Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press
The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government usually respected these rights, although defamation is a criminal offense. There were reports that the government, business, and criminal groups sought to influence the media in inappropriate ways.
Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views, although there were efforts to exert direct and indirect political and economic pressure on the media, including by threats and violence against journalists who tried to investigate crime and corruption.
Business owners freely used media outlets to gain favor and promote their interests with political parties. Most owners of private television stations used the content of their broadcasts to influence government action toward their other businesses. There were credible reports of senior media representatives using media outlets to blackmail businesses. Political pressure, corruption, and lack of funding constrained independent print media, and journalists reportedly practiced self-censorship. Economic insecurity due to a lack of enforceable labor contracts reduced reporters’ independence and contributed to bias in reporting. The Albanian Journalists Union (AJU) continued to report significant delays in salary payments to reporters at many media outlets, in some instances of up to 10 months. Financial problems led some journalists to rely more heavily on outside sources of income, leading to questions of integrity.
NGOs maintained that professional ethics were a low priority for some of the estimated 900-plus news portals in the country, raising concerns over the spread of false news stories that benefited specific financial, political, and criminal interests. The dramatic growth in online media outlets provided a diversity of views.
In its annual Media Sustainability Index, the International Research and Exchanges Board indicated that free speech, plurality of news sources, and supporting institutions experienced a slight increase, but professionalism and business management decreased.
Violence and Harassment: The AJU reported 14 cases of violence and intimidation against members of the media, and political and business interests subjected journalists to pressure. The union also denounced violent acts toward reporters by opposition protesters in May.
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. The AJU cited censorship and self-censorship as leading problems for journalists. A survey of 800 media professionals published in May found that 62 percent of respondents thought there was interference from individuals or politics, 60 percent thought there was interference from media owners, 39 percent thought there was self-censorship, and 31 percent thought there was corruption in the media. About 78 percent of media professionals thought that there were journalists who engaged in corrupt practices to misreport stories.
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 ($27,800), were excessive and, combined with the entry of a conviction into the defendant’s criminal record, undermined freedom of expression. The AJU expressed concern that during the first four months of the year, judges and politicians had initiated more than 16 lawsuits against journalists, mainly for defamation.
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.
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.
The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.
In-country Movement: 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 individuals 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.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported a few cases of police intimidation and reluctance to accept requests for asylum.
Authorities often detained irregular migrants who entered the country, mostly at the country’s southern border with Greece; most of those who did not request asylum were deported to Greece within 24 hours. Migrants detained further inland could spend several weeks at the Karrec closed migrant detention facility awaiting deportation. UNHCR reported that conditions at the Karrec center were unsuitable, particularly for families and children. The government made efforts to avoid sending children there, placing them instead in the open migrant facility in Babrru. Karrec and Babrru centers faced funding constraints.
The government cooperated with 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, the Office of the Ombudsman, and the NGO Caritas to monitor the processing, detention, and deportation of some migrants.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees.
There were credible reports from NGOs, migrants, and asylum seekers that authorities did not follow due process procedures for some asylum seekers and that in other cases those seeking asylum did not have access to the social care and other services due to limited issuance of identification cards. UNHCR, Caritas, and the Office of the Ombudsman were critical of the government’s migrant screening and detention procedures. There were reports of border police pushing migrants back into Greece.
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.
Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The law prohibits individuals from safe countries of origin or transit from applying for asylum or refugee status. UNHCR reported, however, that no asylum requests had been refused based on the government’s list of safe countries, which included Greece.
Employment: While the law permits refugees to work, the limited issuance of refugee identification cards and work permits meant that few refugees had employment opportunities.
Access to Basic Services: The law provides refugees access to public services, including education, health care, housing, law enforcement, courts and judicial procedures, and legal assistance.
According to UNHCR statistics there were 1,031 persons in the country under the agency’s statelessness mandate at the end of 2018. The government does not have reliable data regarding the total number of stateless persons or persons at risk of statelessness in the country. State Police reported one stateless woman in the Karrec closed migrant detention facility. The law allows stateless persons to acquire Albanian citizenship under certain conditions, although there is no separate legislation that specifically addresses providing an opportunity for stateless persons to acquire citizenship.
Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law and related regulations and statutes provide the right for most workers to form independent unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for the reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.
The law prohibits members of the military and senior government officials from joining unions and requires that a trade union have at least 20 members to be registered. The law provides the right to strike for all workers except indispensable medical and hospital personnel, persons providing air traffic control or prison services, and fire brigades. Strike action is prohibited in “special cases,” such as a natural catastrophe, a state of war, extraordinary situations, and cases where the freedom of elections is at risk. Workers not excluded by their positions exercised their right to strike.
The law provides limited protection to domestic and migrant workers. Labor unions were generally weak and politicized. Workers who engage in illegal strikes may be compelled to pay for any damages due to the strike action.
Government enforcement of the law remained largely ineffective, in part due to the extent of informal employment. Resources for conducting inspections and remedying violations were not adequate. Penalties were rarely enforced and therefore insufficient to deter violations. Administrative and judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals. Arbitration procedures allowed for significant delays that limited worker protections against antiunion activity.
Civilian workers in all fields have the constitutional right to organize and bargain collectively, and the law establishes procedures for the protection of workers’ rights through collective bargaining agreements. Unions representing public sector employees negotiated directly with the government. Effective collective bargaining remained difficult because employers often resisted union organizing and activities. In this environment, collective bargaining agreements, once reached, were difficult to enforce.
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but the government did not always effectively enforce the law. Lack of coordination among ministries and the sporadic implementation of standard operating procedures hampered enforcement. Penalties were sufficiently stringent to deter violations, but they were seldom enforced. Some law enforcement organizations trained their officers to adopt a victim-centered approach to victims of human trafficking. The government continued to identify victims of forced labor, and prosecuted and convicted a small number of traffickers.
The Labor Inspectorate reported no cases of forced labor in the formal sector during the year. See section 7.c. for cases involving children in forced labor in the informal sector.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
The law sets the minimum age of employment at 16 but allows children at the age of 15 to be employed in “light” work that does not interfere with school. Children younger than 18 may generally only work in jobs categorized as “light.” A 2017 decree issued by the Council of Ministers sets working hours for children younger than 18. Children may work up to two hours per day and up to 10 hours per week when school is in session, and up to six hours per day and up to 30 hours per week when school is not in session. Children from 16 to 17 may work up to six hours per day and up to 30 hours per week if the labor is part of their vocational education. By law, the State Inspectorate for Labor and Social Services (SILSS), under the Ministry of Finance and Economy, is responsible for enforcing minimum age requirements through the courts, but it did not adequately enforce the law.
Labor inspectors investigated the formal labor sector, whereas most child labor occurred in the informal sector. Children engaged in gathering recyclable metals and plastic, small-scale agricultural harvesting, selling small goods in the informal sector, serving drinks and food in bars and restaurants, the clothing industry, and mining. There were reports that children worked as shop vendors, vehicle washers, textile factory workers, or shoeshine boys. The NGO World Vision also reported that children sewed shoes. The number of children engaged in street-related activities (such as begging or selling items) increased during the summer, particularly around tourist areas. The NGO ARSIS reported that children went to Kosovo to beg and gather recyclable metals. When authorities in Kosovo detained them, the children returned to Albania without any investigation or risk assessment, especially in cases when the family was the exploiter. There is no government reintegration program for these children.
Children were subjected to forced begging and criminal activity. Some of the children begging on the street were second- or third-generation beggars. Research suggested that begging started as early as the age of four or five. While the law prohibits the exploitation of children for begging, police generally did not enforce it, although they made greater efforts to do so during the year. The State Agency on Children’s Rights continued to identify and manage cases of street children identified by the CPUs. As of July the agency reported four cases of parents exploiting street children. As of June, the CPUs and outreach mobile teams had identified 214 street children in total. CPUs reported 55 cases to the police during the same period.
In 2013, the most recent year for which statistics were available, the government’s statistical agency and the International Labor Organization estimated that 54,000 children were engaged in forced labor domestically. An estimated 43,000 children worked in farms and fishing, 4,400 in the services sector, and 2,200 in hotels and restaurants. Nearly 5 percent of children were child laborers.
The SILSS did not carry out inspections for child labor unless there was a specific complaint. Most labor inspections occurred in shoe and textile factories, call centers, and retail enterprises; officials found some instances of child labor during their inspections. Penalties were rarely assessed and were not sufficient to deter violations.
Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings .
Labor laws prohibit employment discrimination because of race, skin color, gender, age, physical or mental disability, political beliefs, language, nationality, religion, family, HIV/AIDS status, or social origin. The government did not enforce the law and penalties were insufficient to deter violations. Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to gender, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity, nationality, and ethnicity. The CPD reported that most allegations of discrimination involved race, sexual orientation, economic status, or disability.
The national minimum wage was higher than the national poverty threshold. The SILSS and tax authorities are responsible for enforcing the minimum wage but had an insufficient number of staff to enforce compliance.
While the law establishes a 40-hour workweek, individual or collective agreements typically set the actual workweek. The law provides for paid annual holidays, but only employees in the formal labor market had rights to paid holidays. Many persons in the private sector worked six days a week. The law requires rest periods and premium pay for overtime, but employers did not always observe these provisions. The government rarely enforced laws related to maximum work hours, limits on overtime, or premium pay for overtime, especially in the private sector. These laws did not apply to migrant workers or workers in the informal sector, which made up 36 percent of the economy, according to the Western Balkans Labor Market Trends 2019 report.
The SILSS is responsible for occupational health and safety standards and regulations, and while these were appropriate for the main industries, enforcement was lacking overall. Working conditions in the manufacturing, construction, and mining sectors frequently were poor and, in some cases, dangerous. For example, police detained the owner of the construction firm Skela Syla in September after two of his employees died on the job. Unions claimed unsafe working conditions were the cause of death. Violations of wage and occupational safety standards occurred most frequently in the textile, footwear, construction, and mining industries. Resources and inspections were not adequate, and penalties were insufficient to deter violations, because law enforcement agencies lacked the tools to enforce collection and consequently rarely charged violators.
Workers often could not remove themselves from situations that endangered their health or safety without jeopardizing their employment. Employers did not effectively protect employees in this situation.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press
The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but there were constitutional restrictions. In addition, threats, harassment, violence, and killings led journalists and editors to practice self-censorship.
Freedom of Expression: The constitution provides for the right to free speech and the press, subject to “any reasonable restriction imposed by law in the interest of the glory of Islam” or the “integrity, security, or defense of Pakistan, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality.” The law permits citizens to criticize the government publicly or privately, but court decisions have interpreted the constitution as prohibiting criticism of the military and judiciary. Such criticism may result in legal, political, or commercial reprisal. Blasphemy laws restrict individual rights to free speech concerning matters of religion and religious doctrine. According to the penal code, the punishments for conviction of blasphemy include the death sentence for “defiling the Prophet Muhammad,” life imprisonment for “defiling, damaging, or desecrating the Quran,” and 10 years’ imprisonment for “insulting another’s religious feelings.” The courts enforced the blasphemy laws, and although authorities have not executed any person for committing blasphemy to date, allegations of blasphemy have often prompted vigilantism and mob lynchings. The government restricted some language and symbolic speech based on hate speech and terrorism provisions.
Press and Media, Including Online Media: Threats, harassment, and violence against journalists who reported on sensitive issues such as civil-military tensions or abuses by security forces occurred during the year. Both the military, through the Director General–Inter-Services Public Relations, and government oversight bodies, such as the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA)–enforced censorship. By law the government may restrict information that might be prejudicial to the national interest. Authorities used these laws to prevent or punish media criticism of the government and armed forces. To publish within Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, media owners had to obtain permission from the Kashmir Council and the Ministry of Kashmir Affairs. There were limitations on transmission of Indian media content. In February the Ministry of Information introduced restrictions to control “hate speech” including in social media. Rights activists reported the government had contacted Twitter asking them to take down accounts of activists deemed problematic.
Media outlets claimed the government pressured stations into halting broadcasting of interviews with opposition political party leaders. On July 1, former president Asif Zardari of the opposition Pakistan Peoples Party was seconds into an exclusive interview with a leading television news anchorperson, Hamid Mir of GEO-TV, when two stations simultaneously cut short their broadcasts. On July 11, an interview with opposition leader Maryam Nawaz of the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) (PML-N) on Hum News was cut short. On July 26, television outlets halted live coverage of opposition leader Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s speech at a party rally in Karachi attended by approximately 20,000 supporters.
PEMRA issued editorial directives to television stations during the year and authorized its chairperson to shut down any channel found in violation of the PEMRA code of conduct, primarily with regard to prohibiting telecasts of protests that might instigate violence. Starting in 2018 the Interior Ministry shut down the Islamabad office of Radio Mashaal, the Pashto language service of Radio Free Europe. The Ministry based its decision on an intelligence report claiming Radio Mashaal radio programs were “against the interests of Pakistan and in line with a hostile intelligence agency’s agenda.” The ban remained in effect at year’s end.
Violence and Harassment: Security forces, political parties, militants, and other groups subjected media outlets, journalists, and their families to threats and harassment. Female journalists in particular faced threats of sexual violence and harassment, including via social media, where they have a particularly strong presence. Security forces allegedly abducted journalists. Media outlets that reported on topics authorities view as sensitive were often the targets of retribution. Additionally, journalists working in remote and conflict-ridden areas lacked basic digital and traditional security skills, which increased pressure to self-censor or not cover a story.
According to sources, journalists were subjected to a variety of pressure tactics, including harassment and intimidation. The Committee to Protect Journalists did not confirm any targeted killings of journalists during the year. Assailants killed journalists during the year, but it was unclear whether their journalism was the motive for the killings. On May 4, an assailant killed Awaz Ali Sher Rajpar, a journalist affiliated with Sindhi daily Awami, in an attack on the Pad Eidan Press Club in Naushehro Feroze, Sindh. Rajpar had unsuccessfully requested police protection after a suspect in a corruption case threatened him because of his reporting of local corruption. Police arrested Rajpar’s first cousin, and authorities attributed his death to a family dispute.
On February 9, authorities arrested Rizwan-ur-Rehman Razi, a television journalist for Din News, for “defamatory and obnoxious posts” on his Twitter account against the “judiciary, government institutions and intelligence agencies.” Observers of the arrest allege authorities beat Razi.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Media organizations generally engaged in self-censorship, especially in reporting news regarding the military; journalists stated they were under increased pressure to report the predetermined narrative during the year. Journalists reported regular denial of permission to visit conflict areas or being required to travel with a military escort while reporting on conditions in conflict areas. They reported pressure to produce articles with a military viewpoint. Other reporting tended to be relatively objective with a focus on facts rather than deeper analysis, which journalists generally regarded as risky. Both local and foreign journalists complained of harassment and intimidation by government officials. Blasphemy and anti-Ahmadi laws restricted publication on certain topics. Government censors reviewed foreign books before they allowed reprinting, but there were no reports of the government banning books during the year. Imported movies, books, magazines, and newspapers were subject to censorship for objectionable sexual or religious content. Obscene literature, a category the government defined broadly, was subject to seizure.
The government fined private television channels for alleged violations of the “code of ethics” and for showing banned content on-screen. Authorities reportedly used PEMRA rules to silence broadcast media by either suspending licenses or threatening to do so, or by without notice reassigning the cable channel number of a targeted outlet so that its programming would be hard or impossible to find on most televisions. Many outlets resorted to self-censorship, particularly when reporting on religious or security issues. The Central Board of Film Censors previewed and censored sexual content and any content that glorified Indian heroes, leaders, or military figures in foreign and domestic films.
The government continued to use network access as a tool to exert control over media outlets. Media outlets seen as supportive of the PML-N faced distribution disruptions.
The Jang/Geo media group also reportedly faced harassment and newspaper distribution blockages. Unidentified individuals reportedly pressured newspaper vendors not to distribute the Urdu language Jang newspaper and its sister English language paper The News, and discouraged advertisers from advertising with the Jang/Geo group’s outlets. Cable operators dropped the Geo news channel from their cable systems, or repeatedly changed its assigned channel.
Media outlets reported the government increasingly used the infrastructure of the media system as well as government advertising, which makes up a large portion of media revenue, to suppress information deemed threatening. Media houses, acting as a government-influenced media syndicate, fired outspoken journalists deemed to be a threat. The government pressured distributors into restricting distribution or changing channels of outlets journalists deemed problematic, incentivizing media companies to censor their content.
National Security: Some journalists asserted authorities cited laws protecting national security to censor and restrict media distribution of material that criticized government policies, or military or public officials. The Electronic Media (Programs and Advertisements) Code of Conduct included a clause that restricted reporting in any area where a military operation was in progress.
Nongovernmental Impact: Nonstate actor violence against media workers decreased, but there is a history of militant and criminal elements killing, abducting, assaulting, and intimidating journalists and their families.
The Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) is responsible for the establishment, operation, and maintenance of telecommunications and has complete control of all content broadcast over telecommunication channels.
Since 2012 the government has implemented a systematic, nationwide content-monitoring and filtering system to restrict or block “unacceptable” content, including material that it deems un-Islamic, pornographic, or critical of the state or military forces. The restrictive 2016 Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) gives the government sweeping powers to censor content on the internet, which authorities used as a tool for the continued clampdown on civil society. In March the FIA registered a case against senior journalist Shahzeb Jillani in Karachi under the PECA, accusing him of “defamatory remarks against the respected institutions of Pakistan” and cyberterrorism. Jillani alleged law enforcement agencies were directly involved in kidnapping citizens. In May a Karachi court dismissed charges against him, declaring the FIA failed to produce substantial proof against him.
The government blocked websites because of allegedly anti-Islamic, pornographic, blasphemous, or extremist content. The Ministry for Religious Affairs is responsible for reviewing and reporting blasphemous or offensive content to the PTA for possible removal, or to the Federal Investigative Agency for possible criminal prosecution. There were also reports the government attempted to control or block websites that advocated Baloch independence. There were reports the government used surveillance software. There was poor transparency and accountability surrounding content monitoring, and observers believed the government often used vague criteria without due process.
According to Coda Story, an online news platform, the country acquired the services of a Canada-based company to help build a nationwide “web monitoring system” that employs Deep Packet Inspection to monitor communications and record traffic and call data on behalf of the PTA.
The government generally did not interfere with academic freedom but restricted, screened, and censored certain cultural events with perceived antistate content. The government interfered with art exhibitions as well as musical and cultural activities. Holding such an event requires a government-issued permit, which the government frequently withheld.
On October 27, Karachi authorities shut down the art installation “Killing Fields of Karachi,” which featured 444 small concrete tombstones that each represented an alleged victim of former police officer Rao Anwar, who has been accused of being directly or indirectly involved in the killings of 444 persons in police encounters. The installation also included a documentary featuring the father of Naqeebullah Mehsud, who died in an allegedly fake police encounter that Anwar orchestrated.
The constitution and laws provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but these freedoms were subject to restrictions.
Although the former FATA is under the same legal framework as the rest of the country, civil and military authorities continued to impose collective punishment through the West Pakistan Maintenance of Peace order, and Section 144 of the criminal code. These statutes effectively allow authorities to continue the longstanding practice of suspending the right to assemble or speak in the newly merged areas. By law district authorities may prevent gatherings of more than four persons without police authorization. The law permits the government to ban all rallies and processions, except funeral processions, for security reasons.
Authorities generally prohibited Ahmadi Muslims from holding conferences or gatherings. Ahmadis cited the refusal of local authorities to reopen Ahmadi mosques damaged by anti-Ahmadi rioters in past years as evidence of the ongoing severe conditions for the community.
During the year PTM mobilized its predominantly ethnic Pashtun supporters to participate in sit-ins and demonstrations to demand justice and to protest abuses by government security forces. Following the government’s pledge to take a harder line against PTM, the number of protests and rallies fell across the country. PTM activists continued to operate, although under much greater scrutiny after the arrest of most of the movement’s key leaders.
The constitution provides for freedom of association subject to certain restrictions imposed by law. The government maintained a series of policies that steadily eroded the freedom of international nongovernmental organizations (INGOs) and domestic NGOs to carry out their work and access the communities they serve. INGOs, UN organizations, and international missions must request government permission in the form of no-objection certificates (NOCs) before they may conduct most in-country travel, carry out certain project activities, or initiate projects. Slow government approvals to NOC requests, financial sustainability, and operational uncertainty significantly constrained INGO activity.
The government adopted a new online registration regime and a more restrictive operating agreement for INGOs in 2015. The registration process entails extensive document requirements, multiple levels of review, and constant investigations and harassment by the security apparatus and other government offices. In April, 20 INGOs whose applications for registration were denied by the Ministry of Interior in 2018, appeared before an interagency committee to appeal those initial rejections. The hearings did not provide the reasons for the original rejections to the INGOs, nor an opportunity to discuss how to adjust their programs to secure a successful appeal. The ministry has not announced the final decisions on the appeals.
The years of uncertainty regarding registration status negatively impacted even those INGOs that had not received final rejection notices. Those INGOs without a clear registration status found it difficult to develop long-term plans and attract long-term funding and must rely on local partners or centrally managed funding from their overseas headquarters. They faced additional barriers to fundraising, opening bank accounts, and obtaining tax-exempt status from the Federal Board of Revenue. No-objection certificates were hard to obtain in certain provinces without an approved registration, thus hindering implementation and monitoring of activities, even for INGOs that had initiated the new registration process. In cases where INGOs secured registration, they still faced staffing limitations and government interference in their programmatic activities and memoranda of understanding (MOUs) with local partners. INGOs also faced an uptick in visa denials for international staff and consultants. The lack of transparency and unpredictability of the registration process caused some INGOs to withdraw their registration applications and terminate operations in the country.
The government at both the federal and provincial levels similarly restricted the access of foreign-funded local NGOs through a separate registration regime, no-objection certificates, and other requirements. Authorities required NGOs to obtain no-objection certificates before accepting foreign funding, booking facilities or using university spaces for events, or working on sensitive human rights issues. Even when local NGOs receiving foreign funding were appropriately registered, the government often denied their requests for no-objection certificates. Domestic NGOs continued to face regular government monitoring and harassment, even if in possession of all required certifications.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
The law provides for freedom of internal movement and for uninhibited foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government limited these rights.
The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern.
In-country Movement: Government restrictions on access to certain areas of the former FATA and Balochistan, often due to security concerns, hindered freedom of movement. The government required an approved no-objection certificate for travel to areas of the country it designated “sensitive.”
Foreign Travel: The law prohibits travel to Israel, and the country’s passports include a statement that they are “valid for all countries except Israel”. Passport applicants must list their religious affiliation, and those wishing to be listed as Muslims, must swear they believe Muhammad is the final prophet and denounce the founder of the Ahmadi movement as a false prophet. Ahmadi representatives reported authorities wrote the word “Ahmadi” in their passports if they refused to sign the declaration.
According to policy, government employees and students must obtain no-objection certificates from the government before traveling abroad. Authorities rarely enforced this requirement for students, however.
The government prohibited persons on an exit control list from departing the country. The stated purpose of the list prevented departure from the country of “persons involved in antistate activities, terrorism, or related to proscribed organizations and those placed on the orders of superior courts.” Those on the list had the right to appeal to the courts to have their names removed.
Exile: The government refused to accept the return of some Pakistanis deported to Pakistan from other countries. The government refused these deportees entry to the country as unidentifiable Pakistani citizens, despite having passports issued by Pakistani embassies abroad.
Large population displacements have occurred since 2008 because of militant activity and military operations in KP and the former FATA. Returns continued amid improved security conditions. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 29,000 of the total 5.3 million affected residents remained displaced as of May. The government and UN agencies such as UNHCR, UNICEF, and the UN World Food Program collaborated to assist and protect those affected by conflict, who generally resided with host families, in rented accommodations, or to a lesser extent, in camps. Several internally displaced persons (IDP) populations settled in informal settlements outside of major cities, such as Lahore and Karachi.
The government required humanitarian organizations assisting civilians displaced by military operations to request no-objection certificates to access all districts in the former FATA. According to humanitarian organizations and NGOs, the certificate application process was cumbersome, and projects faced significant delays. The government maintained IDP camps inside and near former FATA districts where military operations took place, despite access and security concerns raised by humanitarian organizations. Humanitarian organization workers providing assistance in the camps faced danger when travelling to and within the former FATA. UN agencies maintained access to the camps and the affected areas mainly through local NGOs.
There were no reports of involuntary returns. Many IDPs reportedly wanted to return home, despite the lack of local infrastructure, housing, and available service delivery and the strict control that security forces maintained over returnees’ movements through extensive checkpoints. Other IDP families delayed their return or chose some family members to remain in the settled areas of KP where regular access to health care, education, and other social services were available. For IDPs who were unwilling or unable to return, the government coordinated support with the United Nations and other international organizations. The UN World Food Program distributed a monthly food ration to IDPs in KP displaced by conflict and continued to provide a six-month food ration to IDPs who returned to their areas of origin in the former FATA.
Despite large-scale recurring displacements of individuals due to natural disasters and disruptions caused by terrorist activities and counterterrorist operations, the government had not adopted specific legislation to tackle internal displacement problems. In addition, the National Disaster Management Act of 2010 does not provide any definition of IDPs or their rights.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The government provided temporary legal status to approximately 1.4 million Afghans formally registered and holding proof of registration cards. In June the PTI-led government continued its trend of granting longer-term extensions, approving a one-year extension through June 30, 2020. The country also hosts 878,000 Afghans with Afghan Citizen Cards but does not grant them refugee status. The government typically extends the validity of the Afghan Citizen Cards in short increments. In October the government granted a two-month extension through the end of the year.
Although fewer in number than in previous years, there were reports provincial authorities, police, and host communities continued to harass Afghan refugees. UNHCR reported that from January to October there were 1,234 arrests and detentions of refugees. UNHCR reported arrests and detentions were down 63 percent through September.
Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status. The country lacks a legal and regulatory framework for the management of refugees and migration. The law does not exclude asylum seekers and refugees from provisions regarding illegal entry and stay. In the absence of a national refugee legal framework, UNHCR conducted refugee status determination under its mandate, and the country generally accepted UNHCR decisions to grant refugee status and allowed asylum seekers who were still undergoing the procedure, as well as recognized refugees, to remain in the country pending identification of a durable solution.
Employment: There is no formal document allowing refugees to work legally, but there is no law prohibiting refugees from working in the country. Many refugees worked as day laborers or in informal markets, and local employers often exploited refugees in the informal labor market with low or unpaid wages. Women and children were particularly vulnerable, accepting underpaid and undesirable work.
Access to Basic Services: One-third of registered Afghan refugees lived in one of 54 refugee villages, while the remaining two-thirds lived in host communities in rural and urban areas and sought to access basic services in those communities. Afghan refugees could avail themselves of the services of police and the courts, but some, particularly the poor, were afraid to do so. There were no reports of refugees denied access to health facilities because of their nationality. In February the government permitted Afghan refugees to open bank accounts using their proof of registration cards.
The constitution stipulates free and compulsory education for all children between ages five and 16, regardless of their nationality. Any refugee registered with both UNHCR and the government-run Commissionerate of Afghan Refugees was, in theory, admitted to public education facilities after filing the proper paperwork. Access to schools, however, was on a space-available basis as determined by the principal, and most registered Afghan refugees attended private Afghan schools or schools sponsored by the international community. For older students, particularly girls in refugee villages, access to education remained difficult. Afghan refugees were able to use proof of registration cards to enroll in universities. Afghan students were eligible to seek admission to Pakistani public and private colleges and universities.
Durable Solutions: The government did not accept refugees for resettlement from other countries and did not facilitate local integration. The government does not accord Pakistani citizenship to the children of Afghan refugees, but it did establish a parliamentary committee to evaluate the possibility of extending citizenship to Pakistani-born children of refugees and stateless persons.
Statelessness continued to be a problem. There is no national legislation on statelessness, and the government does not recognize the existence of stateless persons. International and national agencies estimated there were possibly thousands of stateless persons because of the 1947 partition of India and Pakistan, and the 1971 partition of Pakistan and Bangladesh. In addition, UNHCR estimated there were sizable populations of Rohingya, Bihari, and Bengali living in the country, a large percentage of whom were likely stateless.
Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The vast majority of the labor force was under the jurisdiction of provincial labor laws. The 2010 18th constitutional amendment, which devolved labor legislation and policies to the four provinces, stipulated that existing national laws would remain in force “until altered, repealed, or amended” by the provincial governments. Provinces implemented their own industrial relations acts in 2011. In 2012 Parliament passed a new industrial relations act that took International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions into account but applied them only to the Islamabad Capital Territory and to trade federations that operated in more than one province.
The role of the federal government remained unclear in the wake of devolution. The only federal government body with any authority over labor issues was the Ministry of Overseas Pakistanis and Human Resource Development, whose role in domestic labor oversight was limited to compiling statistics to demonstrate compliance with ILO conventions. At the provincial level, laws providing for collective bargaining rights excluded banking and financial sector workers, forestry workers, hospital workers, self-employed farmers, and persons employed in an administrative or managerial capacity.
In July the Balochistan High Court ordered the cancellation of the registration of all trade unions formed by government employees, ruling that such workers are not allowed to form a union under the Balochistan Industrial Relations Act of 2010. The registrar of Balochistan trade unions thereafter cancelled 62 trade unions’ registration. The affected unions’ appeal at the Supreme Court was pending at year’s end.
Without any federal government entity responsible for labor, the continued existence of the National Industrial Relations Commission remained in question. The 2012 Federal Industrial Relations Act stipulates that the commission may adjudicate and determine industrial disputes within the Islamabad Capital Territory to which a trade union or federation of trade unions is a party and any other industrial dispute determined by the government to be of national importance. This provision does not provide a forum specifically for interprovincial disputes but appears to allow for the possibility that the commission could resolve such a dispute. Worker organizations noted the limited capacity and funding for labor relations implementation at the provincial level.
The law prohibits state administrators, workers in state-owned enterprises, and export processing zones, and public-sector workers from collective bargaining and striking. Nevertheless, state-owned enterprises planned for privatization faced continuous labor strikes. Provincial industrial relations acts also address and limit strikes and lockouts. For example, the KP Act specifies that when a “strike or lockout lasts for more than 30 days, the government may, by order in writing, prohibit the strike or lockout” and must refer the dispute to a labor court.
Federal law defines illegal strikes, picketing, and other types of protests as “civil commotion,” which carries a penalty if convicted of up to life imprisonment. The law also states that gatherings of four or more persons may require police authorization, which is a provision authorities could use against trade union gatherings. Unions were able to organize large-scale strikes, but police often broke up the strikes, and employers used them to justify dismissals. In March and May, Sindh schoolteachers and nurses staged protests against recruitment and promotion rules. Police used force against the protest, causing injury to dozens of protesters, and arresting several of them. On July 17, police beat and used water cannons to halt a public protest by nurses from public sector hospitals across Sindh for increased salaries and better facilities. Police detained 20 protesters but released them later. Marches and protests also occurred regularly, although police sometimes arrested union leaders.
Enforcement of labor laws remained weak, in large part due to lack of resources and political will. Most unions functioned independently of government and political party influence. Labor leaders raised concerns regarding employers sponsoring management-friendly or only-on-paper worker unions–so-called yellow unions–to prevent effective unionization.
There were no reported cases of the government dissolving a union without due process. Unions could be administratively “deregistered,” however, without judicial review.
Labor NGOs assisted workers by providing technical training and capacity-building workshops to strengthen labor unions and trade organizations. They also worked with established labor unions to organize workers in the informal sector and advocated policies and legislation to improve the rights, working conditions, and wellbeing of workers, including laborers in the informal sector. NGOs also collaborated with provincial governments to provide agricultural workers, brick kiln workers, and other vulnerable workers with national identification so they could connect to the country’s social safety net and access the benefits of citizenship (such as voting, health care, and education).
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, cancels all existing bonded labor debts, forbids lawsuits for the recovery of such debts, and establishes a district “vigilance committee” system to implement the law. Federal and provincial acts, however, prohibit employees from leaving their employment without the consent of the employer, since doing so would subject them to penalties of imprisonment that could involve compulsory labor.
The law defines trafficking in persons as recruiting, harboring, transporting, providing, or obtaining another person (or attempting to do so) through force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of compelled labor or commercial sex. The penalty for conviction of trafficking in persons is sufficient to deter violations. With regard to sex trafficking, however, by allowing for a fine in lieu of imprisonment, these penalties were not commensurate with those for other serious crimes, such as rape. Lack of political will, the reported complicity of officials in labor trafficking, as well as federal and local government structural changes, contributed to the failure of authorities to enforce federal law relating to forced labor. Resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate.
The use of forced and bonded labor was widespread and common in several industries across the country. NGOs estimated that nearly two million persons were in bondage, primarily in Sindh and Punjab, but also in Balochistan and KP. A large proportion of bonded laborers were low-caste Hindus as well as Christians and Muslims with lower socioeconomic backgrounds. Bonded labor was reportedly present in the agricultural sector, including the cotton, sugarcane, and wheat industries, and in the brick, coal, and carpet industries. Bonded laborers often were unable to determine when their debts were paid in full, in part, because contracts were rare, and employers could take advantage of bonded laborers’ illiteracy to alter debt amounts or the price laborers paid for goods they acquired from their employers. In some cases landowners restricted laborers’ movements with armed guards or sold laborers to other employers for the price of the laborers’ debts.
Ties among landowners, industry owners, and influential politicians hampered effective elimination of the problem. For example, some local police did not pursue landowners or brick kiln owners effectively because they believed higher-ranking police, pressured by politicians or the owners themselves, would not support their efforts to carry out legal investigations. Some bonded laborers returned to their former status after authorities freed them, due to a lack of alternative employment options. In Sindh the landmark Bonded Labor Act of 2015 has no accompanying civil procedure to implement the law. Of the 27 district vigilance committees charged with overseeing bonded labor practices, only seven had held meetings as of July.
Boys and girls were bought, sold, rented, or kidnapped to work in illegal begging rings, as domestic servants, or as bonded laborers in agriculture and brickmaking (see section 7.c.). Illegal labor agents charged high fees to parents with false promises of decent work for their children and later exploited them by subjecting the children to forced labor in domestic servitude, unskilled labor, small shops, and other sectors.
The government of Punjab funded the Elimination of Child Labor and Bonded Labor Project, under which the Punjab Department of Labor worked to combat child and bonded labor in brick kilns. They did this by helping workers obtain national identity cards and interest free loans and providing schools at brick kiln sites. On March 29, the Lahore High Court ordered the labor secretary to enact measures to pay the school fees of children working in brick kilns. On July 1, the Punjab government issued a notification that set brick kiln laborers’ wages, as well as conditions of overtime work and paid holidays. The KP, Punjab, and Sindh ministries of labor reportedly worked to register brick kilns and their workers in order to regulate the industry more effectively and provide workers access to labor courts and other services.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/ and the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings .
The law does not prohibit all of the worst forms of child labor. The constitution expressly prohibits the employment of children younger than age 14 in any factory, mine, or other hazardous site. The national law for the employment of children sets the minimum age for hazardous work at 15, which does not comply with international standards. Provincial laws in KP, Punjab, and Sindh set the minimum age for hazardous work at 18 or 19, meeting international standards. In May the Punjab government announced the first phase of the Punjab Domestic Workers Act 2019, which prohibits hiring a child younger than 15 as a domestic worker. Despite these restrictions, there were nationwide reports of children working in areas the law defined as hazardous, such as leather manufacturing, brick making, and deep-sea fishing.
By law the minimum age for nonhazardous work is 15, but the law does not extend the minimum age limit to informal employment. The law limits the workday to seven hours for children, including a one-hour break after three hours of labor, and sets permissible times of day for work and time off. The law does not allow children to work overtime or at night, and it specifies they should receive one day off per week. Additionally, the law requires employers to keep a register of child workers for labor inspection purposes. These national prohibitions and regulations do not apply to home-based businesses or brickmaking.
Federal law prohibits the exploitation of children younger than 18 and defines exploitative entertainment as all activities related to human sports or sexual practices and other abusive practices. Parents who exploit their children are legally liable.
Child labor remained pervasive, with many children working in agriculture and domestic work. There were also reports that small workshops employed a large number of child laborers, which complicated efforts to enforce child labor laws. Poor rural families sometimes sold their children into domestic servitude or other types of work, or they paid agents to arrange for such work, often believing their children would work under decent conditions. Some children sent to work for relatives or acquaintances in exchange for education or other opportunities ended in exploitative conditions or forced labor. Children also were kidnapped or sold into organized begging rings, domestic servitude, militant groups and gangs, and child sex trafficking.
Coordination of responses to child labor problems at the national level remained ineffective. Labor inspection was the purview of provincial rather than national government, which contributed to uneven application of labor law. Enforcement efforts were not adequate to meet the scale of the problem. Inspectors had little training and insufficient resources and were susceptible to corruption. Authorities registered hundreds of child labor law violations, but they often did not impose penalties on violators; when they did, the penalties were not a significant deterrent. Authorities generally allowed NGOs to perform inspections without interference.
Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings and the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods .
While regulations prohibit discrimination in employment and occupation regarding race, sex, gender, disability, language, gender identity, HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases, or social status, the government did not effectively enforce those laws and regulations. Discrimination with respect to employment and occupation based on these factors persisted.
The 2010 passage of the 18th amendment to the constitution dissolved the federal Ministry of Labor and Manpower, resulting in the devolution of labor issues to the provinces. Some labor groups, international organizations, and NGOs remained critical of the devolution, contending that certain labor issues–including minimum wages, worker rights, national labor standards, and observance of international labor conventions–should remain within the purview of the federal government. Observers also raised concerns regarding the provinces’ varying capacity and commitment to adopt and enforce labor laws. Some international organizations, however, observed that giving authority to provincial authorities led to improvements in labor practices, including inspections, in some provinces.
The minimum wage as set by the government exceeds its definition of the poverty line income for an individual, which is 9,300 Pakistani Rupees ($60) per month. The minimum wage is 15,000 ($96) Rupees per month. The minimum wage was greater than the World Bank’s estimate for poverty level income. Authorities increased the minimum wage in the annual budget, and both federal and provincial governments issued notifications for such increases to go into effect. Minimum wage laws did not cover significant sectors of the labor force, including workers in the informal sector, domestic servants, and agricultural workers; and enforcement of minimum wage laws was uneven.
The law provides for a maximum workweek of 48 hours (54 hours for seasonal factories) with rest periods during the workday and paid annual holidays. The labor code also requires time off on official government holidays, overtime pay, annual and sick leave, health care, education for workers’ children, social security, old-age benefits, and a workers’ welfare fund. Many workers, however, were employed as contract laborers with no benefits beyond basic wages and no long-term job security, even if they remained with the same employer for many years. Furthermore, these national regulations do not apply to agricultural workers, workers in establishments with fewer than 10 employees, or domestic workers. Workers in these types of employment also lack the right to access labor courts to seek redress of grievances and were extremely vulnerable to exploitation. The industry-specific nature of many labor laws and the lack of government enforcement gave employers in many sectors relative impunity with regard to working conditions, treatment of employees, work hours, and pay.
Provincial governments have primary responsibility for enforcing national labor regulations. Enforcement was ineffective due to limited resources, corruption, and inadequate regulatory structures. The number of labor inspectors employed by the provincial governments is insufficient for the approximately 64-million-person workforce. Many workers, especially in the informal sector, remained unaware of their rights. Due to limited resources for labor inspections and corruption, inspections and penalties were insufficient to deter violations of labor laws.
In September the government of Punjab Province exempted factories in the province from labor law inspections. Punjab has approximately two thirds of the country’s textile factories.
In December the Sindh Assembly passed the Sindh Women Agriculture Workers Bill, which recognized rights of women who work in farming, livestock, and fisheries. The law provides for minimum wages, sick and maternity leave, set working hours, written work contracts, the right to unionize, and access to social security and credit, among other protections.
The provincial government of Sindh Province enacted a comprehensive occupational health and safety law in 2017, but it had not been implemented by year’s end. Similar legislation is absent in other provinces. In September the Punjab government enacted the Medical Teaching Institute (Reform) Ordinance, which amended several existing pieces of healthcare legislation and instituted boards of governors composed of private sector professionals for state run teaching hospitals.
Nationwide, health and safety standards were poor in multiple sectors. The country’s failure to meet international health and safety standards raised doubts abroad as to its reliability as a source for imports. There was a serious lack of adherence to mine safety and health protocols. Many mines had only one opening for entry, egress, and ventilation. Workers could not remove themselves from dangerous working conditions without risking loss of employment. Informal sector employees, such as domestic and home-based workers, were particularly vulnerable to health and safety issues. There were no statistics on workplace fatalities and accidents during the year. Factory managers were often unable to ascertain the identity of fire or other work-related accident victims because these individuals were contract workers and generally did not appear in records.
On March 9, six workers died when a construction lift buckled, causing the work crew to fall from the 13th floor of a 23-story building under construction in Karachi. According to reports, the lift and trolley did not comply with workplace standards. Labor rights activists observed that workers often have to work in dangerous conditions and the private sector construction companies failed to provide workers with health and safety facilities. On July 14, nine coal miners died in the collapse of a coalmine triggered by an electrical fire, with only one worker rescued two days after the incident. According to news reports, 164 miners died in Balochistan’s mines in 2018.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press
Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, it has provisions that permit restrictions of these fundamental rights and freedoms in certain circumstances. In particular, Article 22(3) allows the restriction of freedom of expression in the interests of national defense, public safety, public order, and public health, or for the purpose of protecting the reputations, rights, and freedoms of others and maintaining the authority and independence of the courts. Based on these provisions, the government can restrict these freedoms using subsidiary laws such as the penal code, Public Order Act, Preservation of Public Security Act, and Emergency Powers Act.
Freedom of Expression: The government remained sensitive to criticism in general, particularly by the political opposition and civil society, and restricted the ability of individuals to criticize it freely or discuss matters of general public interest. In December 2018 the Supreme Court convicted and sentenced New Vision newspaper editor Derrick Sinjela to 18 months’ imprisonment for contempt of court for his public criticism of senior judges’ handling of the Savenda v. Stanbic case. President Lungu pardoned Sinjela in November. Gregory Chifire, director of the Southern Africa Network against Corruption, whom the court had convicted and sentenced to six years’ imprisonment in November 2018 for similar charges, remained in exile at year’s end.
Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views, but not without some restrictions. The government published two of the country’s four most widely circulated newspapers. One of the two privately owned newspapers opposed the ruling PF party, while the other supported the party and the government. Opposition political parties and civil society organizations contended government-run media failed to report objectively. Although state media covered government-sponsored and nongovernmental events, coverage was not fair; state media did not educate and inform citizens in an objective, balanced, and clear way, civil society organizations reported.
In addition to a multichannel government-controlled radio station that broadcasts nationwide, 73 private and community radio stations broadcast locally. Some radio stations experienced political pressure. Although some local private stations broadcast call-in and other talk programs on which diverse and critical viewpoints were expressed freely, media bodies claimed journalists who appeared on such programs received threats from senior government officials and politicians if seen as too critical. Independent, private media outlets also often received threats from the government for providing airtime to the opposition. For example, on April 30, a group of PF supporters, locally known as “cadres,” attacked opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) leader Chishimba Kambwili in Kabwe during a live radio broadcast on Power FM radio station, disrupting the program and damaging property as they forcibly entered the station.
According to media watchdog organizations, independent media did not operate freely due to restrictions imposed by government authorities. Police reportedly did not sufficiently investigate journalists’ assault cases, and some media houses were threatened with closure for unfavorable or insufficient coverage of the president. On several occasions, police used force to interrupt broadcasts.
Violence and Harassment: While the government broadly tolerated negative articles in newspapers and magazines, there were numerous reports of government, ruling party, and some opposition officials and supporters physically and verbally attacking or threatening journalists. For example, on May 1, a group of PF “cadres” forcibly entered Radio Maria, a Roman Catholic-run station in Chipata, Eastern Province. They harassed journalists and threatened to burn down the station for featuring a rival candidate for provincial leadership. President Lungu condemned the attack and ordered police to arrest perpetrators; authorities later arrested two PF members. Involved parties later resolved the matter outside of court, and authorities released the arrested individuals.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government remained sensitive to media criticism and indirectly censored publications or penalized publishers. Numerous media watchdog organizations reported that harassment and arrest of journalists, threats by the government to introduce punitive legislation against media personnel, restriction of their access to public places, and undue influence, among other restrictions, compromised media freedom and resulted in self-censorship. For example, on March 4, the government Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) suspended private media Prime TV’s broadcasting license for almost a month, for alleging the station had failed to comply with IBA regulations. The IBA investigated the station after ruling PF Party Secretary General Davies Mwila accused Prime TV of “biased coverage and unethical reporting” and insufficient coverage of ruling party events during a parliamentary by-election. The IBA concluded that Prime TV, which at times showed programing critical of the government, had “exhibited unprofessional elements in its broadcasting through unbalanced coverage, opinionated news, material likely to incite violence, and use of derogatory language.” The IBA recommended that Prime TV should conduct in-house journalism ethics training and news writing for its journalists during the period of suspension.
Libel/Slander Laws: The government and individual public figures used laws against libel, slander, or defamation against critics to restrict public discussion or retaliate against political opponents. The government also often used sedition laws against those critical of the government. For example, on March 23, police arrested and charged opposition Patriots for Economic Progress leader Sean Tembo with defamation of the president after Tembo alleged on social media that President Lungu was possibly suffering from a mental illness that led him to make “irrational national decisions,” such as purchasing a new presidential jet. The charges remained pending at year’s end.
Although government generally did not restrict access, and individuals and groups could freely express their views via the internet, the government threatened individuals using online fora with arrest and online media with closure. On August 14, the Wall Street Journal alleged that a government cybercrime “crack” squad intercepted encrypted communications and used mobile phone data to track some opposition bloggers who had repeatedly criticized President Lungu. Senior ruling party officials dismissed the allegation as “fake news.”
Government restrictions on academic freedom and cultural events continued. For example, on August 13, police blocked PF presidential contender Kelvin Bwalya Fube from addressing students at “an entrepreneurship and academic motivational talk” organized by the Student Impact and UNZA Sociology Association.
Although there were no reports of censorship of academic teaching, writing, or research, university staff working in management had little autonomy to manage their institutions without government interference. In a letter dated September 4, the UNZA Lecturers and Researchers Union advised Higher Education Minister Brian Mushimba against interfering in the affairs of public universities and urged him to leave the running of the institutions to university managements and councils.
There were restrictions on artistic presentations or other cultural activities, including music lyrics and theatrical performances. For example, authorities banned the music of hip-hop artist Fumba Chama, professionally known as “Pilato,” on the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation and other state media. Private radio stations continued to play his music, except for two of his songs that criticized the president.
The government at times restricted peaceful assembly, while generally respecting freedom of association.
The constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly; however, the government at times restricted this right, and police and progovernment groups disrupted meetings, rallies, and other activities of opposition political parties and civil society organizations. While authorities allowed protests and rallies, police at times delayed authorization or forced organizers to hold events at less favorable locations and times, especially for opposition party events or events seen as critical of the government. On November 3, police rescinded authorization for a Democratic Party rally in Samfya after initially granting it. Police later used tear gas to disperse a crowd that had gathered despite the revocation.
The Public Order Act requires political parties and other groups to notify police in advance of any rallies but does not require a formal approval or permit. In 1995 the Supreme Court declared provisions in the act that previously gave police the power to regulate assemblies, public meetings, or processions unconstitutional. Police, however, continued to disregard this landmark ruling and stopped opposition and civil society groups from holding public gatherings. For example, on August 6, police arrested and charged 27 UPND members in Kitwe for unlawful assembly. According to the newspaper Zambia Daily Mail, the members had gathered for a political meeting without notifying police as required by law. UPND officials claimed the meeting took place in a private residence; authorities released all the arrestees after they paid an “admission of guilt” fine. On September 24, police blocked opposition UPND leader Hakainde Hichilema’s visit to the town of Kafue, where he intended to visit local residents experiencing food insecurity, despite Hichilema having notified authorities under the Public Order Act.
The constitution provides for freedom of association. While the government generally respected the right to freedom of association, it placed some limits on this right through various mechanisms. For example, although it generally went unenforced, the NGO Act requires all organizations to apply for registration from the registrar of societies. The registration process is stringent, long, and gives the registrar considerable discretion. The law also places restrictions on funding from foreign sources. For this reason, donors, including some UN agencies, required all organizations to register under the NGO Act before receiving funding. According to the Southern African Center for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes, uncertainties surrounding the implementation of the NGO Act and NGO policy affected the operations of civil society organizations.
Despite these restrictions, the government liberally allowed civil society organizations to hold meetings in which they criticized it.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.
In-country Movement: The government intermittently restricted freedom of internal movement for internally displaced persons, refugees, and stateless persons. Although police generally used roadblocks to control criminal activity, enforce customs and immigration controls, check drivers’ documents, and inspect vehicles for safety compliance, there were reports police used such interventions to limit participation in political gatherings, especially during parliamentary and local government by-elections.
There were not large numbers of internally displaced persons. The government promoted the safe resettlement of the few groups displaced for construction or other government-sanctioned activities.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in October, sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) remained the greatest protection risk in refugee locations, both urban and camp settings. Authorities provided some physical protection, including by the provision of temporary police posts, but efforts were insufficient. UNHCR supported government efforts with counselling services, access to medical facilities, and access to justice for survivors of SGBV. The most commonly reported forms of SGBV included sex in exchange for basic needs, rape, sexual harassment, and underage marriage. Gender inequality, lack of livelihood opportunities, substance abuse, and impunity of perpetrators were among the key structural causes.
The government cooperated with UNHCR, the International Organization for Migration, and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has a system for providing protection to refugees. According to UNHCR, although the law provides for the granting of asylum, it also gives the minister of home affairs wide discretion to deport refugees without appeal or to deny asylum to applicants holding asylum from other countries or those coming from stable democratic states. The government was responsible for conducting refugee status determinations.
Freedom of Movement: Zambia has made a number of reservations to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, including the freedom of movement. For example, the established encampment policy requires recognized refugees to reside in one of three designated refugee settlements. Only refugees who have received a permit for work, study, health, or protection reasons can legally stay in urban areas. Refugees in the settlements can obtain passes to leave the settlements for up to 60 days, but police officers’ unfamiliarity with different permits and passes put them at risk of administrative detention.
Employment: The law requires refugees to obtain work permits before they can engage in employment, including self-employment activities. Issuance of employment permits is subject to normal immigration procedures, including the application of a government policy that requires the immigration department to ascertain that there is no Zambian citizen who can perform the job.
Access to Basic Services: The government provided basic social services, including education, housing, and health care to refugees without discrimination. The government provided primary and secondary education in refugee settlements, and secondary school for refugees living in urban areas, but required a study permit and the payment of school fees.
Durable Solutions: The government promoted safe, voluntary return, resettlement, and local integration of refugees and stateless persons. According to the government’s Office of the Commissioner for Refugees, 210,000 refugees–mainly from Angola, Mozambique, and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)–over time voluntarily returned to their countries of origin as conflicts there waned. The Ministry of Home Affairs and the Office of the Commissioner for Refugees reported that of 20,000 Angolan and 4,000 Rwandan refugees accepted for naturalization, the government issued residence permits to more than 3,000 and offered them land in a local resettlement and integration program. Delayed passport issuance for both Angolans and Rwandans by their respective nations’ diplomatic and consular representatives kept several thousand in legal limbo.
In a joint effort by the government, UNHCR, and international and local NGOs, settlement areas in Mantapala, Mayukwayukwa, and Meheba provided refugees from the DRC an opportunity to settle permanently in Zambia. Refugees were provided land for agricultural use as well as space for housing near social services. The areas also include already established villages as a way to promote local integration of refugees.
Temporary Protection: The government provided protection to 4,179 individuals who may not qualify as refugees from January 1 to September 30, and the recognition rate of asylum claims was high. Those rejected could appeal via the Ministry of Home Affairs. The government continued to provide temporary protection to stateless persons.
According to UNHCR, the country has no provision for maintaining statistical information regarding stateless persons. The Ministry of Home Affairs reported a relatively small number of undocumented habitual residents–mainly hunters and gatherers– were integrated into local rural communities following the destruction of their natural habitat due to development activities. The government was in the process of issuing them national identity documents. The Department of Disaster Management and Mitigation Unit, under the Office of the Vice President, assists stateless persons.
Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law provides for the right of most workers to form and join independent unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively. Statutory restrictions regulate these rights; the government has discretionary power to exclude certain categories of workers from unionizing, including prison staff, judges, court registrars, magistrates, and local court justices. The law also requires the registration of a trade union with the Ministry of Labor and Social Security, which may take up to six months. The ministry has the power to refuse official registration on arbitrary or ambiguous grounds.
No organization may be registered as a trade union unless its application to register is signed by not fewer than 50 supporters or such lesser number as may be prescribed by the minister of labor and social security, and, with some exceptions, no trade union may be registered if it claims to represent a class of employees already represented by an existing trade union. Unions may be deregistered under certain circumstances, but the law provides for notice, reconsideration, and right of appeal to an industrial relations court. During the year no trade union was deregistered or faced excessive restriction on registration.
The government, through the Ministry of Labor and Social Security, brokers labor disputes between employers and employees. The law provides the right of employees not to be prevented, dismissed, penalized, victimized, or discriminated against or deterred from exercising their rights conferred on them under the law, and it provides remedies for dismissals for union activities. Casualization and unjustifiable termination of employment contracts is illegal; the law defines a casual employee as an employee whose terms of employment contract provide for his or her payment at the end of each day and is engaged for a period of not more than six months. The law was not enforced effectively.
In cases involving the unjustified dismissal of employees, the ministry settles disputes through social dialogue, and any unresolved cases are sent to the Industrial Relations Court. Penalties are not sufficient to deter violations. The law also provides a platform for employers, workers, and government to dialogue on matters of mutual interest through the Tripartite Consultative Labor Council.
The law provides for collective bargaining. In certain cases, however, either party may refer a labor dispute to a court or for arbitration; the International Labor Organization (ILO) raised concerns the law did not require the consent of both parties involved in the dispute for arbitration. The law also allows for a maximum period of one year for a court to consider the complaint and issue its ruling. Collective agreements must be filed with the commissioner and approved by the minister before becoming binding on the signatory parties.
With the exception of workers engaged in a broadly defined range of essential services, the law provides for the right to strike if recourse to all legal options is first exhausted. The law defines essential services as any activity relating to the generation, supply, or distribution of electricity; the supply and distribution of water and sewage removal; fire departments; and the mining sector. Employees in the defense force and judiciary as well as police, prison, and ZSIS personnel are also considered essential. The process of exhausting the legal alternatives to a strike is lengthy. The law also requires a union to notify employers 10 days in advance of strike action and limits the maximum duration of a strike to 14 days. If the dispute remains unresolved, it is referred to the court. The government may stop a strike if the court finds it is not “in the public interest.” Workers who engage in illegal strikes may be dismissed by employers. An employee or trade union that takes part in a strike not authorized by a valid strike ballot is liable to a fine of up to 50,000 kwacha ($4,250) for a trade union or 20,000 kwacha ($1,700) for an employee.
The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and employer interference in union functions, and it provides for reinstatement and other remedies for workers fired for union activity. Except for workers in “essential services” and those in the above-mentioned categories, no other groups of workers are excluded from relevant legal protections. Administrative judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals.
Government enforcement of laws providing for freedom of association and collective bargaining was not effective. Penalties for employers were not sufficient and could not be effectively enforced to deter violations. Other challenges that constrained effective enforcement included unaligned pieces of legislation, lack of financial capacity to implement programs, and lack of trained officers to enforce legislation.
Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining were not always respected. Unions suffered from political interference and fracturing and were no longer seen as influential. Most unions chose to strike illegally, either to circumvent lengthy procedural requirements for approval or when other legal avenues were exhausted. Antiunion discrimination and retirements in national interest persisted during the year. For example, antiunion tendencies were prevalent among multinational companies and local employers, particularly in the agricultural, mining, and transport sectors. Disputes arising from such actions were often settled by workers’ representatives and employers, with the government acting as an arbiter. NGOs advocated for worker rights throughout the year without government restriction.
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The law authorizes the government to call upon citizens to perform labor in specific instances, such as during national emergencies or disasters. The government also may require citizens to perform labor associated with traditional, civil, or communal obligations.
A new employment code passed in April criminalizes all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Penalties for violations range from a fine to a term of imprisonment not exceeding two years or both. Although penalties are sufficient to deter violations, the government did not effectively enforce the law.
While the government investigated cases involving a small number of victims, it did not investigate more-organized trafficking operations potentially involving forced labor in the mining, construction, and agricultural sectors. There were no reported prosecutions during the year.
Gangs of illegal miners called “jerabos” at times forced children into illegal mining and loading stolen copper ore onto trucks in Copperbelt Province. Women and children from rural areas continued to be exploited in urban domestic servitude and subjected to forced labor in the agricultural, textile, mining, and construction sectors, and other small businesses. While orphans and street children were the most vulnerable, children sent to live in urban areas were also vulnerable to forced labor.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
The law prohibits all of the worst forms of child labor, but gaps hamper adequate protection of children. The law prohibits the employment of children younger than age 15 at any commercial, agricultural, or domestic worksite or engaging a child in the worst forms of child labor. The new employment code consolidates all child-related labor laws into a single legislation to provide clear regulations on the employment and education of children. Restrictions on child labor prohibit work that harms a child’s health and development or that prevents a child’s attendance at school; government regulations list 31 types of hazardous work prohibited to children and young persons. The law also prohibits the procurement or offering of a child for illicit activities. Although penalties are sufficient to deter violations, the government did not effectively enforce the law.
According to the ILO, child labor was prevalent, and the government did not effectively enforce the law outside of the industrial sector. Resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate. Secondary education is not compulsory, and children who are not enrolled are vulnerable to child labor.
While the labor commissioner effectively enforced minimum age requirements in the industrial sector, where there was little demand for child labor, the government seldom enforced minimum age standards in the informal sector, particularly in artisanal mining, agriculture, and domestic service. Although the government reported it had a National Child Labor Steering Committee, which oversaw child labor activities and was composed of government ministries, the Zambian Federation for Employers, the Zambia Congress for Trade Unions, civil society, and other stakeholders, the committee was not active during the year. The government collaborated with local and international organizations to implement programs combatting child labor. Because most child labor occurred in the agricultural sector, often on family farms or with the consent of families, inspectors from the Ministry of Labor and Social Security focused on counseling and educating families that employed children. In some cases such work also exposed children to hazardous conditions. Authorities did not refer any cases of child labor for prosecution during the year. Due to the scarcity of transportation, labor inspectors frequently found it difficult to conduct inspections in rural areas.
Child labor was a problem in agriculture, fisheries, domestic service, construction, farming, commercial sexual exploitation (see section 6, Children), quarrying, mining, and other sectors where children younger than age 15 often were employed. According to UNICEF, there was a high prevalence of child labor, mostly in domestic and agricultural sectors and mainly in rural areas. UNICEF noted discrepancies between the right to education and child labor laws in the country.
Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings , and the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods .
The new employment code prohibits employment discrimination on several basis (for example, sex, disability) but does not specifically prohibit such discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Some NGOs warned the new law was likely to have a negative impact on women as potential employers would see hiring them as a financial risk, since the increased maternity leave allowance provides for up to 14 weeks with full pay. Various organizations had policies that protected individuals with HIV/AIDS. Although the new employment code provides for maternity leave, it requires a worker be continuously employed for two years before being eligible for such leave. The law prohibits termination or imposition of any other penalty or disadvantage to an employee due to pregnancy.
The government did not consistently enforce the law. There were reports of discrimination against minority groups. Undocumented migrant workers are not protected by the law and faced discrimination in wages and working conditions.
Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to disability, sexual orientation, and gender identity. LGBTI persons were at times dismissed from employment or not hired because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Women’s wages lagged behind men’s, and training opportunities were less available for women. Women were much less likely to occupy managerial positions. Persons with disabilities faced significant societal discrimination in employment and education.
The law allows the Ministry of Labor and Social Security authority to set wages by sector; the category of employment determines the minimum wage and conditions of employment. The minimum wage categories, last revised in 2018, at the low end were slightly above World Bank poverty estimates for a lower-middle income country but lower than the Basic Needs Basket. The new employment code also provides sufficient penalties to deter violations, and the government made strides to improve enforcement. Nevertheless, compliance with the law remained a problem, the ILO reported.
Wage laws were not always effectively enforced, but the law prescribes penalties for violations of labor laws that are sufficient to deter violations. Every employer negotiates with employees their standard minimum wage. For unionized workers, wage scales and maximum workweek hours were established through collective bargaining. Almost all unionized workers received salaries considerably higher than the nonunionized minimum wage.
According to the law, the normal workweek should not exceed 48 hours. The standard workweek is 40 hours for office workers and 45 hours for factory workers. There are limits on excessive compulsory overtime, depending on the category of work. The law provides for overtime pay. Employers must pay employees who work more than 48 hours in one week (45 hours in some categories) for overtime hours at a rate of 1.5 times the hourly rate. Workers receive double the rate of their hourly pay for work done on a Sunday or public holiday. The law requires that workers earn two days of annual leave per month without limit.
The law regulates minimum occupational safety and health standards in industry. Both the Workers Compensation Fund Control Board (WCFCB) and the Ministry of Labor and Social Security stated that government occupational safety and health (OSH) standards were appropriate for the main industries. The law places on both workers and experts the duty to identify unsafe situations in a work environment. During the year the WCFCB conducted safety inspections in more than 102 employer sites and recorded 100 violations in OSH standards, mostly in the mining, construction, and agriculture sectors. These inspections generally showed a lack of compliance with procedures, nonprovision of personal protective equipment, and lack of pre- and postemployment medical examinations. According to the WCFCB, a risk assessment on dangerous work activities and pre-employment medical examinations of new employees–especially in Chinese-run mining operations–was nonexistent. The number of labor inspectors, moreover, was likely insufficient to enforce labor laws, including those covering children.
The work hour law and the safety and health standards were not effectively enforced in all sectors, including in the informal sector. Workers at some mines faced poor health and safety conditions and threats by managers if they tried to assert their rights. Miners developed serious lung disease, such as silicosis, due to poor ventilation and constant exposure to dust and chemicals.
The government engaged with mining companies and took some steps to improve working conditions in the mines. By law workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, but authorities did not effectively protect employees in these situations. Despite these legal protections, workers generally did not exercise the right to remove themselves from work situations that endangered their safety or health, and workers who protested working conditions often jeopardized their employment.
Violations of wage, overtime, or OSH standards were most common in the construction and mining sectors–particularly in Chinese-owned companies–and among domestic workers. Major industrial accidents during the year occurred in the mining, transport, agriculture, and commercial sectors. According to Zambia Central Statistical Office data published in June, approximately 31.6 percent of the labor force was employed in the formal sector, and approximately 68.4 percent was informally employed. The National Pension Scheme Authority implemented a program that extended social security to workers in the informal sector in five priority sectors: domestic workers, bus and taxi drivers, saw millers, marketers and traders, and small-scale farmers in the first phase of the project.
According to the WCFCB, the highest number of accidents occurred in the construction, agriculture, and mining sectors. The WCFCB reported that 36 of 392 accidents recorded during the year were fatal. Fatal industrial accidents included three workers who died on February 7 in an underground mine accident at Mopani Copper Mine (MCM) in Mufulira. The miners reportedly died of suffocation after inhaling smoke from a mine loader that caught fire after refueling. Preliminary investigations revealed the mine lacked safety features for miners operating underground. Two workers also died in another MCM accident on March 19, prompting the company to temporarily suspend production and investigate.