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Cabo Verde

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

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

Censorship or Content Restriction: Journalists practiced limited self-censorship, partly due to their desire eventually to work for public sector media and because of family and social connections that make investigative journalism difficult.

Internet Freedom

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Central African Republic

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression and the press. The government generally respected these rights.

Freedom of Speech: Public discussion and political debates were generally free from state authorities’ influence. In areas controlled by armed groups, freedom of expression, however, was inhibited due to the risk of retaliation by armed groups.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. All print media in the country were privately owned. Radio was the most widespread medium of mass communication. There were a number of alternatives to the state-owned radio station. Independent radio stations operated freely and broadcast organized debates and call-in talk shows that were critical of the government, the election process, ex-Seleka, and Anti-balaka militias. International media broadcast within the country. The High Commission for Communication is the regulatory body in charge of controlling the content of information broadcast or published in media. Opposition political candidates alleged that the state-owned media favored the existing administration during the presidential election campaign.

In August police briefly detained a journalist from the Association of Journalists for Human Rights radio station while she was investigating irregularities in the issuing of the national identification card. Also in August Henri Grothe, a blogger who resided in France and regularly criticized CAR authorities on social media, was briefly arrested and his passport confiscated upon his arrival at Bangui M’poko international airport. Grothe was released without any charge.

The government monopolized domestic television and national radio station broadcasting, with coverage typically favorable to government positions.

Nongovernmental Impact: In areas controlled by armed groups, freedom of expression was inhibited due to the risk of retaliation.

Internet Freedom

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The government denied a number of requests to protest that were submitted by civil society groups, citing insecurity in Bangui. In September the government denied the permit request made by the Civil Society Working Group (GTSC) to organize a ville morte (ghost city). The GTSC was demanding the arrest of Ali Darassa, UPC commander in chief, and the resignation of Prime Minister Firmin Ngrebada. To deter individuals from participating in the demonstration, the government deployed interior security forces and the presidential guards in the streets. Some GTSC representatives were briefly arrested. On October 13, the youth movement known as “4500,” which intended to demonstrate in front of the office of the judicial police regarding an increase in the cost of a national identification card, was prevented by police from holding its sit-in in Bangui. Three members of the movement were arrested by police and released shortly thereafter.

Freedom of Association

A law prohibiting nonpolitical organizations from uniting for political purposes remained in place.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Chad

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of opinion, expression, and press, but the government severely restricted these rights, according to Freedom House. Authorities used threats and prosecutions to curb critical reporting.

Freedom of Speech: The law prohibits “inciting racial, ethnic, or religious hatred,” which is punishable by up to two years in prison and fines.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and attempted to express a variety of views; however, authorities placed severe restrictions on them. The government subsidized Le Progres–the only daily newspaper–and owned the biweekly newspaper L’Info. Government and opposition newspapers had limited readership outside the capital due to low literacy rates and lack of distribution in rural areas.

Radio remained a critical source of information throughout the country. The government owned Chadian National Radio. Private stations faced high licensing fees. The number of community radio stations that operated outside of government control continued to grow, and radio call-in programs broadcast views of callers that included criticism of the government.

Violence and Harassment: Authorities reportedly harassed, threatened, arrested, and assaulted journalists for defamation. Local media reported that journalists faced regular arrest after publication, with most released fairly quickly, others held in detention for weeks or months, and some severely mistreated, particularly when articles discussed impunity or criticized the president and his associates. Human rights defenders and journalists were also threatened, harassed, and intimidated by anonymous individuals.

On November 27, security forces broke up an interview with “citizen forum” organizers at the headquarters of radio station FM Liberte. Police used tear gas and detained approximately 70 attendees of an unrelated journalism training class for several hours. On December 1, independent radio stations organized a protest “day without radio.”

In September 2019 a court convicted Inoua Martin Doulguet, editor in chief of the newspaper Salam Info, of “criminal conspiracy, complicity, defamation, and insult” for an article concerning an alleged sexual assault by a former minister. On May 5, an appeals court acquitted him for procedural and substantive errors by the lower court.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government penalized those who published items counter to government guidelines, sometimes by closing media outlets. According to Freedom House, private radio stations faced threat of closure for coverage critical of the government. Some journalists and publishers practiced self-censorship.

On June 8, the High Authority for Media and Broadcasting (HAMA) suspended newspaper Abba Garde for 12 months, alleging defamation, unprofessional conduct, false news, and ethical breaches. HAMA also banned its director Moussaye Avenir De la Tchire from working as a journalist for the same period. On June 9, the Convention of Private Press Entrepreneurs in Chad noted the HAMA suspension of Abba Garde and its director and stated there were no provisions under the law for a 12-month suspension for defamation or dissemination of false news, or the suspension of a journalist in the exercise of his profession for the same alleged offenses.

On August 27, the minister of communication, spokesperson for the government, visited the private television stations Electron TV and Alnassour TV and remarked private media remained privileged partners and must properly do their work of awareness raising, education, and entertainment. Observers considered this a warning to private media to avoid sensitive topics.

On September 7, HAMA suspended 12 newspapers for three months pursuant to the law requiring newspaper publishers and managing editors to possess a postgraduate degree in journalism. According to Reporters without Borders, the HAMA decision suspended approximately one-quarter of the country’s privately owned print media outlets.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel and slander are misdemeanors punishable by fines. Authorities arrested and detained persons for defamation.

Internet Freedom

The government restricted and disrupted access to the internet and directly censored online content, such as Facebook. There was widespread speculation the government monitored private online communications, blocked sites, and arrested activists for postings on social media.

In July the government banned social media throughout the country and cut internet access outside N’Djamena. This followed an incident the same month at the Champ de Fil market, where a member of the presidential guard allegedly killed a motorcycle mechanic and was subsequently rescued from an angry crowd after receiving a severe beating. The incident sparked critical commentary on social media, including calls for ethnic violence. On August 8, the president stated the government disrupted social media to prevent interethnic violence; he did not explain the restrictions to internet access. On October 2, authorities ended these restrictions. Throughout this period social media users in N’Djamena could access apps such as Facebook and WhatsApp with the use of a virtual private network.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

Although the constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly in limited circumstances, the government did not respect this right. The government regularly interfered with opposition protests and civil society gatherings. Authorities routinely banned gatherings and arrested organizers, and security forces used excessive force against demonstrators.

The law requires organizers to notify the Ministry of Public Security and Immigration five days in advance of demonstrations, although groups that provided advance notice did not always receive permission to assemble. The law also requires opposition political parties to meet complicated registration requirements for party gatherings.

Unlike in previous years, in January police peacefully escorted student protests for better conditions in university campuses.

Following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in March, the government banned meetings of more than 50 persons but selectively applied these restrictions to stifle political opposition.

As the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases dropped in June, the government eased restrictions on communal prayer but requested worshippers respect social distancing and use face coverings.

In October the government held a 600-person national forum to solicit and debate potential constitutional changes. Security forces encircled the headquarters of several opposition parties and civil society organizations and the homes of some opposition politicians during the forum to intimidate those who either boycotted or were not invited to the forum.

In November authorities banned an alternative “citizens’ forum,” citing COVID-19 restrictions limiting mass gatherings. In November and December, authorities banned efforts by opposition parties to hold assemblies or marches, also citing COVID-19 restrictions.

Freedom of Association

The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. While the law requires the Ministry of Public Security and Immigration to provide prior authorization before an association, including a labor union, may be formed, there were no reports the law was enforced. The law also allows for the immediate administrative dissolution of an association and permits authorities to monitor association funds. In late 2018 authorities modified the regulation on NGOs to exert greater control over development and humanitarian activities, requiring NGOs to contribute 1 percent of their budget to the “functioning of the structures of the Ministry of Planning.”

Authorities denied recognition to some opposition political groups (see section 3, Political Parties and Political Participation)

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Côte d’Ivoire

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, but the government restricted both rights.

Freedom of Speech: The law prohibits incitement to violence, ethnic hatred, and rebellion, as well as insulting the head of state or other senior members of the government. Sometimes the government took steps to remove such content from social media, including in January when an anonymous Facebook user called for deadly violence against Roman Catholics. Other times the practical application of this law raised questions of political influence. In August, Edith Gbalet Pulcherie, a civil society organization leader, used social media to call for demonstrations against President Ouattara’s intention to seek a third term of office. Several opposition parties and individuals also called for demonstrations for the same purpose. Several demonstrations occurred around the country shortly thereafter, some of which degenerated into riots. Pulcherie and three other members of that organization were arrested and charged with inciting those riots, as well as with disturbing public order, calling for insurrection, violence and assault, and destruction of public and private property. The government cited the accused’s social media posts calling for protests, but no further evidence, to substantiate the charges.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: The independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. The law bans “detention of journalists in police custody, preventive detention, and imprisonment of journalists for offense committed by means of press or by others means of publication.” The law, however, provides for substantial fines for anybody found guilty of committing offenses by means of press or by others means of publication.

Newspapers aligned politically with the opposition frequently published editorials condemning the government. Journalistic standards were flouted by regime and opposition-aligned media outlets, sometimes leading to allegations of defamation, and subsequent counterallegations that opposition media were more likely to be charged for that offense.

The High Audiovisual Communications Authority oversees the regulation and operation of radio and television stations and is generally viewed as supportive of the government and more likely to impose sanctions on media close to the opposition. Opposition groups and civil society criticized the government’s control over the main state-owned television station, claiming it gave far more coverage to the ruling party’s political activities. There were numerous independent radio stations. The law prohibits transmission of political commentary by community radio stations, but the regulatory authority allows community radio stations to run political programs if they employ professional journalists. The owners of these stations, however, reported they often self-censored and avoided broadcasting political content, such as political debates and interviews with political leaders, because they feared being sanctioned or shut down by the communications authority.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists were sometimes subjected to violence, harassment, or intimidation by authorities due to their reporting.

On March 25, Sindou Cisse and Marc Dossa, two journalists affiliated with Generations Nouvelles, an opposition-aligned newspaper, were found guilty of publishing “fake news” when they reported on the existence of COVID-19 cases in prisons. They were sentenced to substantial fines.

On March 31, a court sentenced Vamara Coulibaly, director of publication of the newspaper Soir Info, and Paul Koffi, director of publication for the newspaper Nouveau Reveil, to substantial fines for spreading false news when they printed a letter on March 29 from lawyers for arrested opposition Member of Parliament Alain Lobognon in which they complained about prison conditions in which their client was being held.

In May media reported security officials had beaten Claude Dasse, a journalist investigating a rumored prisoner extortion scheme by officials at the country’s main prison. When Dasse arrived at the prison for a scheduled interview with the warden, he was instead met by a prison official implicated in the investigation. The official reportedly had guards beat Dasse and hold him in a prison cell for several hours. Before releasing Dasse, the official reportedly warned him he would be killed if he reported the encounter. Although Dasse alleged that an investigation opened by the local prosecutor established that he had been assaulted and held against his will, authorities had taken no further action on the case as of December.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government influenced news coverage and program content on television channels and public and private radio stations. Both independent journalists and journalists affiliated with the state-owned media said they regularly exercised self-censorship to avoid sanctions or reprisals from government officials. The National Press Authority, the government’s print media regulatory body, briefly suspended or reprimanded newspapers and journalists for statements it contended were false, libelous, or perceived to incite xenophobia and hate. Human rights organizations reported legal intimidation had a chilling effect on media coverage of certain topics, and media often only believed themselves to be secure publishing stories critical of the government after the same reporting had appeared in international publications.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel deemed to threaten the national interest is punishable by six months to five years in prison and substantial fines.

In March the gendarmerie summoned Yacouba Gbane and Barthelemy Tehin, two journalists working for an opposition-aligned newspaper, for questioning in connection with an editorial alleging government corruption. The journalists were charged, prosecuted, and found guilty of defaming the state the same day. Each was subjected to a substantial fine.

Internet Freedom

There were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but the government sometimes restricted the freedom of peaceful assembly.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The law provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, but the government did not always respect this right. The law requires groups that wish to hold demonstrations or rallies in stadiums or other enclosed spaces to submit a written notice to the government at least three days before the proposed event. The organizers must receive the government’s authorization in order to proceed.

Numerous opposition political parties reported denials of their requests to hold political meetings and alleged inconsistent standards for granting public assembly permits. Several human rights organizations affirmed the routine unequal treatment of opposition political parties and reported that opposition political party gatherings were sometimes dispersed with excessive force by security personnel.

In December 2019 some local authorities prohibited public demonstrations through early January, shortly before two opposition-planned marches and political gatherings across the country. In August the government suspended demonstrations on public roads through mid-September (later extended through November 1), following a spate of protests opposing President Ouattara’s decision to run for a third term.

Protests in various locations in response to President Ouattara’s candidacy turned violent, and protesters clashed with both police and other civilian supporters. Human rights organizations alleged that, during one anti-Ouattara protest in August, security forces in Abidjan allowed groups of civilian men, some armed with machetes and sticks, to attack demonstrators, seriously injuring one person. Security authorities announced an investigation into those attacks.

On October 19, the Student and Scholastic Federation of Cote d’Ivoire, called a 72-hour strike to protest school fees. At the Abidjan campus of the Felix Houphouet-Boigny University, the strike included violent clashes between student federation members and machete wielding nonstudent youth, leaving several injured.

In mid-November the government reported that several investigations confirmed that, since August, 85 persons had been killed, 484 injured, and 225 arrested in connection with election-related protests or clashes, many of them between groups of supporters of rival political parties. Some of those arrested included protesters marching peacefully but without government authorization.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Equatorial Guinea

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, the government has extensive legal powers to restrict media activities. The government restricted journalistic activity through prepublication censorship. Media remained weak and under government influence or control. Most journalists practiced self-censorship. Those who did not were subject to government surveillance, arrests, and threats.

Freedom of Speech: Individuals generally chose not to criticize the president, his family, other high-ranking officials, and security forces due to fear of reprisal. The government attempted to impede criticism by continuing to monitor the activities of opposition members, journalists, and others. In some cases authorities publicly reprimanded individuals, removed them from their jobs, or both. For example the then minister of health publicly insulted a nurse who privately criticized the government’s initial response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The government owned the only national radio and television broadcast system, Radio-Television of Equatorial Guinea. Vice President Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue owned the only private broadcast media, Television Asonga and Asonga Radio. Journalists who worked for these entities could not report freely.

The government denied or left pending requests by political parties to establish private radio stations. Satellite broadcasts were widely available, including the French-language Africa24 television channel, which the government partially owned.

International news agencies did not have correspondents or regular stringers in the country. As most foreigners need visas to visit the country, the time-consuming nature of the process effectively dissuaded some journalists from travelling, although international media covered major events. In other cases the government may have prevented reporters from obtaining visas.

Violence and Harassment: Security forces detained, intimidated, and harassed journalists. The government took no steps to preserve the safety and independence of media or to prosecute individuals who harassed journalists.

In January the then minister of information, press, and radio fired Pamela Nze, host of the government TVGE’s morning news program A Fondo, and transferred the other members of her team from their reporting positions on short notice for not sufficiently supporting the government. In May the vice president’s privately owned television station suspended, then fired seven journalists of the talk show Buenos Dias Guinea for criticizing the excessive force used by military and police officers to enforce restrictions during the COVID-19 lockdown.

During the legislative and municipal elections in 2017, the government censored all international channels.

Libel/Slander Laws: The government used laws against libel and slander, both of which are criminalized, to restrict public discussion.

Internet Freedom

The government restricted and disrupted access to the internet and censored online content. During the 2017 legislative and municipal elections, the government blocked all access to the internet for approximately 10 days. Access to Facebook and opposition blogs Diario Rombe and Radio Macuto continued to be generally restricted.

Users attempting to access political opposition sites were redirected to the government’s official press website or received a message that the websites did not exist. WhatsApp and the internet were the primary ways that the opposition expressed and disseminated their views.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, although the constitution and law provide for these freedoms. The government imposed many additional restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The constitution and law provide for the right of peaceful assembly, but regulatory provisions effectively undermined this right, and the government routinely restricted freedom of assembly, including for political parties (see section 3 Political Parties and Political Participation). The government frequently dispersed peaceful, preapproved public gatherings if a participant asked a question that could be construed as criticism of the government or the Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea (PDGE).

During the 2017 legislative and municipal electoral campaign season, authorities closely monitored and tightly controlled public gatherings. Political parties required government authorization to hold rallies. The PDGE received preferential treatment. For example authorities prohibited other political parties from campaigning in a location at the same time as the PDGE. On election day security forces prevented voters from forming large groups (see section 3).

Freedom of Association

The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, but the government severely restricted this right. All political parties, labor unions, and other associations must register with the government, but the registration process was costly, burdensome, opaque, and slow.

Politically motivated crackdowns on civil society organizations remained a problem, including the temporary detention of civil society activists without charge. The government was slow to authorize NGOs, especially those that worked in areas considered sensitive by the government, including human rights or those with members associated with opposition parties. The lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) association Somos Parte del Mundo (We are Part of the World) was still not registered after submitting their request in 2016. The legally established period for government approval is two months.

The law prohibits the formation of political parties along ethnic lines. Only one labor organization was believed to be registered (see section 7.a.). Some parties have been unable to register for years (see section 3, Political Parties and Political Representation).

The law limits the amount of funding civil society organizations can receive from foreign sources to approximately 53,000 CFA francs ($90) per year. The government also pressured NGOs, especially those focused on human rights, through both overt and covert means (see section 5). For example, in July 2019 the minister of the interior and local corporations published a decree revoking the charter of the Center for Development Studies and Initiatives in Equatorial Guinea (CEIDGE) because authorities accused it of undertaking political activities (see section 5). CEIDGE was one of the few independent NGOs that denounced human rights abuses in the country. As of November they remained suspended, despite their efforts to appeal the decision.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Gabon

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. According to the revised penal code, conviction of contempt of the president or of any government official “committed anywhere, on any occasion, or by any means,” is punishable by six months’ to five years’ imprisonment and monetary fines. Employing its authority under the communications code, the High Authority of Communication (HAC) suspended eight print, radio, and online media outlets for libel and slander, including the radio station Radio Generation Nouvelle.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active, but authorities occasionally used libel and slander laws to restrict media criticism of the government. The country’s sole daily newspaper, LUnion, was progovernment. All newspapers, including government-affiliated ones, criticized the government and political leaders of both opposition and progovernment parties. The country had both progovernment and opposition-affiliated broadcast media.

Violence and Harassment: There were no cases of journalists being harassed or intimidated, although some journalists reported they received anonymous instructions or calls from persons suspected of being connected with the government not to report on certain issues.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Most newspaper owners had either a progovernment or a pro-opposition political bias. Print journalists practiced occasional self-censorship to placate progovernment owners. In April HAC suspended the online daily Gabon Media Time for three months because it published an article authorities considered libelous.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel and slander may be treated as either criminal or civil offenses. Editors and authors of articles ruled libelous in a court of law may be jailed for two to six months and required to pay substantial fines. Penalties for conviction of libel, disrupting public order, and other offenses also include a one- to three-month publishing suspension for a first offense and three- to six-month suspension for repeat offenses.

There was evidence that in several cases libel laws were applied to discourage or punish critical coverage of the government. For example, on January 16, HAC banned distribution of all copies of an edition of the newspaper Moutouki that included criticism of the coordinator of presidential affairs. On August 19, HAC suspended the online Kongossa News for one month for commentary it deemed critical of the president’s independence day celebration speech.

Internet Freedom

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association; however, the law places restrictions on freedom of assembly. The government limited freedom of peaceful assembly but not freedom of association.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

Some civil society activists stated they did not submit requests to hold public meetings because they expected the government would deny them. They added that authorities prevented opposition gatherings by routinely refusing to approve permits or by blocking access to planned meeting spaces. For example, on February 5, authorities prevented Dynamique Unitaire union leaders from holding a meeting at their headquarters. Some civil society activists stated that while authorities prevented opposition groups from hosting meetings due to COVID-19 restrictions, it did not prevent progovernment groups from meeting. According to pastor and civil society activist Georges Bruno Ngoussi, he was arrested, and his passport withheld for three months, for hosting a meeting that authorities asserted was in violation of COVID-19 restrictions, despite the fact that all COVID-19 provisions had been met. Ngoussi stated that the intended purpose of the meeting was to plan a protest demonstration against the government’s decision to decriminalize same-sex sexual conduct.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Gambia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

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

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. Nevertheless, on January 26, police closed local radio stations King and Home Digital FM. Police arrested and charged the stations’ owners and managers with broadcasting incendiary messages and inciting violence, and police held them for more than 48 hours before their release on bail. Ministry of Justice prosecutors found no factual basis on which to support the charges and dismissed them. The stations’ broadcasting licenses were suspended for one month.

Internet Freedom

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected the right of peaceful association. Nevertheless, there were restrictions placed on the right of peaceful assembly.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

By law the Gambia Police Force must grant a permit for all public meetings and gatherings. The inspector general of police has the authority to approve or disapprove permits and is required to communicate his decision to the requester in writing. Requests are generally approved unless there is concern regarding the peaceful nature of a proposed protest. Due to training provided by the government of France, security forces’ capability to employ effective, nonviolent crowd-control techniques improved during the year.

Media reported that on January 26, police arrested 137 demonstrators during a protest organized by the Three Years Jotna Movement that began peacefully but turned violent. A total of 131 police and protesters were injured. The Three Years Jotna Movement called for the president to honor the commitment he made during his 2016 campaign to step down after three years, with some persons affiliated with the movement advocating violence to forcibly remove the president from office. Violence erupted when a group of protesters allegedly deviated from the negotiated area approved by authorities for the protest and police moved to disperse protesters. Police used tear gas against stone throwing protesters, a small group of whom set fire to a bus-stop shelter. Most injuries suffered by protesters were respiratory due to tear gas; however, some protesters and police sustained serious lacerations from thrown rocks and debris. On January 26, protest organizers Abdou Njie, Ebrima Kitim Jarju, Sheriff Sonko, Hagi Suwaneh, Fanta Mballow, Karim Touray, Yankuba Darboe, and Muctarr Ceesay were charged with unlawful assembly and rioting. On February 24, the protest organizers were released on bail. At year’s end they had yet to be tried.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Guinea

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, but there were multiple reports of government efforts to intimidate the press and restrict press freedom.

In July the National Assembly passed legislation revising the composition and organization of the High Authority of Communication (HAC). Under the old law, the HAC president was elected by a group of peer commissioners, while under the new law the HAC president is appointed by presidential decree. Media criticized the new law and feared the HAC would be subservient to the office of the president.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent and opposition-owned media were active and generally expressed a wide variety of views. Print media had limited reach. Radio remained the most important source of information for the public, and numerous private stations broadcast throughout the country. FM radio call-in shows were popular and allowed citizens to express broad discontent with the government. An increase in online news websites reflected the growing demand for divergent views. Nevertheless, allegations against or criticism of the government or ruling party could result in government reprisals, including suspensions, fines, and arrests.

Violence and Harassment: There were reports of arbitrary arrests, harassment, and intimidation of journalists by government officials.

On March 6, police arrested and assaulted French journalist Thomas Dietrich while he filmed a police crackdown on an opposition demonstration in Conakry. Police took him immediately to the airport and deported him. The HAC accused him of interfering in domestic political activities.

On July 18, police arrested journalist Habib Marouane Kamara in Conakry and took him to the office of the director of judicial police (DPJ) where he was questioned for several hours. According to his lawyer, Kamara was earlier sued for defamation and blackmail following a complaint by the new director of the water supply company Societe des Eaux de Guinee (Guinea Water Company–SEG). Kamara had criticized the appointments of SEG executives, which included the CEO’s wife, on his Facebook page. The Union of Private Press Professionals denounced his arrest and the lack of a judicial summons. Authorities released Kamara after two nights in police custody.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government penalized media outlets and journalists who broadcasted items criticizing government officials and their actions. Some journalists accused government officials of attempting to influence the tone of their reporting.

On June 29, the DPJ summoned the chairmen of three private radio stations and directed them to stop broadcasting a radio advertisement supporting the FNDC’s opposition to the proposed new constitution and a third term for President Alpha Conde. The DPJ also directed the chairmen to provide information concerning who within FNDC approved the advertisement. The chairmen complied with the decision of the HAC and halted broadcast of the advertisement. According to media sources, a decision by the HAC to ban the advertisements allegedly originated from the Inter-Ministerial Council and the National Assembly president, who claimed that the advertisement would disturb public order.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel against the head of state, slander, and false reporting are criminal offenses subject to imprisonment up to five years and heavy fines. Officials used these laws to harass opposition leaders and journalists. Journalists alleged the defamation lawsuits targeted persons critical of the government to silence dissent.

National Security: Authorities used the law to punish journalists and executives at media outlets critical of the government. In October 2019 authorities detained for several hours two al-Jazeera journalists, Nicolas Haque, al-Jazeera chief of bureau in Dakar, Senegal, and cameraman Hugo Bogaeert, accusing them of spying, endangering state security, and producing ethnocentric reports. Upon their release police forced them to leave the country.

Internet Freedom

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

The government did, however, monitor social media platforms and exploited the law to punish journalists for posting or sharing information critical of the government. In March widespread internet disruptions occurred starting the day before the polls opened for the legislative election and constitutional referendum until the day after the polls closed. The director of internet service provider GUILAB SA, who is appointed by the minister of posts, telecommunications and digital economy, announced the disruption was due to maintenance. The government owned 52.55 percent of GUILAB.

On October 23, authorities suspended all cell phone data and international calling, and blocked various social media platforms. The government stated it suspended these services in response to postelectoral violence. Cell phone data and international calling services were restored several days later. Full social media access was restored in December.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but the government routinely barred public protests.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, but the government restricted this right. The law bans any meeting that has an ethnic or racial character or any gathering “whose nature threatens national unity.” The government requires a 72-working-hour advance notification for public gatherings. The law permits prohibition of demonstrations or meetings if local authorities believe the events pose a threat to public order. Authorities may also hold event organizers criminally liable if violence or destruction of property occurs.

Authorities demonstrated a lack of impartiality following the March state of emergency ban on large gatherings to counter the spread of COVID-19. Organizations affiliated with the governing party gathered and organized meetings to support the government, while authorities banned opposition protests, particularly in the postelectoral period from October to December.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Guinea-Bissau

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech, including for the press; however, the government did not always respect this right. Since Sissoco’s self-inauguration in late February, the United Nations and media watchdogs reported multiple acts of intimidation against media, including state-owned media outlets.

Government failure to investigate or prosecute attacks on human rights defenders and peaceful protesters led to de facto restrictions on freedom of expression, assembly, and association.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. There were several private newspapers in addition to the government-owned newspaper No Pintcha, but the state-owned printing house published all of them. Journalists working for state-owned media, however, did not operate freely, and internal censorship was common.

Violence and Harassment: The government took no steps to preserve the safety and independence of media or to prosecute individuals who threatened journalists. Intimidation and harassment of journalist and media outlets increased during the year. For example, after the Guinea-Bissau Television (TGB) did not broadcast Sissoco’s unofficial inauguration in February, soldiers occupied both TGB and Nacional Broadcast Radio and prevented them from operating until new directors were appointed in March. In July armed men in uniform attacked the private radio station Radio Capital and destroyed equipment. The government and some international organizations such as ECOWAS and the African Union criticized the act, but the government took no steps to find those responsible, which contributed to a de facto restriction on freedom of speech.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: There were cases of censorship in public media. Political considerations often caused journalists to self-censor news content.

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored online communications without appropriate legal authority. President Sissoco announced on July 7 that intelligence services would use equipment acquired from abroad to begin monitoring citizen communications and “call to justice” anyone who insulted or defamed another resident of the country. As of December there was no evidence that government had begun monitoring citizen communications.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association; the government, however, failed to respect these rights.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The law provides for freedom of assembly and association, but the government did not consistently respect the law. Impunity for security forces contributed to an environment of intimidation that restricted freedom of assembly.

In October 2019 opposition parties protested the organization of the presidential election. During the protest a body was found at an opposition party headquarters under unclear circumstances, with protesters claiming the death resulted from police actions. The Ministry of Interior’s investigation found that the body belonged to Demba Balde, leader of the Party for Social Renewal. The Parliamentary Investigation Committee continued investigating the case at year’s end.

In 2018 the Movement of Nonconforming Citizens filed a complaint against the government with the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice for violation of freedom of peaceful protest. The investigation continued as of year’s end.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Liberia

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 generally respected these rights, although with some unofficial limits.

Freedom of Speech: Individuals could generally criticize the government publicly or privately, but government officials used civil libel and slander laws to place limits on freedom of speech, and self-censorship was widespread. Some media outlets avoided criticizing government officials due to fears of legal sanction and potential loss of government advertising, which, according to the PUL, was the largest source of media revenue. Other outlets avoided addressing sensitive human rights issues such as female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C). Court decisions against journalists sometimes involved exorbitant fines.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. According to the PUL, civil suits relating to libel, slander, and defamation were sometimes used to curtail freedom of expression and intimidate the press. The PUL also expressed concern that media outlets owned directly by politicians and government officials were crowding out privately owned media and advocated for legislation to prohibit ownership of media by public officials.

Violence and Harassment: Government officials occasionally harassed newspaper and radio station owners, as well as individual journalists, because of their political opinions and reporting.

On January 23, Police assaulted journalist Christopher Walker, a sports editor for Front Page Africa, at a soccer stadium, according to the PUL. Walker told the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) that he was standing with other journalists in the assigned media area when two police officers approached him and demanded he leave the area despite having the proper press accreditation. The two officers then grabbed and shoved Walker while several other officers, including members of the Police Support Unit wearing helmets and body armor, pushed and shoved him to the ground. According to some media sources, Walker was targeted because of an article he wrote that accused the Youth and Sports Ministry of fixing a soccer match to favor the team from Grand Kru County, President George Weah’s home county. Walker’s article alleged Weah had requested the fix. In February, LNP spokesperson Moses Carter told the CPJ that the names of three implicated officers had been forwarded to the police force’s professional standards division for investigation.

National Security Agency and Liberia Drug Enforcement Agency officials attacked or otherwise intimidated at least four journalists–Charles Bioma Yates, Joel Cholo Brooks, Frank Wornbers Payne, and Molley Trojan Kiazolu–in March and April while they reported on the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the CPJ and the PUL.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Although generally able to express a wide variety of views, some journalists practiced self-censorship to avoid harassment. Journalists and media directors also practiced self-censorship to maintain advertising revenue from the government, the largest advertiser in the country. There were several reports that politicians and government agencies offered “transportation fees” to journalists to secure coverage of events. Some media outlets, journalists, and broadcasters charged fees to publish articles or host radio programs.

From approximately February to August 2019, the radio show of government critic Henry Costa was frequently unavailable. On several occasions the broadcast seemed to feature older, progovernment clips, leading to speculation by some that the station was being jammed or otherwise interfered with. In reaction Costa made several comments in his Facebook Live broadcasts about using force to defend himself should any agent of the government try to cause him harm. The government’s reactions to these and other broadcasts from Costa, which the government deemed as inciting violence, included a suspension of Roots FM’s broadcast license due to nonpayment of fees and inciting violence. In October 2019 sheriffs from the Monrovia Magisterial Court, escorted by armed police units with a “search and seizure” writ issued by the court at the request of Solicitor General Saymah Cyrenius Cephus, stormed the Roots FM studio, shut down Costa’s broadcast, and seized the station’s broadcasting equipment. At year’s end Costa was broadcasting via social media from an overseas location.

Following the government’s declaration of a state of emergency on April 8 related to the COVID-19 pandemic, Solicitor General Cephus threatened on April 29 to seize the equipment and revoke the license of any media institution spreading “fake news,” arguing that the state of emergency suspended rights associated with freedom of speech. In April, Eugene Fahngon, deputy minister of information, cultural affairs, and tourism, introduced a new media credentialing system, declared existing credentials void, and stated that any journalists who did not use the new credentials would be subject to action by security services. At the time of the state of emergency, the PUL stated that “using the state of emergency to curtail other freedoms violates constitutional rights.” The required use of new media credentials ended on July 21, when the government lifted the state of emergency.

Libel/Slander Laws: In February 2019 criminal libel and slander laws were repealed with the passage of the Kamara Abdullah Kamara Act of Press Freedom. Nonetheless, government officials occasionally used the threat of civil suits to intimidate critics. In April 2019 Minister of State for Presidential Affairs Nathaniel McGill filed a $500,000 defamation suit against Roots FM and its radio hosts Henry Costa and Fidel Saydee, alleging the two radio personalities “slandered, badmouthed, vandalized, and vilified” McGill by accusing him of financial impropriety. Both the Media Foundation for West Africa and Center for Media Studies and Peace Building urged Minister McGill to withdraw the suit, which was later dropped.

In July, Sinoe Country Senator J. Milton Teahjay filed a $4.7 million libel suit against the Front Page Africa newspaper for publishing an investigation alleging that Teahjay received a $20,000 bribe to confirm Ndubusi Nwabudike as the chairperson of the National Elections Commission. A recording also emerged in which a voice allegedly belonging to Teahjay stated that he expected the nominees he confirmed to give jobs to one or two of his recommended applicants. According to the newspaper, in October, Civil Law Court Judge Kennedy Peabody mandated that both parties present pretrial memoranda to set the stage for a jury trial, stating it would take a jury to determine whether libel had occurred as alleged in Senator Teahjay’s complaint. The trial was pending at year’s end.

The PUL continued efforts to self-regulate the media and ensure adherence to standards, including investigation and settlement of complaints against or by the press. The union’s National Media Council, launched in 2017 to address court cases against the media, continued to mediate cases during the year.

Internet Freedom

Unlike in the previous year, the government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet during the year. In July 2019 in the lead-up to and during a planned protest, the government blocked usage of both Orange and Lonestar Cell MTN, the two mobile networks in the country. When protesters dispersed, access was restored.

There were no additional reports the government censored online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

There were reports of government officials threatening legal action and filing civil lawsuits in attempts to censor protected internet-based speech and intimidate content creators.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

A variety of civil society groups conducted demonstrations throughout the year, including outside the legislature and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In some cases the Ministry of Justice requested that organizers of mass protests apply for permits before assembling in areas that would block traffic. The LNBA and INCHR stated the constitution and law requires prior notification, not application for a permit, to allow the government time to provide sufficient security to protect free assembly, and that a permitting process could restrict freedom of assembly. Many observers said the relevant laws and regulations required clarification.

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/international-religious-freedom-reports/. https://www.state.gov/international-religious-freedom-reports/

Madagascar

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, but these “may be limited by respect for the freedoms and rights of others, and by the imperative of safeguarding public order, national dignity, and state security.” The government sometimes restricted these rights. The law includes several provisions limiting freedom of speech and expression, including broad powers of the government to deny media licenses to political opponents, seize equipment, and impose fines.

Freedom of Speech: In accordance with the constitution, the law restricts individuals’ ability to criticize the government publicly.

The government arrested journalists and activists who publicly denounced the misbehavior of public figures. The government often used unrelated charges to prosecute these journalists and activists. Most government actions to restrict freedom of expression occurred within the context of the national response to COVID-19, with journalists arrested or harassed for reporting failures of government officials to combat the disease effectively.

On March 24, acting under the national health emergency decree, the Ministry of Communication and Culture ordered the suspension of all radio programs that allowed the public to call in during live programs. In April, Reporters without Borders noted this was an infringement of the freedom of expression. This notice also required all audiovisual companies to broadcast live a daily program providing official communications from the government’s COVID-19 operation center. The ministry announced in October that all radio programs could resume their live call-in programs.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views, but not without restriction. The law contains several articles limiting press and media freedoms. For example the law requires the owner of a media company to be the chief publisher. This article may permit candidates for political office, who are also media owners, to use their outlets to advocate against opponents.

The law gives the communications ministry far-reaching powers to suspend media licenses and seize property of media outlets if one of their journalists commits two infractions of the law. The law allows only state-owned radio and television stations the right to broadcast nationally, although this limitation was not always enforced.

The country has numerous independent newspapers. More than 300 radio and television stations operated in the country, although many shifted to live call-in shows in recent years to distance themselves from editorial responsibility for content. Many of them continued to have a national audience, despite the law’s limitations. The opposition had greater access to state-run media.

Violence and Harassment: There were several reports of journalists being harassed for criticizing the government and public services.

On April 4, the government arrested journalist Rahelisoa Arphine, the publication manager of an online journal frequently sympathetic to the opposition, for defamatory speech against the president. On social media Arphine had accused the president of responsibility for citizens’ deaths because of inadequate COVID-19 measures. Over the next month, the court of Antananarivo rejected several requests for temporary release to await trial despite public appeals by the Union of Journalists and Amnesty International. The president ordered Arphine’s release without announcing any charges in early May.

In May authorities in the government-run COVID-19 operations center summoned a correspondent of newspaper lExpress after the newspaper published an article reporting a confirmed case in Toliara. During the investigation a gendarmerie colonel verbally threatened the journalist and ordered her not to publish similar items.

On July 30, Antananarivo mayor Naina Andriantsitohaina ordered media company MBS to leave its leased government property within six months. Nonpayment of the lease, the only reason to terminate the agreement, had not occurred. MBS was owned by former president Marc Ravalomanana.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists practiced self-censorship, and authors generally published books of a political nature abroad.

In May, African Media Barometer reported that journalists in the country believed they needed to be careful regarding what they said or published due to arrests and lawsuits. Claiming censorship, Member of Parliament Brunelle Razafitsiandraofa in June stated that the minister of communications prevented the broadcast of an interview that Razafitsiandraofa held with the public television channel.

On the night of April 6 to 7, unknown persons damaged the transmitter and antenna of Real TV, although the facility was guarded by soldiers, according to Reporters without Borders. Real TV had planned to rebroadcast a March 25 interview with former president Ravalomanana in which he criticized the government’s COVID-19 response. Real TV remained off the air for several days.

Libel/Slander Laws: Although defamation is not a criminal offense in the communications code, a separate cybercrime law allows for the charge of criminal defamation for anything published online. It is unclear whether the cyber criminality law, which includes prison sentences for online defamation, has precedence over the communications code, since all newspapers are also published online. The fines allowed for offenses under the communications code are many times higher than the average journalist’s annual salary.

There were several reports of government authorities using libel, slander, or defamation laws to restrict public discussion. Journalists and citizens faced police investigation and legal prosecution for defamation and infringement of public order for posting criticism of government performance and public services on social media.

National Security: Authorities cited the need to protect national security when deterring criticism of government policies on COVID-19.

On August 25, media reported that the gendarmerie arrested 20 Facebook users for cybercrime during the March-to-August health emergency period. The gendarmerie accused them of spreading false news and defamation, allegedly “destabilizing” acts, and “threats to state security.” Half of the accused were in pretrial detention; the others were released without charges. Authorities also arrested more prominent figures on similar grounds, such as the well known singer Rolf.

Actions to Expand Freedom of Expression, Including for Media: In August the High Constitutional Court upheld prohibitions on the publication of information discussed during closed-door meetings, although it stressed these situations should be rare, and it declared unconstitutional previous limits on publishing reports or other documents created by government institutions.

Internet Freedom

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

The law prohibits insulting or defaming a government official online. According to Reporters without Borders, “the law’s failure to define what is meant by ‘insult’ or ‘defamation’ leaves room for very broad interpretation and major abuses.” The law provides for punishment of two to five years’ imprisonment and fines for defamation.

Public access to the internet was limited mainly to urban areas. Political groups, parties, and activists used the internet extensively to advance their agendas, share news, and criticize other parties. Observers generally considered the internet (not including social media) to be among the more reliable sources of information.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution and law provide for peaceful assembly and association, but the government restricted peaceful assembly.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The constitution and law provide for freedom of peaceful assembly, but authorities often restricted this right. The government required all public demonstrations to have official authorization from municipalities and police prefectures, but these rarely gave authorization to opposition parties. Security forces regularly impeded opposition gatherings throughout the country and used excessive force to disperse demonstrators.

Several times security forces used tear gas and discharged their weapons into the air to disperse demonstrations by university students, supporters of political opponents, and other groups. There were several demonstrations held by different groups protesting the restrictive measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Demonstrators generally retaliated by throwing stones at security forces or set up roadblocks, which often resulted in injuries and arrests.

On July 13, a number of individuals demonstrated in Ambohipo, Antananarivo, to demand the release of Berija Ravelomanantsoa, a university student movement leader arrested in June (see section 1.e., Political Prisoners). Security forces dispersed the demonstrators and removed roadblocks set up by the protesters. Security forces arrested three demonstrators for disturbing the peace, holding unauthorized rallies, and infringing health emergency measures.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Mali

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, but the government occasionally restricted those rights.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views with some restrictions. There was generally good public access to private radio stations and newspapers. In July, when tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets, state-owned media coverage was minimal; however, coverage by private media was ample. On December 18, the transition government declared a state of emergency related to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a letter sent from the Ministry of Territorial Administration to regional and local authorities, this state of emergency granted authorities the power to take “all necessary measures” to control the press, social media, and all nature of publications, including radio and television broadcasts (see also section 1.e, Political Prisoners and Detainees).

Financial considerations also skewed press coverage. Most media outlets had limited resources. Journalists’ salaries were extremely low, and many outlets could not pay the transportation costs for their journalists to attend media events. Journalists often asked event organizers to pay their transportation costs, and the terms “transportation money” and “per diem” were euphemisms for a pay-for-coverage system, with better financed organizations often receiving more favorable press coverage.

Violence and Harassment: The media environment in Bamako and the rest of the south was relatively open, although there were sporadic reports of censorship and threats against journalists. According to Reporters without Borders, a reporter for the newspaper LIndependant was briefly arrested after reporting on the COVID-19 epidemic in the country. Reporting on the situation in the North remained dangerous due to the presence of active armed groups. Journalists had difficulty obtaining military information deemed sensitive by the government and often were unable to gain access to northern locations due to the security situation.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The High Authority for Communication, the country’s media regulator, is the only authority empowered to issue legal rulings on media content.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law imposes fines and prison sentences for conviction of defamation. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ami Maiga filed a complaint against two journalists of Ouverture Media who alleged Maiga knowingly boarded a plane from France to the country while “infected with COVID-19.” On September 30, the two defendants were convicted of defamation. They received substantial monetary fines and were ordered to pay damages to Maiga of six million CFA ($10,400).

National Security: The law criminalizes offenses such as undermining state security, demoralizing the armed forces, offending the head of state, sedition, and consorting with the enemy. In late December, five prominent figures were arrested for allegedly conspiring to destabilize the transition government. On December 31, the public prosecutor’s office announced that six individuals were under investigation for “plotting against the government” and “offending the head of state.” Those facing charges included the five who were arrested, including a popular radio presenter, as well as Boubou Cisse, former president Keita’s prime minister, whose whereabouts were unknown, according to the public prosecutor.

Internet Freedom

During the July protests, the government restricted and interrupted internet access across the country. In its November report focused on human rights abuses committed during those protests, MINUSMA’s HRPD noted that various social media platforms, including Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, and messaging applications Messenger and WhatsApp, were rendered inaccessible on the Orange and Malitel networks during the protests. The internet freedom NGO, NetBlocks, similarly reported that amid the antigovernment protests between July 10 and July 15, social media and messaging were restricted. The Malian Association of Online Press Professionals condemned the disruption.

There were no credible reports suggesting the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly, but the government did not always respect this freedom. From June to August, antigovernment protesters organized several demonstrations demanding increased government transparency and the resignation of then president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita following the Constitutional Court’s announcement of final legislative election results, which overturned the provisional results of at least 30 seats. According to several reports, state security forces were deployed to disperse protesters and, in some instances, looters. Several media outlets, human rights organizations, and MINUSMA’s HRPD reported the use of live ammunition as well as tear gas by security forces and accused them of using excessive and deadly force (see section 1.a.).

In conjunction with the protests and calls for civil disobedience, several leaders of the M5-RFP movement were arrested and detained at the Gendarmerie Camp I for at least 48 hours. MINUSMA’s HRPD reported that during the July 10-13 protests, at least 200 persons were arrested and detained at the Gendarmerie Camp I and at several police stations in Bamako. Protests in Kayes also led to arrests in that city. Although large numbers of protesters were arrested, judicial records indicated only 21 were prosecuted. Protesters arrested and prosecuted were charged with disturbing the peace and inciting violence. Two were found not guilty while the remaining 19 were sentenced to a range of 45 days’ to 12 months’ imprisonment. By decision of the Appeals Court, they were released in September.

In March the government imposed restrictions on public gatherings as part of the COVID-19 response.

Freedom of Association

The constitution provides for freedom of association, although the law prohibits associations deemed immoral. The government generally respected freedom of association, except for that of members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community. There were no known LGBTI organizations in the country, although some NGOs had medical and support programs focusing specifically on men having sex with men.

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/international-religious-freedom-reports/.

Mauritania

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, but the government arbitrarily and selectively applied regulations to suppress individuals or groups of individuals who opposed government policies. Individuals were generally free to criticize the government publicly but were occasionally subject to retaliation. The constitution and law prohibit racial or ethnic propaganda. The government sometimes used these provisions against political opponents, accusing them of “racism” or “promoting national disunity” for speaking out against the extreme underrepresentation in government of disadvantaged populations, namely the Haratines and sub-Saharan Africans.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views with limited restrictions. Throughout the year incidents of government retaliation against media decreased significantly compared with the previous year. Independent media remained the principal source of information for most citizens, followed by government media. Government media focused primarily on official news, but provided increased coverage of opposition activities and views.

Violence and Harassment: There were cases of arbitrary arrest and detention of journalists during the year. On June 3, police arrested Eby Ould Zeidane based on a Facebook post in which he challenged the dates Mauritanians observe the annual fast in the Islamic month of Ramadan. Eby was released on June 8. Another blogger, Mommeu Ould Bouzouma, was arrested on May 5 and spent 10 days in detention for criticizing the governor of the Tiris Zenmour region. In January authorities arrested two reporters for Sahel TV, Mohamed Ali Ould Abdel Aziz and Abdou O. Tajeddine. The reporters were arrested for videos and articles deemed insulting to the president. They were released after two days.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Local NGOs and bloggers, among other observers, reported that a government official met with journalists for four international media outlets to warn them regarding one-sided coverage of slavery or sensitive topics that could harm national unity or the country’s reputation.

Libel/Slander Laws: There is a law against blasphemy, which is punishable by death, although the country has not carried out any executions since 1987. Between February 13 and 15, authorities arrested 15 persons and later charged eight of them with blasphemy and insulting Islam after they attended a meeting organized by AREM; three of the eight were also charged with disseminating content that “undermines the values of Islam” under cybersecurity and terrorism laws. Five of the eight men were held in pretrial detention until their hearing on October 20. The Nouakchott West Criminal Court decided not to convict the men of blasphemy and instead convicted them of lesser crimes. The five men held in pretrial detention since February were all released by October 26 (see section 1.d.).

Internet Freedom

During the year the government rarely restricted or disrupted access to the internet or censored online content, and there was no evidence that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Between September 21 and September 30, the government disrupted the country’s 3G network several times as part of a coordinated, annual effort to combat cheating on the national high school exams. The networks were immediately re-established upon conclusion of the exam period on each day.

On June 24, the National Assembly approved a new law aimed at prohibiting allegedly false news posts on social media. The law aims to fight against the manipulation of information during an election period or during periods of crisis, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Many opposition parliamentarians as well as human rights activists denounced the law, declaring that it risks undermining the freedoms guaranteed by the constitution.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but the government sometimes limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly. Registered political parties are not required to seek permission to hold meetings or demonstrations. The law requires NGO organizers to apply for permission to hold large meetings or assemblies. Authorities usually granted permission but on some occasions denied it in circumstances that NGOs claimed were politically motivated.

Freedom of Association

The law provides for freedom of association, and the government generally, but not in every instance, respected this right. During the year authorities continued to prevent several NGOs, including prominent antislavery organizations, from registering and legally operating. The law requires that the Ministry of Interior and Decentralization grant authorization prior to an association operating in the country. On February 18, the government held workshops with NGOs and members of civil society to get feedback on a proposed law that would alter the registration process for associations and allow NGOs that have been denied registration a chance to operate more freely.

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/international-religious-freedom-reports/.

Mozambique

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press. The government did not always effectively protect or respect these freedoms. Academics, journalists, opposition party officials, and civil society reported an atmosphere of intimidation and fear that restricted freedom of speech and press. Journalists expressed concern regarding government intimidation by security forces.

Freedom of Speech: There were no official restrictions on the ability of individuals to criticize the government or on the discussion of matters of general public interest; however, police imposed de facto restrictions on free speech and expression throughout the year. Opposition and civil society members complained they could not freely criticize the government without fear of reprisal.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Media outlets and individual journalists regularly reported on a broad range of topics and criticized the government, the ruling party, and prominent political figures. The vast majority of critical articles did not result in retaliation from the government or the ruling party. Civil society organizations and journalists, however, stated the government and ruling party exerted substantial pressure on all forms of media and took retaliatory action when unspecified limits were crossed, particularly related to reporting on the conflict in Cabo Delgado Province. In early December the government withdrew the credentials of a foreign correspondent who had reported on Cabo Delgado Province and sensitive issues related to the ruling party. On December 13, the National Bar Association and Human Rights Commission called for greater media freedom to cover events in Cabo Delgado Province.

In August 2019 parliament passed a law criminalizing photographing or recording video and audio of individuals without their consent. Conviction of violating this law is punishable by up to one year in prison.

On August 23, an apparent arson attack decimated the offices of the weekly newspaper Canal de Mocambique and its online sibling CanalMoz, which published articles critical of the government’s operations in Cabo Delgado Province. On August 25, the president issued a statement condemning the attack, asserting the importance of a free press, and pledging to open an investigation. As of October authorities had not made any arrests or stated whether an investigation was being conducted.

In December 2019 unknown assailants attacked Executive Editor Matias Guente of Canal de Mocambique with baseball bats and golf clubs during a failed kidnapping attempt in Maputo. As of October authorities had not arrested anyone in connection with the attack.

As of October the Cabo Delgado Provincial Court had yet to try journalist Amade Abubacar, who was charged in September 2019 with “public instigation through the use of electronic media, slander against forces of public order, (and) instigation or provocation to public disorder.” In January 2019 soldiers arrested Abubacar in Cabo Delgado Province as he was interviewing residents who were fleeing insurgent attacks. He was held incommunicado in a military detention facility until his lawyers succeeded in obtaining his transfer to a civilian prison. Amnesty International stated mistreatment of Abubacar while in detention included “physical aggression, forcing him to sleep handcuffed,” and food deprivation. It concluded that this amounted “to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, or even torture.” In April 2019 Abubacar was released under terms that restricted him to Cabo Delgado Province.

National Security: Authorities cited violation of antiterrorism and national security laws to arrest journalists who reported on violence in Cabo Delgado Province and COVID-19. For example, on June 25, independent journalist with Carta de Mocambique Omardine Omar was arrested while investigating a complaint of police harassment and extortion of street vendors; he was jailed for three nights and fined for violating state of emergency measures related to COVID-19. Despite the prosecution’s motion to dismiss charges, on June 30, Judge Francisca Antonio of the Ka Mpfumo Court in Maputo convicted him of civil disobedience and sentenced him to 15 days’ imprisonment.

In June the public prosecutor charged Matias Guente (see section 2.a., Violence and Harassment) and Canal de Mocambique editorial director Fernando Veloso with violating “state secrets” for their March 11 publication of confidential government documents that detailed questionable Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Interior contracting arrangements with gas companies operating in Cabo Delgado Province. During a July 10 hearing in Maputo, Guente (Veloso was reportedly in Portugal) refused to divulge the sources for their reporting. As of October, Guente’s case had yet to be tried, and Veloso reportedly remained in Portugal. The NGO Center for Democracy and Development described the case as an act of “persecution” and “absurd,” noting that media “are not privy to classified information from the state.”

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content; however, there were reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. For example, members of civil society reported government intelligence agents monitored email and used false names to infiltrate social network discussion groups, and internet freedom advocates believed the intelligence service monitored online content critical of the government.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association. The government did not always respect these rights.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

By law protest organizers do not require government authorization to protest peacefully; however, they must notify local authorities of their intent in writing at least four business days in advance. Unlike in 2019, there were no incidents in which authorities prevented protest gatherings.

Freedom of Association

The Ministry of Justice, Constitutional, and Religious Affairs by year’s end had not acted on the request for registration of the Mozambican Association for the Defense of Sexual Minorities (LAMBDA)–the country’s only lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) advocacy NGO. Although the registration process usually takes less than two months, LAMBDA’s request has been pending since 2008 despite resubmissions of its application. Civil society leaders and some diplomatic missions continued to urge the ministry to act on LAMBDA’s application and to treat all registration applications fairly. In 2017 the Constitutional Court ruled LAMBDA and other groups could not be precluded from registration based on “morality” but did not direct the government to grant official recognition to LAMBDA. The organization continued to pursue a previously filed case with the Administrative Tribunal–the highest jurisdiction for administrative matters–specifically seeking to compel the government to respond to its registration request.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Niger

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech, including for the press, but the government sometimes threatened and harassed journalists and media members.

Freedom of Speech: The government arrested civil society activists and pressured journalists who expressed criticism of the government.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a variety of views with some restrictions. The government owned and operated television, radio, and major print publications, and provided funding to independent media publications through the Supreme Council of Communications, which ostensibly monitored content for factual accuracy and unbiased coverage.

Violence and Harassment: Authorities occasionally arrested journalists and civil society activists linked to factual inaccuracies in reporting on government corruption, specifically on allegations of financial mismanagement in the Ministry of National Defense.

On March 5, police arrested journalist Kaka Touda Mamane Goni for publishing false statements after he posted a report online concerning a suspected case of COVID-19 at a Niamey hospital. On March 26, he received a three-month suspended sentence, and a court ordered him to pay a token fine to the hospital.

On March 18, police arrested journalist Moudi Moussa and two activists and released them in September (see section 1.e., Political Prisoners).

On June 10, authorities arrested and detained blogger-journalist Samira Sabou on charges of defamation filed by the son of the president after she alleged in a May 26 blogpost that he was involved in a major military procurement corruption scandal. A Niamey court acquitted Sabou and released her on July 28. On July 12, police detained Ali Soumana, the editor of the newspaper Le Courrier, a day after Soumana published an article regarding the same procurement scandal. On July 14, he was provisionally released pending trial.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists believed they did not practice self-censorship, but they admitted some topics were taboo. Opposition journalists sometimes encountered pressure from authorities concerning reporting critical of the government. State-owned and -operated media generally did not cover the statements or activities of opposition parties and civil society organizations critical of the government. The government broadly excluded opposition journalists from official press conferences and events.

National Security: The declaration of the state of emergency in Diffa, Tillabery, and Tahoua Regions grants the government special authority over media for security reasons. Responding to an increased rate of terrorist attacks, the government extended the state of emergency in these regions on a rolling three-month basis through parliamentary approval.

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the Internet, but it monitored online content and used Facebook postings as a basis to charge civil society activists with crimes. For example, authorities arrested Ali Tera in 2019 based on his online activity in which he was critical of the government, including calling for the president’s assassination. Ali Tera remained in detention and under investigation.

The law to counter cybercriminality also regulates social media use by criminalizing “blackmail,” propagation of “fake news,” “defamatory writings,” “hate speech,” or “libel” on social media. Offenders face from six months to three years in prison and fines. Critics of the law believed it aims to silence social media, journalists, and bloggers from exerting their rights on the internet, since authorities were increasing restrictions on traditional press.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government at times restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly, police sometimes forcibly dispersed demonstrators. The government retained authority to prohibit gatherings under tense social conditions or if organizers did not provide 48-hour advance notice. At a protest against corruption in March, police made arrests and fired tear gas, and a resulting marketplace fire killed three persons.

Freedom of Association

The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this freedom; however, government representatives accused human rights-related civil society organizations of being “putschist” or intending to overthrow the government. The law does not permit political parties based on ethnicity, religion, or region.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Nigeria

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, the government restricted these rights at times.

Freedom of Speech: The constitution entitles every individual to “freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.” Although federal and state governments usually respected this right, there were reported cases in which the government abridged the right to speech and other expression. Authorities in the north at times restricted free speech by labeling it blasphemy.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: A large and vibrant private domestic press frequently criticized the government, but critics reported being subjected to threats, intimidation, arrest, detention, and sometimes violence.

At times civilian leaders instructed security forces to harass journalists covering sensitive topics such as human right abuses, electoral malpractices, high-level public corruption, and the government’s war against terrorism.

Violence and Harassment: Security services detained and harassed journalists, sometimes for reporting on sensitive problems such as political corruption and security. Security services including the DSS and police occasionally arrested and detained journalists who criticized the government. Moreover, army personnel in some cases threatened civilians who provided, or were perceived to have provided, information to journalists or NGOs on misconduct by the military. On at least six occasions, journalists were charged with treason, economic sabotage, or fraud when uncovering corruption or public protests.

Numerous journalists were killed, detained, abducted, or arrested during the year.

On January 21, Alex Ogbu, a reporter for the RegentAfrica Times magazine and website, was shot and killed in a cross fire while covering an IMN protest in Abuja.

On October 24, police arrested Onifade Pelumi, an intern reporter for Gboah TV, as he conducted interviews in a crowd gathered outside a food warehouse in Agege near Lagos. His family was unable to locate him until his body was found in a Lagos morgue two weeks later.

On November 28, soldiers assaulted and detained Voice of America Hausa-service reporter Grace Abdu in Port Harcourt, Rivers State. Abdu was interviewing residents of the Oyigbo community about allegations the army had committed extrajudicial killings of members of the proscribed separatist group the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), as well as killed or indiscriminately arrested civilians during a crackdown against IPOB. She was released later that afternoon.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government controlled much of the electronic media through the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), which is responsible for monitoring and regulating broadcast media. The law prohibits local television stations from transmitting programming from other countries except for special religious programs, sports programs, or events of national interest. Cable and satellite transmission was less restricted. For example, the NBC permitted live transmission of foreign news and programs on cable and satellite networks, but they were required to dedicate 20 percent of their programming time to local content.

The government used regulatory oversight to restrict press freedom, notably clamping down on television and radio stations. Citing violations of amendments to the sixth edition of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code, in August the NBC fined local radio station Nigeria Info 99.3 FM for comments by the former deputy governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Obadiah Mailafia, on insecurity in the country. Mailaifia alleged that a northern governor was a sponsor of Boko Haram.

The NBC also sanctioned private television stations Africa Independent Television, Channels TV, and Arise News during October’s #EndSARS protests, alleging their reportage of the nationwide protests relied on unverifiable video footage from social media handles.

Some journalists reported they practiced self-censorship. Journalists and local NGOs claimed security services intimidated journalists, including editors and owners, into censoring reports perceived to be critical of the government. In February, Samuel Ogundipe, a reporter for the newspaper Premium Times, went into hiding after receiving numerous threatening telephone calls, having his email hacked, and being told to stop his reporting that relations between the country’s national security adviser, the army chief of staff, and the chief of staff for the presidency were strained. The newspaper’s editor, Musililu Mojeed, also reported receiving threats and the online edition of Premium Times suffered cyberattacks.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel and slander are civil offenses and require defendants to prove truthfulness or value judgment in news reports or editorials or pay penalties. The requirement limited the circumstances in which media defendants could rely on the common law legal defense of “fair comment on matters of public interest,” and it restricted the right to freedom of expression. Allegations of libel were also used as a form of harassment by government employees in retaliation for negative reporting. Defamation is a criminal offense carrying a penalty for conviction of up to two years’ imprisonment and possible fines. On October 13, police arrested Oga Tom Uhia, editor of Power Steering, a magazine covering the electrical power sector, at his home in Gwarimpa near Abuja. Uhia was charged with defamation, based on a complaint by Minister of State for Power Goddy Jeddy Agba. As of November, Uhia remained in detention.

On April 28, police arrested Mubarak Bala, president of the Humanist Association of Nigeria, for allegedly posting blasphemous statements regarding the Prophet Muhammad on Facebook. On December 21, the Federal High Court in Abuja ordered the inspector general of police, Mohammed Adamu, and the Nigerian Police Force to release Bala, ruling that his detention without charge for almost eight months violated his rights to freedom of expression and movement, among others. At year’s end the inspector general and police had not complied with the court’s decision, and Bala remained in detention.

Sharia courts sentenced persons for blasphemy. In August singer Yahaya Sharif-Aminu was convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to death by a Kano State sharia court. A 13-year-old boy was convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment. Lawyers for both defendants were appealing the convictions at year’s end.

Internet Freedom

There were few government restrictions on access to the internet, but challenges with infrastructure and affordability persisted. The NGO Freedom House reported that internet providers sometimes blocked websites at the request of the Nigerian Communications Commission, particularly websites advocating independence for Biafra. The internet and communications technology enterprise Paradigm Initiative reported that mobile internet providers blocked websites related to the #EndSARS protests.

Civil society organizations and journalists expressed concern regarding the broad powers provided by the law on cybercrime. Some local and state governments used the law to arrest journalists, bloggers, and critics for alleged hate speech. On August 17, authorities in Akwa Ibom State arrested journalist Ime Sunday Silas following his publication of a report, Exposed: Okobo PDP Chapter Chair Links Governor Udom’s Wife with Plot to Blackmail Deputy Speaker. Authorities charged Silas with “cyberstalking.” Silas’s case was pending before the court at year’s end. The law on cybercrimes had yet to be fully tested in the courts. Legislative interest and calls for regulating social media increased due to concerns it plays a role in accelerating rural and electoral violence.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution and law provide for rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, but the government limited these rights.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly. The government occasionally banned and targeted gatherings when it concluded their political, ethnic, or religious nature might lead to unrest. The government put limitations on public gatherings, including temporary bans on congregational worship services in some states, in response to COVID-19. As of September public gatherings were limited to no more than 50 persons in enclosed spaces. State-level mandates varied on the reopening of religious services. Open-air religious services held away from places of worship remained prohibited in many states due to fear they might heighten interreligious tensions.

Members of a Shia political organization, the IMN, carried out a series of protests across the country in response to the continued detention of their leader, Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky. Police and military officials set up roadblocks and used other means to contain protesters in and around the capital city of Abuja. On January 23, Shia Rights Watch reported that government forces used tear gas and firearms against IMN protesters, killing one protester and severely injuring another. An IMN spokesperson alleged that police killed three IMN members during the group’s annual Ashura mourning procession in Kaduna on August 24 and that two persons died in clashes with police on August 30. On October 19, IMN members protested El-Zakzaky’s continued detention on the first anniversary of the violent clash with police in Zaria.

In August, #RevolutionNow protesters organized a set of demonstrations in several cities across the country to mark the one-year anniversary of their inaugural protests calling for more responsive and accountable governance. Although the protests were allowed to proceed unimpeded in most places, civil society observers reported the arrest of some peaceful protesters in Lagos, Osun, and Kano States on charges of “conduct likely to cause breach of public peace.” All those arrested were released within days of their arrest.

In October, #EndSARS protests were staged in states across the country to demand an end to police brutality. Demonstrations were largely peaceful, but some protests turned violent after criminal elements infiltrated the protests and security forces fired at protesters at the Lekki Toll Gate on October 20 (see section 1.a.). According to #EndSARS Legal Aid, by year’s end a network of volunteer lawyers had secured the release of 337 protesters, but it was unable to confirm how many remained in detention.

In areas that experienced societal violence, police and other security services permitted public meetings and demonstrations on a case-by-case basis. Security services sometimes used excessive force to disperse demonstrators (see section 1.a.).

Freedom of Association

The constitution and law provide for the right to associate freely with other persons in political parties, trade unions, or other special interest organizations. While the government generally respected this right, on occasion authorities abrogated it for some groups. The government of Kaduna State continued its proscription of the IMN, alleging the group constituted a danger to public order and peace. In July 2019 the government extended that proscription nationwide and designated the IMN as a terrorist organization.

The law criminalizes the registration, operation, or participation in so-called gay clubs, societies, or organizations, and further prohibits any support to such organizations (see section 6). Rights groups reported the law had a significant chilling effect on free association.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Republic of the Congo

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression in all forms of communication and prohibits censorship, including for the press, but the government did not always respect these rights.

Freedom of Speech: Individuals could criticize the government publicly or privately but feared reprisal. The constitution criminalizes speech that incites ethnic hatred, violence, or civil war and makes it punishable by no less than five years in prison. It also criminalizes any act or event that promotes racism or xenophobia.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views with some restrictions. Press and media outlets regularly published criticism and satire of the government and senior officials. Most citizens obtained their news from local retransmission of international media and local radio or television stations. There was greater space in electronic media for open and critical discussion of government policy. International radio broadcasts and satellite television services were available and encouraged discussions of public policy.

Violence and Harassment: There were unconfirmed reports of direct and indirect intimidation of journalists by the government, including telephone calls from official and anonymous persons warning journalists and news outlets not to use footage of politically sensitive events or run certain stories.

Private media reported that government spokesperson and journalist Rocil Otuna lost his broadcast reporting responsibilities after interviewing the minister of justice on the government-owned television station Telecongo in May and suggesting the then popular belief that the coronavirus was a hoax. Private media and the government’s media watchdog criticized Otuna’s removal from the airwaves.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Media outlets were required to register with the Superior Council for Liberty of Communication (CSLC), an official regulatory body. Media outlets that violated council regulations were subject to financial sanctions or temporary shutdown. The president appoints the director of the council.

Many journalists and editors at larger circulation media outlets practiced self-censorship and promoted the editorial views of media owners. Newspapers published open letters written by government opponents.

There were no reports the government revoked journalists’ accreditations if their reporting reflected adversely on the government’s image.

In July the CSLC suspended the weekly newspaper Manager Horizon for defamation for three months. The CSLC found the Manager Horizon’s editor unable to justify claims in its June 2 edition that two ministers and a government official had criticized the prime minister’s decision to practice social distancing. As of December the newspaper had resumed operation.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law provides for monetary penalties and suspension of a publication’s permission to print for defamation and incitement to violence. Authorities sometimes brought charges under these laws.

Internet Freedom

There were unverifiable reports government authorities monitored private digital communications without appropriate legal authority, including email, text messaging, or other digital communications intended to remain private. Government officials often corresponded with opposition or diaspora personalities using social media accounts, encouraging online discussion of major news events.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The constitution and law provide for freedom of peaceful assembly. The government generally respected this right.

The government required authorization from the Ministry of Interior and Decentralization and appropriate local officials for assemblies and demonstrations.

Freedom of Association

The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, and the government sometimes respected this right. Political, social, or economic groups or associations were required to register with the Ministry of Interior and Decentralization. Authorities sometimes rejected registration requests due to political influence. According to a local NGO, groups that spoke openly against the government encountered overt or veiled threats and found the registration process more time consuming than organizations less critical of the government.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

São Tomé and Príncipe

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. A somewhat independent press and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, although the press was occasionally susceptible to political influence and manipulation. The law grants all opposition parties access to state-run media, including a minimum of three minutes for each party per month on television. Some opposition leaders claimed newscasters did not always respect the minimum time, or the government edited content during that time.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media remained underdeveloped and subject to pressure and manipulation. Private and government-owned radio and television stations broadcast throughout the country.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists claimed to need to practice self-censorship, particularly at government-owned media entities, which were the country’s most significant news sources. Private news sources also self-censored their reporting.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel, slander, and blasphemy are treated as criminal offenses. There were no cases of persons being arrested for or charged with libel or slander during the year. While blasphemy cases were alleged during the year, they were dismissed due to insufficient evidence.

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Internet access was widely available through smartphones and internet cafes in most urban areas. It was not available in rural and remote areas.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Senegal

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, but the government occasionally limited these freedoms.

Freedom of Speech: On May 14, rapper and activist Abdou Karim Gueye received a three-month sentence for insulting the head of state, provoking an armed gathering, and insulting an officer. The activist had published a video denouncing the closure of mosques due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and calling on all Muslims to break state of emergency restrictions to pray in closed mosques. On July 8, after repeated requests for release, authorities provisionally released him.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent journalists regularly criticized the government without reprisal. Private independent publications and government-affiliated media were available in Dakar, although their distribution in rural areas was irregular.

Radio was the most important medium of mass information and source of news due to the high illiteracy rate. There were approximately 200 community, public, and private commercial radio stations. Although an administrative law regulates radio frequency assignments, community radio operators claimed a lack of transparency in the process.

Although the government continued to influence locally televised information and opinion through Radio Television Senegal (RTS), more than 10 privately owned television channels broadcast independently. By law the government holds a majority interest in RTS, and the president directly or indirectly controlled selection of all members of the RTS executive staff. Beyond RTS, members of President Sall’s ruling party, appointed by the president, controlled all other public media outlets including the Senegalese Press Agency and the daily journal Le Soleil; reporting by these outlets often carried a progovernment bias.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists occasionally practiced self-censorship, particularly in government-controlled media. On July 8, authorities banned national press from covering the trial of activist Abdou Karim Gueye.

Libel/Slander Laws: Blasphemy and criminal defamation laws are in place and were occasionally enforced.

Internet Freedom

The law grants the Senegalese Regulatory Authority for Telecommunications and Post and existing internet service providers the ability to limit or block access to certain online sites and social networks.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government sometimes restricted freedom of peaceful assembly, but generally respected freedom of association, except regarding lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) organizations. The Ministry of Interior must approve protests in advance.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

Authorities refused to authorize several demonstrations throughout the year. Some groups also complained of undue delays in response to authorization requests for public demonstrations. Authorities systematically invoked the law that prohibits demonstrations in certain parts of downtown Dakar to ban demonstrations.

On January 18, police arrested 15 members of No Lank No Ban conducting an awareness campaign regarding an increase in electricity prices. Authorities released those arrested after 48 hours in custody.

On June 23, authorities arrested members of the Gilets Rouge (Red Vests) protest movement for holding an unauthorized demonstration for the release of activist Abdou Karim Gueye.

In November 2019 police arrested Guy Marius Sagna, member of the opposition collective No Lank No Ban, for protesting an increase in electricity prices outside the gate of the presidential palace, and released him three months later. On August 10, authorities arrested him again in front of the Dakar administrator’s office after he filed a request to march on August 14, charging him with participating in an illegal gathering on a public road and for unauthorized assembly. Authorities released him from custody the same day.

Freedom of Association

In November 2019 authorities closed a number of LGBTI organizations after publication of a list of such organizations by a private group (see section 6, Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity).

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Sierra Leone

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, and the government generally respected these rights, but there were exceptions.

Freedom of Speech: On July 23, parliament approved the Public Order Amendment Act 2020 decriminalizing seditious libel and slander. President Bio signed the amended act on August 14. Media organizations and NGOs welcomed the amendment, which repealed part of the Public Order Act of 1965, a law previously used to impede witness testimony in anticorruption and other cases, and to target persons making statements the government considered against the national interest.

The HRCSL and Amnesty International reported no arrests or detentions in relation to freedom of expression.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Most registered newspapers were independent, although several were associated with political parties. Newspapers openly and routinely criticized the government and its officials as well as opposition parties. While independent broadcast media generally operated without restriction, there were exceptions. International media could operate freely but were required to register with the Ministry of Information and Communications and the government-funded Independent Media Commission to obtain a license.

Violence and Harassment: There were reports authorities used violence and harassment against journalists. In April Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces personnel beat two journalists, Fayia Amara Fayia and Stanley Sahr Jimmy, after Fayia photographed a COVID-19 quarantine center. The Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) condemned the incident and urged the military and police to investigate. Authorities charged the journalists with riotous conduct, and the case continued at the High Court in Kenema.

Libel/Slander Laws: Parliament on July 23 approved the Public Order Amendment Act, which also decriminalized criminal and seditious libel. President Bio signed the amended act on August 14. According to the SLAJ, during the year at least six journalists were arrested under criminal libel law on allegations of defamation and libel.

Internet Freedom

There were no reports that the government restricted or disrupted access to the internet. There were credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority (see section 1.d, Arbitrary Arrest–Sylvia Blyden case).

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

In a March 24 address, President Julius Maada Bio declared a 12-month state of emergency due to COVID-19. Parliament approved the measure, which granted the president broad powers to maintain peace and order, including mandating restrictions on movement. The March state of emergency declaration related to COVID-19 included restrictions on assembly, as it banned meetings of more than 100 persons.

In a few cases, police used excessive force when dealing with demonstrators and used public order law to deny requests for protests and demonstrations (see section 1.a.).

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future