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Afghanistan

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

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

There were several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. From January 1 to June 30, UNAMA reported an overall increase in civilian deaths over the same period for 2016, from 1,637 to 1,662. The number of civilians killed by progovernment forces, however, decreased from 396 to 327. The number of civilian casualties decreased from 5,267 to 5,243.

According to UNAMA, in January Afghan National Police (ANP) in Nesh district, Kandahar Province, beat three young men to death because police believed they were supporters of antigovernment forces. There were numerous allegations of deaths resulting from torture, particularly in Kandahar Province. Although the government investigated and prosecuted some cases of extrajudicial killing, an overall lack of accountability for security force abuses remained a problem.

There were numerous reports of politically motivated killings or injuries by the Taliban, ISIS-Khorasan Province (ISIS-K), and other insurgent groups. UNAMA reported 1,141 civilian deaths due to antigovernment and terrorist forces in the first six months of the year. These groups caused 67 percent of total civilian casualties, a 12 percent increase from 2016. On May 31, antigovernment forces injured more than 500 civilians and killed an additional 150 in a vehicle-borne IED attack against civilians during rush hour on a busy street in Kabul.

b. Disappearance

There were reports of disappearances committed by security forces and antigovernment forces alike.

UNAMA, in its April 24 Report on the Treatment of Conflict-Related Detainees, reported multiple allegations of disappearances by the ANP in Kandahar.

On February 8, an armed group abducted two International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) aid workers in Qush Tepah district, Jowzjan Province, during which six other ICRC staff were killed. In September the two aid workers were released.

In March an Australian aid worker, kidnapped in Kabul in November 2016, was released after five months in captivity. Two professors, working for the American University of Afghanistan and kidnapped by the Taliban in August 2016, were still in captivity.

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

Although the constitution and law prohibit such practices, there were numerous reports that government officials, security forces, detention center authorities, and police committed abuses.

NGOs reported security forces continued to use excessive force, including torturing and beating civilians. On April 22, the government approved a new Anti-Torture Law, which expands the previous prohibition on torture contained in the original penal code. The new law, however, applies only to torture committed in the context of the criminal justice system and does not clearly extend to torture committed by military or other security forces.

UNAMA, in its April 24 Report on the Treatment of Conflict-Related Detainees, cited multiple reports of torture and other abuse committed by security forces, most frequently after the initial arrest, during interrogation, and with the purpose of eliciting confessions. The UNAMA report noted a high concentration of torture and abuse by police in Kandahar Province. Of the 469 National Directorate for Security (NDS), ANP, and Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) detainees interviewed, 39 percent reported torture or other abuse. Types of abuse included severe beatings, electric shocks, prolonged suspension by the arms, suffocation, wrenching of testicles, burns by cigarette lighters, sleep deprivation, sexual assault, and threats of execution.

In November 2016, First Vice President General Abdul Rashid Dostum allegedly kidnapped Uzbek tribal elder and political rival Ahmad Ishchi. Before detaining Ishchi, Dostum let his bodyguards brutally beat him. After several days in detention, Ishchi alleged he was beaten, tortured, and raped by Dostum and his men. On August 14, Balkh Governor Atta Mohammed Noor allegedly attempted to arrest his political rival Asif Mohmand. The ensuing shootout resulted in three deaths and 13 persons injured. There were reports that Atta and his sons then detained and beat Mohmand and bit off a piece of his ear. The Attorney General’s Office opened investigations into both of the cases. As of September 16, there was no progress on either case, and both Dostum and Atta remained free. Dostum was no longer in the country, and he had not been allowed to exercise his duties as first vice president pending resolution of the legal charges against him.

There were numerous reports of torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading punishment by the Taliban and other antigovernment groups. In March the Taliban in northern Badakhshan Province stoned a woman to death for suspected “zina” (extramarital sex). There were other reports of the Taliban cutting off the hands and feet of suspected criminals.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were difficult due to overcrowding, unsanitary conditions, and limited access to medical services. The General Directorate of Prisons and Detention Centers (GDPDC), part of the Ministry of Interior, has responsibility for all civilian-run prisons (for both men and women) and civilian detention centers, including the large national prison complex at Pul-e Charkhi. The Ministry of Justice’s Juvenile Rehabilitation Directorate is responsible for all juvenile rehabilitation centers. The NDS operates short-term detention facilities at the provincial and district levels, usually collocated with their headquarters facilities. The Ministry of Defense runs the Afghan National Detention Facilities at Parwan. There were reports of private prisons run by members of the ANDSF and used for abuse of detainees.

Physical Conditions: Media and other sources continued to report inadequacies in food and water and poor sanitation facilities in prisons. Some observers, however, found food and water to be sufficient at GDPDC prisons. Nevertheless, the GDPDC’s nationwide program to feed prisoners faced a severely limited budget, and many prisoners relied on family members to provide food supplements and other necessary items.

Authorities generally lacked the facilities to separate pretrial and convicted inmates or to separate juveniles according to the seriousness of the charges against them. There were reports the Parwan detention facility held 145 children for security-related offenses separate from the general population. Local prisons and detention centers did not always have separate facilities for female prisoners.

Overcrowding in prisons continued to be a serious, widespread problem. Based on standards recommended by the ICRC, 28 of 34 provincial prisons for men were severely overcrowded. The country’s largest prison, Pul-e Charkhi, held 11,527 prisoners, detainees, and children of incarcerated mothers as of June, which was more than double the number it was designed to hold. UNAMA found no reports of torture within the Ministry of Interior prison system. In April, 500 prisoners at Pul-e Charkhi carried out a multiday hunger strike to protest the administration of their court cases and insufficient food and medical care at the prison.

Access to food, potable water, sanitation, heating, ventilation, lighting, and medical care in prisons varied throughout the country and was generally inadequate. In November the local NGO Integrity Watch Afghanistan reported that Wardak Prison had no guaranteed source of clean drinking water and that prisoners in Pol-e Charkhi, Baghlan, and Wardak had limited access to food, with prisoners’ families also providing food to make up the gap.

Administration: The law provides prisoners with the right to leave prison for up to 20 days for family visits. Most prisons did not implement this provision, and the law is unclear in its application to different classes of prisoners.

There were reports of abuse and mistreatment by prison officials. On August 20, Takhar prison guards and police allegedly used clubs to beat 15 female inmates during a protest where approximately 60 women protested their continued imprisonment, despite promises of amnesty made by the government. The Attorney General’s Office investigated the allegations and recommended criminal charges against three guards for the alleged beating.

Independent Monitoring: The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), UNAMA, and the ICRC monitored the NDS, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Justice, and Ministry of Defense detention facilities. NATO Mission Resolute Support monitored the NDS, ANP, and Defense Ministry facilities. Security constraints and obstruction by authorities occasionally prevented visits to some places of detention. UNAMA and the AIHRC reported difficulty accessing NDS places of detention when they arrived unannounced. The AIHRC reported NDS officials usually required the AIHRC to submit a formal letter requesting access at least one to two days in advance of a visit. NDS officials continued to prohibit AIHRC and UNAMA monitors from bringing cameras, mobile phones, recording devices, or computers into NDS facilities, thereby preventing AIHRC monitors from properly documenting physical evidence of abuse, such as bruises, scars, and other injuries. The NDS assigned a colonel to monitor human rights conditions in its facilities.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but both remained serious problems. Authorities detained many citizens without respecting essential procedural protections. According to NGOs, law enforcement officers continued to detain citizens arbitrarily without clear legal authority or due process. Local law enforcement officials reportedly detained persons illegally on charges not provided for in the penal code. In some cases authorities wrongfully imprisoned women because they deemed it unsafe for the women to return home or because women’s shelters were not available to provide protection in the provinces or districts at issue (see section 6, Women). The law provides a defendant the right to object to his or her pretrial detention and receive a court hearing on the matter, but authorities generally did not observe this requirement.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Three ministries have responsibility for law enforcement and maintenance of order in the country: the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Defense, and the NDS. The ANP, under the Interior Ministry, has primary responsibility for internal order and for the Afghan Local Police (ALP), a community-based self-defense force. The Afghan National Army, under the Ministry of Defense, is responsible for external security, but its primary activity is fighting the insurgency internally. The NDS functions as an intelligence agency and has responsibility for investigating criminal cases concerning national security. The investigative branch of the NDS operated a facility in Kabul, where it held national security prisoners awaiting trial until their cases went to prosecution. Some areas were outside of government control, and antigovernment forces, including the Taliban, oversaw their own justice and security systems.

There were reports of impunity and lack of accountability by security forces throughout the year. According to observers, ALP and ANP personnel were largely unaware of their responsibilities and defendants’ rights under the law. Accountability of NDS, ANP, and ALP officials for torture and abuse was weak, not transparent, and rarely enforced. Independent judicial or external oversight of the NDS, ANP, and ALP in the investigation and prosecution of crimes or misconduct, including torture and abuse, was limited or nonexistent.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

UNAMA, the AIHRC, and other observers reported arbitrary and prolonged detention frequently occurred throughout the country. Authorities often did not inform detainees of the charges against them.

The law provides for access to legal counsel and the use of warrants, and it limits how long authorities may hold detainees without charge. Police have the right to detain a suspect for 72 hours to complete a preliminary investigation. If police decide to pursue a case, they transfer the file to the Attorney General’s Office. With court approval, the investigating prosecutor may continue to detain a suspect while continuing the investigation, with the length of continued detention depending on the severity of the offense. The investigating prosecutor may detain a suspect for a maximum of 10 additional days for a petty crime, 27 days for a misdemeanor, and 75 days for a felony. The prosecutor must file an indictment or release the suspect within those deadlines; there can be no further extension of the investigatory period if the defendant is already in detention. Prosecutors often ignored these limits. Incommunicado imprisonment remained a problem, and prompt access to a lawyer was rare. Prisoners generally were able to receive family visits.

The criminal procedure code provides for release on bail. Authorities at times continued to detain defendants who had been acquitted by the courts on the grounds that defendants who were released pending the prosecution’s appeal often disappeared. In other cases authorities did not rearrest defendants they released pending the outcome of an appeal, even after the appellate court convicted them in absentia.

According to international monitors, prosecutors filed indictments in cases transferred to them by police, even where there was a reasonable belief no crime occurred.

According to the juvenile code, the arrest of a child “should be a matter of last resort and should last for the shortest possible period.” Reports indicated children in juvenile rehabilitation centers across the country lacked access to adequate food, health care, and education. Detained children frequently did not receive the presumption of innocence, the right to know the charges against them, access to defense lawyers, and protection from self-incrimination. The law provides for the creation of special juvenile police, prosecution offices, and courts. Due to limited resources, special juvenile courts functioned in only six provinces (Kabul, Herat, Balkh, Kandahar, Nangarhar, and Kunduz). Elsewhere, children’s cases went to ordinary courts. The law mandates authorities handle children’s cases confidentially.

Some children in the criminal justice system were victims rather than perpetrators of crime. In the absence of sufficient shelters for boys, authorities detained abused boys and placed them in juvenile rehabilitation centers because they could not return to their families and shelter elsewhere was unavailable.

Police and legal officials often charged women with intent to commit zina to justify their arrest and incarceration for social offenses, such as running away from home, rejecting a spouse chosen by her family, fleeing domestic violence or rape, or eloping. The constitution provides that in cases not explicitly covered by the provisions of the constitution or other laws, courts may, in accordance with Hanafi jurisprudence (a school of Islamic law) and within the limits set by the constitution, rule in a manner that best attains justice in the case. Although observers stated this provision was widely understood to apply only to civil cases, many judges and prosecutors applied this provision to criminal matters. Observers reported officials used this article to charge women and men with “immorality” or “running away from home,” neither of which is a crime. Police often detained women for zina at the request of family members.

Authorities imprisoned some women for reporting crimes perpetrated against them and detained some as proxies for a husband or male relative convicted of a crime on the assumption the suspect would turn himself in to free the family member.

Authorities placed some women in protective custody to prevent violence by family members. They also employed protective custody (including placement in a detention center) for women who had experienced domestic violence, if no shelters were available to protect them from further abuse. The Elimination of Violence Against Women (EVAW) presidential decree–commonly referred to as the EVAW law–obliges police to arrest persons who abuse women. Implementation and awareness of the EVAW law was limited, however.

Arbitrary Arrest: Arbitrary arrest and detention remained a problem in most provinces. Observers reported some prosecutors and police detained individuals without charge for actions that were not crimes under the law, in part because the judicial system was inadequate to process detainees in a timely fashion. Observers continued to report those detained for moral crimes were almost exclusively women.

Pretrial Detention: The law provides a defendant the right to object to his or her pretrial detention and receive a court hearing on the matter. Nevertheless, lengthy pretrial detention remained a problem. Many detainees did not benefit from the provisions of the criminal procedure code because of a lack of resources, limited numbers of defense attorneys, unskilled legal practitioners, and corruption. The law provides that, if there is no completed investigation or filed indictment within the code’s 10-, 27-, or 75-day deadlines, the defendant must be released. Many detainees, however, were held beyond those periods, despite the lack of an indictment.

Amnesty: In September 2016 the government concluded a peace accord with the Hezb-e Islami Gulbuddin (HIG) group, which granted its leader, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, amnesty for past war crimes and human rights abuses. In May, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar returned to Kabul for the first time in 20 years. The deal also included the release of HIG political detainees.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, but the judiciary continued to be underfunded, understaffed, inadequately trained, largely ineffective, and subject to threats, bias, political influence, and pervasive corruption.

Judicial officials, prosecutors, and defense attorneys were often intimidated or corrupt. Bribery and pressure from public officials, tribal leaders, families of accused persons, and individuals associated with the insurgency impaired judicial impartiality. Most courts administered justice unevenly, employing a mixture of codified law, sharia, and local custom. Traditional justice mechanisms remained the main recourse for many, especially in rural areas. Corruption was common within the judiciary, and often criminals paid bribes to obtain their release or a reduction in sentence (see section 4).

The formal justice system was stronger in urban centers, closer to the central government, and weaker in rural areas. Courts and police forces continued to operate at less than full strength nationwide. The judicial system continued to lack the capacity to absorb and implement the large volume of new and amended legislation. A lack of qualified judicial personnel hindered the courts. Some municipal and provincial authorities, including judges, had minimal training and often based their judgments on their personal understanding of sharia without appropriate reference to statutory law, tribal codes of honor, or local custom. The number of judges who graduated from law school continued to increase. Access to legal codes and statutes increased, but their limited availability continued to hinder some judges and prosecutors.

In March, TOLO News reported that an attorney working on the Farkhunda case called on President Ghani to review the murder case, citing failure to investigate the case properly. In March 2016 President Ghani established an investigatory committee to look into Farkhunda’s case after the Supreme Court’s decision to reduce the sentences of the perpetrators. As of year’s end, there were no results from that committee.

There was a widespread shortage of judges, primarily in insecure areas. During the year the judiciary attempted to send new female judges to insecure provinces without adequate provisions for security. The new female judges protested, and as of September 16, the judiciary relented and agreed to send the female judges to other, more secure provinces.

In major cities courts continued to decide criminal cases as mandated by law. Authorities frequently resolved civil cases using the informal system or, in some cases, through negotiations between the parties facilitated by judicial personnel or private lawyers. Because the formal legal system often was not present in rural areas, local elders and shuras (consultative gatherings, usually of men selected by the community) were the primary means of settling both criminal matters and civil disputes. They also imposed punishments without regard to the formal legal system.

In some areas the Taliban enforced a parallel judicial system based on a strict interpretation of sharia. Punishments included execution and mutilation. On March 13, the Taliban cut off a 15-year-old’s hand and foot in the western province of Herat for the alleged theft of a motorcycle.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides the right to a fair and public trial, but the judiciary rarely enforced this provision. The administration and implementation of justice varied in different areas of the country. The government formally uses an inquisitorial legal system. By law all citizens are entitled to a presumption of innocence, and those accused have the right to be present at trial and to appeal, although the judiciary did not always respect these rights. Some provinces held public trials, but this was not the norm.

Three-judge panels decide criminal trials, and there is no right to a jury trial under the constitution. Prosecutors rarely informed defendants promptly or in detail of the charges brought against them. Indigent defendants have the right to consult with an advocate or counsel at public expense when resources allow. The judiciary applied this right inconsistently, in large part due to a severe shortage of defense lawyers. Citizens were often unaware of their constitutional rights. Defendants and attorneys are entitled to examine physical evidence and documents related to a case before trial, although observers noted court documents often were not available for review before cases went to trial, despite defense lawyers’ requests.

Criminal defense attorneys reported justice system officials slowly demonstrated increased respect and tolerance for the role of defense lawyers in criminal trials, but at times defendants’ attorneys experienced abuse and threats from prosecutors and other law enforcement officials.

The criminal procedure code establishes time limits for the completion of each stage of a criminal case, from investigation through final appeal, when an accused is in custody. The code also permits temporary release of the accused on bail, but this was rarely honored. An addendum to the code provides for extended custodial limits in cases involving crimes committed against the internal and external security of the country. Courts at the Justice Center in Parwan elected to utilize the extended time periods. If the deadlines are not met, the law requires the accused be released from custody. In many cases courts did not meet these deadlines, but detainees nevertheless remained in custody.

In cases where no clearly defined legal statute applied, or where judges, prosecutors, or elders were unaware of the statutory law, judges and informal shuras enforced customary law. This practice often resulted in outcomes that discriminated against women.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports the government held political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Corruption and limited capacity restricted citizen access to justice for constitutional and human rights violations. Citizens submit complaints of human rights violations to the AIHRC, which reviews and submits credible complaints to the Attorney General’s Office for further investigation and prosecution.

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

The law prohibits arbitrary interference in matters of privacy, but authorities did not always respect its provisions. The criminal procedure code contains additional safeguards for the privacy of the home, prohibiting night arrests and strengthening requirements for body searches. The government did not always respect these prohibitions.

Government officials continued to enter homes and businesses of civilians forcibly and without legal authorization. There were reports that government officials monitored private communications, including telephone calls and other digital communications, without legal authority or judicial warrant.

Residents of Baghlan Province reported the Taliban commandeered civilian homes without permission to use as bases to plan and stage attacks against government forces.

g. Abuses in Internal Conflict

Continuing internal conflict resulted in civilian deaths, abductions, prisoner abuse, property damage, displacement of residents, and other abuses. The security situation remained a problem due to insurgent attacks. Terrorist groups caused the vast majority of civilian deaths.

Killings: During the first half of the year, UNAMA counted 1,662 civilian deaths due to conflict, an increase of 2 percent from the first half of 2016. UNAMA noted an increase of women and child deaths due to more indiscriminate IED attacks by antigovernment forces in urban centers, including the country’s capital of Kabul. UNAMA attributed 67 percent of civilian casualties to antigovernment forces, including the Taliban and ISIS, and 18 percent to progovernment forces. The AIHRC, in its annual report of civilian casualties, reported 2,823 civilians killed from March 2016 to March 2017. On August 5, ISIS-K and the Taliban attacked a Shia village in Sayyad district of Sar-e-Pul Province and killed more than 40 civilians. UNAMA noted the majority of civilian casualties resulted from deliberate attacks by antigovernment forces against civilians.

UNAMA documented an increase in attacks by antigovernment forces against religious leaders from only two incidents in 2016 to 11 in the first six months of 2017. On August 1, ISIS-K bombed a Shia mosque in Herat, killing 29 civilians, and on August 25, suicide attackers stormed a Shia mosque in Kabul during Friday Prayer, killing at least 20 individuals and injuring dozens.

The increase in complex suicide attacks was evidenced by repeated attacks in Kabul. On January 10, a Taliban suicide attack in Kabul killed more than 30 individuals and injured some 70 others, as twin blasts hit a crowded area of the city during the afternoon rush hour. On May 31, a truck bomb exploded, killing 150 and injuring 500 outside the German embassy in Kabul. While no group claimed responsibility, protesters took to the streets on June 2, accusing government officials of cooperating with terrorists. Police shot and killed five protesters, including Salem Izidyar, the eldest son of Deputy Speaker of the Senate Alam Izidyar. At Izidyar’s funeral three suicide bombers struck on foot, killing at least a dozen persons.

Antigovernment elements continued to attack religious leaders who they concluded spoke against the insurgency or the Taliban. On September 9, Taliban gunmen on motorcycles in the Kohestan district of Kapisa Province killed Mawlawi Gul Mohammad Hanifyar, head of the Kapisa Ulema Council. The Kapisa police chief reported the arrest of five suspects in the case. According to UNAMA’s statistics, this was the 12th targeted assassination of a religious leader by the Taliban or other antigovernment forces during the year, more than double the number in 2016.

Antigovernment elements also continued to target government officials and entities throughout the country. On January 10, an explosion killed 12 individuals, including Kandahar’s deputy governor, Abdul Ali Shamsi, and Afghan diplomat, Yama Quraishi, at a guesthouse on Kandahar governor Humayun Azizi’s compound. Injured in the attack were 14 individuals, including United Arab Emirates’ ambassador to Afghanistan, Mohammed Abdullah al-Kaabi, who later died from his injuries.

Abductions: UNAMA documented 131 cases of conflict-related abductions and 467 abducted civilians in the first six months of the year, a decrease from more than 1,100 abducted civilians in the same period in 2016. On or around August 31, the Taliban abducted three government employees in western Herat Province, where reports noted an increase in abductions for ransom. The bodies of the three were found 20 days later.

Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: According to some reports, in February a group of Uzbek elders from Takhar Province alleged abuses of the local population by local commander and former parliamentarian Piram Qul. They claimed that in addition to having killed popular Takhar Provincial Council member Ainuddin Rustaqi in April 2016, Piram Qul’s men killed four local police officers during the year and continued to torture detainees and jail residents in extrajudicial prisons. They complained that Piram Qul received government support for his leadership of a “people’s uprising group”–a progovernment militia.

Antigovernment elements continued to punish civilians. In February, Taliban members killed four civilians at a wedding party in the Sar Hakwza district of Paktika Province, accusing them of cooperating with government officials.

Antigovernment groups regularly targeted civilian noncombatants and used indiscriminate IEDs to kill and maim civilians. Land mines, unexploded ordnance, and explosive remnants of war (ERW) continued to cause deaths and injuries. The ANP reported that unexploded ordnance (UXO) killed 140 individuals per month. Media regularly reported cases of children killed and injured after finding UXO. The Ministry of Education and NGOs continued to conduct educational programs and mine awareness campaigns throughout the country. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organization for Migration provided mine risk education for refugee and undocumented returnees.

Between January 1 and June 30, child casualties from ERW increased by 12 percent compared with the same period in 2016, accounting for 81 percent of all civilian casualties caused by ERW in 2017. ERW caused 296 child casualties (81 deaths and 215 injured), making it the second-leading cause of child casualties in the first half of the year. In the same period, UNAMA documented 192 incidents of ERW detonation resulting in 365 civilian casualties (93 deaths and 272 injured), a 17 percent increase compared with the first half of 2015.

Child Soldiers: There were reports the ANDSF, particularly the ANP and ALP, and progovernment militias recruited children. The AIHRC reported that government security forces in Kandahar Province used child recruits. UNAMA documented the recruitment and use of 14 boys by security forces from January to June. The government continued to work towards the expansion of Child Protection Units to all 34 provinces. As of August there were 21 active units.

Under a government action plan, the ANP took steps that included training staff on age-assessment procedures, launching an awareness campaign on underage recruitment, investigating alleged cases of underage recruitment, and establishing centers in some provincial recruitment centers to document cases of attempted child enlistment. Recruits underwent an identity check, including an affidavit from at least two community elders that the recruit was at least 18 years old and eligible to join the ANDSF. The Ministries of Interior and Defense also issued directives meant to prevent the recruitment and sexual abuse of children by the ANDSF. Media reported in some cases ANDSF units used children as personal servants, support staff, or for sexual purposes.

According to AIHRC, the Taliban in Kandahar used children for front-line fighting and setting IEDs. The Ministry of Interior reported arresting 166 children for involvement in attacks against the government, with the largest contingent (28) recruited by ISIS-K in Nangarhar Province. UNAMA also documented the recruitment of 15 boys by antigovernment elements (11 by ISIS-K, three by the Taliban, and one by an unidentified armed group). In some cases the Taliban and other antigovernment elements used children as suicide bombers, human shields, and IED emplacers, particularly in southern provinces. Media, NGOs, and UN agencies reported the Taliban tricked children, promised them money, used false religious pretexts, or forced them to become suicide bombers.

See also the Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Other Conflict-related Abuse: The security environment continued to have a negative effect on the ability of humanitarian organizations to operate freely in many parts of the country. Insurgents deliberately targeted government employees and aid workers. Violence and instability hampered development, relief, and reconstruction efforts. NGOs reported insurgents, powerful local individuals, and militia leaders demanded bribes to allow groups to bring relief supplies into the country and distribute them. Antigovernment elements increased their targeting of hospitals and aid workers compared with 2016. According to media reports, since the start of the year, 15 aid workers were killed and as many injured. During the first six months of 2017, UNAMA documented 32 incidents targeting health-care facilities and health-care workers, resulting in 58 civilian casualties (27 deaths and 31 injured) compared with 67 incidents during the same period in 2016 that caused 11 civilian casualties (five deaths and six injured). On March 8, ISIS-K attacked a military hospital in Kabul, killing 26 patients and hospital staff.

In the south and east, the Taliban and other antigovernment elements frequently forced local residents to provide food and shelter for their fighters. The Taliban also continued to attack schools, radio stations, and government offices. From June to August, armed groups forced dozens of health facilities to close temporarily in Laghman Province, north of Kabul, and in the western provinces of Farah and Badghis in an attempt to coerce nongovernmental organizations to improve service delivery for their combatants.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech, including for the press, but the government sometimes restricted these rights.

Freedom of Expression: The law provides for freedom of speech, and the country has a free press. There were reports authorities at times used pressure, regulations, and threats to silence critics. Criticism of the central government was regular and generally free from restrictions, but criticism of provincial government was more constrained, where local officials and power brokers exerted significant influence and authority to intimidate or threaten their critics, both private citizens and journalists.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. Media were sometimes limited in their access to government information and often faced threats and violence from the internal conflict. Politicians, security officials, and others in positions of power at times threatened or harassed journalists because of their coverage. During a speech on April 30 to mark his return to the country, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar inspired protests when he publicly called the media “wicked” and told followers to censor the media.

Freedom of speech and an independent media were more constrained at the provincial level. Specific political and ethnic groups, including those led by former mujahedin leaders, owned many provincial media outlets and controlled the content. Some provinces had limited media presence.

Print media continued to publish independent magazines, newsletters, and newspapers. A wide range of editorials and dailies openly criticized the government. Still, there were concerns that violence and insecurity threatened media independence and safety. Due to high levels of illiteracy, most citizens preferred television and radio to print media. A greater percentage of the population, including those in distant provinces, had access to radio.

According to news reports, President Ghani issued a presidential decree on August 29 exempting media companies, except for television channels, from paying fines for past-due income taxes. The decree partially answered criticisms levied by press freedom groups the week prior that increased taxes and fines would hurt many independent media outlets.

Violence and Harassment: Government officials used threats, violence, and intimidation to attempt to silence opposition journalists, particularly those who spoke out about impunity, war crimes, corruption, and powerful local figures. According to Reporters Without Borders, the governor of Baghlan called a journalist and two other employees of privately owned Arezo TV into his office on May 25 to make them delete news footage. The Afghan Journalist Safety Committee (AJSC) reported 10 journalists killed in the first six months of the year. For the same period, the AJSC recorded 73 cases of violence against journalists, which included killing, beating, inflicting injury and humiliation, intimidation, and detention of journalists–a 35 percent increase from the first six months of 2016. Government-affiliated individuals or security forces committed most of the violence against journalists and were responsible for 34 instances of violence, leaving 39 instances attributable to the Taliban, ISIS-K, local warlords, and individuals. According to AJSC, the Eastern zone and Kabul zone, which include provinces north of Kabul, had the most cases of violence against journalists. The Southeastern zone had the least number of cases of violence against journalists.

On May 17, ISIS-K attacked the Afghanistan National Radio and Television compound in Jalalabad and killed seven persons. The May 31 bombing, widely attributed to the antigovernment Haqqani group, killed 31 employees of the Roshan television and news media telecommunications company and caused millions of dollars of damage to the company’s headquarters. The same attack killed at least one camera operator of Tolo News and one BBC driver, injured nine employees of other media outlets, and caused extensive damage to 1TV’s headquarters.

Security conditions created a dangerous environment for journalists, even when they were not specific targets. Media organizations and journalists operating in remote areas were more vulnerable to violence and intimidation because of increased levels of insecurity and threats from insurgents, warlords, and organized criminals. They also reported local governmental authorities were less cooperative in facilitating access to information.

In August 2016 the Office of the National Security Council approved a new set of guidelines to address cases of violence against journalists. The initiative created a joint national committee in Kabul and separate committees in provincial capitals, a coordination center to investigate and identify perpetrators of violence against journalists, and a support committee run by the NDS to identify threats against journalists. Press freedom organizations reported that, although the committee met and referred cases to the Attorney General’s Office, it did not increase protection for journalists.

In March a media advocacy group reported that many female journalists worked under pseudonyms to avoid recognition, harassment, and retaliation. According to the group, there were no female journalists in the provinces of Kunduz, Nuristan, or Panjsher because of insecurity.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Some media observers claimed journalists reporting on administrative corruption, land embezzlement, and local officials’ involvement in narcotics trafficking engaged in self-censorship due to fear of violent retribution by provincial police officials and powerful families. An NGO supporting media freedom surveyed journalists in 13 provinces and found 90 percent lacked access to government information. A Kabul Press Club survey showed more than half of journalists were dissatisfied with the level of access to government information.

Libel/Slander Laws: The penal code and the mass media law prescribe jail sentences and fines for defamation. Authorities sometimes used defamation as a pretext to suppress criticism of government officials.

National Security: Journalists complained government officials frequently invoked the national interest exception in the Access to Information law to avoid disclosing information.

Nongovernmental Impact: Some reporters acknowledged they avoided criticizing the insurgency and some neighboring countries in their reporting because they feared Taliban retribution. Insurgent groups coerced media agencies in insecure areas to prevent them from broadcasting or publishing advertisements and announcements of the security forces, entertainment programming, music, and women’s voices.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 10.6 percent of the population had internet access, mostly in urban areas, in 2016.

Media outlets and activists routinely used social media to discuss political developments, and Facebook was widely used in urban areas. The Taliban used the internet and social media to spread its messages. Internet usage remained relatively low due to high prices, a lack of local content, and illiteracy.

On November 4, the government announced a temporary ban on two popular encrypted messaging applications–WhatsApp and Telegram–from November 1 to 20. On November 6, the government rescinded the ban.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The government generally respected citizens’ right to demonstrate peacefully. Numerous public gatherings and protests took place during the year. Between June 2 and 12, hundreds of protesters, many from opposition political parties, installed tents and occupied major thoroughfares surrounding government buildings and foreign embassies in Kabul’s international zone to protest the government’s failure to stop the May 31 bombing. There were clashes between armed protesters and police.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for the right to freedom of association, and the government generally respected it. The 2009 law on political parties obliges political parties to register with the Ministry of Justice and to pursue objectives consistent with Islam. In 2012 the Council of Ministers approved a regulation requiring political parties to open offices in at least 20 provinces within one year of registration. On September 14, President Ghani signed a decree prohibiting employees and officials of security and judicial institutions, specifically the Supreme Court, Attorney General’s Office, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Defense, and National Directorate of Security, from political party membership while government employees. Noncompliant employees could be fired.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government generally respected these rights. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Organization for Migration, and other humanitarian organizations to provide protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, and other persons of concern. The government’s ability to assist vulnerable persons, including returnees from Pakistan and Iran, remained limited, and it continued to rely on the international community for assistance.

In-country Movement: The government generally did not restrict the right to freedom of movement within the borders of the country. Taxi, truck, and bus drivers reported security forces and insurgents sometimes operated illegal checkpoints and extorted money and goods from travelers. The greatest barrier to movement in some parts of the country was the lack of security. Social custom limited women’s freedom of movement without male consent or a male chaperone.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

Internal population movements increased in 2016 because of armed conflict. During the year internal displacement statistics reached a record high, with approximately 661,000 persons displaced. Most IDPs left insecure rural areas and small towns seeking relatively greater safety and government services in larger towns and cities in the same province. All 34 provinces hosted IDP populations.

Limited humanitarian access caused delays in identifying, assessing, and providing timely assistance to IDPs. IDPs continued to lack access to basic protection, including personal and physical security and shelter. Many IDPs, especially in households with a female head, faced difficulty obtaining basic services because they did not have identity documents. Many IDPs in urban areas reportedly faced discrimination, lacked adequate sanitation and other basic services, and lived in constant risk of eviction from illegally occupied displacement sites, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center. Women in IDP camps reported high levels of domestic violence. Limited opportunities to earn a livelihood following the initial displacement often led to secondary displacement, making tracking of vulnerable persons difficult. Even IDPs who had access to local social services sometimes had less access than their non-IDP neighbors, due to distance from the services or other factors.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: Laws do not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees from other countries.

Durable Solutions: The government did not officially accept refugees for resettlement, offer naturalization to refugees residing on their territory, or assist in their voluntary return to their homes. Approximately 50,000 registered refugees and 174,000 undocumented Afghans voluntarily returned to the country during the year. The government established a Displacement and Returnees Executive Committee and a Policy Framework and Action Plan to promote the successful integration of returnees and IDPs.

STATELESS PERSONS

NGOs noted the lack of official birth registration for refugee children as a significant challenge and protection concern, due to the risk of statelessness and potential long-term disadvantage.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides citizens the opportunity to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. Citizens exercised this ability in the 2014 presidential and provincial elections and the 2010 parliamentary elections. Violence from the Taliban and other antigovernment groups and widespread allegations of fraud and corruption interfered with, but did not derail, the 2014 presidential elections. The constitution mandates parliamentary elections every five years, but the 2015 elections were delayed because of the government’s inability to agree on needed electoral reforms. After repeated delays, on June 22, the Independent Election Commission (IEC) announced parliamentary and district council elections would take place on July 7, 2018. Members of parliament remained in office past the June 2015 expiration of their five-year terms by virtue of a presidential decree.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: According to the IEC, more than 6.8 million voters cast votes in the first round of the April 2014 presidential election. Although security incidents occurred throughout the country, they reportedly had only a modest impact on turnout, and there were no mass-casualty events. Of the eight presidential candidates who competed in the first round, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah and former finance minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai received the most votes, 45 percent and 31.6 percent, respectively. During the June 2014 runoff election, allegations of fraud led to a dispute over the accuracy of the preliminary results announced by the IEC. Those results showed Ghani leading with 56.4 percent, compared with Abdullah’s 43.5 percent. Following a protracted standoff, the two candidates agreed to a 100 percent audit of the ballot boxes and committed to forming a Government of National Unity (GNU), with the runner-up assuming a newly created chief executive officer (CEO) position in the government. According to media reporting of leaked IEC data, the audit invalidated more than 850,000 fraudulent ballots of an estimated eight million. The IEC completed the election audit and named Ghani the winner in September 2014. In accordance with the GNU agreement, Ghani then created the CEO position by presidential decree and named Abdullah to the position. Ghani and Abdullah continued to serve in these positions during the year.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The Political Party Law of 2003 granted parties the right to exist as formal institutions for the first time in the country’s history. Under this law any citizen 25 years or older may establish a political party. The law requires parties to have at least 10,000 members from the country’s 34 provinces in order to register with the Ministry of Justice to conduct official party business and introduce candidates in elections. Only citizens who are 18 years or older and have the right to vote can join a political party. Certain members of the government, judiciary, military, and government-affiliated commissions are prohibited from political party membership during their tenure in office.

There were large geographic segments of the country where political parties could not operate due to insurgencies and instability. Political parties played a greater role in the 2014 presidential elections than in previous elections, and the organization, networks, and public support of the parties that supported Abdullah and Ghani contributed to their success as presidential candidates.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process. The constitution specifies a minimum number of seats for women and minorities in the two houses of parliament. For the Wolesi Jirga (lower house of the National Assembly), the constitution mandates that at least two women shall be elected from each province (for a total of 68). In the 2010 parliamentary elections, more women won seats than the minimum outlined in the constitution. The constitution also mandates one-half of presidential appointees must be women. It also sets aside 10 seats in the Wolesi Jirga for members of the Kuchi minority (nomads). In the Meshrano Jirga (upper house of the National Assembly), the president’s appointees must include two Kuchis and two members with physical disabilities. In practice one seat in the Meshrano Jirga is reserved for the appointment of a Sikh or Hindu representative, although this is not mandated by the constitution.

Traditional societal practices continued to limit women’s participation in politics and activities outside the home and community, including the need to have a male escort or permission to work. These factors, in addition to an education and experience gap, likely contributed to the central government’s male-dominated composition. The 2013 electoral law reduced quotas for women on provincial councils from 25 percent to 20 percent and eliminated women’s quotas entirely for district and village councils. Neither district nor village councils had been established by year’s end.

Women active in government and politics continued to face threats and violence and were the targets of attacks by the Taliban and other insurgent groups. No laws prevent minorities from participating in political life, although different ethnic groups complained of unequal access to local government jobs in provinces where they were in the minority. Individuals from the majority Pashtun ethnic group had more seats than any other ethnic group in both houses of parliament, but they did not have more than 50 percent of the seats. There was no evidence specific societal groups were excluded. In past elections male family members could vote on behalf of the women in their families.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations 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. Human rights activists continued to express concern that human rights abusers remained in positions of power within the government.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The constitutionally mandated AIHRC continued to address human rights problems, but it received minimal government funding and relied almost exclusively on international donor funds. Three Wolesi Jirga committees deal with human rights: the Gender, Civil Society, and Human Rights Committee; the Counternarcotics, Intoxicating Items, and Ethical Abuse Committee; and the Judicial, Administrative Reform, and Anticorruption Committee. In the Meshrano Jirga, the Committee for Gender and Civil Society addresses human rights concerns.

Albania

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

While the constitution and law prohibit such actions, police and prison guards sometimes beat and abused suspects and prisoners. Through September the Service for Internal Affairs and Complaints received complaints of police abuse and corruption that led to both administrative sanctions and criminal prosecutions. As of July, the Albanian Helsinki Committee (AHC) reported one case of alleged physical violence in a police facility.

The ombudsman reported that most cases of alleged physical or psychological abuse occurred during arrest and interrogation. Through August, the ombudsman received 104 complaints from detainees. The majority of complaints concerned the quality of health care. The ombudsman did not refer any case for prosecution.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Poor physical conditions and a lack of medical treatment, particularly for mental health issues, were serious problems, as were overcrowded facilities and corruption. The AHC and the ombudsman reported that conditions in certain detention facilities were so poor as to constitute inhuman treatment. Conditions remained substandard in police detention facilities outside of Tirana and other major urban centers.

Physical Conditions: The government, the ombudsman, and the AHC reported prison overcrowding continued and that the prison population was 3-5 percent greater than the design capacity of prison facilities. Overcrowding was worse in pretrial detention centers. Conditions in prison and detention centers for women were generally better than those for men.

The majority of the 104 complaints received by the ombudsman from prisoners through August dealt with the quality of health services. Prisoners also complained about access to special leave programs, delays in the implementation of prison transfer orders, and undesirable transfers to other prisons. The AHC also reported numerous complaints about the quality of health services and transfer/nontransfer between detention facilities. In some cases, prison officials placed inmates not subject to disciplinary measures in isolation cells due to a lack of space among the general prison population. The ombudsman and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported that authorities held inmates with mental disabilities in regular prisons, where access to mental health care was wholly inadequate.

Prison and detention center conditions varied significantly by age and type of facility. The ombudsman, the AHC, and the Albanian Rehabilitation Center from Trauma and Torture identified problems in both new and old structures, such as dampness in cells, poor hygiene, lack of bedding materials, and inconsistent water and electricity supply.

Conditions in facilities operated by the Ministry of Interior, such as police stations and temporary detention facilities, were inadequate, except for regional facilities in Tirana, Gjirokaster, Kukes, Fier, and Korca. Some detention facilities were unheated during the winter, and some lacked basic hygienic amenities, such as showers or sinks. Facilities were cramped, afforded limited access to toilets, and had little or no ventilation, natural light, or beds and benches. Camera monitoring systems were nonexistent or insufficient in the majority of police stations.

Administration: The Ministry of Justice managed the country’s prisons. The ombudsman reported prison and police officials generally cooperated with investigations. NGOs and the ombudsman noted inadequate recordkeeping in some institutions, particularly in small or rural police stations.

Corruption continued to be a serious problem in detention centers, particularly in connection with access to work and special release programs. NGOs reported that those involved in work programs received only 90 leks (about $0.80) per month and did not receive credit for social security. In July 2016 the deputy general director of prisons, Iljaz Labi, was arrested for his involvement in creating fake procurement documents for food-supply companies. In February police arrested on similar corruption charges former general director of prisons, Artur Zoto, who had voluntarily resigned a few days after Labi’s arrest. During the year several other senior prison staff were arrested and convicted for supplying drugs to prisoners or demanding payment for access to family visits.

The majority of prison directors in the country were fired during the year on grounds of corruption, abuse of office, and other violations of the law.

Independent Monitoring: The government allowed local and international human rights groups, the media, as well as international bodies such as the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture to monitor prison conditions. The ombudsman conducted frequent unannounced inspections of detention facilities.

Improvements: The General Directorate of Prisons indicated that by July overall prison overcrowding had been reduced from 9 percent in 2016 to 3 percent. Both the ombudsman and NGOs reported a decrease in cases of physical and psychological abuse from the previous year.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law and constitution prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, and the government generally observed these prohibitions.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Ministry of Interior oversees the Guard of the Republic and the State Police, which include the Border and Migration Police. The State Police are primarily responsible for internal security. The Guard of the Republic protects senior state officials, foreign dignitaries, and certain state properties. The Ministry of Defense oversees the armed forces, which also assist the population in times of humanitarian need. The State Intelligence Service (SIS) gathers information, carries out foreign intelligence and counterintelligence activities, and is responsible to the prime minister.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over police, the Guard of the Republic, the armed forces, and the SIS, although officials periodically used state resources for personal gain and members of the security forces committed abuses.

Police did not always enforce the law equitably. Personal associations, political or criminal connections, poor infrastructure, lack of equipment, or inadequate supervision often influenced law enforcement. Poor leadership and a lack of diversity in the workforce contributed to continued corruption and unprofessional behavior. Authorities continued to made efforts to address these problems by renovating police facilities, upgrading vehicles, and publicly highlighting anticorruption measures.

Impunity remained a serious problem, although the government made greater efforts to address it, in particular by increasing the use of camera evidence to document and prosecute police misconduct.

While the government had mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption, police corruption remained a problem. The Service for Internal Affairs and Complaints received 3,811 telephone complaints via the anticorruption “green line” through July 31. The majority of the complaints involved “inaction of police officers,” “unjust fine/ticket,” or “violation of standard operating procedures.” The office filed 43 administrative violations, recommending 57 police officers for disciplinary proceedings. The cases of five officers were forwarded to the Prosecution Office. During the year the ombudsman also processed complaints against police officers, mainly concerning problems with arrests and detention.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires that, except for arrests made during the commission of a crime, police may arrest a suspect on criminal grounds only with a warrant issued by a judge and based on sufficient evidence. There were no reports of secret arrests. By law police must immediately inform the prosecutor of an arrest. The prosecutor may release the suspect or petition the court within 48 hours to hold the individual further. A court must decide within 48 hours whether to place a suspect in detention, require bail, prohibit travel, or require the defendant to report regularly to police. Prosecutors requested, and courts ordered, detention in many criminal cases, although courts sometimes denied prosecutors’ requests for detention of well-connected, high-profile defendants.

The constitution requires authorities to inform detained persons immediately of the charges against them and their rights. Law enforcement authorities did not always respect this requirement. Amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) that entered into force on August 1 imposed additional obligations on law enforcement regarding the rights of defendants and detained persons. The same amendments established a new system for handling the monetary aspect of bail. Courts often ordered suspects to report to police or prosecutors on a weekly basis. While the law gives detainees the right to prompt access to an attorney, at public expense if necessary, NGOs reported interrogations often took place without the presence of a lawyer. Authorities placed many suspects under house arrest, often at their own request, because if convicted they received credit for time served.

By law police should transfer detainees to the custody of the Ministry of Justice, which has facilities more appropriate for long-term detention, if their custody will exceed 10 hours. Due to overcrowding in the penitentiary system, detainees, including juveniles, commonly remained in police detention centers for long periods.

Arbitrary Arrest: The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention. Although the government generally observed these prohibitions, there were instances when police detained persons for questioning for inordinate lengths of time without formally arresting them.

Pretrial Detention: While the law requires completion of most pretrial investigations within three months, a prosecutor may extend this period to two years or longer. The law provides that pretrial detention should not exceed three years; the government reported five cases of pretrial detentions exceeding this limit. Extended pretrial detention often occurred due to delayed investigations, defense mistakes, or the intentional failure of defense counsel to appear. The amendments to the CPC that entered into force during the year included provisions intended to put an end to the existing inability of judges to prevent such delaying actions by holding the offending attorney in contempt of court. Limited material resources, lack of space, poor court-calendar management, insufficient staff, and failure of attorneys and witnesses to appear prevented the court system from adjudicating cases in a timely fashion. As of September, 44 percent of the prison and detention center population was in pretrial detention.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The CPC requires that the court examine the necessity of a detention within three days. If the detention is not revoked, the detainee may appeal up to the Supreme Court. If no decision is made within a prescribed period, the detention becomes void. The CPC also requires the prosecutor to provide the court bi-monthly updates regarding information obtained following detention. A judge may revoke detention based on new information.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, political pressure, intimidation, widespread corruption, and limited resources sometimes prevented the judiciary from functioning independently and efficiently. Court hearings were often not open to the public. Court security officers frequently refused to admit observers to hearings and routinely telephoned the presiding judge to ask whether to admit an individual seeking to attend a particular hearing. Some agencies exhibited a pattern of disregard for court orders. The politicization of appointments to the Supreme Court and Constitutional Court threatened to undermine the independence and integrity of these institutions. As of October there were 10 vacancies on the Supreme Court, which faced a considerable backlog of cases.

The Ministry of Justice generally did not vigorously pursue disciplinary measures against judges. When it did so, the High Council of Justice (HCJ) was reluctant to enact those measures. During 2016 the Ministry of Justice initiated disciplinary proceedings against nine judges. During the same year, the HCJ dismissed one judge after she was convicted of corruption and transferred another to a different court. During the year the Ministry of Justice did not pursue disciplinary actions against judges due to the entry into force of new legislation on justice organization, and the HCJ did not rule on any pending requests. The HCJ ordered the suspension of a trial court judge following a decision of the First Instance (i.e., Trial) Court for Serious Crimes. The case was pending at year’s end.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law presumes defendants to be innocent until convicted. It provides for defendants to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them, with free interpretation as necessary, and to have a fair and public trial without undue delay. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial, consult an attorney and have one provided at public expense if they cannot afford one. The law provides defendants adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense and access to interpretation free of charge. Defendants have the right to confront witnesses against them and to present witnesses and evidence in their defense. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants have the right to appeal. The government generally respected these rights, although trials were not always public and access to a lawyer was at times problematic. Following the entry into force of amendments to the CPC, the prosecutor has to apply before a preliminary hearing judge to send the case to trial. This reform was intended to be a further guarantee for the rights of defendants and their access to the evidence against them.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

While individuals and organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations, courts were susceptible to corruption, inefficiency, intimidation, and political tampering. Judges held many court hearings in their offices, demonstrating a lack of professionalism and providing opportunities for corruption. These factors undermined the judiciary’s authority, contributed to controversial court decisions, and led to an inconsistent application of civil law. Despite the statutory right to free legal aid in civil cases, NGOs reported that very few individuals benefitted from this during the year.

Persons who have exhausted remedies in domestic courts could appeal to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). In many instances authorities did not enforce ECHR rulings, especially those concerning the right to a fair trial.

Persons who were political prisoners under the former communist regime continued to petition the government for compensation. On several occasions groups of former political prisoners protested the government’s failure to pay them legally mandated compensation. The government made some progress on disbursing compensation during the year. By June the government had paid the eighth and final compensation installment to the former political prisoners who were still alive. The government also agreed to include 320 former political prisoners who had not submitted their papers in time to benefit from the compensation.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

Thousands of claims for private and religious property confiscated during the communist era remained unresolved with the government’s Agency for Property Treatment. The ombudsman reported that to date the government had not yet executed 26,000 court rulings nor reviewed 11,000 claims dealing with property rights. Claimants may appeal cases to the ECHR, and during the year hundreds of cases–many of them related to property–were pending ECHR review.

Albania endorsed the Terezin Declaration in 2009 and the Guidelines and Best Practices in 2010. Albania does not have any restitution or compensation laws relating to Holocaust-era confiscations of private property. Under the law, religious communities have the same restitution and compensation rights as natural or legal persons. Since becoming a signatory to the Terezin Declaration in 2009, Albania has not passed any laws dealing with restitution of heirless property. The government reported no property claims had been submitted by victims of the Holocaust.

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

The government’s National Inspectorate for the Protection of the Territory (NIPT) demolished some homes without due legal process as part of a wider campaign to demolish illegally constructed buildings. Through July the ombudsman received seven citizen complaints against the local inspectorates and three against the NIPT, including for failure to provide sufficient warning in writing, failure to consider a homeowner’s application for legalization of a property, and lack of transparency.

Throughout the year, residents of the Himara region continued to complain of targeted heavy-handedness by the government that resulted in the partial or complete demolition of numerous houses and businesses with little warning and no legal recourse for adequate compensation. In October the government demolished several uninhabited structures in Himara as it implemented an urban development plan about which residents complained they had not been adequately consulted by municipal authorities. The demolition of a further 12 structures was halted because residents filed a court case against the authorities. Municipal authorities defended the demolitions as necessary for commercial development.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected these rights. There were reports that the government, business, and criminal groups sought to influence the media in inappropriate ways.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of viewpoints, although there were some efforts to exert direct and indirect political and economic pressure on the media, including threats and violence against journalists who tried to investigate crime and corruption stories. Political pressure, corruption, and lack of funding constrained the independent print media, and journalists reportedly practiced self-censorship. Lack of economic security reduced reporters’ independence and contributed to bias in reporting. The Albanian Journalists Union continued to report significant delays in salary payments to reporters at most media outlets. Financial problems led some journalists to rely more heavily on outside sources of income.

While dramatic growth in online media during the year added to the diversity of views, NGOs maintained that professional ethics were a low priority for such outlets, raising concerns over the spread of false news stories that benefited specific financial or political interests.

In its annual Media Sustainability Index, the International Research and Exchanges Board indicated that the county’s media environment deteriorated in several areas. Donor funding for organizations that pushed for a more independent press remained limited, and the press was vulnerable to misuse under constant political and economic pressure. According to the report, very few media outlets produced independent reports about organized crime because their journalists lacked financial and editorial independence.

The independence of the Audiovisual Media Authority, the regulator of the broadcast media market, remained questionable, and the role of the authority remained limited. Most owners of private television stations used the content of their broadcasts to influence government action toward their other businesses. Business owners also freely used media outlets to gain favor and promote their interests with political parties.

Violence and Harassment: There were reports of violence and intimidation against members of the media, and political and business interests subjected journalists to pressure.

In May 2016 the Union of Albanian Journalists denounced the severe beating of sports journalist Eduard Ilnica, allegedly for reporting on the violent behavior of a coach during a soccer match. Authorities arrested the coach, who in February was convicted of assault by both the district court and appellate court but released for time served in pretrial detention.

On March 8, two unidentified persons attacked Elvi Fundo, a journalist and owner of the news portal citynews.al, with iron bars, causing serious injuries. Police investigated the attack but as of September had not identified the perpetrators. According to Fundo, his portal’s stories accusing other media owners of drug trafficking and some police of corruption were possible reasons for the attack.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists often practiced self-censorship to avoid violence and harassment and as a response to pressure from publishers and editors seeking to advance their political and economic interests. A 2015 survey by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) Albania found that large commercial companies and important advertisers were key sources of pressure.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law permits private parties to file criminal charges and obtain financial compensation for insult or deliberate publication of defamatory information. NGOs reported that the fines, which could be as much as three million leks ($26,000), were excessive and, combined with the entry of a conviction into the defendant’s criminal record, undermined freedom of expression.

On June 9, a member of the High Council of Justice, Gjin Gjoni, filed defamation lawsuits against two BIRN journalists and two journalists of the daily Shqiptarja.com for their coverage of his asset declaration, which was being investigated by prosecutors. Gjoni was seeking seven million leks ($61,000) from BIRN and four million leks ($35,000) from Shqiptarja.com, claiming the stories damaged his reputation.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to March data from Internet World Stats, approximately 67 percent of the population used the internet.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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 www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

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

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

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. Police allowed UNHCR to monitor the processing, detention, and deportation of some migrants.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: UNHCR reported a few cases of police intimidation and reluctance to accept requests for asylum. On two occasions, in November 2016 and June, border authorities used force against groups of migrants who refused to be returned to Greece. Following the 2016 incident, one injured migrant was hospitalized and UNHCR filed a complaint with the border authorities.

Authorities often detained irregular migrants who entered the country. As of November authorities had detained approximately 744 migrants, mostly at the country’s southern border with Greece; those who did not request asylum were generally deported to Greece within 24 hours. Migrants detained further inland could spend several weeks at the Karrec closed migrant detention facility awaiting deportation. As of November the government reported four persons detained in the Karrec facility.

UNHCR reported that approximately 30 percent of migrants requested asylum. Some NGOs and UNHCR maintained that some migrants who requested asylum were deported as well. UNHCR made formal complaints to the government, but authorities were generally slow to address them. UNHCR reported that conditions at the Karrec center were unsuitable, particularly for children. As of September the government had referred fewer migrants to Karrec than in 2016, and only one minor–a 17-year-old boy travelling in a group–spent time there.

In-country Movement: In order to receive government services, individuals changing place of residence within the country must transfer their civil registration to their new community and prove the legality of their new domicile through property ownership, a property rental agreement, or utility bills. Many persons could not provide proof and thus lacked access to public services. Other citizens, particularly Roma and Balkan-Egyptians, lacked formal registration in the communities where they resided. The law does not prohibit their registration, but it was often difficult to complete. Many Roma and Balkan-Egyptians lacked the financial means to register, and many lacked the motivation to go through the process.

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.

There were credible reports from NGOs and migrants and asylum seekers that authorities did not follow due process obligations for some asylum seekers and that in other cases those seeking asylum did not have access to the system. Through November some 744 migrants–mostly Algerians, Syrians, and Libyans–entered the country, mostly via the country’s southern border with Greece. Of these, 128 requested asylum. Authorities returned those who did not request asylum to Greece, some immediately but others after weeks of detention in inadequate facilities. UNHCR was critical of the government’s migrant screening and detention procedures, particularly in view of the increased presence of children among migrants.

The law on asylum requires authorities to grant or deny asylum within 51 days of an applicant’s initial request. Under the law asylum seekers cannot face criminal charges of illegal entry if they contact authorities within 10 days of their arrival in the country. UNHCR reported that the asylum system lacked effective monitoring. In March authorities returned an Algerian woman to Greece although she had requested asylum; authorities also returned an unaccompanied Pakistani minor with no special consideration for his age. UNHCR expressed concern with the government’s mechanism for appeals of refused asylum requests since the appellate body generally lacked expertise and tended to uphold initial decisions without considering the merits of a case.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The law prohibits individuals from safe countries of origin or transit from applying for asylum or refugee status. UNHCR, however, reported that no asylum requests had been refused based on the government’s list of safe countries, which includes Greece.

Employment: The law permits refugees access to work. The limited issuance of refugee identification cards and work permits, however, meant few refugees actually worked.

Access to Basic Services: The law provides migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees access to public services, including education, health care, housing, law enforcement, courts/judicial procedures, and legal assistance. Migrants and asylum seekers often required the intervention of UNHCR or local NGOs to secure these services.

Durable Solutions: In September 2016 the government completed the process of receiving Iranian Mujahideen-e Khalq refugees from Iraq and continued to facilitate their local integration throughout the year.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided subsidiary and temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. As of September the government had granted subsidiary protection to two persons during the year.

STATELESS PERSONS

The government had no updated information regarding the total number of persons at risk of statelessness. Using data from the cases that were resolved from 2011 to 2016 with the support of the NGO Tirana Legal Aid Society, UNHCR estimated the number to be 4,871, down from the 7,443 persons who declared themselves as unregistered during the 2011 census. Most of these were Romani or Balkan-Egyptian children. The risk of statelessness continued to exist for unregistered children born abroad to returning migrant families, although the law affords the opportunity to obtain nationality.

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: The most recent national parliamentary elections took place on June 25. The OSCE observer mission to the elections reported, “contestants were able to campaign freely and fundamental freedoms were respected.” The OSCE further noted, “Continued politicization of election-related bodies and institutions as well as widespread allegations of vote buying and pressure on voters detracted from public trust in the electoral process.” Regarding voting itself, the OSCE mission noted “an overall orderly election day” but found that “important procedures were not fully respected in a considerable number of voting centers observed.”

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women and/or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. As a result of the June 25 elections, the participation of women in government increased to a record 29 percent of female Assembly members and 47 percent female ministers. The law governing the Assembly election requires that 30 percent of candidates be women and that they occupy 30 percent of appointed and elected positions. According to the OSCE preliminary report on the elections, however, the largest parties did not always respect the mandated 30 percent quota in their candidate lists. The Central Election Commission fined these parties but nonetheless accepted their lists.

Members of national minorities stood as candidates in both minority and mainstream parties, and campaigning in both Greek and Macedonian languages was observed without incident. Nevertheless, observers reported that Roma remained vulnerable to vote buying. As of September there were no Romani ministers or members of the Assembly.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations 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.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Office of the Ombudsman is the main independent institution for promoting and enforcing human rights. The ombudsman is authorized by law to monitor and report on prisons and detention centers. The office may initiate an investigation based on complaints or ex officio. Although the ombudsman lacked the power to enforce decisions, she acted as a monitor for human rights violations. The Office of the Ombudsman was underfunded and understaffed.

The Assembly has a committee on legal issues, public administration, and human rights, which reviews the annual report of the ombudsman’s office. The committee was engaged and effective in legislative matters.

Algeria

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

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

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

Some terrorist groups remained active in the country, including al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and an ISIS affiliate, Jund al-Khilafah. These groups targeted security services personnel. On February 26, police shot an attempted suicide bomber as he approached a police station in Constantine. The bomb detonated, killing only the attacker. On August 31, a suicide bomber killed two police officers in a police station in Tiaret. AQIM and ISIS both claimed responsibility for the attack.

b. Disappearance

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

The government continued to negotiate the terms of a visit by the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances to address cases of enforced or involuntary disappearances from the 1990s that the working group submitted to it in 2014.

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

The law prohibits torture and prescribes prison sentences of between 10 and 20 years for government agents found guilty of torture. The government reported 28 prosecutions and two convictions on allegations of abusive treatment by police officers in 2016. There was no information on torture convictions or prosecutions in 2017.

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and local human rights activists alleged that government officials sometimes employed degrading treatment to obtain confessions. Human rights activists said police sometimes used excessive force against suspects, including protestors.

The Surete Nationale (DGSN) stated that it did not receive any reports of abuse or misconduct from the public during the year.

Local and international NGOs asserted that impunity was a problem.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

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

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

Physical Conditions: There were no major concerns regarding physical conditions in prisons and detention centers. According to statistics provided in September, the Ministry of Justice’s General Directorate for Prison Administration and Resettlement (DGAPR) had responsibility for approximately 60,000 prisoners. Convicted terrorists had the same rights as other inmates but were held in prisons of varying degrees of security, determined by the danger posed by the prisoners.

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

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

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

Improvements: Authorities improved prison conditions to meet international standards. The Ministry of Justice’s Directorate of Penal Affairs and Pardons said that the government alleviated overcrowding by opening new detention centers during the year, including minimum-security centers that permitted prisoners to work. The DGSN announced the creation of a new human rights office in July; one of its functions is to ensure implementation of measures to improve detention conditions.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The 130,000-member National Gendarmerie, which performs police functions outside of urban areas under the auspices of the Ministry of National Defense, and the approximately 210,000-member DGSN or national police, organized under the Ministry of Interior, share responsibility for maintaining law and order. Intelligence activities fall under three intelligence directorates reporting to a presidential national security counselor and performing functions related specifically to internal, external, and technical security.

The law provides mechanisms to investigate abuses and corruption, but the government did not always provide public information on disciplinary or legal action against police, military, or other security force personnel. The DGSN conducted regular training sessions on human rights, including for all new cadets. Its new human rights office is responsible for organizing human rights training for police officers.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

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

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

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

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

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

The government took action in the 2015 case of a Cameroonian female migrant who was assaulted and raped by a group of Algerian men. The victim reported that several hospitals refused to provide her treatment and to issue her a certificate documenting her sexual assault. After social media and local civil society organizations drew attention to the issue, authorities accepted her complaint and initiated prosecutions against seven of the perpetrators. As of September, three of the perpetrators were serving sentences of 15 years in prison, while four remained at large and were convicted in absentia to 20 years imprisonment.

Arbitrary Arrest: Although the law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, authorities sometimes used vaguely worded provisions, such as “inciting an unarmed gathering” and “insulting a government body,” to arrest and detain individuals considered to be disturbing public order or criticizing the government. Amnesty International and other human rights organizations criticized the law prohibiting unauthorized gatherings and called for its amendment to require only notification as opposed to application for authorization. These observers, among others, pointed to the law as a significant source of arbitrary arrests intended to suppress political activism. Police arrested protesters throughout the year for violating the law against unregistered public gatherings. On June 21, attorney and human rights activist Salah Debouz was summoned and questioned by police in the city of Batna and released the same day. Debouz was in Batna to defend Ahmadi Muslims who were on trial for engaging in religious activities without government authorization. Debouz had previously been briefly detained and released on two occasions in 2016.

Pretrial Detention: Prolonged pretrial detention remained a problem. Nongovernmental observers believed pretrial detainees comprised a significant portion of the total detainee and prisoner population but did not have specific statistics. The Ministry of Justice said the proportion of detainees in pretrial detention decreased relative to previous years, but statistics were not available at year’s end.

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

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

Authorities held two leaders of the unregistered Ahmadi Muslim community in pretrial detention from February until May on charges related to their unauthorized religious activities. Throughout the year, police arrested approximately 26 members of the Ahmadi community. As of November community leaders said no Ahmadis were in pretrial detention.

In 2015 police arrested Nacer Eddine Hadjadj, former mayor of Beriane municipality and member of the Rally for Culture and Democracy party, reportedly for questioning regarding intercommunal violence in Ghardaia that year. In 2015 a judge denied Hadjadj’s request for provisional release. On June 11, Hadjadj was convicted to three years in prison, reportedly on charges of possession of firearms and holding an armed assembly. Hadjadj was released immediately after his conviction for the approximately 22 months he spent in detention, after the judge suspended the rest of his prison sentence.

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

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

TRIAL PROCEDURES

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

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

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

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

The government continued to deny that 160 persons who remained incarcerated since the 1990s were political prisoners, and stated they were ineligible for pardons under the National Charter for Peace and Reconciliation because they committed violent crimes during the internal conflict. The government permitted the ICRC to visit these and other detainees held for “security reasons.”

In 2016 a Tamanrasset court convicted Committee for the Defense of the Rights of Unemployed Workers activist Abdelali Ghellam to a year in prison following his 2015 arrest on charges of taking part in an unauthorized gathering and obstructing traffic. Amnesty International reported that seven other men were arrested in connection with the same protest and received one-year sentences and DZD 50,000 ($438) fines. As of January all eight had been released.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

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

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

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

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

Press and Media Freedom: The National Agency for Publishing and Advertising (ANEP) controls public advertising for print media. According to the NGO Reporters without Borders (RSF), private advertising existed but frequently came from businesses with close links to the ruling political party. Although ANEP said in September that it represented only 15 percent of the total advertising market, nongovernmental sources assessed the majority of daily newspapers depended on ANEP-authorized advertising to finance their operations. The government’s lack of transparency over its use of state-funded advertising permitted it to exert undue influence over print media. On November 14, Hadda Hazem, the editor of the El Fadjr newspaper, began a hunger strike to protest what she described as government pressure on public and private advertisers to deprive El Fadjr of advertising revenue in retaliation for its criticisms of the government.

Police arrested blogger Merzoug Touati on January 25 on charges stemming from his publication of an interview with a former Israeli diplomat. On September 13, Touati began a hunger strike. He remained in detention at year’s end.

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

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

In September the Ministry of Communication stated there were 249 accredited written publications, down from 332 last year. Of the daily printed publications, the ministry stated six were state-operated. The ministry said the decline in accredited publications was due to a reduction in advertising revenue.

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

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

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

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Some major news outlets faced direct and indirect retaliation for criticism of the government.

From October 5-November 28, Tout sur l’Algerie (TSA), an online news website, was inaccessible via Algerie Telecom, the state-owned traditional internet service provider (ISP), and via Mobilis, the state-owned mobile ISP. Algerie Telecom did not provide TSA the reasons for the blockage. In October the Ministry of Communication denied any involvement, saying the issue rested with Algerie Telecom. TSA director Hamid Guemache told RSF that the explanations provided by the authorities “are not convincing” and that he suspected a “political blockage.”

Libel/Slander Laws: NGOs and observers criticized the law on defamation as vaguely drafted and said the definitions used as failed to comport with internationally recognized norms. The law defines defamation as “any allegation or imputation of a fact offending the honor or consideration of a person, or of the body to which the fact is imputed.” The law does not require that the fact alleged or imputed be false or that the statement be made with malicious intent to damage another individual’s reputation. Defamation is not a crime but carries a fine ranging from DZD 100,000 to DZD 500,000 ($877 to $4,385). The Ministry of Justice did not provide information on the percentage of defamation claims that originated from private citizens, as opposed to government officials. Defamation laws specify that former members of the military who make statements deemed to have damaged the image of the military or to have “harmed the honor and respect due to state institutions” may face prosecution.

The Ministry of Communication prohibited the sale of the August issue of Le Monde Diplomatique, a French monthly publication, that contained an article titled “Forbidden Memory in Algeria” about the aftermath of the internal conflict in the 1990s. The ministry said the article’s discussion of President Bouteflika’s health was injurious to the president and stated the publication did not appeal the decision.

The law criminalizes statements denigrating Islam or insulting the Prophet Muhammed or “messengers of God.” In 2016 police in Setif arrested Slimane Bouhafs, a Christian convert, for posting statements on his Facebook page questioning the morals of the Prophet Muhammed. A court sentenced him to five years in prison, plus a DZD 100,000 ($877) fine. His sentence was subsequently reduced to three years in prison and then commuted in July as part of a broad presidential amnesty. He was scheduled for release in March 2018 as a result of the commutation.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government monitored certain email and social media sites.

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

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

By law, ISPs face criminal penalties for the material and websites they host, especially if subject matters are “incompatible with morality or public opinion.” The Ministries of Justice, Interior, and Post, Information Technology, and Communication have oversight responsibilities. The law provides sentences of six months to five years in prison and fines between DZD 50,000 and DZD 500,000 ($438 and $4,385) for users who do not comply with the law, including the obligation to cooperate with law enforcement authorities against cybercrime.

On April 4, seven administrators of a Facebook page called “Granada City” appeared in court in Bouira on charges stemming from a post in January calling for a general strike. The charges against them were dropped in May.

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

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 43 percent of the population used the internet in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

A January 17 decree by the prime minister clarified the process for the Ministry of Culture’s review of imported books, both in print and electronic form. According to the decree, importers must submit to the ministry the title, author’s name, editor’s name, edition, year, International Standard Book Number, and number of copies to be imported. Importers of books covering the “national movement and the Algerian Revolution” must submit the entire text of the books for review, including a secondary review by the Ministry of the Moudjahidine (veterans of the Revolution). The Ministry of Culture can also require a full content review of books on other topics if it chooses. The ministry has 30 days to review the importation application; in the absence of a response after 30 days, the importer may proceed with distribution of the publication. After making a determination, the ministry notifies the customs service of the decision to allow or ban the importation of the publication. Appeals may be made to the ministry, with no independent or judicial review provided for in the decree.

A government official said that rejected book importation requests were almost always for religious books that promote extremist ideas. A January 4 decree established a commission within the Ministry of Religious Affairs to review imports of the Quran. This decree requires all applications to include a full copy of the text and other detailed information. The ministry has three to six months to review the text, with the absence of a response after that time constituting a rejection of the application. A separate January 4 decree covering religious texts other than the Quran stated, “The content of religious books for import, regardless of format, must not undermine the religious unity of society, the national religious reference, public order, good morals, fundamental rights and liberties, or the law.” The importer must submit the text and other information, and the ministry must respond within 30 days. A nonresponse after this period of time is considered a rejection. Religious texts distributed without authorization may be seized and destroyed.

On March 4, police in the city of Aokas in Bejaia province reportedly prevented a local NGO from holding a conference featuring professor Younes Adli on “Kabyle [Berber] thought in the 18th and 19th centuries.”

In September press outlets reported Algiers International Book Fair Commissioner Hamidou Messaoudi announced that of the 120,000 books proposed for inclusion in the annual fair by 920 publishers representing 51 countries, the Book Fair Commission prohibited the inclusion of 130. Messaoudi said the action was taken pursuant to Algerian law prohibiting the exhibition of books that glorify terrorism, encourage radicalization, or incite racism.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides for the right of peaceful assembly, but the government continued to curtail this right. A ban on demonstrations in Algiers remained in effect. Authorities utilized the ban to prohibit assembly within the city limits. Nationwide, the government required citizens and organizations to obtain permits from the national government-appointed local governor before holding public meetings or demonstrations. The government restricted licenses to political parties, NGOs, and other groups to hold indoor rallies or delayed permission until the eve of the event, thereby impeding publicity and outreach efforts by organizers. Nonetheless, in many cases authorities allowed unauthorized protests to proceed while negotiations continued regarding protesters’ demands or when government attempts to disperse protests potentially risked igniting violence.

Hotels in Algiers and other major cities continued their historic practice of refusing to sign rental contracts for meeting spaces with political parties, NGOs, and civil associations without a copy of written authorization from the Ministry of Interior for the proposed gathering.

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

On July 22, police in Aokas prevented organizers from holding a “Literary Cafe” featuring Berber-language books. After a crowd gathered at the cultural center where the conference was supposed to be held and forced the doors open, police removed them from the building and reportedly fired rubber bullets into the crowd as an impromptu protest formed. On July 29, another march was held to protest the government’s actions, and residents reported that this protest unfolded peacefully.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

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

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

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

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

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

The ministry did not renew the accreditations of the NGOs SOS Disparu (Missing), the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights (LADDH), the National Association for the Fight Against Corruption, and the Youth Action Movement, all of which submitted their renewal applications in prior years.

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

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

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

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Civil society organizations reported that authorities prevented sub-Saharan African migrants in the areas around Tamanrasset from traveling north toward coastal population centers.

In-country Movement: The constitution provides citizens “the right to freely choose their place of residence and to move throughout the national territory.” The government maintained restrictions for security reasons on travel into the southern locales of El-Oued and Illizi, near hydrocarbon industry installations and the Libyan border, respectively. Citing the threat of terrorism, the government also prevented overland tourist travel between the southern cities of Tamanrasset, Djanet, and Illizi. Newspapers reported that the government restricted foreign tourists from traveling through trails in Tassili and Hoggar, as well as certain areas in and around Tamanrasset, due to security concerns.

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

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

The government protected an estimated 90,000 to 165,000 Sahrawi refugees who departed Western Sahara after Morocco took control of the territory in the 1970s. UNHCR, the World Food Program (WFP), UNICEF, the Algerian Red Crescent, the Sahrawi Red Crescent, and other organizations assisted Sahrawi refugees. Neither the government nor the refugee leadership has allowed UNHCR to conduct registration or complete a census of the Sahrawi refugees. In the absence of formal registration, UNHCR and WFP based humanitarian assistance on a planning figure of 90,000 refugees. There is, however, a joint Sahrawi–UNHCR effort underway to capture more accurately the actual number of persons residing in the Sahrawi camps. The government said that a drop in aid from international donors led to worsening conditions for Sahrawi refugees, and that it had increased its own contributions as a result.

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

The government said that more than 700 people, primarily Nigeriens, were repatriated during the year. The government, led by the Algerian Red Crescent, repatriated more than 17,000 Nigerien migrants to their country pursuant to a bilateral agreement at the request of the government of Niger since 2014, in several repatriation operations. Various international humanitarian organizations and observers criticized the operations, citing unacceptable conditions of transport, primarily on the Niger side of the border, and what they described as a lack of coordination among the Algerian Red Crescent, the government of Niger, and the Red Cross of Niger. In July the National Human Rights Committee (CNDH) said the Algerian government had dedicated an additional $3.8 million to ensuring the human rights of migrants during repatriation operations. The repatriations were conducted in coordination with consular officials from the countries of origin of the migrants, but the migrants were not permitted to challenge their removal. The government said that it maintained a policy of not removing migrants registered with UNHCR, and that in a few cases it worked with UNHCR to return registered refugees who were mistakenly removed.

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

As of June the Ministry of Foreign Affairs reported that since the start of the conflict in Syria, it accepted more than 40,000 Syrian refugees. Between 2012 and 2017, UNHCR registered more than 10,000 Syrians, but fewer than 6,000 remained registered with UNHCR as of September. The Algerian Red Crescent, which is subordinate to the Ministry of Solidarity, maintained “welcome facilities” that provided food and shelter for those Syrians without means to support themselves. The facilities were located in Sidi Fredj. The government did not grant UNHCR access to these reception centers but reported that by 2016 most Syrians no longer used the centers.

A group of Syrian refugees were stranded on the Moroccan-Algerian border from April to June, with both countries insisting the group was on the other country’s territory. Algeria offered to allow the refugees onto its territory on June 3 but they were not able to enter due to ambiguity regarding the border demarcation. Morocco announced on June 20 it would allow the migrants onto its territory, resolving the issue.

The Ministry of Interior estimated in 2016 that there were 21,073 irregular migrants residing in the country. Independent observers’ estimates in 2017 ranged from 25,000-200,000. Official statistics for 2017 were unavailable, but a government official said the numbers had likely increased compared to previous years due to instability in parts of sub-Saharan Africa.

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

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

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

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

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. Restrictions on freedom of assembly and association as well as restrictions on political party activities inhibited the activity of opposition groups.

Elections and Political Participation

The law states that members of local, provincial, and national assemblies are elected for five-year mandates and that presidential elections occur within 30 days prior to the expiration of the presidential mandate. Presidential term limits, which were eliminated in 2008, were reintroduced in a 2016 revision of the constitution and limit the president to two terms. The Ministry of Interior is responsible for organizing the election and voting processes. In 2016 the government created a High Independent Election Monitoring Body (HIISE), charged with monitoring elections and investigating allegations of irregularities. The head of the HIISE, Abdelwahab Derbal, said after the May legislative elections that the mandate of the HIISE should be strengthened and the electoral law revised, based on deficiencies identified on election day.

Recent Elections: Presidential elections took place in 2014, and voters re-elected President Bouteflika for a fourth term. Bouteflika won approximately 81 percent of the votes, while his main rival and former prime minister, Ali Benflis, placed second with slightly more than 12 percent.

Several hundred international election observers from the United Nations, Arab League, African Union, and Organization of Islamic Cooperation monitored voting. Foreign observers characterized the elections as largely peaceful but pointed to low voter turnout and a high rate of ballot invalidity. El Watan, an independent daily newspaper, reported that almost 10 percent of ballots cast were invalid. The Ministry of Interior did not provide domestic or foreign observers with voter registration lists. President of the Constitutional Council Mourad Medelci announced voter participation in the elections was just under 51 percent, a sharp drop from the slightly more than 74 percent turnout during the previous presidential election in 2009.

Benflis rejected the results and claimed that fraud marred the elections. He appealed to the Constitutional Council without result. A coalition of Islamic and secular opposition parties boycotted the election, describing it as a masquerade and asserting that President Bouteflika was unfit to run due to his health. Several candidates withdrew from the race, claiming that the outcome was a foregone conclusion.

Elections for the lower chamber of parliament were held in May and did not result in significant changes in the composition of the government. The government allowed international observation of the elections but did not permit local civil society organizations to do the same. Most major opposition parties lost seats in the elections, and several parties claimed the results were significantly altered by fraud. Foreign observers from the African Union, Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and Arab League characterized the elections as largely well organized and conducted without significant problems on election day. Local media outlets reported that a team of European Union elections experts provided the government a report noting a lack of transparency in vote counting procedures, but the report was not made public. In September, Algerian National Front party leader Moussa Touati stated that his party paid bribes in order to secure its single seat in parliament. Several opposition political parties claimed voter turnout figures were inflated and that the results were fraudulent.

After local elections in November, governing parties maintained control of the vast majority of provincial and municipal councils. There were no international observers for the local elections.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The Ministry of Interior must approve political parties before they may operate legally.

The government maintained undue media influence and opposition political parties claimed they did not have access to public television and radio. Security forces dispersed political opposition rallies and interfered with the right to organize.

Pursuant to the constitution, all parties must have a “national base.” The electoral law adopted by parliament in July 2016 requires parties to have received 4 percent of the vote in the preceding election or to collect 250 signatures in the electoral district in order to appear on the ballot. Opposition parties from across the political spectrum criticized the new law for creating a more complex process for qualifying for the ballot, as well as for establishing an electoral monitoring body whose members would be appointed by the president and parliament, which is controlled by a coalition headed by the president’s party.

The law prohibits parties based on religion, ethnicity, gender, language, or region, but there were various political parties commonly known to be Islamist, notably members of the Green Alliance. According to the Ministry of Interior, in September there were 70 registered political parties.

The law does not place significant restrictions on voter registration, but implementation of voter registration and identification laws proved inconsistent and confusing during past elections.

Membership in the Islamic Salvation Front, a political party banned since 1992, remained illegal. The law also bans political party ties to nonpolitical associations and regulates party financing and reporting requirements. According to the law, political parties may not receive direct or indirect financial or material support from any foreign parties. The law also stipulates the collection of resources from contributions by the party’s members, donations, and revenue from its activities, in addition to possible state funding.

Opposition party leaders complained that the government did not provide timely authorizations to hold rallies or party congresses.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and women and minorities did participate. The law requires parties to ensure that at least 30 percent of the candidates on their electoral lists are women.

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

A variety of domestic human rights groups operated with varying degrees of government restriction and cooperation. The law requires all civil associations to apply for operating permission, and at year’s end several major civil associations remained unrecognized but tolerated.

Amnesty International maintained an office and actively reported on human rights issues, but it did not receive official authorization to operate from the Ministry of Interior.

Although the government did not renew the accreditation of LADDH, the organization had members countrywide, received independent funding, and was the most active independent human rights group. The Algerian League for Human Rights, a separate but licensed organization based in Constantine, had members throughout the country monitoring individual cases.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government extended an invitation to the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances in 2014 and again in 2015, but no visit occurred. The country joined the HRC in 2014 but continued to deny requests for visits from the UN special rapporteurs on extrajudicial executions (pending since 1998), counterterrorism and human rights (pending since 2006), and the UN Working Group on arbitrary detention (pending since 2009). The government said it restarted discussions regarding a potential visit by the special rapporteur on counterterrorism and human rights in May.

Government Human Rights Bodies: In March the government replaced the National Consultative Commission for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights (CNCPPDH) with the CNDH. This new human rights body had budget autonomy and the responsibility to investigate alleged human rights abuses, officially comment on laws proposed by the government, and publish an annual report. At year’s end, the CNDH had presented its first draft report to President Bouteflika, but the report had not been made public by year’s end. During the year, the CNDH organized seminars and workshops on topics such as penitentiary reform and trafficking in persons. A CNDH representative said the organization viewed the most serious human rights concerns as limits on socioeconomic rights, as well as limits on free speech.

Andorra

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices, and 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.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted visits by independent human rights observers.

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/her arrest or detention in court, and the government generally observed these prohibitions.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The country’s only security forces are the police, prison officers, traffic police, and forestry officials. The Ministry of Social Affairs, Justice, and Interior maintained effective civilian control over the security forces, and the government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse. There were no reports of impunity involving security forces during the year.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires warrants for arrest. Police may legally detain persons for 48 hours without a hearing, and police generally observed this time limit. A judge has up to 24 hours to charge or release the detainee. Police promptly informed detainees of charges against them. A bail system exists. The law provides detainees the right to legal counsel from the moment of arrest. Persons charged with a crime may choose their own lawyers or accept one designated by the government. Detainees generally had prompt access to family members.

Pretrial Detention: On average, prisoners spent nine months in pretrial detention before being judged.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Persons arrested and detained are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention and to obtain prompt release and compensation if found to have been unlawfully detained. They may also seek to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

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 a presumption of innocence and receive prompt, detailed notification of the charges against them. Trials are fair and public and for the most part held without delay. Defendants have the right to be present and consult in a timely manner with an attorney of their choice. If a defendant cannot afford an attorney, the government must appoint a public attorney. Defendants and their attorneys have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. The government provides an interpreter, if needed, from the moment of being charged through all appeals. Defendants can confront or question witnesses against them and present witnesses and evidence on their behalf. Defendants cannot be compelled to testify or confess guilt, and they have the right to appeal.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Plaintiffs may bring lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, a human rights violation. Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic decisions to the ECHR. The national ombudsman also serves to protect and defend basic rights and public freedom on behalf of citizens.

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:

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and the 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 2015 to be free and fair.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women in the political process, and they did participate. Citizens were ethnically and linguistically homogeneous but as of the end of the year, represented only 46 percent of the country’s population. The majority of the population consisted of immigrants, largely from Spain, Portugal, and France. The law requires 15 to 20 years of residency for naturalization. Because only citizens have the right to hold official positions, there were no members of minorities in government.

Angola

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

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

There were reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. On December 7, human rights activist and journalist Rafael Marques de Morais released a report, “The Field of Death,” alleging Criminal Investigation Service (SIC) officers engaged in a campaign of extrajudicial killings of young men in Luanda from April 2016 through November 2017. According to Marques, many of the victims were accused of petty criminality or otherwise labeled as “undesirable” by residents of their respective communities. The report alleged the national police at times coordinated with SIC officers in the killings. On December 11, the public prosecutor announced the creation of a commission of inquiry to investigate the allegations.

Fifteen months after the August 2016 killing of 14-year-old Rufino Antonio during an Angolan Armed Forces (FAA) demolition operation of allegedly unauthorized housing, authorities arrested and charged an FAA soldier with Rufino’s death. The trial of the FAA soldier continued at year’s end.

At year’s end the Supreme Court had not rendered a decision on the appeal of the 28-year sentence imposed in April 2016 on Jose Kalupeteka, leader of the Light of the World religious sect, for the 2015 clashes between members of his group and police that left 13 civilians and nine police officers dead, according to official figures. There was no information on the status of the Attorney General’s Office (PGR) investigation into the August 2016 clashes between police and Light of the World followers in Kwanza Sul Province that reportedly resulted in the deaths of five church members and three police officers.

b. Disappearance

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

For example, Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) representatives alleged that on June 28, MPLA party members kidnapped Adelino Joao Cassoma, a UNITA party member, tortured him, and threw him into the Cuango River in Lunda Norte Province. The MPLA accused UNITA of lying and concealing Cassoma’s whereabouts. On August 8, a man alleging to be Adelino Joao Cassoma appeared before the media to insist that he had not been kidnapped but had hidden in the forest for more than 20 days due to fear of political intolerance. UNITA claimed that the man was an imposter and that Cassoma remained missing. There was no additional information on the case at year’s end.

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

The constitution and law prohibit all forms of torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, but the government did not always enforce these prohibitions. Periodic reports continued of beatings and other abuses of persons on the way to and in police stations during interrogations. The government acknowledged that at times members of the security forces used excessive force when apprehending individuals. Police authorities openly condemned some acts of violence or excessive force against individuals and asked that victims report abuses to the national police or the Office of the Public Defender (Ombudsman).

On September 16, police found Dias Casa Mbata dead in a police station in Luanda following his arrest the previous day. An autopsy revealed Mbata suffered three skull fractures, a broken arm, and multiple bruises. The Ministry of Interior opened an investigation into possible unlawful arrest and police brutality in the case.

Security forces reacted harshly and sometimes violently to public demonstrations against the government. The visible presence of security forces was enough to deter significantly what were deemed by the government to be unlawful demonstrations. Authorities claimed known agitators who sought only to create social instability organized many of the public demonstrations.

Unlike in previous years, there were no reports of abuses by private security companies in diamond producing regions.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions were harsh and potentially life threatening. Domestic NGOs, activists, and the media continued to highlight corruption, violence, overcrowding, a lack of medical care, and generally poor conditions.

Physical Conditions: In April 2016 Antonio Fortunato, director general of penitentiary services, acknowledged overcrowding in prisons was a serious problem.

Authorities frequently held pretrial detainees with sentenced inmates, and short-term detainees with those serving long-term sentences for violent crimes, especially in provincial prisons.

Prison conditions varied widely between urban and rural areas. Prisons in rural areas were less crowded and reportedly had better rehabilitation, training, and reintegration services. Prisons did not always provide adequate medical care, sanitation, potable water, or food, and it was customary for families to bring food to prisoners. Local NGOs stated prison services were insufficient. In 2015 Fortunato acknowledged that approximately five prisoners died each month in the country’s prisons from diseases such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis.

In 2016, while a prisoner inside the Viana jail, Bruno Marques took photographs that allegedly depicted the jail’s deplorable conditions and sick and malnourished prisoners. Newspaper Novo Jornal published the photographs in a September 2016 article, and there were reports that members of the Rapid Intervention Police and Special Prison Services Detachment tortured Marques while he was still a prisoner in response to the publication. On March 25, unknown assailants shot and beat Marques to death in a Luanda suburb. Police opened an investigation into the killing, which was pending at year’s end.

On July 20, the NGO Ame Naame Omunu denounced conditions in Peu Peu prison in Cunene Province. After receiving complaints from family members of deceased prisoners, the NGO contacted the municipal hospital, which confirmed the presence of nine deceased prisoners’ bodies in the hospital morgue. No information was available on causes of death. The NGO filed a letter of complaint with the provincial-level representative of the Ministry of Interior, but authorities conducted no official investigation.

Administration: The government investigated and monitored prison and detention center conditions.

Some offenders, including violent offenders, reported paying fines and bribes to secure their freedom, but it was unclear how prevalent this practice was.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted visits to prisons by independent local and international human rights observers and foreign diplomats. Nevertheless, civil society organizations faced difficulties in contacting detainees, and prison authorities undermined civil society work in the prisons.

Members of opposition parties visited prisons around the country on a regular basis and reported uneven improvements in living conditions and rehabilitation programs. A local NGO that provides pro bono legal services to inmates said prison officials were trying to improve conditions but overcrowding limited results. According to the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, ministry representatives made monthly visits to detention centers with representatives of the Office of the Public Defender, the PGR, and members of the National Assembly to assess prisoners’ living conditions.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention; however, security forces did not always respect these prohibitions. The constitution provides the right of habeas corpus to citizens to challenge their detention before a court.

According to several NGO and civil society sources, police arbitrarily arrested individuals without due process and routinely detained persons who participated, or were about to participate, in antigovernment protests, despite this right being protected by the constitution. While they often released detainees after a few hours, police at times charged them with crimes.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The national police, controlled by the Ministry of Interior, are responsible for internal security and law enforcement. The SIC, also under the Ministry of Interior, are responsible for preventing and investigating domestic crimes. The Expatriate and Migration Services and the Border Guard Police, in the Ministry of Interior, are responsible for migration law enforcement. The state intelligence and security service reports to the presidency and investigates sensitive state security matters. The FAA are responsible for external security but also have domestic security responsibilities, including border security, expulsion of irregular migrants, and small-scale actions against Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda separatists in Cabinda.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the FAA and the national police, and the government has mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. The security forces generally were effective, although sometimes brutal, at maintaining stability. There were allegations during the year that the SIC committed extrajudicial killings, at times in coordination with the national police, to combat crime (see section 1.a.). The national police and FAA have internal mechanisms to investigate security force abuses, and the government provided some training to reform the security forces. Impunity for security force abuses remained a problem, however.

Local populations generally welcomed police presence in neighborhoods and on streets as enhancing general safety and security. Nevertheless, police routinely were believed to extort civilians to supplement their income. Corruption and impunity remained serious problems. The national police handled most complaints internally through opaque disciplinary procedures, which sometimes led to formal punishment, including dismissal. They participated in a television series designed to show a gamut of interactions between police and civilians. The goal of the show was to encourage the population to collaborate with police while discouraging security force members’ procurement of bribes or their payment. The national police also utilized social media to communicate with civilians. The PGR has an anticorruption unit, charged with oversight of police wrongdoing. The government disclosed publicly the results of some investigations that led to disciplinary action. For example, on October 3, the Zaire Military Court sentenced three police officers to between three and four years in prison for insubordination and facilitating illegal immigration in order to extort money from irregular migrants.

Police participated in professional training provided by national and international organizations that focused on human rights, combatting trafficking in persons, and law enforcement best practices during elections.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires a magistrate or judge to issue a warrant before an arrest may be made, although a person caught committing an offense may be arrested immediately without a warrant. Authorities, however, did not always procure warrants before making an arrest.

By law the public prosecutor must inform the detainee of the legal basis for his or her detention within 48 hours. NGO sources reported authorities often did not respect the law. If the public prosecutor is unable to determine whether there is a legal basis for the detention within 48 hours, the prosecutor has the authority to release the person or, depending on the seriousness of the case, require the person to submit to one or more pretrial procedures prescribed by law, such as posting bail, periodic appearance before authorities, or house arrest.

If the public prosecutor determines a legal basis exists for the detention, a person can be held in pretrial detention for up to four months without charge and up to 12 months before a judge is required to rule on the case. Cases of special complexity regarding crimes punishable by eight or more years allow for pretrial detention without charge for up to six months, and up to 14 months before a judge is required to rule on the case. By law the period of pretrial detention counts toward the total amount of time served.

The law states that all detainees have the right to a lawyer, either chosen by them or appointed by the government on a pro bono basis. The lack of lawyers in certain provinces at times impeded the right to a lawyer. There was an insufficient number to handle the volume of criminal cases, and the geographical distribution of lawyers was a problem, since most lawyers were concentrated in Luanda. During the year the Angolan Justice, Peace, and Democracy Association published a study, “Angola: Justice Sector, Human Rights and State Law,” which reported 1,528 accredited and 2,426 unaccredited (those who have yet to pass the bar exam) lawyers in the country. More than 80 percent of accredited and unaccredited lawyers resided in Luanda Province. In 2015 the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights reported that all municipal courts were staffed with licensed lawyers, but at the same time it recognized access to a lawyer, especially in the provinces and in rural areas, remained a problem. Several lawyers and NGOs noted that even in Luanda most poor defendants did not have access to lawyers during their first appearance before a judicial authority or during their trial. When a lawyer is unavailable, a judge may appoint a clerk of the court to represent the defendant, but clerks of the court often lacked the necessary training to provide an adequate defense.

The law allows family members prompt access to detainees, but prison officials occasionally ignored this right or made it conditional upon payment of a bribe. The law requires detainees be held incommunicado for up to 48 hours until being presented to a public prosecutor, except they may communicate with their lawyer or a family member.

A functioning but ineffective bail system, widely used for minor crimes, existed. Prisoners and their families reported that prison officials demanded bribes to release prisoners.

Arbitrary Arrest: Unlawful arrest and detention remained serious problems. According to the PGR, allegations of government wrongdoing on arrest practices made by local and international NGOs were due to a lack of understanding of national laws. For example, on April 17, police detained seven activists in the Cacuaco suburb of Luanda for holding a protest demanding transparent elections. The young men, charged with acts of rebellion and resisting arrest, received a sentence of 45 days’ imprisonment and a fine of 65,000 kwanzas ($382); authorities released them on June 9 after they had completed their sentence.

Pretrial Detention: Excessively long pretrial detention continued to be a serious problem. An inadequate number of judges and poor communication among authorities contributed to the problem. In some cases authorities held inmates in prison for up to two years before their trials began. The Ministry of Interior reported in 2016 that 11,000 inmates were pretrial detainees, approximately 45 percent of the total inmate population. The government often did not release detainees confined beyond the legal time limit, claiming previous releases of pretrial detainees had resulted in an increase in crime. During the year the provincial government of Cunene held twice-monthly court sessions inside the Peu Peu prison to alleviate lengthy pretrial detention.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: In June 2016 the Supreme Court granted a group of activists known as the “15+2” a writ of habeas corpus, ruling that following their March conviction and sentencing to between two and eight years in prison by the Luanda Provincial Court, the appeal lodged by their lawyers had a suspensive effect and required their release pending the outcome of their appeal. Judge Domingos Januario, the judge of first instance for the Luanda Provincial Court, was later accused of concealing the activists’ petition for habeas corpus from the Supreme Court. The attorney general launched an investigation of the judge’s handling of the case, which was pending at year’s end.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent and impartial judiciary. Institutional weaknesses in the judicial system, however, such as political influence in the decision-making process, were problems. The Ministry of Justice and Human Rights and the PGR worked to improve the independence of prosecutors and judges. The National Institute for Judicial Studies conducted capacity-building programs on the importance of an independent judicial system.

There were long trial delays at the Supreme Court. Criminal courts also had a large backlog of cases, which resulted in major delays in hearings. There were only 22 municipal courts for 163 municipalities.

Informal courts remained the principal institutions through which citizens resolved civil conflicts in rural areas, such as disputes over a bartering deal. Each community in which informal courts were located established local rules, creating disparities in how similar cases were resolved from one community to the next. Traditional leaders (known as “sobas”) also heard and decided local civil cases. Sobas do not have the authority to resolve criminal cases; only courts can hear criminal cases.

Both the national police and the FAA have internal court systems that generally remained closed to outside scrutiny. Although members of these organizations can be tried under their internal regulations, cases that include violations of criminal or civil laws can also fall under the jurisdiction of provincial courts. Both the PGR and the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights have civilian oversight responsibilities over military courts.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

Although the law provides all citizens the right to a fair trial, authorities did not always respect this right. Defendants enjoy the right to a presumption of innocence until proven guilty. Authorities must inform defendants of the charges levied against them in detail within 48 hours of their detention. Defendants have the right to free language interpretation during all legal proceedings from the moment charged through all appeals. By law trials are usually public, although each court has the right to close proceedings. Defendants have the right to be present and consult with an attorney, either chosen by them or appointed by the state, in a timely manner. According to the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, all public defenders are licensed lawyers. Defendants do not have the right to confront their accusers. They may question witnesses against them and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Defendants have the right to sufficient time and facilities to prepare a defense. The law protects defendants from providing self-incriminating testimony. Individuals have the right to appeal their convictions. Authorities did not always respect these trial procedure rights.

A separate juvenile court is designated for children’s affairs. The juvenile court hears cases of minors between the ages of 12 and 16 accused of committing a criminal offense. Minors over age 16 accused of committing a criminal offense are tried in regular courts. In many rural municipalities, there is no provision for juvenile courts, so offenders as young as 12 can be tried as adults. In many cases traditional leaders have state authority to resolve disputes and determine punishments for civil offenses, including offenses committed by juveniles. Traditional authorities are defined in the constitution as ad hoc units of the state.

The president appoints Supreme Court justices for life terms without confirmation by the National Assembly. The Supreme Court generally hears cases concerning alleged political and security crimes.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

The Ministry of Justice and Human Rights denied there were political prisoners in the country. Opposition political parties, however, often claimed authorities detained their members because of their political affiliations.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Damages for human rights violations may be sought in municipal or provincial courts and appealed to the Supreme Court.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

The constitution recognizes the right to housing and quality of life, and the law states that persons relocated should receive fair compensation. The constitution provides that all untitled land belongs to the state. In August 2016 security forces demolished hundreds of allegedly illegal, privately built homes in Zango, a suburban Luanda zone that falls within the restrictive perimeter of the Luanda-Bengo Special Economic Zone. The demolitions reportedly displaced thousands of persons and resulted in several deaths. Some persons forced to move did not receive fair compensation, at times due to lack of clear title or permits for the destroyed property. Relocated persons who received new housing units often complained their units were located far from their jobs or places of business, or were of substandard quality.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such actions, but the government did not always respect these prohibitions. Civil organizations and politically active individuals, including government critics, members of opposition parties, and journalists, complained the government maintained surveillance of their activities and membership. These groups also frequently complained of threats and harassment based on their affiliations with groups that were purportedly or explicitly antigovernment.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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.

Antigua and Barbuda

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

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

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prisoners in Her Majesty’s Prison, the country’s only prison, faced severe conditions and extreme overcrowding.

Physical Conditions: Her Majesty’s Prison, designed to hold a maximum of 150 inmates, held 334 male and 17 female prisoners as of September. Authorities separated remanded prisoners from convicted prisoners when space was available. Remanded inmates faced the harshest conditions, since their cells were the most overcrowded. As of September the prison held three juvenile inmates in maximum security.

Extremely poor ventilation caused cell temperatures to remain very high, and hygiene was inadequate. The prison had inadequate toilet facilities, with slop pails used in all cells except for those of the female prisoners. The men’s section had no showers; inmates used buckets to wash themselves. The women’s section of the prison had two showers; prison staff provided some feminine hygiene products to women, although most female inmates’ families provided for this need. Conditions in the kitchen were unsanitary, aggravated by the presence of insects, rodents, and stray cats (to catch rodents). The yard area also had stray cats and rodents.

Inmates with mental disabilities were held in the prison, in large part because the island’s psychiatric facility was also overcrowded. The prison superintendent reported that inmates had access to a mental health professional. The superintendent reported that bribery and corruption were common in the prison, with guards allegedly taking bribes and smuggling contraband such as liquor, cell phones, and marijuana to prisoners.

The prison had a work release program for men, but female inmates did not have a comparable program.

Conditions at the police holding facility in Saint John’s Station were also deficient. Inmates did not have ready access to potable water and were fed three meals of sausage and stale bread each day. Toilets were inadequate, and a rusty smell permeated the facility. Like Her Majesty’s Prison, the building was very old and appeared to be in a state of disrepair.

Administration: Complaints were handled in several ways, including a prison welfare officer, a complaints committee, and a prisoner appointed to lodge complaints.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted prison visits by independent human rights observers, although no such visits occurred during the year.

Improvements: During the year authorities repaired the water system in Her Majesty’s Prison, restoring a running, potable water supply to prisoners.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge his/her arrest or detention in court, and the government generally observed these requirements. Prisoners on remand, however, remained in detention for an average of three to four years before their cases came to trial, according to the director of the Office of Public Prosecutions.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Security forces consist of a police force; a prison guard service; immigration, airport, and port security personnel; the small Antigua and Barbuda Defense Force; and the Office of National Drug Control and Money Laundering Policy. Police fall under the responsibility of the attorney general, who is also the minister of justice, legal affairs, public safety, and labor. Immigration falls under the minister of foreign affairs, international trade, and immigration.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces, and the government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse. The prime minister can call for an independent investigation into an incident as needed. The Professional Standards Department, which investigates complaints against police, is headed by the deputy police commissioner and decides whether an investigation is conducted. Senior authorities typically held police accountable for their actions. There were no reports of impunity involving the security forces during the year.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law permits police to arrest without a warrant persons suspected of committing a crime. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and victims reported that police often abused this provision. Criminal defendants have the right to a prompt judicial determination of the legality of their detention. Police must bring detainees before a court within 48 hours of arrest or detention, but NGOs reported that victims were often held for 96 hours before being presented to a court. Authorities allowed criminal detainees prompt access to counsel and family members. The system requires those accused of more serious crimes to appeal to the High Court for bail.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides for criminal defendants to receive a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Trials are by jury. Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence, have timely access to counsel, may be present at their trial, may confront adverse witnesses, may present their own witnesses and evidence, and have the right to appeal. In murder trials the government provides legal assistance at public expense to persons without the means to retain a private attorney. Defendants have the right to free assistance of an interpreter.

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. They may apply to the High Court for redress of alleged violations of their constitutional rights. They may appeal adverse domestic decisions to regional human rights bodies.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but the government respected this right on a somewhat limited basis.

Press and Media Freedoms: Privately owned print media, including daily and weekly newspapers, were active and offered a range of opinions. There were claims, however, that the government did not allow fair access to opposition and independent media. In public statements the prime minister threatened journalists and singled out the sole independent media outlet as the cause for the country’s problems.

Libel/Slander Laws: There were two libel cases pending against the country’s sole independent media outlet involving ruling party ministers.

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

According to 2016 International Telecommunication Union data, 73 percent of the population had access to the internet.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for the freedoms of 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 www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government generally respected these rights. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Organization for Migration, and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees and asylum seekers.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The country does not have any laws or legal procedures governing asylum or refugee status. The government handles asylum requests on an ad hoc basis.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In the 2014 elections, the Antigua and Barbuda Labor Party won 14 of 17 seats in the House of Representatives and took over the government. The then incumbent United Progressive Party won three seats. The Organization of American States observer group reported the elections were generally free and fair.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women and/or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate.

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

A number of domestic 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.

Government Human Rights Bodies: There is an ombudsman position, an independent authority appointed by parliament, to handle complaints regarding police and other government offices and officials; however, no ombudsman was appointed after the term of the previous ombudsman expired in 2014. The Office of the Ombudsman was unable to take complaints and could only offer advice or refer citizens to other offices.

Argentina

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 Committee against Torture of the Buenos Aires Provincial Memory Commission reported 109 deaths in 2016 due to unwarranted or excessive force by police in the metropolitan area of Buenos Aires. A credible domestic NGO reported there were 241 deaths in 2016 as a result of unwarranted or excessive force by police in the country.

On September 4, authorities detained and questioned approximately 30 police officers and five civilians in the death of Franco Casco in 2014. Casco’s body was found in the Parana River two weeks after he was allegedly last seen in police custody. According to federal prosecutors, there was evidence that authorities tampered with the official autopsy to hide signs of violence, presumably sustained during interrogation, and did not register Casco’s original detention in police reports.

b. Disappearance

On November 24, an official autopsy of activist Santiago Maldonado stated that he died of drowning and hypothermia, and that his body showed no signs of mistreatment. Maldonado was allegedly last seen on August 1 being taken into custody by the Gendarmerie, a federal security force. He had been protesting alongside members of the Mapuche indigenous community in Chubut Province who claimed the area as an ancestral birthright. Several NGOs alleged Maldonado was forcibly disappeared by state security forces, and international rights bodies had expressed concern over the missing activist and the slowness of the government investigation, while the government stated the investigation had been slowed by lack of cooperation by the Mapuche community. On August 22, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) had granted precautionary measures to protect Maldonado’s rights.

Authorities continued to investigate and prosecute individuals implicated in disappearances, killings, and torture committed during the 1976-83 military dictatorship and the 1974-76 government of Isabel Peron. On September 15, Tucuman’s federal court sentenced four former police officers and two former army officials to life imprisonment for their participation in the 1975-76 Independence Operation, which resulted in 16 killings, 133 disappearances, and 144 kidnappings. The court acquitted seven police and army officer defendants, while four others received prison sentences ranging from four to 18 years. On February 17, authorities arrested former Kirchner army chief Cesar Milani for crimes allegedly committed during the military dictatorship. On September 17, a judge also ordered him to stand trial for illegal enrichment during his 2012-15 term as army chief. On May 3, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a reduced sentence for Luis Muina, convicted in 2013 for murder, torture, and kidnapping during the military dictatorship, counting as double the time Muina served in prison before conviction. The decision to count double time for his pretrial confinement through the retroactive application of a controversial 1994-2001 “2×1” law that had not previously been applied to human rights crimes sparked public outcry, with activists claiming the law would effectively release human rights abusers early and set a dangerous precedent for appeals by others convicted of abuses. On May 12, President Macri signed into law a congressional initiative that prevents the application of the “2×1” sentencing benefit to crimes against humanity.

Judicial authorities continued to investigate cases of kidnapping and illegal adoption of children born to detained dissidents by members of the former military dictatorship. On August 16 and October 26, the NGO Abuelas de la Plaza de Mayo reported that the 124th and 125th missing grandchildren of the estimated 500 persons born to detained and missing dissidents during the dictatorship and illegally adopted by former military officials had been identified and made aware of their backgrounds.

The Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team continued to provide technical support and assistance in the identification of remains of victims of the military junta.

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

The law prohibits torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment and provides penalties for torture similar to those for homicide. NGOs, the Center for Legal and Social Studies (CELS), the Prosecutor General’s Office, the National Penitentiary Prosecutor’s Office (an independent government body that monitors prison conditions), and the Buenos Aires Provincial Memory Commission’s Committee against Torture (an autonomous office established by the provincial government) reported complaints of torture perpetrated by provincial and federal prison officials.

No unified registration system to record acts and victims of torture existed at the federal level. An UN Committee against Torture review in April expressed concern about excessive and arbitrary use of force by police, prison overcrowding, and related institutional violence including torture, uneven implementation of torture prevention laws between provinces, the politicization and unclear mandates of various torture prevention institutions, and the lack of an ombudsman against torture since 2008. According to the Secretariat of Human Rights, from January 2016 to March 2017, the country’s special prosecutor for institutional violence received 436 cases of institutional violence for different crimes allegedly committed by members of security forces in discharge of their duty or against persons deprived of their liberty. As of April, 87 cases were investigated and 25 were prosecuted.

The Buenos Aires Provincial Criminal Court of Cassation’s Office of Public Defenders reported that in 2016, the most recent data available, there were 673 complaints of torture and mistreatment by law enforcement officers during arrest or institutional confinement.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions often were harsh due to overcrowding, poor medical care, and unsanitary conditions. Particularly in the province of Buenos Aires, which held more than half the country’s total prison population, there were reports of forced transfers and the recurrent use of solitary confinement as a method of punishment.

Physical Conditions: While prison capacity in federal penitentiaries was marginally adequate, prison overcrowding remained a problem. Prisoners in Buenos Aires provincial penitentiaries and police holding facilities exceeded facility capacity by an estimated 894 percent, according to CELS and the Committee against Torture of the Buenos Aires Provincial Memory Commission. NGOs reported a record number of approximately 40,000 detainees in Buenos Aires Province, an increase of 30 percent during the last five years. Many pretrial detainees were held with convicted prisoners.

Inmates in many facilities suffered from overcrowding; poor nutrition; inadequate medical and psychological treatment; inadequate sanitation, heating, ventilation, and light; limited family visits; and frequent degrading treatment, according to reports by human rights organizations and research centers.

Overcrowding in juvenile facilities often resulted in minors being held in police station facilities, although some NGOs and the national prison ombudsman noted the law prohibited doing so.

Women’s prisons were generally less violent, dangerous, and crowded than men’s prisons. Pregnant prisoners were exempted from work and rigorous physical exercise and were transferred to the penitentiary clinic prior to their delivery date. Children born to women in prison may remain in a special area of the prison with the mother until the age of four and receive daycare.

According to the Penitentiary Prosecutors Office, 343 cases of torture and mistreatment were registered in the Federal Penitentiary Service during the first semester of the year; however, only 120 complaints resulted in criminal investigations.

The Federal Penitentiary Service reported 21 inmate deaths in federal prisons, 10 of which were violent with most in the Ezeiza Federal Prison in Buenos Aires Province. The Committee of Torture of the Buenos Aires Provincial Memory Commission stated that 156 prisoners died in the province of Buenos Aires as of November, 111 from health problems and lack of medical attention.

On March 2, seven detainees died when a fire broke out in Police Station No. 1 in Pergamino, Buenos Aires Province. Authorities arrested five police officers following the fire, while the police chief evaded arrest. On March 9, the IACHR expressed concern about the detention conditions in Pergamino and other police stations, designed to serve only as temporary holding facilities, and NGOs highlighted the lack of basic services and infrastructure in such facilities.

Administration: Authorities permitted prisoners and detainees to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and to request investigation of credible allegations of inhuman conditions. Local NGOs noted, however, that access to a public defender was sometimes limited and that prisoners occasionally did not submit complaints to authorities due to fear of reprisal.

Independent Monitoring: The government usually permitted monitoring by independent local and international human rights observers.

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/her arrest or detention in court, and the government generally observed these requirements.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The federal police generally have jurisdiction for maintaining law and order in the federal capital and for federal crimes in the provinces. Other federal police authorities include the airport security police, the Gendarmerie, the Coast Guard, and the Bureau of Prisons. All federal police forces fall under the authority of the Ministry of Security. Each province, including the city of Buenos Aires, also has its own police force that responds to a provincial (or municipal) security ministry or secretariat. Individual forces varied considerably in their effectiveness and respect for human rights. The armed forces fall under the Ministry of Defense and by law do not participate in internal security. Through executive decree the government sought to expand the scope of the armed forces to provide logistics support and surveillance of national borders. The federal security forces have authority to conduct internal investigations into alleged abuses and to dismiss individuals who allegedly committed a human rights violation.

The federal government can file complaints about alleged abuses with the federal courts, and provincial governments can do the same for provincial security forces. Members of security forces convicted of a crime were subject to stiff penalties. Authorities generally administratively suspended officers accused of wrongdoing until their investigations were completed. While authorities investigated and in some cases detained, prosecuted, and convicted the officers involved, impunity at the federal and provincial level remained a problem.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Police generally apprehended individuals openly with warrants based on sufficient evidence and issued by a duly authorized official. Police may detain suspects for up to 10 hours without an arrest warrant if authorities have a well founded belief they have committed or are about to commit a crime or police are unable to determine the suspect’s identity. Human rights groups reported that police occasionally arrested persons arbitrarily and detained suspects longer than 10 hours.

The law provides detainees with the right to a prompt determination of the legality of their detention by a lower criminal court judge, who determines whether to proceed with an investigation. In some cases there were delays in this process and in informing detainees of the charges against them.

The law provides for the right to bail except in cases involving flight risk or risk of subornation of justice.

Authorities allowed detainees prompt access to counsel and provided public defenders if they were unable to afford counsel. In some cases such access was delayed due to an overburdened system.

Arbitrary Arrest: Police on occasion arrested and detained citizens arbitrarily.

Pretrial Detention: The law provides for investigative detention of up to two years for indicted persons awaiting or undergoing trial; the period may be extended by one year in limited circumstances. The slow pace of the justice system often resulted in lengthy detentions beyond the period stipulated by law. The National Penitentiary Prosecutors Office reported that 60 percent of prisoners were awaiting trial during the first six months of the year.

On September 30, an appeals court overturned the August 16 decision granting Tupac Amaru social activist Milagro Sala house arrest. She returned to prison on October 14. In December 2016 a judge convicted her for aggravated material damages and civil disturbance, but despite a three-year suspended sentence Sala remained in detention following her arrest in January 2016 during a protest against provincial government’s reforms to social spending. Authorities initially charged Sala with sedition, then dropped that and brought new charges of assault, fraud, and embezzlement of public funds. On May 18, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention reaffirmed its October 2016 opinion that Sala’s continued detention was arbitrary. On July 28, the IACHR requested the government to find alternative measures for Sala’s imprisonment. On November 3, the IACHR asked the Inter-American Court to intervene in Sala’s case. She faced further charges for financial crimes.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

While the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, the government did not always respect judicial independence and impartiality. According to local NGOs, judges in some federal criminal and ordinary courts were subject at times to political manipulation. NGOs also criticized all three branches of the government for use of inappropriate procedures for selecting judges and for manipulating the assignment of judges to specific cases. The judiciary continued to investigate a number of these alleged irregularities.

A law enacted in June 2015 allowed the Magistrates’ Council to designate “substitute judges” from congressionally approved lists of judges, attorneys, and court secretaries, circumventing the normal qualifying and order of merit criteria reserved for permanent appointments. Media reported that the government selected substitute judges sympathetic to its interests. In November 2015 the Supreme Court ruled the law providing for the appointment of substitute judges was unconstitutional. Nonetheless, the civil society organization Fores reported that almost 25 percent of judges remained “substitute” or temporary judges.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

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

In federal and provincial courts, all defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and have the right to legal counsel and free assistance of an interpreter, to remain silent, to call defense witnesses, and to appeal. If needed, a public defender is provided at public expense when defendants face serious criminal charges. During the investigative stage, defendants can submit questions in writing. A panel of judges decides guilt or innocence. Defendants can present witnesses and provide expert witness reports, in addition to the defendant’s own evidence. Defendants have the right to be present at their hearings, and there is no trial in absentia.

Lengthy delays, procedural logjams, long gaps in the appointment of permanent judges, inadequate administrative support, and general inefficiency hampered the judicial system. Judges’ broad discretion on whether and how to pursue investigations contributed to a public perception that many decisions were arbitrary.

Federal and provincial courts continued the transition to trials with oral arguments in criminal cases, replacing the old system of written submissions. Cordoba, Neuquen, Salta, Chaco, and Buenos Aires Provinces provide defendants accused of certain serious crimes the right to a trial by jury. Full implementation of trial by jury procedures was pending in Chaco.

In 2014 congress enacted supplementary legislation implementing a new code of criminal procedure. The law transforms the country’s hybrid federal inquisitive system into a full accusatory system, with expanded prosecution under the authority of the attorney general and trial by jury. The new criminal code imposes time limitations on prosecutions (most cases under the new system must be disposed of in three years), expands victims’ rights, and provides for expedited deportations of foreigners in lieu of prosecution. The code also creates direct interaction between security forces and prosecutors, who will assume prosecutorial responsibilities exercised by investigating magistrates during the year. As of October the provinces of Salta and Tierra del Fuego implemented the new code.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Citizens have access to the courts to bring lawsuits seeking damages or the protection of rights provided by the constitution.

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

The constitution prohibits such actions, and there were no reports that the government failed to respect these prohibitions. In July 2016 the National Administration for Social Security (ANSES) and the Secretariat of Public Communications under the Chief of Staff’s Office officially announced an interagency information-sharing agreement. The agreement would make the ANSES database of citizen personal information available to facilitate government public-service communications to the population. A group of citizens, including some opposition legislators, filed a criminal complaint alleging the practice constituted a violation of the right to privacy. The case remained on appeal.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. Independent newspapers, radio and television outlets, and internet sites were numerous and active, expressing a wide variety of views.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. There were reports of media outlet shutdowns and staff dismissals during the year, primarily due to economic concerns. Media observers noted the closures mainly affected outlets that were maintained artificially through public funding mechanisms from the previous administration.

Violence and Harassment: There were reports of physical attacks, threats, and harassment against journalists in relation to their reporting, most of which covered cases of official corruption.

On July 25, Jesus Baez de Nacimiento, owner of Carretero 101 FM Radio, was shot four times as he entered his home in Misiones Province. His assailants were not apprehended by year’s end. The incident was related to the radio station’s reporting on alleged complicity between local police and drug traffickers, according to local media organizations.

The Argentine Journalism Forum (FOPEA) reported 54 physical attacks against journalists as of October, most sustained during press coverage of protests. Buenos Aires city police detained three journalists on September 1 while they were covering a demonstration, releasing them three days later. Two other television journalists were injured by police use of tear gas during the protest. On October 1, four television journalists from various channels alleged unknown individuals assaulted them during another demonstration. FOPEA expressed concern over these attacks during protests, claiming that certain media outlets were targeted due to their editorial lines, and called for enhanced security measures to protect journalists reporting on protests.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: On March 23, a national appeals court levied on the satirical magazine Barcelona a significant fine for damages after it published a controversial cover with the image of Maria Cecilia Pando de Mercado, a conservative activist. FOPEA and the Association of Argentine Journalists claimed the ruling had a negative impact on freedom of expression.

Actions to Expand Freedom of Expression, Including for the Media: On September 26, the government issued a presidential decree amending the 2016 law on public access to information, requiring executive branch approval of organizational structure of the Agency for Access to Public Information. Press groups welcomed the action, but the Association for Civil Rights and other NGOs expressed concern the decree would harm the agency’s autonomy.

As of October the Ministry of Security, acting under a 2016 protocol to protect journalists in cases where their activities entail risks, enacted protective measures, including police protection, in three cases where journalists received threats after conducting investigations related to drug trafficking and trafficking in persons.

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 World Bank reported that 70 percent of citizens used the internet in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights. Local NGOs, including CELS, expressed concerns that security-related protocols the Ministry of Security implemented informally beginning in 2016 imposed restrictions on the right to peaceful protest and assembly.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

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

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

On January 27, the government reformed its immigration law. Local NGOs expressed concern that new regulations introduced barriers to migrant admission, complicated obtaining legal residency, accelerated deportation procedures, and restricted access to citizenship.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. Decisions on asylum petitions may take up to two years to adjudicate.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The country held legislative elections on October 22. Voters elected more than one-half of the members of the Chamber of Deputies, representing all of the provinces and the city of Buenos Aires, and one-third of the members of the Senate, representing eight provinces. Local and international observers considered the elections generally free and fair.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women and minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Local NGOs pointed to a lack of female representation at higher ranks, particularly in the executive and legislative branches. Two of 22 cabinet ministers were women. On December 15, a Gender Parity Law came into force, requiring any electoral list of candidates for national legislative office to contain equal percentages of male and female candidates. In 2016 the provinces of Buenos Aires, Salta, Chubut, and Neuquen enacted Gender Parity laws pertaining to candidates for provincial and municipal bodies; as of July, one was pending approval in Santa Fe Province. The law states that gender is determined by the national identity document, in which a person may register gender of preference regardless of their biological sex. It also states that in the case of resignation, temporary absence, or death of elected official, the replacement must be the same gender.

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

A wide variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials usually were cooperative and generally responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The government has a human rights secretariat within the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights. Its main objective is to coordinate within the ministry and collaborate with other ministries and the judiciary to promote policies, plans, and programs for the protection of human rights. During the year it published leaflets and books on a range of human rights topics. The post of national ombudsman has been vacant since 2009, which NGOs claimed undermined the office’s mandate to protect human rights.

The prosecutor general’s Office of Crimes against Humanity investigated and documented human rights violations that occurred under the 1976-83 military dictatorship.

Armenia

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.

Separatists, with Armenia’s support, continued to control most of Nagorno-Karabakh and seven surrounding Azerbaijani territories. The final status of Nagorno-Karabakh remained the subject of international mediation by the OSCE Minsk Group, cochaired by France, Russia, and the United States. Violence along the Line of Contact continued. Recurrent shooting and shelling caused casualties among military and civilians. Following the April 2016 outbreak in violence, the sides to the conflict submitted complaints to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) accusing each other of committing atrocities during that time. The cases remained pending with the ECHR.

The number of noncombat deaths in the military reportedly decreased. According to the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Peace Dialogue, there were 59 noncombat deaths during the year, compared with 162 in 2016. Peace Dialogue considered all noncombat deaths to be suspicious, although it did not specify its reason or reasons. In several cases, however, families of soldiers who died under noncombat conditions voiced distrust of official investigations, and their lawyers reported multiple procedural violations and a lack of time to review the case materials. On August 22, investigative online publication Hetq published an article describing many official obstacles the outlet and Peace Dialogue faced in obtaining statistics on the number of suicides in the army as well as specifics of the cases.

In one noncombat death case, the ECHR ruled in November 2016 that the state had violated the right to life in connection with the 2002 death of Private Suren Muradyan (stationed on the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh) and ordered the government to pay 50,000 euros ($60,000) to the Muradyan family. While the government paid the fine, no actions were taken to prosecute those responsible for Muradyan’s death.

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. Nevertheless, there were reports that members of the security forces regularly tortured or otherwise abused individuals in their custody. There were no known cases of prosecution of officials who engaged in these practices.

Police abuse of suspects during their arrest, detention, and interrogation remained a significant problem. According to human rights NGOs, most victims did not report abuses due to fear of retaliation. Mistreatment occurred in police stations, which, unlike prisons and police detention facilities, were not subject to public monitoring. According to observers, police used arrest as a form of punishment. Criminal justice bodies relied on confessions and information obtained during questioning to secure convictions. According to human rights lawyers, there were no sufficient procedural safeguards against mistreatment during police questioning, such as access to a lawyer by those summoned to the police as witnesses, as well as inadmissibility of evidence obtained through force or procedural violations.

According to human rights observers, hardly any investigations into suspected police mistreatment led to criminal sanctions against law enforcement officers. Human rights lawyers pointed to biased judicial and investigatory practices in torture cases and to the practice of opening investigations of possible false accusations when a victim of torture reported abuse.

According to government statistics, since the 2015 adoption of a new definition of torture in the criminal code, no official had been convicted in such cases as of year’s end.

As of mid-December the authorities had not prosecuted any law enforcement officials for the reported cases of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of demonstrators, journalists, civic and political activists, and ordinary citizens during the political protests related to the July 2016 seizure by the armed group Sasna Tsrer of the Erebuni police compound.

On June 28, according to human rights lawyers, police beat four members of the armed group Sasna Tsrer during an altercation that ensued while they were awaiting resumption of their court hearing. The defendants suffered cuts and bruises on their faces, heads, abdomens, backs, and legs in the beatings. On June 30, the ombudsperson’s office released a statement calling on the Prosecutor General’s Office to investigate the reports. While an investigation was opened, the officers were not suspended or put on leave and continued to handle the same prisoners during the trial.

According to an October 2016 submission by the Partnership for Open Society Initiative (POSI) to the UN Committee against Torture, the lack of independent civilian oversight over psychiatric institutions led to inadequate protection of the right of persons with mental and social disabilities. According to the submission, regulations did not provide safeguards to prevent use of physical restraints, which were used not only on a physician’s decision, but also as a punishment and a method to intimidate other patients.

The Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) noted in a 2016 report on its visit to the country that a significant number of patients in two psychiatric clinics appeared to be de facto deprived of their liberty. Although they had signed agreements of voluntary admission, the patients no longer wished to remain in the hospitals. According to POSI’s submission, persons often underwent compulsory treatment because in practice patients’ consent was obtained under pressure and through threats by relatives and the staff of the medical institution.

According to human rights experts, deaths in psychiatric institutions were not properly investigated. The government reported 73 deaths in psychiatric institutions, most due to illness and one due to suicide in 2016-17. There were two investigations launched on charges of medical negligence (one was dropped due to absence of a crime and the other continued at year’s end) and one criminal case on charges of inducing suicide. The latter was also dropped.

Although there were no reliable statistics on the extent of abuse in the military services, substandard living conditions, corruption, and commanders’ lack of accountability contributed to mistreatment and injury of soldiers by their peers or superiors. According to the Ministry of Defense, soldiers often underreported criminal behavior and abuse. While military leaders recognized the problem and sought to overcome it, some observers maintained that certain military commanders regarded it, as well as violence towards conscripts in general, as an effective way to maintain discipline.

In January the Ministry of Defense Human Rights and Integrity Center opened a hotline that the public as well as current or former members of the military and their families could use to find information on a range of problems, including allegations of harassment and corruption in the military. The center processed more than 100 calls a day.

Soldiers’ families claimed corrupt officials controlled many military units, and there were media reports that the government conscripted soldiers with serious health conditions. According to an interview with a representative of the Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly Vanadzort, the number of complaints they received from soldiers who were conscripted despite disqualifying health conditions grew every year.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were marked by poor sanitation, inadequate medical care, and systemic corruption; overcrowding in some facilities remained a problem, and conditions in some cases were harsh and life threatening. Prisons generally lacked accommodations for inmates with disabilities.

Physical Conditions: In its 2016 report, the CPT noted that while there was no longer overcrowding of prisons at the national level, some facilities, especially Nubarashen Prison, remained overcrowded. The CPT noted material conditions of detention at Nubarashen Prison also remained unacceptable. According to the NGO Prison Monitoring Group (PMG), detention conditions in some cells of the Nubarashen Prison constituted torture and degrading and inhuman treatment. According to the CPT, many cells were damp, affected by mold, poorly lit and ventilated, dirty, and infested with vermin. For most inmates, water was only available at certain hours. Inmates relied on their families for food, bedding, and hygiene items. According to the CPT, similar conditions were observed in other penitentiary establishments.

According to official data, 14 prisoners died during the first 10 months of the year, 11 due to illness, two from suicide, and one by accident. According to the PMG, impunity related to the deaths of inmates was one of the most significant human rights problems in prison. The PMG noted authorities typically did not open an investigation on a prison death if the deceased did not have a family to make such a request.

According to human rights organizations, in addition to the poor physical condition of the facilities, an organized criminal structure dominated prison life, and negligence in providing health care contributed to the death rate. The CPT noted in its 2016 report a continued tendency for prison managers to delegate authority partially to a select number of inmates (called “watchers”) at the top of the informal prison hierarchy and to use them to keep control over the inmate population.

In one death case, on April 5, Hrachya Gevorgyan died in custody at Armavir Penitentiary. Gevorgyan, who was serving an eight-year sentence for hostage-taking, violence against a representative of authorities, and extortion, was suffering from a number of serious health problems. During his imprisonment, including four years in pretrial detention, his physical and mental health had deteriorated to the degree that he was hardly able to talk and was unable to walk. Gevorgyan went on a number of hunger strikes to demand that authorities provide him proper care. According to lawyers for Helsinki Association of Human Rights, Gevorgyan, who continuously raised the problem of corruption and other prison abuses, was subjected to violence in prison on more than one occasion. On April 7, the prosecutor’s office of Armavir region opened a case on Gevorgyan’s death on charges of medical neglect.

Former inmates and many human rights observers also raised the issue of systemic corruption and bribery in the penitentiaries.

Health-care services in the prisons visited by CPT remained understaffed (the situation had actually worsened at Nubarashen Prison, compared with CPT’s prior visits) and poorly equipped, and there were problems with access to specialist care. There was also a serious shortage of medication. Prison medical personnel lacked independence and had to obtain administrative approval to transfer an inmate to a hospital or record a physical injury in a prisoner’s file.

According to the PMG and other human rights organizations, LGBTI individuals experienced the worst prison conditions. They were frequent targets of discrimination, violence, and sexual abuse and were forced by other inmates to perform degrading labor. Prison administrators reinforced and condoned such treatment and held LGBTI individuals in segregated cells in relatively worse conditions. The PMG noted that homosexual males, those associating with them, and inmates convicted of crimes such as rape, were segregated from other inmates and forced to perform humiliating jobs and provide sexual services.

Administration: Authorities did not routinely conduct credible investigations nor take action to address in a meaningful manner problems involving the mistreatment of prisoners, disputes and violence between inmates, or widespread corruption. The early release program and release on medical grounds remained areas of concern due to systemic gaps in legislation and implementation. Convicts and detainees did not always have reasonable access to visitors due to the lack of suitable space for visitations. Heads of prisons and detention facilities arbitrarily used their discretion to deny prisoners and detainees visitation, contact with families, or the ability to receive periodicals.

Prisons did not have ombudspersons, and prisoners lacked effective mechanisms to report problems with their confinement. Authorities did not always permit prisoners and detainees to submit uncensored appeals to authorities concerning credible allegations of inhuman conditions.

Independent Monitoring: The government generally permitted domestic and international human rights groups, including the CPT, to monitor prison and detention center conditions, and they did so regularly. Authorities allowed monitors to speak privately with prisoners and permitted the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit prisons and pretrial detention centers. In a notable exception, however, prison authorities continued to deny PMG monitors access to certain individuals in detention, including some detained members of the Sasna Tsrer armed group.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

While 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, police arbitrarily detained citizens, including participants in demonstrations.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The national police force is responsible for internal security, while the National Security Service (NSS) is responsible for national security, intelligence activities, and border control. The Special Investigative Service (SIS) is a separate agency specializing in preliminary investigation of cases involving suspected abuses by public officials. The Investigative Committee is responsible for conducting pretrial investigations into criminal cases and incorporates investigative services. Police conduct initial investigations and detentions before turning a case over to the Investigative Committee. The president appoints the heads of all these bodies.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the NSS, the SIS, and the Investigative Committee, but the government lacked effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse. Selective application of the law and impunity for powerful law enforcement officials were problems. In multiple instances throughout the year, law enforcement bodies refused to prosecute high-profile cases involving individuals linked to the government.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Although the law requires law enforcement officers to obtain warrants or have reasonable suspicion in making arrests, authorities on occasion detained and arrested suspects without warrants or reasonable suspicion. By law an investigative body must either arrest or release individuals within three hours of taking them into custody. Within 72 hours, the investigative body must release the arrested person or file charges and obtain a detention warrant from a judge. Judges rarely denied police requests for detention warrants or reviewed police conduct during arrests. According to observers, police did not keep accurate records and either backdated or failed to fill out protocols of detention and arrest.

The law requires police to inform detainees of the reasons for their detention or arrest as well as their rights to remain silent, legal representation, and to make a telephone call. Bail was a legal option, but judges employed it rarely and selectively. In practice, the judicial system and the law enforcement bodies placed the burden of proof on suspects to demonstrate they did not present a flight risk or would hamper the investigation, when determining the form of pretrial preventive measure.

Defendants were entitled to representation by an attorney from the moment of arrest, and the law provides for a public defender if the accused is indigent. According to human rights observers, few detainees were aware of their right to legal representation. Observers indicated police often avoided granting individuals their due-process rights by summoning and holding, rather than formally arresting, them, under the pretext that they were material witnesses rather than suspects. Police were thereby able to question individuals without giving them the benefit of a defense attorney.

In its 2016 report, the CPT reported observing the practice of persons being “invited” (usually by telephone) to come to police for what was presented as informal talks. Such talks could last several hours or even days, as the examiners sought to elicit confessions or collect evidence before declaring the persons interviewed a suspect and informing them of their rights.

Arbitrary Arrest: According to international organizations and human rights observers, police and NSS personnel often detained or arrested individuals without a warrant or probable cause. Human rights organizations stated such detentions were often a way to begin an investigation, with authorities hoping the suspect would confess and make further investigation unnecessary.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention remained a chronic problem. According to official statistics, as of November 1, almost 35 percent of the prison population consisted of pretrial detainees. According to the Ministry of Justice, during the first 10 months of the year, trial courts received 2,022 requests to use pretrial detention as a preventative measure, of which 1,911 were approved. In the same period, courts received 1,176 requests to extend pretrial detention, and 1,096 were approved; courts also received 567 requests for bail, of which 83 were approved. Some observers saw police use excessive pretrial detention as a means of inducing defendants to confess or to reveal self-incriminating evidence.

According to government data, 40 civilians were arrested and charged with various crimes related to the 2016 Sasna Tsrer takeover of a police station; charges included organizing mass disorders, damaging and destroying property, assistance in seizure of the building and seizure of hostages. By the end of the year, 15 persons were charged, indicted, and sentenced. Several were released from pretrial detention, but other civilian protestors remained in detention since July 2016 and were undergoing trial.

In a related high profile case, on March 16, Artur Sargsyan, nicknamed the “bread bringer” for taking food to members of the armed Sasna Tsrer group during their July 2016 seizure of the Erebuni police station, died in a civilian hospital, following a three-week hunger strike to protest his pretrial detention. Sargsyan was arrested in July 2016 and detained on charges of aiding the armed group. He was released in December 2016, but rearrested on February 9, allegedly for failing to show up at the summons of the investigative committee. According to media reports, Sargsyan suffered multiple health conditions incompatible with detention according to the law. Reportedly, Sargsyan was released from detention the first time only after the ECHR asked the government about his health. He was released on March 6 after his health further deteriorated and promptly hospitalized. In the days following his death, hundreds of demonstrators reportedly claimed Sargsyan died because the government refused his lawyers’ initial pleas to release him from detention on the grounds of deteriorating health. While a criminal case reportedly was opened on March 31 concerning the actions of doctors treating Sargsyan, the prosecutor’s office decided not to open a criminal case on the actions of the investigators, judges, and prison staff involved in the case.

The overuse of detention also applied to juvenile offenders. According to the Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner, juveniles were especially vulnerable in the criminal justice system and were not protected from violation of their rights.

Although the law requires prosecutors to present a well reasoned justification every two months for extending pretrial custody, judges routinely extended detention on unclear grounds. Authorities generally complied with the six-month limit in ordinary cases and 12-month limit for serious crimes as the total time in pretrial detention. Once prosecutors forward their cases to court for trial, the law does not provide time limits on further detention but indicates only that a trial must be of “reasonable length.” Prosecutors regularly requested and received trial postponements from judges. Prosecutors tended to blame trial delays on defense lawyers and their requests for more time to prepare a defense. Severely overburdened judicial dockets at all court levels also contributed to lengthy trials.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: According to legal experts, suspects had no practical opportunities to appeal the legality of their arrests. In cases where the courts ruled on a pretrial detention, another court was unlikely to challenge its ruling.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the law provides for an independent judiciary, the judiciary did not generally exhibit independence and impartiality. Administrative courts were relatively more independent. A few attorneys reported they believed the Court of Cassation dictated the outcome of all significant cases to lower-court judges. According to some human rights groups, the Court of Cassation’s control over judicial decisions remained an overarching problem affecting judicial independence.

Judges remained subject to political pressure from every level of the executive branch, from law enforcement agencies, and the judicial hierarchy. Lacking life tenure, judges were vulnerable to dismissal and had no effective legal remedies.

According to legal experts, the courts felt compelled to satisfy investigators’ requests for pretrial detentions and prosecutors’ requests for detention while cases were at trial; legal experts stated such practices undermined judicial independence and reinforced the impression that courts were simply tools and that investigators actually determined the length of a detention. According to lawyers, dismissals of certain judges for independent decisions had a chilling effect on the judiciary.

Authorities generally complied with court orders.

Both prosecutors and defense attorneys often failed to comply with procedural standards. Judges have no authority to discipline attorneys or compel their timely attendance at hearings, having to resort to complaints to the Prosecutor General’s Office or the Chamber of Advocates. Many judges felt compelled to work with prosecutors to achieve convictions.

NGOs reported judges routinely ignored defendants’ claims that their testimony was coerced through physical abuse. Human rights observers continued to report concerns about the reliance of courts on evidence that defendants claimed was obtained under duress, especially when such evidence was the basis for a conviction.

Human rights NGOs highlighted abuses of human rights of persons serving life sentences. According to these NGOs, individuals serving such sentences lacked the opportunity to have their sentences meaningfully reviewed by courts when changes in criminal law could possibly have resulted in less severe punishment. According to human rights groups, one of the greatest obstacles to justice for those serving life sentences was the court-ordered destruction of case files and evidence. This action deprived convicts of the opportunity to have their cases reviewed based on forensic analysis using new technologies, such as DNA testing.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and laws provide for the right to a fair and public trial, but the judiciary largely lacked the independence to enforce this right.

The law provides for presumption of innocence, but suspects usually did not enjoy this right. During trials authorities informed defendants in detail of the charges against them, and the law required the provision of free language interpretation for non-Armenian speakers when necessary.

The law requires that most trials be public but permits exceptions, including in the interest of “morals,” national security, and the “protection of the private lives of the participants.” Defendants have the right to counsel of their own choosing, and the law requires the government to provide them with a public defender upon request. A shortage of defense lawyers sometimes led to denial of this right outside of Yerevan.

According to the law, defendants may confront witnesses, present evidence, and examine the government’s case in advance of a trial, but defendants and their attorneys had very little ability to challenge government witnesses or police, while courts tended to accept prosecution materials routinely. In particular, the law prohibits police officers from testifying in their official capacities unless they were witnesses or victims in a case. Judges were reluctant to challenge police experts, hampering a defendant’s ability to mount a credible defense. Judges’ control over witness lists and over the determination of the relevance of potential witnesses in criminal cases also impeded the defense. Defense attorneys complained that judges at times did not allow them to request the attendance at trial of defense witnesses. According to lawyers and domestic and international human rights observers, including the Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner, the prosecution retained a dominant position in the criminal justice system.

NGOs reported the authorities’ treatment of defense lawyers and defendants during the Sasna Tsrer and other high-profile trials deprived the defendants of the right to a fair trial. On July 11, for example, the local NGO Protection of Rights without Borders (PRWB) stated in its report, Crisis of Justice, that authorities violated the right to a fair trial in the Sasna Tsrer case and four other cases through interference and hindrance of the professional activities of defense lawyers, harassment of defense lawyers, violence and harassment against defendants; and efforts to restrict citizen participation in the court sessions, including, in one case, by prosecution. The PRWB attributed the authorities’ harassment of defense attorneys to the tendency of officials to identify defense lawyers with the persons they defended.

On August 9, the Civic Solidarity Platform (CSP), an international network of human rights NGOs, elaborated on a concern that independent defense lawyers working on high-profile cases allegedly were subjected to harassment and obstruction by state agents. According to the CSP, lawyers working on the Sasna Tsrer and similar high-profile cases were prevented from visiting their clients in detention and denied the opportunity to hold private discussions with them. In other cases, officials at detention facilities allegedly searched defendants after lawyer-client meetings and confiscated or destroyed meeting notes. Some defense lawyers were subjected to lengthy and intrusive security checks when arriving in court. When the lawyers protested the checks, considering them unlawful, judges barred them from attending the court sessions, effectively preventing them from defending their clients. The presiding judge then requested that the Chamber of Advocates (i.e., bar association) discipline the absent defense attorneys. Such requests also were made when lawyers refused to continue to take part in hearings after their clients were temporarily removed from the courtroom for allegedly violating court rules.

On September 13, 184 attorneys went on strike to object to the security checks.

Defendants, prosecutors, and injured parties have the right to appeal a court verdict and often exercised it.

There was an expectation that judges would find the accused guilty in almost every case, and the vast majority of criminal cases sent to trial, including many weak cases, resulted in conviction.

In one of the rare cases in which a judge acquitted a defendant, on July 18, a criminal court of appeal reversed the 2015 acquittal of Karen Kungurtsev on charges of attempted murder of Davit Hovakimyan, sentencing him to seven years in prison by pressing additional charges. According to Kungurtsev’s lawyers, the judges made their decision based on assertions that were not examined in court with the aim of covering up the true perpetrator of the crime. The victim’s family continued to support Kungurtsev’s claim of innocence, asserting that the real killer of Davit Hovakimyan was the son of a NSS official who had used his position to influence police and prosecutors to pin the crime on Kungurtsev.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

According to local human rights NGOs, there were political prisoners and detainees in the country, but many of the cases in which trials were underway involved allegations of the use of violence. A number of cases of alleged politically motivated incarcerations were pending with the ECHR. Human Rights Watch called on the government to “make publicly available any credible evidence that justifies the serious criminal charges against the protest organizers and participants. The authorities should not seek to prosecute protesters and impose long prison sentences in retaliation for their vocal, but peaceful activism.”

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Although citizens had access to courts to file lawsuits seeking damages for alleged human rights violations, the courts were widely perceived as corrupt. Citizens also had the option of challenging in Constitutional Court the constitutionality of laws and legal acts that violated their fundamental rights and freedoms. According to lawyers, the lower instance courts did not adhere to precedents of the Cassation Court, the ECHR, and the Constitutional Court. As a result, the lower instance courts continued to carry out the same legal mistakes. According to lawyers, while civil and administrative judicial proceedings happened with a greater degree of independence, the lack of judicial independence in criminal proceedings resulted in overall discrediting of the judicial system.

Citizens who exhaust domestic legal remedies may appeal to the ECHR cases involving alleged government violations of the European Convention on Human Rights. The government generally complied with ECHR awards of monetary compensation but did not meaningfully review the cases on which the ECHR had ruled. When ruling on a case to which a prior ECHR decision applied, courts often did not follow the applicable ECHR precedent.

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

The constitution prohibits unauthorized searches and provides for the rights to privacy and confidentiality of communications. Law enforcement organizations did not always abide by these prohibitions.

Authorities may not legally wiretap telephones, intercept correspondence, or conduct searches without obtaining the permission of a judge based on compelling evidence of criminal activity. The constitution, however, stipulates exceptions when confidentiality of communication may be restricted without a court order when necessary to protect state security and conditioned by the special status of those in communication. Although law enforcement bodies generally adhered to legal procedures, attorneys claimed judges often authorized wiretaps, the interception of correspondence, and searches without receiving the compelling evidence required by law, rendering the legal procedures largely a formality. Authorities reportedly tapped the telephone communications, email, and other digital communications of individuals the government wanted to keep under scrutiny, including human rights defenders, activists, and political figures. According to some human rights observers, authorities maintained “dossiers” of activists, political figures, and others that were used to exert pressure on a person.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

Although the constitution and laws 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, authorities continued to interfere with electoral and other political processes via practices designed to ensure the dominance of the ruling RPA.

On April 2, the country held elections for seats in the National Assembly, thereby choosing the first legislative body to govern under the new constitution. In conjunction with amendments to the electoral code, this shifted the country from a semipresidential to a parliamentary republic, eliminating the direct election of the president and mayors of two major cities and introducing a complex proportional electoral system that many characterized as semimajoritarian.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Despite improvements in election administration, the April 2 parliamentary elections were marked by reports of large-scale vote-buying, intimidation of voters, and abuse of administrative resources. Vote buying was reportedly organized mainly by territorial candidates of the ruling RPA, as well as by members of the Tsarukyan Bloc.

The OSCE/ODIHR described the election as, “well administered and fundamental freedoms generally [were] respected. Despite welcomed reforms of the legal framework and the introduction of new technologies to reduce the incidents of electoral irregularities, the elections were tainted by credible information about vote buying, and pressure on civil servants and employees of private companies. This contributed to an overall lack of public confidence and trust in the elections.”

Authorities mostly dismissed reports on vote-buying and administrative pressure. OSCE/ODIHR observers noted “a continuing public reluctance to report electoral offenses due to a lack of confidence in the effectiveness of the complaint adjudication system. The lack of independence of the judiciary, election administration, and law enforcement bodies, and the manner in which they dealt with complaints undermined the effectiveness of legal redress.”

To reveal abuses of administrative resources, the UIC released audio recordings it made during the campaign period, in which principals of 114 schools and kindergartens spoke about compiling lists of parents and teachers who pledged to vote for the ruling RPA. In the recordings, the principals noted they would submit the lists to campaign offices of RPA candidates or local or regional authorities. In connection with those findings, two contestant parties made separate appeals to the Central Election Commission (CEC), demanding that it apply to the Administrative Court to remove the RPA from the race for abusing administrative resources. The CEC dismissed both complaints. Investigative bodies did not conduct a credible investigation into the allegations of abuse of administrative resources alleged by the UIC.

OSCE/ODIHR observers noted, “at times the CEC examined some alleged facts, but it did not thoroughly consider contentious issues including possible pressure and intimidation of teachers to collect signatures.” The RPA admitted that collection of names had occurred but insisted that it was legitimate campaigning, as it did not take place during working hours. Echoing the RPA statements, the CEC stated that submission of supporters’ lists to the local authorities did not contravene the law, as the authorities may have been engaged in a campaign. Although the law explicitly prohibits public officials from engaging in campaigns while performing their official duties, the CEC admitted it did not examine when these activities took place.

On April 13, an audio recording was released of the management of the SAS supermarket chain in Yerevan berating and threatening employees who had not committed to securing a significant amount of votes for the company founder and RPA candidate, Artak Sargsyan. According to media allegations, the person talking in the recording was Artak Sargsyan’s brother, Aram Sargsyan, the cofounder of SAS Group. On April 21, the SIS announced it opened a criminal investigation related to the recordings; on September 8, it dropped the case without filing any charges.

Among other problems, the OSCE/ODIHR report noted the lack of debates between candidates, parties, and voters, which failed to provide opportunities for voters to make a fully informed choice. The report also identified as problems “self-censorship of journalists and discouragement of critical reporting of the government, including on public television” (see section 2.a.).

Political Parties and Political Participation: While the law does not overtly restrict the registration or activity of political parties, authorities suppressed political pluralism in other ways.

The OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission (EOM) final report on the April 2 parliamentary elections cited several instances in which opposition party representatives informed the EOM that their supporters were pressured from attending their rallies, often through pressure from community leaders. In addition, in one region, supervisors asked teachers, doctors, and other public employees to attend meetings with the ruling RPA candidate.

Complaints continued that the government used its administrative and legal resources–including by selective tax investigations of contributors–to discourage financial contributions to opposition parties. Civil society organizations reported incumbents abused government resources during election campaigns, including by threatening to deprive families of social benefits and students of scholarships as punishment for refusing to vote for the RPA or by offering compensation for votes through utility payments and other services in addition to cash bribes.

Affiliation with the ruling party reportedly helped individuals maintain and further their careers in both the public and private sectors. Numerous reports from local observers indicated some candidates who ran as independents either joined the RPA or became RPA loyalists when elected. Local communities depended in part on state funding, and reports suggested the level of support community leaders received from the state budget often depended on their voting patterns. Similarly, there were allegations that individuals had to be RPA members or loyalists to attain leadership positions and resources in public schools, universities, state medical facilities, and other publicly funded institutions. The ruling party and its candidates allegedly abused administrative resources at public and some private enterprises to intimidate employers and to ensure their support.

There were complaints that well connected business owners funneled a portion of their profits to the ruling party or to parties affiliated with the ruling political elite in return for economic advantage in the form of limited or no taxation. There were also allegations that the government discriminated against members of opposition political parties in hiring decisions.

There were some restrictions on the ability of NGOs to monitor the April parliamentary elections. According to the OSCE/ODIHR’s final election report, the CEC denied accreditation to two local organizations, and refused to provide all interested international NGOs an invitation to observe.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, but the patriarchal nature of society inhibited large-scale participation by women in political life and in decision-making positions in the public sector. Although the percentage of female members of the National Assembly and the Yerevan City Council increased from 2016, the participation of women remained low in these and other decision-making structures. At the year’s end, there were 20 women in the 105-seat National Assembly and one in the cabinet of 18 ministers. There were no female governors in the country’s 10 regions. Only 18 of the 65 elected Yerevan City Council members were women. There are government-mandated seats in parliament for the country’s four largest ethnic minorities: Yazidi, Kurds, Assyrian, and Russian communities. During the year four new members of parliament were elected to represent these constituencies during the April elections.

Australia

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

The law prohibits such practices, and the government generally respected these provisions. There were occasional claims police and prison officials mistreated suspects in custody; mistreatment of juvenile detainees was a particular concern.

In May a royal commission released an interim report on excessive abuse and unlawful treatment of youth detainees at Alice Springs Youth Detention Center and Aranda House Youth Detention Center in the Northern Territory. The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, the Human Rights Commission (HRC), and others launched formal complaints against these detention centers. Media revealed in July 2016 that from 2010 until 2015, some juveniles at the Don Dale Detention Center in the Northern Territory were teargassed, physically assaulted, stripped naked, shackled, and hooded. In response, Prime Minister Turnbull announced a joint royal commission into juvenile detention in the Northern Territory, prompting calls for the commission to look into alleged abuses in other states as well.

Also in May a Victoria state Supreme Court judge ruled that the detention of minors in the Barwon maximum security prison for adults since late 2016, albeit in a separate unit, was unlawful. The court also found that prison guards violated the rights of the juveniles who were transferred to Barwon. The youths were reportedly handcuffed when released from their cells for exercise, continuously placed in isolation, and frequently restrained. A total of 28 youths were transferred to Barwon; at the time of the ruling 15 youths were incarcerated in the prison.

In September 2016 media reported abuse in the Cleveland Youth Detention Center in northern Queensland. Queensland Attorney-General Yvette D’Ath subsequently launched an inquiry into other possible cases of abuse in Queensland prisons and detention centers.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions generally met international standards.

Physical Conditions: The most recent data from the Australian Institute of Criminology reported 53 prison deaths in 2012-13. Of the 53 deaths, 32 were from natural causes, nine from hanging, five from external/multiple trauma, one from head injury, one from drugs, and one from other/multiple causes. The report excluded four cases due to missing data.

In June 2016 the Queensland Corrective Services minister indicated the increase in prisoner-on-prisoner assaults was “partly due to overcrowding in the state’s prison system.” A November 2016 New South Wales (NSW) Auditor-General’s report found the state’s prisons were operating at 122 percent of capacity.

In April the Department of Corrective Services in Western Australia reported overcrowding in Greenough Regional Prison with detainees forced to sleep on mattresses on cell floors. The Inspector of Custodial Services indicated that the prison was running at 140 percent of its capacity, holding 323 inmates in a prison designed to hold only 232.

As of October there were approximately 1,400 persons in immigration detention facilities in the country and another approximately 2,000 in facilities funded by the Australian Government in Papua New Guinea (Manus Island) and Nauru. The Manus Island Regional Processing Center closed down October 31 pursuant to a Papua New Guinea court decision contesting its legality.

In June the Australian government reached a court settlement with nearly 2,000 refugees and asylum seekers on Manus Island for illegally detaining them in dangerous and hostile conditions. The government claimed that the settlement was not an admission of liability, but media and independent reports revealed those in offshore detention centers were often subjected to sexual and physical abuse by locals and were living in overcrowded and substandard accommodations for prolonged periods. Furthermore, detainees had inadequate access to basic services, including water and hygiene facilities, clothing and footwear, education, and health services.

In October a Sri Lankan asylum seeker committed suicide while receiving treatment for mental illness at Lorengau General Hospital on Manus Island. He was the ninth asylum seeker and sixth on Manus Island to die by unnatural means while in the offshore detention system.

Administration: Authorities investigated allegations of inhuman conditions and documented the results of such investigations in a publicly accessible manner. The government investigated and monitored prison and detention center conditions.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted visits by independent human rights observers. There were no reports of intimidation by authorities. A number of domestic and international human rights groups expressed concerns about conditions at immigration detention centers (see above).

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, and the government generally observed these prohibitions.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The armed forces, under the minister for defense, are responsible for external security. The Australian Federal Police (AFP)–under the minister for justice–and state and territorial police forces are responsible for internal security. The AFP enforces national laws, and state and territorial police forces enforce state and territorial laws. The Department of Immigration and Border Protection and the Australian Border Force are responsible for migration and border enforcement.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the armed forces and police, and the government had effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. There were no reports of impunity involving the security forces during the year.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Police officers may seek an arrest warrant from a magistrate when a suspect cannot be located or fails to appear, but they also may arrest a person without a warrant if there are reasonable grounds to believe the person committed an offense. Police must inform arrested persons immediately of their legal rights and the grounds for their arrest, and must bring arrested persons before a magistrate for a bail hearing at the next session of the court. Twenty-four hours is the maximum investigation period police may hold and question a person without charge, unless extended by court order for up to an additional 24 hours.

In terrorism cases the law permits police to hold individuals in preventive detention without charge or questioning for up to 48 hours under federal law and up to 14 days under state and territory laws if a senior police official finds it is “reasonably necessary to prevent a terrorist act or preserve evidence of such an act.”

If an individual is determined to be a terrorism suspect, police may detain the person for up to seven continuous days and can question the suspect for a maximum period of 24 hours, or 48 hours if an interpreter is needed. A separate provision of law permits the attorney general to grant the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) authority to detain a person for a continuous period of up to 168 hours (seven days) in special circumstances, such as where there are “reasonable grounds for believing that issuing the warrant to be requested will substantially assist the collection of intelligence that is important in relation to a terrorism offense.” The ASIO, however, reportedly has not used this authority.

By law the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor helps provide that counterterrorism laws strike an appropriate balance between protecting the community and protecting human rights. The AFP, the Australian Crime Commission, and intelligence agencies are subject to parliamentary oversight. The inspector-general of intelligence and security is an independent statutory officer who provides oversight of the country’s six intelligence agencies.

Bail generally is available to persons facing criminal charges unless authorities consider the person a flight risk or the charges carrying a penalty of 12 months’ imprisonment or more. Authorities granted attorneys and families prompt access to detainees. Government-provided attorneys are available to give legal advice to detainees who cannot afford counsel. Arrested persons enjoy additional legal protections, such as the ability to challenge the lawfulness of their detention and to apply for compensation if unlawfully detained.

Arbitrary Arrest: In December 2016 the government passed legislation allowing courts to hold convicted terrorists up to an additional three years if the courts find that prisoners still pose significant threats to the community. Various human rights organizations criticized the law saying it allows the government to detain prisoners indefinitely and arbitrarily.

In June the Victoria state government increased antiterrorism measures, giving Victoria Police the power to search suspected terrorists and gun crime offenders without warrants. Based on suspicion alone, police are able to impose a firearm prohibition order and search a person, their car and other property without showing “reasonable belief.” Orders can last up to 10 years for adults and five for youths. Those issued with an order have the right to appeal to the Victoria Civil Administrative Tribunal.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Persons arrested or detained, regardless of whether on criminal or other grounds, are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention and obtain prompt release and compensation if found to have been unlawfully detained.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government respected judicial independence.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair and timely public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. In state district and county courts, and in state and territorial supreme courts, a judge and jury try serious offenses. Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and cannot be compelled to testify or confess guilt. They have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges, with free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals, the right to an attorney, to be present at their trial, and adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Government-funded attorneys are available to low-income persons. The defendant’s attorney can question witnesses, present witnesses and evidence, and appeal the court’s decision or the sentence imposed.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

There is an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters, and individuals or organizations may seek civil judicial remedies for human rights violations. There is also an administrative process at the state and federal levels to seek redress for alleged wrongs by government departments. Administrative tribunals may review a government decision only if the decision is in a category specified under a law, regulation, or other legislative instrument as subject to a tribunal’s review.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

For the resolution of Holocaust-era restitution claims, including by foreign citizens, the government has laws and mechanisms in place. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and advocacy groups reported that the government has taken comprehensive steps to implement these programs.

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

The law prohibits such actions, and there were no reports the government failed to respect these prohibitions. Police have authority to enter premises without a warrant in emergency circumstances.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to change their government through free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. Voting is mandatory.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The government held a free and fair federal parliamentary election in 2016. Voters re-elected the Liberal-National Party Coalition government and Malcolm Turnbull remained prime minister. The coalition won 76 seats in the 150-seat House of Representatives, the Labor Party 69, and others five.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation or women and/or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate.

Indigenous persons and other minorities generally were underrepresented relative to their share of the population. Voters elected the first indigenous woman to the House of Representatives in 2016.

Austria

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

The law prohibits such practices, but there were some reports that police used excessive force with detainees and psychiatric patients.

The government investigated allegations of such practices and prosecuted cases in which credible evidence existed. In July authorities suspended two police officers from duty and accused them of abuse of office after one of them was found to have slapped a homeless person in the face, and the other officer did not report the incident.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Physical Conditions: In its November 2015 report, the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) expressed “serious concern” about the almost total lack of medical confidentiality in all the establishments visited and the fact that prison officers with only basic health care training performed health-related tasks normally reserved for qualified nurses.

Independent Monitoring: Human rights groups continued to criticize the incarceration of nonviolent offenders, including persons awaiting deportation, in single cells or inadequate facilities designed for temporary detention.

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/her arrest or detention in court, and the government generally observed these requirements.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The federal police maintain internal security and report to the Ministry of the Interior. The army is responsible for external security but also has some domestic security responsibilities and reports to the Defense Ministry. The criminal courts are responsible for investigating police violations of the law. There were no reports of impunity involving the security forces during the year.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the federal police and army, and the government had effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. For example, the Human Rights Advisory Council and the federal ombudsmen monitor police respect for human rights and make recommendations as needed to the minister of the interior.

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) continued to criticize the police for allegedly targeting minorities for frequent identity checks. Racial sensitivity training for police and other officials continued with NGO assistance.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Authorities base arrests on sufficient evidence and legal warrants issued by a duly authorized official. Authorities bring the arrested person before an independent judiciary. In criminal cases, the law allows investigative or pretrial detention for no more than 48 hours, during which time a judge may decide to grant a prosecution request for extended detention. The law specifies the grounds for investigative detention and conditions for bail. There were strict checks on the enforcement of pretrial detention restrictions and bail provisions, and a judge is required to evaluate investigative detention cases periodically. The maximum duration for investigative detention is two years. There is a functioning bail system. Police and judicial authorities generally respected these laws and procedures. There were isolated reports of police abuse, which authorities investigated and, where warranted, prosecuted.

Detainees have the right to a lawyer. Although indigent criminal suspects have the right to an attorney at government expense, the law requires appointment of an attorney only after a court decision to remand such suspects into custody (96 hours after apprehension). Criminal suspects are not legally required to answer questions without an attorney present. Laws providing for compensation for persons unlawfully detained were enforced.

In its 2015 report, the CPT found it unacceptable that authorities were continuing the practice of subjecting juveniles, some as young as 14, to police questioning and asking them to sign statements without a lawyer or a trusted person present. The report also noted that indigent persons could not usually benefit from the presence of a lawyer during police questioning.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Persons arrested on criminal charges are entitled to challenge the arrest in court and can obtain prompt release and compensation if found to have been unlawfully detained.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

TRIAL PROCEDURES

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

The law presumes persons charged with criminal offenses are innocent until proven guilty; authorities inform them promptly and in detail of the charges. Trials must be public and conducted orally; defendants have the right to be present at their trial. Attorneys are not mandatory in cases of minor offenses, but legal counsel is available at no charge for needy persons in cases where attorneys are mandatory. The law grants defendants and their attorneys adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Defendants can confront or question witnesses against them and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Free interpretation is available from the moment a defendant is charged, through all appeals. Suspects cannot be compelled to testify or confess guilt. A system of judicial review provides multiple opportunities for appeal.

The law extends the above rights to all defendants regardless of sex, gender, race, ethnicity, age, religion, or mental or physical disability.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

There is an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters, including an appellate system. These institutions are accessible to plaintiffs seeking damages for human rights violations. Administrative and judicial remedies were available for redressing alleged wrongs. Individuals and organizations may appeal domestic decisions to regional human rights bodies.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

For the resolution of Holocaust-era restitution claims, including by foreign citizens, the government has laws and mechanisms in place. Property restitution also includes an art restitution program. NGOs and advocacy groups reported that the government has taken comprehensive steps to implement these programs.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The country held early parliamentary elections on October 15 and presidential elections in 2016. There were no reports of serious abuse or irregularities in the October 15 election, and credible observers considered both the October 15 and the 2016 election free and fair.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women and/or members of minorities in the political process, and women and minorities did participate.

Azerbaijan

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

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

There were several reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

Human rights defenders and media outlets reported at least six cases of torture or other physical abuse during the year that led to death. No single source could confirm the exact number of such cases.

On April 28, pro-opposition blogger Mehman Galandarov died in the Kurdakhani Pretrial Detention Center under suspicious circumstances. The center’s administration reported he committed suicide by hanging himself and opened a criminal investigation of the circumstances of his death. Prominent human rights activist Leyla Yunus, who previously had been incarcerated there, reported Galandarov would never have been permitted to be alone for long enough to hang himself. There were no reports on the results of the investigation. Journalists stated Galandarov was quickly and secretly buried so his body could not be inspected for signs of abuse.

In May media reported that during the spring five servicemen accused of espionage died in unclear circumstances in police custody. The military reportedly hastily buried the soldiers and did not permit relatives to see their bodies, so they could not be inspected for signs of alleged torture.

Separatists, with Armenia’s support, continued to control most of Nagorno-Karabakh and seven surrounding Azerbaijani territories. The final status of Nagorno-Karabakh remained the subject of international mediation by the OSCE Minsk Group, cochaired by France, Russia, and the United States. Violence along the Line of Contact continued. Recurrent shooting and shelling caused casualties among military and civilians. Following the April 2016 outbreak in violence, the sides to the conflict submitted complaints to the ECHR accusing each other of committing atrocities during that time period. The cases remained pending with the ECHR.

Local human rights organizations reported, as of November 20, at least 40 noncombat-related deaths in security forces, including suicides and soldiers killed by fellow service members.

b. Disappearance

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

The State Committee on the Captive and Missing reported that 3,868 citizens were registered as missing because of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) processed cases of persons missing in connection with the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and worked with the government to develop a consolidated list of missing persons. According to the ICRC, more than 4,496 persons remained unaccounted for because of the conflict.

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

While the constitution and criminal code prohibit such practices and provide for penalties for conviction of up to 10 years’ imprisonment, credible allegations of torture and other abuse continued. Most mistreatment took place while detainees were in police custody, where authorities reportedly used abusive methods to coerce confessions.

On January 9, prominent blogger and Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) chairman Mehman Huseynov was arrested for allegedly resisting police. In a news conference the following day, he stated police tortured him while he was in their custody. The head of Nizami police pressed charges against Huseynov for criminal defamation, and on March 3, a Baku court convicted him and sentenced him to two years in prison. On April 12, the Baku Court of Appeals rejected Huseynov’s appeal, and on September 29, the Supreme Court returned the case to the Baku Court of Appeals for reconsideration. On December 15, the appeals court again upheld the original conviction.

There were also reports of torture in prisons. In one example, media and human rights lawyers reported that in August imprisoned Muslim Unity Movement figures Abbas Huseynov and Jabbar Jabbarov were tortured in Gobustan Prison. Abbas Huseynov, the movement’s deputy chair, was reportedly handcuffed “as if crucified” in Gobustan Prison’s punishment cell. Authorities did not investigate these allegations (see section 1.e.).

Authorities reportedly maintained a de facto ban on independent forensic examinations of detainees who claimed mistreatment and delayed their access to an attorney, practices that opposition and other activists stated made it easier for officers to mistreat detainees with impunity. Defense lawyers stated authorities delayed the forensic examination of journalist Afgan Mukhtarli for 38 days to obscure signs of physical abuse by security force members (see section 2.a.).

Authorities threatened prisoners and detainees with rape while in custody. For example, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals detained in September stated police threatened them with rape, and in some cases raped them with truncheons. Most did not publicize such threats.

Local observers again reported bullying and abuse in military units during the year. The Ministry of Defense, however, maintained a telephone hotline for soldiers to report incidents of mistreatment in order to hold unit commanders responsible, which reportedly resulted in improved conditions throughout the armed forces.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

According to a reputable prison-monitoring organization, prison conditions were sometimes harsh and potentially life threatening due to overcrowding, inadequate nutrition, deficient heating and ventilation, and poor medical care. Detainees also complained of inhuman conditions in the crowded basement detention facilities of local courts where they awaited trial. They reported those facilities lacked ventilation and proper sanitary conditions.

Physical Conditions: Authorities held men and women together in pretrial detention facilities in separate blocks but housed women in separate prison facilities after sentencing. Local NGO observers reported female prisoners typically lived in better conditions than male prisoners, were monitored more frequently, and had greater access to training and other activities, but that women’s prisons still suffered from many of the same problems as prisons for men. Human rights monitors reported four cases of children under the age of seven living in adult prison facilities with their incarcerated mothers. Convicted juvenile offenders may be held in juvenile institutions until they are 20 years old.

While the government continued to construct facilities, some Soviet-era facilities still in use did not meet international standards. Gobustan Prison, Prison No. 3, Prison No. 14, and the penitentiary tuberculosis treatment center reportedly had the worst conditions.

Human rights advocates reported guards sometimes punished prisoners with beatings or by holding them in isolation cells. Local and international monitors reported markedly poorer conditions at the maximum-security Gobustan Prison.

Prisoners at times claimed they endured lengthy confinement periods without opportunity for physical exercise. They also reported instances of cramped, overcrowded conditions; inadequate ventilation; poor sanitary facilities; and insufficient access to medical care. Although the national ombudswoman stated that some medication was eventually provided, lawyers reported Baku prison authorities denied needed medication for Gozel Bayramli, deputy chair of the opposition Popular Front Party, causing significant deterioration of her health.

Former prisoners and family members of imprisoned activists reported prisoners often had to pay bribes to use toilets or shower rooms or to receive food. Although the law permits detainees to receive daily packages of food to supplement the food officially provided, authorities at times reportedly restricted access of prisoners and detainees to family-provided food parcels. Some prisons and detention centers did not provide access to potable water.

Administration: While most prisoners reported they could submit complaints to judicial authorities and the Ombudsman’s Office without censorship, prison authorities regularly read prisoners’ correspondence, and human rights lawyers reported some prisoners in high-security facilities experienced difficulty submitting complaints. While the Ombudsman’s Office reported conducting systematic visits and investigations into complaints, activists reported the office was insufficiently active in addressing prisoner complaints by, for example, failing to investigate allegations of torture and abuse, such as Muslim Unity Movement deputy chair Abbas Huseynov and N!DA activist Bayram Mammadov.

Authorities at times limited visits by attorneys and family members, especially to prisoners widely considered to be incarcerated for political reasons.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted some prison visits by international and local organizations, including the ICRC, the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture, the president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, and parliamentarians and diplomats from European countries. Authorities generally permitted the ICRC access to prisoners of war and civilian internees held in connection with the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict as well as to detainees held in facilities under the authority of the Ministries of Justice and of Internal Affairs and the State Security Services.

The ICRC conducted regular visits throughout the year to ensure protection of prisoners under international humanitarian law and regularly facilitated the exchange of messages between them and their families to help them re-establish and maintain contact.

A joint government-human rights community prison-monitoring group known as the Public Committee was allowed access to prisons without prior notification to the Penitentiary Service. On some occasions, however, other groups that reportedly gave prior notification experienced difficulty obtaining access.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

Although the law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of persons to challenge the lawfulness of their arrest or detention in court, the government generally did not observe these requirements. In May 2016 the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Arrests expressed concern regarding conditions in the special facilities for persons with disabilities and the prosecution of human rights defenders, journalists, and political opposition.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Ministry of Internal Affairs and the State Security Service are responsible for security within the country and report directly to the president. The Ministry of Internal Affairs oversees local police forces and maintains internal civil defense troops. The State Security Service is responsible for domestic matters, and the Foreign Intelligence Service focuses on foreign intelligence and counterintelligence issues. NGOs reported both services detained individuals who exercised their rights to fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression. The State Migration Service and the State Border Service are responsible for migration and border enforcement.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the State Security Service, and the Foreign Intelligence Service. The government lacked effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse; widespread corruption resulted in limited oversight, and impunity involving the security forces was widespread.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law provides that persons detained, arrested, or accused of a crime be accorded due process, including being advised immediately of their rights and the reason for their arrest. In cases deemed to be politically motivated, due process was not respected, and accused individuals were convicted under a variety of spurious criminal charges.

According to the law, detainees are to be brought before a judge within 48 hours of arrest, and the judge may issue a warrant placing the detainee in pretrial detention, place the detainee under house arrest, or release the detainee. In practice, however, authorities at times detained individuals held for longer than 48 hours for several days without warrants. The initial 48-hour arrest period may be extended to 96 hours under extenuating circumstances. During pretrial detention or house arrest, the Prosecutor General’s Office is to complete its investigation. Pretrial detention is limited to three months but may be extended by a judge up to 18 months, depending on the alleged crime and the needs of the investigation. There were reports of detainees not being informed promptly of the charges against them.

A formal bail system existed, but judges did not utilize it during the year. The law provides for access to a lawyer from the time of detention, but there were reports that authorities frequently denied lawyers’ access to clients in both politically motivated and routine cases. For example, lawyers for investigative journalist Afgan Mukhtarli (see sections 1.c., l.e., and 2.a.) and Popular Front Party deputy chair Gozal Bayramli (see sections 1.c, 1.e., and 3) reported they were denied access to their clients for days following their initial detention. Access to counsel was poor, particularly outside of Baku. Although entitled to legal counsel by law, indigent detainees often did not have such access.

Police at times time held politically sensitive and other suspects incommunicado for periods that ranged from several hours to several days. For example, Popular Front Party activist Rajab Huseynli was detained on October 18 and held incommunicado for three days.

Prisoners’ family members reported that authorities occasionally restricted visits, especially to persons in pretrial detention, and withheld information about detainees. Days sometimes passed before families could obtain information about detained relatives. Authorities sometimes used family members as leverage to put pressure on individuals to turn themselves in to police or to stop them from reporting police abuse.

Arbitrary Arrest: Authorities often made arrests based on spurious charges, such as resisting police, illegal possession of drugs or weapons, tax evasion, illegal entrepreneurship, abuse of authority, or inciting public disorder. Local organizations and international groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW) criticized the government for arresting individuals exercising their fundamental rights and noted that authorities frequently fabricated charges against them. In particular, police detained individuals who peacefully sought to exercise freedom of expression. In one example, on May 22, journalist Nijat Amiraslanov was given 30 days of administrative detention for allegedly resisting police. His lawyer reported that Amiraslanov was tortured and forced to forgo appealing his arrest. He lost the majority of his teeth while in custody, and it was not clear whether they were intentionally torn out or were knocked out during a beating.

Pretrial Detention: Authorities held persons in pretrial detention for up to 18 months. The Prosecutor General’s Office routinely extended the initial three-month pretrial detention period permitted by law in successive increments of several months until the government completed an investigation.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: By law persons arrested or detained, regardless of whether on criminal or other grounds, are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis, length, or arbitrary nature of their detention and obtain prompt release and compensation if found to have been unlawfully detained. The judiciary did not rule independently in such cases, however, and in some cases the outcomes appeared predetermined.

Amnesty: On March 16, the president pardoned 423 prisoners, but human rights defenders considered few of those pardoned to be political prisoners, with the exceptions of blogger Abdul Abilov; Popular Front Party activist Elvin Abdullazadeh; Rufat and Rovshan Zahidov, relatives of the editor of the opposition newspaper Azadliq, Ganimat Zahid, who was living in political exile; and Nazim Agabekov, brother-in-law of the head of Meydan TV, Emin Milli. There were reports authorities pressed some of the released prisoners to write letters seeking forgiveness for past “mistakes” as a condition of their pardon. On September 11, the president pardoned blogger Alexander Lapshin, and the court ordered the early release of 18 individuals connected to the 2015 special police operation against the politically active Muslim Unity Movement in the village of Nardaran.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, judges did not function independently of the executive branch. The judiciary remained largely corrupt and inefficient. Many verdicts were legally insupportable and largely unrelated to the evidence presented during the trial. Outcomes frequently appeared predetermined. Courts often failed to investigate allegations of torture and inhuman treatment of detainees in police custody.

The Ministry of Justice controlled the Judicial Legal Council. The council appoints a judicial selection committee (six judges, a prosecutor, a lawyer, a council representative, a Ministry of Justice representative, and a legal scholar) that administers the judicial selection examination and oversees the long-term judicial training and selection process.

Credible reports indicated that judges and prosecutors took instruction from the Presidential Administration and the Ministry of Justice, particularly in cases of interest to international observers. There were credible allegations judges routinely accepted bribes.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law requires public trials except in cases involving state, commercial, or professional secrets or confidential, personal, or family matters. The law mandates the presumption of innocence in criminal cases. It also mandates the right to be informed promptly of charges; to a fair, timely, and public trial (although trials can be closed in some situations, e.g., cases related to national security); to be present at the trial; to communicate with an attorney of their choice (or have one provided at public expense if unable to pay); to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense; to free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals; to confront witnesses and present witnesses’ evidence at trial; and not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Both defendants and prosecutors have the right to appeal. Authorities did not respect these provisions in many cases widely considered politically motivated.

Judges at times failed to read verdicts publicly or explain their decisions, leaving defendants without knowledge of the reasoning behind the judgment. Judges also limited the defendant’s right to speak. In the appeal of Giyas Ibrahimov, the judge ordered the microphone in the cage for the accused to be switched off to prevent Ibrahimov’s closing statement.

Authorities sometimes limited independent observation of trials by having plainclothes police and others occupy courtroom seats. Information regarding trial times and locations was generally available.

Although the constitution prescribes equal status for prosecutors and defense attorneys, judges often favored prosecutors when assessing motions, oral statements, and evidence submitted by defense counsel, without regard to the merits of their respective arguments. Judges also reserved the right to remove defense lawyers in civil cases for “good cause.” In criminal proceedings, judges may remove defense lawyers because of a conflict of interest or if a defendant requests a change of counsel.

The law limits representation in criminal cases to members of the country’s government-dominated Collegium (bar association). The number of defense lawyers willing and able to accept sensitive cases remained small due to various measures taken by authorities, including by the Collegium’s presidium, its managing body. Such measures included disciplinary proceedings resulting in censure, and sometimes disbarment. For example, on November 20, the Collegium voted to expel lawyer Yalchin Imanov after he spoke publicly about the alleged torture suffered in prison by his client Muslim Unity Movement deputy chair Abbas Huseynov (see section 1.c.). There were reports of Collegium pressure on lawyers. There were reports of police physically intimidating lawyers, pressure from prosecutors and police, and occasional harassment of family members, including threats on social media. Most of the country’s human rights defense lawyers practiced in Baku, which made it difficult for individuals living outside of Baku to receive timely and quality legal service.

On November 7, the Milli Majlis amended the law on legal representation. Previously, the law permitted nonbar lawyers to represent clients in civil and administrative proceedings. Beginning in 2018, however, only members of the bar association will be able to represent citizens in any legal process. Representatives of the legal community and NGOs criticized the amended law, warning it would reduce citizens’ access to legal representation and allow the government-dominated bar association to prevent human rights lawyers from representing individuals in politically motivated cases.

The constitution prohibits the use of illegally obtained evidence. Despite some defendants’ claims that police and other authorities obtained testimony through torture or abuse, human rights monitors reported courts did not investigate allegations of abuse, and there was no independent forensic investigator to substantiate assertions of abuse. According to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, whereas it received “a large number of testimonies” of torture and mistreatment during its May 2016 visit to the country, none of the country’s officials or detainees with whom the group met indicated that a judge had questioned a detainee on his/her treatment in custody.

Investigations often focused on obtaining confessions rather than gathering physical evidence against suspects. Serious crimes brought before the courts most often ended in conviction, since judges generally sought only a minimal level of proof and collaborated closely with prosecutors.

With the exception of the Baku Court of Grave Crimes, human rights advocates also reported courts often failed to provide interpreters despite the constitutional right of an accused person to interpretation. Courts are entitled to contract interpreters during hearings, with expenses covered by the state budget.

There were no verbatim transcripts of judicial proceedings. Although some of the newer courts in Baku made audio recordings of proceedings, courts did not record most court testimonies, oral arguments, and judicial decisions. Instead, the court recording officer generally decided the content of notes, which tended to be sparse.

The country has a military court system with civilian judges. The Military Court retains original jurisdiction over any case related to war or military service.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

Political prisoners and detainees are entitled to the same rights as other prisoners, although restrictions on them varied. Authorities provided international humanitarian organizations access to political prisoners and detainees.

In addition to the presidential pardons on March 16 and September 11(see section 1.d.), authorities on September 11 released the Turan Information Agency editor in chief, Mehman Aliyev, from pretrial detention and changed the terms of confinement for Azadliqfinancial director and opposition Popular Front Party member Faig Amirli on September 15. According to an ad hoc nongovernmental working group on political prisoners, there were 156 political prisoners and detainees at year’s end. According to human rights organizations, dozens of government critics remained incarcerated for politically motivated reasons as of November 23. The following individuals were among those widely considered political prisoners or detainees (also see sections 1.c., 1.d., 1.f., 2.a., 3, and 4).

On January 16, the Baku Grave Crimes Court sentenced N!DA youth movement member Elgiz Gahraman to imprisonment for five years and six months on drug charges. Lawyers and civil society activists stated the real reason Gahraman was punished was for criticizing the president and his family in social media posts. The Baku Court of Appeals upheld the sentence on May 18, but on November 29, the Supreme Court reduced his sentence to three years’ imprisonment.

On January 25, the Baku Grave Crimes Court sentenced Muslim Unity Movement leader Taleh Bagirzada and his deputy, Abbas Huseynov, to 20 years in prison. Sixteen others associated with the case received prison terms ranging from 14 years and six months to 19 years for charges including terrorism, murder, calling for the overthrow of the government, and inciting religious hatred. Fuad Gahramanli, one of three deputy chairs of the secular opposition Popular Front Party, was sentenced in a related case to 10 years in prison. Human rights defenders asserted the government falsified and fabricated the charges to halt the spread of political opposition in the country.

On March 3, the Surakhany District Court sentenced blogger Mehman Huseynov to two years in prison for alleged defamation (see section 1.c.).

On June 16, the Baku Grave Crimes Court sentenced Fuad Ahmadli, a member of the Youth Committee of the Popular Front Party, to four years’ imprisonment for alleged abuse of office and purportedly illegally accessing private information at the mobile operator where he worked. Human rights defenders stated he was punished for participating in protest actions and for criticizing the government on social media.

On November 16, the ECHR ruled the chairman of the opposition Republican Alternative Movement (REAL Movement), Ilgar Mammadov, had been denied a fair trial. Mammadov had been incarcerated since 2013 despite a 2014 ruling by the ECHR that his detention was illegal.

Individuals considered by activists to be political detainees included one of three Popular Front Party deputy chairs, Gozel Bayramli, and journalists Afgan Mukhtarli and Aziz Orucov.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Citizens have the right to file lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights violations. All citizens have the right to appeal to the ECHR within six months of exhausting all domestic legal options, including an appeal to and ruling by the Supreme Court.

Citizens exercised the right to appeal local court rulings to the ECHR and brought claims of government violations of commitments under the European Convention on Human Rights. The government’s compliance with ECHR decisions was mixed; activists stated the government paid compensation but failed to release prisoners in response to ECHR decisions.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

NGOs reported authorities did not respect the laws governing eminent domain and expropriation of property. Homeowners often reported receiving compensation well below market value for expropriated property and had little legal recourse. NGOs also reported many citizens did not trust the court system and were therefore reluctant to pursue compensation claims.

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

The law prohibits arbitrary invasions of privacy and monitoring of correspondence and other private communications. The government generally did not respect these legal prohibitions.

While the constitution allows for searches of residences only with a court order or in cases specifically provided for by law, authorities often conducted searches without warrants. It was widely reported that the State Security Service and the Ministry of Internal Affairs monitored telephone and internet communications, particularly those of foreigners, prominent youths active online, some political and business figures, and persons engaged in international communication. There were indications the postal service monitored certain mail for politically sensitive subject matter. For example, human rights attorneys complained during the year that the postal service frequently did not send their appeals to the ECHR, forcing them to use courier services at greater cost.

Police continued to intimidate, harass, and sometimes arrest family members of suspected criminals, independent journalists, and political opposition members and leaders, as well as employees and leaders of certain NGOs. For example, Elnur Seyidov, the brother-in-law of opposition Popular Front Party chairman Ali Kerimli, remained incarcerated since 2012 on charges widely viewed as politically motivated.

There were several examples of the use of politically motivated incarceration of relatives as a means of putting pressure on exiles. On February 18, police interrogated family members of exiled blogger Ordukhan Temirkhan. His brother and nephew were sentenced to administrative detention on fabricated charges of resisting police.

There were also reports authorities fired individuals from their jobs or had individuals fired in retaliation for the political or civic activities of family members inside or outside the country. For example, during the year there were reports at least five Popular Front Party members were fired from their jobs after participating in a peaceful protest.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

Although the constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government through free and fair elections based on universal and equal suffrage, held by secret ballot, the government continued to restrict this ability by interfering in the electoral process. While the law provides for an independent legislative branch, the Milli Mejlis exercised little initiative independent of the executive branch.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) cancelled its observation of the 2015 legislative elections when the government refused to accept its recommended number of election observers. Without ODIHR participation, it was impossible to assess properly the fairness of the elections.

Independent local and international monitors who observed the election alleged a wide range of irregularities throughout the country, including blocking observers from entering polling stations, ballot stuffing, carousel voting, and voting by unregistered individuals; opposition monitors also alleged such irregularities. The country’s main opposition parties boycotted the election.

The 2013 presidential election fell short of international standards. In their joint statement of preliminary findings and conclusions on the election, ODIHR and the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly highlighted serious shortcomings that needed to be addressed for the country to meet its OSCE commitments fully. On election day OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and ODIHR observers noted procedural irregularities, including ballot box stuffing, serious problems with vote counting in 58 percent of observed polling stations, and failure to record the number of ballots received. The ODIHR report noted that, prior to election day, the government maintained a repressive political environment that did not provide the fundamental freedoms of assembly, association, and expression necessary for a free and fair electoral competition. Authorities interfered with media and civil society routinely, sometimes violently interrupted peaceful rallies and meetings before and occasionally during the 23-day campaign period, and jailed a number of opposition and youth activists. Neither the election administration nor the judiciary provided effective redress for appeals. Credible NGOs reported similar shortcomings.

In September 2016 the government conducted a referendum on 29 proposed constitutional amendments, with voters having the option to vote on each proposed amendment separately. Amendments included provisions extending the presidential term from five to seven years, permitting the president to call early elections if twice in one year legislators pass no-confidence measures in the government or reject presidential nominees to key government posts. The amendments also authorized the president to appoint one or more vice presidents, designating the senior vice president as first in the line of presidential succession in place of the prime minister, who is approved by parliament. On February 21, the president appointed his wife, Mehriban Aliyeva, as first vice president.

After polls closed, the Central Electoral Commission (CEC) announced that the 29 amendments were approved by approximately 70 percent of registered voters. While observers from the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly reported the referendum was well executed, independent election observers who were unaccredited identified numerous instances of ballot stuffing, carousel voting, and other irregularities, many of which were captured on video. They also observed significantly lower turnout than was officially reported by the CEC.

Political Parties and Political Participation: While there were 50 registered political parties, the ruling Yeni Azerbaijan Party dominated the political system. Domestic observers reported membership in the ruling party conferred advantages, such as preference for public positions. The Milli Mejlis had not included representatives of the country’s main opposition parties since 2010.

Authorities took various measures to prevent the REAL Movement from forming a political party, including by blocking its efforts to hold a required party congress. For example, in October and November, the Baku City Executive Authority denied the REAL Movement’s repeated requests for space to hold a congress. Private hotels reportedly refused to rent REAL space due to fear of the authorities’ reaction. The Musavat Party agreed to allow REAL to hold the party congress at its Baku office in December, but REAL leadership postponed the event following the authorities’ warnings that Musavat would be expelled from the office space if the congress were held there.

Opposition members were more likely than other citizens to experience official harassment and arbitrary arrest and detention. Members of the Popular Front and Musavat parties were arrested and sentenced to administrative detention after making social media posts critical of the government.

According to domestic NGOs’ joint list of political prisoners, several political detainees or prisoners were opposition party or movement members. At least 10 opposition members were considered to be political detainees or prisoners, including REAL movement chairman Ilgar Mammadov (see section 1.e.), and all three deputy chairs of the Popular Front Party–Gozel Bayramli, Fuad Gahramanli, and Seymur Hezi.

Regional party members often had to conceal the purpose of their gatherings and held them in remote locations. Opposition party members reported police often dispersed small gatherings at teahouses and detained participants for questioning.

Opposition parties continued to have difficulty renting office space, reportedly because property owners feared official retaliation. For example, on February 9, a landlord expelled the local branches of the Popular Front Party and Musavat from their shared office space in Sheki.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. There was one female member in the cabinet, and 16.8 percent of members of the parliament were women.

Bahrain

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

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

There were reports government security forces committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

On May 23, during a security operation to clear protesters from outside the house of Shia cleric Sheikh Isa Qassim, five protesters were killed and 286 others arrested. Official police reports claimed protesters created a “combat situation” by attacking police with iron rods, axes, knives, and rocks. In the clashes 19 police officers were injured. While police stated the use of force was justified, opposition groups and activists called the deaths politically motivated and evidence of excessive use of force.

The Ministry of Interior ombudsman’s annual report detailed the ombudsman’s investigations into eight detainee deaths that occurred from May 2016 to April. Investigators determined three prisoners died of a “heart attack,” one died from a preexisting medical condition, and four investigations remained underway (see section 1.c., Prison and Detention Center Conditions).

The government did not provide any updates on its investigation into the death of 17-year-old Ali Abdulghani during his 2016 arrest and detention.

On February 20, 22-year-old Abdulla al-Ajooz, convicted of premeditated murder in absentia and sentenced to life in prison, allegedly fell off a roof as police attempted to arrest him in Nuwaidrat. He later died of his injuries. His family claimed police shot and killed him. Photos of al-Ajooz’s body that circulated in the press and on social media did not appear to indicate bullet wounds. The Ministry of Interior conducted an autopsy but stated it was inconclusive regarding the exact cause of death. According to opposition media reports, the government pressured the family to bury the body quickly.

Violent extremists perpetrated dozens of attacks against security officers during the year, killing four and injuring several others. The Ministry of Interior claimed there were 112 terrorist attacks against police from January to August. On January 1, gunmen attacked Jaw Prison, freeing 10 inmates and killing one police officer during the raid. On January 29, unidentified assailants killed off-duty police officer First Lieutenant Hisham Hassan Mohammad al-Hamadi in the Bilad al-Qadeem neighborhood.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

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

The constitution prohibits “harm[ing] an accused person physically or mentally.” Some domestic and international human rights organizations, as well as active and former detainees, reported instances of torture, abuse, and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. Opposition activists reported increased allegations of abuse and mistreatment following King Hamad’s reinstatement of the arrest authority of the BNSA in January. The BNSA had been stripped of its arrest authority in 2011 after the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry report determined that a substantial number of arrests made by BNSA during the unrest that year had violated international law.

In January, Ebtisam al-Saegh, a human rights activist focused on domestic violence and women’s rights, reported security forces summoned her for interrogation at the BNSA’s Muharraq office. She claimed the BNSA officials who questioned her said her work gave the country a “bad image.” She later stated security forces detained her at the airport and brought her again to the Muharraq police station for interrogation, after she returned from attending UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) meetings in March. On May 15, a fire destroyed al-Saegh’s parked car. Al-Saegh claimed foul play, but the Ministry of Interior’s investigation concluded a short circuit started the fire. Al-Saegh stated that BNSA officers interrogated her again on May 26, beat her, stripped and sexually assaulted her, forced her to stand for hours, and threatened to rape her daughter and torture her husband. On July 3, al-Saegh was arrested and later charged with “terrorism.” She was released from Isa Women’s Detention Center on October 22, and as of December it was not clear whether the government would prosecute the case or drop the charges.

On January 15, the government executed by firing squad Ali al-Singace, Sami Mushaima, and Abbas al-Samea, three Shia men convicted of killing an Emirati police officer and two police officers in a 2014 bomb attack. The death sentences were the first executions carried out in the country since 2010. Activists stated that the Ministry of Interior and Public Prosecutor’s Office (PPO) had used torture, including beatings, electric shocks, and deprivation of food and water to extract confessions from the three men and that authorities did not adequately investigate these allegations of coerced confessions prior to carrying out the executions.

Human rights groups reported prisoner accounts alleging security officials beat them, placed them in stress positions, humiliated them in front of other prisoners, deprived them of sleep and prayers, insulted them based on their religious beliefs, and subjected them to sexual harassment, including removal of clothing and threat of rape. Human rights organizations also reported authorities denied medical treatment to injured or ill detainees and prisoners. Detainees reported that security forces committed some abuses during searches, arrests at private residences, and during transportation. Detainees reported intimidation, such as threats of violence, took place at the Criminal Investigation Directorate (CID) located in Adliya. Some detainees at the CID reported security officials used physical and psychological mistreatment to extract confessions and statements under duress or to inflict retribution and punishment.

The Ministry of Interior denied torture and abuse were systemic. The government reported it had equipped all interrogation rooms, including those at local police stations and the CID, with closed-circuit television cameras monitored at all times. The quasi-governmental Commission on Prisoner and Detainee Rights (PDRC) repeatedly noted in reports released 2014-17 that many facilities had areas without video monitoring. The Ministry of Interior reported surveillance cameras were installed in pretrial detention centers, and the ombudsman’s fourth annual report named installation of surveillance cameras throughout ministry facilities as a top priority.

The Ministry of Interior reported the implementation of training and rehabilitation courses during the year.

Human rights groups reported authorities subjected children, sometimes under age 15, to various forms of mistreatment, including beating, slapping, kicking, and verbal abuse. The law considers all persons over 15 to be adults.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Human rights activists reported conditions in prisons and detention centers were harsh and sometimes life threatening, due to overcrowding, physical abuse, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care. Detainees and human rights organizations also reported abuse in official pretrial detention centers, as well as in Jaw Prison and Dry Dock Detention Center.

Physical Conditions: Human rights organizations and prisoners reported gross overcrowding in detention facilities, which placed a strain on prison administration and led to a high prisoner-to-staff ratio. However, the Ministry of Interior reported that new prison housing facilities were under construction at year’s end that would help to decrease overcrowding. PDRC reports from 2015 detailed concerns regarding conditions in Jaw Prison, including overcrowding, unsanitary conditions, and lack of access to basic supplies. Reports from the Women’s Removal Center and Men’s Removal Center also highlighted some unsanitary conditions but reported improving access to health care.

The Ministry of Interior reported three detainee deaths from January to September, which it attributed to natural causes. The ombudsman was still investigating two of these cases, including the March 17 death of 45-year-old Mohammed Sahwan in Jaw Prison. Ministry officials claimed that he died suddenly from cardiac arrest while playing soccer. The victim’s family claimed that Sahwan had not received adequate treatment from the prison health authorities for preexisting injuries, resulting in his death.

Although the government reported potable water was available for all detainees, there were reports of lack of access to water for drinking and washing, lack of shower facilities and soap, and unhygienic toilet facilities. Human rights organizations reported food was adequate for most prisoners; however, those prisoners needing dietary accommodations due to medical conditions had difficulty receiving special dietary provisions.

Authorities held detainees under age 15 at the Juvenile Care Center, and criminal records are expunged after detainees under age 15 are released. The Ministry of Interior reported 35 arrests of children under age 15 from January to September. As of September there were 26 children at the Juvenile Care Center awaiting trial and 19 more serving sentences.

As of 2015 the government housed convicted male inmates between ages 15 and 21 in newly constructed buildings located on the grounds of the Dry Dock facility, but they were kept separate from pretrial detainees. The ministry separated prisoners under age 18 from those between ages 18 and 21. Upon reaching the age of 21, prisoners enter the general population at Jaw Prison. The ministry reported 521 children between ages 15 and 18 were arrested in the first half of the year. According to official statistics, 76 were in custody awaiting trial and 90 were serving prison sentences.

The Ministry of Interior reported there were no persons with disabilities in detention. The ministry reserved one ward in the pretrial detention center for the elderly and special needs detainees.

The Ministry of Interior operated a center for rehabilitation and vocational training. According to government statistics, 50 detainees were participating in various educational programs as of September.

Although the ministry reported detention centers were staffed with experienced medical specialists and outfitted with modern equipment, prisoners needing medical attention reported difficulty in alerting guards to their needs, and medical clinics at the facilities were understaffed. Prisoners with chronic medical conditions had difficulty accessing regular medical care. Those needing transportation to outside medical facilities reported delays in scheduling offsite treatment, especially those needing follow-up care for complex or chronic conditions. The PDRC noted numerous deficiencies with health services at most facilities, and human rights organizations noted some prisoners with chronic medical conditions lacked access to medical care. There were outbreaks of communicable diseases due to overcrowded conditions, lack of sanitation, and understaffed medical clinics. To address some of these concerns, the government created a separate ward for prisoners with infectious diseases.

Inmates at Jaw Prison staged several hunger strikes throughout the year in protest of detention conditions, lack of religious freedom, and poor access to health services. On September 9, the press reported inmates from Jaw Prison staged a hunger strike, which ended on September 24, after prison officials agreed to improve conditions and allow Shia inmates greater right to worship.

Administration: The Ministry of Interior reported authorities registered the location of detainees from the moment of arrest. Authorities generally allowed prisoners to file complaints to judicial authorities without censorship, and officials from the ombudsman were available to respond to complaints. Human rights groups reported some prisoners faced reprisals from prison staff for filing complaints. Prisoners had access to visitors at least once a month, often more frequently, and authorities permitted them 30 minutes of calls each week, although authorities denied prisoners communication with lawyers and family members at times. Authorities generally permitted prisoners to practice their religion, but there were reports authorities sometimes denied prisoners access to religious services and prayer time.

Independent Monitoring: Authorities permitted access for the quasi-governmental National Institute for Human Rights (NIHR) and the PDRC, as well as the government’s ombudsman and the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), which is part of the Public Prosecutor’s Office. During the year the Ministry of Interior highlighted the work of the Internal Audit and Investigations Department, which receives and examines complaints against security forces. According to the ombudsman’s Annual Report 2016-2017, the Internal Audit and Investigations Department received 328 complaints, 18 of which were referred to the ombudsman. Some human rights organizations questioned the independence of these government oversight institutions and stated they did not meaningfully investigate or prevent abuses.

The SIU acted as a mechanism for the public to report prisoner mistreatment or poor conditions in prisons and detention facilities. The ombudsman began monitoring prisons and detention centers in 2013, conducting announced and unannounced visits and accepting written and in-person complaints. The ombudsman had complaint boxes at most Ministry of Interior detention facilities and staffed a permanent office at Jaw Prison to receive complaints. The ombudsman office reported it was able to access evidence preserved by the government after receiving complaints regarding mistreatment.

Separately, the NIHR reported it visited the Women’s Reformation, Rehabilitation, and Detention Center on August 15-16 and found no forms of systematic torture or abuse against inmates, nor did it find any mistreatment of prisoners. The NIHR conducted the visit in response to complaints and allegations of mistreatment from prisoners and families. It was the first time NIHR commissioners participated in prison inspections.

Throughout the year the PDRC conducted unannounced visits at a number of detention facilities, including the Women’s Removal Center and the Men’s Removal Center; it posted reports on these facilities on its website.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention. Local and international human rights groups reported that individuals were detained without being notified at the time of the arrest of the legal authority of the person conducting the arrest, the reasons for the arrest, and the charges against them. Human rights groups claimed the Ministry of Interior conducted many arrests at private residences without either presenting an arrest warrant or presenting an inaccurate or incomplete one. Government sources disputed these claims.

In 2013 changes to the law increased penalties for those involved in terrorism, banned demonstrations in the capital, allowed for legal action against political associations accused of inciting and supporting violence and terrorism, and granted security services increased powers to protect society from terrorism, including the ability to declare a State of National Safety. Human rights groups asserted the 2013 laws conflict with protections against arbitrary arrest and detention, including for freedom of speech.

On November 27, authorities charged Sheikh Ali Salman, the secretary general of leading opposition political society, Wifaq, with “attempting to overthrow the regime” and “giving away state and military secrets to foreign powers in exchange for money.” The charges related to recorded 2011 telephone conversations between Salman and Qatar’s former prime minister Hamad Jassim al-Thani. Activists asserted the charges were political in nature, and the recorded conversation, which involved a discussion of resolving the 2011 unrest in the country, had the direct approval of King Hamad. Salman was already in detention since 2014 for statements allegedly inciting violence. On April 3, the Court of Cassation restored a four-year prison sentence handed down for conviction of incitement charges after an appeals court had increased his sentence to nine years. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued an opinion in 2015 that Salman was arbitrarily detained by the government.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Ministry of Interior is responsible for internal security and controls the public security force and specialized security units responsible for maintaining internal order. The coast guard is also under its jurisdiction. The Bahrain Defense Force is primarily responsible for defending against external threats, while the Bahrain National Guard is responsible for both external and internal threats. Security forces effectively maintained order and generally responded in a measured way to violent attacks.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over security forces during the year, although violating rights of citizens with impunity remained a problem. Many human rights groups asserted that investigations into police abuse were slow and ineffective.

The SIU investigates and refers cases of security force misconduct to the appropriate court, which includes civilian criminal courts, the ministry’s Military Court, and administrative courts. As of September, 39 police officials received disciplinary violations, four were expelled from the force during the year. Seven police officers were awaiting trial and three were in prison. The ministry generally did not release the names of officers convicted, demoted, reassigned, or fired for misconduct.

There was also a BNSA Office for the Inspector General and a Ministry of Interior Ombudsman. While both offices were responsible for addressing cases of mistreatment and abuse, there was little public information available regarding the BNSA inspector general’s activities.

The Ministry of Interior Ombudsman’s annual report, released in September, reported 465 complaints and 691 assistance requests between May 2016 and April from alleged victims of mistreatment by police and civilian staff, their families, or organizations representing their interests,. Of these complaints, 83 were referred to the relevant body, 123 were still under investigation, and 215 were closed without resolution. The ombudsman reported receipt of 96 complaints against the CID and 139 against Jaw Prison from May 2016 to May. The ombudsman referred 14 of the cases against the CID and 39 against Jaw Prison for criminal or disciplinary procedures: 20 and 70 additional cases were still under investigation, respectively. Of those cases, one complaint was sent to the PPO, 66 were sent to Security Prosecution, 15 were to the SIU, and one to the Disciplinary Committee.

The ombudsman maintained a hotline for citizens to report police abuse via telephone, email, or in person, but human rights groups reported many citizens hesitated to report abuse due to fear of retribution. The ombudsman reported receiving 16 complaints as of September.

The Ministry of Interior police code of conduct requires officers to abide by 10 principles, including limited use of force and zero tolerance for torture and mistreatment. According to government officials, the code forbids the use of force “except when absolutely necessary.” The Royal Police Academy included the code in its curriculum and provided recruits with copies in English and Arabic. The ministry reported it took disciplinary action against officers who did not comply with the code.

The ministry strengthened the Directorate of Audit and Internal Investigations, responsible for receiving, reviewing, and examining complaints against any member of the public security forces. The directorate referred 16 cases of police misconduct to Police Court, resulting in seven convictions.

The ministry organized various human rights training for its employees, including a new year-long human rights curriculum and diploma at the Royal Police Academy. The academy regularly negotiates memoranda of understanding (MOU) with the NIHR to exchange expertise. During the year the academy updated its Masters’ in Security Administration and Criminal Forensics curriculum to include a unit on human rights in international law and international humanitarian law. In December the NIHR signed a MOU with the BNSA to organize workshops and training sessions relating to human rights and basic rights, and to collaborate on future research.

The police force has included women since 1970, and during the year two women achieved the rank of brigadier general and general director.

Local activists and human rights organizations reported that the demographics of police and security forces failed to represent adequately Shia communities. To address these concerns, the government established in 2012 the community police program, which recruits individuals to work in their own neighborhoods. Official statistics documented 1,425 community police, of which 323 were women. The ministry did not keep official statistics on the number of Shia members of the community police force, however, and did not recruit new community police during the year. Community members reported that Shia citizens were among those integrated into the community police and the police cadet programs but not in significant numbers; information was not available on recruitment rates of Shia citizens into other security forces.

Unidentified individuals conducted numerous attacks aimed at security personnel during the year, which the perpetrators often filmed and posted to social media. These videos showed attackers using Molotov cocktails and other improvised weapons against police patrols and stations, including in close proximity to bystanders. Police usually avoided responding with deadly force. During the year the Ministry of Interior reported four police officer deaths (see section 1.a.) and 110 injuries, including 13 serious or life-threatening injuries.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law stipulates law enforcement officers may arrest individuals without a warrant only if they are caught committing certain crimes for which there is sufficient evidence to press charges. Additionally, the Code of Criminal Procedure requires execution of an arrest warrant before a summons order to appear before the public prosecutor. Local activists reported police sometimes made arrests without presenting a warrant and that the PPO summoned political and human rights activists for questioning without a warrant or court order.

By law the arresting authority must interrogate an arrested individual immediately and may not detain the person for more than 48 hours, after which authorities must either release the detainee or transfer the person to the PPO for further questioning. The PPO is required to question the detainee within 24 hours, and the detainee has the right to legal counsel during questioning. To hold the detainee longer, the PPO must issue a formal detention order based on the charges against the detainee. Authorities may extend detention up to seven days for further questioning. If authorities require any further extension, the detainee must appear before a judge, who may authorize a further extension not exceeding 45 days. The High Criminal Court must authorize any extensions beyond that period and any renewals at 45-day intervals. In the case of alleged acts of terror, law enforcement officers may detain individuals for questioning for an initial five days, which the PPO may extend up to 60 days. A functioning system of bail provides maximum and minimum bail amounts based on the charges; however, judges often denied bail requests without explanation, even in nonviolent cases. The bail law allows the presiding judge to determine the amount within these parameters on a case-by-case basis.

Attorneys reported difficulty in gaining access to their clients in a timely manner through all stages of the legal process. They reported difficulty registering as a detainee’s legal representative because of arbitrary bureaucratic hurdles; arbitrary questioning of credentials by police; lack of notification of clients’ location in custody; arbitrary requirements to seek court orders to meet clients; prohibitions on meeting clients in private; prohibitions on passing legal documents to clients; questioning of clients by PPO on very short notice; lack of access to clients during police questioning; and lack of access to consult with clients in court. While the state provides counsel to indigent detainees, there were reports detainees never met with their state appointed attorney before or during their trial.

According to reports by local and international human rights groups, authorities held some detainees for weeks with limited access to outside resources. The government sometimes withheld information from detainees and their families regarding detainees’ whereabouts for days.

In October 2016 Sayed Alawi Hussain Alawi from Diraz went missing, and his family immediately filed a missing person’s report with police. The family then received a call from an individual who identified himself as an official from the CID, who said police had arrested Alawi. According to social media reports, police prevented Alawi’s lawyer from meeting with his client and prevented Alawi from calling his family until December 2016. In October authorities referred Alawi’s case to military courts for prosecution. As of December the exact charges in the case were unclear, although according to legal procedures, observers believed the charges were related to national security.

Arbitrary Arrest: Human rights groups reported the Ministry of Interior sometimes arrested individuals for activities such as calling for and attending protests and demonstrations, expressing their opinion either in public or on social media, and associating with persons of interest to law enforcement. Some of these detained individuals reported arresting forces did not show them warrants. Authorities arrested dozens of participants in a nonviolent, long-term sit-in that started in June 2016 and continued until May 23 outside the residence in Diraz of prominent Shia cleric Sheikh Isa Qassim, protesting the revocation of his citizenship (see section 2.b., Freedom of Assembly). The government maintained that police only summoned, questioned, and detained individuals who had broken the law.

Over the period of June 22-26, BNSA authorities summoned Mohammad Sultan, son of former Wifaq Council of Representatives member Sheikh Hassan Sultan, four times for questioning. Opposition media claimed that during sessions, BNSA officials attempted to recruit him to work as an informant against his father. The interrogations followed Bahrain TV broadcasting alleged calls between Sheikh Hassan Sultan and a Qatari official during the 2011 protests in which authorities claimed they plotted to overthrow the regime. Reports from opposition media and activists alleged he was beaten, stripped naked, and threatened with rape. After his interrogations, Sultan was banned from international travel. (See section 2.a. for information regarding the arrest and detention of human rights activist Nabeel Rajab.)

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: There were reports that authorities sometimes delayed or limited an individual’s access to an attorney. There were no reports of courts finding individuals to have been unlawfully detained and recommending compensation.

On March 29, a court convicted former opposition member of parliament, Sheikh Hassan Isa, of funding terrorism and sentenced him to 10 years’ imprisonment. His appeal remained pending as of December. Authorities detained Isa in 2015 at the airport upon his return from an international trip. According to Wifaq, CID investigators prohibited Isa’s lawyers from speaking to him and from being present during his questioning, during which he alleged he was tortured.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, political opposition figures reported the judiciary remained vulnerable to political pressures, especially in high-profile cases. The judiciary has two branches: the civil law courts deal with all commercial, civil, and criminal cases, including family issues of non-Muslims, and the sharia law courts handle personal status cases of Muslims. The government subdivided the sharia courts into Sunni and Shia sharia courts. Many of the country’s approximately 160 judges were foreign judges serving on limited-term contracts (which are subject to government approval for renewal and residence in the country). The Supreme Judicial Council is responsible for supervising the work of the courts, including judges, and the PPO.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution presumes defendants are innocent until proven guilty. By law authorities should inform detainees of the charges against them upon arrest. Civil and criminal trial procedures provide for a public trial. A panel of three judges makes the rulings. Defendants have the right to consultation with an attorney of their choice within 48 hours (unless the government charges them pursuant to counterterrorism legislation); however, there are reports that defendants and their lawyers had difficulty getting police, public prosecutor, and courts to recognize or register representation by an attorney. The government provides counsel at public expense to indigent defendants but does not provide for access to an interpreter if needed. Defendants have the right to present witnesses and evidence on their behalf. While defendants have the right to question witnesses against them, the judges may declare the questions to be irrelevant and prohibit a line of questioning without providing reasoning. Prosecutors rarely present evidence orally in court but provide it in written and digital formats to judges in their chambers. In criminal trials, prosecutors and judges walk into the courtroom together. Defendants are not compelled to testify or to confess guilt and have the right to appeal. The government frequently tries defendants in their absence.

Family status law varied according to Shia or Sunni interpretations of Islamic law, especially for women (see section 6). On July 19, King Hamad ratified a new Unified Family Law, which for the first time included a civil code for Shia family law. According to supporters of the law, the new civil code provides for the protection of Shia, in particular Shia women, from the imposition of arbitrary decisions by unregulated clerics.

On April 3, King Hamad ratified a constitutional amendment that granted military courts the right to try civilians accused of threatening the security of the state. The 2002 constitution had limited the jurisdiction of military courts to offenses by security forces. Government media reported the government approved the amendment to better fight terrorist cells, while activists claimed the change would jeopardize fair trial standards. On May 9, the PPO referred the case of Fadhel Sayed Abbas Hasan to military courts, the first case to fall under the new amendment. On October 23, his trial began at the High Military Court on charges of terrorist attacks and the attempted killing of the Bahraini Defense Force commander-in-chief. Three other defendants–Sayed Alawi Sayed Husain al-Alawi (see section 1.d., Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees), Muhammed Abdulhassan al-Mutaghwi, and Muhammad Husain al-Shehabi–also were named in the case. As the trial progressed, 14 others were added to the case. On December 25, the court convicted Hasan and five of his codefendants and sentenced them to death. Seven other convicted codefendants were sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment; others were acquitted.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

The government denied holding any political prisoners, although it acknowledged holding several dozen high-profile individuals, including leaders or prominent members of political societies and organizations and others who were publicly critical of government institutions or government actions prior to their arrests. According to the Ministry of Interior, the total number of persons in pretrial detention was 895, and the number of prisoners was 3,485. Some human rights organizations and opposition groups asserted that the majority of detained individuals were political prisoners, but the assertion could not be substantiated. Authorities held some high-profile prisoners separately from the general prison population. There were some reports authorities held political prisoners in better conditions than other prisoners and detainees.

Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) President Nabeel Rajab was the only prisoner held at the East Riffa police station until he was transferred to al-Qalaa police clinic in April following a medical emergency and then to Jaw Prison on October 26. Human rights organizations raised concerns that he was not consistently provided prompt access to medical care (see section 2.a.). Ebtisam al-Saegh was kept isolated from the rest of the prisoner population in Isa Town Women’s Detention Center during her detention from July to October (see section 1.c.).

Political activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, one of 13 Shia leaders sentenced to life in prison in 2011, orchestrated a hunger strike of Jaw Prison inmates in September to protest poor prison conditions and lack of religious freedom for Shia prisoners (see section 1.c., Prison and Detention Center Conditions).

Authorities released several Shia scholars and activists arrested during the Diraz protests in front of Sheikh Isa Qassim’s house in May 2016. On August 6, the government released Shaikh Ali Naji after he completed one year in prison; similarly, on August 2, film director Yasser Nasser was released after one year in prison and, on August 12, Taha al-Derazi was released after serving three months in prison. (See section 1.d. for information regarding the arrest and detention of Wifaq secretary general Sheikh Ali Salman. See section 2.a. for more information on the arrest and detention of activists Nabeel Rajab and Zainab al-Khawaja.)

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Citizens may submit civil suits before a court seeking cessation of or damages for some types of human rights violations. In many such situations, however, the law prevents citizens from filing civil suits against security agencies.

Decree number 18, which establishes alternative penalties and measures to reduce the number of inmates in detention centers and prisons, went into effect in July, and the first reported use of the guidelines was on October 18 in the case of an elderly man who was sentenced to two months’ house arrest for stealing 22,000 dinars ($58,225). The alternative measures are available when a person has no previous criminal history, is a minor, or is charged with minor legal infractions.

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

Although the constitution prohibits such actions, the government violated prohibitions against interference with privacy, family, home, or correspondence. Human rights organizations reported security forces sometimes entered homes without authorization and destroyed or confiscated personal property. The law requires the government to obtain a court order before monitoring telephone calls, email, and personal correspondence. Many citizens and human rights organizations believed police used informer networks, including ones that targeted or used children under age 18.

Reports also indicated the government used computer programs to spy on political activists and members of the opposition inside and outside the country.

According to local and international human rights groups, security officials sometimes threatened detainees’ family members with reprisals for the detainee’s unwillingness to cooperate during interrogations and refusal to sign confession statements.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, “provided that the fundamental beliefs of Islamic doctrine are not infringed, the unity of the people is not prejudiced, and discord and sectarianism are not aroused.” The government limited freedom of speech and press through active prosecution of individuals under libel, slander, and national security laws that targeted citizen and professional journalists and by passing legislation to limit speech in print and social media.

Freedom of Expression: The law forbids any speech that infringes on public order or morals. While individuals openly expressed critical opinions regarding domestic political and social issues in private settings, those who publicly expressed such opinions often faced repercussions. During the year the government took steps against what it considered acts of civil disobedience, which included critical speech, under charges of unlawful assembly or “insulting the king.” The penal code allows penalties for conviction of no less than one year and no more than seven years’ imprisonment, plus a fine, for anyone who “offends the monarch of the Kingdom of Bahrain, the flag, or the national emblem.” The government charged two persons with “insulting the king” during the year. Additionally, the government charged or convicted four individuals for “insulting a government institution.” There were 32 cases of “inciting hatred against a religious sect” and 1,017 cases of misuse of a telecommunications device.

In 2016 police arrested BCHR President Nabeel Rajab for tweets released in 2015 criticizing the Saudi-led coalition’s military operations in Yemen and treatment of prisoners in Jaw Prison. His trial began in July 2016 and continued as of December. A separate trial began January 23 for a second set of charges, spreading false information and malicious rumors. The charges in the second case alleged he provided two television “foreign interviews” to foreign press in 2015 in which he defamed Bahrain. On July 10, although present for some portions of his trial, the Lower Criminal Court convicted Rajab in absentia for his foreign interviews and sentenced him to two years in prison; on September 28, an appeal of the conviction was heard before the Court of Appeals. On November 22, a judge denied Rajab’s appeal in the interviews case. Rajab’s final appeal to the Court of Cassation, the country’s highest court, was scheduled to begin January 15. His “tweets” case continued as of year’s end, with the next session also scheduled for January 15.

Press and Media Freedom: The government did not own any print media, but the Ministry of Information Affairs and other government entities exercised considerable control over privately owned domestic print media.

The government owned and operated all domestic radio and television stations. Audiences generally received radio and television broadcasts in Arabic, Farsi, and English from countries in the region, including by satellite, without interference. The ministry reviewed all books and publications prior to issuing printing licenses. The Ministry of Justice and Islamic Affairs reviewed books that discussed religion.

On June 4, the Ministry of Information Affairs ordered the indefinite suspension of the only independent newspaper operating in the country, al-Wasat. The government accused it of publishing content “offensive to a sisterly Arab state” when it covered protests in Morocco. On June 26, the newspaper’s board of directors issued a letter terminating the contracts of its approximately 160 employees.

On January 7, journalist Faisal Hayyat, a video blogger, was released after serving three months in prison for conviction of posting an allegedly defamatory tweet against an Islamic religious figure. Security forces summoned him again for questioning on April 23 for charges related to the Diraz protests. He was released and banned from international travel while his case remained under investigation.

Violence and Harassment: According to local journalists, authorities sometimes harassed, arrested, or threatened journalists and photographers due to their reporting. Authorities claimed, however, that some individuals who identified themselves as journalists and photographers were associated with violent opposition groups and produced propaganda and recruiting videos for these groups. International media representatives reported difficulty in obtaining visas to work as journalists. The government brought criminal complaints against journalists who worked without accreditation. The government arrested or deported individuals engaged in journalism that were in the country on other types of visas.

On March 22, CID detained and questioned Agence France Presse photographer Mohammed al-Sheikh at Bahrain Airport, then released him without charge the same day.

On May 25, the government refused for the second time renewal of Nazeha Saeed’s permit as an independent journalist for France 24 and Radio Monte Carlo and fined her 1,000 dinars ($2,650). The ministry did not give a reason for its decision, nor was recourse available.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Government censorship occurred. Ministry of Information Affairs personnel actively monitored and blocked stories on matters deemed sensitive, especially those related to sectarianism, national security, or criticism of the royal family, the Saudi royal family, or the judiciary. Journalists widely practiced self-censorship. Some members of media reported government officials contacted editors directly and told them to stop publishing articles, press releases, or stories on certain subjects.

The press and publications law prohibits anti-Islamic content in media and mandates imprisonment for “exposing the state’s official religion to offense and criticism.” The law states, “Any publication that prejudices the ruling system of the country and its official religion can be banned from publication by a ministerial order.”

Libel/Slander Laws: The government enforced libel and national security-related laws restricting freedom of the press. The penal code prohibits libel, slander, and “divulging secrets”; and it stipulates a punishment for conviction of imprisonment for no more than two years or a fine of no more than 200 dinars ($540). Application of the slander law was selective. The Ministry of Interior reported the government fined or imprisoned 88 individuals for “slander,” “libel,” or “divulging secrets” between January and September.

National Security: National security-related law provides for fines up to 10,000 dinars ($27,000) and prison sentences of at least six months for criticizing the king or inciting actions that undermine state security, as well as fines of up to 2,000 dinars ($5,400) for 14 related offenses. Punishable activities include publicizing statements issued by a foreign state or organization before obtaining ministry approval, publishing any reports that may adversely affect the dinar’s value, reporting any offense against a head of a state that maintains diplomatic relations with the country, and publishing offensive remarks concerning an accredited representative of a foreign country due to acts connected with the person’s position.

INTERNET FREEDOM

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 98 percent of citizens used the internet in 2016. The government blocked some websites from being accessed from inside the country, including some opposition-linked websites. After the government cut relations with Qatar in June, it blocked Qatari news websites such as al-Jazeeraal-Sharq, and Raya. The government restricted internet freedom and monitored individuals’ online activities, including via social media, leading to degradation of internet and mobile phone services for some neighborhoods and to legal action against some internet users. The government sentenced several journalists and bloggers arrested in 2016-17 to prison for social media postings.

Political and human rights activists reported being interrogated by security forces regarding their postings on social media. They sometimes reported repeated interrogations that included threats against their physical safety and that of their families, threats against their livelihood, and threats of denial of social services like housing and education. Several activists reported shutting down or deciding to cease posting to their social media accounts because of the threats.

Opposition leader Ebrahim Sharif was interrogated on January 15 for using Twitter to criticize the government’s execution of three Shia citizens that same day, and on March 20, he was charged with “inciting hatred against the regime” for a series of tweets critical of the government, including one questioning the dissolution of political societies. Sharif believed he remained under an active international travel ban.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government restricted academic freedom and cultural events. Some academics engaged in self-censorship, avoiding discussion of contentious political issues.

Human rights advocates claimed government officials unfairly distributed university scholarships and were biased against Shia students, for both political and religious reasons, when admitting students into certain programs. In 2011 the government instituted interviews into the university selection process, partially to correct for grade inflation, as there is no national standardized test to account for different grading practices across secondary schools; however, students reported authorities questioned them on their political beliefs and those of their families during interviews. The government maintained it distributed all scholarships and made all placements based on merit.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides for the right of free assembly, but a number of laws restrict the exercise of this right. The Ministry of Interior maintained a prohibition on public demonstrations, stating the purpose was to maintain public order in view of recent sectarian attacks in the region and that the ban was expected to be temporary in nature. Prior to the ban, the government limited and controlled political gatherings, and activists reported the government denied permits for organized demonstrations by refusing to accept application paperwork. For the third year, there were no authorized demonstrations, although the ministry generally did not intervene in peaceful, unauthorized demonstrations. For the second year in a row, the government declined to issue permits for a “May Day” rally in support of workers’ rights. The permit would have allowed public assembly of the thousands of members of the more than 45 trade unions affiliated with the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions (GFBTU).

The law outlines the locations and times during which it prohibits functions, including areas close to hospitals, airports, commercial locations, security-related facilities, and downtown Manama. The General Directorate of the Police may prevent a public meeting if it violates security, public order, or for any other serious reason. The law states mourners may not turn funeral processions into political rallies, and that security officials may be present at any public gathering.

The law states every public gathering shall have a committee consisting of a head and at least two members. The committee is responsible for supervising and preventing any illegal acts during the function. According to the law, the Ministry of Interior is not obligated to justify why it approves or denies requests to allow protests. The penal code penalizes any gathering “of five or more individuals” that is held for the “purpose of committing crimes or inciting others to commit crimes.” Lawyers asserted authorities should not prevent demonstrations in advance based on assumptions crimes would be committed. Authorities prohibited the use of vehicles in any demonstration, protest, or gathering unless organizers obtained special written permission from the head of public security.

Organizers of an unauthorized gathering faced prison sentences of three to six months. The minimum sentence for conviction of participating in an illegal gathering is one month, and the maximum is two years’ imprisonment. Authorities gave longer sentences for cases where demonstrators used violence in an illegal gathering. The maximum fine is 200 dinars ($540). The law regulates election campaigning and prohibits political activities at worship centers, universities, schools, government buildings, and public institutions. The government did not allow individuals to use mosques, maatams (Shia religious community centers), or other religious sites for political gatherings.

Police continued to summon individuals for questioning over their participation in unauthorized gatherings, including protests in Diraz. The government interrogated dozens of individuals, including Shia clerics, for their participation in the protest, which began after the government revoked Sheikh Isa Qassim’s citizenship in June 2016 and ended when police broke up the protests with force on May 23. Those charged with “illegal gathering” during the year included senior defense attorney Abdulnabi al-Ekry; Wa’ad political society founder Ibrahim Sharif, Fareeda Ghulam; Eras Oun, Fatima al-Halwachi; and Adam Rajab, son of imprisoned activists Nabeel Rajab. Many of those who reported being questioned said they remained under a government-imposed “international travel ban.”

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for freedom of association, but the government limited this right. The government required all groups to register: civil society groups and labor unions with the Ministry of Labor and Social Development and political societies with the Ministry of Justice and Islamic Affairs. The government decided whether a group was social or political in nature, based on its proposed bylaws. The law prohibits any activity by an unlicensed society, as well as any political activity by a licensed civil society group. A number of unlicensed societies were active in the country (see section 3).

A civil society group applying for registration must submit its bylaws signed by all founding members, together with minutes of the founding committee’s meetings containing the names, professions, places of residence, and signatures of all founding members. The law grants the Ministry of Labor and Social Development the right to reject the registration of any civil society group if it finds the society’s services unnecessary, already provided by another society, contrary to state security, or aimed at reviving a previously dissolved society. Associations whose applications authorities rejected or ignored may appeal to the High Civil Court, which may annul the ministry’s decision or refuse the appeal.

Many nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and civil society activists asserted the ministry routinely exploited its oversight role to stymie the activities of NGOs and other civil society organizations. While some local NGOs asserted bureaucratic incompetence characterized the ministry’s dealings with NGOs, many others stated officials actively sought to undermine some groups’ activities and imposed burdensome bureaucratic procedures on NGO board members and volunteers. The Ministries of Justice and Interior must vet funding from international sources, and authorities sometimes did not authorize it. (For information on the closure of the Wifaq political society, see section 3, Political Parties and Political Participation.)

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government did not always respect these rights.

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

Foreign Travel: The law provides the government may reject for “reasonable cause” applications to obtain or renew passports, but the applicant has the right to appeal such decisions before the High Civil Court. Individuals, including citizens of other countries, reported authorities banned them from travel out of the country due to unpaid debt obligations or other fiduciary responsibilities with private individuals or with lending institutions, as well as for open court cases. The government launched an online website during the year that allowed individuals to check their status before they traveled. Authorities relied on determinations of “national security” when adjudicating passport applications. During the year authorities prevented a number of activists from leaving the country without providing options for legal recourse.

The government reported that as of September it had banned 102 citizens from international travel for various reasons. The “travel bans” were most often justified by the government to prevent the travel of those with pending criminal charges. Between June 2016 and October 2017, approximately 40 individuals, including activists and opposition figures, reported government agents stopped them from leaving the country. Individuals under “travel bans” sometimes claimed the government had not informed them of the ban, provided them with an official document citing the reason, or allowed them to present an appeal. Critics stated authorities tried to build cases against the individuals retroactively to give the travel bans the appearance of legality. Observers noted the travel bans prevented activists from participating in UNHRC sessions and other international events. Activists reported dozens of cases of travel bans just before and during UNHRC meetings in March, June, and September. In July 2016 the NIHR urged the government to stop issuing travel bans without a judicial order.

High-profile cases with travel bans include those imposed on Ebtisam al-Saegh (see section 1.c.) and Adam Rajab, son of imprisoned activist Nabeel Rajab.

Exile: There were no reports the government prohibited the return of individuals whom the government maintained were citizens. The government, however, prohibited the return of those whose citizenship it formally revoked, or those it no longer considered citizens. There were reports of individuals who lived in self-imposed exile, often to avoid jail time for convictions imposed in their absence.

Citizenship: As a punitive measure, the government continued to revoke citizenship for both criminal and political cases, including in the case of natural-born citizens. Authorities maintained the revocation of citizenship of some opposition political and religious figures. The government has not implemented a comprehensive legal review process concerning citizenship revocation, as recommended by the NIHR in 2015, to assure the government protected the rights of individuals and their family members. The government did not consider whether individuals may become stateless by these actions and has at times threatened to halt payments of pensions, or remove families from government-assisted housing if a head-of-household loses his citizenship. Some family members, especially women and minor children, reported difficulties renewing their passports and residence cards and obtaining birth certificates for children. During the year the government issued limited-validity passports to a number of individuals, whose citizenship it had revoked, and deported them to Iraq, Iran, and Lebanon. There is no procedure for accused persons to mount a defense prior to citizenship revocation.

On May 21, a court sentenced Shia cleric Sheikh Isa Qassim to a one-year suspended prison sentence and confiscated money the government argued he collected illegally. The government revoked Qassim’s citizenship in 2016. Government sources reported Qassim had the right to appeal the decision, but he declined to do so. Authorities indicted him and two staff, Mirza al-Dirazi and Sheikh Hussain al-Mahrous, on money-laundering charges, citing large transfers of funds overseas that allegedly bypassed banks to avoid detection. Qassim denied the charges and did not attend any court proceedings.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. The government at times provided protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion; however, protection was mostly limited to those who had been able to obtain and maintain employment in the country. Such individuals generally had access to health care and education services while employed but were at risk of deportation if they became unemployed or if their country of origin revoked their passports. UNHCR reported that as of June 2016, there were 373 refugees and asylum seekers registered with the agency.

STATELESS PERSONS

Individuals generally derive citizenship from the father, but the king may confer or revoke it. Since the government only considers the father’s citizenship when determining citizenship, it does not generally grant children born to a non-Bahraini father citizenship, even if they were born in the country to a citizen mother (see section 6. Children). Likewise, the government does not provide a path to citizenship for foreign men married to Bahraini women, unlike the process by which foreign women married to Bahraini men may become citizens. Human rights organizations reported these laws have resulted in stateless children, particularly when the foreign father is unable or unwilling to pursue citizenship from his country of origin for his children, or when the father himself was stateless, deceased, or unknown. It was unknown how many stateless persons resided in the country. Stateless persons had limited access to social services, education, and employment. There were reports authorities refused applications for birth certificates and passports for children whose Bahraini fathers were in prison because the fathers were not able to submit the applications in person (see section 6, Children).

The government charged individuals whose citizenship it revoked with violating immigration law.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

Citizens have limited ability to choose their government and their political system. The constitution provides for a democratically elected Council of Representatives, the lower house of parliament. A constitutional amendment ratified in 2012 permits the king to dissolve the Council of Representatives, but it requires that he first consult the presidents of the upper and lower houses of parliament as well as the head of the Constitutional Court. The king also has the power to amend the constitution and to propose, ratify, and promulgate laws.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Approximately 52 percent of eligible voters participated in parliamentary elections held in November 2014. Turnout was significantly lower in opposition districts, due to a decision to boycott by the main opposition political societies, who expressed a lack of confidence that the elections would produce a parliament that they believed would address their concerns in a fully representative way. Among these concerns the opposition contended the government delineated voter districts to provide for its desired electoral outcomes and marginalize opposition-majority districts.

The government did not permit international election monitors. Domestic monitors generally concluded that authorities administered the elections without significant irregularities. There were, however, broader concerns regarding voting district boundaries and limitations on freedom of expression and association.

Violent oppositionists intimidated candidates, including through arson attacks on their personal property and businesses. Boycotters pressured other candidates to withdraw from the race.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The government did not allow the formation of political parties, but some “political societies” developed political platforms, held internal elections, and hosted political gatherings. The government dissolved several political societies through legal actions during the year. To apply for registration, a political society must submit its bylaws signed by all founding members, a list of all members and copies of their residency cards, and a financial statement identifying the society’s sources of funding and bank information. The society’s principles, goals, and programs must not run counter to sharia or national interest, as interpreted by the judiciary, nor may the society base itself on sectarian, geographic, or class identity. A number of societies operated outside these rules, and some functioned on a sectarian basis.

The government authorized registered political societies to run candidates for office and to participate in other political activities. In 2016 parliament passed an amendment to the political societies’ law, which banned practicing clerics from membership in political societies (including in leadership positions) and involvement in political activities, even on a voluntary basis.

Political societies are required to coordinate their contacts with foreign diplomatic or consular missions, foreign governmental organizations, or representatives of foreign governments with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which may elect to send a representative to the meeting. Although this requirement was enforced in the past, there were no reports of the government enforcing the order during the year.

On March 6, the Ministry of Justice filed a lawsuit to dissolve the National Democratic Action Society Wa’ad, a secular political society. The ministry charged Wa’ad with “supporting terrorism” after its leadership criticized the government for the January execution of three Shia citizens, whom the group publicly called martyrs. The three were convicted of a bombing that resulted in the death of a police officer; the government accused the society of glorifying terrorism and promoting regime change by force, charges that Wa’ad denied. Wa’ad’s appeal of its closure was denied by the Administrative Court of Appeals, but it intended to file a final appeal with the Court of Cassation.

On February 6, the Court of Cassation turned down an appeal by Wifaq political society, thus upholding a September 2016 appeals court decision to dissolve Wifaq and confiscate its assets on the grounds Wifaq incited terrorism. Observers asserted the government did not provide sufficient evidence to prove the incitement claim. In 2016 the Ministry of Justice filed a motion against Wifaq resulting in suspension of Wifaq’s activities.

Individuals active with opposition political society groups also faced repercussions during the year (see section 1.e., Political Prisoners).

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. The 2014 elections selected three women to parliament’s 40-member lower elected house. Also in 2014 the royal court appointed nine women to the Shura Council, the appointed 40-member upper house, and the prime minister appointed a woman to the 26-seat cabinet. During the year King Hamad appointed the first woman judge to the Court of Cassation.

Shia and Sunni citizens have equal rights before the law, but Sunnis dominated political life, while the majority of citizens are Shia. The 2014 elections brought 13 Shia members to parliament. The appointed Shura Council included 17 Shia members, one Jewish member, and one Christian member. Five of the 26 appointed cabinet ministers were Shia citizens, including one of the deputy prime ministers.

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

Government officials sometimes met with local human rights NGOs but generally were not responsive to the views of NGOs they believed were politicized and unfairly critical of the government.

Domestic human rights groups operated with some government restrictions. These groups included the Bahrain Human Rights Society, the primary independent and licensed human rights organization in the country; BCHR, that the government dissolved in 2004 but continued to operate and maintain an online presence; and the unlicensed Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights. The unlicensed umbrella human rights organization Bahrain Human Rights Observatory also issued numerous reports and had strong ties to international human rights NGOs. The licensed Bahrain Human Rights Watch issued numerous reports.

Some domestic human rights groups faced significant difficulties operating freely and interacting with international human rights organizations. The government sometimes harassed and deprived local NGO leaders of due process. Local NGO leaders and activists also reported government harassment, including the imposition of travel bans (see section 2.c.), police surveillance, delayed processing of civil documents, and “inappropriate questioning” of their children during interviews for government scholarships.

Individuals affiliated with international human rights and labor organizations, or who were critical of the government, reported authorities indefinitely delayed or refused visa applications, or at times refused entry to the country for individuals who possessed a valid visa or qualified for the country’s visa-free entry program.

Government Human Rights Bodies: A December 2016 amendment to a royal decree re-establishing the country’s National Human Rights Organization, now called the NIHR, strengthened the NIHR by giving it the right to conduct unannounced visits to police facilities and increasing its financial independence. Throughout the year the NIHR conducted numerous human rights workshops, seminars, and training sessions, as well as prison visits, and referred numerous complaints to the PPO. It issued its latest annual report in February and contributed to PDRC, ombudsman, and SIU investigations. Although some observers viewed the NIHR as effectively resourced and independent, other human rights groups doubted the government would implement most of its recommendations and doubted its impartiality.

During the year the government also maintained the Ombudsman’s Office within the Ministry of Interior, the SIU within the PPO, and the PDRC. These organizations worked with each other throughout the year.

Local and international observers and human rights organizations expressed concern the government did not make significant progress on recommendations issued by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, including dropping charges against individuals engaged in nonviolent political expression, criminally charging security officers accused of abuse or torture, integrating Shia citizens into security forces, and creating an environment conducive to national reconciliation.

Bangladesh

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

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

The constitution provides for the rights to life and personal liberty. There were numerous reports, however, that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

Suspicious deaths occurred during raids, arrests, and other law enforcement operations. Security forces frequently claimed they took a suspect in custody to a crime scene or hideout late at night to recover weapons or identify conspirators and that the suspect was killed when his conspirators shot at police. The government usually described these deaths as “crossfire killings,” “gunfights,” or “encounter killings,” terms used to characterize exchanges of gunfire between the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) or other police units and criminal gangs. The media also sometimes used these terms to describe legitimate uses of police force. Human rights organizations and media outlets claimed many of these “crossfire” incidents actually constituted extrajudicial killings. In some cases human rights organizations claimed law enforcement units detained, interrogated, and tortured suspects, brought them back to the scene of the original arrest, executed them, and ascribed the death to lawful self-defense in response to violent attacks. A domestic human rights organization, Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK), reported that security forces killed 162 individuals in “crossfire.” Another domestic human rights organization, Odhikar, reported that security forces killed 118 individuals extrajudicially in the first 10 months of the year.

On May 12, RAB forces allegedly shot and killed Rakibul Hasan Bappi and Lalon Molla in Goalanda Upazila, Rajbari District. According to RAB, the men died during a gunfight that occurred during a RAB raid of a meeting of the Purba Banglar Communist Party, a banned organization. Family members of the suspects claimed law enforcement arrested and detained the individuals months prior to the alleged May 12 incident. The circumstances of the encounter remained disputed.

ASK stated that law enforcement personnel killed up to 53 detainees in custody during the year, while Odhikar reported that security forces killed six detainees in the first six months of the year.

The family of Mazharul Islam, a community leader who protested against the government, alleged RAB tortured him to death after his arrest in Naogaon District. On September 8, Islam’s family said that RAB arrested Islam at a tea stall at Singarhat Bazar and later detained him in his home, where RAB members allegedly tortured him. RAB members then took him to Rajshahi Medical College Hospital, where he died on September 9. The hospital reported injuries to multiple areas of Islam’s body, according to press reports. On September 18, Islam’s wife, Shamima Akhtar Swapna, filed a murder case accusing the company commander of RAB-5 at Joypurhat, the Kanshopara Union Parishad chairman, and other local residents of torturing and killing her husband. Police were unable to provide all case documents for the original October 18 court date, so a new court date of January 15, 2018, was set. Swapna and a witness in the case stated they had received threats from unknown cell phone numbers for their roles in the case.

Competition among factions and members of the ruling party for local offices provoked violent clashes between supporters of rival Awami League candidates that resulted in killings. ASK reported political violence resulted in 44 deaths and 3,506 injuries in the first nine months of the year.

In August a violent Awami League intraparty clash took place between supporters of Rajnagar Union leaders in a power struggle before approaching general elections. The confrontation injured 56 individuals, and a Jubo League youth official died from a gunshot wound.

Terrorists committed killings in three separate terror incidents in March, all of which were claimed by ISIS. On March 17, a suspected suicide bomber infiltrated a RAB barracks and killed one person. On March 24, a suicide bomber killed two individuals at a police checkpoint near Dhaka’s Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport. On March 25, eight individuals were killed and more than 40 injured in two blasts during a raid on a suspected ISIS safe house in Sylhet.

b. Disappearance

Human rights groups and media reported that disappearances and kidnappings continued, some committed by security services. The government made limited efforts to prevent or investigate such acts. Following alleged disappearances, security forces released some individuals without charge, arrested some, some were found dead, and others were never found. ASK stated there were 60 enforced disappearances during the year.

Authorities took into custody in August 2016 the sons of three former opposition politicians convicted by Bangladesh’s International Criminal Tribunal. Authorities alleged they were conspiring to prevent the execution of one of their fathers, but they were never charged with a crime. Authorities released Humam Quader Chowdhury seven months later, but Mir Ahmed Bin Quasem and Amaan Azmi remained missing at year’s end. In February the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights published a report claiming at least 40 disappearances. The government did not respond to a request from the UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances to visit the country.

High-ranking government officials repeatedly denied the incidents of enforced disappearance and claimed victims were hiding of their own accord. A July 4 judicial inquiry concluded that enforced disappearances occurred and ordered the Police Bureau of Investigation to take action regarding a disappeared person. In April Swedish Radio reported a secretly recorded interview with a senior RAB officer admitting that his unit routinely picked up individuals, killed them, and disposed of the bodies.

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

Although the constitution and law prohibit torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, local and international human rights organizations and the media reported security forces, including RAB, intelligence services, and police, employed torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. Security forces reportedly used torture to gather information from alleged militants and members of political opposition parties. Security forces reportedly used threats, beatings, kneecappings, and electric shock, and they sometimes committed rapes and other sexual abuses. During the year Odhikar reported security forces tortured approximately 12 persons to death.

The law contains provisions allowing a magistrate to place a suspect in interrogative custody, known as remand, during which questioning of the suspect can take place without a lawyer present. Human rights organizations alleged that many instances of torture occurred during remand as a means of obtaining information from the suspect.

As of October 20, the United Nations reported that it received two allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse against Bangladeshi peacekeepers during the year. Alleged victims said Bangladeshi police officers deployed with the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti sexually assaulted children and demanded transactional sex. As of November investigations of both allegations were pending.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions remained harsh and at times life threatening due to overcrowding, inadequate facilities, and a lack of proper sanitation. ASK stated these conditions contributed to custodial deaths, which it claimed totaled 53 in the year.

Physical Conditions: According to the Department of Prisons, 76,025 prisoners occupied a system designed to hold 36,614 inmates. Authorities often incarcerated pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners.

Due to overcrowding, prisoners slept in shifts and did not have adequate toilet facilities. According to a 2016 report by the German Agency for International Cooperation, the prisons did not meet minimum standards for adequate light, air, decency, and privacy. In 2016 human rights organizations and the media stated some prisoners did not receive medical care or water, although prison authorities maintained that each prisoner had access to water. Water available in prisons was comparable with water available in the rest of the country, which was frequently not potable.

Conditions in prisons, and often within the same prison complex, varied widely. Authorities lodged some prisoners in areas subject to high temperatures, poor ventilation, and overcrowding. The law allows individuals whom prison officials designated as “VIPs” to access “Division A” prison facilities with improved living conditions and food, more frequent family visitation rights, and the provision of a poorer prisoner to serve as an aide in their cell.

While the law requires holding juveniles separately from adults, authorities incarcerated many juveniles with adults. Children were sometimes imprisoned (occasionally with their mothers) despite laws and court decisions prohibiting the imprisonment of minors.

Authorities routinely held female prisoners separately from men. Although the law prohibits women in “safe custody” (usually victims of rape, trafficking, and domestic violence) from being housed with criminals, officials did not always provide separate facilities. Authorities must issue permission for these women to leave this “safe custody.”

Although Dhaka’s central jail had facilities for those with mental disabilities, not all detention facilities did, nor are they required to by law. Judges may reduce punishments for persons with disabilities on humanitarian grounds. Jailors also may make special arrangements, for example, by transferring inmates with disabilities to a prison hospital.

Administration: Prisons had no ombudsmen to whom prisoners could submit complaints. Prison authorities indicated they were constrained by significant staff shortages. The scope for retraining and rehabilitation programs was extremely limited.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted visits from the International Committee of the Red Cross.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but the Special Powers Act of 1974 permits authorities to arrest and detain an individual without an order from a magistrate or a warrant if authorities perceive the individual may constitute a threat to security and public order. The act was widely cited by law enforcement in justifying their arrests. The constitution provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his/her arrest or detention in court, but the government did not generally observe these requirements. Media, civil society, and human rights organizations accused the government of conducting enforced disappearances not only against suspected militants, but also against civil society and opposition party members. Authorities sometimes held detainees without divulging their whereabouts or circumstances to family or legal counsel, or without acknowledging having arrested them in the first place.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Bangladesh Police, which falls under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Home Affairs, have a mandate to maintain internal security and law and order. Numerous units of the Bangladesh Police operate under competing mandates. The most significant among such units are the Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime Unit (CTTCU), the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB)–a mostly counterterrorism-focused Special Mission Unit–and the Detective Branch.

The military, which reports directly to the prime minister (who also holds the title of minister of defense), is responsible for external security. The military may also be “activated” as a backup force with a variety of domestic security responsibilities when required to aid civilian authorities. This includes responding to instances of terrorism.

The Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI) and National Security Intelligence (NSI) are the two primary intelligence agencies with overlapping responsibilities and capabilities. Both are responsible for domestic as well as foreign affairs and report directly to the prime minister in her capacity as minister of defense. Media reports asserted that the DGFI and, to a lesser degree, the NSI engaged in politically motivated violations of human rights. This included violations against suspected terrorists, members of opposition parties, civil society, and others.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the military and other security forces. While the government has mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption within the security forces, these mechanisms were not regularly employed. The government continued to take steps to improve police professionalism, discipline, training, and responsiveness and to reduce corruption. Police basic training continued to incorporate instruction on the appropriate use of force as part of efforts to implement community-based policing.

According to police policy, all significant uses of force by police, including actions that resulted in serious physical injury or death, trigger an automatic internal investigation, usually by a professional standards unit that reports directly to the Inspector General of Police. The government neither released statistics on total killings by security personnel nor took comprehensive measures to investigate cases, despite previous statements by high-ranking officials that the government would show “zero tolerance” and fully investigate all alleged extrajudicial killings by security forces that occurred in 2016. In 2016 human rights groups expressed skepticism over the independence of the professional standards units conducting these assessments. In the few known instances in which the government brought charges, those found guilty generally received only administrative punishment.

Security forces continued to commit abuses with impunity. Plaintiffs were reluctant to accuse police in criminal cases due to lengthy trial procedures and fear of retribution. Reluctance to bring charges against police also perpetuated a climate of impunity. Officers loyal to the ruling party occupied many of the key positions in the law enforcement agencies.

The government continued support of the Internal Enquiry Cell within the RAB that investigates cases of human rights abuses. RAB did not widely publish its findings and did not otherwise announce significant actions against officers accused of human rights abuses.

Security forces failed to prevent societal violence (see section 6).

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The constitution requires that arrests and detentions be authorized by a warrant or occur as a result of observation of a crime in progress, but the Special Powers Act of 1974 grants broad exceptions to these protections.

Under the constitution detainees must be brought before a judicial officer to face charges within 24 hours, but this did not regularly occur. The government or a district magistrate may order a person detained for 30 days to prevent the commission of an act that could threaten national security; however, authorities sometimes held detainees for longer periods with impunity.

There is a functioning bail system, but police routinely did so with impunity, despite a May 2016 directive from the Supreme Court’s Appellate Division prohibiting rearrest of persons when they are released on bail in new cases without producing them in court.

Authorities generally permitted defense lawyers to meet with their clients only after formal charges were filed in the courts, which in some cases occurred weeks or months after the initial arrest. Detainees are legally entitled to counsel even if they cannot afford to pay for it, but the country lacked sufficient funds to provide for this entitlement.

Arbitrary Arrest: Arbitrary arrests occurred, often in conjunction with political demonstrations or as part of security force responses to terrorist activity, and the government held persons in detention without specific charges, sometimes in an attempt to collect information about other suspects. The expansiveness of the 1974 Special Powers Act grants a legal justification to arrests that would often otherwise be considered arbitrary, since it removes the requirement that arrests be based on crimes that have previously occurred. Unlike in the past year, when police engaged in a mass arrest campaign, reportedly arresting 14,000 individuals including a purported 2,000 opposition-party activists, during the year police made periodic arrests of opposition activists on various charges.

Pretrial Detention: Arbitrary and lengthy pretrial detention continued due to bureaucratic inefficiencies, limited resources, lax enforcement of pretrial rules, and corruption. In some cases the length of pretrial detention equaled or exceeded the sentence for the alleged crime.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: A magistrate must inform a detainee of the grounds for detention within 15 days. Regulations require an advisory board, appointed by the government and composed of two individuals who could be appointed to the High Court and a “senior officer in service to the republic,” to examine a detainee’s case after four months. Detainees have the right to appeal.

Vacancies hampered the ability to challenge lawfulness of detention. On September 23, the Daily Star newspaper reported delays in recruitment of judges, which were hampering judicial proceedings and leading to a substantial case backlog, rendered 397 positions of lower court judges, including 51 district judges, vacant. More than 2.7 million cases were pending with the lower courts and 400,000 cases were pending with the High Court Division of the Supreme Court.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, but corruption and political interference compromised its independence. In 2014 parliament passed the 16th amendment, affording it the right to remove judges. During the year the Supreme Court ruled the amendment unconstitutional, and the chief justice’s resulting public dispute with parliament and the prime minister resulted in the chief justice’s resignation and departure from the country. The chief justice claimed the government forced him to resign, while the government denied the charge. The government continued to pursue corruption charges against the chief justice at year’s end, which human rights observers alleged were politically motivated.

Human rights observers maintained that magistrates, attorneys, and court officials demanded bribes from defendants in many cases, or they ruled based on influence by or loyalty to political patronage networks. Observers noted that judges who made decisions unfavorable to the government risked transfer to other jurisdictions. Some officials reportedly discouraged lawyers from representing defendants in certain cases.

Corruption and a substantial backlog of cases hindered the court system, and the granting of extended continuances effectively prevented many defendants from obtaining fair trials.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, but the judiciary did not always protect this right due to corruption, partisanship, and weak human resources and institutional capacities.

Defendants are presumed innocent, have the right to appeal, and have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them. The accused are entitled to be present at their public trial. Indigent defendants have the right to a public defender. Trials are conducted in the Bengali language. The government does not provide free interpretation for defendants who cannot understand or speak Bengali. Defendants also have the right to adequate time to prepare a defense. Accused persons have the right to confront prosecution or plaintiff witnesses and present their own witnesses and evidence. They also have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt, although defendants who do not confess their guilt are often kept in custody. The government frequently did not respect these rights.

Mobile courts headed by executive branch magistrates rendered immediate verdicts that often included prison terms to defendants who were not afforded the opportunity for legal representation. In their annual conferences in Dhaka in 2016 and 2017, deputy commissioners from all 64 districts requested that the government expedite the passage of an amendment to the Mobile Court Act of 2009 giving the executive magistrates increased judicial powers, but parliament had not introduced such legislation by year’s end. In May the High Court ruled that empowering executive magistrates with judicial powers was “a frontal attack on the independence of the judiciary and violates the theory of separation of powers.” The government appealed the verdict through the Appellate Panel of the Supreme Court, which stayed the verdict, allowing the mobile courts to function pending the Appellate Panel’s next decision.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were reports of political prisoners or detainees. Political affiliation often appeared to be a factor in claims of arrest and prosecution of members of opposition parties, including through spurious charges under the pretext of responding to national security threats. The opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) maintained that its members had been arrested arbitrarily but did not offer specific examples.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals and organizations may seek judicial remedies for human rights violations; however, lack of public faith in the court system deterred many from filing complaints. While the law has a provision for an ombudsman, one had not been established.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

The government did not amend the 2001 Vested Property (Return) Act to accelerate the process of return of land to primarily Hindu individuals (see section 2.d.). The act allows the government to confiscate property of anyone whom it declares to be an enemy of the state. It was often used to seize property abandoned by minority religious groups when they fled the country, particularly after the 1971 independence war.

Minority communities continued to report many land ownership disputes that disproportionately displaced minorities, especially in areas near new roads or industrial development zones where land prices had increased. They also claimed that local police, civil authorities, and political leaders were sometimes involved in evictions or shielded politically influential land grabbers from prosecution (see section 6). In August 2016 the government amended the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) Land Dispute Resolution Commission Act, which may allow for land restitution for indigenous persons living in the CHT (see section 2.d.).

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

The law does not prohibit arbitrary interference with private correspondence. Intelligence and law enforcement agencies may monitor private communications with the permission of the Ministry of Home Affairs, but police rarely obtained such permission from the courts to monitor private correspondence. Human rights organizations alleged the Special Branch of police, the National Security Intelligence, and the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence employed informers to conduct surveillance and report on citizens perceived to be critical of the government.

There were at least three incidents in which the children of those convicted by the International Criminal Tribunal were arrested for alleged offenses committed by relatives (see section 1.b.).

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech, including for the press, but the government sometimes failed to respect this right. There were significant limitations on freedom of speech. Some journalists self-censored their criticisms of the government due to harassment and fear of reprisal.

Freedom of Expression: The constitution equates criticism of the constitution with sedition. Punishment for sedition ranges from three years’ to life imprisonment. In 2016 several high-profile individuals were charged with sedition, including BNP leader Khaleda Zia, television personality Mahmudur Rahman Manna, and reporter Kanok Sarwar. The government did not proceed with the prosecutions of Manna and Sarwar. The law limits hate speech but does not define clearly what constitutes hate speech, which permits the government’s broad powers of interpretation. The government may restrict speech deemed to be against the security of the state; against friendly relations with foreign states; and against public order, decency, or morality; or that constitutes contempt of court, defamation, or incitement to an offense. The Foreign Donation Act criminalizes any criticism of constitutional bodies. Section 57 of the 2006 Information and Communication Technology Act (ICTA) references defamation of individuals and organizations and was used to prosecute opposition figures and civil society.

Press and Media Freedom: Both print and online independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views; however, media outlets that criticized the government experienced negative government pressure.

The government maintained editorial control over the Bangladesh public television station (BTV) and mandated that private channels broadcast government content at no charge. Civil society said that political interference influenced the licensing process, since all television channel licenses granted by the government were for stations supporting the ruling party.

Violence and Harassment: Authorities, including intelligence services on some occasions, subjected journalists to physical attack, harassment, and intimidation.

Utpal Das, a journalist for an online news outlet, went missing in October and reappeared in December. Das gave confusing statements after his return, and observers alleged he was forcibly disappeared as a method of intimidation. Mubasher Hasan, a university professor and social media personality, disappeared for 44 days during the year. After The Wire, a news website, alleged that the army intelligence forces were responsible for the disappearance, the government blocked access to The Wire’s website.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, on May 17, the Foreign Ministry sent letters to its embassies abroad instructing them to monitor Bangladeshi journalists traveling abroad. The letter cited a recommendation from the Parliamentary Standing Committee, which had expressed concern that traveling journalists were giving “wrong information on Bangladesh in the international arena.”

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Independent journalists alleged that intelligence services influenced media outlets in part by withholding financially important government advertising and pressing private companies to withhold their advertising as well.

Privately owned newspapers usually enjoyed freedom to carry diverse views. Political polarization and self-censorship remained a problem, however. The government used advertising as a weapon to control the media by withholding advertising spending.

The government penalized media that criticized the government. On multiple occasions, government officials threatened privately owned television channels not to broadcast the opposition’s activities and statements. Daily newspapers Prothom Alo and Daily Starwere denied access to prime ministerial events because they published reports critical of the government and prime minister, according to observers. The government also intervened to suppress reports deemed damaging to the ruling party. On September 22, the Burma news portal mizzima.com published a report by Indian journalist Subir Bhaumik under the headline “Bangladesh’s Hasina Survives Another Attempt on Her Life.” On September 23, the local television stations Jamuna TV and DBC News broadcast the report as breaking news but were pressured to pull it off the air.

According to some journalists and human rights NGOs, journalists engaged in self-censorship, particularly due to fear of security force retribution. Although public criticism of the government was common and vocal, some media figures expressed fear of harassment by the government.

Some international media outlets reported delays and difficulties in obtaining visas. A government-managed film censorship board reviewed local and foreign films and had the authority to censor or ban films on the grounds of state security, law and order, religious sentiment, obscenity, foreign relations, defamation, or plagiarism, but it was less strict than in the past.

Local and international media, including major news agencies, were largely able to report on the influx of Rohingya refugees from Burma, although two Burmese photojournalists were detained in September and charged with espionage. Many members of the international media traveled to the country on tourist visas, but police detained the photojournalists for using tourist visas to enter the country instead of journalist visas. After two weeks in detention, the journalists were released on bail but could not leave the country until authorities dropped the charges four weeks later.

Nongovernmental Impact: Atheist, secular, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) writers and bloggers reported they continued to receive death threats from violent extremist organizations. In November a human rights lawyer claimed he received death threats for writing about and advocating for the country’s LGBTI community.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government restricted and disrupted access to the internet and censored online content in isolated incidents. The Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) reported approximately 77 million internet subscriptions in August, including an estimated 71 million mobile internet subscriptions (one individual may have more than one subscription). The government prohibited Virtual Private Networks and Voice Over Internet Protocol telephony but rarely enforced this prohibition.

In several incidents the government interfered in internet communications, filtered or blocked access, restricted content, and censored websites or other communications and internet services. It suspended or closed many websites based on vague criteria, or with explicit reference to their pro-opposition content in violation of legal requirements.

The BTRC is charged with the regulation of telecommunications. It carries out law enforcement and government requests to block content by ordering internet service providers to take action. The BTRC filtered internet content the government deemed harmful to national unity and religious beliefs. In August 2016 the BTRC carried out a directive to block 35 news websites that had published material critical of the government and political leaders or were perceived to feature overt support for political opposition groups. Many of the sites remained blocked.

Section 57 of the ICTA criminalizes the posting online of inflammatory or derogatory information against the state or individuals. Opponents of the law said it unconstitutionally restricted freedom of speech. The government used the ICTA and the threat of sedition charges, which carry a possible death penalty, to limit online activity and curtail freedom of expression online.

According to an investigation by the Daily Star, the government prosecuted at least 21 journalists in 11 cases under section 57 of the ICTA from March to June.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

Although the government placed few restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events, authorities discouraged research on sensitive religious and political topics that might fuel possible religious or communal tensions. Academic publications on the 1971 independence war were also subject to scrutiny and government approval. Appointment of teachers in universities continued to be based on political affiliation.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but there were restrictions on both.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The law provided for the right to peaceful assembly, but the government limited this right. The law gives the government broad discretion to ban assemblies of more than four persons. A Dhaka Metropolitan Police order requires advance permission for gatherings such as protests and demonstrations in Dhaka. According to human rights NGOs, authorities continued to use approval provisions to disallow gatherings by opposition groups. Occasionally, police or ruling party activists used force to disperse demonstrations.

During the year police prevented opposition party members from holding events on multiple occasions. For example, police denied permission to the labor committee of the main opposition party, the BNP, to hold a rally in Dhaka acknowledging Labor Day on May 1, whereas government affiliated groups were allowed to host public events.

Police did not allow members of Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami, an NGO that was once a political party, to meet, even for private, indoor meetings. On October 9, police detained nine Jamaat members, including its amir (president), deputy amir, and secretary general from a house in Dhaka’s Uttara neighborhood, claiming they were devising plans to create instability in the country.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The law provides for the right of citizens to form associations, subject to “reasonable restrictions” in the interest of morality or public order, and the government generally respected this right. The government’s NGO Affairs Bureau sometimes withheld its approval for foreign funding to NGOs working in areas the bureau deemed sensitive such as human rights, labor rights, indigenous rights, or humanitarian assistance to Rohingya refugees (see sections 2.d., 5, and 7.a.).

The 2016 Foreign Donations (Voluntary Activities) Regulation Act places additional restrictions on the receipt of foreign funds by NGOs or government officials and provides for punishment of NGOs making any “derogatory” comments regarding the constitution or constitutional institutions (see section 5). The government subsequently announced that a number of NGOs were no longer allowed to operate in the country, including Muslim Aid Bangladesh, Islamic Relief, and Allama Fazlullah Foundation, according to media reports, although it was not known whether the Foreign Donations Act was specifically used to ban them.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights, except in two sensitive areas–the CHT and Cox’s Bazar. The government enforced some restrictions on foreigners’ access to the CHT.

Starting on August 25, the country experienced an influx of more than 646,000 Rohingya migrants from Burma, more than doubling the existing refugee and undocumented migrant population in the refugee camps and makeshift settlements in Cox’s Bazar, near the Burmese border.

The government had a mixed record of cooperation during the year with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. For example, the government restricted UNHCR access in the first eight months of the year to only the 33,000 registered Rohingya refugees and did not allow UNHCR access to the undocumented Rohingya population, estimated to be 200,000-500,000 individuals prior to August. They lived in the towns and villages outside the two official refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar District. The government also initially denied UNHCR unrestricted access to the new influx of Rohingya refugees during the post-August 25 mass influx. Following advocacy from UNHCR and the international community, the government agreed in late September to allow UNHCR to provide protection and assistance to the full population of Rohingya in Cox’s Bazar. The government allowed access to International Organization for Migration (IOM) and other UN agencies to provide services to both the registered and undocumented Rohingya populations in Cox’s Bazar, as well as the new arrivals, after August 25.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Prior to the August influx of Rohingya, UNHCR reported 66 survivors of sexual and gender-based violence in the camps who received counseling through March.

In-country Movement: The government is not a party to the Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees. The government restricted most of the Rohingya population to the official and makeshift camp areas in Cox’s Bazar. It established checkpoints on major routes to stop movement from the border with Burma to the settlement areas and the established camp areas.

Foreign Travel: Some senior opposition officials reported extensive delays in getting their passports renewed; others reported harassment and delays at the airport when departing the country. In March a senior BNP official alleged authorities detained and harassed her for four hours at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport prior to her departure for Australia despite a court order not to prevent her from traveling abroad. She allegedly faced similar circumstances during her departure for the United Kingdom in July.

Adilur Rahman Khan, the founder of the human rights NGO Odhikar, was detained at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport on July 20 for 14 hours while traveling to a conference entitled “The Abolition of the Death Penalty in Malaysia.” The Asian Human Rights Commission alleged that the Bangladesh government orchestrated Khan’s detention and deportation from Malaysia to Bangladesh.

The government prevented war crimes suspects from the 1971 independence war from leaving the country.

The country’s passports are invalid for travel to Israel, according to Bangladesh policy.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

Societal tensions and marginalization of indigenous persons continued in the CHT as a result of a government policy initiated during an internal armed conflict that persisted from 1973 to 1997. This policy relocated landless Bengalis from the plains to the CHT with the implicit objective of changing the demographic balance in the CHT to make Bengalis the majority, displacing tens of thousands of indigenous persons.

The IDPs in the CHT had limited physical security. Indigenous community leaders maintained that indigenous persons faced widespread violation of their rights by settlers, sometimes supported by security forces.

In August 2016 the government amended the Chittagong Hill Tracts Land Dispute Resolution Commission Act to curtail the unilateral authority of the commission chair to make decisions on behalf of the commission. The amended act failed to resolve the disputes during the year, as tribal leaders insisted on establishing a governing framework for the law before hearing disputes for resolution. The term of the commission chair, Justice Mohammad Anwarul Haque, ended on September 6, and the government had not appointed his replacement at year’s end.

The number of IDPs in the CHT remained disputed. In 2000 a government task force estimated it to be 500,000, which included nonindigenous as well as indigenous persons. The CHT Commission estimated that slightly more than 90,000 indigenous IDPs dwelled in the CHT. The prime minister pledged to resolve outstanding land disputes in the CHT to facilitate the return of the IDPs and to close the remaining military camps, but the task force on IDPs remained unable to function due to a dispute over classifying settlers as IDPs. The commission reported that authorities displaced several indigenous families to create border guard camps and army recreational facilities. No land disputes were resolved during the year.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Prior to September the government and UNHCR provided temporary protection and basic assistance to approximately 33,000 registered Rohingya refugees from Burma living in two official camps (Kutupalong and Nayapara), while the government and IOM provided assistance to approximately 200,000 undocumented Rohingya living in makeshift settlements in Cox’s Bazaar. As of December the government and UNHCR estimated that 900,000 to one million undocumented Rohingya were in the country, including more than 655,000 Rohingya who entered the country seeking refuge from violence that erupted in Rakhine State, Burma, on August 25. Most of these undocumented Rohingya lived in makeshift settlements and in unofficial sites among the local population in Teknaf and Ukhiya subdistricts of Cox’s Bazar District. Led by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the government continued to implement a national strategy on Rohingya with six key elements: border management, security, humanitarian assistance, strengthened engagement with Burma, internal coordination on Rohingya problems, and a survey of the undocumented Rohingya.

According to the United Nations, more than 50 percent of the new arrivals since August 25 were female, including approximately 16,000 pregnant women. The new Rohingya arrivals took shelter in jungles, hill villages, and open spaces along the road from Ukhiya to Tenkaf and built homes mostly with bamboo poles and plastic sheets. The government reserved a 3,000-acre tract of land to build a megacamp designed to accommodate the new influx.

The government deployed the military to Cox’s Bazar District to streamline relief and rehabilitation activities, and to assist in registration of Rohingya in coordination with the civilian administration. The Ministry of Home Affairs instructed law enforcement agencies to provide protection to the Rohingya people and their camps. Senior government ministers stated that the new arrivals would not be recognized as refugees, referring to them as “forcibly displaced Myanmar nationals.”

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, nor has the government established a formal system for providing protection to refugees. The government provided some protection and assistance to Rohingya from Burma resident in the country. The government cooperated with UNHCR to provide temporary protection and basic assistance to registered refugees resident in two official camps. After the August 25 influx of Rohingya refugees, the government started to register the new arrivals biometrically and provided identity cards with their Burmese address. As of mid-December more than 844,000 Rohingya had been registered biometrically, to include the more than 655,000 new arrivals since August 25 and Rohingya who had arrived earlier.

Freedom of Movement: There were restrictions on Rohingyas’ freedom of movement. According to the 1993 memorandum of understanding between Bangladesh and UNHCR, registered refugees are not permitted to move outside of the two camps. After the August 25 influx, police set up checkpoints on the roads to restrict Rohingya travel beyond the government-designated areas.

Employment: The government did not authorize Rohingya refugees living in the country to work locally. Despite their movement restrictions, some refugees worked illegally as manual laborers or rickshaw pullers in the informal economy. Undocumented Rohingya also worked illegally, mostly in day-labor jobs.

Access to Basic Services: Working with UNHCR, the government continued to improve aspects of the official refugee camps following findings in recent years that sanitation, nutrition, and shelter conditions had fallen below minimum international standards. Some basic needs remained unmet, and the camps remained overcrowded, with densities on par with the country’s urban slums; this worsened after the August 25 influx. A 2014 nutrition survey report from UNHCR and World Food Program stated the prevalence of malnourished (stunted) and underweight children in refugee camps remained higher than in the rest of the country and above the emergency threshold levels set by the World Health Organization.

Public education, while mandatory as of 2010 through eighth grade throughout the country, expanded during the year to include through the seventh grade in the official refugee camps, compared with the fifth grade in previous years. The government permitted UNHCR to design and operate a nonformal, basic education program in the official camps, which reached an estimated 8,000 youth (ages three-14). The government allowed international NGOs to provide informal education to Rohingya outside the official refugee camps, starting with a group of 10,000 students.

Government authorities did not allow registered or unregistered Rohingya formal and regular access to public health care. Instead, UNHCR and NGOs provided basic health services in the official camps to registered refugees, and IOM provided health services to the unregistered Rohingya in the makeshift sites and access to local hospitals as needed.

Six international NGOs provided basic services to undocumented Rohingya and to surrounding impoverished host communities prior to the August 25 Rohingya influx. In response to the crisis, the government allowed additional NGOs to work in Cox’s Bazar. Some organizations reported delays in obtaining necessary permits for working with the Rohingya.

STATELESS PERSONS

The Rohingya in the country were legally or de facto stateless. They could not acquire citizenship, nor does the government of Burma recognize them as citizens.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: BNP, the main opposition party, boycotted the 2014 parliamentary elections in protest of the ruling party’s refusal to hold the elections under a neutral, caretaker government. This left more than half of all seats uncontested and many more only nominally contested. Prime Minister Hasina and the ruling Awami League party retained power with 235 of 300 elected seats. Because of its boycott, the BNP held no seats in parliament. The official opposition party, the Jatiya Party, which had 36 elected seats, was also part of the ruling coalition. Parties that supported the government held most of the remaining seats. Sheikh Hasina’s cabinet included representatives from the other parties in her coalition. International observers regarded these elections as flawed.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The political party that wins elections enjoys significant advantages, including preferential employment and government contracts. The government mobilized law enforcement resources to level civil and criminal charges against opposition party leaders, including charging BNP leader Khaleda Zia with sedition and graft.

The government accused BNP secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir in 86 criminal cases of involvement in attacks on police, burning buses, and throwing bombs. Other opposition activists faced criminal charges. Jamaat leaders could not operate openly because they were harassed by law enforcement and were blamed by the Awami League for terrorism. Media outlets critical of the government and Awami League were subject to government intimidation and cuts in revenue, and they practiced self-censorship to avoid adverse responses from the government. Awami League-affiliated organizations (such as the student wing) reportedly carried out violence and intimidation around the country with impunity, including against individuals affiliated with opposition groups.

In some instances the government interfered with the right of opposition parties to organize public functions and restricted the broadcasting of opposition political events. Jamaat’s appeal of a 2012 Supreme Court decision canceling the party’s registration remained pending at year’s end.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women and/or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate.

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

A number of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated with some government restrictions, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials rarely were cooperative and responsive to their views.

Although human rights groups often sharply criticized the government, they also practiced some self-censorship. Observers noted that a “culture of fear” had diminished the strength of civil society, exacerbated by threats from extremists and an increasingly entrenched leading political party. Even civil society members affiliated with the ruling party reported receiving threats of arrest from the security forces for their public criticism of government policies.

The government continued to restrict the funding and operations of the human rights organization Odhikar. Although the ACC dropped a case against Odhikar in June 2016, Odhikar representatives continued to report harassment by government officials and security forces, including disruption of their planned events. Family members and Odhikar staff reported additional harassment and claimed security officers constantly surveilled their telephone calls, emails, and movements.

The government required all NGOs, including religious organizations, to register with the Ministry of Social Welfare. Local and international NGOs working on sensitive topics or groups, such as religious issues, human rights, indigenous peoples, LGBTI communities, Rohingya refugees, or worker rights, faced both formal and informal governmental restrictions. Some of these groups claimed intelligence agencies monitored them. The government sometimes restricted international NGOs’ ability to operate through delays in project registration, cease-and-desist letters, and visa refusals. Some civil society members reported repeated audits by the National Board of Revenue in contrast with most citizens, who were almost never audited.

The Foreign Donations (Voluntary Activities) Regulation Act restricts foreign funding of NGOs and includes punitive provisions for those NGOs that make “derogatory” comments regarding the constitution of the country, its founding history, or constitutional bodies (i.e., government institutions and leaders).

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government had not responded to a UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances request to visit the country.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has seven members, including five honorary positions. Observers noted that the NHRC’s small government support staff was inadequate and underfunded, limiting the commission’s effectiveness and independence. The NHRC’s primary activity was educating the public about human rights and advising the government on key human rights issues.

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