime minister, succeeding a coalition of SYRIZA (Coalition of the Radical Left) and ANEL (independent Greeks) parties, headed by then prime minister Alexis Tsipras.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Parties must receive at least 3 percent of the votes to win a seat in the country’s parliament or in the European Parliament. In the government cabinet, following an August reshuffle, six out of 51 (approximately 11 percent) ministers and deputy ministers were women. Legislation passed in 2019 requires a minimum of 40 percent distribution of male and female candidates in local, regional, national, and European Parliament elections. During the year women held 22 percent of elected seats in the national legislature.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not always implement the law effectively. Officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Permanent and ad hoc government entities charged with combating corruption were understaffed and underfinanced. On July 3, media reported that police dismantled two criminal gangs operating in Athens and in northern Greece that engaged in extortion for money, arson attacks, and drug and weapons trafficking. In both cases, police officers covered up for the criminal rings’ actions.

In August 2019 parliament passed legislation establishing a unified transparency authority by transferring the powers and responsibilities of public administration inspection services to an independent authority.

In November 2019 laws addressing passive and active bribery of officials were amended to contain a specific definition of “public official” and to make active bribery of a public official into a felony, instead of a misdemeanor, punishable by a prison sentence of five to eight year (as opposed to three).

Corruption: Reports of official corruption continued. On February 26, a Greek-Israeli businessman testified to a parliamentary committee investigating potential abuse of authority by the former alternate justice minister under the Syriza government, Dimitris Papangelopoulos, in a case involving bribes by the Novartis pharmaceutical company. The businessman alleged that in 2016 Papangelopoulos had asked him for money (350,000 euros or $420,000) in the presence of another member of the government at the time, in exchange for “clearing” tax evasion-related cases the businessman faced in court. According to the testimony, the money would be used to pay the trial expenses of a newspaper owner sued by the businessman for slander. The businessman claimed several times during the year, that politicians, journalists, and judicial officials had formed a para-state mechanism to extort money from business leaders or hurt their political adversaries.

On October 27, a criminal appeals court found former defense minister Akis Tsochatzopoulos, his wife, and his cousin guilty of money laundering with regard to a Swiss health insurance contract paid with bribe money. All three defendants received suspended sentences of six years in prison and a 100,000-euro fine ($120,000). They were set free on bail and with a travel ban. Tsochatzopoulos had previously been sentenced and served time in prison on money laundering and other charges in relation to defense procurements.

The government continued efforts to combat tax evasion by increasing inspections and crosschecks among various authorities and by using more sophisticated methods to find undeclared income. Authorities had monthly lotteries offering taxpayers rewards of 1,000 euros ($1,200) for using credit or debit cards, considered more financially transparent, in their daily transactions. Media reported allegations of tax officials complicit in individual and corporate tax evasion. In May the country’s National Transparency Authority launched investigations of NGOs providing support to asylum seekers and migrants, seeking examples of financial mismanagement. No findings had been publicized by the end of the year.

On November 17, the government established the Financial Prosecutor’s Office to deal with financial crime in the wake of public complaints about an investigation by the Corruption Prosecutor’s Office into a case involving the pharmaceutical company Novartis. The new office, headed by a senior prosecutor selected by the Supreme Judicial Council of the Supreme Court, included 16 prosecutors and became operational in November.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires income and asset disclosure by appointed and elected officials, including private-sector employees such as journalists and the leaders of government-funded NGOs. Several agencies are required to monitor and verify disclosures, including the General Inspectorate for Public Administration, the police internal affairs bureau, the Piraeus appeals prosecutor, and an independent permanent parliamentary committee. Declarations were made publicly available, albeit with some delay. The law provides for administrative and criminal sanctions for noncompliance. Penalties range from two to 10 years’ imprisonment and fines from 10,000 to one million euros ($12,000 to $1.2 million).

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were often cooperative and responsive to their views. COVID-19 restrictions, however, impeded access to reception and detention facilities for migrants on the islands and–in certain circumstances–to official camps on the mainland.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Office of the Ombudsman, a state body considered independent and effective, investigated complaints of human rights abuses by individuals. Five deputy ombudsmen dealt with human rights, children’s rights, citizen-state relations, health and social welfare, and quality of life problems, respectively. The office received adequate resources to perform its functions. In its 2019 annual report, the office reported receiving 16,976 complaints, of which 73 percent were satisfactorily resolved.

The autonomous, state-funded National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR) advised the government on protection of human rights. The NCHR was considered independent, effective, and adequately resourced.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Under a law that took effect in 2019, rape, including spousal rape, is a crime punishable by 10 years’ up to life imprisonment in cases with multiple perpetrators or if the rape results in the victim’s death. The previous limit was five to 20 years. Attempted sexual intercourse without consent is punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Charges may be pressed ex officio, without the need of a complaint. If the victim does not wish to seek prosecution, the prosecutor may decide to drop charges. The law applies equally to all survivors, regardless of gender.

In 2019 media reported research showing that only 200 of an estimated average of 4,500 rape incidents per year were officially reported (approximately one out of 22). On May 5, media reported statistics from the Secretariat General for Family Planning and Gender Equality indicating an increase in violent incidents, including domestic violence, during the general lockdown in March and in April for COVID-19. The secretariat’s hotline received 1,070 calls reporting violent incidents in April, of which 648 referred to domestic violence, compared with 325 and 166, respectively, in March. Seven out of 10 incidents were reported by the victims themselves, mostly spouses and life partners (61 percent), children (10 percent), ex-spouses and former life partners (8 percent), and parents and siblings (9 percent). The data prompted the secretariat to conduct a wide campaign, involving television, internet and radio spots, to inform victims of domestic violence about their available options to escape from abusive behavior. Experts from the secretariat’s counselling services noted in parliament during September sessions of the special interparliamentary committee on gender equality that victims were reluctant to file complaints during the lockdown but after restrictions were lifted, complaints tripled and sometimes quadrupled.

On November 25, a survey ordered by the Ministry of Citizen Protection and its official think tank, the Center for Security Research, showed that more than three out of 10 women were abused during the spring lockdown. The survey, conducted from July to October, collected responses from 750 women. Of respondents, 36 percent reported suffering an abuse, with most of the victims being women ages 38 to 39, married, and with an average of two children. Eight in 10 of the perpetrators were men with a median age of 45, and four in 10 were college graduates, worked at full-time jobs, and had no history of violence.

Penalties for domestic violence range from one to three years’ imprisonment, depending on the severity of the violence. The previous range was two to 10 years. The court may impose longer prison sentences for crimes against pregnant or minor victims. Authorities generally enforced the law effectively when the violence was reported; however, some NGOs and international organizations criticized law enforcement in migrant sites for not responding appropriately to victims reporting domestic violence. Experts estimated only 10 percent of rape and domestic violence cases reached the courtroom, noting that despite an adequate legislative framework, judges’ personal biases and social norms that blame the victim were major obstacles. In 2019 police recorded 229 reported rape incidents, 62 of which were attempted rapes. Police reported identifying the perpetrators in 161 cases of rape and attempted rape. The number of identified perpetrators was 227.

The government and NGOs made medical, psychological, social, and legal support available to rape survivors.

Two popular television hosts were suspended for five days and fined 150,000 euros ($180,000) in January for comments they made in November 2019 making light of an incident in which a woman said a man sexually assaulted her in a public space at Aristotle University in Thessaloniki.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law requires mandatory prison sentences for persons who coerce or force female individuals to undergo genital mutilation.

Despite anecdotal reports that migrant and refugee women residing in the country underwent FGM/C prior to their arrival in Greece, there was no evidence FGM/C was practiced in the country. In 2019 the European Institute for Gender Equality issued a study estimating that 25 to 42 percent of migrant and refugee girls living in the country but originating from states in which FGM/C is practiced were at risk of FGM/C.

Sexual Harassment: Under the new penal code, enforced since 2019, penalties may be as high as three years in prison for sexual harassment, with longer terms applied to perpetrators who take advantage of their position of authority or the victim’s need for employment. The previous penalty ranged from two months to five years. On November 24, NGO ActionAid reported that 85 percent of women in Greece were subjected to sexual harassment. The research took place from July to September based on a sample of 1,001 women from across the country and an additional 376 women working in tourism and catering. Based on the same research, only 6 percent officially denounced these incidents. In his 2019 annual report, the ombudsman reported his office received 335 complaints pertinent to gender equality, without specifying how many were related to sexual harassment, noting, however, that complaints on gender equality grounds were among the highest in numbers for calendar year 2019 (335 of 16,976). This trend was also reflected in the ombudsman’s special report on nondiscrimination and equal treatment for 2019. Of the 1,176 complaints received in 2019, 44 percent cited discrimination on gender equality grounds. In these reports, as well as in previous years, the ombudsman noted the absence of a policy against sexual harassment in most private and public workplaces, oftentimes combined with inadequate investigation of reported incidents.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children, and to manage their reproductive health with access to the information and the means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. Some pregnant women and new mothers, particularly those residing in the five reception and identification centers for asylum seekers on the North Aegean islands during the COVID-19 pandemic, reportedly faced obstacles in accessing proper health care. There were no legal, social, and cultural barriers to access to contraceptives. The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: The constitution provides for the same legal status between women and men. The government effectively enforced the laws promoting gender equality, although discrimination occurred, especially in the private sector. Muslim minority persons in Thrace can request the use of sharia with notarized consent of both parties (see section 6, National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups).

Legislation passed in 2019 established a National Council on Gender Equality and created a certification for companies that comply with maternity leave laws, provide equal pay for male and female employees, and demonstrate gender equality in managerial posts.

A widespread perception still exists among private businesses that a pregnant employee is a burden, according to the 2019 annual antidiscrimination report from the ombudsman.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from one’s parents at birth; a single parent may confer citizenship on a child. Parents are obliged to register their children within 10 days of birth. The law allows delayed birth registration but imposes a fine in such cases. On February 3, the government passed legislation allowing the birth registration process to be completed electronically to increase transparency and facilitate the cross-checking of documents and data.

Child Abuse: Violence against children, particularly migrant, refugee, street, and Romani children, remained a problem. From January through October, the NGO Smile of the Child reported 1,019 serious cases of abuse related to 1,813 children through its helpline SOS 1056. The law prohibits corporal punishment and the mistreatment of children, but government enforcement was generally ineffective. Welfare laws provide for treatment and prevention programs for abused and neglected children in addition to foster care or accommodation in shelters. Government-run institutions were understaffed, however, and NGOs reported insufficient space, including for unaccompanied minors who by law are entitled to special protection and should be housed in special shelters.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal age for marriage is 18, although minors ages 16 and 17 may marry with authorization from a prosecutor. While official statistics were unavailable, NGOs reported illegal child marriage was common in Romani communities, with Romani girls often marrying between the ages of 15 and 17, or even younger, and male Roma often marrying between the ages of 15 and 20.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The legal age of consent is 15. The law criminalizes sex with children younger than 15. The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children and child pornography and imposes penalties if the crime was committed using technology in the country. Authorities generally enforced the law. In 2019 police arrested 27 individuals on child pornography charges.

Displaced Children: According to National Center for Social Solidarity data, approximately 4,190 refugee and migrant unaccompanied and separated children resided in the country as of October 15. Only 2,659 of these children resided in age-appropriate facilities. Local and international NGOs attested that unaccompanied minors were not always properly registered, at times lacked safe accommodations or legal guardians, and were vulnerable to labor and sexual exploitation, including survival sex. In 2019 the ombudsman issued a report about children on the move in the country, noting discrepancies in the administrative treatment of unaccompanied minors depending on where they entered the country, the agency that identified them, and their nationality.

On May 12, the government passed legislation establishing the Special Secretariat for the Protection of Unaccompanied Minors, later assigned to work under the Ministry for Migration and Asylum. The new law assigns the overall management and supervision of unaccompanied minors to this body, removing responsibility from the National Center for Social Solidarity, although the center continued to issue biweekly statistics on the status of unaccompanied minors.

The Special Secretariat for the Protection of Unaccompanied Minors is responsible for sheltering unaccompanied minors, including prioritizing cases with vulnerable or disabled minors. It is also responsible for coordinating the short-term and long-term placement of unaccompanied minors in shelters (government and nongovernmental) and safe zones in the RICs and other facilities. The secretariat is entrusted with: maintaining the national electronic registry for unaccompanied minors; monitoring the enforcement of standard operating procedures at reception facilities; periodically assessing the services provided; training and supporting the staff at these facilities, and coordinating efforts to relocate minors to other countries.

The government, through the Special Secretariat for the Protection of Unaccompanied Minors, increased placements for housing unaccompanied minors and sped up the process for relocating approximately 1,000 of them to other European countries as part of a voluntary relocation scheme.

Institutionalized Children: Activists condemned the use of protective custody for unaccompanied minors for prolonged periods, often in unsanitary, overcrowded conditions resulting from a lack of space in specialized shelters (see section 1, Prison and Detention Center Conditions, Physical Conditions). On September 29, Secretary General for Unaccompanied Minors Irini Agapidaki stated on social media that there were no unaccompanied minors residing at the RICs on the five Aegean islands or in Evros. The unaccompanied minors had all been relocated to other shelters or to other EU member states. On November 18, the Ministry of Migration and Asylum reported that all unaccompanied minors who were in protective custody as of November 14 had been transferred to proper accommodation facilities.

International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.

Anti-Semitism

Local Jewish leaders estimated the Jewish population in the country consisted of approximately 5,000 individuals. Anti-Semitic rhetoric remained a problem, particularly in the extremist press, social networking sites, and certain blogs. There were several incidents of graffiti and vandalism.

On January 3, the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece (KIS) condemned anti-Semitic graffiti on a recently restored historic synagogue in Trikala, central Greece. The vandalism took place in late December 2019, with unknown perpetrators painting swastikas on the walls surrounding the synagogue and writing anti-Semitic slogans such as “Jewish snakes out.” The KIS called on the authorities to arrest those responsible. The city of Trikala also issued a statement condemning the incident. On August 13, a memorial to fallen Greek Air Force personnel in central Athens was defaced with anti-Semitic graffiti reading ‘Satanic Jews Out’ interspersed with Christian symbols.

On October 5, media reported that unknown perpetrators sprayed anti-Semitic slogans in German on the exterior walls of the Athens Jewish Cemetery. The municipality of Athens promptly acted to clean the walls, according to a statement by the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece, denouncing the incident. The government spokesperson said authorities would do everything possible to arrest the perpetrators. Several prominent government officials, including Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias and Minister of Education and Religious Affairs Niki Kerameus, tweeted that the incident was shameful.

On October 16, unknown perpetrators defaced the Holocaust Museum of Thessaloniki by spray-painting on the facade “With Jews, you lose.” The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Hellenic Solution party denounced the attack at the Holocaust Monument. The KIS on October 19 issued a statement condemning other attacks, including the vandalism of four tombstones at the Jewish cemetery of Rhodes and graffiti at the Jewish cemetery of Thessaloniki reading “Death to Israel.” The KIS statement said the “vandalism of cemeteries and monuments equals tolerating the vandalism of memory and civilization” while urging the Ministry of Citizen Protection to arrest the perpetrators and to reinforce security measures on all Jewish institutions and monuments in Greece.

A perpetrator or perpetrators spray-painted a Christogram cross with the words “Jesus Christ Conquers” on the facade of a synagogue and Holocaust monument on December 3 in Larissa, central Greece, and on December 29 on a Holocaust monument in Drama, northern Greece, also damaging the marble base of the monument. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the diocese of Larisa and Tyrnavos, the Secretary General for Religious Affairs, and the respective municipalities all issued statements denouncing the acts. The KIS praised the municipality of Drama for immediately restoring the damage and erasing the graffiti. On December 4, Larissa police arrested a male suspect in the nearby area of Tempi, charging him with damaging property and violating an antiracism law during the December 3 incident.

The KIS continued to express concern about anti-Semitic comments by some in the media. On January 29, the KIS expressed concern about political cartoons and images in which political controversies were mocked with the use of Jewish sacred symbols and Holocaust comparisons. The KIS issued a statement protesting a sketch of the entrance to the Auschwitz concentration camp in a political cartoon arguing against lifting protection of primary residencies from foreclosures. The KIS called the cartoon unacceptable because it trivialized a symbol of horror. The newspaper called the reaction “justifiable,” arguing it had no intent to trivialize or deny the Holocaust.

On November 11, the KIS denounced a front-page headline of the newspaper Makeleio related to the announcement by the Jewish CEO of a pharmaceutical company about the COVID-19 vaccine. The headline presented the company’s CEO as the infamous Nazi official Dr. Joseph Mengele, also known as the butcher of the Auschwitz concentration camp, with the title: “Jewish veterinarian will stick the needle in us! Nightmarish admissions by force in ‘chamber-camps’ as flocks.” The KIS noted that the parallel between Nazi experiments in the concentration camps and the vaccine’s production perpetuates hatred and stereotypes against Jews, while also discouraging individuals from using the vaccine. On November 20, Secretary General for Religious Affairs George Kalantzis issued a statement condemning the newspaper’s characterization, saying that such reporting is reminiscent of the Middle Ages “when Jews were accused of every disaster, illness, or defeat.”

On October 22, a court of appeals in Athens decided to imprison seven leading members of the ultra-nationalist and pro-Nazi Golden Dawn party after the court had proclaimed Golden Dawn a criminal gang on October 7. All were sentenced to 13 years in prison but one of them, Christos Pappas, evaded arrest and at the end of the year remained at large. Local and international Jewish communities expressed concern over the anti-Semitic rhetoric of many Golden Dawn members.

On January 27, Prime Minister Mitsotakis attended memorial events marking the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau and became the first prime minister to pay an official visit to the former concentration camp.

On January 9, during a visit by Prime Minister Mitsotakis to Washington, the Ministry of Defense and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) signed an agreement allowing researchers to examine records of Nazi atrocities in Greece between 1940 and 1945. The Ministry of Culture was cooperating with USHMM on a joint effort to retrieve personal items belonging to Jewish refugees from the 1946 shipwreck of the Athina off Astypalea Island; the items were for inclusion in the USHMM’s permanent exhibition.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, access to health care, information, communications, buildings, transportation, the judicial system, and other state services such as special education. NGOs and organizations for disability rights reported government enforcement of these provisions was inconsistent. For example, an employee with multiple sclerosis lost her job after returning from six months of sick leave required for therapy, even though she submitted a doctor’s note stating the therapy was needed, according to the ombudsman in the 2019 annual report. The employer cited “unconventional behavior” as reason for the dismissal three months after the employee’s return. Authorities fined the employer for not making the necessary adaptations to accommodate the employee’s disability.

On May 9, police in Gastouni, Peloponnese, physically attacked a young student with a mental disability, reportedly assuming he was a thief. The incident, which took place just outside the victim’s residence, prompted reactions by human rights activists including the Racist Crimes Watch Network and the National Confederation of Disabled People (see section 1.c., Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment).

Most children with disabilities had the option to attend mainstream or specialized schools. The dropout rate for students with disabilities was high, partly due to shortages in transportation, a lack of infrastructure such as ramps and audiovisual aids, and staff and funding shortages. Despite progress in establishing new school units and classes to help students with disabilities integrate in primary and secondary education, the ombudsman and other agencies noted that integrating children with disabilities into mainstream classrooms remained a problem.

Persons with disabilities continued to have poor access to public buildings, transportation, and public areas, even though such access is required by law. Access to buildings, ramps for sidewalks, and accessible public transportation vehicles were among the biggest access concerns. Even ramps in the street were often too steep or rough to use, and ramps for public transportation were often out of order. In July a long-awaited ministerial decree established technical guidelines, requiring existing buildings and facilities to have made “reasonable adaptions” to ensure accessibility by the year’s end, or else lose their license.

In his 2019 annual report, the ombudsman reported that 37 percent of the complaints his office received related to disability and chronic disease, a notable increase from 2018.

On March 11, the government abolished legislation passed in May 2019 lifting significant obstacles to the granting of Greek citizenship for persons with intellectual disabilities or psychiatric illnesses. The previous legislation enabled such persons to claim Greek nationality if they were born or raised in the country by lawfully residing foreign nationals, allowing them to bypass the mandatory requirement of several years of Greek schooling or the passage of a Greek language and civilization test. The National Confederation of Disabled People denounced the government’s decision in a joint statement with the NGOs Hellenic League for Human Rights and Generation 2.0. for Rights, Equality and Diversity. On October 12, the government amended the citizenship law, providing for a unified system of written exams in Greek language and culture for all applicants, except those older than 62, those with a certified disability, and those with learning difficulties. The exempted group could take an oral test.

Prime Minister Mitsotakis presented the country’s first National Plan of Action for Persons with Disabilities on December 16, which sets clear and measurable targets based on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The action plan establishes a coordinating government mechanism of central and local authorities to follow up on implementation, and a National Authority for Accessibility to monitor the implementation of legislation.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

While the constitution and law prohibit discrimination against members of minority groups, Roma and members of other minority groups continued to face discrimination.

On May 18, a citizen residing in Heraklion, Crete, reported local police physically abused him as he headed home from work, assuming he was a migrant. According to the victim’s complaint, police told him to stop for an inspection, saying, “Hey Pakistani, pull aside.” He reported that police then punched, kicked, and threatened him with retaliation if he filed a complaint. On May 20, police announced the launch of an investigation into the incident. No outcome of this investigation had been made public by the year’s end.

On June 6, the NGO Movement United against Racism and the Fascist Threat denounced police attacks on individuals before or during their detention. According to the NGO, during the June 4 Eid al-Fitr celebration, police officers at the Menidi police station, in the Athens region, physically abused 11 Pakistani, Palestinian, Indian, and Albanian migrant detainees after the detainees asked to contact their relatives.

On December 26, according to media sources, a group of about 10 men armed with sticks, knives, and iron bars shouted racist slogans and attempted to enter a shelter for unaccompanied minors in Oreokastro, northern Greece, operated by the Church of Greece for refugee children between the ages of eight and 15. Four minors who were attacked in the yard of the facility were transferred to a hospital for treatment. One of them experienced severe respiratory problems after being beaten on the chest. Numerous political parties condemned the attack, and a lawyer representing the facility filed a formal complaint. On December 27, police arrested two persons, a 38-year-old father and his 13-year-old son, for participating in the attack. At the end of the year, the investigation was ongoing.

On October 14, media reported that a court in Athens ruled in favor of 47 female migrant cleaning workers whose contracts with the municipality of Athens were terminated because they could not certify knowledge of the Greek language, as per a new Ministry of Interior regulation. The court said all 47 women should be given their jobs back.

Although the government recognizes an individual’s right to self-identification, many individuals who defined themselves as members of a minority group found it difficult to express their identity freely and to maintain their culture. Some citizens identified themselves as Turks, Pomaks, Vlachs, Roma, Arvanites, or Macedonians. Some unsuccessfully sought official government identification as ethnic or linguistic minorities. Courts routinely rejected registration claims filed by associations in Thrace with titles including the terms Turk and Turkish when based on ethnic grounds. Individuals may legally call themselves Turks, and associations using those terms were able to function regularly without legal status (see section 2.b., Freedom of Association). Government officials and courts have denied requests by Slavic groups to use the term Macedonian to identify themselves on the grounds that more than two million ethnically (and linguistically) Greek citizens also used the term Macedonian for self-identification.

The law recognizes a Muslim religious minority, as defined by the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, which consists of persons descended from Muslims residing in Thrace at the time of the treaty’s signature. These persons can be in ethnic Turkish, Pomak, and Romani communities. Some Pomaks and Roma claimed that ethnically Turkish members of the Muslim minority provided monetary incentives to encourage them to say they were ethnically Turkish.

During the 2019-20 school year, the government operated 115 primary schools and two secondary schools in the Thrace region that provided secondary bilingual education in Greek and Turkish for minority children. The government also operated two Islamic religious schools in Thrace. Some representatives of the Muslim minority said the facilities were inadequate to cover their needs, and claimed the government ignored their request to privately establish an additional minority secondary school. The same representatives noted a decreasing number of primary-level minority schools, which the government attributed to a decreasing number of students. Per the law, any facility with fewer than nine students must temporarily suspend operations, with students referred to neighboring schools. For the 2019-20 school year, authorities announced that 20 schools had suspended operations in the region of Eastern Macedonia and Thrace, five of which were minority schools. On April 28, an additional two minority schools suspended operation for the school period 2020-21 as per a ministerial decision, due to low attendance.

Roma continued to face widespread governmental and societal discrimination, social exclusion, and harassment, including ethnic profiling by police, alleged abuse while in police custody, discrimination in employment, limited access to education, and segregated schooling. The ombudsman wrote in his 2019 annual report that local authorities did not help to improve the living and social conditions of the Roma, which would gradually assist them to integrate. The lack of integration led to more complaints of tension between Roma and non-Roma. The ombudsman praised local governments that implemented integration practices.

On July 7, the NGO Racist Crimes Watch filed a complaint with police, claiming that police on motorcycles had beaten two Roma in the Athens suburb of Vrilissia because police falsely believed the Roma had conducted a robbery in the area on June 28. The NGO argued that police engaged in ethnic profiling.

Poor school attendance, illiteracy, and high dropout rates among Romani children were problems. Authorities did not enforce the mandatory education law for Romani children, and local officials often excluded Romani pupils from schools or sent them to Roma-only segregated schools.

On March 11, the government abolished legislation allowing Roma born in Greece to parents without official registration to gain Greek citizenship.

On July 10, the European Court of Human Rights accepted the request for interim measures in the case of Romani tent-dwellers residing in Aspropyrgos, in greater Athens, who were to be evicted by the local municipality. The court suspended the eviction until July 27 and asked Greek authorities to provide timely information about the legal grounds of their case, including eviction protocols and alternative housing solutions. On July 6, the UN Human Rights Committee, following a petition by the NGO Greek Helsinki Monitor, suspended the eviction of seven other Romani individuals, also residents of Aspropyrgos, until their appeal of the eviction could be heard.

On March 11, a Thessaloniki court blocked the enforcement of a board decision by the municipality of Thermaikos, in northern Greece, to evict approximately 200 Roma families residing in makeshift homes in an area called Tsairia. The court deemed that the municipality did not offer an alternative site for relocation. The local mayor, George Tsamaslis, vowed to appeal the decision, arguing that finding “a new home” for the Roma was not among the city’s responsibilities.

Local media and NGOs reported race- and hate-motivated attacks on migrants, allegedly by far-right individuals acting alone or in groups. In its annual report for 2019, the RVRN reported that, despite a decrease in incidents of organized violence since 2013, “a significant number of the attacks showed signs of a structured organization or organized group.” More than 50 percent of the incidents recorded by the RVRN in 2019 (51 of 100) targeted migrants, refugees, or asylum seekers on grounds of ethnic origin, religion, or skin color. The RVRN also noted “aggression against refugees in other aspects of daily life” as well as “a wider targeting of people of African origin, compared to previous years.”

On October 7, Greek courts determined the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party had operated as a criminal organization that systematically targeted members of ethnic and religious minorities, including Muslim and Jewish persons, with hate speech and violence. The court found 18 former members of parliament guilty of participating in a criminal enterprise, and found 16 members guilty of the 2013 murder of anti-Fascist activist Pavlos Fysass. The historic decision ended a trial which lasted more than five years, the longest in Greek history, and resulted in prison sentences of 13 years for seven leading figures of the group.

On July 2, an Athens court found Panayotis Papagiannis, a leading member of the Krypteia Fascist and nationalist group, guilty of a number of racist attacks, including arson at the headquarters of the Afghan community in Athens, and sentenced him to a five-year prison term.

In July the coordinator for refugee education at the Malakasa camp, Konstantinos Kalemis, made racist comments on social media regarding Giannis Antetokounmpo, a Greek player in the National Basketball Association. Kalemis commented on an interview in which Antetokounmpo said growing up in Greece was difficult because of the racial divide and because he constantly feared his parents would be deported. Minister of Education and Religious Affairs Niki Kerameus removed Kalemis from his post on July 24, noting that “such insulting and racist behavior has no place in the Greek educational system.”

Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The law prohibits discrimination against LGBTI persons in housing, employment, and government services such as education and health care. The government enforced antidiscrimination laws, which include sexual orientation and gender identity as aggravating circumstances in hate crimes. Offices combatting race crimes and hate crimes include in their mandates crimes targeting LGBTI individuals because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Violence against LGBTI individuals, including LGBTI refugees and migrants, remained a problem. Societal discrimination and harassment of LGBTI persons were widespread despite advances in the legal framework protecting such individuals. LGBTI activists alleged that authorities were not always motivated to investigate incidents of violence against LGBTI individuals and that victims were hesitant to report such incidents to the authorities due to a lack of trust. A male police officer harassed and verbally abused a transgender woman during a routine inspection at an entertainment venue, the NGO Greek Transgender Support Association (SYD) reported on January 7. The woman said the police officer used insulting, derogatory, and sexist language, touched her inappropriately, and insisted on bodily searching her himself. The victim filed a complaint against the police officer. No trial date has been set.

In 2019 the RVRN recorded 16 attacks based on sexual orientation and 25 based on gender identity. The sexual orientation attacks included verbal and physical assaults. In three cases, the victims were minors. The gender identity attacks included two cases of rape, one of which involved a minor, two incidents of sexual abuse and sexual assault, two incidents of physical violence, and 17 cases of verbal insults or threats. The RVRN noted the recorded incidents showed that “transgender people suffer verbal abuse, almost daily, which escalates as their transition progresses and becomes more visible.” According to information communicated to the RVRN for 2019, police recorded 282 incidents potentially involving racist motives, 32 of which were related to sexual orientation (20) and gender identity (12).

On May 14, the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights 2019 survey on LGBTI persons in the EU reported that in the country: 74 percent of respondents stated that they often or always avoided holding hands with their same-sex partner, 32 percent felt discriminated against at work, and 33 percent alleged they were harassed in the year before the survey. In addition, 51 percent of respondents felt discriminated against in at least one area of life in the year before the survey and 43 percent of LGBTI students aged 15 to 17 admitted hiding being LGBTI at school. Finally, 57 percent reported that LGBTI prejudice and intolerance has dropped during the past five years.

Activists in the LGBTI community said they faced particular hardships during the COVID-19 pandemic because they were forced to spend long periods at home with families who were not always accepting of their lifestyle, with an increase in domestic violence. Transgender individuals working in the sex industry also reported a loss of income during the pandemic.

On January 3, a joint ministerial decree outlined 12 countries of origin of asylum seekers the government considered “safe.” The decree raised concerns among human rights activists and the LGBTI community that the vast majority of these countries either persecuted individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity or presented serious threats to the lives of LGBTI individuals and human rights and LGBTI activists in the country (see section 2.f., Protection of Refugees).

On July 7, the NGO Diotima reported on a Moroccan transgender person whose application for asylum was rejected. Diotima argued that if she returned to Morocco, the woman’s life would be at risk due to her gender identity, a claim accepted by the court on October 14. The court annulled the deportation decision on the grounds the woman would face arrest, imprisonment, and abuse if sent back to her country (see section 2.f., Protection of Refugees).

Unmarried transgender individuals older than 15 may update documents to reflect their gender identity without undergoing sex reassignment surgery, according to Greek law. A judge must validate the change based on the individual’s external appearance. According to the Greek Transgender Support Association, the hearing process does not always have the necessary privacy and dignity for the applicant.

In his annual 2019 report, the ombudsman highlighted administrative obstacles faced by LGBTI individuals when they officially register a civil partnership. The ombudsman noted that corrections and changes to gender identity registrations, as part of administrative processes or notarial acts, did not always have the necessary safeguards of secrecy and respect for those impacted.

On January 20, a misdemeanors council ruled that six persons, including two store owners and four police officers, should be charged with fatal bodily harm in connection with the death of LGBTI activist Zak Kostopoulos in September 2018 in central Athens. The date of the trial was initially set for October 21 but due to restrictive COVID-19 measures, it was postponed indefinitely.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

While the law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment of individuals with HIV, societal discrimination against persons with HIV or AIDS remained a problem. Persons with HIV or AIDS were exempt on medical grounds from serving in the armed forces. A presidential decree authorizes the dismissal of professional military staff members if a member diagnosed with AIDS does not respond to treatment, but there were no reports of military staff dismissals under this provision.

On January 28, the NGO Positive Voice reported on a patient who was hospitalized in isolation from other inmates solely because he had HIV. Hospital personnel moved him from his original room–which he shared with other patients–and announced he would have to use a separate bathroom from others, as well as disposable plates, cups, and cutlery. Hospital personnel did not respect the patient’s privacy and dignity, the NGO said. In a public statement, the NGO noted instances in which HIV is used as a pretext by medical staff to delay or deny the provision of medical services.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers, except members of the military services, to form and join independent unions, conduct labor activities without interference, and strike. Armed forces personnel have the right to form unions but not to strike. Police have the right to organize and demonstrate but not to strike.

The law does not allow trade unions in enterprises with fewer than 20 workers and restricts labor arbitration mechanisms. The law generally protects the right to bargain collectively. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and requires reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. The law allows company-level agreements to take precedence over sector-level collective agreements in the private sector. Civil servants negotiate and conclude collective agreements with the government on all matters except salaries.

Only the trade unions may call strikes. A strike may be considered unlawful if certain conditions and procedures are not observed, for example based on the proportionality principle, which enables courts to decide in each case whether the anticipated benefit from the strike is greater than the economic damage to the employer.

There are legal restrictions on strikes, including a mandatory four-day notification requirement for public-utility and transportation workers and a 24-hour notification requirement for private-sector workers. The law also requires at least half of the members of a first-level union to endorse a strike for it to be held. The law mandates minimum staff levels during strikes affecting public services.

The law gives authorities the right to commandeer services in national emergencies through civil mobilization orders. Anyone receiving a civil mobilization order is obliged to comply or face a prison sentence of at least three months. The law exempts individuals with a documented physical or mental disability from civil mobilization. The law explicitly prohibits the issuance of civil mobilization orders as a means of countering strike actions before or after their proclamation.

The government generally protected the rights of freedom of association and collective bargaining and effectively enforced the law. Penalties for violations of freedom of association and collective bargaining were commensurate to those of other laws related to civil rights. Courts may declare a strike illegal for reasons including failure to respect internal authorization processes and secure minimum staff levels, failure to give adequate advance notice of the strike, and introduction of new demands during the strike. Administrative and judicial procedures to resolve labor problems were generally subject to lengthy delays and appeals.

There were reports of antiunion discrimination. For example, on February 21, the Workers Union in Publications, Bookstores, Photocopy Centers, Stationery, and Digital Devices of Athens protested the dismissal of the union’s vice president, calling it “revengeful.” The dismissal was “connected to his trade union activities and his participation in strikes,” the union said. The employer reportedly cited low productivity as the reason, but the union noted the vice president had a strong seven-year track record at the business.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor and provides additional protections for children, limiting their work hours and their work under certain conditions. Several government entities, including the police antitrafficking unit, worked to prevent and eliminate labor trafficking. There were reports of forced labor of women, children, and men, mostly in the agricultural sector. Forced begging (see section 7.c., Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment) mostly occurred in metropolitan areas and populous islands, focusing on popular metro stations, squares, and meeting places. Penalties for violations were commensurate to those of other serious crimes, but victims seldom reported violations.

On January 28, the General Confederation of Greek Workers, the biggest umbrella organization for workers’ rights, condemned the “attempted murder” of an agriculture worker in Marathonas, Athens, by his employer. The incident occurred on January 27 when the employer shot a rifle at his employee for reportedly requesting unpaid wages.

Agricultural workers at Manolada in Ilia, Peloponnese, reported on April 1 that they had to live in makeshift huts for 10 to 20 persons, that were covered with layers of nylon, without running water, and had showers and toilets placed outside, according to the Manolada Watch initiative launched by the NGO Generation 2.0 for Rights, Equality & Diversity, to monitor the living and working conditions of migrants workers.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. The minimum age for employment in the industrial sector is 15, with higher limits for some activities. The minimum age is 12 in family businesses, theaters, and cinemas. A presidential decree permits children age 15 or older to engage in hazardous work in certain circumstances, such as when it is necessary as part of vocational or professional training. In such cases workers should be monitored by a safety technician or a medical doctor. Hazardous work includes work that exposes workers to toxic and cancer-producing elements, radiation, and similar conditions.

The Labor Inspectorate, which was placed under the authority of the General Secretariat for Labor at the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs by a presidential decree issued in 2019, is responsible for enforcing child labor laws, with penalties for violators ranging from fines to imprisonment. Penalties for violations were commensurate with other serious crimes. Trade unions, however, alleged that enforcement was inadequate due to the inspectorate’s understaffing and that the government did not adequately enforce the law to protect exploited children.

Child labor was a problem in the informal economy. Younger family members often assisted families in agriculture, food service, and merchandising on at least a part-time basis. Family members compelled some children to beg, pick pockets, or sell merchandise on the street, or trafficked them for the same purposes. The government and NGOs reported the majority were indigenous Roma, Bulgarian, Romanian, or Albanian Roma. The pandemic caused fewer street children in Thessaloniki to “work,” the NGO ARSIS reported on June 12. For example, ARSIS estimated that approximately 50 children were working in the streets from January to April, as opposed to 189 children during the same period in 2019. There were reports unaccompanied migrant children were particularly vulnerable to labor exploitation and worked mainly in the agricultural and, to a lesser extent, manufacturing sectors.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment and occupation based on race, religion, national origin, skin color, sex (including pregnancy), ethnicity, disability, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, HIV or AIDS status, or refugee or stateless status.

The government did not always effectively enforce these laws and regulations. Penalties for violations were commensurate with other laws related to denials of civil rights. Discrimination with respect to employment and occupation based on race, sex (including pregnancy), disability, HIV status, social status, age, sexual orientation, and gender identity occurred.

In his 2019 report on equal treatment, the ombudsman reiterated previous findings about pregnancy and maternity being treated by the employers as problems, at times resulting in dismissals from work. The ombudsman reported cases of interventions with employers in the state and private sectors in support of employees who faced discrimination on grounds of disability, sex, religion, and HIV status. The ombudsman reported on the case of a Muslim female student, practicing to becoming a nurse, who was prohibited by her superior at a public hospital from wearing a headscarf at work. The ombudsman reported that as of the end of the year the case remained open and was still under investigation. A study by ActionAid released November 24 showed that 85 percent of more than 1,300 women surveyed said they had been subjected to sexual harassment (see section 6, Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

By ministerial decree the government sets the national minimum salary for employees in the private sector and for unspecialized workers. These wages were above the poverty income level.

The maximum legal workweek is 40 hours. The law provides for at least one 24-hour rest period per week, mandates paid vacation of one month per year, and sets limits on the amount of overtime work which, based on conditions, may exceed eight hours in a week. The law regarding overtime work requires premium pay, and employers must submit information to the Ministry of Labor for authorization. Premium pay ranged from an additional 20 to 80 percent of the daily wage, based on the total number of extra hours and the day (Sundays, holidays, etc.), and whether it was night service. Employers also provided compensatory time off. These provisions were not effectively enforced in all sectors, particularly in tourism, catering services, retail businesses, agriculture, the informal economy, or for domestic or migrant workers.

In 2019 the government passed new laws making it easier to terminate an employee, abolishing provisions that a contractor or subcontractor had to provide suitable reasons for the legal termination of an employee’s contract. In 2019 the parliament passed legislation increasing the minimum hourly wage of part-time workers by 12 percent for every additional hour worked above a four-hour ceiling. Under the same legislation, the first five hours worked after a 40-hour work week are no longer considered overtime. Employers were required in such cases, however, to pay an additional 20 percent of the hourly wage.

The government did not always enforce wage and overtime laws effectively. Penalties for violations were commensurate with other similar violations. Unions and media alleged some private businesses forced their employees to return in cash part of their wages and mandatory seasonal bonuses after depositing them in the bank. Unions and media also alleged that some employers forced employees to unlawfully work while their contracts were temporarily suspended due to the pandemic during the time they were receiving subsidy allowances by the state instead of their salaries. Sometimes employees were officially registered as part-time employees but worked additional hours without being paid. Overtime work was not always registered officially or paid accordingly. In other cases employees were paid after months of delay and oftentimes with coupons, not cash. Such violations were noted mostly in the tourism, agriculture, and housekeeping sectors. On February 18, media reported that a misdemeanors court in Kalamata, Peloponnese, sentenced to eight months in prison an employer who threatened his employees with dismissal if they did not return the full amount of seasonal bonuses in cash after it was deposited to their bank accounts.

The law provides for minimum standards of occupational health and safety, placing the responsibility for identifying unsafe situations on occupational safety and health experts and not the workers. Workers have the right to file a confidential complaint with the labor inspectorate regarding hazardous working conditions and to remove themselves from such situations without jeopardizing their employment. Owners who repeatedly violate the law concerning undeclared work or safety standards could face temporary closure of their businesses. Under the same law, employers are obliged to declare in advance their employees’ overtime work or changes in their work schedules. The legislation provides for social and welfare benefits to be granted to surrogate mothers, including protection from dismissal during pregnancy and after childbirth. Courts are required to examine complaints filed by employees against their employers for delayed payment within two months of their filing, and to issue decisions within 30 days after the hearing.

The Labor Inspectorate is responsible for enforcement of labor law. The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs is responsible for all concerns regarding occupational safety and health at the national level. Per the 2019 presidential decree, the Labor Inspectorate and the General Directorate for Labor Relations, Health, Safety and Inclusion at Work were both brought under the General Secretariat for Labor. The directorate is the principal authority overseeing labor conditions in both the private and public sectors, except for mining and marine shipping (which fall under the Ministry of Development and Investment and the Ministry of Shipping and Island Policy, respectively). Labor experts characterized health and safety laws as satisfactory but stated that enforcement by the Labor Inspectorate was inadequate. Penalties for violations were commensurate to those of similar crimes, but the number of labor inspectors was insufficient to enforce compliance. Inspectors have the authority to conduct unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions.

Authorities can temporarily close businesses that hire undeclared employees, and can permanently close businesses that repeatedly violate the law. Nonetheless, trade unions and media reiterated that enforcement of labor standards was inadequate in the shipping, tourism, and agriculture sectors. Enforcement was also lacking among enterprises employing 10 or fewer persons.

At least 15 workers were injured or killed as a result of work accidents, according to media reports. There was one major industrial accident which resulted in the injury of four workers on February 3. In November 2019 an Athens first instance court ruled that work-related stress falls into hazardous working conditions, vindicating the spouse and the son of a business employee who suffered a stroke due to work-related stress and lost his life. The court ordered compensation of 160,000 euros ($192,000) for both complainants to be paid by the employer.

Hungary

Executive Summary

Hungary is a multiparty parliamentary democracy. The unicameral National Assembly (parliament) exercises legislative authority. It elects the president (the head of state) every five years. The president appoints a prime minister from the majority party or coalition in parliament following national elections every four years. In parliamentary elections in 2018, the Fidesz-Christian Democratic People’s Party alliance led by Fidesz party leader Viktor Orban won a two-thirds majority in parliament. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe election observation mission found that “fundamental rights and freedoms were respected overall, but exercised in an adverse climate.” Specifically, it characterized certain elements of the election as “at odds with the organization’s commitments” and noted, “The widespread government information campaign was largely indistinguishable from Fidesz campaigning, giving it a clear advantage.” Orban has been prime minister since 2010.

The National Police Headquarters, under the direction of the minister of interior, is responsible for maintaining order nationwide. The Counterterrorism Center is responsible for protecting the president and the prime minister and for preventing, uncovering, and detecting terrorist acts; it is directly subordinate to the minister of interior. The Hungarian Defense Forces are subordinate to the Ministry of Defense and are responsible for external security as well as aspects of domestic security and disaster response. Since 2015, under a declared state of emergency prompted by mass migration, defense forces may assist law enforcement forces in border protection and handling mass migration situations. The state of emergency was renewed in September for another six months. On April 29, the government amended a decree passed under the coronavirus state of emergency law that allows the minister of interior to involve police and the military to participate in the protection of medical resources and permits the military during the state of emergency to take part in street patrols and in monitoring compliance with security measures. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were no reports that members of the security forces committed abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: criminal penalties for spreading a “falsehood” or “distorted truth” or libel (although court decisions limited the impact of the latter); exposure of asylum seekers to risk of refoulement; allegations of corrupt use of state power to grant privileges to certain economic actors; reports of political intimidation of and legal restrictions on civil society organizations, including criminal and financial penalties for migration-related work of nongovernmental organizations; and threats of violence by extremists targeting Roma and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons.

The government took some steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed human rights abuses. Impunity for human rights abuses was not widespread.

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

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

There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. There are no special bodies to investigate security force abuses. Authorities investigated and prosecuted alleged killings by members of the security forces in the same manner as alleged killings by civilians.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices, but there were reports that inhuman and degrading treatment and abuse sometimes occurred. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) noted that the investigation of cases of mistreatment was often inefficient, the success rate of holding officials accountable for alleged mistreatment through indictments and prosecutions was low, and in some cases law enforcement officials (such as police officers and penitentiary staff) who were sentenced to suspended imprisonment for committing criminal offenses involving the mistreatment of detainees were permitted to continue working.

On March 17, the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) published a report on its 2018 visit to ascertain the situation of persons in police custody, juvenile prisoners, adult male prisoners serving life sentences or very long terms, and persons placed in social institutions. According to the report, there were some accounts of authorities resorting to unnecessary or excessive force when apprehending suspects and physical mistreatment of detainees shortly after arrival at police stations. There were also several accounts of racist verbal abuse. The report also noted some instances of interprisoner violence in juvenile prisons. Impunity among members of security forces was not a significant problem.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Official statistics and NGOs reported overcrowding and poor physical conditions in the prison system. There were occasional reports of physical violence by prison guards, prisoner-on-prisoner violence, and authorities holding pretrial detainees and convicted prisoners together.

Physical Conditions: Prison overcrowding remained a problem. In December 2019 the Hungarian Prison Service reported that its facilities were occupied at 110 percent of capacity, a 3 percent decline from 2018. In response to a freedom of information request by the human rights NGO Hungarian Helsinki Committee, the National Prison Administration reported on June 18 that the prison occupancy rate was 112 percent.

On June 8, parliament adopted legislation that extended until December 31 the deadline for the state to pay compensation to inmates for inhuman or degrading prison conditions. After a court judgment, the general deadline for paying compensation was also extended from 60 days to 90 days. On December 16, parliament approved a bill submitted by the justice minister that restricted government compensation payments to those imprisoned in inhuman conditions.

NGOs continued to report poor physical and sanitary conditions in certain penitentiaries, including the presence of bedbugs and other insects, insufficient toilet facilities, and toilets not separated from living spaces. NGOs also noted frequent shortages of both natural and artificial lighting in cells, a lack of adequate heating, and a continued shortage of psychological care.

In August inmates at the detention center for foreigners in Nyirbator, and subsequently in Gyor, held a hunger strike. The detainees–who were awaiting deportation on noncriminal grounds and included some foreign citizens whose children hold Hungarian citizenship–reported the jail was overcrowded, with some alleging that authorities had not informed them of the reason for their detention.

Administration: NGOs reported that authorities occasionally failed to investigate credible allegations of mistreatment. There was no separate ombudsperson for prisons, but detainees could submit complaints to the ombudsperson or to the prosecutor’s office responsible for supervising the lawfulness of detention. The ombudsperson handled prison complaints and conducted ex officio inquiries but had no authority to act on behalf of prisoners.

Independent Monitoring: Authorities allowed the CPT and the UN Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture to conduct periodic and ad hoc visits to prisons and detention centers for both the country’s citizens and foreign nationals. As of November the national preventive mechanism under the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture (OPCAT) undertook 19 visits (seven to prisons, two to correctional facilities, seven to police facilities, and three to social institutions).

There has been no independent NGO monitoring of police detention centers and prisons since 2017, when authorities terminated monitoring agreements with NGOs. The government introduced COVID-19 measures in prisons, which included an almost full ban on in-person visits from family members in detention facilities and suspension of temporary leave for inmates, which made the facilities more closed and less transparent for the public, according to NGOs. In May the Hungarian Helsinki Committee called on the government to consider the early release of elderly and sick inmates due to the pandemic. Restrictions on inmates’ right to family life due to the pandemic stayed in place.

The office of the commissioner for fundamental rights (ombudsperson) continued to operate prison-monitoring services prescribed by OPCAT. The Independent Police Complaints Board was terminated in February, and complaints of police misconduct and mistreatment were handled by the ombudsperson’s office.

Improvements: On July 13, Minister of Justice Judit Varga announced new places for 2,750 inmates in the newly inaugurated wings of 10 prisons made from steel shipping containers located across the country.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Police are obligated to take into “short-term arrest” individuals apprehended while committing a crime or subject to an arrest warrant. Police may take individuals suspected of a crime or a petty offense into short-term arrest if they are unable or unwilling to identify themselves or are unaccompanied minors suspected of having run away. Short-term arrests generally last up to eight hours but may last up to 12 hours in exceptional cases. Police may hold persons under “detention for the purposes of public safety” for 24 hours. Persons who abscond from probation may be detained for up to 72 hours. Police, a prosecutor, or a judge may order detention of suspects for 72 hours if there is a well founded suspicion of an offense punishable by imprisonment. A pretrial detention motion must be filed with a court prior to the lapse of the 72-hour period. A defendant may appeal a pretrial detention order.

Police must inform suspects of the charges against them at the beginning of their first interrogation, which must occur within 24 hours of detention. Authorities generally respected this right.

There is a functioning bail system. Representation by defense counsel is mandatory in the investigative phase if suspects face a charge punishable by more than five years’ imprisonment; their personal liberty is already restricted; they are deaf, blind, unable to speak, or have a mental disability; they are unfamiliar with the Hungarian language or the language of the procedure; they are unable to defend themselves in person for any reason; they are juveniles; or they are indigent and request appointment of a defense counsel. The court, prosecution, or the investigating authority (police) may also order a defense counsel in certain cases. Since 2018 local bar chambers, rather than the authorities, assign legal counsel to defendants who lack legal representation.

Police must inform suspects of their right to counsel before questioning them. The law requires that police or the prosecutor suspend interrogation and wait for up to two hours for an attorney to arrive if the suspect invokes this right. Some attorneys reported the right to an effective defense was violated in several cases. For example, in some instances detainees and their defense counsels were required to meet where government security cameras could monitor them. If bar chamber-appointed attorneys refuse the case or do not respond within one hour of appointment, authorities assign the defense counsel. The Hungarian Helsinki Committee found that appointed attorneys frequently neglected their work, with only 16 percent attending their clients’ first court hearings, in contrast with 63 percent of retained attorneys. According to statistics cited in the Hungarian Helsinki Committee’s report on the practice of assigning defense attorneys, authorities assigned at least a third of defendants’ attorneys. The law permits short-term detainees to notify relatives or others of their detention within eight hours unless the notification would jeopardize the investigation. Investigative authorities must notify relatives of a detainee’s short-term detention and its location within eight hours.

Pretrial Detention: An investigatory judge may order pretrial detention where there is a risk a detainee may flee, commit a new offense, or hinder an investigation. Cases involving pretrial detention take priority over other expedited hearings. A detainee may appeal pretrial detention.

When the criminal offense is punishable by life in prison, the law does not limit the duration of pretrial detention. The presence of defense counsel at hearings related to pretrial detention is not mandatory.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary. Some experts and legal scholars expressed concern over what they considered systemic threats to the country’s judicial independence.

Amnesty International asserted in an April report on the Hungarian judiciary that increasing political control undermined judicial independence. Amnesty International noted, as others have previously, that the politically appointed president of the National Office for the Judiciary (OBH) wields greater power and authority than the 14-member panel of peer-elected judges (OBT) that is charged with oversight of the OBH. Amnesty International characterized the imbalance of power between the two bodies as a threat to judicial independence because the OBH’s influence on the appointment of court leaders throughout the system enabled it to exert “tight control” over the lower courts, further hindering judicial independence. Judges interviewed for the report said “loyalty” was the main requirement for career advancement and administrative advantages in the judiciary.

In late 2019 the long-standing public dispute between then OBH president Tunde Hando and the OBT, which Amnesty International and the Hungarian Helsinki Committee characterized as a “constitutional crisis,” ended with Hando’s departure from the OBH for an appointment as a Constitutional Court judge. Alleging numerous procedural and legal violations as well as abuse of power, the OBT had unsuccessfully asked parliament to remove Hando from office in May 2019. Hando’s nominated successor, Judge Gyorgy Barna Senyei, received the OBT’s unanimous support in December 2019. The OBH and OBT have not feuded publicly since Senyei took office in December 2019. While observers viewed the absence of public conflict between the OBT and OBH since Hando’s departure as an improvement, Amnesty International asserted that the “systemic problems caused by the ineffective supervisory powers of the OBT and other weaknesses in the institutions of judicial self-governance will not be solved simply by a change of OBH president.”

In February the European Commission stated that “developments of checks and balances in the Hungarian courts system continued to raise concerns.” In September the European Commission stated in its first Rule of Law Report that the OBT faces challenges in counterbalancing the powers of the president of the OBH, but the appointment of a new president “may open the way for reinforced cooperation” between the two bodies. The report raised concerns over a decision of the Curia, the country’s supreme court, that declared a request for preliminary ruling to the European Court of Justice to be unlawful.

In January several senior government officials, including Prime Minister Orban and Minister of Justice Varga, criticized court rulings that awarded compensation to Romani families in a school segregation case and to prisoners for poor prison conditions. On January 17, Orban alleged that groups of lawyers profited, earning millions of forints from the state, through lawsuits over poor prison conditions by abusing the law. On February 28, Orban stated that a network of NGOs and lawyers that he claimed was linked to a prominent Hungarian-American businessman and philanthropist was responsible for this “prison business” (see sections 1, 5, and 6 for information on the Romani segregation and prisoner compensation cases). In a January 21 statement, Hungarian Bar Association chairman Janos Banati responded that the prime minister’s statements “undermine the rule of law in Hungary” and expressed his concerns over government attacks against independent courts and defense attorneys.

In December 2019 parliament adopted legislation (the Omnibus Bill) on judicial system reforms that granted state authorities the right to appeal legal decisions to the Constitutional Court if they allege a lower court decision violates their rights. Appealing to the Constitutional Court would enable the government to bypass the traditional route of appeal through the Curia, where appeals by the government would have previously ended. Domestic legal experts said they believed these reforms would allow the government to overturn unfavorable rulings via the Constitutional Court, in which all of the judges have been appointed by Fidesz-led governments and which has consistently ruled in favor of the government in politically sensitive cases over the previous five years. While the Curia was considered to be largely apolitical and staffed by professional judges, many Constitutional Court judges were viewed as more politically aligned legal scholars with limited prior judicial experience. A judge interviewed for the Amnesty International’s report in April asserted that the mere possibility that a judge’s decision could be appealed to the Constitutional Court might be sufficient for the judge to rule in the government’s favor. Another provision of the law requires judges to provide “additional judicial reasoning” if they depart from a previously published nonbinding Curia legal argument.

The European Commission’s September Rule of Law Report noted that the Omnibus Bill allows members of the Constitutional Court, who are elected by parliament, to be appointed as a judge to the Curia without undergoing the formal application and evaluation procedure (in which the peer-elected OBT approves the appointment). The report also noted that the Omnibus Bill lowered the eligibility criteria for the Curia president, allowing time served at the Constitutional Court or at an international court to be taken into account when calculating the “experience as a judge,” even though such an applicant may never have served as a judge in a courtroom. Following the change in the eligibility criteria, on October 5, President Janos Ader nominated Constitutional Court justice Andras Zsolt Varga–who has never served as a presiding judge–for the post of president of the Curia. On October 9, the OBT opposed Varga’s nomination, citing his lack of courtroom experience. On October 19, despite the OBT’s and opposition parties’ objections, parliament elected Varga as the new Curia president. The Hungarian Helsinki Committee stated that Varga’s election represented the “next stage in the government’s series of attacks against the judiciary,” as he was expected to be “a potential transmission belt of the executive within the judiciary.”

Trial Procedures

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair public trial, and the judiciary generally enforced this right.

Defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Suspects have the right to be informed promptly of the nature of charges against them and of the applicable legal regulations, with free interpretation as necessary. Trial proceedings are public, although a judge may minimize public attendance and may order closed hearings under certain conditions. Trials generally occurred without undue delay. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial.

The law stipulates that the investigating authority shall schedule the interrogation to enable defendants to exercise their right to a defense. A summons for a court hearing must be delivered at least five days prior to the hearing. Defendants have the right to free interpretation from the moment charged. Defendants may challenge or question witnesses and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. The law states that no one may be compelled to provide self-incriminating testimony or produce self-incriminating evidence. Defendants have the right of appeal.

Courts may not impose prison sentences on juveniles who were between the ages of 12 and 14 when they committed an offense but may order their placement in a juvenile correctional institute.

Some observers and legal experts asserted that the country’s system for assigning defense attorneys and the low compensation provided to those attorneys could hinder criminal defendants’ access to adequate legal representation, and consequently, a fair trial (see section 1.d.).

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

By law individuals or organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations through domestic courts. Individuals or organizations that have exhausted domestic legal remedies regarding violations of the European Convention on Human Rights allegedly committed by the state may appeal to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) for redress.

Property Restitution

The government has laws and mechanisms in place, but there was little progress on the resolution of remaining Holocaust-era claims.

Communal property restitution in the country was completed in the 1990s based on a law that allowed religious organizations to claim previously owned properties that were confiscated after January 1946. Work on private property restitution process took place in the 1990s and was completed by 2001. Holocaust survivors from the country receive pension supplements. The 1947 Paris Peace Treaty regulates the restitution of heirless Jewish properties in the country. In 2007 the government pledged and subsequently distributed $21 million to assist Holocaust survivors in the country and survivors of Hungarian origin living abroad as an advance payment on an expected, subsequent agreement that would provide more comprehensive compensation for heirless property. The Jewish Heritage of Hungary Public Endowment, a domestic restitution foundation composed of local Hungarian Jews, government officials, and the World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO), distributed one-third of the funds to survivors living in the country, while two-thirds were transferred to the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany to fund social welfare services for survivors in need living outside the country.

In April 2019 the WJRO presented the government with its assessment of the government’s second set of research on heirless property. As of December the government had not yet agreed to WJRO’s requests for further discussions on a roadmap to begin negotiations.

For additional information regarding Holocaust-era property restitution and related issues, please see the Department of State’s Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act Report to Congress, released publicly on July 29, 2020, at https://www.state.gov/reports/just-act-report-to-congress/.

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

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

There is no requirement for the Counterterrorism Center (known by its Hungarian acronym TEK), or in certain cases the national intelligence services, to obtain prior judicial authorization for surveillance in national security cases that involve terrorism. In such cases the justice minister may permit covert intelligence action for 90 days, with a possibility of extension. Such intelligence collection may involve secret house searches, surveillance with recording devices, opening of letters and parcels, and checking and recording electronic or computerized communications without the consent of the persons under investigation. A decision to approve a covert intelligence action is not subject to appeal.

The country’s criminal procedure code establishes a regime for covert policing and intelligence gathering. The law gives prosecutors unrestricted access to information obtained through covert investigations.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press, and media were active and expressed a wide range of views. There were some formal restrictions on content related to “hate speech.”

On March 30, as part of the government’s legislative package declaring a state of emergency due to COVID-19, parliament permanently amended the criminal code to increase the penalty for spreading a “falsehood” or “distorted truth” (“scaremongering”) that could obstruct or prevent successful protection under a special legal order to imprisonment of up to five years (see section 3 for more on the state of emergency). Government officials asserted that the legislation sought to discourage the spread of harmful “fake news” that could hinder attempts to keep the pandemic under control. Domestic and international observers spoke out against the legislation and raised concerns about its potential effects on media freedom. On March 27, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) expressed concerns that the amendments could negatively affect the work of journalists and have a potentially chilling effect on freedom of expression. On March 26, Reporters without Borders (RSF) stated that the law granted the government a tool to threaten journalists and intimidate them into self-censorship. On April 21, RSF also noted that before the legislation was submitted, “progovernment media organizations” had called for the arrest of journalists critical of the government.

On June 25, the Constitutional Court ruled that the 2018 government decree classifying the nonprofit Central European Press and Media Foundation (KESMA)–which experts estimated controls between 80 and 90 percent of all commercial Hungarian media outlets and is managed by Fidesz party allies–as being of “national strategic importance” was constitutional. The Competition Authority and the Media Council cannot scrutinize transactions categorized as of national strategic significance. Government-linked media mounted mostly ad hominem attacks against the owner of the country’s largest independent media group. A law granting members of parliament the right to enter the offices of public buildings was repealed in 2019, and they now require prior notification or permission; experts viewed this as a response to opposition members of parliament having attempted to enter government and state-run media facilities as a form of protest. The European Commission reported that KESMA represented an “increased risk to media pluralism.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the government set up an Operative Board to manage and communicate government action. Operative Board members answered press questions submitted in writing and in advance at daily press briefings. Independent and government-critical media repeatedly complained that their questions were rarely answered.

Freedom of Speech: Criminal law provides that any person who publicly incites hatred against any national, ethnic, racial, religious, or certain other designated groups of the population may be prosecuted and convicted of a felony punishable by imprisonment for up to three years. The constitution includes hate speech provisions to “protect the dignity of the Hungarian nation or of any national, ethnic, racial, or religious community.” The law prohibits the public denial of, expression of doubt about, or minimization of the Holocaust, genocide, and other crimes of the National Socialist (Nazi) and communist regimes; such crimes are punishable by up to three years in prison. The law also prohibits as a misdemeanor the wearing, exhibiting, or promoting of the swastika, the logo of the Nazi SS, the symbols of the Arrow Cross, the hammer and sickle, or the five-pointed red star in a way that harms human dignity or the memory of the victims of dictatorships. Judicial remedies exist for damage to individuals and communities that results from hate speech; however, NGOs representing the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community reported that police officers continued to resist classifying incidents as hate speech and were unfamiliar with police hate crime protocols (see section 6). The media law also prohibits media content intended to incite hatred or violence against specific minority or majority communities and their members. The law includes the provision that media content must not have the potential to instigate an act of terrorism.

On May 12, police went to the home of a man from Borsod County with a search warrant based on suspicion of COVID-19 “scaremongering” because of his April 28 social media post. The man had questioned the government’s decision to lift curfew restrictions the day after a peak of the pandemic and appealed to “our dear dictator, our dear leader.” Police published photos and videos of the arrest, which was widely reported. Police released him that afternoon after questioning and told him he would not be charged since no crime had been committed.

On May 13, police also carried out a home raid and detained Janos Csoka-Szucs, a member of the opposition Momentum party in the town of Gyula, for a comment he made in a closed Facebook group on April 20. Csoka-Szucs had shared a post from an independent member of parliament about a protest against the government’s decision to discharge patients from hospitals to make room for potential COVID-19 cases. Police claimed his post “jeopardized the effectiveness of the defense in an emergency.” He was released after four hours of questioning, but police seized his computer and mobile phone. NGOs and opposition parties claimed the arrest was an attempt to suppress free speech and intimidate opponents of the government.

A law approved in 2018 imposed a 25 percent tax on civil entities that aid or promote illegal immigration, including groups that support media campaigns deemed to aid or promote immigration. Several NGOs sharply criticized the law, noting that it penalizes the public expression of opinions different from that of the government (see also section 5). According to press reports, no entity had paid any tax in 2019 under the law, and no known tax office investigation or audit had been conducted to that effect.

On September 21, the independent news outlet Telex reported that, in a June 2 letter, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade deputy state secretary for development of European affairs, Jozsef Magyar, asked the country’s EU-based embassies to report the professional visits of Hungarian journalists to those countries. According to the report, the letter asked the embassies to report when the visit(s) took place, which Hungarian outlets took part, and the organizations or local press outlets with which they met. In response to Telexs query as to the purpose of gathering such information, the ministry stated: “To fulfill its mandate, [the ministry] is doing everything against foreign interference in Hungarian domestic affairs. Experience has shown that Soros organizations tend to be behind such attacks.”

On September 29, the Prosecutor General’s Office indicted the president of the Momentum party, Andras Fekete-Gyor, and another member of the party on the charge of assaulting law enforcement personnel during the 2018 protests against the government’s changes to the labor code, which critics dubbed the “slave law” (see section 7). Fekete-Gyor declared he was innocent of the charges, which he described as politically motivated, and opposition Democratic Coalition party released a statement of support, arguing that the government was attempting to use the justice system to stifle freedom of expression.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without formal restriction. Media consolidation resulted in further expansion of government-friendly enterprises and reduction in other media voices. Some new independent media outlets were founded, one of them by reporters from a formerly independent outlet. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) relaunched its Hungarian service on September 8.

In February the beverage company Hell Energy Drink brought a lawsuit against the monthly magazine Forbes Hungary after it published a list of the richest Hungarians. Forbes was forced to recall the issue from newsstands because the privately owned family beverage company argued that the magazine had breached their privacy under the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). In October the company also obtained a court order barring the publication of parts of an article in the weekly Magyar Narancs, which noted that companies connected to the family had received large amounts in state and EU grants and subsidized loans in previous years, citing again GDPR regulations.

On March 31, government-aligned media mogul Miklos Vaszily purchased 50 percent of Indamedia, the advertising sales company that generated virtually all revenues for the independent news site Index, at the time the country’s most visited online news outlet. With ad revenues decreasing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a newly appointed adviser proposed a reorganization plan that would have stripped part of the editorial board’s control. In June, Indexs editor in chief, Szabolcs Dull, publicly opposed the proposal, warning that the outlet was under increasing political pressure. In response, Laszlo Bodolai, chairman of the board of Indexs parent foundation, fired Dull on July 22. Bodolai asserted that Dull’s actions had endangered Indexs economic viability while denying that the outlet’s independence was at risk. Index journalists publicly called Dull’s dismissal “unacceptable” and an open attempt at pressure, which would lead to “the end of independent reporting.” On July 24, more than 70 journalists–the majority of Indexs staff–resigned in protest. On November 23, Indamedia announced it had purchased all of Index’s shares. As of November the website was still operating under the same name but with different staff and with far fewer investigative stories.

Some progovernment outlets relied almost completely on government advertising for their revenues. According to Freedom House, “while private, opposition-aligned media outlets exist, national, regional, and local media are increasingly dominated by progovernment outlets, which are frequently used to smear political opponents and highlight false accusations. Government advertising and sponsorships favored progovernment outlets, leaving independent and critical outlets in a financially precarious position.” The European Commission stated that advertising directed at progovernment outlets permitted the government to exert indirect control over media.

The government and government-linked entities often excluded independent and opposition media from their events and press conferences.

The National Media and Info-Communications Authority (NMHH), subordinate to parliament, is the central state administrative body for regulating media. The authority of the NMHH includes overseeing the operation of broadcast and media markets as well as “contributing to the execution of the government’s policy in the areas of frequency management and telecommunications.” The NMHH president serves as the chair of the five-member Media Council, the decision-making body of the NMHH that supervises broadcast, cable, online, and print media content and spectrum management. The NMHH consists exclusively of persons named by the governing parties. Some experts criticized the NMHH’s frequency awarding practices for allegedly penalizing radio stations that are critical of the government. In December 2019 the NMHH declined to extend the frequency license of a prominent Budapest community radio station, citing previous minor violations of the media law for which the station had already been fined. The station continued to operate online throughout the year. The Capital City Court of Law ruled in July that a September 2019 Media Council resolution that exonerated a public television station from accusations of unlawful bias violated the media law. The court ordered the Media Council to conduct new proceedings into the case. In September the NMHH announced it would not renew the frequency license for Klubradio, set to expire in February 2021, due to minor national content violations. Klubradio had previously broadcast news critical of the government.

The state news agency, MTI, which offers its services free of charge, is mandated by law to provide balanced, objective, nonpartisan coverage. Media watchdogs and independent outlets criticized the state media for concealing facts and opinions unfavorable to the government. Because MTI’s news services are free, its news products are broadcast widely by national and local outlets. Opposition politicians complained that they were rarely able to appear on state-run broadcasts or were given significantly less time to articulate their positions.

A November independent press report described a concerted effort by state-run media to promote the political agenda of Fidesz ahead of the 2019 European Parliament elections. The report included audio recordings from officials at state media conglomerate MTVA from March and April 2019, in which MTVA chief editor Balazs Bende and news director Zsolt Nemeth were heard directing MTVA employees to promote the government agenda in advance of the elections. Bende made repeated threats that employees were to get on board with the directive or “get out.” According to the independent press report, the Media Council stated it had “received a complaint which was being investigated.”

The speaker of parliament, Laszlo Kover, continued to ban parliamentary access for various individuals–primarily journalists–for alleged violations of parliamentary rules. On May 26, the ECHR ruled that the bans Kover imposed on journalists working for independent and government-critical media in the spring of 2016 unlawfully restricted the work of media and violated the rights of the reporters. Kover issued a statement declaring that the ruling did not mandate his office to change the existing rules governing press work.

Violence and Harassment: There were no reports of violence against journalists or of physical or legal harassment. Nevertheless, government officials and government-aligned media continued to refer to some independent journalists as “Soros agents” or “Soros mercenaries” and independent media as the “Soros media,” or in one instance as the “Soros blog.” In 2018 an investigative reporter for an independent news website was admonished in a summary procedure before a district court in Budapest for alleged abuse of personally identifiable information by using publicly available information in an article on a Hungarian person who criticized Sweden’s migration policy. The reporter demanded a full trial. In September 2019 another court notified the reporter of its nonbinding resolution exonerating him, since the person in question was a public figure who must tolerate in-depth scrutiny in the public interest. The prosecutors appealed the court ruling, and the Capital City Appeal Court remanded the case to the original court for a new trial in February. The case remained pending as of November.

In November 2019 an extreme right-wing website published an anti-Semitic drawing of a journalist from an independent outlet, which was then shared by a mainstream progovernment outlet. A few days later, anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli posters appeared in downtown Budapest with the photographs of two reporters who at that time worked for the country’s most widely read news site. The posters suggested the two journalists were foreign agents. The Action and Protection Foundation and the mayor of the district where the posters appeared filed police reports, citing hate speech, against unknown perpetrators. In March the chief of the Budapest police told a press outlet that no proceedings had been launched as there was no indication of a public crime, and no private prosecution had been initiated.

On multiple occasions, government-aligned outlets criticized nongovernment-aligned, independent, and international journalists by name for their reporting. The outlets, many of which belong to the Fidesz-affiliated media conglomerate KESMA (see above), accused these journalists, among other accusations, of being “Soros agents” and, on at least one occasion, reported comments calling for a journalist to be prosecuted under the “scaremongering” provision of the COVID-19 state of emergency law. Some publications included details about the journalists’ backgrounds, where they reside, and photographs of them. Some journalists and commentators were specifically named on multiple occasions, including by a government representative in a press briefing.

For example, an April 16 article in a KESMA-held media outlet published the names of two international journalists, claiming that the “sole purpose of their article was to denigrate the Hungarian government” and included pictures of the journalists. On April 9, the host of a KESMA-held news channel identified by name one of the journalists who resides in Budapest as a native of another country. In an April 16 press conference, the head of the Prime Minister’s Office, Gergely Gulyas, singled out one of the international reporters for criticism over his reporting. An April 6 article in the KESMA-held Magyar Nemzet quoted a constitutional lawyer who said an article the journalist published on COVID-19 in Hungary qualified as the “spread of horror” and therefore a crime under the scaremongering provision of the emergency law. The lawyer also suggested that a Hungarian news portal that reported on the article should be liable under the law, and both comments were later reported on a KESMA-held news channel. Journalists targeted in this manner by media and government officials reported receiving threats to their safety from individuals.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law provides content regulations and standards for journalistic rights, ethics, and norms that are applicable to all media, including news portals and online publications. It prohibits inciting hatred against nations; communities; ethnic, linguistic, or other minorities; majority groups; and churches or religious groups. It provides for maintaining the confidentiality of sources with respect to procedures conducted by courts or authorities.

The law mandates that every media service provider that delivers news to the public must report in a balanced manner, and that public service media providers should pursue balanced, accurate, detailed, objective, and responsible news and information services. These requirements were widely disregarded, including by public media. Public television station M1 and its news website, hirado.hu, launched a segment monitoring “fake news” related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The independent media watchdog Mertek Media Monitor noted in a June 16 analysis that the featured reports were “a mix of items published on actual fake news sites and of articles published by independent and government-critical media that obviously do not seem like fake news at all; in fact, the series even included as alleged fake news statements by opposition politicians.”

The Media Council may impose fines for violations of content regulations, including on media services that violate prohibitions on inciting hatred or violating human dignity or regulations governing the protection of minors. The Council may impose fines of up to 200 million forints ($666,000), depending on the nature of the infringement, type of media service, and audience size. It may also suspend the right to broadcast for up to one week. Defendants may appeal Media Council decisions but must appeal separately to prevent the implementation of fines while the parties litigate the substantive appeal.

As of August 24, the Media Council had issued 86 resolutions concerning various alleged violations of the media law, of which 57 imposed fines totaling some 23.14 million forints ($77,800) on 46 media service providers.

Libel/Slander Laws: Journalists reporting on an event may be judged criminally responsible for making or reporting false statements. Both individuals and media outlets may be sued for libel for their published statements or for publicizing libelous statements made by others. Plaintiffs may litigate in both civil and criminal courts.

Public officials and other public figures continued to use libel and defamation laws in response to criticism from citizens and journalists. Opposition politicians and government-critical private individuals sued government-allied media outlets in several high-profile cases. Courts tended to pass verdicts that protected private individuals from libel or slander by government-affiliated media and their reporters.

Internet Freedom

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

In cooperation with internet service providers, the NMHH maintained a nonpublic database to store and cooperate in the implementation of court rulings and tax authority resolutions to block websites that violate the law, including content-related legislation.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

In 2017 an amendment to the higher education law required universities from non-EU countries to have a physical presence in their country of origin, operate under an intergovernmental agreement between Hungary and the country of accreditation, and ensure that the university’s name in Hungarian reflects an exact translation of the name in the country of origin. The U.S.-accredited Central European University (CEU) established a presence at Bard College in New York in 2018, and the government and the State of New York negotiated an intergovernmental agreement. The government argued, however, that CEU had not sufficiently complied with the provisions of the law and declined to sign the draft agreement to bring CEU into compliance with the law. In 2018 CEU announced it would move its U.S.-accredited programs to Vienna and did so in 2019. In July 2019 CEU was accredited as an Austrian private university under the name of Central European University, and in November 2019 it officially opened its campus in Vienna. The European Commission launched an infringement procedure against Hungary over the matter in 2017. The Constitutional Court suspended the case until the European Court of Justice (ECJ) makes its decision.

The ECJ ruled on October 6 that the amendment violated EU law and contradicted the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights relating to academic freedom. The ECJ also found the law violated the international General Agreement on Trade in Services and World Trade Organization regulations. The ruling stated that the condition of an international treaty between Hungary and the third country constituted a “means of arbitrary discrimination because of the decisive nature of the political will of the Hungarian authorities.” The CEU rector, Michael Ignatieff, described the ruling as a legal and moral vindication but underscored that CEU’s move to Vienna was final, adding that the ruling “lifts the whole burden of Lex CEU off our backs and restores our freedom.”

In 2019 parliament passed a law that gave the government control, through a newly established organization, over the funding of 15 research institutes previously funded and managed by the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. The law received domestic and international criticism as infringing upon the principles of academic freedom and the self-governance of scientific institutions. In July the research institutes received a one-day deadline to submit their “research plan descriptions,” which renewed concerns over the evaluation process of research funding.

Under legislation passed by parliament on May 19, the government assigned private foundations the right to operate six public universities starting August 1. Following the model introduced at Corvinus University in 2019, the Veterinary University, the University of Miskolc, the Moholy-Nagy University of Arts, Neumann Janos University, the University of Sopron, and Szechenyi Istvan University began operating under new structures financed by foundations and in some cases with government officials as members of the board.

On July 3, parliament adopted a law that transferred the ownership of the University of Theater and Film Arts to a foundation as of September 1. The government disregarded the university’s proposal on the composition of the foundation board, instead appointing National Theater director Attila Vidnyanszky as the head of the foundation. The university senate asserted that Vidnyanszky “consistently and deliberately sought to destroy the reputation of the university for years, while the other members of the board have no significant experience in higher education.” Several instructors announced their resignations following the announcement. The university’s students, staff, artists and the public held several demonstrations against the law, and students barricaded themselves inside university buildings, demanding university autonomy. Students ended the blockade due to the government announcement of a ban on assemblies on November 10 as part of measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

In an exceptional procedure on March 24 during the COVID-19 pandemic, parliament passed an amendment to the act on culture that removed state-funded Budapest theaters from the control of the municipal government and placed them under central government control. The central government also gained the right to appoint theater leadership. Referring to an allegation of sexual harassment at a Budapest theater at the end of 2019, the government argued that if it provided all funds for the operation of the theaters then it should also be entitled to make personnel and financial decisions, adding that it could no longer support the operation of theaters that did not allow inspection into their affairs. The cabinet introduced the amendment without any professional consultations. In April the central government and the municipality of Budapest concluded an agreement on the operation of Budapest theaters. Under the agreement the municipality of Budapest will finance four theaters without government funding, with the right to decide on the appointment of their directors.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The constitution includes a provision on the protection of privacy, which stipulates that freedom of expression and the exercise of the right to assembly shall not harm others’ private and family life and their homes, potentially restricting protests in public spaces near politicians’ homes and protests in other public spaces that have apartments nearby. The law also permits the government to regulate public demonstrations, including holding organizers liable for damages caused by their events, and to ban protests in advance. Under the law authorities may ban or dissolve gatherings that unnecessarily and disproportionately harm the dignity of the nation or other national, ethnic, or religious communities. The law also criminalizes the nonviolent disturbance or impediment of a demonstration.

The criminal code provides that harassment of “official persons” (including members of parliament, judges, and prosecutors) when they are not performing public duties is a crime punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment.

During the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, the government introduced restrictions on indoor and outdoor public gatherings and events. In May police fined drivers who participated in a protest against the government’s decision to release patients from hospitals due to COVID-19 by honking their car horns. Police considered the May 28 protest of far-right groups against “Gypsy crime” as falling outside the scope of the law on assembly (see also section 6 on ethnic minorities). During the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, the government put a blanket ban on assemblies in public spaces and imposed fines for violations of up to 500,000 forints ($1,670) for participants of banned protests.

On May 26, the ECHR ruled that police interfered with a private individual’s right to peaceful assembly by unjustifiably dismissing his notification of intent to hold a demonstration in front of the president’s residence in 2013. Police argued that TEK had closed the area in question, rendering it no longer a public space available for demonstrations for the requested period. Subsequent court scrutiny removed the legal basis of the ban but only at a time when the reason for the demonstration had already become obsolete. The ECHR ordered the state to pay the private individual 2,600 euros ($3,100) as compensation for nonpecuniary damage.

Freedom of Association

On June 18, the ECJ ruled that the country’s 2017 law requiring NGOs that receive foreign funding to register and label themselves as “foreign-funded organizations” violated EU law (see section 5).

A 2011 law on religion deregistered more than 300 religious groups and organizations that had previously held incorporated church status; most were required to reapply for registration. The government had not approved any applications for incorporated church status since it amended the law in 2012, but it approved many applications for a lesser status of religious organizations. In 2019 an amendment to the law entered into force creating four different statuses for religious organizations. Observers noted that while the amendment provides a simpler procedure for religious entities to gain an intermediate-level status, it only restores some of the rights those religious groups could exercise before 2011.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government cooperated with and provided the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) access to refugees and asylum seekers, with the exception of those held in detention under the aliens policing procedure.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Human rights advocates and UNHCR criticized the government’s treatment of migrants and asylum seekers, including its pushbacks of migrants and asylum seekers to the Serbian side of the Serbia-Hungary border fence, even if they had not entered Hungary through Serbia.

Domestic human rights NGOs reported that their attorneys had difficulties in maintaining contact with foreigners kept in aliens-policing or asylum-detention facilities.

Refoulement: The CPT report published in March noted there were no legal remedies offering effective protection against forced removal or refoulement, including chain refoulement. Human rights advocates reported that 11,101 pushbacks to Serbia took place in 2019, according to official police statistics.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for asylum and establishes a procedure for asylum seekers outside the country to apply for it, but UNHCR stated on June 29 that the new law (see below) “further undermines the effective access to territory and asylum for those fleeing wars and persecution which had been already seriously constrained before.” UNHCR called on the government to bring its asylum system into conformity with international refugee and human rights law.

Following the ECJ’s May 14 ruling that classified the government’s holding of asylum seekers in two transit zones on the Hungary-Serbia border as unlawful detention, the government announced on May 21 the closure of the transit zones and introduced a new asylum system in a government decree as of May 27. Based on the new legislation, asylum seekers arriving at Hungary’s border were subsequently turned away and directed to submit a statement of intent to request asylum at the Hungarian embassies in Belgrade or Kyiv. The asylum authority had 60 days to examine the statement of intent and make a proposal to the embassy whether to issue the asylum seeker a special single-entry travel permit to enter Hungary. In case the permit is issued, the asylum seeker travels on their own to Hungary within 30 days and, upon arrival, immediately avail themselves to the border guards who present them to the asylum authority within 24 hours. Those not granted the special one-time entry permit at one of the embassies cannot request asylum in Hungary. The decree was later included as part of the bill ending the state of emergency that entered into force on June 18. On June 29, UNHCR expressed concern that the law exposes asylum seekers to the risk of refoulement. All third-country nationals found anywhere in the country without already having a right to stay (e.g., a valid visa or residence permit) are “escorted” to the other side of the border fence. As of November the asylum authority had not approved any submitted statements of intent.

On October 30, the European Commission opened an infringement procedure due to the new asylum rules, which it considers to be unlawful as they preclude persons who are in the country’s territory, including at the border, from applying for international protection.

On December 17, the ECJ ruled that restricting access to the international protection procedure, detaining asylum applicants for that protection procedure in transit zones, and moving third-country nationals who were illegally present to the Hungary-Serbia border area without observing the safeguards in a return procedure were in breach of EU law.

On June 21, the Hungarian Helsinki Committee reported that between 2017 and the closure of the transit zones in May, thousands of adults and children were detained unlawfully for extensive periods of time, up to almost two years. Authorities deprived 34 individuals of food in 24 cases for one to eight days. In each case the Hungarian Helsinki Committee had to request interim measures from the ECHR to stop the deprivation of food.

On March 1, Prime Minister Orban’s domestic security adviser Gyorgy Bakondi announced the indefinite suspension of the admission of new asylum seekers due to COVID-19. On March 8, the government extended the “crisis situation due to mass migration”–first introduced in 2015 and renewed since every six months–until September 7 due to COVID-19 and the security risk posed by the situation at the border between Turkey and Greece. On September 1, the government extended the “crisis situation” for a further six months. On August 6, Surgeon General Cecilia Muller stated that uncontrolled migration posed an “extreme danger” to the country because most “illegal migrants” came from countries with a high number of COVID-19 cases and may be infected with other diseases no longer common in the country.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The government maintained lists of “safe countries of origin” and “safe third countries.” Both lists included Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo. UNHCR repeatedly objected to the government’s designation of Serbia as a safe third country on the grounds that it does not have effective asylum procedures. In 2018 parliament modified the constitution to state that persons arriving in the country “through a country where he or she was not exposed to persecution or a direct risk of persecution should not be entitled to asylum.” Parliament also amended the asylum law and restricted the right to asylum to only those persons who arrived in Hungary directly from a place where their life or freedom were at risk.

On March 19, the ECJ ruled that national legislation, which stipulated that an asylum application by an asylum seeker arriving in an EU member state through a safe transit country was inadmissible, breached EU law. The court ruled that EU member states were obliged to assess the asylum seekers’ “connection” to the transit country when determining the admissibility of their application; merely transiting through the country was not sufficient to provide the basis of such connection. The case concerned a Syrian Kurd’s asylum application that the immigration authority deemed inadmissible because the applicant had transited Serbia, which the government considers a safe transit country.

Freedom of Movement: Following the closure of the transit zones, the new asylum provisions prescribe the automatic “placement of the applicant in a closed facility” for four weeks following the registration of their asylum request, without any available remedy to challenge the placement. After four weeks the applicant can either be placed in an open facility or in detention, with a legal remedy available against that detention decision. The law permits the detention of rejected asylum seekers under an aliens policing procedure for a maximum of 12 months, or for six months under asylum detention in certain cases of pending asylum applications. Immigration detention generally took place in immigration detention centers.

In May authorities expelled 15 Iranian students who had allegedly broken COVID-19 quarantine restrictions while being examined at a Budapest hospital. The expulsions came after national political leaders claimed that foreigners, particularly Iranians, were spreading the disease. On July 15, media reported that the decisions were under review.

Access to Basic Services: The National Directorate-General for Aliens Policing (asylum authority) has 60 days to make a proposal to the Hungarian embassy in Belgrade or Kyiv on whether to grant an asylum seeker a one-time entry permit. During this time the asylum seeker is not entitled to accommodation or any support services and does not enjoy any protection.

Human rights advocates reported that, from the closure of transit zones at the end of May until the end of August, no formal education was provided in either the Vamosszabadi or Balassagyarmat refugee reception centers on the Hungary-Slovakia border, where the government moved nearly all of the asylum seekers previously kept in the transit zones. In Balassagyarmat social workers were present in adequate numbers, but psychosocial assistance was not available on a regular basis on site, while a psychologist was contacted on demand. A similar situation was reported in Vamosszabadi.

The law limits benefits and assistance to persons given international protection on the grounds they should not have more advantages than citizens. Authorities do not provide housing allowances, educational allowances, or monthly cash allowances to asylum seekers, refugees, or beneficiaries of subsidiary protection.

In 2019 the European Commission referred Hungary to the ECJ, stating the legislation that criminalizes providing assistance to asylum seekers who were not subject to persecution in their home country or who had already transited a safe country curtailed the asylum seekers’ right to communicate with and be assisted by national, international, and nongovernmental organizations. The case remained pending as of November.

Durable Solutions: Refugees are allowed to naturalize, but according to civil society organizations, the applications of refugees and stateless persons were approved at a lower rate than those of other naturalization seekers. The Hungarian Helsinki Committee criticized the procedural framework for naturalization, noting decisions were not explained to applicants and no appeal of rejections were allowed. There were no reported cases of onward refugee resettlement from the country to other states.

Temporary Protection: The law provides for a specific temporary protection status for situations of mass influx, but organizations working on the problem reported that it was not used in practice. Under the law all forms of international protection (refugee status, subsidiary protection, tolerated stay, stateless status, etc.) are temporary by nature, with periodic review of the entitlement to protection.

In 2019 the ECJ ruled that judges may grant international protection status to asylum seekers if an administrative body has overruled their decision without establishing new elements in the case. A 2015 regulation had stripped the courts of the right to overrule immigration authorities on asylum applications.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government in periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: National elections were held in 2018 under a single-round national system to elect 199 members of parliament. The elections resulted in the ruling parties gaining a third consecutive two-thirds supermajority in parliament, receiving 49 percent of party-list votes while winning 91 of the country’s 106 single-member districts, decided by a first-past-the-post system.

Nationwide municipal elections were held in October 2019 under a single-round national system to elect local council representatives, mayors, and ethnic minority self-government members. With 48.6 percent turnout, the elections resulted in governing Fidesz-Christian Democratic People’s Party (KDNP) candidates retaining the majority of mayoral positions in smaller towns and villages, and the opposition capturing the mayoral seats of Budapest, 14 of the capital’s 23 districts, and 11 of the country’s 23 county seats. Observers suggested the relative success of the opposition resulted from the nomination of a single opposition candidate running against Fidesz-KDNP in most key races. Domestic observers noted the lack of changes to the electoral and media environment and referenced the findings of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) mission deployed to the country in 2018 (see below).

A mission representing the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) observed the 2018 national elections. In its final report on the elections, the mission characterized the election as “at odds with OSCE commitments” and concluded that a “pervasive overlap between state and ruling-party resources” undermined contestants’ ability “to compete on an equal basis.”

The ODIHR election observation mission report highlighted that despite the “large number of contestants, most did not actively campaign, ostensibly registering to benefit from public campaign-finance entitlements or to dilute the vote in tightly contested races.” The report called attention to the lack of a “periodic review of constituency boundaries in a transparent, impartial, and inclusive manner by an independent body.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, stipulations of the COVID-19 state of emergency law enacted by parliament included a ban on holding by-elections during the crisis. Upon termination of the state of emergency, the National Election Office announced that 20 local by-elections had been postponed during the period of the pandemic; all 20 were subsequently scheduled on later dates.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The ODIHR report on the 2018 elections noted several problems with media influence that “undermined the level playing field for campaigning and raised questions with regard to the abuse of administrative resources and the blurring of the line between state governing and party campaigning, which is at odds with OSCE commitments.” The report also noted campaign finance laws limited the transparency and accountability of political parties.

Citizens living abroad but having permanent residency in the country were required to appear in person at embassies or consulates to vote, while citizens without Hungarian residency could vote by mail, but only for party lists. ODIHR election observers noted that the practice of applying different procedures to register and vote depending on whether or not a person had a permanent address in the country “challenged the principle of equal suffrage.”

On December 15, parliament modified the electoral law, stipulating that any party wishing to put forward a national party list must nominate candidates in at least 71 (up from the previous 27) of the 106 individual parliamentary constituencies.

Following the outbreak of COVID-19, the government introduced a state of emergency by government decree on March 11. Under the state of emergency, the government is entitled to issue emergency government decrees which, in line with the constitution, expire after 15 days. On March 30, parliament passed a bill to extend the scope of the emergency decrees indefinitely, authorizing the government to govern by emergency decrees without parliamentary approval.

The bill generated domestic and international criticism for its expansion of the government’s powers without a specified end date and for permanently changing the criminal code in a manner that observers claimed could restrict the free press (see also section 2.a., Freedom of Expression). On March 27, the OHCHR stated that the “bill appears to give the government practically unlimited powers to rule by decree and bypass parliamentary scrutiny with no clear cut-off date.” The OHCHR stressed that “under international human rights law, emergency legislation and measures should be strictly temporary.” On March 30, ODIHR director Ingibjorg Solrun Gisladottir expressed concerns about the bill and added, “emergency legislation being adopted by governments across the OSCE region must include a time limit and guarantee parliamentary oversight.” On March 30, the European Commission stated that it was not preventing anyone from doing their job, but would vigilantly ensure that European norms are respected in all policy areas while combating COVID-19. On June 16, parliament passed a bill compelling the government to lift the state of emergency, effective June 17.

Observers noted that many of the decrees and legislation enacted during the state of emergency, including imposing prison time for “scaremongering” under a special legal order and measures critics said were unrelated to the pandemic, remained on the books after the state of emergency was lifted. The Hungarian Helsinki Committee, the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, and Amnesty International Hungary called the termination of the state of emergency an “optical illusion,” asserting that an omnibus bill passed concurrently contained provisions that allow the government to once again rule by decree for an indefinite period of time.

Under the state of emergency in April, the government issued a decree that classified the area of the city of God, which is led by opposition parties and home to a Samsung factory, as “strategically important” and a “priority economic zone,” thus transferring jurisdiction of that zone, including tax collection, from the municipality to the Fidesz-led county government. In May parliament passed a similar bill that allowed the government to declare any site hosting investment projects worth more than approximately five billion forints ($16 million) as a “special economic zone.” Critics noted that this provision was unrelated to the COVID-19 pandemic and seemed designed to target municipalities controlled by opposition parties, stripping them of tax revenue.

Following the increase of COVID-19 cases during the fall, the government reintroduced a state of emergency on November 4. On November 10, parliament passed a bill to extend the government’s state of emergency powers for an additional 90 days. Also on November 10, the government introduced approximately 30 bills to parliament, including constitutional amendments and other legislative actions on far-ranging issues such as LGBTI rights (see section 6), fiscal transparency (see section 4), judicial independence, and electoral law. On November 20, the Council of Europe commissioner for human rights, Dunja Mijatovic, called on parliament to postpone a vote on the measures, scheduled for December, because they could have “serious adverse effects on human rights in the country” if enacted, and because the state of emergency restricts “opportunities for meaningful democratic discussion and public scrutiny.” Parliament passed the bills on December 15.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women and members of minority groups in the political process. Representation of women in public life, however, was very low. The ODIHR report on the 2018 elections noted, “Women are underrepresented in political life and there are no legal requirements to promote gender equality in elections.” Following the elections, women constituted 12.5 percent of members of parliament. As of November the 15-member cabinet included three women, and 13 percent of subcabinet-level government state secretaries were women, a figure that has remained relatively constant across Fidesz-KDNP administrations since 2010. The UN Human Rights Committee’s Sixth Periodic Report expressed concern that women were underrepresented in decision-making positions in the public sector, particularly in government ministries and parliament.

The electoral system provides 13 recognized national minorities the possibility of registering for a separate minority voting process in parliamentary elections, by which they vote on the minority candidate list instead of the party list. While all 13 national minorities registered candidate lists in the 2018 elections, only one–the German minority–obtained enough votes to win a minority seat in parliament. National minorities that did not win a seat were represented in parliament by nonvoting spokespersons whose competence was limited to discussing minority issues. Regarding the 2018 election campaign, the ODIHR stated it was informed of several instances where pressure was put on Romani voters not to register as minority voters and instead to vote for national lists. Due to privacy laws regarding ethnic data, no official statistics were available on the number of members of a minority who were in parliament or the cabinet.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

While the law provides criminal penalties for corruption by public officials, few such cases were lodged or prosecuted during the year. The European Commission and NGOs contended that the government did not implement or apply these laws effectively and that officials and those with close government connections often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.

Anticorruption NGOs alleged government corruption and favoritism in the distribution of EU funds. The Corruption Research Center Budapest identified several cases of bid rigging and other corruption risk indicators in public tenders with EU funding. The research center concluded that companies with close links to the government faced significantly less competition and were able to obtain higher prices when bidding for EU-funded projects.

In its September 30 Rule of Law Report, the European Commission found deficiencies in the country’s anticorruption policies and that the government did not sufficiently address nepotism and favoritism, noting specifically that, “when serious allegations arise, there is a systematic lack of determined action to investigate and prosecute corruption cases involving high-level officials or their immediate circle.” The report also noted, “tight interconnections between politics and certain national businesses are conducive to corruption.”

On December 15, parliament modified the constitution by introducing a new definition of public funds that limited them to “income, expenditures, and claims of the state.” Another amendment declared that the creation and operation of so-called asset management foundations–such as the ones that granted the government ownership of several universities, including the University of Theater and Film Arts (see section 2, Academic Freedom)–were governed by cardinal law requiring a two-thirds majority to change. Transparency watchdogs and opposition parties criticized both amendments, warning that under the new definition of public funds the government would not be compelled to release data on the operation of state-owned enterprises and public funds in response to freedom of information requests, shielding the government from public scrutiny.

In February the European Commission’s European Semester Report on the country stated that corruption remained an important concern. Although the commission noted minimal improvement during the previous year, it stated that further steps were necessary to strengthen transparency and competition in public procurement. The report also called for the Prosecutor General’s Office to pursue corruption cases more effectively and determined that “systemic action by Hungarian authorities to prosecute high-level corruption was lacking.” “The weakening of checks and balances, weak accountability and obstacles to access to public information hinder the fight against corruption,” the report concluded.

Corruption: In its 2019 annual report released on September 10, the European antifraud office OLAF found 43 cases of potential fraud in the country associated with EU development funds received between 2015 and 2019. OLAF recommended that the government repay 3.93 percent of the funds it received during the 2015-19 period. Observers noted that OLAF’s limited resources allowed it to review only a fraction of the tens thousands of EU cases in which EU funds were disbursed to member states.

On January 14, a criminal case against ruling Fidesz party member of parliament Gyorgy Simonka was launched in the Budapest Court of Justice. In August 2019 prosecutors charged Simonka and 32 associates of running a criminal organization that fraudulently obtained 1.4 billion forints ($4.6 million) in EU and state funds through a complex web of companies. Simonka was also accused of both paying and accepting bribes, reportedly paying 20 million forints ($67,000) in bribes to stop Tax Office investigations at his companies. According to the charges, two companies linked to him undertook overpriced EU and state-funded projects with Simonka’s help and transferred kickbacks in cash and other forms through intermediaries to the politician. Prosecutors were reportedly seeking an eight-and-a-half-year prison sentence for Simonka and the confiscation of his assets in the value of 850 million forints ($2.8 million).

Financial Disclosure: The law requires members of parliament, senior government officials, the president of the Supreme Court and his deputies, and the prosecutor general to publish asset declarations on a regular basis. NGOs claimed that public officials circumvented the required disclosures by placing assets in the names of spouses, who are not required to file asset declarations. The vast majority of public-sector employees, including law enforcement and army officers, judges, prosecutors, civil servants, and public servants, were also obliged to submit asset declarations, which are not publicly accessible. NGOs noted there were no criminal or administrative sanctions for submitting inaccurate asset declarations and asserted there was no effective method to detect violators. The European Commission’s Rule of Law Report noted a lack of transparency in political party financing, asset disclosure, and lobbying.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

Domestic and international human rights groups operated with some government restrictions affecting their funding. Government officials were generally uncooperative and unresponsive to their views.

On June 18, the ECJ ruled that the country’s 2017 law requiring NGOs that receive foreign funding to register and label themselves as “foreign-funded organizations” violated EU law. The ECJ declared that the legislation unduly restricted free movement of capital and interfered with fundamental rights, including protection of personal data and freedom of association, respect for private life, as well as citizens’ right to participate in public life. Reacting to the ECJ ruling, an umbrella organization for the affected NGOs, the Civilization Coalition, wrote, “The decision is particularly important for all of Hungarian society, because the government has for years been trying to undermine NGOs working for the common good.” Justice Minister Judit Varga stated the government was committed to ensuring the transparency of NGOs. Despite the ruling, in September a government-established public foundation rejected an EU grant application from a human rights NGO over alleged noncompliance with the law. The law had not been repealed as of November.

At the beginning of the year, several government officials and progovernment media alleged that NGOs and their attorneys were profiting from “prison business” when, representing inmates, they sued the state for compensation due to poor prison conditions (also see section 1.c., Prison and Detention Center Conditions). Speaking about the Gyongyospata school segregation lawsuit (see section 6, Members of Minority Groups) and referring to human rights groups as “Soros organizations,” the officials also claimed such NGOs should not be able in future to “use Roma families as a tool to launch fundraising campaigns, disturb social peace, and reward those who do not go to school.”

On December 21, Norway’s Foreign Ministry announced the signing of an agreement with Hungary on the disbursement framework for 214.6 million euros ($262 million) in grants from the Norwegian government to support NGOs, climate protection projects, renewable energy, and other development projects. The government initially insisted on determining which NGOs would receive money designated for civil society but reached a compromise whereby a company acceptable to both parties would be chosen to determine the allocation of grant funds to NGOs. Norway stressed that the company’s independence from governmental influence remained a precondition to the agreement. Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein suspended payment to Hungary in 2014 after the government insisted on playing a bigger role in disbursing funds to NGOs in the country, and the government’s audit office raided the offices of one of the NGOs responsible for managing the grants, in what civil society organizations described as a politically motivated investigation that did not result in any charges.

In October, NGOs reported that authorities had closed the investigation into the October 2019 attack on the Aurora NGO center, during which approximately 50 members from the neo-Nazi Legio Hungaria group vandalized the center and burned the pride flag that was hanging outside, without filing any charges (see section 6).

On November 17, the Budapest Capital Regional Court ruled that police had failed in their duty when they did not take immediate action against a group of far-right extremists who had forced their way into an LGBTI event at the Aurora Center in September 2019, chanting homophobic slurs and physically harassing the event participants for three hours, forcing organizers to cancel it (see section 6).

In November 2019 Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch released statements regarding a media report that the state media conglomerate MTVA banned its staff from covering human rights organizations’ reports, which they described as an attempt to undermine media freedom and further restrict NGOs’ work in the country.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The constitution and law establish a unified system for the office of the commissioner for fundamental rights (ombudsperson). The ombudperson has two deputies, one responsible for the rights of national minorities and one for the interests of “future generations” (environmental protection). The ombudsperson is nominated by the president and elected by a two-thirds majority of parliament. The ombudsperson is solely accountable to parliament and has the authority to initiate proceedings to defend the rights of citizens from abuse by authorities and entities providing public services. The constitution provides that the ombudsperson may request that the Constitutional Court review laws. The ombudsperson is also responsible for collecting electronically submitted reports of public benefit, e.g., whistleblower reports on public corruption, and operates the national preventive mechanism against torture. Ombudsperson recommendations are not binding. During the international re-accreditation process of the ombudsperson’s office as a “national human rights institution,” the October 2019 report by the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions (GANHRI) noted that the office “did not demonstrate adequate efforts in all human rights issues, nor has it spoken out in a manner that promoted and protected all human rights.” During the year GANHRI decided to defer the review of the ombudsperson’s office for one year. On December 1, parliament voted to transfer the mandate and tasks of the Equal Treatment Authority to the ombudsperson as of January 1, 2021 (see section 6).

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape of men or women, including spousal rape, is illegal. Although there is no crime defined as rape, the equivalent crimes are sexual coercion and sexual violence. These crimes include the exploitation of a person who is unable to express his or her will. Penalties for sexual coercion and sexual violence range from one year in prison to 15 years in aggravated cases.

The criminal code includes “violence within partnership” (domestic violence) as a separate category of offense. Regulations extend prison sentences for assault (“light bodily harm”) to three years, while grievous bodily harm, violation of personal freedom, or coercion may be punishable by one to five years in prison, if committed against domestic persons.

By law police called to a scene of domestic violence may issue an emergency restraining order valid for three days in lieu of immediately filing charges, while courts may issue up to 60-day “preventive restraining orders” in civil cases, without the option to extend.

Women’s rights NGOs continued to criticize the law for not placing sufficient emphasis on the accountability of perpetrators and the tendency of authorities to blame the victims. In November 2019 local media reported on a woman who shared photos on Facebook about how she had been physically assaulted on several occasions by her partner, a former member of the defense forces. While an investigation was underway in the case, her partner sued the woman for defamation and breach of his privacy rights. Women’s rights groups held a solidarity protest during the court hearing in Miskolc on September 28.

The Ministry of Human Capacities continued to operate a 24-hour toll-free hotline for victims of domestic violence and trafficking in persons. The ministry also sponsored crisis centers and secure shelters for victims of domestic violence operated by civil society organizations and church institutions. The crisis centers provided immediate accommodation and care for individuals and families for up to 90 days. The secure shelters addressed the needs of severely abused women whose lives were in danger, who were allowed a maximum stay of six months at the shelters. One type of service was the “crisis ambulance,” which provided mobile walk-in consultations, but not accommodation, for survivors of domestic violence.

NGOs criticized the lack of training on gender-based violence for professionals and emphasized the need for broader awareness-raising efforts among the public to encourage victims to seek assistance and report violence without stigmatization.

Sexual Harassment: By law harassment of a sexual nature constitutes a violation of the equal treatment principle but is not a crime.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children. Individuals have the right to manage their reproductive health, and most had access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. During the year the state took over fertility clinics and began providing state-subsidized assisted reproductive services (artificial insemination and in vitro fertilization), primarily tailored to support heterosexual married couples who experienced difficulty conceiving naturally. LGBTI NGOs characterized access to assisted reproductive technologies as discriminatory against same-sex couples.

Contraceptives were available but were not covered by the state health-care system, which limited access of marginalized groups living in poverty, including Romani women. Sterilization for family-planning (nonmedical) reasons is limited to persons who are older than age 40 or already have three biological children.

The government operated state-funded shelters and a hotline for victims of crime, including sexual violence against women, but these did not provide specialized assistance and sexual and reproductive health services for survivors.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men. According to the Economists 2018 glass ceiling index, women constituted 14.5 percent of company board membership, based on 2017 data. Women’s rights organizations asserted that Romani women could suffer multiple forms of discrimination on the basis of gender, ethnicity, and class, and experienced barriers to equal access in education, health care, housing, employment, and justice.

Children

Birth Registration: An individual acquires citizenship from a parent who is a citizen. Births were registered immediately. NGOs asserted the law provides only partial safeguards against statelessness at birth because all children of foreign parents born in the country are registered on birth certificates as being of unknown nationality. In addition the NGOs claimed that children born to stateless parents or to noncitizen parents who cannot pass on their nationality to their children were in some cases born and remained stateless.

Education: Although the law provides for free and compulsory education between the ages of three and 16 and prohibits school segregation, NGOs reported the segregation of Romani children in schools and their frequent misdiagnosis as mentally disabled. The European Commission opened an infringement procedure in 2016 due to concerns about the disproportionate overrepresentation of Romani children in special schools with intellectual disabilities as well as a considerable degree of segregated education in mainstream schools.

On February 13, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child published its observations regarding the country’s adherence to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child between 2014 and 2019. The report expressed concerns about continuing segregation of Romani children in schools and the increased gap in attainment between Romani and non-Romani children in different levels of education. The findings also noted that while there were more than 200 amendments of general legislation affecting children’s rights, the government did not assess the impact of these amendments before and after their adoption.

On March 13, the government announced that all schools would stay closed as an effort against the spread of COVID-19, with all students required to continue education through digital platforms. This posed a problem for disadvantaged children, particularly in the Romani community. Throughout March several Romani NGOs drew attention to the fact that Romani children often lived together with adults in small, overcrowded spaces that were unsuitable for distance learning and often lacked internet connections and electronic devices. They added that many Romani parents were undereducated and unable to help their children with their studies at home or to give them hot meals, which schools typically provided. More than 120 civil organizations across the country set up an action group to deliver food and other donations to families living in deep poverty.

On May 12, the Supreme Court upheld an earlier lower-level court ruling that ordered 99 million forints ($330,000) in damages be paid to 60 Romani students who were unlawfully segregated by and received inferior education from a local primary school in Gyongyospata for 14 years (see section 6, Ethnic Minority Groups). In response to the ruling, parliament in June amended the public education law to ban courts from awarding financial compensation as damages to those who received segregated education.

A 2019 report prepared by Romani and pro-Roma NGOs stated that one-half of Romani students dropped out of the education system. Only 24 percent of Romani students finished high school, compared with 75 percent of non-Romani students. Only 5 percent of Romani students entered university, compared with 35 percent of non-Romani students. The report noted that segregating Romani children in schools and lowering the mandatory school age to 16 contributed to high dropout rates.

In September the Ministry of Human Capacities cut state subsidies to public schools run by the Hungarian Evangelical Fellowship and Igazgyongy Foundation as well as the Dr. Ambedkar School, attended mostly by Romani children.

Child Abuse: Efforts to combat child abuse included a “child protection signaling system” to detect and prevent the endangerment of children; law enforcement and judicial measures; restraining orders; shelters for mothers and their children; and removal of children from homes deemed unsafe. The law provides that failure of a parent to “cooperate” with the doctors, district nurses, teachers, or family supporters in the signaling system automatically constitutes gross endangerment, even without any other signs of negligence or endangerment.

In December 2019 a man from the city of Gyor who was just released from prison for attacking his wife with a hammer in 2016, beat his 13-year-old stepdaughter and 10-year-old son to death, then hanged himself. The case received widespread media attention.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 18. The Social and Guardianship Office may authorize marriages of persons between the ages of 16 and 18. The guardianship authorities consider whether a girl is pregnant in making their determination. Limited data exists regarding the prevalence of child marriage in the country, including in the Romani community.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits child pornography. The statute of limitations does not apply to sexual crimes against children. The government generally enforced the law. The minimum age for consensual sex is 12, provided the older partner is 18 or younger. Persons older than 18 who engage in sexual relations with a minor between the ages of 12 and 14 may be punished by one to five years’ imprisonment. By law statutory rape is a felony punishable by five to 10 years’ imprisonment if the victim is younger than 12.

NGOs criticized the practice of punishing children who were victims of sexual exploitation as misdemeanor offenders. On March 10, parliament passed amendments to laws regarding “action against exploitation of victims of human trafficking.” The new provisions entered into force on July 1 and prohibit the punishment of minors exploited in prostitution. Procuring minors for prostitution and exploitation of child prostitution is now a crime punishable by imprisonment between two to eight years.

In July the country’s former ambassador to Peru received a one-year suspended prison sentence and was ordered to pay a 540,000 forint ($1,800) fine for the possession of pornographic photos of children. The sentence prompted public and legal debates that punishments involving child pornography should be more stringent.

Institutionalized Children: The February report of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child expressed concern over the high number of children living in institutional settings, including 300 children under three years of age. According to UNICEF Hungary, approximately 23,000 children were living in state care institutions. Pro-Roma NGOs noted that institutionalized children living in state care were especially vulnerable to human trafficking for prostitution and criticized the lack of special assistance for child victims of trafficking. In a 2018 report, the ombudsperson stated that one-third of children were placed in child protection care because of their families’ poor financial circumstances.

In August former residents and staff of the children’s home in Kalocsa told local media about the physical and verbal abuse that took place inside the institution for decades. The ombudsperson’s report from 2016 had concluded that supervisors regularly abused children.

International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.

Anti-Semitism

According to the 2011 census, 10,965 persons identified their religion as Judaism. According to estimates from the World Jewish Congress, the Jewish population numbered between 35,000 and 120,000 persons. A 2018 study published in Szombat, a leading Hungarian Jewish news outlet, found that 82 percent of Hungarian Jews had a direct family member or ancestor who lost their life in the Holocaust. Jewish organizations considered the Holocaust to represent a defining element in the identity of Hungarian Jews, and they regarded it as vital to preserve the memory of what occurred during the Holocaust.

The Action and Protection Foundation, a Jewish group monitoring anti-Semitism, registered 35 anti-Semitic hate crimes in 2019. These were 27 cases of hate speech, six of vandalism, one threat, and one case of assault.

A prominent Jewish leader said that while Jews are not physically threatened in the country, the government engages in what often appears as anti-Semitic rhetoric that hurts many Jewish persons.

In an opinion piece published in the progovernment online outlet Origo on November 28, ministerial culture commissioner Szilard Demeter called a Jewish Hungarian-American businessman and philanthropist the “liberal Fuhrer” and wrote that Europe was his “gas chamber” with “poisonous gas” flowing from the capsule of a “multicultural open society.” Referring to the row over the EU’s new rule of law mechanism, Demeter described Poles and Hungarians as “the new Jews” targeted by “liber-aryans.” The Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities (Mazsihisz) condemned Demeter’s comments as a “textbook example of Holocaust relativization” and “incompatible with the government-proclaimed zero tolerance against all forms of anti-Semitism”; the Unified Hungarian Jewish Congregation called Demeter’s comments “tasteless” and “unforgivable.” As of December government officials continued to defend Demeter’s continued tenure as a ministerial commissioner, arguing he had retracted the piece and apologized.

On March 5, graves at a Jewish cemetery in Kiskufelegyhaza were vandalized. Repair costs were estimated at between 300,000 and 2.5 million forints ($1,000 to $8,000).

On January 6, state-run Kossuth Radio station announced the appointment of Beatrix Siklosi as its new director. On January 27, in light of Siklosi’s history of making and spreading anti-Semitic and racist statements, 21 Jewish organizations published a joint open letter to the CEO of the public media organization MTVA, Daniel Papp, asking him to terminate Siklosi’s appointment. Papp rejected the accusations of anti-Semitism against Siklosi as unfounded.

On August 20, the government awarded the Hungarian Order of Merit to historian Erno Raffay, who has been criticized for disseminating anti-Semitic views. The European Commission coordinator on combatting anti-Semitism, Katharina von Schnurbein, condemned Raffay in a social media post on August 25 for openly spreading “anti-Semitic speech and conspiracy myths.”

On January 31, the government adopted a new national curriculum that was introduced on September 1 in elementary and secondary public schools. Jewish groups expressed concern that the mandatory reading material included works by writers widely viewed as anti-Semitic and removed works by Imre Kertesz, Nobel laureate for literature and Hungarian Holocaust survivor.

On February 8, approximately 500 to 600 members of radical right-wing and neo-Nazi groups from Hungary and other European countries gathered for a “Day of Honor” in Budapest, commemorating the attempted breakout of German and Hungarian troops in February 1945 during the siege of Budapest by the Soviet Red Army. Dressed in black and carrying flags of their respective far-right movements, they laid wreaths to honor “hero” Nazis and their collaborators. While police initially banned the event, a subsequent court ruling overturned the ban. Separated by a line of police, some 300 to 500 counterdemonstrators, including Romani groups, chanted and drummed during the event. No major conflicts were reported. The commemoration was followed by a march to the outskirts of Budapest following the route of the attempted siege-breakers, in which some participants wore historical uniforms and insignia. No senior government officials publicly condemned the event.

The opening of the House of Fates, a planned new Holocaust museum concept and education center in Budapest, remained pending due to controversy around the museum’s proposed concept. Leading Jewish groups and Holocaust scholars criticized the museum’s proposed concept as an attempt to obscure the involvement of the World War II-era Hungarian state and its leader, Miklos Horthy, in the Holocaust, given that Horthy allied Hungary with Nazi Germany and deported more than 400,000 Hungarian Jews in summer 1944 to Nazi death camps.

On March 1, approximately 1,000 demonstrators took part in a march organized by the far-right party Mi Hazank and the Betyarsereg and 64 Counties extremist groups honoring the centennial of Horthy’s coming to power.

Jewish leaders criticized Laszlo Biro, a Jobbik party member and the opposition parties’ unsuccessful joint candidate in the October 11 by-election in Borsod County, for anti-Semitic and racist statements.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution and the law prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, communicational, and psychosocial disabilities in employment, education, air travel and other transportation, access to health care, or the provision of other state services.

There were no data available on the percentage of government buildings accessible to persons with disabilities.

The government reviewed its 2019-36 deinstitutionalization strategy to reduce the number of persons with disabilities living in institutions with capacities greater than 50 persons. On April 28, it published its action plan, valid until 2022, to implement the 2015-25 national program on disability issues. International and domestic NGOs called on the government to avoid sustaining institutional culture by building mini-institutions because risks for persons in these settings remain as serious as for those in larger institutions. In a report released April 16 on its visit to the country in 2019, the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities stated that maintaining and expanding a national system of social care institutions “perpetuated segregation and isolation from society.” The report also stated that children with disabilities requiring high levels of support were overrepresented in segregated education. It also observed the prevalence of poor conditions in these institutions, overmedication, and violations of sexual and reproductive rights.

The constitution provides that a court may deprive persons with disabilities who are under guardianship of the right to vote in its adjudication of the individual’s limited mental capacity. NGOs noted that depriving persons with intellectual or psychosocial disabilities of their legal rights violated international conventions on the rights of persons with disabilities. Disability rights experts noted that persons with disabilities living in institutions were often placed under guardianship and noted the relative lack of government support for personal assistance in independent living situations.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

Roma were the country’s largest ethnic minority. According to the 2011 census, approximately 315,000 persons (3 percent of the population) identified themselves as Roma. A University of Debrecen study published in 2018, however, estimated there were 876,000 Roma in the country, or approximately 9 percent of the country’s population. The study claimed the 2011 census underestimated the size of the Romani community, since Romani respondents often preferred not to disclose their minority status. To avoid biased responses, the researchers gathered data from municipal governments and from Romani self-government bodies instead of asking respondents to self-report their ethnicity.

Human rights NGOs continued to report that Roma suffered social and economic exclusion and discrimination in almost all fields of life. According to an October 12 report prepared for the Council of Europe by the Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, Roma faced discrimination in education, employment, and access to housing and health care.

On May 28, the Mi Hazank party, joined by a few hundred supporters, held a demonstration against what they called “Gypsy crime” in front of the building of the National Roma Self-Government in Budapest. The demonstration was in response to a double homicide in downtown Budapest in which a teenager stabbed two young men. Unconfirmed press reports in some conservative and right-wing media alleged that the suspect was of Romani ethnicity. A Mi Hazank politician claimed, “The majority of perpetrators [of criminal acts] belonged to the Romani minority.” Police prohibited the gathering citing COVID-19 restrictions, but the party maintained that the demonstration was an “act of mourning” outside the scope of the law. Under heavy police presence, some protesters lit smoke bombs, chanted, “Yes, Gypsy crime exists,” and marched to the site of the scene of the killing joined by individuals from far-right paramilitary organizations. In a May 28 statement, the National Roma Self-Government stated that hostile incitement against Roma was increasing and criticized those who hold them collectively responsible for criminal acts instead of acknowledging individual responsibility. On June 1, Romani civil rights activists reported that the Roma Holocaust memorial in Budapest was defaced with the text “Eradicating Gypsies = eradicating crime.”

In a high-profile May 12 ruling, the Supreme Court upheld an earlier lower-level court ruling that ordered 99 million forints (approximately $330,000) in damages be paid to 60 Romani students who were unlawfully segregated by and received inferior education from a local primary school in Gyongyospata for 14 years. The educational authority and local government had asked the court to allow for educational instead of financial compensation, or to lower the compensation amount, but the court rejected both requests. On May 15, Prime Minister Orban called the ruling “unfair” and added: “It serves the law, but it does not deliver justice. From downtown Budapest, where the court is, justice for Gyongyospata is invisible. But we will find it.” The Fidesz member of parliament from Gyongyospata, Laszlo Horvath, called the ruling a “bad decision which disrupts social peace as it unilaterally and overwhelmingly punishes a whole town for the real or assumed grievances of a minority.”

On August 26, the Curia announced its ruling in favor of Romani mothers who were discriminated against in the maternity ward of a hospital in the city of Miskolc. The court agreed with the request by the plaintiff, the European Roma Rights Center, that the hospital immediately terminate the practice of requiring pregnant women’s family members to pay for a hygienic garment in order to accompany them in the hospital room. The plaintiff noted that Romani women were more likely to give birth alone and exposed to the risk of racist abuse and harassment by medical practitioners.

Segregation of Romani children in schools and their frequent misdiagnosis as mentally disabled remained a problem (see section 6, Children). Observers claimed the public education system continued to provide inadequate instruction for members of minorities in their own languages as required by law and that Romani language schoolbooks and qualified teachers were in short supply.

The law establishes cultural autonomy for nationalities (replacing the term “minorities”) and recognizes the right to foster and enrich historic traditions, language, culture, and educational rights as well as to establish and operate institutions and maintain international contacts.

Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. In addition, the law prohibits certain forms of hate speech and prescribes increased punishment for violence against members of the LGBTI community. Victims of discrimination had a wide choice of remedies, including a procedure by a designated government agency (the Equal Treatment Authority), enforcement of personality rights via civil court procedure, and sectoral remedies in media law. Only the civil procedure allows for the awarding of pecuniary and nonpecuniary damages. The Constitutional Court also offers possibilities to challenge allegedly discriminatory legislation. NGOs reported that the Equal Treatment Authority and courts enforced these antidiscrimination laws. On December 1, parliament voted to abolish the Equal Treatment Authority, viewed by LGBTI groups as one of the few remaining public bodies that delivered decisions against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and to place it under the ombudsperson’s office as of 2021.

On December 15, parliament adopted a government-submitted amendment introducing additional gender-specific language into the constitution, declaring that “the basis for family relations is [heterosexual] marriage,” and “the mother is a woman, the father is a man.” It also declared that the country “protects children’s right to an identity based on their gender at birth” and that children must be guaranteed an “upbringing based on values stemming from [Hungary’s] constitutional identity and Christian culture.” Parliament also adopted government-submitted legal provisions on adoption allowing only married couples consisting of a woman and a man to adopt children, unless the minister for family affairs grants special permission.

On May 19, parliament adopted an omnibus bill that included provisions replacing the term “gender” with “gender at birth” in the civil registry and prohibited gender change on all official documents, such as identification cards, passports, and driving licenses. LGBTI organizations expressed public concern that as a result transgender persons could face harsh workplace and health-care discrimination or could be accused of fraud when presenting personal identity documents. Before the adoption of the amendment, a group of 63 members of the European Parliament sent an open letter to Justice Minister Judit Varga and the chief of the Prime Minister’s Office, Gergely Gulyas, asking them to withdraw the proposal.

In October, Prime Minister Orban stated that a book that depicted fairy tales with minority, Romani, LGBTI, and characters with disabilities was an “act of provocation.” The leader of the Mi Hazank party tore up a copy of the book in public, and a conservative campaign group collected signatures calling for a boycott. The Hungarian Publishers and Bookseller’s Association condemned the actions, comparing them to censorship under Communism or Nazi book burning.

On August 14, during the Budapest Pride Festival, members of the “Aryan Greens”–a supporters’ group of the Ferencvaros soccer club that includes far-right extremists–tore down the pride flag flying from the Budapest 9th district city hall building and shared photos on Facebook of demonstrators stepping on the flag and burning it. Police identified and detained one suspect on suspicion of harassment. NGOs noted that authorities did not classify the act as a hate crime. Subsequently the vice president of Mi Hazank, Elod Novak, tore down pride flags from two Budapest district city hall buildings. Party president Laszlo Toroczkai stated they would continue to take action against “violent, deviant homosexual propaganda, supported by international background forces,” which he said had reached a point where the symbol of “this satanic group” appeared on the facade of local council buildings. On August 17, a small group of far-right extremists attempted to disrupt a pride festival event but backed off after police asked for their identification. A group of approximately 20 persons dressed in black shirts with the text “Hungarian resistance” appeared at another pride event on August 18, where they damaged the restrooms of Loffice Budapest, which hosted the event.

On November 17, the Budapest Capital Regional Court ruled that police had failed in their duty when they did not take immediate action against a group of far-right extremists who had disrupted an LGBTI event at Aurora Center in September 2019. The Hungarian Helsinki Committee, which represented the plaintiffs, welcomed the court decision for finding that the intruders’ threatening actions and verbal violence were sufficient grounds for police intervention and for providing “clear guidance” to the authorities on what actions they must take if there is an attack on the LGBTI community.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

According to the 2011 census, 5,579 persons identified their religion as Islam. Government officials regularly made statements in defense of a “Christian Europe.” In an essay published on the occasion of the start of the fall parliamentary session, Prime Minister Orban wrote in the daily Magyar Nemzet on September 21 that, while Central European countries were choosing a migration-free future, the majority population in large Western European cities and 20 percent of the European population would be Muslim by 2050. On August 31, Deputy Prime Minister Zsolt Semjen stated that the government had built or refurbished approximately 3,000 churches in the Carpathian Basin since 2010 and pledged that “none of those churches will be turned into mosques or shopping malls.”

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The labor code provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions without previous authorization and conduct their activities without interference, although unions alleged requirements for trade union registration were excessive. The labor code prohibits any worker conduct that may jeopardize the employer’s reputation or legitimate economic and organizational interests and explicitly provides for the possibility of restricting the workers’ personal rights in this regard, including their right to express an opinion during or outside of working hours. Violations of this law could result in a fine to compensate for damages in case the employer turns to court, although this labor code provision was rarely implemented and there were no reported instances during the year. With the exception of law enforcement and military personnel, prison guards, border guards, health-care workers, and firefighters, workers have the right to strike. In other spheres of the public sector, including education or government services, minimum service must be maintained. The law permits military and police unions to seek resolution of grievances in court. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.

Workers performing activities that authorities determine to be essential to the public interest, such as schools, public transport, telecommunications, water, and power, may not strike unless an agreement has been reached on provision of “sufficient services” during a strike. Courts determine the definition of sufficient services. National trade unions opposed the law on the basis that the courts lacked the expertise to rule on minimum service levels and generally refused to rule on such cases, essentially inhibiting the right to strike.

The government effectively enforced laws providing for freedom of association and collective bargaining. Penalties for violations were generally commensurate with those for other violations. In the public sector, administrative and judicial procedures to determine adequate services were sometimes subject to lengthy delays and appeals.

Authorities and employers generally respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Trade unions alleged that national prosecutors restricted trade union activities and in some cases reported antiunion dismissals and union busting by employers. There were also reports of unilateral termination of collective agreements, which employers in some cases attributed to financial difficulties resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. Unions reported the government continued to attempt to influence their independent operation.

While the law provides for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity, court proceedings on unfair dismissal cases sometimes took more than a year to complete, and authorities did not always enforce court decisions.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

While the law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, observers asserted the government failed to enforce it effectively and forced labor occurred. Penalties for forced labor were comparable to penalties for other serious crimes.

Groups vulnerable to forced labor included those in extreme poverty, undereducated young adults, Roma, and homeless men and women. Hungarian men and women were subjected to forced labor domestically and abroad, and labor trafficking of Hungarian men in Western Europe occurred in agriculture, construction, and factories. The COVID-19 pandemic reduced the number of seasonal workers, including Hungarians, as numerous hostels and workplaces became hot spots of infections and were subsequently closed. The government implemented temporary travel restrictions, quarantine, or testing for those entering the country to control the pandemic, while also increasing law enforcement efforts and sustaining its prevention efforts.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The constitution generally prohibits child labor. The law prohibits children younger than 16 from working, except that children who are 15 or 16 may work under certain circumstances as temporary workers during school vacations or may be employed to perform in cultural, artistic, sports, or advertising activities with parental consent. Children may not work night shifts or overtime or perform hard physical labor. The government performed spot-checks and effectively enforced applicable laws; penalties were commensurate with those of other serious crimes.

Through the end of 2018, the employment authority reported 10 cases, involving 17 children, of labor by children younger than 15. The employment authority also reported eight cases involving 11 children between the ages of 15 and 16 who were employed without the consent of their parents or legal representatives during the school year, as well as 16 cases involving 18 children between the ages of 16 and 18 who were employed without the consent of their parents or legal representatives. The employment authority noted child labor cases increased as a result of tighter legislation, which requires presentation of parental permission during an inspection.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution and laws prohibit discrimination based on race, sex, gender, disability, language, sexual orientation and gender identity, infection with HIV or other communicable diseases, or social status. The labor code provides for the principles of equal treatment. The government failed to enforce these regulations effectively. Penalties were not commensurate with laws related to civil rights.

Observers asserted that discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to Roma, women, and persons with disabilities. According to NGOs there was economic discrimination against women in the workplace, particularly against job seekers older than 50 and those who were pregnant or had returned from maternity leave. A government decree requires companies with more than 25 employees to reserve 5 percent of their work positions for persons with physical or mental disabilities. While the decree provides fines for noncompliance, many employers generally paid the fines rather than employ persons with disabilities. The National Tax and Customs Authority issued “rehabilitation cards” to persons with disabilities, which granted tax benefits for employers employing such individuals.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

In 2018 the net national minimum monthly wage for full-time employment of unskilled workers and the special minimum monthly wage for skilled workers exceeded the poverty level.

The law sets the official workday at eight hours, although it may vary depending on industry. A 48-hour rest period is required during any seven-day period. The regular workweek is 40 hours with premium pay for overtime. On January 1, amendments to the labor code became effective that increased the limit on maximum overtime from 250 to 400 hours per year. The code also provides for 10 paid annual national holidays. Under the new code, overtime is to be calculated based on a three-year time period, i.e., employees have a right to overtime pay only if, over a three-year period, they have worked an average of more than 40 hours per week. Observers noted the provision could allow employers to avoid paying overtime for work in one year by requiring employees to work less than full time during both or one of the two other years if it lowered their average workweek over the entire three-year period to 40 hours or less. The changes to the labor code led to a series of worker demonstrations in late 2018 and early 2019, following which most employers agreed not to take advantage of the overtime calculation provision of the new labor code and to continue paying overtime in the following pay period. The government effectively enforced minimum wage and overtime laws and penalties for violations were commensurate with those for other similar violations.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the government passed a decree allowing employers and employees not to apply the prescriptions of the labor code in contracts and work schedules. Trade unions claimed this decree was unconstitutional because it enabled employers to force disadvantageous contracts upon employees and undermined their legal protections. As trade unions have no right of appeal to the Constitutional Court, they appealed to opposition parties to request constitutional review.

The government rewrote established occupational safety and health standards to include pandemic protection measures. The government shut down several economic sectors during the pandemic, including tourism, catering, and culture. Workers continued to have the right to remove themselves from situations that endangered their health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities effectively protected employees in such situations.

The government effectively enforced occupational safety and health laws in the formal sector. Penalties for violations were commensurate with those for other similar offenses. Labor inspectors regularly provide consultations to employers and employees on safety and health standards. Labor laws also apply to foreign workers with work permits. Labor standards were not enforced in the informal economy. The number of inspectors was sufficient to enforce compliance in the formal sector, and inspectors had the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions.

The employment authority and the labor inspectorate units of government offices monitored and enforced occupational safety and health standards and labor code regulations. According to the Labor Protection Directorate of the Finance Ministry, 24,055 injuries and 83 fatalities occurred at workplaces in 2019, a slight increase from 2018. Most of the injuries and deaths occurred in the processing, manufacturing, transport and warehousing, agricultural, and retail sectorss

Liechtenstein

Executive Summary

The Principality of Liechtenstein is a multiparty constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary government. Prince Hans Adam II is the official head of state, although in 2004 Hereditary Prince Alois assumed the day-to-day duties of head of state, exercising the rights of office on behalf of the reigning prince. The unicameral parliament (Landtag) nominates, and the monarch appoints, members of the government. Five ministers, three from the Progressive Citizens’ Party and two from the Patriotic Union Party, formed a coalition government following free and fair parliamentary elections in 2017.

The national police maintain internal security and report to the Department of Civil Defense. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were no reports of abuses committed by members of the national police.

There were no reports of significant human rights abuses.

The government had mechanisms in place to identify and punish officials who may commit human rights abuses.

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices, and there were no reports that government officials employed them. There were no reports of impunity in the security forces.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

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

Pursuant to bilateral treaties with Austria and Switzerland, the country’s authorities accommodated Liechtenstein long-term prisoners in Austria and confined prisoners undergoing release procedures in detention centers in Switzerland.

Individuals undergoing pretrial detention or awaiting deportation and extradition continued to be held in the country’s only prison, which had a 20-bed capacity. Since the facility served as a short-term prison, authorities asserted they could not always separate different categories of detainees. Female detainees had their own section with four beds. Due to lack of space and the generally very low number of juvenile detainees, authorities usually accommodated juveniles in the women’s ward.

Physical Conditions: There were no major concerns in the prison or asylum center regarding physical conditions or inmate abuse.

Administration: Authorities conducted investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by independent nongovernmental observers, including local human rights groups, media, and the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT), among others. The CPT last visited the country in 2016.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Police detain a suspect based on an arrest warrant issued by the national court. According to the law, every detainee must be informed of the reasons for the detention at the time of detention or immediately thereafter. Within 48 hours of arrest, police must bring suspects before an examining magistrate, who must either file formal charges or order the suspect’s release. Authorities respected this right. The law permits the release of suspects on personal recognizance or bail unless the examining magistrate has reason to believe the suspect represents a danger to society or will not appear for trial. Alternatives to bail include supervision by a probation officer and restrictions on movement. The law grants suspects the right to a lawyer of their own choosing during pretrial detention, and the government provided lawyers at its own expense to indigent persons. During the investigative detention, authorities may monitor visits to prevent tampering with evidence. The CPT expressed concern in 2017 that police can question juveniles and ask them to sign statements in the absence of a lawyer or trusted person, and that inmates, including juveniles, can be held in solitary confinement for disciplinary reasons for up to four weeks. The CPT also criticized authorities’ ability to surveil conversations between detainees and their lawyers.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality.

Trial Procedures

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Defendants enjoy the presumption of innocence and the right to be informed promptly and in detail of charges. Trials were conducted in a fair and timely manner. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial.

Defendants are able to communicate with an attorney of their choice, at public expense if the defendant is unable to pay. They and their lawyers are allotted adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Defendants have access to free interpretation as necessary from the moment they are charged through all appeals. Defendants may challenge witnesses and evidence, and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. They have the right not to testify or confess guilt. Convicted persons have the right to appeal, ultimately to the Supreme Court.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Individuals and organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations through domestic courts. Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic decisions involving alleged violations of the European Convention on Human Rights to the European Court of Human Rights.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

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

Freedom of Speech: The law prohibits public insults, including via electronic means, directed against an individual’s race, language, ethnicity, religion, world view, gender, disability, age, and sexual orientation, with a possible prison sentence of up to two years for violations. In contrast with previous years, during the year there were no cases of public insults registered or charges filed.

Internet Freedom

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

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/international-religious-freedom-reports/.

Efforts to establish Muslim memorials and cemeteries remained unsuccessful, according to the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Liechtenstein Human Rights Association (LHRA).

d. Freedom of Movement

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

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

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

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: In some cases authorities detained unsuccessful asylum applicants pending their deportation. Unlike in previous years, authorities during the year did not detain any unsuccessful asylum applicants pending their deportation.

The LHRA expressed concern that the law does not contain hardship provisions for family reunification, especially for children. There were no reports of family separations among asylum seekers or refugees.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government established a system for providing protection to refugees. The law allows asylum seekers under deportation orders to be granted an appeal hearing if requested within five days after the decision. The law permits persons from safe countries of origin who are ruled to be ineligible for asylum to be processed for denial of asylum within a maximum of seven days.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: Persons entering the country from another safe country, including other countries in the Schengen area, Kosovo, Macedonia, Serbia, Benin, and Ghana, among others, are not eligible for asylum and are deported.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided subsidiary and humanitarian protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees and provided it during the year to 10 persons.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2017 the country held parliamentary elections. There were no reports of irregularities.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Female representation in parliament, however, was low. Three women held seats in the 25-member parliament.

As a hereditary monarchy, the country’s line of succession is restricted to male descendants of the Liechtenstein princely family. The Women’s Network, an umbrella organization of women’s NGOs in Liechtenstein, criticized the male line of succession as undermining the constitution’s principles.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. Bribery in the private sector is also a criminal offense. There were no reports of government corruption during the year.

Financial Disclosure: Public officials are not subject to financial disclosure laws.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were cooperative and responsive to their views.

In November 2019 the Ministry of Foreign Affairs held its 11th dialogue with the country’s human rights-related NGOs in honor of 30th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape, is a criminal offense. Penalties for rape and sexual violence vary between six months’ and 15 years’ imprisonment, depending on the degree of violence and humiliation of the victim, and between 10 years’ and lifetime imprisonment if the victim is killed. The penalties are the same for rapes of women and men. The government effectively prosecuted individuals accused of such crimes.

The law prohibits all forms of domestic violence and provides for restraining orders against violent family members. Police may prohibit an abuser from returning to the victim’s home where the violence was committed. Penalties for domestic violence range from monetary fines to lifetime imprisonment if the victim is killed. According to the law, victims who migrated to the country and who have been married to a citizen for less than five years are required to prove their victim status or sufficient integration into the country’s society to avoid losing their marriage-based residence permits. The government enforced the law effectively.

There were reports of violence against women, including spousal abuse. Police reported 32 cases of domestic violence in 2019.

Witnesses’ willingness to testify in abuse cases sometimes limited efforts to prosecute cases. In July the court acquitted a 28-year-old who in April allegedly hit and kicked his wife several times, including allegedly throwing a drawer at her. Since the wife, being the only witness, did not testify, the court acquitted the defendant for lack of evidence.

In April the Equal Opportunities Department of the Social Services Office sent out emergency cards labeled “violence has no home” in eight different languages that included updated contact addresses and guidelines for addressing domestic violence.

In 2019 the country’s only women’s shelter, Frauenhaus, assisted 13 women.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is illegal and punishable by up to six months in prison or a fine, and the government effectively enforced these prohibitions. Stalking is a criminal offense. The government also considers “mobbing,” including pressure, harassment, or blackmail tactics in the workplace, to be a crime. In 2019 the national police recorded three cases of sexual harassment, and the women’s resource and counseling NGO Infra assisted in 21 cases of sexual harassment.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children and had access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. Sex education at schools was obligatory; contraceptive methods were first taught when students were approximately 11 years old. The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: Women enjoy the same legal rights as men. The government’s enforcement of the labor contract law and equal opportunity law was not entirely effective. The LHRA and the NGO umbrella organization Women’s Network stated that a lack of human and financial resources as well as inadequate strategies and competencies prevented the Department for Equal Opportunity from effectively enforcing the law. According to the LHRA, long-term strategies and policies for equal opportunities were lacking and no central coordination office for integration existed. The Women’s Network asserted that the government increasingly relinquished its responsibilities regarding equal opportunity policies to NGOs.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived at birth from a child’s parents. Either parent may convey citizenship. A child born in the country to stateless parents may acquire citizenship after five years of residence. All children are registered at birth.

Child Abuse: The law protects children against sexual exploitation and sexual abuse, including inside the family. The law stipulates a reporting obligation for the Office of Social Services if it learns of or suspects sexual abuse of children and adolescents. There is an Ombuds Office for Children and Young People. There is also a Victim’s Assistance Office, specializing in assistance and support for individuals who have been affected directly in their physical, psychological, or sexual integrity, including children. An interdisciplinary Expert Group against the Sexual Abuse of Children and Young People facilitates the protection of children against sexual exploitation and sexual abuse. In 2019 the country’s only women’s shelter, Frauenhaus, assisted 16 children.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage for both girls and boys is 18 years.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the prostitution of minors. Penalties for the sexual exploitation of minors range from one to 10 years’ imprisonment. Possession or distribution of child pornography is a criminal offense, with penalties including up to three years in prison. Authorities effectively enforced these prohibitions. In 2019 the national police recorded four cases of child sexual abuse of minors. The law sets the minimum age for consensual sex at 14.

In September 2019 the country released its first-ever report on the sale of children, child prostitution, and child pornography. This report aims to set out the legal, administrative, and other measures taken by the government at a national level to address these problems.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community consisted of approximately 20 individuals. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

There were no confirmed reports during the year that Liechtenstein was a source, destination, or transit country for victims of human trafficking.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities.

The government’s implementation of laws and programs to ensure that persons with disabilities readily had access to employment, buildings, information, health services, the judicial system, and communications was not entirely effective. According to the research institute the Liechtenstein Institute and the Liechtenstein Association for Persons with Disabilities, persons with disabilities were not sufficiently integrated into the labor market and education systems.

In 2018 the UN Human Rights Committee cited a lack of appropriate infrastructure and regulations for enabling access by persons with disabilities to the labor market. The law mandates that public kindergartens and schools as well as public transportation systems must be accessible to persons with disabilities. Children with disabilities were able to attend public schools or a segregated school established by the country’s remedial center. According to the Liechtenstein Association for Persons with Disabilities, few children with disabilities attended public schools. The association also noted only one-third of all public kindergartens and schools were barrier free and that there was a shortage of barrier-free, affordable housing for families with children with disabilities.

The law requires public buildings constructed before 2002 to be barrier free by 2019 and public buildings constructed between 2002 and 2007 to be barrier free by 2027. There were no reports that the barrier-free requirement was not implemented or of any public buildings that were not barrier free. According to the Liechtenstein Association for Persons with Disabilities, during the year the barrier-free project was expanded. The government collaborated with the Swiss organization Pro Infirmis to update and expand the existing database and to make the information available via an “app.” Information is also expected to be available on other platforms, such as the country’s tourist information website.

Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The law defines discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation as a criminal offense. It also prohibits debasement, slander, and incitement to hate based on an individual’s gender and sexual orientation. The law further prohibits the refusal of general services based on an individual’s gender and sexual orientation. The government enforced the law.

The country’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community issued no formal complaints of abuse or discrimination, including against persons with HIV/AIDS. The LHRA noted, however, that there is no legal basis for a change of civil status, such as gender reassignment or changed gender identify. It stated there is also no possibility of indicating a third sex on official documents.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the rights of all workers to form and join independent unions of their choice and to bargain collectively. The law provides for freedom of assembly but is silent on the right to strike. The law neither prohibits antiunion discrimination nor requires reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.

The government adequately enforced applicable laws. Penalties in the form of fines were commensurate with similar crimes, and inspection was sufficient to enforce compliance.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Penalties for violations were criminal and commensurate with similar crimes. The government effectively enforced the law.

The LHRA reported no incidents involving forced or compulsory labor, including incidents involving children. It noted, however, that little research has been done on employment relationships in the private-care sector, where work is often performed by migrant women. The association added that employment relationships are not subject to a compulsory standard employment contract and are not audited or supervised.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor and sets the minimum age for employment at 16, with exceptions for limited employment of children 14 years old. Children between the ages of 14 and 16 may engage in certain categories of light work, but those of compulsory school age (through age 15) may work no more than eight hours per week during the school year and 35 hours per week during school vacations. Children younger than age 15 may be employed for the purposes of cultural, artistic, athletic, and advertising events. Working hours for youths between the ages of 15 and 18 are not to exceed 40 hours a week. The law prohibits children younger than 17 from working overtime and prohibits children through age 18 from engaging in night work or Sunday shifts. The law stipulates that an employer must consider the health of minors and provide them a proper moral environment within the workplace; the law also stipulates that employers may not overexert minors and that employers must protect the child from “bad influences” within the workplace.

The Office for Worker Safety of the Department of National Economy effectively enforced child labor laws and devoted adequate resources and oversight to child labor policies. Legal penalties were commensurate with similar crimes. The LHRA reported that it was not aware of any violations of the ban on child labor and the minimum age during the year.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits employment discrimination based on gender and disability. The law does not specifically prohibit employment discrimination based on race, religion, national origin, color, ethnicity, age, gender identity, HIV/AIDS or refugee status. Violations may result in the award of compensation to a prospective or dismissed employee equal to at least three months’ salary in the case of gender discrimination, and unspecified civil damages in the case of discrimination against persons with disabilities. Penalties were not commensurate with similar civil rights violations.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. According to statements by the Liechtenstein Institute and Liechtenstein Association for Persons with Disabilities, women, particularly migrant and Muslim women wearing headscarves, persons with disabilities, and LGBTI individuals experienced discrimination in the labor market.

According to the 2019 Human Rights Report of the Liechtenstein Institute, although the law explicitly forbids gender discrimination in the workplace, women in the country still earned significantly less than men on average. The Women’s Network also noted a marked difference between men and women persisted in professional promotions; women were severely underrepresented in top-level management positions in private industry and the national administration. An analysis in May by the Swiss Center of Expertise on Human Rights found that immigrant workers experienced workplace discrimination, including on the basis of gender, race, nationality, and religion.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law does not provide for a national minimum wage. The Liechtenstein Workers Association negotiates voluntary collective bargaining agreements annually with the Chamber of Commerce and the Chamber for Economic Affairs on a sector-by-sector basis. Collective bargaining agreements were effectively enforced, and wages exceeded the poverty level.

The law sets the maximum workweek at 45 hours for white-collar workers, employees of industrial firms, and sales personnel and 48 hours for other workers. Overtime may not exceed an average workweek of 48 hours over a period of four consecutive months. Some exceptions to overtime limits were authorized, for example, in the area of medical treatment.

The law sets occupational safety and health standards, which were appropriate for the main industries in the country. The labor standards also cover the thousands of workers who commute daily from neighboring countries. There are additional safeguards for youths, pregnant and breastfeeding women, and employees with children. Responsibility for identifying unsafe situations remains with occupational safety and health experts, not with workers.

The Office of Labor Inspection, a part of the Department of National Economy, effectively enforced labor laws on working conditions. The agency had a sufficient number of inspectors authorized to make unannounced inspections to enforce the law effectively. Penalties were commensurate with similar crimes.

Infra noted the working conditions of domestic workers and nurses employed in private homes were not subject to inspections or official labor contracts, which made the sectors vulnerable to exploitation.

Malta

Executive Summary

Malta is a constitutional republic and parliamentary democracy. The president is the head of state, appointed by a resolution of the unicameral House of Representatives (parliament) for a term of five years. In 2019 parliament appointed George Vella president for a five-year term beginning April 4. The president names as prime minister the leader of the party that wins a majority of seats in parliamentary elections. During the year the government adopted a constitutional amendment that strengthens the executive authority of the president by providing that the president be appointed by a resolution of parliament that is supported by at least two-thirds of its members. Early parliamentary elections held in 2017, in which the Labor Party maintained its majority, were considered free and fair. On January 13, parliamentarian Robert Abela was appointed prime minister after winning a Labor Party leadership contest on January 11. He replaced Joseph Muscat who announced his resignation both as party leader and prime minister in December 2019.

The national police maintain internal security. The armed forces are responsible for external security but also have some domestic security responsibilities. Both report to the Ministry of Home Affairs, National Security, and Law Enforcement. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the national police, the intelligence services, and the armed forces. There were reports that members of the security forces committed some abuses during the year.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful detention and continued allegations of high-level government corruption.

The government took steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed abuses, whether in security services or elsewhere in the government.

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

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

There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings during the year. Cases continued against two members of the armed forces charged in May 2019 with the murder of a migrant from Ivory Coast and a nonfatal hit-and-run of a migrant from Chad. Following the incident, the Armed Forces launched an internal inquiry for evidence of racism within its ranks. The inquiry, concluded in May, yielded no such evidence. Police are ultimately responsible for investigating whether security force killings were justifiable and for pursuing prosecutions.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution or law prohibit such practices, and there were no reports that government officials employed them. Impunity was not a significant problem in the security forces.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

There were no significant reports regarding prison or detention center conditions that raised human rights concerns. Reports of poor conditions in detention centers for migrants were exacerbated by a significant increase in migrant arrivals, straining the centers beyond their planned capacity.

Physical Conditions: In migrant detention centers, there were reports of overcrowding, poor sanitary conditions, and repeated inmate protests.

Administration: Authorities allowed prisoners and detainees to submit uncensored complaints to judicial officials and to request investigation of credible allegations of inhuman conditions. Authorities investigated such complaints, and victims sought redress in the courts.

Independent Monitoring: The government generally permitted visits to detention centers by independent domestic and international human rights observers and media. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported, however, that the government restricted and later stopped their visits to refugee and migrant detention centers, allegedly due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In September a delegation from the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture examined the conditions of detention for, and treatment of, migrants deprived of their liberty, including families with young children and unaccompanied and separated minors. By year’s end the committee had not released a report on the results of the visit.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

A magistrate may issue an arrest warrant to detain a person for questioning based on reasonable suspicion. According to the constitution, police must either file charges or release a suspect within 48 hours. In all cases authorities must inform detainees of the grounds for their arrest. Police generally respected these requirements. During the 48-hour detention period and prior to the initial interrogation, authorities allowed arrested persons access to legal counsel but did not permit visits by family members. The state provides legal aid for arrested persons who cannot afford a lawyer. The law allows police to delay access to legal counsel for up to 36 hours after arrest in certain circumstances, such as when exercising this right could lead to interference with evidence or harm to other persons. After filing charges, authorities granted pretrial detainees’ access to both counsel and family. A functioning bail system is in place.

During the spring, the government enacted legislation that transposes into Maltese law directives of the European Parliament and European Council of 2016 related to legal aid for suspects and accused persons in criminal or in European warrant proceedings, as well as procedural safeguards for children who are suspects or accused persons in criminal proceedings.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention remained a problem. Authorities occasionally confined foreign suspects for more than two years pending arraignment and trial, normally due to lengthy legal procedures. Approximately 30 percent of the prison population was in pretrial detention. The courts adjudicate applications for bail on a case-by-case basis and normally granted bail to citizens. The courts rarely granted bail to foreigners. In January authorities charged and convicted 22 migrants of taking part in a protest against prolonged detention at the facility in Safi, imprisoned them for nine months, and fined them.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. There were no reports of instances in which the outcomes of trials appeared predetermined by government or other interference. Authorities respected and enforced court orders.

Between July 2019 and August, the government enacted reforms, including constitutional amendments and legislation, to strengthen the separation of powers and the independence of the judiciary and law enforcement. The reforms included legislation that revised the composition of the Committee for Judges and Magistrates to stipulate that removal of members of the judiciary is made by a nonpolitical body and to provide for the appeal of decisions of the Commission for the Administration of Justice. Legislation was also adopted that provides for the appointment of the chief justice [Act No. XLIII of 2020–Constitution of Malta (Amendment) Act] with the approval of two-thirds parliamentary majority; for a change in the composition of the Judicial Appointments Committee to specify that a majority of members of the committee come from the judiciary; and for the issuing of public calls for vacancies in the judiciary. Other reform legislation provided for the division of the prosecution and government advisory roles of the attorney general by transferring the government advisory roles to a new Office of the State Advocate. Under this act, the government appointed the first new state advocate in December 2019.

On April 8, as part of a judicial reform process, the president appointed Judge Mark Chetcuti as the new chief justice following a new joint parliamentary procedure between government and the opposition. The new procedure departed from the previous practice of the president appointing the chief justice on the advice of the prime minister.

Trial Procedures

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right.

Defendants enjoy the right to a presumption of innocence, the right to a fair and public trial, and the right to be present at their trial. Defendants have the right to prompt and detailed information of the charges, with free interpretation if necessary, from the moment charged through all appeals. They can communicate with an attorney of their choice or have one provided at public expense if they are unable to pay. Defendants and their lawyers receive adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Defendants may confront prosecution or plaintiff witnesses and present their own witnesses and evidence. They are not compelled to testify or to confess guilt and have the right to appeal.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

The constitution provides for an independent and impartial court in civil matters, including human rights matters. After exhausting their right of appeal in the national court system, individuals may apply to bring cases covered by the European Convention on Human Rights before the European Court of Human Rights.

Property Restitution

Although the country endorsed the Terezin Declaration, there have been no reports related to Holocaust-era property restitution. The country remained a British colony and Allied naval stronghold throughout World War II. The Nazis never invaded or occupied Malta, and Maltese property was never seized.

For information on Holocaust-era restitution and related topics, please see the Department of State’s Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act report to Congress, released on July 29, at https://www.state.gov/reports/just-act-report-to-congress/.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the 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 generally combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.

Freedom of Speech: It remains a criminal offense to “commit an offence against decency or morals, by any act committed in a public place or in a place exposed to the public.” The law criminalizes speech that promotes hatred on grounds of gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, color, language, ethnic origin, religion or belief, or political or other opinion. Incitement to religious hatred is punishable by a prison term of six to 18 months. On January 30, the courts found in favor of civil society activist Manuel Delia in a constitutional case against the government. The courts found that the government had breached Delia’s right to freedom of expression when it ordered the removal of articles protesters, including Delia, had placed on the makeshift memorial for Daphne Caruana Galizia, an investigative journalist killed by a car bomb in 2017.

Violence and Harassment: In 2017 police charged three persons with the killing of Caruana Galizia in a 2017 car bombing near her home. They were awaiting trial. Caruana Galizia had reported on major government corruption, allegedly involving the prime minister and other senior government officials.

In September 2019, Prime Minister Muscat created a commission for an independent public inquiry into Caruana Galizia’s killing. In November 2019, police arrested business magnate Yorgen Fenech as a “person of interest” in the killing, charging him with criminal conspiracy, being an accomplice in Caruana Galizia’s murder, and conspiring to commit murder, among other things. Fenech denied the charges. Both the public inquiry and the murder investigation continued (for case details, see section 4, Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government).

Internet Freedom

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

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

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

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The government delayed safe disembarkation to refugees and migrants intercepted at sea, ostensibly due to coronavirus concerns. There were allegations the government ordered private fishing trawlers to intercept migrants and refugees at sea and to return them forcibly to Libya.

On November 30, the courts ordered the release of four migrants after the courts found that authorities had detained them illegally for 166 days. Earlier, on October 29, the courts had also ordered the immediate release of an Ivorian national after they found that Maltese authorities had detained him illegally for 144 days. On November 4, 50 asylum seekers and the siblings of two others who had died opened a constitutional case against the prime minister, the minister of home affairs, national security, and law enforcement, and the commander of the Armed Forces of Malta after they were reportedly pushed back to Libya in April in a seaborne operation. They alleged that Maltese authorities had violated their human rights, including the right to life and the right to seek asylum and subjected them to inhuman and degrading treatment and collective expulsion. The civil society NGO Republika supported the migrants’ case.

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

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country denied asylum to applicants who arrived from other EU countries, in accordance with the Dublin III Regulation.

Freedom of Movement: The government may legally detain an asylum applicant for up to nine months. By law the detention must serve to verify the applicant’s identity or nationality; identify elements on which the asylum application is based; decide on the applicant’s legal right to enter the country; facilitate a return procedure, including to another EU country; or protect national security or public order.

In some cases, immigration authorities may allow alternatives to detention, which are also limited to nine months’ duration, which may include regular reporting to an assigned place, residing at an assigned place, or depositing documents or a surety. Most asylum seekers were allowed one of these alternatives to detention and stayed in detention for no more than two months.

Immigration officers may also legally detain irregular migrants (including failed asylum seekers) who are subject to repatriation. Such detention may have a duration of six months and can be extended by a further 12 months. Most persons detained under these regulations stayed in detention for less than three months prior to their return.

Persons permitted to remain in the country were issued work permits. They were eligible for voluntary repatriation programs, but few chose to participate.

Durable Solutions: Between January and August, 64 persons were granted refugee status. Few refugees were able to naturalize. While persons with refugee status may apply for reunification with family outside the country, those with temporary “subsidiary” protection–the majority of asylum seekers–are not allowed to do so. From January to September, four migrants sought assisted voluntary return. According to several NGOs, integration efforts continued to move slowly, since migrants generally tended to stay close to residential centers, although some moved into the community. Many migrants found work, mostly in low-skill sectors.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary protection, known as “subsidiary” protection, to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. From January to July, the country granted subsidiary protection to 148 persons.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Observers considered parliamentary elections held in 2017 to be free and fair.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Cultural and traditional barriers remained an obstacle to increased participation by women. Women’s representation in the political sector remained low, although this was less prevalent among Maltese members of the European Parliament.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively against low-level corruption. Allegations of high-level government corruption continued during the year. Rule of law concerns over the government’s lack of criminal prosecutions and convictions for tax evasion and money laundering persisted, although both the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit and the Malta Financial Services Authority stepped up oversight and enforcement.

Between July 2019 and August, the government enacted reforms, including constitutional amendments and legislation, to strengthen provisions of the law against corruption. The reform measures included the establishment of a legal framework to facilitate the dissolution of a credit institution to prevent money laundering and the funding of terrorism; the revision of the method for appointing the chairman and the members of the Permanent Commission against Corruption; and a law that transposes into Maltese law EU directives on the prevention of the use of the financial system for the purposes of money laundering or terrorist financing.

Corruption: There were developments during the year on allegations of high-level government corruption stemming from international investigations into Pilatus Bank, established in the country in 2014, and the work of investigative reporter Caruana Galizia. Before Caruana Galizia was killed, she alleged the prime minister’s wife was the ultimate beneficial owner of a Panamanian offshore account connected to transactions involving Pilatus, and she was investigating separate government corruption allegations that the prime minister’s chief of staff, Keith Schembri, and former energy minister Konrad Mizzi took part in a 1.8 million euro ($2.2 million) kickback scheme related to an energy deal with the consortium Electrogas. Both Schembri and Mizzi resigned in November 2019. In September a continued public inquiry into the death of Caruana Galizia showed the government authorized a 40-million-euro ($48 million) tax and excise exemption for Electrogas.

In the wake of the developments in the Caruana Galizia case in November 2019 and protests by civil society calling for his resignation, former prime minister Muscat stepped down on January 12. Prime Minister Robert Abela was elected to replace him on January 13. In November 2019 police arrested business magnate and former Electrogas board member Yorgen Fenech, eventually charging him in court with several violations in connection with the Caruana Galizia murder case. The arrest followed a presidential pardon granted to an alleged middleman, Melvin Theuma, who revealed information about Caruana Galizia’s killing.

In a July report, the auditor general noted that correspondence indicated collusion between government officials and representatives of Vitals Global Healthcare (VGH) over a government contract. This followed a November 2019 court decision to reverse earlier rulings and begin a criminal inquiry into the roles of ministers Edward Scicluna, Christian Cardona, and Konrad Mizzi in the VGH deal.

On August 24, police investigators working on the journalist’s murder case interrogated former prime minister Joseph Muscat. In September, Keith Schembri was arrested and subsequently released on bail for allegedly receiving kickbacks amounting to 100,000 euros ($120,000) for Malta’s Individual Investors Program, a citizenship-in-exchange-for-investment scheme, from financial and business advisory services firm Nexia BT. On November 11, police released former Minister Konrad Mizzi and Schembri following fresh interrogations by police investigating financial crimes and money laundering. Both are reportedly still under investigation but have not yet been formally charged.

Financial Disclosure: Government officials are subject to financial disclosure laws, and declarations are available to the public. Courts can compel disclosure from officials not complying with the regulation.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were often cooperative and responsive to their views. In September the NGOs Aditus and JRS claimed the government did not allow their representatives access to migrant detention centers. The NGOs claimed the government gave no formal explanation for its actions but noted access had been restricted since the beginning of COVID-19.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The ombudsman is empowered to investigate complaints about the activities of governmental bodies, including activities affecting human rights and problems involving prisoners and detainees. The president appoints the ombudsman with the consent of two-thirds of the House of Representatives. The ombudsman investigates complaints only when administrative or judicial remedies are not available. The ombudsman had adequate resources, operated independently, and was effective. In responding to complaints, the ombudsman submits recommendations to the public entity responsible for addressing the complainant’s grievance. The ombudsman has no power to impose or compel a remedy, but relevant public bodies accepted most of the ombudsman’s recommendations.

During the summer, reform legislation amended the laws which regulate the Office of the Ombudsman, including adding the process for appointing the ombudsman to the constitution, which now requires the president to appoint an ombudsman in accordance with a resolution supported by two-thirds of the parliament.

The House of Representatives’ Standing Committees on Foreign and European Affairs and on Social Affairs were responsible for human rights matters. The committees met regularly and normally held open hearings, except when they closed a hearing for national security reasons. For the most part, the committees had a reputation for independence, integrity, credibility, and effectiveness, with legislation enacted in the areas under their purview enjoying widespread public support.

The National Commission for the Promotion of Equality and the Commission for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities operated effectively and independently with adequate resources and oversaw human rights matters related to gender equality and disabilities. The prime minister, on the advice of or in consultation with the minister responsible for each entity, appoints members to these commissions, who serve for terms of two and three years, respectively. They may be reappointed at the end of their term.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape, is a criminal offense, and the government effectively prosecuted such crimes. In 2019 the government adopted a law to broaden the definition of rape and increased the sentence to 12 years with added penalties in aggravated circumstances. Through July, one person faced rape charges in court, while seven faced charges for nonconsensual acts of a sexual nature.

The law criminalizes domestic violence and treats the offense as an aggravating circumstance of other crimes such as bodily harm, rape, and harassment, and the government generally enforced the laws prohibiting it. Penalties ranged from three months to 20 years in prison. Through September police had brought no new cases related to domestic violence. Several previous cases were pending. In February the government amended the criminal code to strengthen the provisions relating to gender-based violence and domestic violence.

On October 1, the police force created a Gender Based Domestic Violence Unit under the Vice Squad and based at the police general headquarters. The unit, which includes three police inspectors and 18 staff members, is solely dedicated to addressing domestic violence problems and is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Several voluntary organizations supported victims of domestic violence and all forms of gender-based violence. A formal hotline assisted victims of abuse through counseling and shelter referrals. The Ministry for the Family and Social Solidarity was responsible for a government-supported shelter for women and children. The government also provided financial support to other shelters, including those operated by the Roman Catholic Church.

Sexual Harassment: The criminal code makes sexual harassment punishable by a monetary fine, up to two years’ imprisonment, or both. A separate legal provision makes sexual harassment at the workplace punishable by a fine, imprisonment of not more than six months, or both. As of September, the Commission for the Promotion of Equality (NCPE) had received no allegations of sexual harassment.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals generally have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children, and have access to the information and some of the means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. Cultural barriers and government policies adversely affected access to contraception. Skilled and publicly funded health attendants were available during pregnancy and childbirth. The government provided limited access to sexual and reproductive health services for victims of sexual violence. The country has a full ban on abortions, with no exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape, incest, or when a pregnancy threatens a woman’s life or health.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men, including in matters related to family, religious, personal status, labor, property, nationality, and inheritance laws. Redress in the courts is available for gender discrimination, and the government enforced the law effectively. Although women have the same legal status as men, they experienced discrimination in employment (see section 7.d.).

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth when either parent is a citizen, irrespective of the place of birth. The law allows transmission of citizenship by a grandparent or other relative in certain circumstances. The government registered births immediately.

Child Abuse: There are laws against child abuse which authorities enforced. Between January and September, the police Vice Squad received four reports of child neglect.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 18, although persons between the ages of 16 and 18 may marry with the consent of parents, legal guardians, or courts.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children and child pornography, and authorities generally enforced the law. The production of child pornography is prohibited and punishable by imprisonment for five to 12 years. Possession of child pornography is punishable by imprisonment of three to four years. The minimum age of consensual sex is 16.

Rape of an underage person is punishable by sentences of six to 20 years. As of September, no persons were charged for sexual abuse of minors.

International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community numbered approximately 200 persons. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law protects the rights of persons with disabilities and prohibits both the public and private sectors from discriminating against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The government effectively enforced these provisions. Authorities are responsible to take action to investigate cases of violence or abuse against persons with disabilities. The law requires accessibility to buildings, information, and communication. While the government made efforts to ensure accessibility, many historical buildings remained inaccessible due to limited structural adaptability.

From January to September, the Commission for the Rights of Persons with Disability opened 375 new cases of alleged discrimination related to employment, education, housing, access, provision of goods and services, health, and other areas.

Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The constitution and law prohibit discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, and sex characteristics, including discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons in housing, employment, nationality laws, and access to government services, including health care. The government enforced the laws.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the rights of most workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. A trade union can register an industrial dispute with an employer, at which point the trade union enters into negotiations with the employer. In the absence of an agreement, both parties are free to resort to industrial action. The trade union can take industrial actions, which may include slowdowns, wildcat strikes, work-to-rule, strike action for a defined period of time or any other industrial action which the union may deem necessary. The employer may use a “lockout” to protect its interests.

The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for the reinstatement of unfairly dismissed workers, including for legal, nonviolent union activity. Workers have a right to seek redress for antiunion dismissals, although procedures to seek such redress were unclear for certain categories of public sector workers. There were no reports that workers were dismissed for union activities.

Members of the military and law enforcement personnel may join a registered trade union, but the law prohibits strikes by this category of workers. The law does not explicitly prohibit acts of interference by worker or employer organizations in one another’s activities. According to the International Labor Organization, compulsory arbitration continues to limit collective bargaining rights. Arbitration did not take place during the year.

The government effectively enforced applicable laws. Penalties were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination. The courts handed down prescribed fines to perpetrators. Administrative and judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals.

Both the government and employers generally respected these rights, and workers freely exercised them during the year. There were no reports of antiunion discrimination or other forms of employer interference in union activities. Trade unions and employers’ organizations may both refer a dispute to the Industrial Tribunal, but it was customary that, until the tribunal decides on an award, both parties generally refrain from taking further action.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government took steps to investigate complaints, and to prevent and eliminate forced labor. The processing of cases through the courts, however, was slow. Three labor trafficking prosecutions initiated in 2014 remain pending. The law prescribes penalties of imprisonment for forced labor violations; such penalties were commensurate with penalties for human trafficking and kidnapping. There were reports of men and women in bonded labor and domestic servitude. Many victims of labor trafficking borrowed large sums of money to travel to Malta where they were recruited for certain work and salary. In reality, however, terms of their employment fell short of promises, and the borrowed money was used to keep the victims enslaved. Both foreign domestic workers and irregular migrant workers were vulnerable to forced labor in various sectors that included cleaning, construction, and caring.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor as well as employment of children younger than 16 in all sectors. The director general for educational services in the Ministry of Education and Employment may grant an exemption for employment only after determining that it would not harm the health or normal development of the minor. While no legal work is specifically restricted for minors, children granted an exemption may work up to 40 hours per week. Children are not allowed, however, to carry out any night duties or perform work that could be regarded as harmful, damaging, or dangerous to a young person. Minors granted an exemption to work in certain areas such as manufacturing, heavy plant machinery, and construction are required to work under supervision.

The government generally enforced the law in most formal sectors of the economy. Penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. Jobs Plus, a government entity under the Ministry for Education and Employment that is responsible for labor and employment matters, allowed summer employment of underage youth in businesses operated by their families.

No assessment was available on the effectiveness with which Jobs Plus monitored the unregistered employment of children as domestic employees and restaurant workers.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination in any form of employment and occupation. The government generally enforced the law effectively, although many foreign workers, including migrants, worked in dangerous, unsanitary jobs, with low social status and little prospect of improvement in their employment conditions. Up to December 2019, the population included more than 65,000 registered foreign workers. Of these, approximately 31,000 were nationals of mainly Arab, African, Asian, and East European countries. The law prohibits discrimination based on race as well as racial hatred. There were no reported offenses related to violations of the law. Penalties were commensurate with those for crimes related to civil rights, such as election interference. Remedies were available through civil court.

From January to September, the NCPE received one claim of alleged workplace discrimination. Following an investigation the commissioner may either dismiss the complaint or find the complaint warranted. In the latter case, if the complaint constitutes an offense, the commissioner must submit a report to the police commissioner for action. In instances where the complaint did not constitute an actionable offense, the NCPE followed the law and undertook steps to investigate the cases and refer them to police or mediate to ensure provision of redress as appropriate.

While women constituted a growing proportion of graduates of higher education and of the workforce, they remained underrepresented in management and generally earned less than their male counterparts. Eurostat reports showed the gender pay gap in 2018, the most recent period for which data was available, was 11.7 percent. In 2018 labor force participation by women was 64 percent, compared with 86 percent for men.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The country had a national weekly minimum wage that was above the poverty income level. The government effectively enforced the minimum wage. Penalties were commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud, and they were imposed on employers who breached the law. Cases mostly involved third country nationals. The law mandates a standard workweek of 40 hours, but the norm was 43 or 45 hours in certain occupations such as in health care, airport services, and civil protective services. The law provides for paid annual holidays (i.e., government holidays) and paid annual leave. The law prohibits excessive compulsory overtime, and employers cannot oblige employees to work more than 48 hours per week, inclusive of overtime.

The government sets occupational safety and health standards, and such standards were current and appropriate for the main industries in the country. Workers have the right to remove themselves from situations dangerous to health or safety without jeopardizing their employment. The employer is responsible for ensuring and implementing safety measures at the workplace.

The Ministry of Education and Employment generally enforced minimum wage and hours of work requirements effectively in the formal economy and penalties for violations were commensurate with those for crimes like negligence. The Occupational Health and Safety Authority (OHSA), a government entity composed of representatives of the government, unions, and employers, conducted regular inspections at worksites and cited a number of offenders. Nevertheless, enforcement of health and safety standards continued to be inconsistent. The number of labor inspectors was not sufficient to enforce compliance. In an audit report in June, which followed up on an earlier analysis on OHSA’s operations, the National Audit Office noted that, among other shortcomings, OHSA’s lack of an adequate management information system inhibited its efficiency and ability to conduct effective inspections in the construction industry. Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and to initiate sanctions, including stopping work they deem to be unsafe.

Workers in the informal economy did not have the same protection as formal workers, but they could file complaints against companies that failed to provide a safe work environment. Many workers, however, were unaware of their rights and social welfare programs, and avoided state-run agencies over fear of being detained or deported based on their immigration status or lack of a work permit.

Reports of abuse of migrants attracted by the country’s unskilled labor shortage, including health and safety matters, workers found living in substandard conditions, and low wages, continued during the year. Authorities did not stringently enforce standards in the informal economy, which consisted of approximately 5 percent of the workforce and encompassed various sectors of working society, including day laborers and self-employed individuals. OHSA imposed fines on companies that did not comply with minimum safety standards in the formal economy and, to a lesser extent, the informal economy.

The National Statistics Office reported that between January and June, nonfatal accidents at the workplace decreased by 29.9 percent when compared to the same period in 2019. There were three reported fatal accidents in the first half of 2020. Industrial accidents occurred mostly in the construction, manufacturing, transportation, and storage sectors. The National Statistics Office reported OHSA’s most recent findings of three fatalities from January to June. Although the government continued to report steady progress in improving working conditions, authorities conceded that unsafe conditions remained.

Irregular migrant workers, who made up a small but growing percentage of the workforce, worked in some cases under conditions that did not meet the government’s minimum standards for employment. The Agency for the Welfare of Asylum Seekers, in coordination with Jobs Plus, which is administered by the government, organized informational programs to help individuals pursue employment and obtain work permits.

Moldova

Executive Summary

Note: Except where otherwise noted, all references in this report exclude the secessionist region of Transnistria.

The Republic of Moldova is a parliamentary democracy with competitive multiparty elections. The constitution provides for executive and legislative branches as well as an independent judiciary and a clear separation of powers. The president serves as the head of state and the prime minister serves as the head of government, appointed by the president with parliament’s support. Legislative authority is vested in the unicameral parliament. Presidential elections were held on November 1, and a run off on November 15, in which former prime minister Maia Sandu defeated the incumbent president, Igor Dodon, with 57.7 percent of the vote, making her the country’s first female president. Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe election observers noted in their preliminary findings that fundamental freedoms of assembly and expression were respected, but divisive campaigning and polarizing media coverage hindered voters’ access to quality information. Local and international election observers noted other irregularities, including allegations of illegal mass transportation and vote-buying of voters from the Transnistria region. Parliamentary elections in February 2019 met most Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Council of Europe, and other international commitments, although observers noted allegations of vote buying and misuse of administrative resources.

The national police force reports to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and is the primary law enforcement body, responsible for internal security, public order, traffic, and criminal investigations. The agencies under the ministry are the General Police Inspectorate, Border Police, the Emergency Situations Inspectorate, Carabinieri (a quasi-militarized gendarmerie responsible for protecting public buildings, maintaining public order, and other national security functions), the Bureau for Migration and Asylum, the Internal Protection and Anticorruption Service, and the Material Reserves Agency. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: torture by government employees; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; criminal libel laws; serious acts of corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting persons with disabilities, members of national, racial, and ethnic minority groups; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex persons; and the worst forms of child labor.

While authorities investigated reports of human rights abuses, they rarely prosecuted and punished officials accused of human rights violations or corruption. Impunity remained a major problem.

Significant human rights issues in separatist-controlled Transnistria included: forced disappearance by “authorities”; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by “authorities”; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; political prisoners or detainees; serious problems with the independence of the “judiciary;” arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including violence, threats of violence, or unjustified arrests or prosecutions against journalists, censorship, site blocking, the existence of criminal libel laws, and overly restrictive “laws” on nongovernmental organizations; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; serious restrictions on freedom of movement; inability of citizens to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections; restrictions on political participation; serious acts of corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex persons; existence or use of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults; existence of the worst forms of child labor.

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

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

There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. The Prosecutor General’s Office is responsible for investigating all killings involving security forces. Both the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Ministry of Defense have internal audit sections responsible for investigating misconduct and ensuring the professional integrity of its personnel. There is no specialized body specifically tasked with reviewing deaths at the hands of police or security forces to determine if they were justified.

In separatist-controlled Transnistria, there was at least one report of a politically motivated killing. On June 10, a 43-year-old businessman, Vadim Ceban, was found dead near his home in Tiraspol, reportedly beaten to death with a shovel. Ceban had openly criticized Transnistrian “authorities” and Russian officials on social media and was one of several local businessmen trying to fight oligarch Viktor Gushan and his Sheriff Corporation’s monopoly over the region’s economy. Ceban posted an image on a popular Transnistrian Facebook group saying, “Sheriff Repent!!!” one week before his death. No suspects have been identified in Ceban’s killing. Civil society activists condemned Ceban’s killing as politically motivated.

b. Disappearance

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

In Transnistria abductions by “security forces” became more common throughout the year. Between October 6 and 8, there were reports of at least four abductions of Moldovan citizens from their homes in the Security Zone, including two Moldovan government employees, by Transnistrian “state security.” After initially refusing to acknowledge or comment on the incident, separatist “authorities” acknowledged the “arrest” of the two Moldovan government employees and released them on October 8. The others remained in separatist custody (see section 1.d.).

There were also reports throughout the year of the disappearances of ordinary Moldovan citizens and Transnistria residents in the Transnistrian region. On August 31, Moldovan citizen Constantin Mamontov disappeared while passing through Transnistria on his way from Ukraine to government-controlled territory in Moldova. After Moldovan government authorities requested information from separatist “authorities” on Mamontov’s whereabouts on September 4, the “authorities” finally confirmed Mamontov’s detention on September 10. The human rights nongovernmental organization (NGO) Promo-LEX reported on September 13 that Mamontov managed to escape from the region after 13 days of illegal detention and having his whereabouts kept secret by separatist “authorities.” Promo-LEX asserted that Mamontov’s disappearance suggested retaliation by members of Transnistria’s “law enforcement” for their comrade, Andrei Samonii, a former Transnistrian militia member, who was arrested by Moldovan government authorities and sentenced to 15 years in prison for kidnapping, illegally detaining, and torturing Constantin Mamontov and his spouse on charges of stealing in 2015.

After defecting from the Transnistrian “army” and fleeing to government-controlled territory in 2015, Alexandru Rjavitin disappeared while visiting family in Transnistria in December 2019. Rjavitin reappeared in the Transnistrian “army” in January but reportedly escaped in June and was presumed to have returned to government-controlled territory.

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

While the law prohibits such practices, the antitorture prosecution office reported allegations of torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, mainly in detention facilities. Reports included cases of mistreatment in pretrial detention centers in police stations, particularly in regional police inspectorates. Impunity persisted and the number of prosecutions for torture initiated was far below the number of complaints filed.

The Office of the Prosecutor General’s antitorture division reported a decrease in mistreatment and torture cases during the year. During the first six months of the year, prosecutors received 262 allegations of mistreatment and torture, which included 241 cases of mistreatment, eight torture cases, and nine cases of law enforcement using threats or intimidation, including the actual or threatened use of violence, to coerce a suspect or witness to make a statement. In comparison authorities reported 456 allegations of mistreatment and torture during the first six months of 2019.

In September the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) released a report detailing the findings from its January-February visit to the country. The report noted that the persistence of a prison subculture that fostered interprisoner violence and a climate of fear and intimidation, reliance on informal prisoner leaders to keep control over the inmate population, and a general lack of trust in the staff’s ability to guarantee prisoner safety remained serious concerns. The CPT reported several allegations of physical mistreatment (punches and kicks) by prison officers at Penitentiary No. 13 in Chisinau, the excessive use of force by staff when dealing with agitated inmates at the penitentiaries in Chisinau (No. 13), Cahul (No. 5), and Taraclia (No. 1) and excessively tight handcuffing at the Chisinau and Taraclia prisons.

In September a man was reportedly beaten in custody at the Cimislia Police Inspectorate’s Temporary Detention Isolator by one of the facility’s officers. The Moldovan Institute for Human Rights (IDOM) noted that during an audit of the facility, its monitor encountered a shirtless man in custody with bruises and injuries covering his face, arms, and torso. The man claimed that during questioning after his initial arrest, he was punched in the face by one of the facility’s officers and subjected to further physical abuse throughout his detention. The IDOM monitor conducting the audit reported seeing a laceration on the bridge of the man’s nose. The case was reported to the Anti-Torture Prosecutor’s Office, which was investigating at year’s end.

As of October, two criminal cases continued from the 2017 death of Andrei Braguta. Thirteen police officers are accused of inhuman treatment and torture against Braguta, and two doctors from Penitentiary No. 16, where Braguta died, are accused of workplace negligence. Braguta died in a pretrial detention facility in Chisinau in 2017 after being severely beaten by fellow inmates and being subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment by prison authorities. In an August press conference, Braguta’s parents expressed concern regarding the impunity of the 13 police officers and two doctors involved in the case. According to them, 100 out of 140 court hearings have either been postponed or canceled since 2017. This claim was independently verified by Promo-Lex.

In Transnistria there were reports of allegations of torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment in detention facilities, including denial of medical assistance and prolonged solitary confinement. There was no known mechanism to investigate alleged acts of torture by Transnistrian “security forces.” Promo-LEX noted that “authorities” perpetrated most inhuman and degrading treatment in the Transnistrian region in order to obtain self-incriminating confessions. Transnistrian “law enforcement” bodies did not publicly report any investigations or prosecutions for torture or inhuman treatment by Transnistrian “security forces” during the year.

In January the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled in the case, Cazac and Surchician vs. Republic of Moldova and the Russian Federation, holding the Russian Federation responsible for violating articles of the European Convention on Human Rights that prohibit torture and provide the right to liberty and security, the right to a fair trial; the right to respect for private and family life, and the right to an effective remedy. The case stemmed from the 2010 detention of Ilie Cazac by Transnistrian “law enforcement authorities,” who subsequently tried, convicted, and sentenced Cazac to 14 years in prison for “high treason.” During his time in pretrial detention and in prison after conviction, the ECHR found that Cazac was subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment. Cazac reported being threatened with beating and infection with HIV. He also reported being: drugged; denied food, water, sleep, and the use of a toilet for extended periods; exposed to cellmates with active tuberculosis; and placed in a constant state of psychological stress and intimidation. Cazac was “pardoned” by Transnistrian “authorities” and released in 2011. The ECHR ordered the Russian Federation to pay Cazac and Surchician a total of 42,000 euros ($50,000) for nonpecuniary damages and 4,000 euros ($4,800) for costs and expenses.

The Transnistria-based human rights NGO MediaCenter reported continuing violations of detainees’ rights in Transnistrian prisons, pretrial detention centers, and centers for persons with special needs. Serghey Mantaluta, sentenced in 2018 to 10 years in prison on charges of smuggling and insulting an “official,” was denied medical assistance after a bone fracture and kept in solitary confinement without access to a toilet. Children at the Hlinaia residential center for orphans with special needs were reportedly subjected to cruel and inhuman treatment, including beating, dunking in washbasins, and other forms of corporal punishment.

Defense attorney Veaceslav Turcan alleged that his client, Ghenadyi Kuzmiciov, formerly Transnistria’s “minister of internal affairs,” suffered from inhuman detention conditions throughout the year. Kuzmiciov was abducted from government-controlled territory in 2017 and transported to Transnistria, where in 2019 he was sentenced to 13 years in prison on charges of smuggling and illegal possession of firearms. Turcan stated that Kuzmiciov has been in solitary confinement and denied access to visitors, mail, and other outside communications since 2017.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Despite reconstruction work and minor improvements at several detention facilities, conditions in most prisons and detention centers remained harsh, owing to poor sanitation, lack of privacy, insufficient or no access to outdoor exercise, and a lack of facilities for persons with disabilities. During the year additional restrictions and lockdowns were put in place in the prisons for an extended period due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Physical Conditions: Prisons and detention centers were overcrowded. In a September report following its visit to the country in January-February, the CPT noted the existence of large-capacity dormitories, low staffing levels in prisons, and insufficient health-care personnel.

Health care was inadequate at most penitentiaries and worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic because of a lack of protective equipment. While government regulations require authorities to separate individuals suspected of suffering from tuberculosis from other detainees, authorities reportedly colocated individuals with various diseases with persons with an unconfirmed diagnosis of tuberculosis, potentially exposing them to the disease. Most penitentiaries lacked appropriate facilities for persons with disabilities, which led to inhuman and degrading treatment. There were 36 deaths in penitentiary facilities registered as of October, including five pretrial detainees. The National Penitentiary Administration reported heart disease and cancer as main causes of death among prison inmates. According to Promo-LEX, the deficient administration of health services in penitentiaries led to a low quality of medical services provided to prison inmates, which in many cases led to death. Independent monitors noted the existence of two parallel healthcare systems in the country: the public healthcare system and the unaccredited healthcare system in penitentiaries, as well as a lack of coordination between the two.

As of August 25, National Penitentiary Administration officials confirmed 30 cases of COVID-19 among inmates and 68 cases among prison staff since the start of the pandemic. Inmates diagnosed with COVID-19 were generally transferred to the prison medical facility at Penitentiary No. 16 in Pruncul for treatment.

Temporary detention facilities, located mostly in the basements of police stations, generally lacked natural light, adequate ventilation, and sewage systems. Human rights NGOs also noted facility staff did not feed pretrial detainees on the days of their court hearings–which in some cases meant they received no food for a day. In most cases detainees did not have access to potable water on the days of their court hearings.

In February the government applied a six-month moratorium on a compensatory mechanism enacted in January 2019 that allowed detainees to request a reduction of their sentences for poor detention conditions. According to a 2019 National Penitentiary Administration report, over 90 percent of detainees filed requests based on the compensatory mechanism. Courts examined 1,800 requests, reduced sentences by a total of 436,000 days, and released 128 persons from prison. Observers and legal NGOs noted that wealthy and politically connected individuals benefited from this mechanism more often than ordinary prisoners. In December 2019 former prime minister Vlad Filat was released from Penitentiary No. 13 in Chisinau after serving approximately three-and-a-half years of a nine-year sentence after the Chisinau District Court ruled that he had been held in “inhuman and degrading conditions.”

As in previous years, conditions at Penitentiary No.13 in Chisinau were reported the worst in the country. Detainees held there complained of detention in basement cells that did not meet national or international standards. Allegations of inhuman treatment persisted. In multiple cases the ECHR found that detention conditions in Penitentiary No. 13 were contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights. Cells were overcrowded (up to 16 inmates housed in an area measuring 258 square feet), unhygienic, and lacked ventilation, natural light, or permanent access to water for personal hygiene.

In separatist-controlled Transnistria, mistreatment of detainees remained a major problem. The Transnistrian “ombudsman” received 53 complaints from individuals detained in Transnistrian prisons. The Transnistrian “ombudsman” noted a slight decrease of complaints from detainees during the year. The “ombudsman” received four complaints about medical care in the prison system, which the “ombudsman” considered unfounded. According to Promo-LEX reports, detention conditions in Transnistria did not improve during the year, despite a 2019 report from the Transnistrian “ombudsman” indicating that detention conditions had improved. Transnistrian “authorities” continued to deny access for independent evaluation of detention center conditions.

Administration: Internal investigation procedures in the penitentiary system remained weak, and detainees had restricted access to complaint mechanisms. While detainees generally had the right to submit complaints to judicial authorities, they reported censorship and retaliatory punishment by prison personnel or other inmates before or after filing complaints. Prison administrations restricted the inmates’ access to visitors during the COVID-19 pandemic, and most court hearings of pretrial detainees were held online.

The CPT noted a chronic shortage of custodial staff in prisons, which led to a reliance on informal prisoner leaders to keep control over the inmate population, often through violence.

According to the Transnistrian “ombudsman,” there are 1,824 individuals serving prison terms in Transnistrian “department of corrections” institutions as of January 1.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted some independent monitoring of prison conditions by local and international human rights observers, including the CPT. Prison officials generally allowed observers to interview inmates in private. Prison administrations applied COVID-19 related restrictions on monitoring visits since the start of the pandemic.

Human rights NGOs from both Transnistria and government-controlled areas of the country reported being denied access to Transnistrian prisons by separatist “authorities.” The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) was granted extremely limited access to individual prisoners by “authorities” on a case-by-case basis. There were no reports of any independent monitoring of detention facilities in the Transnistrian region. According to the Transnistrian “ombudsman” (an institution which is not independent of the ruling regime), detention conditions slightly improved during 2019. Most pretrial detention cells lacked personal beds for detained individuals and toilet facilities, and was qualified by the Transnistrian “ombudsman” as an “infringement against human dignity.”

Improvements: According to human rights NGOs, the situation in police station detention facilities slightly improved due to renovations. Based on the Ombudsman’s Torture Prevention Division recommendations, some pretrial detention units within police stations ceased operating or underwent repairs in line with minimum detention standards.

The CPT noted improvements of the material conditions at the prisons in Chisinau, Cahul, Taraclia, and several police detention facilities. During the year the National Penitentiary Administration piloted and expanded the use of video conferencing to facilitate inmate participation in court hearings. The country lacks adequate staff for prisoner transport, and increased access to justice via video conferences reduces the physical hardships for inmates to be transferred from prisons to courts, where they must often wait for many hours in difficult conditions.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. Nonetheless, selective justice remained an issue and lawyers complained of instances in which their defendants’ rights to a fair trial were denied.

In Transnistria there were frequent reports of arbitrary arrests and detentions. De facto “authorities” reportedly engaged with impunity in arbitrary arrest and detention. In January in the case Cazac and Surchician vs. Republic of Moldovan and the Russian Federation, the ECHR held Russia responsible for violating provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights including the right to liberty and security, the right to a fair trial, and the right to an effective remedy (see section 1.c.).

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law allows judges to issue arrest warrants based on evidence from prosecutors. Authorities must promptly inform detainees of the reasons for their arrest and describe the charges against them. Authorities may detain suspects without charge for 72 hours.

Once charged, a detainee may be released pending trial. The law provides for bail, but authorities generally did not use it due to a lack of practical mechanisms for implementation. In lieu of confinement, the courts may also impose house arrest or travel restrictions. The Superior Council of Magistrates reported that judges rarely applied alternative arrest measures. The law provides safeguards against arbitrary use of pretrial detention and requires noncustodial alternatives wherever possible. Judges disproportionally used noncustodial alternative detention mechanisms in cases with political implications.

Detainees have the right to a defense attorney. The government required the local bar association to provide representation to indigent defendants, but the government frequently delayed reimbursement of legal fees. Indigent defendants often did not have adequate counsel.

According to the CPT report issued in September, despite the law requiring that suspects be granted access to a lawyer from the moment they are detained, some criminal suspects were only granted access to legal counsel after initial questioning by police.

Arbitrary Arrest: Arbitrary pretrial detention continued to be a problem during the year. In April the Legal Resources Center of Moldova (LRCM) submitted a communication to the ECHR on existing protections and authorities’ efforts to prevent unjustified detention based on the Sarban group of cases that consists of 14 ECHR judgments against the country for various violations of the European Convention on Human Rights, most related to pretrial detention. The LRCM concluded that the high rate of remand and weak justification for remand orders remained a problem. Even though the number of pretrial detention orders (1,864) in 2019 was lower than in previous years, judges did not properly examine remand requests. In 2019 the approval rate for remand requests reached an all-time high–93.5 percent–compared with 88.4 percent in 2018. According to the LRCM, alternative preventive measures (such as home detention and release on recognizance) were used only to a limited extent and the high rate of arbitrary remand was also due to insufficient judicial independence and prosecutorial bias by many investigative judges as well as a high caseload, which impeded a thorough examination of case materials.

In its earlier reports, the ombudsman noted judges continued to order pretrial detention for persons with serious illnesses and the National Penitentiary Administration allowed lengthy pretrial detention of persons with worsening health conditions which in some cases led to death. During the year five persons died in pretrial detention.

In separatist-controlled Transnistria, arbitrary arrests were common throughout the year. On August 31, Moldovan citizen Constantin Mamontov was apprehended by separatist “law enforcement” while transiting the territory and detained illegally for 13 days (see section 1.b.). A Transnistrian “court” in Camenca had previously twice denied warrants to arrest Mamontov requested by Transnistrian “authorities” for an alleged 2015 theft, and the local militia arrested Mamontov for the third time on hooliganism charges. Mamontov escaped and swam across the Nistru River to government-controlled territory after being ordered released for a third time by the “court.” Mamontov was previously abducted from government-controlled territory in 2015 and beaten by Transnistrian local militia. Mamontov’s arrest came two weeks after one of his abusers, militia “officer” Andrei Samonii, was convicted in August by a Moldovan court for kidnapping and torture and sentenced to 15 years in prison. Human rights NGO Promo-LEX believed Mamontov’s arbitrary arrest was intended either as revenge for Samonii’s imprisonment or to facilitate a possible prisoner swap for Samonii.

On October 6, Transnistrian “state security” (“MGB”) abducted a Moldovan police officer, Andrei Amarfi, from his home in Camenca district in separatist-controlled territory. On October 7 and 8, three other Moldovan citizens residing in Camenca–Alexandru Puris, Adrian Glijin, and Stanislav Minzarari–were abducted by the “MGB.” Transnistrian “authorities” later announced espionage and high treason charges against all four. Amarfi was the Moldovan police officer sent in 2015 to retrieve Mamontov and his wife from separatists after they were kidnapped and tortured. Puris, an employee of Moldova’s Public Services Agency, processed Andrei Samonii’s application for a Moldovan passport in January and notified Moldovan police of his presence on government-controlled territory, leading to his arrest. Both Amarfi and Puris testified at Samonii’s kidnapping and torture trial. On October 8, following a telephone call between President Dodon and Transnistrian “leader” Krasnoselsky, separatist “authorities” announced that Amarfi and Puris were released from pretrial arrest but were not permitted to leave the region while charges remained pending. Glijin and Minzarari remained in custody as of November. Separatist “authorities” acknowledged that the arrests were related to Samonii’s conviction and imprisonment and have suggested that the “Camenca Four” could be released if Samonii was returned to separatist-controlled territory.

Pretrial Detention: The law permits pretrial detention for up to 30 days, which the courts may extend, upon the request of prosecutors, in 30-day increments for up to 12 months, depending on the severity of the charges. Pretrial detention lasting from several months to one year was common. In line with the ombudsman’s recommendations, the Prosecutor General’s Office decreed on March 19 that, as a COVID-19 preventative measure, pretrial arrests could only be requested in extreme circumstances. As a result the number of pretrial detainees decreased during the state of emergency and the public health state of emergency that followed.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

While the law provides for an independent judiciary, government officials’ failure to respect judicial independence remained a problem. The establishment of an electronic case management system increased transparency in the assignment of judges to cases. Nonetheless, selective justice continued to be a problem, and lawyers complained of violations of defendants’ rights to a fair public trial.

In a September report analyzing ECHR judgments against Moldova since the country joined the European Convention of Human Rights in 1997, the LRCM found that the failure to respect the right to a fair trial was the most frequent human rights violation reported to the court (200 out of 616 human rights violations).

Media representatives and NGOs were concerned about limitations on access to data on the national courts’ information portal developed by the Ministry of Justice’s Agency for Court Administration. Civil society and journalists complained that, because there was no search option, they could not find the names of those involved in court cases, nor could they determine who adjudicated or prosecuted a case. The courts restricted public access to the final judgement issued in a high-profile case involving a former intelligence service head on national security grounds.

Trial Procedures

The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial. Although the law presumes the innocence of defendants in criminal cases, judges’ remarks occasionally jeopardized the presumption of innocence.

Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them, and of their right to a fair and public trial without undue delay. Defendants have the right to a lawyer and to attend proceedings, confront witnesses, and present evidence. The law requires the government to provide an attorney to indigent defendants. The practice of appointing temporary defense lawyers without allowing them to prepare adequately was common and undermined the right to legal assistance. Defendants can request postponement of a hearing if attorneys need additional time for preparation. Interpretation is provided upon request and was generally available. Judges can delay hearings if additional time is needed to find interpreters for certain uncommon languages. Defendants may refuse to provide evidence against themselves, unless they plead guilty and the judge reviews and endorses their guilty plea. The law provides a right to appeal convictions to a higher court on matters of fact and law.

Justice NGOs noted that courts repeatedly delayed hearings without justification in high profile cases. In one example, hearings on a criminal appeal by Ilan Shor, the leader of the Shor Party, a member of parliament, and the mayor of Orhei, were delayed throughout the year.

In Transnistria, “authorities” disregarded fair trial procedures and denied defendants a fair trial. Attorneys in Transnistria reported that “authorities” regularly denied accused individuals the right to an attorney of their choosing and that trials were often held in secret without public announcement of charges.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were reports of numerous alleged politically motivated criminal cases initiated by the former ruling Democratic Party of Moldova. Many of the cases were initiated against political rivals of the former party leader, Vlad Plahotniuc, and some prosecutors reported being pressured to pursue cases selectively of corruption, money laundering, and fraud against certain individuals, while ignoring or dropping charges against others who were tied to Plahotniuc’s network. Many of those involved in these politically motivated cases saw their cases proceed more quickly than others in the justice system. In addition many of those subjected to pretrial detention were held in Penitentiary No. 13 in Chisinau, which was notorious for its poor conditions and violence between inmates. On October 27, the Prosecutor General’s Office announced it had closed 19 out of 38 alleged politically motivated cases. The Prosecutor General’s Office continued to investigate the remaining 19 cases through the year.

In Transnistria there were reports of several political prisoners held during the year, many of whom were held for exercising their freedom of expression or criticizing the de facto authorities. Oleg Horjan, the leader of the Communist Party and formerly the sole opposition member of the “Supreme Soviet” (“parliament”) of Transnistria, continued to serve a four-and-a-half year sentence in Hlinaia Penitentiary on assault charges and for “insulting” de facto authorities. Human rights lawyers and NGOs have called the charges politically motivated. Horjan’s lawyers and family alleged that he was subject to abuse in detention. Transnistrian “authorities” denied the Moldovan ombudsman access to his place of detention. In early August, Horjan went on a hunger strike to protest restrictions by the Hlinaia penitentiary administration, including solitary confinement and denial of visits, mail or other outside communications, and reading materials. He was reportedly hospitalized in the prison infirmary on September 10 after his health had rapidly deteriorated and then moved to the Tiraspol Veteran’s Hospital on September 15 in serious condition. Horjan was returned to prison after ending his hunger strike on September 23.

Tatiana Belova and her spouse, Serghei Mirovici, were arrested in August 2019 for insulting Transnistrian “leader” Vadim Krasnoselsky on social media. Transnistrian “authorities” kept Belova and Mirovici’s arrest, pretrial detention, and trial secret. In March, Belova and Mirovici were sentenced to three years in prison in a closed trial without a defense attorney. On July 14, Belova was released following “an admission of guilt,” request for clemency, and promise to refrain from all political activity. Human rights activists asserted that the actions were coerced. Mirovoci remained imprisoned and was reportedly on a hunger strike as of September 10.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

The law allows citizens to seek damages in civil courts for human rights violations. Under the constitution, the government is liable when authorities violate a person’s rights by administrative means, fail to reply in a timely manner to an application for relief, or commit misconduct during a prosecution. Judgments awarded in such cases were often small and not enforced. Once all domestic avenues for legal remedy are exhausted, individuals may appeal cases involving the government’s alleged violation of rights provided under the European Convention on Human Rights to the ECHR. Citizens who have exhausted all available domestic remedies may also submit a written communication to the UN Human Rights Committee. As of July there were 1,096 applications filing complaints against the state pending before the ECHR.

While the government declared a zero-tolerance policy toward torture, alleged victims of torture frequently lacked access to effective civil judicial remedies, especially in cases involving mistreatment in penal institutions.

A mediation law establishes an alternative mechanism for voluntarily resolving civil and criminal cases and sets forth rules for professional mediators. Under the law, a nine-member mediation council selected by the Minister of Justice coordinates the mediators’ activity.

Property Restitution

The country has endorsed the Terezin Declaration and the Guidelines and Best Practices. Although the law provides for restitution of private property confiscated during the “totalitarian regimes which controlled Moldovan territory between 1917 and 1992 and for citizens who were subject to reprisals based on political, national, religious, or social grounds,” it does not apply to communal or religious property confiscated from minority groups. The law specifically refers to private property restoration for victims of the Soviet regime. The government has enacted no laws concerning restitution of communal property nor made progress on resolution of Holocaust-era claims, including for foreign citizens.

A 2010 report published by the United States Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad catalogued 100 Jewish communal properties in Moldova, including cemeteries, monuments, houses, hospitals, colleges, and other buildings, most of which are not owned or controlled by the country’s Jewish community. While a few properties, such as the Hay Synagogue in Chisinau and the Cahul Synagogue in Cahul, have been returned to the Jewish community by the state, in most cases Jewish organizations have had to purchase or lease communal and religious properties from the government in order to regain possession. Purchased properties include the Wooden (or Lemnaria) Synagogue and the Rabbi Tsirelson Synagogue and Yeshiva, both in Chisinau.

The Moldovan Orthodox Church (MOC), subordinate to the Russian Orthodox Church, and the Bessarabian Orthodox Church (BOC), under the Romanian Orthodox Church, were engaged in litigation over control of approximately 718 churches, monasteries, and monuments designated by the government as national heritage assets, most of which are controlled by the MOC under a 2007 agreement between the church and the government. The BOC also sued the government to annul the 2007 agreement.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Chisinau has submitted a case to the ECHR seeking restitution for a Catholic school property seized by Soviet authorities which is now part of the Moldovan Presidency Building complex. The Catholic Diocese of Chisinau and the government agreed to seek an amicable settlement to the ECHR case but have not reached an agreement on the transfer of an alternative state-owned property to the diocese as restitution.

The country’s Lutheran community has repeatedly petitioned the government for compensatory state-owned land as restitution for the former site of Saint Nicholas Lutheran Church in central Chisinau. The church was seized by Soviet authorities in 1944 and demolished in 1962. The Presidency Building now occupies the former site of the church.

For more information regarding Holocaust-era property restitution and related issues, please see that Department of State’s Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act report to Congress, released publicly on July 29, 2020 at https://www.state.gov/reports/just-act-report-to-congress.

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

The constitution prohibits arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home or correspondence unless necessary to ensure state security, economic welfare or public order, or to prevent crimes. Government agents often failed to respect these prohibitions. Wiretap and surveillance practices continued during the year, although reportedly with fewer cases of politically motivated surveillance operations than during the Democratic Party of Moldova-led government.

Reports of illegal wiretaps of the telephones of political leaders; surveillance; threats against family members; and intimidation against regional representatives of ruling and opposition parties continued during the year and intensified closer to the November 1 presidential elections. In September 2019 the interim prosecutor general announced the initiation of criminal cases against four Interior Ministry employees, three prosecutors, and four judges by the Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office for wiretapping of politicians, civil society activists, and journalists between 2017 and 2019. The investigations continued as of year’s end. In July a group of five persons who were under surveillance in 2019, including two civil society leaders, a member of an opposition political party, and two journalists, sent a complaint to the ECHR alleging illegal wiretapping and surveillance by authorities in 2019. Opposition parties reported the unsanctioned use of personal data of citizens abroad during the preliminary registration of voters for the November 1 presidential elections.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The law provides for freedom of expression and allows individuals to criticize the government or to discuss matters of general public interest. Restrictions apply only in cases when such discussion poses a threat to national security, territorial integrity, public order, or safety. Nonetheless, there were allegations that authorities did not always respect freedom of expression for the press. Journalists were subjected to harassment, intimidation, and frequent lawsuits. Concentration of ownership of major media outlets in the hands of a few political figures, and oligarchs further limited the independence of the press.

Freedom of Speech: In Transnistria a 2020-2026 Strategy for Combating Extremism was approved on March 20 that provides “authorities” new repressive tools to silence dissent and further repress freedom of expression, complementing the existing 2007 “law” on fighting extremism activities. There were at least five individuals facing charges pursuant to the “antiextremism” law for publicly criticizing the de facto “authorities” during the year.

Larisa Calic, a writer from Transnistria, was charged with extremism after she published a book about violent hazing and corruption in the Transnistrian “army.” Calic fled Transnistria and was in hiding. Alexandr Samonii, a member of the Tiraspol “city council” for the opposition Communist Party, has been under investigation since June 2 for extremism based on social media postings in which he criticized the ruling regime in Transnistria. Samonii reportedly fled Transnistria and remained in hiding. Individuals such as Oleg Horjan, Tatiana Belova, and Serghei Mirovici (see section 1.e., Political Prisoners and Detainees) were sentenced to prison for criticizing “authorities” by “insulting a public official,” an act which is prohibited under the region’s “criminal code.”

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: According to media, NGOs, and international monitors, independent media were active and expressed a plurality of views but were often marginalized by larger outlets owned or controlled by a few politicians and oligarchs. Large media outlets pressured smaller outlets, including by colluding to prevent advertisers from buying advertising space from those smaller outlets, which brought several to the brink of closing. Prominent journalists left key outlets acquired by oligarchs. Internal and external propaganda and manipulation, concentration of ownership of mass media in the hands of some politicians and oligarchs, unfair competition within the television advertising market, and limited independence of the broadcasting regulatory authority, the Audiovisual Council (CCA), were among the major problems that restricted independent media space.

Oligarchs closely supervised content and maintained editorial control over reporting from outlets they owned or controlled. Russian news channels rebroadcast in the country continued to disseminate propaganda and presented distorted information about regional and international events.

Media outlets supportive of President Dodon and the Party of Socialists of the Republic of Moldova expanded their dominance in the media market, replacing former Democratic Party of Moldova leader Vlad Plahotniuc as having the largest media holdings.

On March 24, during the state of emergency that was declared in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the CCA issued a ruling blocking media outlets from criticizing the government’s response to the pandemic or reporting information that contradicted the government or World Health Organization’s official statements. The CCA cancelled the order on March 26 after public outcry from NGOs, opposition parties, and diplomatic missions.

On July 9, parliament approved the appointment of three new CCA members; opposition parliamentarians claimed the selection process was not transparent or inclusive.

Independent media NGOs and watchdogs accused the CCA and the public broadcaster, Teleradio Moldova, of progovernment bias. The NGOs also noted the government discriminated against media outlets that were not affiliated with President Dodon or the Socialist Party by refusing them access to senior officials for interviews.

On October 26, the CCA penalized TV8 with a 7,000 lei (approximately $400) fine for “not ensuring impartiality” during the talk show “Natalia Morari’s Politics.” The CCA ruled that the show failed to uphold impartiality and balance of opinion when one of the guests on the talk show, lawyer Ștefan Gligor, said there were risks of election fraud in the upcoming November 1 presidential election. The CCA stated that TV8 failed to give airtime to the opposing view. TV8 representatives stated that the channel ensured balance of opinion throughout the show and did not limit the right to freedom of expression. TV8 characterized the CCA’s action as an attempt to silence media discussion of possible electoral fraud and “an attack on freedom of expression.” On October 31, the Chisinau Court of Appeal struck down the CCA fine and ruled that TV8 did not violate the requirement for balance of opinion. On November 1, the Supreme Court of Justice affirmed the Court of Appeal ruling cancelling the fine.

Media freedom in separatist-controlled Transnistria remained a concern despite the local “authorities’” declarations that they would promote competition and media freedom. During the year, Freedom House again assessed the Transnistrian region’s media as “not free.” Transnistrian television channels and radio stations are regulated by the “state media service” and “state telecommunications service.” The “state media service” oversees “state-run” media and “state” policy in the information sector.

Two organizations controlled the Transnistrian mass media market: the “Public Agency for Telecommunication,” which controlled official news information agencies, newspapers, and one of the two most popular television channels; and Sheriff Holding, a business conglomerate with considerable influence in the Transnistrian “Supreme Soviet.”

Violence and Harassment: There were reports of government and political leaders obstructing freedom of the press by restricting the media’s ability to cover events. Journalists were subjected to harassment, intimidation, and frequent lawsuits. Female journalists, in particular, were subjected to intimidation.

On May 20, the Nordnews.md portal team was denied access to the headquarters of the Drochia district council where President Dodon met representatives of local public authorities. Employees of the State Protection and Guard Service (SPPS) also prohibited filming of the presidential motorcade.

On May 18, journalist Natalia Cebotari was fined 2,400 lei (approximately $140) by police for alleged defamation for her coverage of abusive and unhealthy work conditions at a textile factory in the town of Ceadir-Lunga that had also violated COVID-19 safety guidelines. She was charged only after the factory manager filed a complaint with local police. The media community condemned the move as interference with media freedom.

There were also reports of government officials initiating lawsuits against media outlets for their investigative reporting into corruption allegations and the officials’ personal assets.

In January, Deputy Prosecutor General Ruslan Popov filed a defamation lawsuit against the Center for Independent Journalism in response to two investigative reports implicating him in corruption.

In May the Ziarul de Garda newspaper was targeted in a defamation lawsuit by President Igor Dodon in response to an investigation revealing his wealth and assets. The second hearing was scheduled for September, but did not take place due to Dodon’s refusal to attend. The hearing was postponed to November.

Censorship or Content Restriction: In many cases, journalists practiced self-censorship to avoid conflicts with the sponsors or owners of their media outlets, many of whom are politicians or oligarchs connected to political parties.

Journalists voiced concern that a personal data protection law restricted journalists’ access to information. In addition investigating journalists complained of problems accessing websites of legal entities. Journalists also noted that a March 18 decision by the Emergency Situation Commission’s to extend the deadline for authorities to respond to public information requests from 15 days to 45 days during the state of emergency, undermined the public’s right to access to information.

In Transnistria journalists similarly practiced self-censorship and avoided criticizing separatists’ goal of independence or their “foreign policy” to avoid “official” reprisals.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel and slander are punishable by a fine, community service, being barred from holding certain public offices for a period of months, or a combination of these punishments. Defamation is not a crime, but individuals and organizations can be sued civilly for defamation. Some newspapers practiced self-censorship and avoided controversial issues due to concerns that government officials and other public figures could use slander or defamation accusations to retaliate against critical news reports (see the Natalia Cebotari case under Violence and Harassment, above).

As modified in March 2019, the “law” in Transnistria criminalizes public insults of the region’s “leader,” which may be punished by a fine or up to five years in prison.

On April 7, Transnistrian “law enforcement” arrested Irina Vasilachi, a civic activist and opposition politician, after she accused Igor Nebeigolova, a close ally of former Transnistrian “leader” Igor Smirnov, of corruption and criminal activity on her YouTube channel, where she posted videos criticizing the Transnistrian leadership and its associates. Vasilachi was found guilty of slander and fined the equivalent of $170. Irina Vasilachi fled the region for Chisinau with her children on December 20, fearing arrest in a criminal case opened against her in Transnistria on accusations of using force against Transnistrian law enforcement officials on April 7. Tatiana Belova and Serghei Mirovici were similarly arrested and received three-year prison sentences for “insulting” the Transnistrian “leader” online (see also section 1.e., Political Prisoners and Detainees).

Internet Freedom

The government did restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, but there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

On March 20, the country’s national intelligence agency, the Information and Security Service, blocked 52 online news portals for the duration of the 60-day state of emergency period, claiming that the sites were spreading “fake news” about the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Transnistria the agency on telecommunication services ordered the second largest internet service provider (ISP), Linkservice in Transnistria, operating in Bender/Tighina, to cease operations on January 12 due to violations of the region’s ISP “regulations.” On April 28, an “appeals court” allowed Linkservice to continue its operations throughout the COVID-19 state of emergency in the region. Internet users and civil society in Transnistria suggested that the region’s largest ISP, Sheriff-controlled Inderdnestrcom, was trying to eliminate its competitors in the ISP market in Transnistria.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

The National Extraordinary Public Health Commission restricted public gatherings and cultural events during a state of emergency and public health state of emergency imposed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. There were no other government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events outside of quarantine restrictions.

In Transnistria Latin-script schools continued to be the subject of a dispute between the government and separatist “authorities” in Transnistria. COVID-19 quarantine measures imposed by “authorities” obstructed the free movement of Latin-script schools’ staffs and students across the administrative line from March until September 1. Teachers could not cross the line to receive their salaries from the government. Starting September 1, Latin-script school students and staffs were once again allowed to cross the administrative line with proper identification.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association; authorities imposed additional restrictions during the state of emergency declared in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The law provides for freedom of assembly. While the government usually respected this right, there were several exceptions.

On July 16, a group of veterans from the 1992 Transnistria conflict protested the government’s failure to improve veterans’ services. Police prevented protesters from erecting tents outside the parliament building, leading to clashes between law enforcement and the protesters. Civil society and opposition claimed riot police violently dispersed the protesters and disproportionately used crowd-dispersing methods, such as batons, Tasers, and tear gas. Several protesters were arrested for allegedly assaulting police, and an opposition member of parliament claimed to have witnessed police beating a protester. Human rights NGOs condemned police actions against the protesters, calling them “disproportionate and unjustified.”

The government also banned public gatherings during the COVID-19 state of emergency, but allowed small-scale gatherings of up to 50 persons during the subsequent public health state of emergency, provided that participants respected social distance. “Authorities” in Transnistria continued to restrict freedom of assembly and generally refused permits for public protests.

“Authorities” in Transnistria continued to restrict freedom of assembly and generally refused permits for public protests.

Ghenadie Ciorba, a civil society activist and opponent of the Transnistrian regime, was charged with extremism for organizing a July 2 protest on the Ribnita-Rezina Bridge against travel restrictions imposed by the Transnistrian “authorities” under the pretext of combating the COVID-19 pandemic. He remained in pretrial detention at year’s end. Nine other protesters received administrative fines.

Freedom of Association

The constitution provides for freedom of association and states that citizens are free to form parties and other social and political organizations, and the government generally respected this right. The law prohibits organizations “engaged in fighting against political pluralism, the principles of the rule of law, or the sovereignty and independence or territorial integrity” of the country.

In Transnistria separatist “authorities” severely restricted freedom of association, granting it only to persons they recognized as “citizens” of the region. All activities had to be coordinated with local “authorities”; groups that did not comply faced criminal charges and harassment by “security forces.” “Authorities” strictly prohibited organizations favoring reintegration with the rest of the country and prosecuted several individuals for organizing or leading an extremist group–charges that carry a penalty of up to 10 years’ imprisonment.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation and the government generally respected these rights, with some exceptions. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government restricted foreign travel and closed or partially closed international borders with neighboring countries.

In Transnistria “authorities” continued to restrict travel to and from the region and imposed additional travel restrictions during the year, citing concerns regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.

In-country movement: Transnistrian “authorities” continued to impose restrictions on travel to and from the region and installed 37 (later reduced to 11) illegal checkpoints in the Nistru Valley Security Zone without Joint Control Commission authorization on the pretext of responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. Movements through separatist checkpoints were subject to prior approval from the Transnistrian “COVID-19 crisis center,” headed by the Transnistrian “minister of interior,” Ruslan Mova. The Moldovan government, Moldovan human rights NGOs, and Transnistria residents condemned the movement restrictions as abusive and a human rights violation.

Foreign Travel: Although citizens generally may depart from and return to the country freely, there were some limitations on emigration and COVID-19-related travel restrictions. The law requires individuals to settle before emigrating all outstanding financial obligations with other persons or legal entities. The government did not strictly enforce this requirement. The law also provides that close relatives who are financially dependent on a potential emigrant must concur before the prospective emigrant may depart the country. Authorities did not enforce this law.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the country’s borders with Ukraine and Romania remained closed or partially closed for most of the year. Moldovan citizens and permanent residents, accredited diplomats, and those with preapproved travel were permitted to enter the country during the state of emergency and there were no restrictions on departing the country.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

The law does not define the concept of internally displaced persons (IDPs), and authorities do not report any official data on IDPs as such.

Nevertheless NGOs such as Promo-LEX and a 2004 Norwegian Refugee Council report estimated that approximately 130,000 persons were displaced by the 1992 conflict in Transnistria, with approximately 51,000 of them residing in government-controlled territory. IDPs may include victims of forced displacement by the Transnistrian “authorities,” former combatants, and persons who left the separatist-controlled region for political reasons.

Transnistrian “authorities” denied Moldovan veterans of the 1992 Transnistria conflict access to the region. The Moldovan Reintegration Policy Bureau noted three cases during the year in which separatist “authorities” issued three-year expulsion orders for veterans whose permanent domicile was located in separatist-controlled territory.

f. Protection of Refugees

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, and other persons of concern.

Refoulement: On July 15, the Buiucani branch of the Chisinau Court found former Security and Information Service director Vasile Botnari guilty of the illegal deportation of seven Turkish teachers (the verdict was sealed until September). The teachers had been forcibly returned to Turkey in 2018, where they were imprisoned. The court ordered Botnari pay a fine of 88,000 lei ($5,300) and he was given a five-year ban on holding public office. Botnari was also ordered to reimburse the state 125,000 euros ($150,000) for damages to the teachers’ families as a result of a 2019 ECHR ruling that their human rights had been violated. Botnari was also ordered to pay the 348,432 lei ($21,000) cost of renting the plane used for the deportation. Prosecutors initially requested a three-year prison sentence for Botnari but did not appeal the court’s July 15 ruling. Opposition parties criticized the judiciary for the unusually lenient sentence and called on prosecutors to reopen the investigation. Prosecutions against the former deputy head of the intelligence service and the head of the Bureau for Migration and Asylum were dropped during the year.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The process for obtaining formal refugee status was slow, but conducted in line with international and European standards. Authorities issued refugees identity cards valid indefinitely; beneficiaries of humanitarian protection received identification documents valid for three years; and asylum seekers received temporary identification cards. UNHCR provided refugees financial support. A temporary accommodation center administered by the Bureau of Migration and Asylum was available for asylum seekers. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the government halted deportations of asylum seekers but did not formally extend their visas. The law does not allow unemployed asylum seekers to purchase state health insurance, but asylum seekers still had access to health care during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country has a policy of presumptive denial of asylum seekers from Ukraine displaced by the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine. The country had previously accepted Ukrainian asylum seekers but determined that Ukraine’s process for protecting and resettling internally displaced persons was sufficient. The majority of displaced Ukrainians preferred to transit Moldova, then seek asylum in the EU.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided humanitarian protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees and provided it to approximately 246 persons registered in the national asylum system as of July.

g. Stateless Persons

According to UNHCR, there were 1,899 persons registered as stateless in the country, 73 percent of whom resided in Transnistria. According to immigration law experts, the majority of stateless persons fell into one of two categories: 1) former citizens of the Soviet Union residing in Moldova who are ineligible for Moldovan citizenship and do not hold another country’s citizenship; and 2) Moldovan citizens who renounced their citizenship in order to acquire another citizenship and have not notified Moldovan authorities of any subsequent acquisition of citizenship. Experts assessed that most persons in the second category, especially Transnistria residents, are not actually stateless and have mostly acquired Russian citizenship or another nationality. There were 7,956 Moldovan citizens who did not possess any valid documentation of Moldovan citizenship but who did have Soviet passports endorsed by the Moldovan Public Services Agency, which serve as a prima facie proof of citizenship. There were an additional 1,547 persons of indeterminate citizenship status.

Stateless persons and refugees may gain citizenship through naturalization. The law allows a refugee or stateless person who has resided legally in the country for eight years to seek citizenship. The family reunion process for naturalized refugees was burdensome. The government issued residence permits for a period of up to one year to stateless persons temporarily residing in the country at a cost ranging from approximately 400 to 1,280 lei ($23.40 to $75) depending on the speed of service, with higher prices for expedited processing. Trafficking victims received residence permits free of charge.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Presidential elections were held on November 1, with a runoff November 15, in which former prime minister Maia Sandu defeated the incumbent president, Igor Dodon, with 57.7 percent of the vote, making her the country’s first female president. Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe election observers noted in their preliminary findings that fundamental freedoms of assembly and expression were respected, but divisive campaigning and polarizing media coverage hindered voters’ access to quality information. Local and international election observers noted other irregularities, including allegations of illegal mass transportation and vote buying of voters from the Transnistria region. Parliamentary elections in February 2019 met most Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Council of Europe, and other international commitments, although observers noted allegations of vote buying and misuse of administrative resources.

Due to challenges stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) provided a limited election observation mission that primarily monitored the campaign climate, campaign financing, and media freedom in the lead up to the elections with a limited presence observing election-day procedures. Local observers worked to largely fill this gap. International and local observers from ODIHR and local NGO Promo-LEX released preliminary reports November 2 and 16, noting the elections generally respected fundamental freedoms and preliminary results reflected voters’ will. Observers noted some election irregularities, including allegations of illegal mass transportation and vote-buying of voters from the Transnistria region.

A pre-election report by the European Network of Election Monitoring Organizations found some deficiencies and electoral code violations, including: unclear electoral legislation which allowed for varying interpretations of the law; negative campaign tactics and candidates’ use of hate speech; candidates making electoral promises which are not within the president’s powers to fulfill; and unlawful campaigning during the candidate signature collection process.

On March 15, authorities conducted parliamentary by-elections in single-mandate district No. 38 in Hincesti after the parliamentary seat became vacant. Opposition parties and civil society criticized the government for conducting elections amid COVID-19 outbreaks in two district villages. On March 16, an entire village was quarantined. Promo-LEX reported correct voting procedures were generally followed but that the COVID-19 pandemic and lack of clear health and safety precautions led to low turnout.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Opposition parties reported fewer incidents of intimidation and politically motivated criminal cases against their members by authorities. Some 20 parliamentarians from the Democratic Party of Moldova defected to join the Pro Moldova Party or the Shor Party amid allegations of bribery and intimidation. Pro Moldova parliamentarians complained of alleged intimidation, wiretapping, and illegal surveillance. Political migration resumed on the eve of the November 1 presidential elections. Several days before the election, five Pro Moldova members of parliament announced their defection from the party and their merger with the Shor Party parliamentary faction to create a new “For Moldova” Platform. As of mid-November, the “For Moldova” Platform consisted of 16 members.

Several alleged politically motivated cases against members of parliament and political party leaders ensued throughout the year. On July 2, the Prosecutor General’s Office launched a criminal investigation into a complaint by parliamentarian Stefan Gatcan alleging he was kidnapped, threatened, and forced to resign from parliament after defecting from the ruling Party of Socialists to join Pro Moldova. After reportedly fleeing the country, Gatcan withdrew his criminal complaint and returned to parliament and the Party of Socialists.

On March 13, the Supreme Court of Justice ordered Shor Party candidate Vitalie Balinschi to be removed from the ballot in the parliamentary by-election for the single-mandate district No.38 in Hincesti two days before the election. Balinschi was removed from the ballot for exceeding the electoral expenditures threshold. The Shor Party complained that the removal was politically motivated, and independent election monitors noted that similar infractions committed by other candidates were not punished.

The criminal case against Gheorghe Petic, the leader of the opposition Dignity and Truth Platform Party branch in Ungheni, was under review at year’s end. Petic was sentenced to three years and six months’ imprisonment on charges of rape after harshly criticizing the ruling party’s leadership and the country’s Border Police for allegedly covering up illegal smuggling activities, in what Petic alleged was a politically motivated case. In July 2019, after the Democratic Party of Moldova ceded power, Petic was released from detention and his case was sent for reconsideration to the district court.

After he fled the country in June 2019 due to alleged threats against him and his family, prosecutors in May charged former Democratic Party of Moldova chairman Vladimir Plahotniuc for his role in a $1 billion banking fraud in 2014-15, issued an arrest warrant, and sought his extradition.

Court hearings in Shor Party leader Ilan Shor’s case resumed in September after an almost two-year delay. Shor was appealing his seven-and-a-half year prison sentence for large-scale fraud and money laundering related to the 2014 billion dollar banking fraud. In November the case was put on hold again after the judge examining the case resigned, allegedly under pressure, and Shor’s lawyers appealed a nonconstitutionality exception clause to the Constitutional Court.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the ability of women and members of minority groups to participate in the political process, and they did participate. The law provides that each gender must have a minimum of 40 percent of candidates on the party lists of candidates for parliamentary and local elections. As of September, 35 percent of national legislature candidates were women, and 25 percent of the elected positions in the national legislature were occupied by women. The law provides for a 10 percent financial supplement from the state budget for political parties to promote female candidates elected in single-mandate districts. The law requires that 20 percent of public subsidy allocations to parties and candidates be used to promote women candidates. The law provides for sanctions against political parties that publicly promote discriminatory messages or stereotypes, use discriminatory language in mass media, or fail to meet the required gender quotas. Civil society observers reported this law was not enforced.

The president, Maia Sandu, is a woman.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

While the law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, the government failed to implement the law effectively, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Despite some improvement, corruption remained a serious problem. Corruption in the judiciary and other state structures was widespread.

The law authorizes the National Anticorruption Center to verify wealth and address “political integrity, public integrity, institutional integrity, and favoritism.” The National Integrity Authority (NIA), which was formed to check assets, personal interests, and conflicts of interest of officials, was not fully operational due to prolonged delays in selecting integrity inspectors, as required by law. The former ruling coalition harshly criticized both the National Anticorruption Center and the NIA for lack of action in investigating corrupt officials. For example the National Anticorruption Center detained 10 persons on corruption charges in 2018, including three judges from the Court of Appeals, two judges from the Chisinau Central Court, and a prosecutor from the Chisinau prosecutor’s office. During preliminary hearings in April, only seven of the 10 suspects showed up in court; the cases continued at year’s end. In December, Socialist and Shor Party members of parliament adopted a law that limited NIA powers and reduced the term for asset reviews for dignitaries from three years to one year following their term in office. The opposition criticized the law and challenged its constitutionality at the Constitutional Court.

Corruption: Two key anticorruption institutions, the NIA and the Criminal Assets Recovery Agency, made limited progress on investigations of illicit enrichment or asset seizures.

The 2019 Transparency International Corruption Perception Index report noted that the government hindered anticorruption efforts through stagnant reform of the judiciary, lack of true investigation of banking fraud and state capture, and lack of progress in recovering stolen money. The report concluded that these practices were indicative of high-level corruption and political corruption, which led to what it labelled “state capture” (i.e., private interests significantly influencing a state’s decision-making processes).

On June 24, the Prosecutor General’s Office decided against opening an investigation into alleged corruption by President Igor Dodon after a video was released showing former Democratic Party of Moldova leader Vladimir Plahotniuc handing Dodon a plastic bag during a private meeting. The Prosecutor’s Office stated there was not sufficient evidence that a crime was committed to open an investigation.

In 2016 the Anticorruption Prosecution began a criminal case to investigate 30 million lei (over $1.3 million) transferred before that year’s presidential election from an offshore company in the Bahamas that allegedly ended up on the accounts of some Party of Socialists of the Republic of Moldova members of parliament. No progress was reported in the investigation as of year’s end.

The criminal investigation of former Supreme Court of Justice president Ion Druta and four other judges accused of money laundering and illicit enrichment that began in September 2019 continued during the year. In July the Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office announced it was still waiting for financial investigation data from the Criminal Assets Recovery Agency before it could send the case to court. In December the Chisinau Court of Appeals canceled the Superior Council of Magistrates decision that allowed Druta’s criminal investigation and closed the case.

On October 26, the Superior Council of Magistrates approved a request to reinstate five judges detained in September 2016 on money laundering charges in the “Russian Laundromat” scheme that illegally channeled millions of dollars through the Moldovan banking and legal system. The requests for reinstatement came after the Prosecutor General’s controversial September decision to drop the money laundering investigation against 13 judges involved in the scheme. It was also ruled that the five judges would receive approximately five million lei ($300,000) in damages for back pay from the state budget. The decision drew criticism from anticorruption advocates, opposition parties, and civil society.

Financial Disclosure: Laws require financial disclosure by public officials, including state officials, judges, prosecutors, civil servants, and local officials holding leadership positions. The NIA has the legal power to apply sanctions. The law provides that officials who fail to declare their assets may be dismissed from office and barred from holding public office. NIA integrity inspectors have authority to alert relevant authorities, the Tax Office and the Prosecutor’s Office, and request seizure of illegally acquired assets by a court decision. The law requires the heads of state enterprises and local councilors to submit income statements and provides for an online system for wealth and interest statement submissions. By law officials must make public income statements within 30 days of their appointment and before March 31 of each year for the duration of their term in office.

Both opposition and ruling coalition members of parliament sent multiple requests to the NIA to verify assets and incomes of other parliamentarians. Consideration of those requests continued at the year’s end.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were somewhat cooperative and responsive to their views.

Authorities in Chisinau did not have full access to or control over the Transnistrian region. According to local and international experts, authorities in Transnistria continued to monitor and restrict activities of human rights NGOs. There were credible reports that no human rights NGO in the region investigated serious human rights violations due to fear of repression and harassment from authorities.

Government Human Rights Bodies: There are three human rights bodies in the country: The Office of the People’s Ombudsman, the Agency for Interethnic Relations, and the Council for the Prevention of Discrimination and Ensuring Equality (Equality Council). The People’s Ombudsman and the Equality Council are independent institutions that report to parliament, while the Agency for Interethnic Relations is part of the government. All three institutions were fully operational and active in reporting on human rights issues during the year.

The law provides for the independence of the people’s ombudsman from political influence and appointment to a seven-year, nonrenewable term. The Office of the People’s Ombudsman may initiate an investigation based on complaints or on its own authority. Although the Office of the People’s Ombudsman lacked the power to enforce decisions, it acted as a monitor of human rights conditions, including in prisons and other places of detention. A separate ombudsman for children’s rights operates under the same framework within the Office of the People’s Ombudsman.

The Equality Council is responsible for reviewing complaints of discrimination and making recommendations, but lacks enforcement powers.

The Agency for Interethnic Relations oversees and implements state policies in the area of interethnic relations and the use of languages in the country.

Parliament also has a separate standing committee for human rights and interethnic relations, but the committee’s powers and areas of oversight were narrowed during the year.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law defines domestic violence as a criminal offense, provides for the punishment of perpetrators, defines mechanisms for obtaining restraining orders against abusive individuals, and extends protection to unmarried individuals and children of unmarried individuals. The law covers five forms of domestic violence–physical, psychological, sexual, economic, and spiritual. The maximum punishment for family violence offenses is 15 years’ imprisonment. The law also criminalizes rape, including spousal rape, or forcible sexual assault and establishes penalties for violations ranging from three years to life in prison. It requires, however, that the victim prove they were subjected to violence. Domestic violence resulting in “nonsignificant bodily harm” falls under the Contraventions Code, rather than the Criminal Code, and may be punished by a fine or community service.

The law provides for cooperation between government and civil society organizations, establishes victim protection as a human rights principle, and allows third parties to file complaints on behalf of victims. The international NGO La Strada operated a hotline to report domestic violence, offered victims psychological and legal aid, and provided victims options for follow-up assistance. The Women’s Law Center also offered legal, psychological, and social support to domestic violence victims. During the year 10 centers providing assistance to domestic violence victims were operational in the country. An additional two centers provided counselling and resocialization services to family aggressors.

In July parliament adopted legislation to improve reporting in domestic violence cases, streamline the victims’ referral system and the use of restriction orders, improve access to state-guaranteed legal assistance for domestic and sexual violence victims, and expand the use of electronic monitoring devices in domestic violence cases. Rape remained a problem, and there were no specific governmental rape prevention activities.

In its concluding observations on its sixth periodic report on the country in March, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women noted concerns about the high prevalence of gender-based violence against women, including domestic violence and economic and psychosocial violence, and underreporting of gender-based violence against women, in particular domestic violence, due to fear of stigmatization and revictimization. The committee also noted limited financial compensation in gender-based violence cases, a lack of shelters and victims’ support services, including psychosocial counselling, legal assistance, and rehabilitation programs, particularly in rural areas and Transnistria.

Police reported a similar number of domestic violence criminal cases during the year with 1,409 cases registered in the first nine months, including 10 domestic violence cases that resulted in death. The General Police Inspectorate issued 3,205 restraining orders. From January to September, the courts issued 534 protection orders.

Police protection of victims and proper execution of protective orders improved slightly; the law requires that authorities issue protective orders within 24 hours. This provision was often not implemented, however, particularly for protection order requests filed on Fridays and examined by the courts the next Monday. A law adopted during the year authorizes the Ministry of Justice to expand the use of electronic devices for monitoring accused aggressors in domestic violence cases.

Police and human rights NGOs reported an increase in domestic violence complaints during the COVID-19 state of emergency and the subsequent state of public health emergency. From January through April, the General Police Inspectorate reported a 24 percent increase in the number of complaints of domestic violence received, and the Women’s Law Center reported that the number of calls to their domestic violence hotline doubled during the state of emergency. NGOs attributed the increase to domestic violence victims staying in isolation with their abusers for lengthy periods of time without the ability to seek assistance. From March 17 to May 31, the NGO La Strada’s Women and Girls’ Trust Line received 390 calls, including 247 complaints of domestic violence. During the state of emergency (March 17-May 15), shelters for domestic violence victims did not accept new applicants to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infections. Authorities did not take steps to provide placement for survivors. While police and courts established protection measures for victims of violence, in most cases a lack of coordination between members of local multidisciplinary teams (which are meant to bring together law enforcement, health professionals, social workers, spiritual leaders, and local public officials to assist victims) left victims without the resources and protections the courts intended to provide for them.

According to La Strada, the subject of sexual violence remained sensitive for the country. Societal attitudes affected the behavior and the reticence of sexual violence victims to report incidents. Sexual abusers frequently used information technologies to threaten, frighten, humiliate, or cause the victim not to report abuses to law enforcement agencies. Specialists responsible for intervening in sexual violence cases were affected by prejudice and stereotypes and sometimes contributed to the victimization of or discrimination against victims of sexual crimes. Media outlets sometimes reinforced stereotypes and contributed to social stigma in their reporting on cases of sexual violence.

In Transnistria domestic violence without “substantial bodily harm” (such as broken bones or a concussion) remains an administrative, rather than criminal, offense only punishable by a fine.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment remained a problem. The law provides criminal penalties for sexual harassment ranging from a fine to a maximum of three years’ imprisonment. The law prohibits sexual advances that affect a person’s dignity or create an unpleasant, hostile, degrading, or humiliating environment in a workplace or educational institution. There are no criminal penalties or civil remedies for sexual harassment in employment. According to NGOs, law enforcement agencies steadily improved their handling of sexual harassment cases, addressing harassment of students by university professors and several instances of workplace harassment. Civil society groups, however, criticized the judicial system for displaying inadequate concern for the safety of victims and for not holding perpetrators accountable for their behavior.

According to an informative note on a January bill published by the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Social Protection calling for the review of national legislation on sexual harassment, one in five women in the country experience sexual harassment in the workplace. Similarly, a 2018 Partnership for Development Center survey concluded that one in five women reported being sexually harassed by a teacher. Societal attitudes and lack of interest from law enforcement discouraged victims from reporting instances of sexual harassment.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; to manage their reproductive health; and to have the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. By law minors under the age of 16 must have permission from a parent or legal guardian to obtain reproductive health services; a medical provider may waive this requirement if the minor’s life or health are in danger.

The state provides contraception free of charge to citizens through primary care providers. Although minors have access to contraception without parental consent through a network of Youth-Friendly Health Centers, many are reluctant to request contraception from family doctors due to social stigma.

Victims of sexual violence have access to sexual and reproductive health services on the same basis as other citizens.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: Women and men enjoy the same legal status in family, labor, property, nationality, inheritance law, and in the judicial system. The law requires equal pay for equal work, which authorities generally respected. The law requires that women fill a minimum of 40 percent of decision-making positions in government and political offices; prohibits sexist and discriminatory language and images in the media and advertising; and spells out employers’ responsibilities in ensuring that workplaces are free of discrimination and sexual harassment. The law also establishes a minimum quota of 40 percent female representation on the electoral lists of political parties and sanctions for noncompliance. During the February 2019 parliamentary elections, 41.8 percent of candidates were women on the political parties’ electoral lists and over 25 percent of members of parliament were women. During the November presidential elections, only one woman ran for office. While launching his electoral campaign for the second round, incumbent president Igor Dodon made gender-based discriminatory statements against his political opponent in the runoff, Action and Solidarity Party leader Maia Sandu.

According to a report issued in February by the Union for HIV Prevention and Harm Reduction and Promo-LEX, female drug users, sex workers, and inmates were the most vulnerable to multiple risks, such as HIV or AIDS, human trafficking, harassment, and violence due to discrimination, criminalization, stigmatization, and exclusion from society. Despite such vulnerabilities authorities did not protect basic rights to health care and justice for women in these categories.

Discrimination with respect to employment, pay, and access to pension benefits persisted in the country (see section 7.d.).

Children

Birth Registration: Persons may acquire citizenship through birth to a citizen parent, birth in the country to stateless persons, birth to parents who cannot transmit their citizenship to the child, or through adoption by citizen parents. Registration of birth is free of charge for all citizens. The lack of registration certificates for a number of children, especially in rural areas and in Romani families, remained a problem.

Education: Primary education was free and compulsory until the ninth grade. Education of Romani children remained a problem; only half of Romani children attended school and one in five attended preschool. According to Romani representatives, absenteeism and school dropout rates in Romani communities stemmed from poverty and fear of discrimination.

All schools, kindergartens, and other educational institutions closed and were replaced with online schooling during the COVID-19 state of emergency that began on March 17. While some schools had the necessary resources and human capacity to hold classes online, most educational institutions, particularly in rural areas, failed to provide proper education through the end of the academic year. At the start of the new academic year on September 1, there were 11 schools out of 1,252 that remained closed due to COVID-19 cases among teachers and students. An additional eight schools closed after the school year started. By September 14, there were over 200 COVID-19 cases in schools in Chisinau; 1,325 students and 57 teaching and technical staff from 21 educational institutions were quarantined and there were 35 active cases in kindergartens.

Child Abuse: Although the law prohibits child neglect and specific forms of abuse, such as forced begging, child abuse remained a problem. The Ministry of Health, Labor, and Social Protection has noted that social norms created a permissive environment for violence against children at home and at school.

The Ministry of Education, Culture, and Research reported 4,738 cases of violence against children in the first half of the 2019-20 academic year. Some 2,171 children reported physical violence and 1,316 children reported neglect, while there were 40 cases of labor exploitation and 17 of sexual abuse. Local public authorities failed to monitor all cases of abuse against children, claiming a lack of experts. The ombudsman for children’s rights stated that most child neglect cases were due to alcohol abuse in the family.

An April study by the Ministry of Education, Culture, and Research and the National Center for the Prevention of Child Abuse noted that children were exposed to more risks during the COVID-19 pandemic due to increased psychosocial stress, a sense of fear and panic generated by the pandemic, the suspension of school activity, infection with coronavirus or quarantine, access to and improper use of disinfectants and alcohol, their increased vulnerability to exploitation for child labor, social discrimination, and the limited availability of services for children with disabilities. Following the closure of schools and kindergartens, 32 children who were left home unsupervised died from accidents in the first six months of the year.

A special unit for minors in the Prosecutor General’s Office, the Juvenile Justice Unit, is responsible for ensuring that particular attention and expertise are devoted to child abuse victims and child offenders.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 16 for women and 18 for men. There were no official statistics regarding child marriages.

Child marriage was most common in Romani communities, where it was reportedly acceptable to marry off girls between the ages of 12 and 14. This either took the form of a forced marriage, whereby a girl is married off to an adult man against her will, or an arranged marriage, whereby “match makers” arranged for two children to be married in the future. In such cases marriage takes place without official documentation or registration. After marriage, girls commonly dropped out of school to take on household duties.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The exploitation of a child in a commercial sex act is punishable by 10 to 12 years’ imprisonment. Authorities punished commercial sex with minors as statutory rape. The law prohibits the production, distribution, broadcasting, import, export, sale, exchange, use, or possession of child pornography, for which the punishment is one to three years’ imprisonment and fines. These laws were generally enforced. The minimum age for consensual sex is 16. The country is a destination for child sex tourism. According to the International Organization for Migration’s 2020 Violence against Children and Youth Survey report for Moldova, 7.6 percent of girls and 5.4 percent of boys between the ages of 13 and 17 experienced sexual violence in the previous year.

The Prosecutor’s Office to Combat Organized Crime and Special Cases is responsible for investigating and prosecuting child sexual abuse cases, and the Antitrafficking Bureau of the Prosecutor General’s Office is responsible for investigating and prosecuting child trafficking and child sexual exploitation. During the first 10 months of the year, law enforcement officials identified 42 victims of child online sexual exploitation, ranging in age from eight to 17 years old. La Strada’s Child Safeguarding Team registered 81 new cases of child sexual exploitation and sexual abuse that included 27 cases of child pornography, 21 cases of child trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation, and 33 cases of sexual abuse. Law enforcement bodies referred 63 cases for assistance.

Institutionalized Children: During the year the number of children placed in residential institutions decreased to 961, including 195 children with disabilities. The government also operated family-type homes, maternal centers, and daycare centers that provided various services for deinstitutionalized children, including children with disabilities. Another 26 mobile teams assisted over 840 beneficiaries across the country, including 485 children with disabilities. Children raised in residential institutions were at greater risk of unemployment, sexual exploitation, trafficking, and suicide as adults compared with their peers raised in families. According to human rights watchdogs and the ombudsperson for children’s rights, legal protective mechanisms to prevent recidivism and reinstitutionalization of homeless children were not functional during the year.

International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at HYPERLINK “” HYPERLINK “https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html”https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community numbered between 1,600 and 30,000 persons (depending on source and definition), including up to 2,000 living in Transnistria.

According to the Jewish community, anti-Semitic discourse, hate speech, and instigation to discrimination and violence against members of the Jewish community, especially on the internet, was a systemic problem. Publications related to the community’s activities were often followed by discriminatory comments or verbal insults that were not banned on such platforms, including blaming the Jewish community for the spread of COVID-19. Online security was another problem during the pandemic. In April the Jewish community reported a case of unauthorized individuals accessing an online Zoom session conducted by the community’s rabbi during a daily Torah lesson. The unknown perpetrators intimidated Zoom participants and posted insulting photographs and videos for several minutes.

The Jewish community reported two acts of vandalism during the year. Unknown individuals made an anti-Semitic inscription at an exhibit dedicated to the 20th anniversary of the Chisinau-Tel Aviv twin cities agreement. The community registered a complaint with police, and the case was pending at year’s end. In a second case, unknown individuals vandalized and drew anti-Semitic graffiti on 82 tombs at the Jewish cemetery in Chisinau. The Jewish community sent a complaint to the police and called on the authorities to adopt legal mechanisms that would prevent and punish Holocaust denial, the glorification of Nazi leaders or the use of Nazi symbols. The Chisinau police department opened a criminal case. According to the Jewish cemetery director, the perpetrators vandalized an unprecedented number of tombstones on the nights of October 30 through November 1. In reaction the Ministry of Education, Culture, and Research, which oversees the Jewish History Museum, which includes the Jewish cemetery, announced the installation of video surveillance equipment at the cemetery to prevent similar incidents in the future. In November the government also adopted amendments to the criminal code; strengthened sanctions for “acts of vandalism and desecration of tombs, monuments or places revered by persons belonging to various religious groups;” and imposed higher fines and imprisonment terms of up to four years. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and European Integration condemned the acts of vandalism, noting “the destruction of Jewish gravestones and monuments is a barbaric attack not only on the memory of the Jews from the Republic of Moldova, but is also challenging the entire Moldovan society.”

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, access to public facilities, health services, or the provision of other government services, but authorities rarely enforced the law.

Investigation of degrading treatment of patients in psychoneurological institutions was deficient. In most cases prosecutors refused to investigate complaints submitted by patients, questioning the accuracy of allegations made by persons with mental disabilities. According to Promo-LEX, most prosecutors and investigators lacked technical skills to investigate acts of violence or torture in psychiatric institutions. Authorities also lacked a regulatory framework for the psychological assessment of victims of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment in psychiatric institutions.

During the first nine months of the year, members of the Council for Prevention of Torture, as part of the National Mechanism for the Prevention of Torture (NMPT), conducted preventive visits to residential institutions for persons with disabilities. The NMPT identified a number of problems in such institutions, including a shortage of personnel in most residential institutions, including of medical staff in institutions hosting persons with disabilities; verbal and physical abuse by personnel of persons with disabilities; involuntary confinement of patients; insufficient qualified staff at specialized institutions for children with disabilities; and lack of complaint mechanisms.

During its monitoring activities, the Moldovan Institute of Human Rights identified systemic deficiencies in psychiatric hospitals and temporary placement centers for persons with disabilities. Experts reported cases of forced medication without a legally mandated court order. Patients isolated in temporary placement centers reported the administration of psychotropic drugs without consent and mistreatment by personnel. The institute also found deficiencies in documentation, investigation, and management of cases involving persons with mental or psychosocial impairments by police, prosecutors, judges, and health service providers. While all institutions are required to document and report any unexplained injuries to the Anti-Torture Prosecutor’s Office, officials at the Codru Psychiatric Hospital reported no such cases during the year, despite IDOM monitors finding numerous patients with visible injuries during the course of their audit.

According to the Moldovan Institute of Human Rights, Balti Psychiatric Hospital lacked a separate ward for patients who committed crimes, leaving them to be housed and treated alongside civilly committed and voluntarily committed patients. Persons with different types of disabilities and widely different ages were sometimes lodged in the same rooms, and unjustified restrictive measures were sometimes applied. There was no separation of persons who were civilly committed as presenting a danger to themselves or others from those who voluntarily committed themselves in any of the country’s three psychiatric hospitals.

During the March 17 to May 15 state of emergency declared in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, all “closed institutions” including psychiatric hospitals and temporary placement centers for persons with disabilities (“social care centers”), suspended discharges, keeping patients and residents involuntarily confined. Visitors and outside monitors were also denied access to these facilities during the state of emergency “as a quarantine measure.” Independent monitors reported that stresses imposed on patients, residents, and staff by the quarantine measures led to an increase in mistreatment cases and hurt the mental health of patients and residents.

The law requires new construction and transportation companies’ vehicles to be accessible to persons with disabilities. Authorities implemented the provisions of the law only to a limited extent. While many newly built or reconstructed buildings were accessible, older buildings often were not. According to the disability rights NGO Motivation, more than 70 percent of public institutions lacked access ramps for persons with disabilities. Persons with mobility disabilities complained about the lack of access to public transportation and public institutions as well as the shortage of designated parking places. Despite some improvements during the year, city authorities and construction companies often disregarded legal requirements on accessibility for persons with mobility impairments.

An audit on the accessibility of polling stations conducted by the Central Electoral Commission and the UN Development Program in 2019 found that only 1 percent of 612 stations assessed were fully accessible for wheelchair-bound persons. Most polling stations had no ramps or accessible toilets, narrow entrances, and dark hallways, which led to many persons with disabilities requesting mobile ballot boxes. According to Central Election Commission data, there were 170,000 persons with disabilities of voting age. There were no measurable improvements to these metrics reported in the year.

The government continued the deinstitutionalization of persons with disabilities and provided alternative community-based services under the National Program of Deinstitutionalization of People with Intellectual and Psychosocial Disabilities from residential institutions for 2018-26. Deinstitutionalization was temporarily halted during the COVID-19 state of emergency from March 17 to May 15.

Human rights observers criticized the country’s guardianship system. A person placed under guardianship loses all standing before the law and cannot perform social and legal acts, such as marriage, voting, claiming social benefits, and consenting to or refusing medication. Most residential institutions lacked proper accommodation for persons with mobility impairments.

Most schools were poorly equipped to address the needs of children with disabilities. Some children with disabilities attended mainstream schools, while authorities placed others in segregated boarding schools, or they were home schooled. Although the law provides for equal employment opportunities and prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities (with the exception of jobs requiring specific health standards), many employers either failed to provide accommodations or avoided employing persons with disabilities.

According to NGOs providing services for persons with mobility impairments, the COVID-19 pandemic negatively affected persons with disabilities, particularly those in wheelchairs. Authorities suspended the provision of most health-care rehabilitation and social services during the state of emergency and public health state of emergency, negatively affecting the physical and psychological condition of persons with disabilities.

In Transnistria the “law” provides for protection of the rights of persons with disabilities in the areas of education, health care, and employment. According to the latest 2019 report of the Transnistrian “ombudsman,” there were 17,121 persons with disabilities registered in Transnistria as of December 2019, including 1,304 children with disabilities (aged under 18 years old). The same report noted 188 patients as of October 2019 in the region’s only psychiatric institution in Vyhvatintsy village. Reliable information about the treatment of persons with disabilities in Transnistria was generally unavailable, but there were reports that children with disabilities rarely attended school and lacked access to specialized resources.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

Roma continued to be one of the most vulnerable minority groups in the country and faced a higher risk of marginalization, underrepresentation in political decision making, illiteracy, and social prejudice. Roma had lower levels of education, more limited access to health care, and higher rates of unemployment than the general population (see section 7.d.). According to a study released during the year by the Partnership for Development Center, the employment rate among Roma was only 6.4 percent. The unemployment rate among the Romani community stood at 45 percent. Romani women were particularly vulnerable to social exclusion and discrimination.

Approximately 60 percent of Romani families lived in rural areas. Some Romani communities lacked running water, sanitation facilities, and heating. Other problems facing Roma included lack of emergency health-care services in secluded settlements, unfair or arbitrary treatment by health practitioners, and lower rates of health insurance coverage. Authorities lacked an effective mechanism to address vulnerable families whose children did not attend school.

According to a 2019 survey of 476 Romani women from 48 localities conducted by the Roma Women Network in Moldova, the most serious problems reported were limited access to education, the job market, medical services, and information about health and hygiene. The survey showed that only 36.6 percent of Romani women attended some form of state-guaranteed education, while 57.8 percent said they did not have an opportunity to continue their studies. About 84.7 percent of respondents were unemployed, and many of them alleged that they were subject to discrimination when trying to get a job. According to the survey, one-third of women reported discrimination when consulting a doctor; 70 percent of women reported not having access to information about health and hygiene. There were no measurable improvements to these metrics reported in during the year.

According to Romani leaders, the community faced a high rate of emigration and the state did not provide financing for Romani community mediators, as prescribed by law. A total of 54 Romani community mediators were active during the year. The government earmarked 3.5 million lei ($210,000) for Romani community mediators during the year, but its 2016-20 action plan for the community was unfunded.

Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The law prohibits employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, but societal discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity continued. The lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community reported verbal and physical abuse. In most cases police were reluctant to open investigations against the perpetrators. According to a survey conducted by the Antidiscrimination Council in 2018, the LGBTI community had the lowest societal acceptance rate of any minority group.

In June the NGO Genderdoc-M organized the 19th annual Moldova Pride Festival. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, events were conducted almost exclusively online. Genderdoc-M rented three billboards bearing the festival’s theme, “I Am Close to You but You Don’t Know Me,” to carry information about LGBTI pride for one month. The company leasing the billboards removed the signs after two weeks, reportedly at the request of Chisinau city government. Genderdoc-M filed a complaint with the Equality Council, which had not ruled on the matter at year’s end.

A 2019 Promo-LEX report, Hate Speech and Discrimination in the Public Space and Media, noted that hatred and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity dropped by approximately 30 percent in 2019 compared to 2018. The LGBTI community remained among the groups that were most vulnerable to hate speech and was subjected to some of the most aggressive and violent speech registered by authorities. During the electoral campaign for the November 15 runoff presidential election, President Igor Dodon promised to ban LGBTI parades.

Genderdoc-M reported eight verbal and nine physical assaults against LGBTI individuals during the year. On May 8, the parents of a 15-year-old girl reportedly beat her after they were told that she was a lesbian. The girl filed a complaint at the Securuel police station in Riscani, Chisinau, with the support of Genderdoc-M representatives. The responding police officer initially refused to accept the complaint and called the girl’s parents to the station. Only after a Genderdoc-M representatives threatened to call the national emergency number did the officer begin recording the complaint and call a victims specialist. Genderdoc-M later filed a complaint against the officer with the Ministry of Interior.

On April 15, a young man was walking in central Chisinau when a minibus stopped next to him and several individuals forced him into the vehicle. He was taken to an alley where a group of assailants beat him and threatened him using derogatory terms for homosexuals. He was forced to put a condom on his head and then forced to eat a second condom. The attackers threatened to set him on fire and additional unspecified violence if he reported the attack. The attack was recorded on one of the attackers’ cell phone and later posted on social media. Police were investigating the attack at year’s end.

Civil society organizations reported that, although transgender individuals were allowed to change their names (e.g., from a male to a female name) on legal identity documents, including passports, the government did not permit them to update gender markers to reflect their gender identity. Transgender individuals also experienced employment discrimination (see section 7.d.).

In Transnistria consensual same-sex sexual activity is illegal, and LGBTI persons were subjected to official as well as societal discrimination. A young gay man in Transnistria was reported to be under investigation by “authorities” for refusing conscription into the separatist military. He expressed fear of violence and discrimination within the “military” and relocated to Moldovan government-controlled territory to escape persecution.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Persons living with HIV continued to face societal and official discrimination.

The law prohibits hospitals and other health institutions from denying admission or access to health-care services or requesting additional fees from persons with HIV or suspected of being HIV-positive. Prison inmates with HIV or AIDS faced high levels of discrimination by both prison staff and other inmates. Official practice requires that positive HIV test results be reported to the public health sector’s infectious disease doctor. In some cases positive test results were also reported to the patient’s family physician, a practice to which many HIV-positive individuals objected.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides workers the right to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct strikes. The government generally respected these rights with limitations. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination but does not provide for the reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. The law does not allow government workers and workers in essential services, such as law enforcement, judges, holders of public administration offices, health-care providers, and public utility employees, to strike. The law prohibits strikes during natural disasters, epidemics, and pandemics as well as in times of state emergency. Authorities may impose compulsory arbitration at the request of one party to a dispute. There are no particular groups of workers excluded from or covered differently by relevant legal protections.

The government and employers generally respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Worker organizations were independent of the government, political parties, employers, or employers’ associations. There were no reports that the government, political parties, or employers interfered in the functioning of workers’ organizations. Prosecutors may reject appeals by trade unions alleging antiunion behavior, and authorities did not punish alleged violations of the trade union law. Workers exercised the right to strike by conducting legal strikes.

There is a mechanism to monitor and enforce labor laws through the State Labor Inspectorate (SLI) and the Prosecutor General’s Office, but it failed to monitor effectively and enforce the rights to collective bargaining and to organize. The law does not provide effective sanctions for violations of freedom of association, or stipulate penalties for violating trade union rights. Penalties for the deliberate failure to negotiate and amend collective agreements or the violation of negotiated terms were not commensurate with those of other laws related to civil rights.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor, with exceptions. The law and a government decision allow central and local authorities as well as military bodies to mobilize the adult population under certain conditions, such as in the event of a national disaster, and to employ such labor to develop the national economy. The government did not invoke this provision during the year. Penalties for persons who engage workers in forced labor were commensurate with those for other serious crimes.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Resources, inspections, and remediation for forced labor were generally inadequate. Men and women were subjected to labor trafficking within the country and in other parts of Europe and the Middle East. Internal trafficking occurred in all regions of the country, focused mostly on farms and begging in larger towns. Internal trafficking for begging and labor exploitation, particularly in the agriculture and construction sectors, was steadily on the rise. Official complicity in trafficking continued to be a significant problem that the government attempted to curb by prosecuting those involved.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The minimum age for employment is 15. The law permits juveniles between the ages of 16 and 18 to work under special conditions, including shorter workdays (35 hours per week and no night, weekend, holiday, or overtime work). With written permission from a parent or guardian, 15-year-old children may work. Work for children who are 15 or 16 should not exceed 24 hours per week. Children younger than 18 are not allowed to perform hazardous and dangerous activities in 30 industries, including construction, agriculture, food processing, and textiles. The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor and provides for three to 15 years’ imprisonment for persons engaging children in such activities. Under aggravated circumstances, courts can increase the sentence to life imprisonment. These penalties for violations were commensurate with those for other serious crimes. Authorities did not effectively enforce legal protections, and child labor remained a problem, especially in the agriculture and construction industries. The government was unable to make unannounced inspections and could only take action on a violation directly related to a complaint. If child labor violations were observed during a complaint based inspection, the government did not have the authority to take action.

Parents who owned or worked on farms often sent children to work in fields or to find other employment. Children left behind by parents who had emigrated abroad also worked on farms. The vast majority of child laborers worked in family businesses or on family farms.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination based on sex, age, race, color, nationality, religion, political opinion, social origin, residence, disability, HIV-positive status, and membership or activity in trade unions, as well as other criteria. The law requires employers to provide for equal opportunity and treatment of employees without discrimination, to apply the same criteria to assess each employee’s work, and to provide equal conditions for men and women relating to work and family obligations. The law defines and prohibits both direct and indirect discrimination. Penalties for violations were commensurate with those of other crimes related to denial of civil rights. The law does not mandate equal remuneration for work of equal value.

Discrimination on the basis of sex in access to pension benefits persisted in the country. The age at which men and women can retire with either full or partial benefits is not equal, nor is the mandatory retirement age for men and women.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to gender, disability, minority status, sexual orientation, gender identity, and HIV-positive status. Gender-based violence and harassment in the workplace is common in the country. Pregnant women reported being denied employment opportunities, since such employment was associated with additional benefits payable after childbirth.

The law also stipulates that the Equality Council be responsible for reviewing complaints of discrimination and making recommendations. As of September the council made decisions on 193 cases of alleged discrimination, 3.2 percent more than in 2019.

In Transnistria job segregation “laws” ban women from more than 300 jobs. Prohibited occupations include a wide variety of occupations deemed “too dangerous or demanding” for women, including welding, pouring, driving, snow blowing, gas extracting, and climbing.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law provides for a national minimum wage that is less than the poverty level. According to the National Trade Union Confederation (NTUC), as of July salary arrears were more than 20.9 million lei ($1.2 million).

The law sets the maximum workweek at 40 hours with overtime compensation, provides for at least one day off per week, and mandates paid annual leave of at least 28 calendar days (government holidays excluded). Different paid leave plans may be used in some sectors, such as education, health care, and public service. The law prohibits excessive compulsory overtime. Foreign and migrant workers have the same legal status as domestic workers.

The government sets occupational safety and health standards. According to labor law, workers can remove themselves from situations that endanger their health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.

The labor code requires work contracts for employment but the central government did not have an effective mechanism to monitor compliance. In the agricultural sector, approximately 63 percent of workers were employed informally, according to NTUC.

Government efforts to enforce requirements for minimum wage, work hours, and occupational health and safety standards were limited and ineffective. The law requires the government to establish and monitor safety standards in the workplace but inspections could only occur when a complaint was received and not all complaints met the criteria for a workplace inspection. Penalties for violations were not commensurate with those for other similar crimes.

Labor inspectors were generally required to give advance notice before conducting labor investigations and were generally prohibited from conducting onsite inspections if the information sought could be obtained in writing, which undercut their enforcement ability. The 10 sectoral inspection agencies responsible for occupational health and safety controls did not have sufficient trained staff to carry out adequate inspections. In the first eight months of the year, the SLI reported 334 unplanned inspections in areas defined by law as “labor relations,” 42 in “salary payments” and 46 in “occupational safety and health.” Labor inspectors could not confirm that any of these unplanned inspections were unannounced. In person, onsite inspections were suspended during the state of emergency declared between March 17 and May 15, and the moratorium continued under the public health state of emergency that continued from May 16 to the end of the year in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

A thriving informal economy accounted for a significant portion of the country’s economic activity. According to the International Labor Organization, 30.9 percent of the total employed population had an informal job. Workers in the informal economy did not have the same legal protections as employees in the formal sector. No government social programs targeted workers in the informal economy who were hardest hit by the COVID lockdowns during the year.

Poor economic conditions led enterprises to spend less on safety equipment and to pay insufficient attention to worker safety. There is a consensus among stakeholders that after the change in the legislation governing labor inspections, occupational safety and health standards in the workplace worsened during the year. In the first eight months of the year, the SLI reported 231 work accidents involving 235 victims. The SLI also reported 13 work-related deaths. Enterprise committees investigated 170 cases of temporary incapacitation resulting from work accidents, involving 171 persons.

San Marino

Executive Summary

The Republic of San Marino is a multiparty democracy. Twice yearly, the popularly elected unicameral Great and General Council (parliament) selects two of its members to serve as Captains Regent (coheads of state). They preside over meetings of the Council and of the Congress of State (cabinet), which has no more than 10 other members (secretaries of state), selected by the Council. Parliamentary elections were held in December 2019 and observers considered them generally free and fair.

The Civil Police operates under the authority of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The Captains Regent oversee the Gendarmerie (national police force) and National Guard (military) when they are performing duties related to public order and security. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs exercises control over such administrative functions as personnel and equipment, and the courts exercise control over the Gendarmerie when it acts as judicial police. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

There were no reports of significant human rights abuses.

The government had mechanisms in place to identify, investigate, and prosecute officials who commit human rights abuses.

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

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

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

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

Physical Conditions: There were no major concerns in prisons and detention centers regarding physical conditions.

Administration: No allegations of mistreatment were reported to authorities.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted visits by independent nongovernmental observers and international bodies.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. The government generally observed these requirements.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Warrants based on sufficient evidence and issued by a duly authorized official are required for authorities to apprehend persons other than those who are caught and arrested during the alleged commission of a crime. Authorities did not detain individuals without judicial authorization or in secret. Police promptly informed detainees of charges against them. There was a well functioning bail system. Authorities provided detainees prompt access to a lawyer of their choice and to family members. The state provided legal assistance to indigent persons, and there were no reports of limitations to this provision. The law provides for an apprehended person to be detained in prison, in a treatment facility, or under house arrest. The person may be ordered also to remain in the country while their case is pending trial. There were no reports that authorities detained or held persons incommunicado.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. In February authorities reformed the Judicial Council, a body made up of judges, members of parliament, and the justice minister, with the authority to appoint, assign, move, promote, and discipline holders of judicial office.

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, without undue delay, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. The law provides for the presumption of innocence and requires authorities to inform defendants promptly and in detail of the charges against them. Defendants have the right to be present and to consult with an attorney during every stage of the investigation. Indigent defendants have the right to an attorney provided at public expense. A single judge presides over trials. Defendants have the right to adequate time to prepare a defense. Free language interpretation is provided throughout the legal process. Defendants may question witnesses against them, and present witnesses and evidence on their behalf.

Authorities may not compel defendants to testify or to confess guilt. Defendants have the right to two levels of appeal.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Individuals may seek civil remedies for human rights abuses through domestic courts. Administrative as well as judicial remedies exist for alleged wrongdoing, including human rights abuses. After they have exhausted all routes for appeal in the domestic courts, citizens may appeal cases involving alleged government abuses of the European Convention on Human Rights to the European Court of Human Rights.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

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

Freedom of Speech: The country’s laws prohibit persons from disseminating, by any means, ideas based on racial superiority or on racial or ethnic hatred, or from committing or encouraging others to commit discriminatory acts on the grounds of race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, or sexual orientation. There were no reports of prosecutions based on these laws.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: The law regulating media and the work of media professionals provides for an Authority for Information, which may impose sanctions (including fines) on journalists and media who violate a national media code of conduct. Online publications, such as blogs or messages on social media operated or written by individuals, associations, or parties were not considered as being part of the press and are therefore not covered by this legislation. In October the Authority for Information expressed concern over the San Marino Data Protection Authority’s request that a journalist disclose a source; the protection authority threatened punitive action if the source was not disclosed within five days. The Authority for Information stated it would report the incident to the competent international bodies dealing with the protection of freedom of the press.

Journalists were represented within the Office of the Press Ombudsman, which was in charge of ensuring compliance with the code of ethics by media professionals.

Internet Freedom

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

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

Although the country is not a signatory to the UN Convention on Refugees, the government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

Access to Asylum: The government may grant refugee status or asylum by an act of the cabinet.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Observers regarded the parliamentary elections in December 2019 as generally free and fair.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Women accounted for 10 percent of ministerial positions, and from April to September, one of the two captains regent was a woman.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. There were no reports of government corruption.

Financial Disclosure: There is no specific financial disclosure requirement for public officials. The law requires candidates running for elective office to disclose their income from the previous year as well as any assets or investments in companies.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

A number of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials often were cooperative and responsive to their views.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape, is a criminal offense, and the government effectively prosecuted persons accused of such crimes. The penalty for rape is two to six years in prison. In aggravated circumstances, the sentence is four to 10 years. No figures for cases of rape or domestic violence are yet available for the first 11 months of the year.

The law prohibits domestic violence, and the government effectively enforced it. Domestic violence is a criminal offense; the penalty for spousal abuse is two to six years in prison. In aggravated circumstances, the prison term is four to eight years.

In October several local institutions launched an app to oppose domestic violence.

Sexual Harassment: The government effectively enforced the law prohibiting sexual harassment.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; and have access to the information to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. Access to contraception is provided. The government provides access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men. The law regarding domestic violence and domestic abuse also prohibits gender-based discrimination.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship derives from either parent, including adoptive parents, or if both parents are unknown or stateless, by birth in the country’s territory. Births must be registered within 10 days.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 18, but a judge can authorize the marriage of minors at age 16 in special cases.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits child pornography, including performances, works, and material, and provides for punishment of anyone trading in, providing, or in any way distributing child pornography. The law includes punishment for providing information aimed at enticing or sexually exploiting children younger than 18, the minimum age of consent for sex. The penalty for this type of crime is imprisonment for two to six years, increased to four to 10 years if it involves sexual intercourse or if it has been committed to the detriment of a child younger than 14 or a child younger than 18 who has physical or mental disabilities.

International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish population is small. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

There were no confirmed reports that the country was a source, destination, or transit country for victims of human trafficking.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The government generally enforced these prohibitions effectively, but not all public buildings were accessible to persons with physical disabilities. There were no reported cases of discrimination against persons with disabilities.

Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The law forbids discrimination based on sex or sexual orientation, personal, economic, social, political, or religious status. In June a specific prohibition of discrimination based on sexual orientation was added via an amendment to the country’s constitution. This followed the legalization of civil unions, including for same-sex couples, approved by parliament in 2018.

The law provides that, when a person commits an offense motivated by hostility toward the victim’s sexual orientation, courts should consider such motivation as an aggravating circumstance when imposing sentence. The law prohibits persons from committing or encouraging others to commit discriminatory acts on the grounds of sexual orientation.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and requires reinstatement of workers fired for union activities. Some limitations defined by the law apply to strikes by workers employed in ‘essential public services,’ including healthcare, education, and transportation. The government effectively enforced applicable laws without lengthy delays. The laws are subject to appeals, and penalties were commensurate with those for similar violations. Penalties include fines and in cases of recidivism the prohibition of professional activity.

The government and employers generally respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Worker organizations were independent of the government and political parties. During the first 11 months of the year, there were no reports that the government interfered in union activities, sought to dissolve unions, or used excessive force to end strikes or protests, nor were there any reports of antiunion discrimination.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, and the government effectively enforced such laws. Resources, remediation efforts, and investigations appeared adequate and effective, although information on penalties for violations was not available.

According to the Office of the Labor Inspector, no cases of forced labor were reported.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. The minimum age for employment is 16, and the law excludes minors between the ages of 16 and 18 from hazardous jobs. Minors cannot work more than eight hours per day and are not allowed to work overtime. The government effectively enforced child labor laws and devoted adequate resources and oversight to child labor policies. Penalties were commensurate with those for similar crimes, and inspection was sufficient to enforce compliance. During the first 11 months of the year, the Office of the Labor Inspector received no reports of illegal child labor.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment and occupation on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, social origin, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity, age, language, or HIV/AIDS status or other communicable diseases. The law explicitly mandates equal pay for work of equal value. The law does not specifically prohibit discrimination in access to credit on the basis of sex.

The government effectively enforced these laws and regulations and penalties were commensurate with those for similar violations. There were no official cases of discrimination in employment or occupation brought during the first 11 months of the year.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

There is no national minimum wage. Industry-based minimum wages higher than the poverty income level existed for various industrial sectors. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the government introduced many stimulus measures, including one aimed at ensuring that families achieve a minimum income, determined by the number of family members. Local labor unions complained, however, that this measure was inadequate because it did not cover the needs of lower income workers and families. Low-income individuals could apply for welfare payments.

The law provides for a standard workweek of 37.5 hours and prohibits excessive or compulsory overtime. The law provides for paid holidays and provides premium pay for overtime.

The government set appropriate safety and health standards for the main industries. The penalties for failing to comply with the safety and health regulations provided by law range from a fine to imprisonment and were generally commensurate with those for similar crimes.

The government’s Labor Office generally enforced labor standards effectively. The Office of the Labor Inspector has responsibility for receiving and investigating claims of workplace health and safety violations. A sufficient number of inspectors are responsible for identifying unsafe situations and have the authority to make unannounced visits and levy fines. The Agency for Environment and the Agency for Civil Protection are mandated to supervise the implementation of legislation on safety and health in the workplace as well as to investigate major accidents. There were a few exceptions to compliance, especially in the construction industry, where some employers did not consistently abide by safety regulations, such as workhour limitations and use of personal safety devices. Authorities did not always enforce health and safety standards in the informal sector. There were no reports of serious injuries to workers in the first 11 months of the year.

Slovenia

Executive Summary

Slovenia is a parliamentary democracy and constitutional republic. Power is shared among a directly elected president (head of state), a prime minister (head of government), and a bicameral parliament composed of the National Assembly (lower house) and the National Council (upper house). In June 2018 the country held parliamentary elections. Observers considered the elections free and fair.

The national police maintain internal security. The army is responsible for external security but also has some domestic security responsibilities. Police report to the Ministry of Interior and the army reports to the Ministry of Defense. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed few or no abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: threats of violence against journalists by nongovernment actors, and criminalization of libel and slander.

The government took steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed abuses, whether in the security services or elsewhere in the government, and there were no cases of impunity involving security forces during the year.

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

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

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Physical conditions were generally acceptable, according to the human rights ombudsman. There were some reports of inmate mistreatment, prisoner-on-prisoner violence, and overcrowding in prisons. Local NGOs stated the government-run asylum center and other intake facilities housing asylum seekers were often overcrowded. A significant increase in the number of migrant detainees coupled with the lack of personnel to process detainees, and a dearth of linguistic and cultural training, have exacerbated the problem with overcrowding.

The Human Rights Ombudsman noted that prisoners in the country’s sole incarceration facility for women, Ig prison, were discriminated against compared to their male counterparts at Dob prison, the country’s largest and highest-standard correctional facility. The ombudsman established that inmates at the Ig prison had unequal opportunities when it came to phone calls, electronic communication, recreational time, and that no female prisoner in the country had ever been afforded the opportunity to have a visitor overnight or to be allowed to have intimate contacts, something that is available to Dob prisoners.

Administration: Authorities investigated accusations of problematic conditions and documented the results in a publicly accessible manner.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Police generally made arrests with warrants issued by a prosecutor or judge based on evidence. Authorities may detain suspects for 48 hours before charging them. The law requires authorities to inform suspects of their rights immediately after arrest and to advise detainees in writing within six hours (or within three hours for minor offenses) of the reasons for their arrest. Suspects must have prompt access to a judge to assess whether they qualify for release on bail or should remain incarcerated pending trial. Authorities generally released defendants on bail except in the most serious criminal cases. The law provides for prompt access to immediate family members and detention under house arrest.

Upon arrest, detainees have the right to contact legal counsel of their choice and the right to counsel during interrogations, and the government protected these rights. While indigent defendants have the right to an attorney provided at public expense, there was no formal system for providing such legal counsel. The NGO Legal Information Center and the government’s Free Legal Aid Office made free counsel available to indigents. In a 2017 report, the committee for the Prevention of Torture expressed concern that persons unable to pay for a lawyer could not, as a rule, benefit from the right of access to a lawyer from the outset of their detention. The report noted, “ex officio lawyers would only be appointed if such an appointment was considered ‘in the interests of justice’ and, if appointed, they would meet detainees only after police questioning, very briefly before the court hearing.” Such practices remained common for persons facing minor offenses, but indigent defendants facing serious criminal charges generally had access to an attorney throughout legal proceedings provided at public expense.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality.

Trial Procedures

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Defendants enjoy rights to a presumption of innocence, to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges, to a fair and public trial without undue delay, to be present at their trial, and to communicate with an attorney of their choice or have one provided at public expense if unable to pay. Defendants have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, to free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals, to confront prosecution or plaintiff witnesses and present their own witnesses and evidence, not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt, and to appeal. The law also provides safeguards against self-incrimination. These rights extend to all defendants.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

The constitution and law provide for an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters, including damages for, or cessation of, human rights violations. Individuals may appeal court decisions involving alleged government violations of the European Convention on Human Rights to the European Court of Human Rights once they exhaust all avenues of appeal in domestic courts.

Property Restitution

The law permits all persons who were citizens of the former Yugoslavia or Allied nations to recover property confiscated by fascist or Nazi occupying forces. Cases involving property confiscated after 1945-46 are subject to restitution procedures under the Criminal Procedure Act. Cases involving property that was nationalized are subject to restitution procedures under the Denationalization Act of 1991. The Denationalization Act requires claimants to have had Yugoslavian citizenship at the time the property was confiscated and excludes, with some exceptions, property confiscated before 1945. Some cases involving the restitution of property seized during the communist era (especially from 1946 to 1958) remained unresolved.

Although some heirs of Holocaust victims may seek restitution of confiscated property through these laws and mechanisms, NGOs and advocacy groups reported the government did not make significant progress on the resolution of Holocaust-era claims. This includes both former citizens who were required to renounce Yugoslavian citizenship as a condition for emigrating and Holocaust survivors from Yugoslavia and their heirs who did not return and never had Yugoslav citizenship. The World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO) engaged the government regarding Holocaust survivors and their heirs who were not eligible to file claims based on Slovenian law.

Some Holocaust survivors and their relatives, along with Slovene deportees, reclaimed pre-1945 confiscated property through 1945-46 restitution legislation. Most Holocaust-era claims are categorized as heirless property, for which there is no provision in law for restitution or compensation. In 2018 the WJRO and Ministry of Justice agreed to launch a joint research project to compile as complete a historical record as possible of heirless, formerly Jewish-owned properties in the country. Research teams commenced the project in 2018. Ministry of Justice researchers concluded their research in October 2019, while the WJRO report was under review as of year’s end. The ministry agreed to a one-year timeline for evaluating the values of heirless property after completion of the study.

Some remaining non-Jewish confiscated properties appeared to be unrecoverable because the parties occupying the sites were politically influential and thwarted attempts to reach a negotiated settlement. For example, since 1993 close ties between the local government’s administrative unit and Radenska d.d., a major mineral water producer, stymied a foreign family’s claims to the Radenci Spa property located on the family’s ancestral lands. Although the Supreme Court rejected the family’s claim in 2015, the litigants appealed to the Constitutional Court, which returned the case to lower courts where it remained pending consideration.

The Department of State’s Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act report to Congress, released publicly on July 29, can be found on the Department’s website: https://www.state.gov/reports/just-act-report-to-congress/.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the 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 Speech: The law prohibits the incitement to hatred, violence, and intolerance based on nationality, race, religion, gender, skin color, social status, political or other beliefs, sexual orientation, and disability in a way that could threaten or disrupt public order, typically requiring violence to occur for the prosecution of such incitement. The penal code also prohibits the expression of ideas of racial superiority and denial of the Holocaust.

On May 11, police launched an investigation against demonstrators for their participation in regular antigovernment protests, at which some brandished the slogan “Death to Jansism,” in reference to Prime Minister Janez Jansa. The Prime Minister claimed the slogan was a death threat that could escalate into physical violence. The state prosecution did not press charges, determining on May 20 that the word “death” in the slogan should be seen as metaphorical and as a call to halt the policies of Jansa.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. Nevertheless, journalist organizations reported growing hateful rhetoric and threats against journalists online, spurred by animosity from officials. The International Press Institute highlighted a series of Twitter attacks on reporters, “enabling a wider increase in digital harassment from online trolls and contributing to an increasingly hostile climate for watchdog journalism.”

On March 15, the government’s COVID-19 Crisis Headquarters retweeted an insulting claim about investigative journalist Blaz Zgaga, alleging that he had a “COVID Marx-Lenin virus,” after Zgaga filed a freedom of information request regarding the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Following this tweet, progovernment media and social media users engaged in smears and verbal attacks on Zgaga, claiming he was an “enemy of the state.” Zgaga also received online death threats. Several international organizations, including the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, as well as press freedom groups, condemned the threats against the journalist, and European Union Commissioner for Values and Transparency Vera Jourova contacted the country’s authorities about the media freedom situation. In a reply to the Council of Europe, the government condemned the case of alleged harassment of the journalist, but stated that there is no conclusive evidence as to what caused the harassment.

The European Commission reported in its September rule of law report for the country that concerns have been raised by stakeholders about possible politically motivated changes to the funding of the national public broadcaster and the governance of the national press agency.

Media freedom watchdogs also expressed concerns about government moves to exert pressure on public broadcaster RTV through changes to its governing bodies, especially following criticism by government officials of RTV’s reporting that was unfavorable to the government. One of the new administration’s early actions was to replace a subset of RTV’s supervisory board, intended to insure its financial independence, as is not uncommon with a change in government. Though the move was not unprecedented, one of the supervisory board members appealed, noting their terms had not expired. The case was still being adjudicated, however, an attempt to change two other supervisory board members was blocked by a parliamentary committee on May 21. The government also appointed some new members to RTV’s Program Council, which oversees its editorial policy and selects its director general.

On March 20, Prime Minister Jansa accused RTV on Twitter of spreading lies about an alleged decision by the government to raise salaries of ministers and state secretaries, adding that “obviously, there are too many of you and you are overpaid.” The Association of Slovenian Journalists expressed concern about the Prime Minister’s statement, asserting that it should be understood as a threat to RTV employees against possible loss of employment if they do not report according to the government’s liking. RTV Director General Igor Kadunc claimed that the comment had damaging consequences for media freedom and was aimed at the subordination of the central media to one political option.

RTV complained about a growing number of insulting tweets and verbal attacks against the institution and its journalists by politicians, labeling such attacks an attack on democracy. Following these verbal attacks, RTV journalists experienced several physical attacks by nongovernment actors.

The International Press Institute estimated that “few countries in Europe have experienced such a swift downturn in press and media freedom after a new government came to power,” leading to “a worrying decline in press freedom in a very short space of time in a country previously considered a relative safe haven for independent journalism, sending up further warning signs about deteriorating media freedom in Central Europe.”

Responding to allegations of pressure on the media in the country, the government attempted to justify its criticisms of the press by providing additional context in a April 7 letter to the Council of Europe, stating that the situation is a result of the country’s media having “their origin in the former communist regime” and the consolidation of media ownership in the hands of circles close to the left.

Journalists and media representatives stated existing media legislation does not address the problem of excessive concentration of ownership in media, which could limit the diversity of views expressed. On July 23, the European Commission expressed concern about transparency of media ownership in its rule of law report for the country. Particularly in the case of multiple shell owners, the law may make it difficult to identify who ultimately controls editorial decision making.

The European Commission also reported on a high level of political influence over some media companies, which could trickle down to the press and broadcasters at regional and local levels. Most media in the country are perceived by the population as somewhat biased, with those on the right asserting that the predominantly left-leaning media environment prevents a full spectrum of political views from being widely expressed.

Watchdog groups’ concerns about alleged financing of certain Slovenian media outlets by sources tied to Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party increased on September 30, when Telekom Slovenije sold Planet TV to Hungary’s TV2 Media, owned by Jozsef Vida, reportedly linked to the business network of Fidesz. Two Slovenian media outlets associated with the Slovenian Democratic Party, weekly newspaper Demokracija and the NovaTV web portal and TV channel, have long been rumored to receive funding from Fidesz allies.

The print and broadcast media, like online newspapers and journals, as well as book publishers, are subject to the laws prohibiting hate speech, libel, and slander.

Violence and Harassment: RTV journalists reported several physical attacks. On March 31, a news crew from RTV was verbally abused and threatened in the street by an unidentified individual as they were reporting from the capital, Ljubljana. After walking away, the assailant returned to the crew’s company vehicle and damaged the tires.

Such incidents were strongly condemned by the country’s senior officials and parties, including Prime Minister Jansa, who tweeted: “We condemn any form of street violence targeting journalists or anyone else, as well as any instigating of such acts.”

On June 1, Eugenija Carl, a journalist at RTV, received an envelope addressed to her containing a threatening handwritten note and a suspicious white powder that she said caused irritation and gave her a sore throat.

Physical attacks on journalists by nongovernment actors occurred particularly during protests. For example, on November 5, an unknown assailant hit photojournalist Borut Zivulovic in the head, apparently deliberately as journalists covered violent clashes with riot police during protests in Ljubljana. Press freedom groups strongly condemned the attack. A police investigation is ongoing. Several other media outlets also reported that their crews were intimidated, pushed, and obstructed during the protest.

During an antigovernment rally in Ljubljana on October 16, a protester, rapper Zlatan “Zlatko” Cordic, approached a cameraman for progovernment broadcaster Nova24 and grabbed his camera, demanding that he erase the recording. After police intervened, the camera was returned. Several videos of the incident appeared on social media. Journalist groups on both sides of the political spectrum condemned violence against media in response to the incident.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Instances of overt political pressure on the press remained isolated. The Slovenian Association of Journalists and media analysts observed that standards of journalistic integrity suffered because of economic pressure, nonstandard forms of employment such as freelance or student status, and reduced protections for journalists, leading some to practice self-censorship to maintain steady employment.

Libel/Slander Laws: The print and broadcast media, like online newspapers and journals, as well as book publishers, are subject to the laws criminalizing hate speech, libel, and slander. The government has not used the law to retaliate against journalists or political opponents.

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.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

There were reports that police in rare cases used excessive force when responding to demonstrations. On October 11, several demonstrators addressed a protest letter to the acting Police Commissioner over the conduct of police during antigovernment protests in Ljubljana on October 9, claiming officers used excessive force without reason in several cases. The letter alleged that despite keeping a safe distance, “individuals were targeted without a warranted reason,” adding that the police should have acted differently, as the use of force was unnecessary. The Ljubljana Police Department denied allegations that they used excessive force. The police stressed in a press release that their task was to uphold public order, considering the temporary government decree restricting movement and assembly in public areas.

Freedom of Association

Several civil society organizations alleged that the government took steps to retaliate against them for their criticism of government policy (see section 5).

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

In-Country Movement: Due to COVID-19, the government instituted limitations on movement to within the borders of an individual’s municipality of residence from mid-March until mid-May. These limitations were re-established in October along with a 30-day epidemic declaration that included a 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew. On December 17, the government formally extended the limitations by another 30 days, from December 18 until January 16, 2021. In the four regions with the best epidemiological situation, individuals using the national contact tracing app #OstaniZdrav (#StayWell) will be able to move between municipalities despite the general ban on intermunicipal movement.

Citizenship: Based on a 2012 decision by the European Court of Human Rights, in 2013 the government introduced a system for providing just satisfaction (i.e., restitution for damages) for the “erased” citizens of other former Yugoslav republics denied the right to reside legally in the country in the 1990s. To date, more than 10,300 “erased” individuals have regularized their legal status in the country. An additional 3,000 were presumed deceased, and approximately 12,000 were believed to be living abroad with no intention of returning to the country.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. 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. NGOs alleged that border authorities continued to reject without due process most individuals seeking asylum.

NGOs reported that asylum seekers returned by Slovenian police to Croatia have no legal remedies to challenge border police decisions. NGOs alleged Croatian police forcibly pushed returning many migrants to Croatia into Bosnia and Herzegovina. Amnesty International stated that the expulsions from Slovenia took place without appropriate procedural safeguards against refoulement. This situation has made it difficult for migrants to apply for international protection.

On August 24, the Supreme Court overturned an Administrative Court ruling that blocked the return of migrants to Croatia without a formal Slovenian decision, effectively authorizing the immediate return of migrants to Croatia. The Administrative Court had ruled fast-track returns based on a Slovenian-Croatian interstate agreement but without a specific Slovenian decision in each case violated European and Slovenian legislation and constitutionally secured rights. The Supreme Court ruled that the 2006 agreement provides for the summary return of migrants.

The government also contended it lacks the capacity to process and house all new asylum seekers. Seven EU members, including the country, addressed a letter to the European Commission in June, expressing opposition to compulsory redistribution of migrants among EU member states.

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: Due to an increase in numbers of asylum seekers and a backlog of cases, applicants were detained at asylum centers while waiting to lodge their application for international protection. The lack of capacity to address large numbers of arrivals resulted in lower hygienic standards and health risks.

A migrant rights advocacy group, Taskforce for Asylum, maintained that authorities were violating the rights of foreigners kept at the Center for Aliens in Postojna were being violated by returning them to Croatia. The center held 96 asylum seekers as of July, mostly from Pakistan, Morocco, Afghanistan, and Algeria, with 55 of them in the process of obtaining international protection. The remaining foreigners were in the process of being returned to neighboring countries on the basis of bilateral agreements or deported to their home countries.

Asylum seekers outside of EU resettlement and relocation programs often waited six or more months for their cases to be adjudicated and were barred from working during the initial nine months of this period, although many reportedly worked illegally. Local NGOs criticized this restriction, asserting it made asylum seekers vulnerable to labor exploitation and trafficking due to their illegal status, lack of knowledge of local labor laws, and language barriers.

Durable Solutions: In 2016 the government approved an EU plan to relocate asylum seekers from Italy and Greece and to resettle refugees from non-EU countries. The government also agreed to resettle Syrian refugees from Turkey. Individuals granted refugee status are eligible for naturalization once they have fulfilled the necessary legal conditions.

g. Stateless Persons

Not applicable.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2018 the country held parliamentary elections in which the Slovenian Democratic Party won the plurality of votes. Observers considered the elections free and fair. The List of Marjan Sarec won the second largest share of votes and formed a five-party coalition. In January, Prime Minister Marjan Sarec resigned and in March the new government under Prime Minister Janez Jansa of the Slovenian Democratic Party was sworn in.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Women only occupied 22 percent on elected seats in the national legislature. The constitution provides for the National Assembly to include one member each from the Hungarian and Italian minorities.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal and civil penalties for corruption, conflicts of interest, and illegal lobbying by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. There were widespread reports of government corruption during the year. Officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.

Local anticorruption experts said corruption in the country is systemic, however only isolated cases were investigated. Corruption manifested itself through politically motivated staffing in state-owned enterprises, conflicts of interest, bribes, and lack of transparency throughout the country’s political and economic spheres, particularly in public tenders. Due to limited police capacity, just one percent of alleged corrupt practices were investigated, and courts also had a poor track record in trying corruption cases.

There were reports of corruption in public procurement. On April 23, a whistleblower from the Commodity Reserves Agency, Ivan Gale, exposed alleged wrongdoing in the government’s purchasing of personal protective equipment (PPE) and other equipment for the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, Gale alleged that Minister of Economic Affairs Zdravko Pocivalsek personally directed eight million Euros in contracts for ventilators to a favored firm, Geneplanet. Allegations were made that several other high-level political figures also pressured the procuring authority to benefit individual companies. Gale lost his job at the Agency in October. His termination took immediate effect, and he was not eligible for severance or unemployment compensation.

State prosecutors launched a criminal investigation into Gale’s allegations in April, after TV Slovenija released information that featured Gale’s allegations and an audio recording of Minister Pocivalsek demanding that the Commodity Reserves Agency execute an advance payment to Geneplanet. As a result, the police searched the minister’s house. The contract with Geneplanet was changed after the story broke and as the epidemiological situation improved, and the company ended up delivering 110 ventilators while also buying 20 back. According to the business newspaper Finance, the final price tag of the transaction was EUR 3.6 million ($4.3 million). Pocivalsek survived a no confidence motion in parliament over the purchases. The criminal investigation is still pending and led to the resignation of both Police Commissioner Anton Travner and Interior Minister Ales Hojs. Hojs, however, withdrew his resignation in September after Prime Minister Jansa asked him to reconsider his decision and he survived a no confidence motion that was filed against him by four left-leaning parties.

On November 11, the Commission for the Prevention of Corruption announced they had detected risks throughout the PPE procurement process including a lack of traceability and transparency as well as and unequal treatment of bidders and selected contractors. Commission president Robert Sumi did not specify the persons or authorities suspected of wrongdoing.

Financial Disclosure: The highest-level officials in the government, the parliament, and the judiciary, representing approximately 5,000 of the country’s 170,000 public employees, are subject to financial disclosure laws. There are administrative sanctions for failing to respect these provisions. The government did not publicize cases in which these provisions were violated, but they may become part of the public record in other procedures (e.g., criminal or tax cases).

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

A number of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials generally were cooperative and responsive to their views.

Several civil society organizations alleged that the government took steps during the year to retaliate against them for their criticism of government policy. On April 8, the government notified 15 NGOs that it was terminating grant agreements for projects related to civic education, media literacy, and assisting migrants and other vulnerable groups which had been signed under the previous government. Authorities stated that the funds were needed to address the COVID-19 pandemic. The NGOs pointed to rhetoric by the Prime Minister and other officials alleging the NGOs were partners of left-wing parties engaged in self-enrichment as an indication that the termination of the grant agreements was made on a political basis.

On October 19, 18 NGOs with offices in a state-owned building in Ljubljana received a letter from the Ministry of Culture informing them they must vacate the premises by the end of January 2021 or face a court-imposed eviction. The government explained that this action was because the building was to be renovated, but the affected groups commented to the press that they believed the eviction notice was politically motivated. A total of 200 NGOs signed a letter protesting the government’s decision. On November 5, the parliamentary Culture Committee asked the government to provide new premises for the NGOs by June 2021. Culture Ministry State Secretary Ignacija Fridl Jarc said that the ministry had the necessary legal grounds to evict the groups. The ministry stated, “the premises should be turned into a Museum of Natural History as soon as possible, while solutions should be found for the eligible tenants to find adequate premises, with the tenants also expected to take their own initiative in this respect.”

Government Human Rights Bodies: The constitution provides for an independent human rights ombudsman to monitor violations of human rights. Individuals may file complaints with the independent ombudsman to seek administrative relief in the case of a human rights violation by the government. The human rights ombudsman was effective, adequately resourced, reported to parliament annually on the human rights situation, and provided recommendations to the government. The Office of the Advocate of the Principle of Equality raises awareness of and helps prevent all types of discrimination, but reported that a lack of resources and personnel limited its effectiveness.

The Human Rights Ombudsman reported being frustrated by the government’s slow progress in responding to recommendations. In his 2019 annual report to the government, Human Rights Ombudsman Peter Svetina submitted