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Egypt

Executive Summary

According to its constitution, Egypt is a republic governed by an elected president and bicameral legislature, with the upper house or Senate newly established during the year. Presidential elections were held in 2018. Challengers to incumbent President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi withdrew ahead of the election, citing personal decisions, political pressure, legal troubles, and unfair competition; in some cases they were arrested for alleged violations of candidacy rules. Domestic and international organizations expressed concern that government limitations on association, assembly, and expression severely constrained broad participation in the political process. A progovernment coalition won an overwhelming majority of seats in multistage, multiround elections for parliament’s reconstituted Senate and House of Representatives. Domestic and international observers stated that government authorities professionally administered parliamentary elections in accordance with the country’s laws and that their results were credible. Observers noted restrictions on freedom of peaceful assembly, political association, and expression significantly inhibited the political climate surrounding the elections.

The Interior Ministry supervises law enforcement and internal security, including the Public Security Sector Police; the Central Security Force; the National Security Sector; and the Passports, Immigration, and Nationality Administration. The Public Security Sector Police are responsible for law enforcement nationwide. The Central Security Force protects infrastructure and is responsible for crowd control. The National Security Sector is responsible for internal security threats and counterterrorism along with other security services. The armed forces report to the minister of defense and are responsible for external defense, but they also have a mandate to assist police in protecting vital infrastructure during a state of emergency. Military personnel were granted full arrest authority in 2011 but normally only use this authority during states of emergency and “periods of significant turmoil.” The country has been under an almost continuous state of emergency since 2017, when there were terrorist attacks on Coptic churches. Defense forces operate in North Sinai as part of a broader national counterterrorism operation with general detention authority. The Border Guard Forces, under the Ministry of Defense, are responsible for border control. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed numerous abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by the government or its agents and terrorist groups; forced disappearance; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by the government; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary detention; political prisoners or detainees; politically motivated reprisal against individuals located outside the country; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including arrests or prosecutions of journalists, censorship, site blocking, and the existence of criminal libel laws, which were not enforced; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, such as overly restrictive laws governing civil society organizations; restrictions on political participation; violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons and use of the law to arrest and prosecute arbitrarily such persons; and forced or compulsory child labor, including its worst forms.

The government inconsistently punished or prosecuted officials who committed abuses, whether in the security services or elsewhere in government. In most cases, the government did not comprehensively investigate allegations of human rights abuses, including most incidents of violence by security forces, contributing to an environment of impunity.

Attacks by terrorist organizations caused arbitrary and unlawful deprivation of life. Terrorist groups conducted deadly attacks on government, civilian, and security targets throughout the country, including places of worship. Authorities investigated terrorist attacks and prosecuted alleged perpetrators. Terrorists and other armed groups abducted civilians in North Sinai, some of whom they beheaded. There were incidents of societal sectarian violence against Coptic Christian Egyptians.

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

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

There were numerous reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, including incidents that occurred while making arrests or holding persons in custody or during disputes with civilians. Media reported that on September 30, Ewais Abdel Hamid al-Rawy died from a gunshot wound following an altercation with a police officer in Luxor Governorate. Police officers reportedly searched for al-Rawy’s cousin and then sought to arrest al-Rawy’s younger brother, resulting in the altercation; the Prosecutor General’s Office stated al-Rawy had a gun and intended to attack police.

There were also reports of civilians killed during military operations in North Sinai. Impunity was a problem. The Prosecutor General’s Office (for Interior Ministry actions) and the Military Prosecution (for military actions) are responsible for investigating whether security force actions were justifiable and pursuing prosecutions.

There were reported instances of persons tortured to death and other allegations of killings in prisons and detention centers. The government charged, prosecuted, and convicted perpetrators in some cases. A local human rights nongovernmental organization (NGO) reported 359 unlawful killings by the government from January through November, mostly in North Sinai.

According to press reports, one day after President Sisi met with the Italian prime minister in Cairo on January 14, the Egyptian prosecutor general started a new investigation of the 2016 killing in Egypt of Italian graduate student Giulio Regeni, who was found dead with what forensic officials said were marks of torture, following reports indicating he was detained prior to his death. Italian press reported in June that the Italian government requested the personal data and legal residences of five Egyptian security officials suspected in Regeni’s death in order to inform them of their indictment, and that the Egyptian prosecutor general told Italian prosecutors on July 1 he was considering a possible response. On December 10, Italian prosecutors announced their intent to charge four members of Egypt’s National Security Agency with Regeni’s kidnapping and murder. On December 30, the Egyptian prosecutor general announced Egypt would not pursue criminal charges against the four officials due to a lack of evidence.

There were reports of suspects killed in unclear circumstances during or after arrest. On April 6, a human rights organization said it documented 75 deaths due to denial of medical care and nine deaths due to torture in places of detention in 2019. According to the report, one detainee who suffered from hepatitis C, liver cirrhosis, and ascites died in March 2019, having been denied medications and proper health care since his 2018 arrest.

There were several reports of groups of suspected terrorists and other suspected criminals killed during security raids conducted by security forces. In April media outlets reported security forces had arrested a man in North Sinai in 2018 and that his name and photograph had appeared in an official army publication later stating he was killed during an operation against terrorists.

Terrorist groups, including “Islamic State”-Sinai (formerly known as Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis) and Harakat al-Suwad Misr, conducted deadly attacks on government, civilian, and security targets throughout the country, including places of worship. There were no published official data on the number of victims of terrorist violence during the year. Terrorist groups claimed responsibility for killing hundreds of civilians throughout the country. As of July in North Sinai alone, militant violence killed at least 12 civilians and 42 security force members, according to publicly available information. During the same period in North Sinai, the government killed at least 178 terrorists in counterterror operations, according to public statements. On December 8, a military spokesman announced that the armed forces had killed 40 terrorists during raids from September to December. According to a progovernment newspaper, government security forces killed more than 320 terrorists in North Sinai, and 55 security force members were killed or wounded by December 31.

b. Disappearance

International and local human rights groups reported continuing large numbers of enforced disappearances, alleging authorities increasingly relied on this tactic to intimidate critics. A National Council for Human Rights member stated on June 11 before the House of Representative’s Human Rights Committee that the council inspected all complaints received about alleged forced disappearances and concluded that in most of the cases the individuals were in detention based on a prosecution order, and that in four of the cases the individuals joined ISIS.

Authorities also detained individuals without producing arrest or search warrants. According to a local NGO, authorities detained many of these individuals in unspecified National Security Sector offices and police stations, but they were not included in official registers. Authorities held detainees incommunicado and denied their requests to contact family members and lawyers. On August 29, a local NGO reported 2,723 enforced disappearances in the last five years.

On May 7, local media reported that, after 26 months in pretrial detention, the Supreme State Security Prosecution (State Security Prosecution), a branch of the Public Prosecution specialized in investigating national security threats, ordered the release on bail of Ezzat Ghoneim. Ghoneim was a human rights lawyer who worked on enforced disappearance cases, along with nine other detainees involved in the case who were detained on charges of spreading false news and joining a terrorist group. Ghoneim was not released, and a new case was opened against him based on the same charges. He remained in pretrial detention.

On January 20, the Administrative Court ruled the Interior Ministry must reveal the whereabouts of Mustafa al-Naggar, a former member of parliament who disappeared in 2018 after criticizing the government on Facebook. According to local press, on January 25, the Interior Ministry denied knowledge of al-Naggar’s whereabouts and stated he had fled from a court ruling of imprisonment and a fine on charges of insulting the judiciary. On May 30, the Administrative Court ruled that the Interior Ministry must search for al-Naggar and that solely reporting al-Naggar was not in its custody was not sufficient.

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

The constitution states that no torture, intimidation, coercion, or physical or moral harm shall be inflicted upon a person whose movements are restricted or whom authorities have detained or arrested. The penal code forbids torture to induce a confession from a detained or arrested suspect but does not account for mental or psychological abuse against persons whom authorities have not formally accused, or for abuse occurring for reasons other than securing a confession. The penal code also forbids all public officials or civil servants from “employing cruelty” or “causing bodily harm” under any circumstances.

Local rights organizations reported hundreds of incidents of torture throughout the year, including deaths that resulted from torture (see section 1.a.). According to domestic and international human rights organizations, police and prison guards resorted to torture to extract information from detainees, including minors. Reported techniques included beatings with fists, whips, rifle butts, and other objects; prolonged suspension by the limbs from a ceiling or door; electric shocks; sexual assault; and attacks by dogs. On March 22, Human Rights Watch issued a report documenting alleged abuses, including torture, by security forces against 20 minors as young as 12 while under arrest between 2014 and 2019. Human Rights Watch characterized torture as a systematic practice in the country. According to Human Rights Watch and local NGOs, torture was most common in police stations and other Interior Ministry detention sites. Government officials denied the use of torture was systematic. Authorities stated they did not sanction these abuses and, in some cases, prosecuted individual police officers for violating the law.

On December 8, the Cairo Criminal Court extended Esraa Abdel Fattah’s pretrial detention for 45 days. Local media and international organizations reported Abdel Fattah had been abused while in custody following her October 2019 arrest, including beatings and suspension from a ceiling. As of December 30, there were no reports that the government investigated her allegations of abuse. On December 8 and December 27, respectively, a criminal court renewed the 45-day pretrial detentions of journalist Solafa Magdy and her husband, Hossam El-Sayed. International organizations reported that Magdy was beaten in custody following her November 2019 arrest. On August 30 and 31, respectively, prosecutors added Magdy and Abdel Fattah to a second case and ordered their 15-day pretrial detention in the new case pending investigations on accusations of membership in a banned group and spreading false news.

There were reports that prisoners detained on politically motivated charges were held in prolonged and indefinite solitary confinement. On August 9, local media reported that Strong Egypt party deputy president Mohamed El-Kassas was held in solitary confinement since his initial arrest in 2018. On August 5, a criminal court ordered the release of El-Kassas, after 30 months of pretrial detention. On August 8, the State Security Prosecution ordered his detention pending investigations in a third new case, without prior release and on the same charges. El-Kassas had been arrested originally in 2018 on allegations of joining a banned group and spreading false news and then rearrested without release in December 2019.

According to human rights activists, impunity was a significant problem in the security forces.

On February 8, a criminal court took up the case of a police officer and nine noncommissioned police personnel on charges of torturing to death Magdy Makeen, a donkey-cart driver, in a Cairo police station in 2016. The case was first referred to the court in October 2019 but was on hold since March 10 because of COVID-19 court closures. On December 12, a Cairo Criminal Court sentenced the police officer and eight of the noncommissioned personnel to three years in prison. A police corporal also charged in the case was acquitted. The convicted defendants have the right to appeal.

On February 10, six police officers received a presidential pardon after being sentenced in 2019 to between one and eight years in prison in connection with the 2018 death of Ahmed Zalat due to physical abuse in custody at a police station in Hadayek al-Qobba District in east Cairo.

On September 24, the Court of Cassation upheld a 10-year prison sentence against a police officer for killing a citizen stopped at a checkpoint in Minya Governorate in 2013 and for forging official documents connected with the case.

According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions online portal, there was one allegation submitted in June of sexual exploitation and abuse by Egyptian peacekeepers deployed to a UN peacekeeping mission. The allegation was against one military contingent member deployed to the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic, allegedly involving attempted transactional sex with an adult in April. As of September, the Egyptian government was investigating the allegation, and the case was pending final action.

A local human rights organization reported on August 18 that Ayman al-Sisi, director of the Technology Development Center, was abused at the National Security headquarters in Abbasiya. According to the organization, the State Security Prosecution’s August 17 investigation report showed that al-Sisi was subjected to physical and psychological abuse, which led him to suffer memory loss. Al-Sisi was detained in early July on accusations of joining and providing financial aid to a banned group and publishing false news. Al-Sisi appeared before the State Security Prosecution 45 days after the arrest.

Human rights organizations said the Public Prosecution continued to order medical exams in “family values” cases. Local rights groups and international NGOs reported authorities sometimes subjected individuals arrested on charges related to homosexuality to forced anal examinations (see section 6). Media reported in late July that, according to her lawyer, TikTok influencer Mowada Al-Adham refused to undergo a “virginity test” as part of the prosecution against her (see section 2.a.). Local media reported in early September that a male and a female witness were compelled to undergo an anal exam and a virginity test, respectively, as part of investigations in the Fairmont Hotel gang rape case (see section 6).

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in prisons and detention centers were harsh and potentially life threatening due to overcrowding, physical abuse, inadequate medical care, poor infrastructure, and poor ventilation.

Physical Conditions: According to domestic and international NGO observers, prison cells were overcrowded, and prisoners lacked adequate access to medical care, proper sanitation and ventilation, food, and potable water. On July 20, Human Rights Watch said that the release of approximately 13,000 prisoners since February was insufficient to ease the overcrowding. On April 3, the UN high commissioner for human rights estimated the total prison population at more than 114,000. Inmates often relied upon outside visitors for food and other supplies or were forced to purchase those items from the prison canteen at significantly inflated prices, according to local NGOs. Tuberculosis was widespread. Provisions for temperature control and lighting generally were inadequate. Reports that guards abused prisoners, including juveniles in adult facilities, were common. Prison conditions for women were marginally better than those for men. Media reported some prisoners protested conditions by going on hunger strikes.

On January 14, the Wall Street Journal reported that more than 300 prisoners in Tora Prison staged a hunger strike to protest abuse and harsh treatment in custody and to demand transparent investigations into the deaths of prisoners who died due to alleged medical negligence. In April local NGOs stated that prominent activist and blogger Alaa Abdel Fattah and lawyer Hamed Sedik started hunger strikes in Tora Prison to protest their prison conditions and inability to attend their pretrial detention renewal hearings after hearings were suspended in March due to COVID-19. On April 19, a lawsuit against the interior minister was filed to enable Abdel Fattah to correspond with his lawyers and family. Abdel Fattah ended his hunger strike on May 18 and transmitted a letter to his family on June 29. On December 21, a criminal court renewed the pretrial detention of Abdel Fattah and his attorney Mohamed Elbakr for 45 days pending investigations.

According to six local human rights organizations, several prisoners in the Istiqbal Tora Prison started a hunger strike on October 11 to demand investigation of mistreatment against detainees, including electric shocks, and better prison conditions, including exercise, medical care, and canteen services.

Authorities did not always separate juveniles from adults and sometimes held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners. Rights organizations alleged the use of Central Security Force camps as detention facilities, which violates the law regulating prisons.

The large number of arrests and the use of pretrial detention during the year exacerbated harsh conditions and overcrowding, contributing to a significant number of deaths in prisons and detention centers. Human rights groups and the families of some deceased prisoners claimed that prison authorities denied prisoners access to potentially life-saving medical care and in some cases denied requests to transfer the prisoners to the hospital, leading to deaths in prison.

In March the Interior Ministry began a program of sanitizing police stations and prisons to inhibit the spread of COVID-19. Local and international NGOs raised concerns beginning in March regarding the situation inside the country’s prisons due to COVID-19 and called for the release of prisoners, especially those vulnerable to COVID-19 complications. One NGO posted weekly reports of prison-related COVID-19 infections and deaths among detainees, police officers, and detention facility employees. On several occasions, the government denied there had been any prison-related COVID-19 infections or deaths.

According to one rights group, authorities appeared to have taken no contact tracing measures and done little to isolate prisoners showing symptoms of COVID-19. It added that guards in at least three prisons refused to allow inmates to obtain or wear masks. In September at least one U.S. citizen detainee contracted COVID-19 during imprisonment.

On August 13, Essam Al-Erian, a former member of parliament and deputy chair of the banned Freedom and Justice Muslim Brotherhood party, died in prison. On August 13, one NGO said Al Erian had contracted hepatitis C and been denied medical care while in custody. On August 14, the public prosecutor stated he had died of natural causes.

A member of the April 6 youth movement, activist Mustafa al-Jabaruni, died in Tora Prison on August 10 when he reportedly touched an electric kettle by accident with wet hands. According to local media, his family did not learn about his death until August 17. State Security Prosecution interrogated al-Jabaruni on May 10, approximately one month after his arrest, in connection with accusations of joining a banned group, spreading false news, and misusing social media related to COVID-19. Al-Jabaruni was transferred from his detention place in Damanhur to Tora Prison without notification to his lawyer or family, according to local media.

According to media reports and local NGOs, Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, former presidential candidate, a former leader in the Muslim Brotherhood, and leader of the opposition party Strong Egypt, suffered two heart attacks in July 2019 while in prison. In February and May, two rights groups called for Fotouh’s release because of his “deteriorating health condition.” On February 2, the Public Prosecution added Fotouh to a new case pending investigations on accusations of assuming leadership in a terrorist group and committing financial crimes. On September 27, Fotouh filed a lawsuit to improve his prison conditions. On December 7, a Criminal Court renewed Aboul Fotouh’s pretrial detention, pending investigations into charges of joining a banned group, spreading false news, and receiving funding for the purpose of terrorism.

There were reports authorities sometimes segregated prisoners accused of crimes related to political or security issues from common criminals and subjected them to verbal or physical abuse and punitive solitary confinement. In January 2019 the retrial of imprisoned activist Ahmed Douma resulted in a 15-year prison sentence. Douma appealed the verdict, and the Court of Cassation on July 4 turned down the appeal. Since his arrest in 2015, Douma had been held in solitary confinement for more than 2,000 days.

The law authorizes prison officials to use force against prisoners who resist orders.

Administration: Prisoners could request investigation of alleged inhuman conditions. NGO observers claimed prisoners were reluctant to do so for fear of retribution from prison officials. The government did not investigate most of these allegations. As required by law, the public prosecutor inspected prisons and detention centers.

The criminal procedure code and the law regulating prisons provide for reasonable access to prisoners. According to NGO observers and relatives, the government sometimes prevented visitors’ access to detainees. On March 10, the prime minister instructed authorities to suspend all prison visits as a measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Authorities did not provide for regular alternative means of communications between detainees and their families and lawyers. Limited prison visits with precautionary measures for COVID-19 resumed on August 22. Rights groups also claimed that authorities administered some court hearings and trials inside state security premises not accessible to family or legal counsel and denied detainees access to legal counsel during times of heightened security or due to COVID 19 complications.

Independent Monitoring: The government arranged three visits in February and March for a delegation of foreign media correspondents, representatives of human rights organizations, and the National Council for Women to Tora Prison, El Marag General Prison, and Al-Qanater Women’s Prison. Media published three professionally recorded videos covering the visits, in which all the inmates interviewed gave positive feedback about their prison conditions. On February 19, the Interior Ministry’s prison sector allowed some university students to visit El Marag General Prison and Al-Qanater Women’s Prison. In November the Public Prosecution announced it had conducted an additional inspection of Al-Qanater Prison, where officials reviewed prison administrative and legal procedures and inspected the prison pharmacy. On December 27, members of the National Council for Human Rights toured Al-Qanater Prison, visiting the prison’s nursery and health clinic.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, but reported incidents of arbitrary arrests and detentions remained frequent, according to local and international rights groups.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

For persons other than those apprehended in the process of committing a crime, the law requires that police act on the basis of a judicial warrant issued either under the penal code or the code of military justice, but there were numerous reports of arrests without a warrant.

Ordinary criminal courts and misdemeanor courts hear cases brought by the prosecutor general. Arrests under the penal code occurred openly and with warrants issued by a public prosecutor or judge. There was a functioning bail system, although some defendants claimed judges imposed unreasonably high bail.

Criminal defendants have the right to counsel promptly after arrest, and usually, but not always, authorities allowed access to family members. The court is obliged to provide a lawyer to indigent defendants. Nevertheless, defendants often faced administrative and, in some cases, political or legal obstacles and could not secure regular access to lawyers or family visits. A prosecutor may order four days of preventive detention for individuals suspected of committing misdemeanors or felonies. In regular criminal cases, the period of preventive detention is subject to renewal in increments of 15 days by the investigative judge up to a total of 45 days, for both misdemeanors and felonies. Before the 45th day, the prosecutor must submit the case to a misdemeanor appellate court panel of three judges, who may release the accused person or renew the detention in further increments of 45 days. In cases under the jurisdiction of the State Security Prosecution, prosecutors may renew preventive detention in increments of 15 days up to a total of 150 days, after which the prosecutor must refer the case to a criminal court panel of three judges to renew the detention in increments of 45 days.

Detention may extend from the stage of initial investigation through all stages of criminal judicial proceedings. The combined periods of prosecutor- and court-ordered detentions prior to trial may not exceed six months in cases of misdemeanors, 18 months in cases of felonies, and two years in cases involving the death penalty or life imprisonment. After the pretrial detention reaches its legal limit without a conviction, authorities must release the accused person immediately. Legal experts offered conflicting interpretations of the law in death penalty or life imprisonment cases once the trial has commenced, with some arguing there is no time limit on detention during the trial period, which may last several years.

Charges involving the death penalty or life imprisonment, such as joining a banned group to undermine state institutions, sometimes were added to cases related to expression; as a result authorities might hold some appellants charged with nonviolent crimes indefinitely.

Arbitrary Arrest: The constitution prohibits arrest, search, or detention without a judicial warrant, except for those caught in the act of a crime. These rights are suspended during a state of emergency. There were frequent reports of arbitrary arrest and detention. Local activists and rights groups stated that hundreds of arrests did not comply with due-process laws. For example, authorities did not charge the detainees with crimes or refer them to prosecutors and denied access to their lawyers and families (see section 1.b.).

On September 20, Kamal el-Balshy was arrested in downtown Cairo according to a local news website. On October 1, the state prosecutor’s office charged el-Balshy with illegal assembly, membership of a banned group, spreading false news, and misusing social media, according to local news reports. He remained in pretrial detention as of December 30. A regional rights group characterized the arrest as retaliation for the work of his brother Khaled el-Balshy, editor in chief of Daarb, a local independent news website.

In November 2019, Ramy Kamel, a Coptic Christian human rights activist, was arrested in his home in Cairo. On December 7, the Criminal Court renewed for 45 days his pretrial detention on accusations of joining a terror group and spreading false news. Activists called for his release during the COVID-19 pandemic due to his health issues, including asthma. An international organization stated Kamel has been held in solitary confinement since his November 2019 arrest and had not been authorized a visit from his family or lawyers between March and July due to COVID-19 restrictions on prison visits. He remained in custody.

On March 24, the Islamist YouTuber Abdallah Al Sherif claimed security authorities had arrested his brothers in Alexandria in response to his March 19 posting of a leaked video allegedly showing an Egyptian military officer mutilating a corpse in North Sinai.

Local media reported a criminal court ordered the release of human rights lawyer Mohsen Al-Bahnasi on probation on August 24 and that he was physically released on August 31. State Security officers had arrested him on March 27 after he publicly expressed confidence that prosecutors would release detainees due to COVID-19 concerns. On May 20, prosecutors renewed his pretrial detention for 15 days on charges of joining a terrorist group, spreading false news, and misusing social media. A local human rights organization said authorities beat Bahnasi upon arrest, refused to grant his lawyers access to the investigation record and arrest warrant, and presented no evidence of the accusations against him.

Kholoud Said, the head of the translation unit of the publication department at Bibliotheca Alexandria, was arrested on April 21 on charges of joining a terrorist group, spreading false news, and misusing social media. She appeared before the State Security Prosecution on April 28. On December 13, the Cairo Criminal Court ordered Said released pending investigation. Said remained in detention as of December 30. Freelance translator Marwa Arafa was arrested on April 20 and appeared before the State Security Prosecution on May 4. Her 45-day pretrial detention was renewed on December 10 pending investigations on similar charges. Representatives of one women’s rights organization said they could not identify any apparent reason for these arrests.

On June 22, security forces arrested human rights activist Sanaa Seif from outside the public prosecutor’s office in New Cairo. Seif’s brother, activist Alaa Abdel Fatah (see section 1.c.), had been in detention since September 2019. Seif’s trial on charges of disseminating false news, inciting terrorist crimes, misusing social media, and insulting a police officer started on September 12. The next session was set for January 2021.

According to a local human rights organization, in September security forces increased their presence in downtown Cairo and continued to search and arrest citizens around the anniversary of protests in September 2019. On October 3, local media reported a number of arrests in Cairo following demonstrations, and a lawyer reported that nearly 2,000 individuals had been arrested. Between late October and early December, several hundred persons were released.

On January 13, Moustafa Kassem, a dual Egyptian-U.S. citizen who was arbitrarily arrested in Cairo in 2013, died in an Egyptian prison.

Pretrial Detention: The government did not provide figures on the total number of pretrial detainees. Rights groups and the quasi-governmental National Council for Human Rights alleged excessive use of pretrial detention and preventive detention during trials for nonviolent crimes. Authorities sometimes held pretrial detainees in the same facilities as convicted prisoners. Large backlogs in the criminal courts contributed to protracted periods of pretrial detention. Estimates of the number of pretrial and preventive detainees were unreliable. According to human rights organizations, the government sometimes rearrested detainees on charges filed in new cases to extend their detention beyond a two-year maximum.

On December 12, local media reported that a criminal court renewed the pretrial detention of Ola Qaradawi for 45 days. Authorities had arrested Qaradawi and her husband, Hosam Khalaf, in 2017 on charges of communicating with and facilitating support for a terrorist group. A court ordered her release in July 2019, but prior to her release, authorities rearrested her on the same charges in a new case. A court ordered her release again on February 20, although the order was overturned on appeal. Qaradawi and her husband remained in pretrial detention pending investigations.

On November 8, a court renewed the 45-day pretrial detention of al-Jazeera journalist Mahmoud Hussein, who had been held for more than 1,400 days in pretrial detention, including long periods in solitary confinement, for allegedly disseminating false news and receiving funds from foreign authorities to defame the state’s reputation. He was arrested in 2016, ordered released, and rearrested on unspecified charges in a new case in May 2019; he remained in pretrial detention awaiting formal charges.

On September 2, Ahmed Abdelnabi Mahmoud died in a prison in Cairo after nearly two years in pretrial detention, according to Human Rights Watch. He was charged with belonging to an unspecified illegal group. Authorities allegedly never provided Mahmoud’s lawyers with a copy of the official charges against him.

On September 4, authorities arrested Islam el-Australy in Giza. On September 7, he died in police custody, allegedly of heart failure. Following the death, dozens of protesters demonstrated outside the local police station until security forces dispersed them and sealed off the area. On September 9, security forces arrested Islam al-Kalhy, a reporter for Daarb, while he was covering protests related to el-Australy’s death. He was charged with spreading false news and joining a banned group and ordered to be detained for 15 days pending an investigation.

Detainees Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: According to the constitution, detainees have the right to challenge the legality of their detention before a court, which must decide within one week if the detention is lawful or otherwise immediately release the detainee. In practice, authorities deprived some individuals of this right, according to international and local human rights groups. The constitution also defers to the law to regulate the duration of preventive detention.

On April 28, the Cairo Court of Appeals ruled that due to COVID-19, courts could release detainees or renew their pretrial detention without their presence in court. Based on this decision, between May 4 and May 6, judges extended the pretrial detention of 1,200 to 1,600 detainees without their presence, according to Amnesty International and local human rights organizations. Affected detainees included lawyer Mahienour al-Massry, who was arrested in September 2019 while he was representing detained protesters and then charged anew on August 30 on the same charges; and political activist Sameh Saudi, whom authorities arrested in 2018, ordered released in May 2019, and rearrested before his release in a new case in September 2019. Both remained detained pending investigations on charges of joining a terrorist group and spreading false news. On May 3, courts resumed pretrial renewal sessions after suspending them on March 16 due to COVID-19. After the sessions resumed, courts issued retroactive pretrial detention renewal orders for detainees whose detention orders expired while detained between March 16 and May 3.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. Individual courts sometimes appeared to lack impartiality and to arrive at outcomes that were politically motivated or without individual findings of guilt. The government generally respected court orders. Human rights organizations claimed the State Security Prosecution bypassed court orders to release detainees by arresting them again in a new case and in some instances on the same charges. After authorities ordered their release on May 7, and prior to their actual release, the State Security Prosecution on May 9 and 10 ordered the continued pretrial detention of journalists Moatez Wadnan and Mostafa Al Aaser for 15 days pending investigations in a new case on charges of joining a banned group and spreading false news. Security forces arrested them both in 2018. Wadnan was arrested after a press interview with the former head of the Central Audit Organization, Hisham Genena. A misdemeanor appellate court on August 27 upheld a 2016 conviction against Genena for spreading false information against the state and suspended the one-year sentence, pending no further convictions for three years. Genena was arrested in 2018 and was serving a five-year sentence based on a separate military court conviction for making offensive statements against the state. On June 17, human rights defender Ahmed Amasha was arrested from his home and taken to an unknown location. On July 12, he was seen at the office of the State Security Prosecution. The State Security Prosecution ordered his detention for 15 days pending investigations on charges of joining and funding a terror group.

Some trials involving hundreds of defendants continued, particularly in cases involving demonstrators sympathetic to former president Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013 and 2014. On July 9, the Court of Cassation upheld the life sentences of Muslim Brotherhood supreme guide Mohamed Badie, Badie’s deputy Khairat El-Shater, and four others on charges stemming from violence that occurred in 2013.

The law imposes penalties on individuals designated by a court as terrorists, even without criminal convictions. The effects of a designation include a travel ban, asset freeze, loss of political rights, and passport cancellation. The court designation may be appealed directly to the country’s highest appeals court, but human rights organizations reported that designated individuals were not allowed to appeal the designation, and authorities had not informed most individuals of their impending designation before the court ruled.

The constitution states: “Civilians may not stand trial before military courts except for crimes that represent an assault against military facilities, military barracks, facilities protected by the military, designated military or border zones; military equipment, vehicles, weapons, ammunition, documents, military secrets, public funds or military factories; crimes related to conscription; or crimes that represent an assault against its officers or personnel because of the performance of their duties.”

Authorities used military courts to try civilians accused of threatening national security. Public access to information concerning military trials was limited. Military trials were difficult to monitor because media were usually subjected to restraint orders. Rights groups and lawyers said defense attorneys in military trials had difficulty gaining access to their clients and to documentation related to the cases. A local NGO reported that from January through March, there were five military trials conducted involving 1,332 civilian defendants.

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, but the judiciary often failed to uphold this right.

The law presumes defendants are innocent, and authorities usually inform them promptly and in detail of charges against them. Defendants have the right to be present at their trials. Attendance is mandatory for individuals charged with felonies and optional for those charged with misdemeanors. Civilian criminal and misdemeanor trials usually are public. Defendants have the right to consult an attorney, and the government is responsible for providing counsel if the defendant cannot afford a lawyer. Defendants have the right to free interpretation from the moment charged through all appeals. The court assigns an interpreter. The law allows defendants to question witnesses against them and to present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Defendants have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. The constitution provides for the right of an accused person to remain silent in his own trial. Defendants have the right of appeal up to the Court of Cassation. Judicial and executive review is available to individuals sentenced to the death penalty. Judges must seek the nonbinding review of the grand mufti on all death sentences, and the president must confirm all such sentences.

A local NGO reported in February that authorities executed eight men convicted of deadly attacks on three churches in 2017. On March 4, authorities executed former special forces officer and militant Hisham Ashmawy. On June 27, authorities executed Libyan citizen Abdel-Raheem al-Mesmary. Both were convicted of terrorism crimes for attacks that resulted in the deaths of armed forces personnel and police officers and the destruction of public facilities and equipment. In July authorities executed seven men convicted of killing a police officer in 2013. Human rights organizations said the trials lacked due process. In December a human rights organization reported that authorities executed 57 additional individuals between October and November.

The law permits individual members of the public to file charges with the prosecutor general, who is charged with deciding whether the evidence justifies referring the charges for a trial. Observers reported, however, that due to unclear evidentiary standards, the Prosecutor General’s Office investigates and refers for trial most such cases, regardless of the strength of the evidence.

On September 7, an economic misdemeanor appellate court reduced the sentence of dancer Sama El-Masry from three years to two years in prison and a fine for inciting debauchery and immorality. On October 18, in a separate case, the economic misdemeanor appellate court reduced El-Masry’s prison sentence handed down in August from two years to six months and cancelled her fine for verbally offending television host Reham Saeed. El-Masry was arrested on April 24 based on lawsuits filed against her by Saeed and her attorney. Saeed accused El-Masry of “libel and slander for uploading photos and videos onto social media without any regard for public decency or morals.”

After a prime ministerial decree in 2017, authorities began referring certain economic and security crimes, including violations of protest laws, to state security courts instead of the public prosecutor. State security courts may have two military judges appointed to sit alongside three civilian judges. Verdicts of state security courts may be appealed only on points of law rather than the facts of the case as in a civilian court.

Military courts are not open to the public. Defendants in military courts nominally enjoyed the same fair trial assurances, but the military judiciary has wide discretion to curtail these rights in the name of public security. Military courts often tried defendants in a matter of hours, frequently in groups, and sometimes without access to an attorney, leading lawyers and NGOs to assert they did not meet basic standards of due process. Consequently, the quick rulings by military courts sometimes prevented defendants from exercising their rights. Defendants in military courts have the right to consult an attorney, but sometimes authorities denied them timely access to counsel. According to rights groups, authorities permitted defendants in military trials visits from their attorneys only once every six months, in contrast with the civilian court system, where authorities allowed defendants in detention attorney visits every 15 days.

On March 9, a military court acquitted four minors facing death sentences in a mass trial on charges of associating with a terrorist group. The acquittal followed an opinion by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, which stated the minors’ confessions were obtained through torture. The Military Judiciary Law governing the military court system grants defendants in the military court system the right to appeal up to the Supreme Military Court of Appeals. The president must certify sentences by military courts.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were reports of political prisoners and detainees, although verifiable estimates of their total number were not available. The government claimed there were no political prisoners and that all persons in detention had been or were in the process of being charged with a crime. Human rights groups and international observers maintained the government detained or imprisoned as few as 20,000 and as many as 60,000 persons solely or chiefly because of their political beliefs.

Amnesty: The government periodically issued pardons of prisoners, sometimes including individuals whose cases human rights organizations considered to be politically motivated. Local press reported that the Interior Ministry Prisons Authority ordered the release of thousands of inmates based on presidential decrees in May on the eve of Eid al-Fitr holiday. Reportedly, no activists, journalists, or political prisoners were included. On January 21, the chairman of the Human Rights Committee in the House of Representatives stated that 22,399 inmates had received pardons since 2014. On November 21, the assistant minister of the interior for the prisons sector told the press that 21,457 prisoners received pardons in 2020.

Politically Motivated Reprisal against Individuals Located Outside the Country

Five cousins of a U.S. citizen were arrested and detained in June, and his already incarcerated father was moved to an unknown prison location in apparent retaliation for the filing of a U.S.-based lawsuit alleging that Egyptian officials authorized the torture of the U.S. citizen. Government authorities reportedly did not provide the cousins access to counsel or family members. The cousins were released in early November; however, the location of the father of the U.S. citizen, a former senior official in the Morsi government, remained unknown.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Individuals had access to civil courts for lawsuits relating to human rights violations and filed such lawsuits during the year. Nonetheless, courts often dismissed cases or acquitted defendants for lack of evidence or conflicting witness testimonies. Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic decisions to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

Property Restitution

Following the launching of Operation Sinai 2018, the government intensified its efforts to establish a buffer zone in North Sinai Governorate to interdict weapons smuggling and incursions to and from the Gaza Strip. The government also created a buffer zone around the Arish Airport, south of al-Arish.

In 2018, based on interviews and analysis of satellite imagery, human rights organizations reported the government destroyed approximately 3,600 homes and commercial buildings and hundreds of acres of farmland in North Sinai. In contrast, according to statements to media, the government stated it demolished 3,272 residential, commercial, administrative, and community buildings between mid-2013 and 2016. Human rights organizations continued to report that security forces punitively demolished the homes of suspected terrorists, dissidents, and their families. On July 30, following an IS-Sinai attack on a village in Bir al-Abd, the Ministry of Social Solidarity announced it had allocated two million Egyptian pounds (EGP) ($125,000) as urgent aid to compensate the families that were negatively affected by the attack and subsequent military operations, with each affected family receiving EGP 500 ($31). On June 27, local media reported that the North Sinai governor issued a report to the prime minister stating that between October 2015 and May 2020 the government spent approximately EGP 385 million ($24 million) in humanitarian assistance and EGP 2.7 billion ($169 million) in compensation for agricultural land and rebuilding for North Sinai residents.

On December 27, a criminal court sentenced 35 residents of Warraq Island to prison terms ranging from five years to life for unauthorized protests or refusal to leave their residences, which the government was preparing to demolish as part of a redevelopment plan. The government stated the residents had illegally built homes on the properties. In a separate action, the Administrative Court scheduled a November 7 hearing in the case filed by Warraq Island residents seeking to suspend the prime minister’s decision to transfer ownership of the island to the New Communities Authority.

Beginning on July 18, security forces arrested dozens of residents of Al-Sayadin village for demonstrating against the government’s decision to relocate them from their coastal homes, according to a local human rights organization. The relocation was part of a nationwide initiative to redevelop poor areas, and residents were reportedly protesting ownership and compensation claims. According to the organization, the Alexandria military prosecution released all but one defendant by the beginning of November on bail pending investigations of gathering, demonstrating, and attacking army and police forces and causing injuries due to clashes that ensued. According to the organization, security forces beat some protesters, and a four-year-old girl died from tear gas used by security forces during the protests.

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

The constitution prohibits such actions and provides for the privacy of the home, correspondence, telephone calls, and other means of communication. Nevertheless, there were reports that security agencies sometimes placed political activists, journalists, foreigners, and writers under surveillance; monitored their private communications; screened their correspondence, including email and social media accounts; examined their bank records; searched their persons and homes without judicial authorization; and confiscated personal property in an extrajudicial manner. Ahead of planned protests or demonstrations, there were reports of police stopping young persons in public places and searching their telephones for evidence of involvement in political activities deemed antigovernment in nature.

The constitution protects the right to privacy, including on the internet. The constitution provides for the confidentiality and “inviolability” of postal, telegraphic, and electronic correspondence; telephone calls; and other means of communication. They may not be confiscated, revealed, or monitored except with a judicial order, only for a definite period, and only in cases defined by law. The law allows the president to issue written or oral directives to monitor and intercept all forms of communication and correspondence, impose censorship prior to publication, and confiscate publications.

Surveillance was a significant concern for internet users. The constitution states that private communications “may only be confiscated, examined, or monitored by causal judicial order, for a limited period of time, and in cases specified by the law.” Judicial warrants are required for authorities to enter, search, or monitor private property such as homes. In practice the government’s surveillance operations lacked transparency, potentially violating the constitution’s privacy protections. There were credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority, including cyberattacks to gain access to devices and accounts belonging to critics of the government.

On May 22, the Interior Ministry posted pretrial videos showing defendants making confessions. Human Rights attorneys claimed this violated the law and constitution and the secrecy of investigations. On June 14, journalist Mohamed Mounir posted on Facebook a surveillance video allegedly showing security forces breaking into his apartment. Security forces arrested him on June 15, after which the State Security Prosecution held him in pretrial detention on accusations of joining a banned group, spreading false news, and misusing social media. Al-Jazeera showed an interview with him on June 13 and published an article he wrote on June 14 that criticized the government’s handling of COVID-19. On July 13, Mounir died from COVID-19 in a hospital, 11 days after his release from detention for medical reasons.

g. Abuses in Internal Conflict

The conflict in North Sinai involving government security forces, terrorist organizations, and other armed groups (including militias and criminal gangs) continued. According to media reports, at least 36 troops were killed in attacks on government positions or in counterterrorist operations between January and July. Rights groups and international media reported that the armed forces used indiscriminate violence during military operations resulting in killings of civilians and destruction of property. The government continued to impose restrictions on North Sinai residents’ travel to mainland Egypt and movement within North Sinai Governorate. During the year the armed forces initiated some development projects, such as building houses and a desalination plant.

The government severely restricted media access to North Sinai. On May 22, the State Information Service reported that the Interior Ministry arrested 12 persons for allegedly fabricating reports to media on conditions in North Sinai. There were continuing reports of periodic shortages of food, fuel, and other supplies as a result of the conflict in North Sinai. Armed groups disrupted water and electricity services in al-Arish and Sheikh Zuweid.

Killings: The government acknowledged no civilian deaths due to security force actions. Human rights organizations stated some persons killed by security forces were civilians. A local NGO reported 12 civilian deaths, 42 security force deaths, and 178 terrorist deaths in the conflict in Sinai through July.

Human rights groups and media reported civilian casualties following army artillery fire or stray bullets from unidentified sources in civilian residential areas. An estimated 621 civilians were killed and 1,247 were injured between July 2013 and mid-2017 by stray bullets and shelling from unknown sources, according to statistics from the North Sinai Social Solidarity Directorate cited in a May 2019 press report.

Terrorist and other armed groups continued to target the armed forces and civilians, using gunfire, improvised explosive devices, and other tactics. On July 21, militants attacked a military camp in the village of Rabea in North Sinai. The spokesperson for the armed forces stated that two soldiers, one civilian, and 18 militants were killed in the attack. On July 24, local media quoted a source who said that militants checking identification at a checkpoint in Qatiya village discovered a noncommissioned military officer and killed him on the spot. The militants claimed they killed 40 security force members. Local media reported on August 13 that ISIS-Sinai executed four Egyptian citizens after the attack for their alleged cooperation with the army.

Abductions: Terrorist groups and other armed groups abducted civilians in North Sinai. According to human rights groups, terrorist groups and other armed groups sometimes released abductees; other abductees were often shot or beheaded. According to human rights groups, terrorist groups and other armed groups abducted civilians suspected of cooperating with security forces. Local Sinai media reported that militants released one abductee on May 15 and another on August 1. On August 17, local media reported that ISIS-Sinai kidnapped a citizen in Bir al-Abd for ransom.

Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: In March, Human Rights Watch reported that military forces in North Sinai arrested a 12-year-old boy in 2017, detained him without notice to his family or attorneys for six months, waterboarded and tortured him with electricity, suspended him by one handcuffed hand, and placed him in solitary confinement for approximately 100 days after his older brother allegedly joined ISIS-Sinai.

In the same report, Human Rights Watch and a local human rights organization documented the cases of 20 children who had been detained and abused by security forces across the country. According to the children and their families, all were subjected to arbitrary arrest. Authorities ordered their pretrial detention for extended periods; one boy was in pretrial detention for 30 months despite a two-year maximum in law. In at least nine cases, children were detained with adults. At least 13 of the children were allegedly physically tortured during interrogation, another was verbally threatened to confess to crimes, and at least one more child was severely beaten by prison officials.

Other Conflict-related Abuse: After the July 21 attack on Rabea, local media reported that many residents in nearby villages on the outskirts of Bir al-Abd fled their homes amid a rapidly deteriorating security situation. Armed militants with ISIS-Sinai occupied the villages of Qatiya, Iqtiya, Ganayen, and Merih, forcing mass displacement from the area, according to local media. On October 10, residents from the four villages started returning to their homes after the armed forces began clearing the area of terrorist elements. Explosions caused by hidden explosive devices killed several villagers upon their return. An international organization reported on July 29 that combatants in North Sinai regularly placed explosive devices at the entrance of villages and along the road.

On June 27, the government reported it paid nearly EGP 3.5 billion ($219 million) to residents as compensation to those affected by the security confrontations in North Sinai and that residents benefited from humanitarian aid valued at more than EGP 397 million ($25 million) and medical services of EGP 204 million ($13 million) through the end of May. The report stated the state also paid EGP 2.7 billion ($169 million) to owners of demolished houses and those affected by the 2017 Sinai mosque attack in the village of Al Rawda in North Sinai.

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 includes a clause stating, “It may be subject to limited censorship in times of war or public mobilization.” The government frequently did not respect this right. Government failure to investigate or prosecute attacks on human rights defenders and peaceful protesters led to de facto restrictions on freedom of assembly and association. On June 10, a local human rights organization said authorities did not investigate police reports it filed after several attacks against its director between October and December 2019 that resulted in bodily injury to the director and theft of his car. On June 27, eight human rights organizations condemned a media attack against the director after he published a report on conditions in Gamassa Prison.

On February 16, the Supreme Council for Media Regulation issued executive regulations for the media law ratified in 2018. Among the regulations, newspapers are required to print their issues in Egypt at licensed printing houses registered with the council; news websites must host their servers in Egypt; newspapers must submit 20 copies of each printed issue to the council; and news websites and television outlets must keep copies all of published or broadcast material online for one year and submit a copy of their published or broadcast material to the council every month. The regulations also prohibit any recording, filming, or interviews in public places with the intention of broadcasting them on a media outlet without a permit issued by the council.

Freedom of Speech: Citizens expressed their views on a wide range of political and social topics. Nonetheless, the government investigated and prosecuted critics for alleged incitement of violence, insults to religion, insults to public figures and institutions such as the judiciary and the military, or violation of public morals.

Between March and July, authorities arrested at least seven doctors and charged them with membership in a banned group, spreading false news, and misuse of social media after they criticized the government’s response to COVID-19. Between October and December, three doctors were released pending investigation. The Doctors’ Syndicate protested the arrests and called for release of all the doctors. On October 1, the State Security Prosecution ordered the 15-day pretrial detention of prominent lawyer Tarek Jamil Saeed pending investigations of disturbing the peace, spreading rumors, and misusing social media after he criticized candidates for parliament. Saeed was released on bail on October 11.

On December 27, a criminal court ordered the release of housing-rights researcher Ibrahim Ezzedine with probationary measures. Ezzedine remained in detention until the end of the year. According to a local human rights organization, he was held without notice beginning in June 2019 after criticizing the government’s urban slums policies and appeared in November 2019 before the State Security Prosecution accused of joining a banned group and spreading false news.

A criminal court on September 13 renewed the 45-day pretrial detention of Mohamed Ramadan, who was arrested in 2018 for “inciting social unrest” after he posted a photograph of himself wearing a yellow vest akin to those worn by political protesters in France. After a court ordered Ramadan’s release on bail on December 2, the State Security Prosecution ordered him remanded into custody on December 8 on additional charges of joining a banned group based upon letters he sent while in detention.

The law provides a broad definition of terrorism, to include “any act harming national unity or social peace.” Human rights observers expressed concern that authorities used the ambiguous definition to stifle nonviolent speech and nonviolent opposition activity.

Between January and September, a local organization that tracks freedom of association and speech recorded 96 violations of the freedoms of media and artistic and digital expression. In June 2019 several political figures were arrested, including El-Aleimy and journalist Hossam Moanes, after they met to form the political Alliance of Hope to run in parliamentary elections. They remained in pretrial detention. On March 11, a misdemeanor court sentenced El-Aleimy to one year in prison for spreading false news and disturbing public peace as a result of a BBC interview in 2017. On April 18, a terrorism court added 13 defendants from the “Hope” case to the terrorism list, including former member of parliament and Social Democratic Party leader Ziyad El-Aleimy and activist Ramy Shaath, for alleged collaboration with the banned Muslim Brotherhood. On June 16, the Cairo Criminal Court turned down a challenge filed by Moanes against an August 2019 ruling to seize his money. On August 4, the Cairo Criminal Court upheld a freeze on the assets of 83 defendants in the case (No. 930/2019). On October 10, a criminal court ordered the release of four Alliance of Hope defendants, including activist Ahmed Tammam. On November 14, an administrative court heard the lawsuit filed by El-Aleimy to allow him to receive telephone calls and correspondence. Amnesty International reported he was being denied adequate health care by Tora Prison authorities even though his underlying medical conditions put him at particular risk if exposed to COVID-19.

On March 19, the State Security Prosecution ordered the release of 15 political figures in pretrial detention, including political science professor Hassan Nafaa and former president Sisi campaigner Hazem Abdel Azim. Nafaa was arrested in September 2019 with Hazem Hosni, spokesperson for Sami Anan’s 2018 presidential campaign, and journalist Khaled Dawoud. On December 27, a criminal court renewed Hosni’s and Dawoud’s pretrial detention for 45 days pending investigations of joining a banned group and spreading false news and ordered Hosni’s release. The State Security Prosecution ordered Hosni’s continued detention in a new case on November 4. On July 5, a criminal court overturned the public prosecutor’s 2019 decision to freeze Nafaa’s fixed assets and stayed the public prosecutor’s decision to seize his assets until the Supreme Constitutional Court rules on the constitutionality of Article 47 of the Antiterrorism Law.

On August 5, the writer and prominent leftist Sinai activist, Ashraf Ayoub, and his son Sherif, were detained in Arish city, North Sinai, and taken to an unknown location. According to a labor leader, Ayoub advocated for detainees. After 20 days, Ayoub appeared before the State Security Prosecution, which ordered his pretrial detention on charges of joining a terrorism group and spreading false news. According to local media, Ayoub’s son was released without charges in mid-August.

In May security forces arrested sports critic Awny Nafae while he was under government-imposed COVID-19 quarantine after returning from Saudi Arabia, according to local media. The arrest came after Nafae criticized the Ministry of Emigration for its handling of thousands of Egyptian nationals stranded abroad amid the COVID-19 pandemic. He was held in pretrial detention on charges of spreading false news, misusing social media, and participating in a terrorist group, but he was released in October.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media expressed a variety of views but with significant restrictions. The constitution, penal code, and the media and publications law govern media issues. The government regulated the licensing of newspapers and controlled the printing and distribution of a majority of newspapers, including private newspapers. The law does not impose restrictions on newspaper ownership.

More than 20 state-owned media outlets broadly supported official state policy. The National Press Authority holds the power to appoint and dismiss editorial leadership of state-owned print outlets. The governmental Egyptian Radio and Television Union appointed the heads of state-owned radio and television channels. Both state-owned and private media (including television and online journalism) occasionally broadcast and published mild criticism of government policies, but dominant media narratives supported the president and his policy initiatives.

The law considers websites and social media accounts with at least 5,000 subscribers as media outlets, requires them to pay a licensing fee of EGP 50,000 ($3,030), and grants the Supreme Council for Media Regulation (Supreme Council) broad discretion to block their content.

According to media reports, on April 21, the Supreme Council fined the newspaper Al Masry Al Youm for an op-ed written by its founder Salah Diab under a pseudonym. The article suggested that Sinai should have one governor with expanded powers to better govern the entire peninsula. The Supreme Council ordered the newspaper to remove the op-ed, issue an apology, and suspend Diab’s opinion pieces for one month. On May 12, the Supreme Council ordered media not to publish or broadcast any material under pseudonyms without the approval of the Supreme Council.

On April 12, authorities arrested Mustafa Saqr, owner of the Business News company, and the State Security Prosecution detained him for 15 days pending investigations on charges of colluding with a terrorist, spreading false news, and misusing social media. His arrest came after he published an article that discussed the impact of COVID-19 on the economy.

As of December the Committee to Protect Journalists reported 27 journalists were imprisoned in the country.

During the year the government raided several newspapers, arrested employees, and released them shortly thereafter. On June 24, the security services arrested Noura Younis, editor in chief of the independent news website Al-Manassa and a former Washington Post correspondent. On June 26, authorities released Younis on bail pending trial on charges of creating a network account with the intent to commit a crime, possessing software without a license from the National Telecom Regulatory Authority, copyright infringement, and wrongfully profiting through the internet or telecommunication services.

On May 11, authorities arrested Al-Masry Al-Youm journalist Haitham Mahgoub, days after he published an article relating to the country’s response to COVID-19, according to media. Media reported that Mahgoub and his attorneys were not allowed to attend the June 7 hearing where the State Security Prosecution ordered his 15-day pretrial detention pending investigations of joining a banned group, financing a banned group, and spreading false news. Mahgoub was released on November 19 pending further investigation. On May 22, television stations broadcast confessions of four of 11 journalists and media workers whom the Interior Ministry claimed were part of a Muslim Brotherhood plot to produce false reports for al-Jazeera. Human rights lawyers challenged the confessions and their pretrial publication as illegal.

Violence and Harassment: According to media reports and local and international human rights groups, state actors arrested and imprisoned, harassed, and intimidated journalists. Foreign correspondents reported cases where the government denied them entry, deported them, and delayed or denied issuance of media credentials; some claimed these actions were part of a government campaign to intimidate foreign media.

On March 17, the State Information Service revoked the accreditation of a correspondent for the London-based Guardian newspaper, after it published a report addressing the spread of the COVID-19 in the country. On March 26, the Guardian reported that authorities forced the correspondent to leave the country.

On March 30, authorities ordered the detention of Mohamad Al-Eter, the Ultra Sawt website correspondent, for 15 days pending investigations. He was accused of joining a terrorist group, publishing false news, and misusing the online social networks. A court granted Al-Eter bail in May, and he was released on June 1 pending investigation.

According to Freedom House, multiple prominent digital activists and online journalists remained in prison. In many cases the individuals faced charges unrelated to their online activities, although their supporters argued they were arrested to prevent them from expressing their views. Spreading false news, affiliation with a terrorist or banned group, insulting the state, and inciting demonstrations were the prevailing allegations used to justify the arrest of human rights activists.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Official censorship occurred. The state of emergency empowered the president to monitor newspapers, publications, editorials, drawings, and all means of expression and to order the seizure, confiscation, and closure of publications and print houses. The emergency law allows the president to censor information during a state of emergency.

In June the Supreme Council for Media Regulation stated that all media in any form had to use official sources to publish or broadcast any information about Libya, the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, the war against terrorism in Sinai, or COVID-19.

In June a media rights organization said that the government blocked thousands of websites, including 127 media websites.

The rising number of arrests for social media posts had a chilling effect on online speech. Some activists and many journalists reported privately they self-censored criticism of the government or comments that could be perceived as sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood, due to the overall anti-Muslim Brotherhood and progovernment media environment. Publishers were also wary of publishing books that criticized religious institutions, such as al-Azhar, or challenged Islamic doctrine. On August 15, the National Translation Center published its translation guidelines, including conditions that books it translates do not “oppose religion, social values, morals and customs.” According to media, professional writers and translators denounced the rules as a form of censorship. Online journalists were also reluctant to discuss sensitive topics such as sectarian tensions, sexuality, political detainees, military operations in the Sinai, and the military’s outsized role in the national economy.

Libel/Slander Laws: Local and international rights groups reported cases of authorities charging and convicting individuals with denigrating religion under the so-called blasphemy law, targeting primarily Christians but also Muslims. On June 21, the Alexandria Economic Misdemeanor Appeals Court upheld the February 27 three-year sentence against activist and blogger Anas Hassan for “insulting religion and misusing social media.” According to a local human rights organization, security forces arrested Hassan in August 2019 for his Facebook page “The Egyptian Atheists” that a police report stated contained atheistic ideas and criticism of the “divinely revealed religions.”

National Security: The law allows government censors to block the publication of information related to intelligence and national security.

The law imposes a fine on any person who “intentionally publishes…or spreads false news.” The fine is many times the average annual salary of most local journalists. In 2018 authorities established hotlines for members of the public to call or leave text messages reporting fake news in either traditional or social media that endangers state security.

On March 10, the prime minister instructed relevant authorities to take all necessary, legal measures against anyone who broadcasts false news, statements, or rumors regarding COVID-19. On March 28, the Public Prosecution affirmed in a statement that it would address such “fake news” stories according to the law.

On March 18, security forces arrested Atef Hasballah, editor in chief of Alkarar Press website, at his home in Aswan following a critical post on his Facebook page questioning official statistics on the spread of COVID-19 cases in the country. He appeared before the State Security Prosecution on April 14, which ordered his 15-day pretrial detention pending investigation.

A local independent human rights organization reported that journalist Basma Mostafa was detained for nine hours while covering a crowd of citizens waiting for a COVID-19 test at the Ministry of Health’s Central Laboratories in downtown Cairo. Media reported Mostafa was arrested on October 3 while covering the death of Luxor Governorate citizen Ewais al-Rawy (see section 1.a.) and ensuing protests; Mostafa was released on October 6.

On February 12, local media reported that the Supreme Council for Media Regulations sent a warning letter to 16 news websites and social network accounts concerning posting “false news” regarding a reported COVID-19 infection case in Tanta City. It also included a directive to ban publishing any information other than the Ministry of Health’s official data.

Judges may issue restraining orders to prevent media from covering court cases considered sensitive on national security grounds. Rights groups stated authorities sometimes misused the orders to shield government, police, or military officials from public scrutiny. Citing safety and security, the government and military restricted media access to many parts of North Sinai.

On March 11, authorities released, with probationary measures, blogger Islam al-Refai, known as Khorm, who ran a satirical Twitter account with 75,000 followers. He had been held in pretrial detention since 2017, according to his attorney. NGOs continued to claim that authorities used counterterrorism and state-of-emergency laws and courts unjustly to prosecute journalists, activists, lawyers, political party members, university professors, and critics for their peaceful criticism.

Internet Freedom

The constitution prohibits the government from “arbitrarily” interrupting, disconnecting, or depriving citizens seeking to use all forms of internet communications.

Telecommunications services and internet service providers are regulated by the National Telecommunications Regulatory Authority under the 2003 Telecommunication Regulation Law. The law does not guarantee the independence of the National Telecommunications Regulatory Authority. The government centralized the internet infrastructure and fiber-optic cables, allowing considerable state control over internet access, including restricting and disrupting user access and censoring online content. Law enforcement agencies restricted or disrupted individuals’ access to the internet, and the government monitored social media accounts and internet usage, relying on a law that only allows targeted interception of communications under judicial oversight for a limited period and does not permit indiscriminate mass surveillance. The public prosecutor prosecuted individuals accused of posting “insulting” material.

On August 25, a criminal court in a terrorism circuit sentenced in absentia the director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, Bahey Eldin Hassan, to 15 years in prison for publishing false news and insulting the judiciary. In March Hassan, who lived abroad, learned that a criminal court in a separate case sentenced him in September 2019 in absentia to three years in prison on charges of spreading false news and tweeting phrases that undermined and discredited the judiciary. Hassan criticized the Public Prosecution on Twitter in 2018.

The counterterrorism law criminalizes the use of the internet to “promote ideas or beliefs that call for terrorist acts” or to “broadcast what is intended to mislead security authorities or influence the course of justice in relation to any terrorist crime.” The law also authorizes the public prosecutor and investigators to monitor and record online communications among suspects in terrorism cases for a period of 30 days, renewable in 30-day increments. The law does not specify a maximum period. On October 8, several UN human rights special rapporteurs in the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights stated the country was using “terrorism charges” and “terrorism circuit courts” “to target legitimate human rights activities,” silence dissent, and detain activists during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The cybercrime law states, “The relevant investigating authority may, when the evidence indicates that a website is broadcasting phrases, numbers, pictures, videos, or any promotional material, that constitutes one of the crimes enshrined in this law, and poses a threat to national security or endangers the security or economy of the country, order the blocking of the website.” The government issued implementing regulations for the law on August 27. On May 20, several local human rights organizations accused the government of restricting access to information during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Media reported that authorities arrested a group of women in June and July who posted videos on the TikTok social media app. On July 27, a Cairo Economic Court sentenced TikTok influencers Haneen Hossam and Mawada Eladhm and three others to two years in prison and fined each for “violating family values” based on the cybercrime law. An appeal was scheduled for January 10, 2021. On August 18, a criminal court upheld an administrative decision to freeze the assets of Hossam and Eladhm.

On August 6, authorities released TikTok influencer Manar Samy on bail pending an appeal. On September 19, a Tanta Economic Court upheld her sentence of three years in prison with hard labor for “inciting debauchery and violating family values” for content she posted on social media. Authorities also arrested members of Samy’s family for resisting authorities. On September 30, a Cairo Economic Court sentenced TikTok influencers Sherifa Rifaat, known as “Sherry Hanim,” and her daughter, Zumoroda, to six years in prison and fined each for assaulting family values and inciting prostitution. A court was scheduled to examine the appeal in January 2021.

There were reports the government temporarily blocked access to internet messaging applications.

The government attempted to disrupt the communications of terrorist groups operating in Sinai by cutting mobile services, internet, and sometimes landlines.

The law obliges internet service providers and mobile operators to allow government access to customer databases, allowing security forces to obtain information regarding activities of specific customers, which observers noted could lead to lack of online anonymity.

There were reports authorities monitored social media and internet dating sites to identify and arrest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals (see section 6, Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity).

On June 25, a local media rights organization reported that since May 2017 the state had blocked at least 547 websites, including at least 127 news websites. The blocked sites included international NGOs, local human rights NGOs, and numerous virtual private network services. Some blockages appeared intended to respond to critical coverage of the government or to disrupt antigovernment political activity or demonstrations. On April 9, authorities blocked the newly established Daarb website run by human rights defender Khaled al Balshy, one month after its launch.

In 2017 the news website Mada Masr sued the government seeking information on why it was blocked. In 2018 the Court of Administrative Justice referred the case for technical review by the Justice Ministry’s Authority of Experts. This review was pending at year’s end.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were reports of government restrictions on academic freedom and cultural events. The removal of references to the country’s 2011 and 2013 revolutions from high school history class curricula continued after a 2017 decree from the Ministry of Education and Technical Education. According to media and local rights groups, a degree of self-censorship, like that reported by nonacademic commentators, existed when academics publicly commented on sensitive political and socioeconomic issues. University faculty members and Ministry of Education employees (including teachers) needed security agency approval to travel abroad for academic or professional purposes. Faculty and officials at public universities and research centers also must obtain Ministry of Foreign Affairs permission to travel abroad for any reason. Some public universities restricted campus visits of foreign speakers or delegations or required a faculty chaperone for delegations of university students traveling to the United States.

On May 8, authorities at the Cairo International Airport confiscated the passport of Walid Salem, a University of Washington doctoral student, preventing him from traveling. Authorities arrested Salem in May 2018 while he was conducting political science dissertation research on the Egyptian judiciary and released him in December 2018 with a travel ban and probationary measures pending trial. On February 22, the State Security Prosecution canceled the probationary measures and released him under guarantee of his place of residence.

There was censorship of cultural events. A prime ministerial decree issued in 2018 declares it unlawful to hold a special event or festival without “prior license from the Ministry of Culture and liaising with relevant state entities.” This requirement added to existing regulations, under which organizations must obtain a permit from the Ministry of Culture’s Censorship Board, as well as permits from the Interior Ministry and the relevant artists’ union for concerts, performances, and other cultural events. The Ministry of Culture must approve all scripts and final productions of plays and films. The ministry censored foreign films to be shown in theaters but did not censor the same films sold as DVDs.

On February 16, the Musicians Syndicate banned Mahraganat music, a popular street-music genre, in public and prohibited any dealings with Mahraganat singers without the syndicate’s permission. This decision came two days after a Cairo concert where Mahraganat singers used what the syndicate considered inappropriate words. A few hours after the decision, the Tourism Police prevented Omar Kamal from holding a concert in a Cairo hotel. The syndicate and the Department of Censorship of Artistic Works filed police reports against a number of Mahraganat singers.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The constitution provides for freedom of assembly “according to notification regulated by law.” The demonstrations law includes an expansive list of prohibited activities, giving a judge the authority to prohibit or curtail planned demonstrations after submitting an official memorandum. Domestic and international human rights organizations asserted the law did not meet international standards regarding freedom of assembly. On January 18, an administrative court dismissed a lawsuit filed by a local human rights organization in 2017 challenging the law. A government-imposed exclusion zone prohibits protests within 2,600 feet (790 meters) of vital governmental institutions.

On March 22, President Sisi ratified amendments to the Prison Regulation Law, preventing the conditional release of those convicted of assembly crimes, among other crimes.

There were protests throughout the year, mostly small, and some occurred without government interference. In most cases the government rigorously enforced the law restricting demonstrations, in some instances using force, including in cases of small groups of protesters demonstrating peacefully.

On February 7, authorities detained Patrick George Zaki, a student at the University of Bologna, at the Cairo International Airport. Media reported he was beaten and subjected to electric shocks. On February 8, Zaki appeared before the prosecutor, who ordered his pretrial detention on charges of inciting individuals to protest in September 2019, spreading false news, promoting terrorism, and harming national security. A criminal court renewed his pretrial detention for 45 days on December 6.

On April 22, a local NGO reported that authorities released 3,633 of the 3,717 protesters detained after street demonstrations in September 2019. According to the report, approximately 1,680 defendants were released in 2019, approximately 1,983 were released in the first quarter of 2020, and an estimated 54 remained in detention. On February 5, the Al-Mokattam Emergency Misdemeanor Court ordered the acquittal of 102 individuals of charges of attacking the Mokattam police station in protest against the death in custody of Mohamed Abdel Hakim. Government investigators reported that Hakim had died from beatings by two police employees following his arrest in 2018.

On July 1, the Cassation Court reduced the prison sentence of a Central Security Forces officer, Yaseen Hatem, from 10 years to seven years for the death of activist Shaimaa el-Sabbagh. Hatem was convicted of wounding that led to the death and deliberately wounding other protesters during a 2015 protest marking the fourth anniversary of the January 25 revolution.

According to a local human rights organization, thousands of persons whom authorities arrested during 2013 and 2014 due to their participation in demonstrations (some of which were peaceful) remained imprisoned; however, authorities released others who had completed their sentences. Authorities reportedly held such individuals under charges of attending an unauthorized protest, incitement to violence, or “blocking roads.” Human rights groups claimed authorities inflated or used these charges solely to target individuals suspected of being members of groups in opposition to the government or those who sought to exercise the rights to free assembly or association.

On April 12, the State Security Prosecution ordered the release of 35 detainees on bail whom authorities had accused of spreading false news about COVID-19, some of whom had participated in a street march in Alexandria on March 23 after curfew, despite government restrictions on gatherings during the pandemic. On April 25, authorities released 20 detainees on bail who had participated in an April 23 street march after curfew in Alexandria to celebrate Ramadan and protest COVID-19.

On June 17, a local human rights organization filed an official complaint with the prosecutor general to release activist Mohamed Adel as he reached the two-year legal limit for pretrial detention since his June 2018 arrest on charges of violating the protest law. On December 21, State Security Prosecution ordered Adel’s detention for 15 days pending investigation in a new case on charges of joining and funding a terrorist group, meeting terrorist leaders in prison, and spreading false news. Reports indicated that in September more than 2,000 persons, including at least 70 younger than 18, were arrested in response to small demonstrations marking the first anniversary of the anticorruption protests of September 2019. On September 27, the Public Prosecution ordered the release of 68 of the 70 minors who had been arrested. In early November more than 400 persons arrested during the demonstrations were released from prison, and in early December approximately 67 additional individuals were also released.

Freedom of Association

The constitution provides for freedom of association. The law governing associations, however, significantly restricts this right.

A 2019 law governing NGOs eliminated prison sentences as penalties and removed formal oversight roles for security and intelligence authorities. It also required the government to issue executive regulations to clarify that NGOs will have exclusive access to and control of NGO funds as well as procedural protections, such as impartial administrative and judicial appeal mechanisms. On November 25, the cabinet approved the executive regulations. As of December 31, however, they had not been published in the official gazette.

The penal code criminalizes the request for or acceptance of foreign funds, materiel, weapons, ammunition, or “other things” from states or NGOs “with the intent to harm the national interest.” Those convicted may be sentenced to life in prison (or the death penalty in the case of public officials) for crimes committed during times of war or with “terrorist purpose.”

As of year’s end, lawyer Amr Emam remained in detention pending investigations on charges of colluding with a terrorist organization, publishing false news, and misusing social media to spread false information. Emam was arrested in October 2019 after he began a hunger strike and sit-in to protest the arrests, alleged abuse, and continued detention of journalist Esraa Abdel Fattah, activist Alaa Abdel Fattah, and lawyer Mohamed Elbakr. In late August Emam, along with Esraa Abdel Fattah and Mohamed Elbakr, was added to a new case on similar charges.

On September 6, after a criminal court ordered his release on August 26, the State Security Prosecution ordered the 15-day pretrial detention of Ibrahim Metwally Hegazy on new charges. This was the third case against Hegazy, a human rights lawyer and founder of the Association of the Families of the Disappeared, since his 2017 arrest at the Cairo International Airport while traveling to Geneva to participate in the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances.

The Muslim Brotherhood, the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Freedom and Justice Party, and its NGO remained illegal, and the Muslim Brotherhood was listed as a designated terrorist organization.

Authorities continued investigations of local NGOs that received foreign funding under a case originally brought in 2011. On July 18, the Cairo Criminal Court denied a motion to lift the travel bans imposed on 14 defendants in the case, including Nazra for Feminist Studies founder Mozn Hassan and others, accused of receiving foreign funding to harm national security in connection with her NGO. On December 5, an investigative judge dismissed criminal charges, including receiving foreign funding to harm the national interests, and lifted the travel bans and asset freezes against 20 domestic NGOs involved in the 2011 case.

A court case brought by el-Nadeem Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence (also registered under the name el-Nadeem for Psychological Rehabilitation) challenging a 2016 closure order remained pending an expert report ordered by the court. The organization asserted the closure was politically motivated, targeting el-Nadeem because of its work investigating torture, deaths in detention, and impunity for these crimes. The organization continued to operate in a limited capacity.

In November Mohamed Basheer, Karim Ennarah, and executive director Gasser Abdel Razek of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights were arrested on charges of “joining a terror group” and “spreading false news.” On December 3, authorities released the three pending investigation. On December 6, the Third Terrorism Circuit Court ordered a temporary freeze on the personal assets of the three employees.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights, albeit with some exceptions, including the handling of potential refugees and asylum seekers.

In-country Movement: Citizens and foreigners may not travel freely in areas of the country designated as military zones. The government sought to prevent private individuals, journalists, civil society figures, and international organizations from entering North Sinai on safety grounds.

Foreign Travel: The constitution states, “No citizen may be prevented from leaving the State territory.” Nonetheless, men who have not completed compulsory military service and have not obtained an exemption may not travel abroad or emigrate. National identification cards indicated completion of military service.

Authorities required citizens between ages 18 and 40 to obtain permission from the Interior Ministry to travel to 16 countries: Georgia, Guinea, Indonesia, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Malaysia, Qatar, South Africa, South Korea, Sudan, Syria, Thailand, Turkey, and Yemen. Enforcement of these regulations was sporadic. The government stated it intended these regulations to make it more difficult for citizens to join terrorist groups and to stop flight of criminals. These regulations also affected the ability of other individuals to travel outside the country. Authorities maintained a “no-fly” list that prevented some defendants in court cases from fleeing the country.

The government-imposed travel bans on human rights defenders and political activists under investigation or formally charged. Local human rights groups maintained that authorities used travel bans to intimidate and silence human rights defenders. A 2018 court ruling stated a travel ban “does not require the investigation of certain facts and their certainty,” but there must be “serious evidence that there are reasons for it and that the decision to prevent travel is due to security reasons and the interests of the state.”

Democracy activist Esraa Abdel Fattah remained unable to depart the country because of a travel ban (see section 1.c. regarding her arrest).

Exile: There was no government-imposed exile, and the constitution prohibits the government from expelling citizens or banning citizens from returning to the country. Some Mubarak- and Morsi-era politicians lived outside the country by choice and stated they faced government threats of prosecution.

On June 6, the Supreme Administrative Court ruled the Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not have to renew the passport of Ayman Nour, the president of the opposition New Ghad Party who was living abroad. Nour filed the lawsuit when the ministry refused to renew his passport at the Egyptian consulates in Turkey and Lebanon.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not Applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

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

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Media, NGOs, and UNHCR staff reported multiple cases of attacks against refugees, particularly women and children. According to UNHCR, refugees sometimes reported harassment, sexual harassment, and discrimination. Refugee women and girls, particularly sub-Saharan Africans, faced the greatest risk of societal, sexual, and gender-based violence.

According to UNHCR and press reports, police security sweeps increased in neighborhoods known to house Syrian, Sudanese, and other African refugees, as well as migrants, resulting in increased detentions. Detainees reported authorities subjected them to verbal abuse and poor detention conditions.

Refoulement: Although the government often contacted UNHCR upon detaining unregistered migrants and asylum seekers, authorities reportedly sometimes encouraged unregistered detainees to choose to return to their countries of origin or a neighboring country to avoid continued detention, even in cases where the individuals expressed a fear of return. The number of these cases was unknown.

On January 8, the Supreme Administrative Court made a final ruling that the government could not extradite to Libya six former Libyan officials who were part of the government of former president Muammar Gaddafi. The court stated that according to domestic and international law, they were entitled to protection in Egypt.

UNHCR protested the government’s November 2019 deportation of a Yemeni asylee to Yemen. According to UNHCR, the asylee was arrested in August 2019 in Egypt for his alleged conversion from Islam to Christianity and subsequent proselytizing activities.

Access to Asylum: The constitution provides for the protection of political refugees, but the law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a comprehensive legal regime for providing protection to refugees. The government granted UNHCR authority to make refugee status determinations. UNHCR does not register Libyan citizens; neither does it register or assist Palestinian refugees in the country.

According to UNHCR as of March, asylum seekers in the country came mainly from Syria, as well as from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iraq, South Sudan, Sudan, and Yemen.

In 2013 the government began applying a system of visa and security clearance requirements for Syrian nationals and Palestinian refugees from Syria, thus assuring no direct entries from Syria, since Egypt lacked consular services there. Following the UNHCR’s visit in 2017, the country relaxed its visa requirements for Syrians seeking family reunification.

Reports of irregular movements of individuals, including asylum seekers, and detention of foreign nationals attempting to depart the country irregularly via the Mediterranean, remained low during the year, according to UNHCR, following enactment and enforcement of a law dramatically increasing patrols on the country’s Mediterranean coast in 2016.

UNHCR and its partners usually had regular access, by request, to detained registered refugees and asylum seekers along the north coast. Local rights groups faced continued resistance from the government when trying to interview detainees at Qanater men’s and women’s prisons outside Cairo, which housed most detained refugees and asylum seekers. Authorities generally granted UNHCR access to asylum seekers at all prison and detention facilities. Authorities generally released asylum seekers registered with UNHCR, although frequently not detained migrants, many of whom were Eritrean, Ethiopian, Somali, and Sudanese (who may have had a basis for asylum claims). Authorities often held detained migrants as unregistered asylum seekers in police stations until UNHCR or other aid agencies assisted them, although sometimes authorities sent some to regular prisons alongside convicted criminals or deported them.

The government has never recognized UNHCR’s mandate to offer services to Palestinians outside of the fields of operations of the UN Relief and Works Agency, reportedly due to a belief that allowing UNHCR registration would negate Palestinian refugees’ alleged right of return. Approximately 2,900 Palestinian refugees from Syria were also present in the country, the majority reportedly in Cairo. The Palestinian Authority mission in the country provided limited assistance to this population. The Swiss Red Cross also provided some humanitarian assistance to Palestinian refugees from Syria.

Employment: No law grants or prohibits refugees the right to work. Those seeking unauthorized employment were challenged by lack of jobs and societal discrimination, particularly against sub-Saharan Africans. Refugees who found work took low-paying jobs in the informal market, such as domestic servants, and were vulnerable to financial and sexual exploitation by employers.

Access to Basic Services: Refugees, in particular non-Arabic-speaking refugees from sub-Saharan Africa, received limited access to some services, including health care and public education. The Interior Ministry restricted access for some international organizations seeking to assist migrants and refugees in Sinai. UNHCR was unaware of any migrants detained in Sinai since 2016. UNHCR provided some refugees with modest support for education and health care, as well as small monthly financial assistance grants for particularly vulnerable refugees. The International Organization for Migration provided additional assistance to particularly vulnerable migrants and individual asylum cases that were either rejected or being processed by UNHCR.

Refugee children not enrolled in public schools mainly attended refugee-run schools or private schools, or they were home schooled. The law requires government hospitals to provide free emergency medical care to refugees, but many hospitals did not have adequate resources to do so. In some cases hospitals insisted that refugees provide payment in advance of receiving services or refused to provide services to refugees. One local refugee agency reported some refugees died due to the lack of medical care.

g. Stateless Persons

Of the eight stateless persons known to UNHCR, most were Armenians displaced for more than 50 years. According to a local civil society organization, the number of stateless persons in the country was likely higher than the number recorded by UNHCR. The government and UNHCR lacked a mechanism for identifying stateless persons, including those of disputed Sudanese/South Sudanese nationality and those of disputed Ethiopian/Eritrean nationality. A majority of the approximately 70,000 Palestinian refugees were stateless.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. Constraints on freedom of expression, association, and assembly, however, limited citizens’ ability to do so.

On July 29, President Sisi ratified legal amendments that ban active or retired military personal from running in presidential, parliamentary, or local council elections without prior approval from the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. Decisions are appealable within 30 days before the Supreme Judicial Committee for Officers and Personnel of the Armed Forces. Amnesty International said on July 30 that the amendments would allow President Sisi and the government to restrict electoral opposition.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Domestic and international organizations expressed concern that government limitations on freedoms of speech, association, and assembly severely constrained broad participation in the political process. Local media reported that video blogger and satirist Shady Abu Zeid was released from detention on October 17 with probationary measures based on an October 10 release order. Authorities arrested him in 2018 after the March presidential election on charges of spreading false news and joining a banned group; following a February 4 release order, he was charged in a new case on February 11 on the same charges. On November 21, a Cairo appeals court sentenced Abu Zeid to six months in prison following his conviction for insulting a government official in a Facebook post. On March 19, former Constitution Party leader Shady El Ghazali Harb was released after spending 22 months in detention. According to local media, authorities arrested Harb in 2018 after he made statements about the presidential elections. On July 27, authorities released the chief editor of the blocked Masr al-Ababiya news site, Adel Sabri, after he spent more than two years in detention. According to Front Line Defenders, authorities arrested Sabri in 2018 after Masr al-Arabiya published a translation of a New York Times article that claimed authorities gave bribes to citizens to vote during the presidential elections.

There were two rounds of elections during the year for the re-established 300-seat upper house, or “Senate,” and for the House of Representatives’ 568 elected seats. A progovernment coalition won an overwhelming majority of the Senate’s 200 elected seats; the president appointed the remaining 100 seats. Election observers documented visible judicial supervision, a tight security presence, available ambulances and wheelchairs, and COVID-19 precautions in place. Local media noted higher than expected participation by women and youth voters. One political coalition alleged instances of vote rigging and bribery that advantaged an opponent political party during the House of Representatives’ elections. Some opposition parties questioned the youth turnout, especially in poorer areas, and claimed they were “bussed in” to vote. Irregularities observed included campaign stickers at the entrance of some polling stations, distribution of campaign flyers to voters at one polling station, and some instances of voters not wearing masks or social distancing. No significant acts of violence or disturbances to the election processes were observed.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The constitution grants citizens the ability to form, register, and operate political parties. The law requires new parties to have a minimum of 5,000 members from each of at least 10 governorates. The constitution also states: “No political activity may be practiced and no political parties may be formed on the basis of religion or discrimination based on gender, origin, or sectarian basis or geographic location. No activity that is hostile to democratic principles, secretive, or of military or quasi-military nature may be practiced. Political parties may not be dissolved except by virtue of a court judgment.”

The Freedom and Justice Party, the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, remained banned. According to local media, on May 30, the Supreme Administrative Court dissolved the Islamist Building and Development Party, based on the allegation of the Political Parties Affairs that the party was affiliated with an Islamic group in violation of the law. Authorities did not ban other Islamist parties, including the Strong Egypt party.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: On July 2, President Sisi ratified laws governing legislative elections, as required by the April 2019 constitutional amendments. The new Senate law requires that women receive at least 10 percent of Senate seats. Women received 40 seats in the 300-seat Senate. Amendments to the House of Representatives law require that women receive at least 25 percent of House seats. Women received 148 of the 568 elected seats in the House of Representatives.

No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Social and cultural barriers, however, limited women’s political participation and leadership in most political parties and some government institutions. The April 2019 constitutional amendments introduced a requirement to better represent workers, farmers, youth, Christians, Egyptians abroad, and individuals with disabilities.

Eight women led cabinet ministries. There were two Christians among the appointed governors of the 27 governorates. In 2018 authorities appointed Manal Awad Michael, a Coptic woman, governor of Damietta, making her the country’s second female governor. On December 20, a female academic was appointed as deputy to the president of the Supreme Constitutional Court. In September the General Assembly of the Cairo Economic Court appointed for the first time a female judge as the head of civil division circuit of an appellate court. In 2018 the Supreme Judiciary Council promoted 16 female judges to higher courts, including the Qena Appeals Court. Legal experts stated there were approximately 66 female judges serving in family, criminal, economic, appeals, and misdemeanor courts; that total was less than 1 percent of judges. Several senior judges were Christian.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not consistently implement the law effectively, and officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.

Corruption: The Central Agency for Auditing and Accounting is the government’s internal anticorruption body and submitted reports to the president and prime minister that were not available to the public. The auditing and accounting agency stationed monitors at state-owned companies to report corrupt practices. The Administrative Control Authority (ACA), another state institution with technical, financial, and administrative independence, has jurisdiction over state administrative bodies, state-owned enterprises, public associations and institutions, private companies undertaking public work, and organizations to which the state contributes in any form. The ACA is a civilian agency led by personnel seconded from the military and intelligence services with authority to investigate any crimes related to public corruption. The ACA has no oversight role for allegations of corruption involving the military. In addition to anticorruption, it also has jurisdiction for criminal violations to include human trafficking and financial crimes.

On March 9, the ACA arrested Gamal Al-Showeikh, a member of parliament, for accepting a bribe to influence a real estate project in the Cairo. At year’s end, the case remained under investigation.

On February 23, the Cassation Court upheld a verdict issued in April 2019 by the Port Said Felonies court sentencing Gamal Abdel Azim, the former head of the Customs Authority, to 10 years in prison and a fine on charges of corruption and bribery.

On September 5, the Cairo Court of Appeals started hearing the retrial of a corruption case against Ahmed Shafiq, former prime minister and 2012 presidential candidate, and two former leaders in the Ministry of Civil Aviation on charges of wasting public funds and facilitating embezzlement. A Cairo criminal court acquitted Shafiq in absentia in 2013, and the Court of Cassation accepted the public prosecutor’s appeal and ordered the retrial on August 29. The court was scheduled to reconvene on January 4, 2021, to examine the case.

Financial Disclosure: There are no financial disclosure laws for public officials. The law forbids government officials from maintaining any pecuniary interest in matters over which they exercise authority.

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

International and local human rights organizations stated the government continued to be uncooperative. The Supreme Standing Committee for Human Rights, established by the cabinet and chaired by the minister of foreign affairs as an intragovernmental body, was launched during the year to devise a national human rights strategy, lead national efforts on human rights education and training, and work with regional and international human rights institutions. Domestic civil society organizations criticized the government’s consultations with civil society as insufficient.

Extended delays in gaining government approvals and an unclear legal environment continued to limit the ability of domestic and international NGOs to operate. State-owned and independent media frequently depicted NGOs, particularly international NGOs and domestic NGOs that received funding from international sources, as undertaking subversive activities. Some NGOs reported receiving visits or calls to staff, both at work and at home, from security service officers and tax officials monitoring their activities, as well as societal harassment.

Human rights defenders and political activists were also subjected to governmental and societal harassment and intimidation, including through travel bans (see section 2.d.).

Well-established, independent domestic human rights NGOs struggled to operate amid increasing pressure from security forces throughout the country. Online censorship (see section 2.a.) diminished the roles of internet activists and bloggers in publicizing information concerning human rights abuses. Authorities sometimes allowed civil society organizations not registered as NGOs to operate, but such organizations often reported harassment, along with threats of government interference, investigation, asset freezes, or closure.

The government continued investigations into the receipt of foreign funding by several human rights organizations (see section 2.b.). Major international human rights organizations, such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, had not had offices in the country since 2014.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: In 2018 the UN special rapporteur on the right to adequate housing visited the country, the first rapporteur to visit since 2010. Nine other UN special rapporteurs had pending visit requests. Authorities did not allow the International Committee of the Red Cross access to prisoners and detainees. The Interior Ministry provided international and local organizations informal access to some asylum seeker, refugee, and migrant detention centers (see section 2.d.).

Government Human Rights Bodies: The quasi-governmental National Council for Human Rights monitored government abuses of human rights submitted in the form of citizen complaints to the government. The council continued to function with its existing membership, even though under the law the terms of council members ended in 2016. Several well-known human rights activists served on the organization’s board, although some observers alleged the board’s effectiveness was limited because it lacked sufficient resources and the government rarely acted on its findings. The council at times challenged and criticized government policies and practices, calling for steps to improve its human rights record.

On March 7, the council issued a report covering May 2018 to July 2019. According to media, the council reported a significant decline in freedoms and stated there should be a statement of intent to make room for freedoms of expression, assembly, and association. Media reported that the council received complaints about detention deaths due to torture and identified possible changes to reduce impunity for torture.

On May 7, the council renewed its call to release detainees held in pretrial detention for longer than the two-year maximum. It highlighted the case of Shadi Habash, a filmmaker arrested in 2018 for directing a music video that mocked President Sisi, who was held in pretrial detention beyond the two years and died in Tora Prison on May 1 after ingesting sanitizing alcohol used to prevent COVID-19. The council called on the prosecutor general to examine the medical procedures taken in Habash’s case.

In early June the council renewed its call to the Interior Ministry to allow communication between prisoners and their families after the suspension of prison visits due to COVID-19. The Interior Ministry allowed prison visits to resume on August 22. Visitors were required to wear face masks and were allowed one 20-minute visit per month for each prisoner.

Other government human rights bodies include the Supreme Standing Committee for Human Rights; Justice Ministry General Department of Human Rights; Prosecutor General Human Rights Office; State Information Service Human Rights Unit; Ministry of Foreign Affairs Human Rights and International, Social, and Humanitarian Department; and human rights units in each of the country’s governorates.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, prescribing penalties of 15 to 25 years’ imprisonment, or life imprisonment for cases of rape involving armed abduction. Spousal rape is not illegal. The government improved its enforcement of the law. Civil society organizations reported instances of police pressuring victims not to pursue charges.

On July 4, authorities arrested Ahmed Bassam Zaki after more than 50 women accused him online of rape, sexual assault, and harassment dating back to 2016. On July 8, the prosecution ordered his pretrial detention for 15 days pending investigations on charges that included attempted rape and sexual assault. Zaki faced charges of statutory rape, sexual harassment, and blackmail in an October 10 trial session; the court was scheduled to reconvene in January 2021. On December 29, the Cairo Economic Court convicted Zaki of misuse of social media and using social media for sexual assault and sentenced him to three years’ imprisonment with labor. These allegations gave rise to what media referred to as Egypt’s #MeToo movement.

On July 21, a Qena criminal court sentenced three defendants to death after convicting them of kidnapping and raping a young woman from Farshout in Qena Governorate in 2018. A local NGO said on July 22 that the victim received threats from the families of the defendants hours after the verdict was issued and after she discussed the rape on television two weeks prior to the ruling.

On July 31, media reported that the administrator of the Instagram and Twitter accounts “Assault Police,” which had almost 200,000 followers, deactivated the accounts after it received death threats following postings about various alleged gang rapes. Local media reported the account also referred allegations against Ahmed Bassam Zaki to authorities and the National Council for Women.

On August 4, the National Council for Women forwarded a complaint to the public prosecutor from a woman who alleged she was sexually assaulted by multiple men at the Fairmont Nile City hotel in 2014. The complaint included testimony about the incident in which a group of men allegedly drugged, raped, and filmed the victim after a social event. According to social media, the men signed their initials on her body and used the film as a “trophy” and blackmail. On August 24, the public prosecutor ordered the arrests of nine men allegedly involved in the case, most of them sons of prominent businesspeople. According to media, as of September 2, authorities arrested five suspects in Egypt and three in Lebanon, who were extradited to Egypt. Media reported that in late August state security arrested a man and three women who were witnesses to the alleged rape and two of the witnesses’ acquaintances. The prosecutor general charged all six in a separate case with violating laws on drug use, “morality,” and “debauchery;” the prosecutor general ordered the release on bail of three of the six on August 31 and was pressing charges.

Domestic violence was a significant problem. The law does not prohibit domestic violence or spousal abuse, but authorities may apply provisions relating to assault with accompanying penalties. The law requires that an assault victim produce multiple eyewitnesses, a difficult condition for domestic abuse victims. Police often treated domestic violence as a family issue rather than a criminal matter.

The Interior Ministry includes a unit responsible for combating sexual and gender-based violence. The National Council for Women (NCW) was responsible for coordinating government and civil society efforts to empower women. In 2015 the NCW launched a five-year National Strategy to Combat Violence against Women with four strategic objectives: prevention, protection, intervention, and prosecution. An NCW study found that approximately 1.5 million women reported domestic violence each year. A 2015 Egypt Economic Cost of Gender-based Violence Survey reported that 5.6 million women experience violence at the hands of their husbands or fiances each year. After the start of the country’s #MeToo movement, the NCW coordinated with women’s rights organizations and the Prosecutor General’s Office to help women who disclosed they were victims of sexual harassment.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): FGM/C is illegal, but it remained a serious problem. According to international and local observers, the government did not effectively enforce the FGM/C law. In May 2019 the government formed a national task force to end FGM/C, led by the NCW and the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood (NCCM). On June 13, the NCCM stated that 82 percent of FGM crimes were carried out by doctors.

On January 20, a Sohag criminal court sentenced a doctor who conducted FGM/C surgery on a girl in Sohag Governorate in 2018 and the father of the girl to one year in prison; it ruled to suspend implementation of the sentence unless the doctor committed the crime again within the next three years. On August 6, the Administrative Prosecution referred the doctor, who directed a government clinic in Sohag Governorate, to administrative trial for committing FGM/C. One local human rights organization welcomed this disciplinary proceeding and criticized the legal discretion given to the judiciary in sentencing FGM/C cases. The circumcision resulted in severe bleeding and caused the girl permanent disability that forced her to stay in a Sohag hospital for more than a year.

In late January Nada Hassan, a 12-year-old girl, died from FGM/C in Assiut. Authorities arrested the doctor who performed the FGM/C, the parents, and an aunt. On February 6, a court in Assiut released the parents and aunt on guarantee of their residence pending trial and released the doctor on bail pending trial. The public prosecutor summoned the doctor and redetained him on February 20 and referred the case to trial on February 22. The Assuit Criminal Court scheduled a review of the case on October 28, but further developments were not made public. On June 3, the Public Prosecution stated that after a forensic analysis confirmed FGM/C occurred on three minor girls in Sohag Province, it charged a doctor with performing the procedure and the father of the girls for assisting in the crime. The statement also said the father had told the girls that the doctor was going to vaccinate them for COVID-19. According to media reports, the children’s mother reported the crime on May 31 to police. On July 12, a Sohag court sentenced the doctor to three years in prison and the father to one year in prison.

A 2016 amendment to the law designated FGM/C a felony, as opposed to a misdemeanor as it was previously, and assigned penalties for conviction of five to seven years’ imprisonment for practitioners who perform the procedure, or 15 years if the practice led to death or “permanent deformity.” The law granted exceptions in cases of “medical necessity,” which rights groups and subject matter experts identified as a problematic loophole that allowed the practice to continue. After Hassan’s death and the case of the three Sohag girls, the Ministry of Health and Population, National Council for Population, NCCM, National Council for Women, Prosecutor General’s Office, and local NGOs worked together successfully to eliminate the loophole and raise awareness of the crime.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The law does not specifically address “honor” crimes, which authorities treated as any other crime. There were no reliable statistics regarding the incidence of killings and assaults motivated by “honor,” but local observers stated such killings occurred, particularly in rural areas. Local media, especially in Upper Egypt, occasionally reported on incidents where fathers or brothers killed their daughters and sisters in alleged “honor killings” after they discovered they had premarital or extramarital relationships.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment remained a serious problem. The government claimed it prioritized efforts to address sexual harassment. The penal code defines sexual harassment as a crime, with penalties including fines and sentences of six months’ to five years’ imprisonment if convicted. Media and NGOs reported sexual harassment by police was also a problem, and the potential for further harassment further discouraged women from filing complaints. In September the president ratified a penal code amendment to strengthen protection of the identities of victims of harassment, rape, and assault during court cases.

On January 29, a Giza court ordered a daily newspaper to pay financial compensation to journalist May al-Shamy for dismissing her wrongfully in 2018 after she complained of sexual harassment in the workplace.

On February 9, the Supreme Administrative Court issued a final ruling dismissing a teacher after he was convicted of sexual harassment of 120 elementary school students in Alexandria Governorate in 2013. The teacher had been dismissed in 2013 by the school where he was working.

According to local press, a Qena criminal court on July 11 sentenced a man to 15 years in prison for sexually assaulting a woman in February. The verdict remained subject to appeal.

On July 18, the Coptic Orthodox Church announced that Pope Tawadros II decided to defrock priest Rewiess Aziz Khalil of the Diocese of Minya and Abu Qurqas, following allegations of sexual abuse and pedophilia leveled by Coptic Christians in North America where the priest had lived on a foreign assignment.

Reproductive Rights: The law recognizes the basic right of married couples to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children, and it enables individuals to have access to the information and means to do so free from coercion or violence. The Ministry of Health and Population distributed contraceptive materials and assigned personnel to attend births, offer postpartum care to mothers and children, and provide treatment for sexually transmitted diseases at minimal or no cost. The government also did not restrict family-planning decisions. Gender norms and social, cultural, economic, and religious barriers inhibited some women’s ability to make reproductive decisions, to access contraceptives, and to attain full reproductive health. Some women lacked access to information on reproductive health, and the limited availability of female healthcare providers impacted access to skilled health attendance during pregnancy and childbirth, given the preference many women had for female healthcare providers for social and religious reasons.

According to the World Health Organization’s 2020 World Health Statistics report, the country’s maternal mortality ratio is 37/100,000 births, the proportion of births attended by skilled health personnel is 90 percent, the adolescent birth rate is 51.8/1,000 aged 15-19, and the proportion of women of reproductive age who have their need for family planning met with modern methods is 80 percent. Although on the decline, female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) continues to be widely practiced. In 2015, 87 percent of girls and women aged 15 to 49 had undergone FGM/C, according to the 2015 Egypt Health Issues Survey. The prevalence, however, is reportedly much higher among older age groups. FGM/C third grade (infibulation) is more prevalent in the South (Aswan and Nubia), and this, in some cases, has been associated with difficulty in giving birth, obstructed labor, and higher rates of neonatal mortality. The government enlisted the support of religious leaders to combat cultural acceptance of FGM/C and encourage family planning.

There was no information on government assistance to survivors of sexual assault.

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

Discrimination: The constitution provides for equal rights for male and female citizens. Women did not enjoy the same legal rights and opportunities as men, and discrimination was widespread. Aspects of the law and traditional societal practices disadvantaged women in family, social, and economic life.

Women faced widespread societal discrimination, threats to their physical security, and workplace bias in favor of men that hindered their social and economic advancement.

Laws affecting marriage and personal status generally corresponded to an individual’s religious group. A female Muslim citizen cannot legally marry a non-Muslim man. If she were to do so, authorities could charge her with adultery and consider her children illegitimate. Under the government’s interpretation of Islamic law, any children from such a marriage could be placed in the custody of a male Muslim guardian. Khula divorce allows a Muslim woman to obtain a divorce without her husband’s consent, provided she forgoes all her financial rights, including alimony, dowry, and other benefits. The Coptic Orthodox Church permits divorce only in rare circumstances, such as adultery or conversion of one spouse to another religion. Other Christian churches permitted divorce on a case-by-case basis.

On February 4, President Sisi approved harsher penalties in the penal code for divorced men who avoid paying spousal and child support.

The law follows sharia in matters of inheritance; therefore, a Muslim female heir generally receives one-half the amount of a male heir’s inheritance, and Christian widows of Muslims have no inheritance rights. A sole Muslim female heir receives one-half her parents’ estate, and the balance goes to the siblings of the parents or the children of the siblings if the siblings are deceased. A sole male heir inherits his parents’ entire estate.

In marriage and divorce cases, a woman’s testimony must be judged credible to be admissible. Usually the woman accomplishes credibility by conveying her testimony through an adult male relative or representative. The law assumes a man’s testimony is credible unless proven otherwise.

Labor laws provide for equal rates of pay for equal work for men and women in the public but not the private sector. Educated women had employment opportunities, but social pressure against women pursuing a career was strong. Large sectors of the economy controlled by the military excluded women from high-level positions.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship through their parents. The mother or the father transmits citizenship and nationality. The government attempted to register all births soon after birth, but some citizens in remote and tribal areas such as the Sinai Peninsula registered births late or could not document their citizenship. In some cases, failure to register resulted in denial of public services, particularly in urban areas where most services required presentation of a national identification card.

Education: Education is compulsory, free, and universal until the ninth grade. The law provides this benefit to stateless persons and refugees. Public schools enrolled Syrian refugees, but they largely excluded refugees of other nationalities.

Child Abuse: The constitution stipulates the government shall protect children from all forms of violence, abuse, mistreatment, and commercial and sexual exploitation. According to a local rights group, authorities recorded hundreds of cases of alleged child abuse each month. The NCCM worked on child abuse issues, and several civil society organizations assisted runaway and abandoned children.

Rights organizations reported children faced mistreatment in detention, including torture, sharing cells with adults, denial of their right to counsel, and authorities’ failure to notify their families. In March Human Rights Watch reported that security forces arrested a 14-year-old boy for protesting in 2016, used electric shocks on sensitive parts of his body, suspended him from his arms until it dislocated his shoulders and left him without medical care for three days, and sentenced him to 10 years in prison for participating in an antigovernment protest.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal age of marriage is 18. On January 30, the NCCM announced it had stopped 659 cases of child marriage in 2019. A government study published on March 17 reported that 2.5 percent of the population in Upper Egypt governorates were married between the ages of 15 and 17, and the percentage of females in that age group who had previously been married exceeded that of males. On February 23, the deputy minister of health and population affairs stated there were 230,000 newborns as a result of early marriage in various governorates across the country. Informal marriages could lead to contested paternity and leave minor females without alimony and other claims available to women with registered marriages. Families reportedly sometimes forced adolescent girls to marry wealthy foreign men in what were known locally as “tourism” or “summer” marriages for the purpose of sexual exploitation, prostitution, or forced labor. According to the law, a foreign man who wants to marry an Egyptian woman more than 25 years younger than he is must pay her EGP 50,000 ($3,030). Women’s rights organizations argued that allowing foreign men to pay a fine to marry much younger women represented a form of trafficking and encouragement of child marriage. They called on the government to eliminate the system altogether. The NCCM’s antitrafficking unit is responsible for raising awareness of the problem.

On January 4, the Supreme Administrative Court upheld a lower court ruling to dismiss an imam and preacher in the village of Mit Habib in Samanoud, Gharbeya, for administering the marriage of a minor girl and a minor boy in violation of the law. He had administered several urfi (unregistered) marriages of underage girls under the pretext that the practice is “lawful” in Islamic law. The court ruled that urfi marriages of minors is a violation of children’s rights and an attack on children and young girls, calling the practice of child marriage inconsistent with efforts to protect and promote women’s rights. On February 14, security forces arrested a criminal network engaged in the sale of minors in Giza Governorate. According to local media, the gang sold girls for marriage to wealthy Arabs for a large fee, exploiting their families’ financial need. On December 10, the Public Prosecution referred the case to the Criminal Court.

On March 10, the NCCM’s Child Protection Committee at the Akhmeem Center in Sohag announced it stopped an early marriage of a minor in the village of Al-Sawamah Sharq after receiving a report that a person was preparing to marry off his 16-year-old sister.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law provides for sentences of not less than five years’ imprisonment and fines for conviction of commercial sexual exploitation of children and child pornography. The government did not adequately enforce the law. The minimum age for consensual sex is age 18.

On May 26, security forces detained Menna Abd El-Aziz, a minor, after she said in a social media video that an acquaintance and others had sexually assaulted her. On May 31, the prosecution ordered Abd El-Aziz’s detention pending investigations on charges of inciting debauchery and forging an online account. On June 9, the prosecutor general confirmed Abd El-Aziz had been assaulted, beaten, and injured and ordered her pretrial detention in one of the Ministry of Social Solidarity’s shelters for women. On July 26, the prosecutor general referred Abd El-Aziz and six other defendants to criminal court. According to her lawyers, Abd El-Aziz was released on September 17. The individuals she accused were charged in a separate case with sexual abuse and violating the sanctity of a minor’s private life.

On August 29, the public prosecutor ordered the detention of a cook whom authorities had arrested the same day on charges of sexually assaulting underage girls at the orphanage where he worked. On September 26, the Public Prosecution ordered the detention of a teacher pending investigations on charges of sexually assaulting two children in the Khalifa district.

Displaced Children: The Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics and the NCCM estimated there were 1,600 street children, while civil society organizations estimated the number to be in the millions. The ministry offered shelters to street children, but many chose not to use them because staff reportedly treated the children as if they were criminals, according to local rights groups. According to rights groups, the incidence of violence, prostitution, and drug dealing in these shelters was high. Religious institutions and NGOs provided services for street children, including meals, clothing, and literacy classes. The Ministry of Health and Population provided mobile health clinics staffed by nurses and social workers. The Ministry of Social Solidarity also provided 17 mobile units in 10 governorates, offering emergency services, including food and health care, to street children.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.

Anti-Semitism

The country’s Jewish community reportedly numbered fewer than 10 individuals. In January the government publicly celebrated the history of Jews in Egypt with the reopening of a historic synagogue in Alexandria following completion of its restoration.

On February 25, the Anti-Defamation League called on the government to remove anti-Semitic books from the Cairo International Book Fair.

In April, Israel condemned an Egyptian television series called The End, which depicted the future destruction of Israel in a science fiction film.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution states persons with disabilities are equal without discrimination before the law. The law prohibits discrimination in education, employment, health, political activity, rehabilitation, training, and legal protection.

The law provides for persons with disabilities to gain access to vocational training and employment. Government policy sets a quota for employing persons with disabilities of 5 percent of workers with disabilities for companies with more than 50 employees. Authorities did not enforce the quota requirement, and companies often had persons with disabilities on their payroll to meet the quota without employing them. Government-operated treatment centers for persons with disabilities, especially children, were of poor quality.

A 2019 law establishes the National Council for People with Disabilities (NCPD), an independent body that aims to promote, develop, and protect the rights of persons with disabilities and their constitutional dignity. The council signed a cooperation protocol with the Justice Ministry to guarantee the rights of persons with disabilities and to train employees in the government on how to help those with hearing impairments.

Persons with disabilities rode government-owned mass transit buses without charge, but the buses were not wheelchair accessible. Persons with disabilities received subsidies to purchase household products, wheelchairs, and prosthetic devices. Some children with disabilities attended schools with their nondisabled peers while others attended segregated schools. Some of the segregated institutions were informal schools run by NGOs. Some parents of children with disabilities complained on social media of the lack of experience of teacher assistants assigned to help their children.

On January 11, President Sisi directed the government to increase its support to persons with special needs. On April 28, the NCPD general secretary complained to the Human Rights Department of the Prosecutor General’s Office about a reality television broadcast where one participant presented himself as having intellectual disabilities in order to elicit reactions from other participants.

On June 29, the prosecutor general ordered reconsideration of the acquittal of a minor who had allegedly raped an autistic child in late January.

During the Senate and House of Representatives elections, polling stations provided wheelchairs for persons with walking disabilities.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

The law prohibits discrimination on any grounds. Nevertheless, dark-skinned Egyptians and sub-Saharan Africans faced discrimination and harassment, as did Nubians from Upper Egypt.

On July 3, the prosecutor general ordered the detention of two suspects pending investigations on charges of insulting a Sudanese child, violating his personal life, violating Egyptian social values, theft, physical abuse, and discrimination based on national origin. The Prosecutor General’s Office stated the two suspects had beaten the child, stolen his property, and filmed him to post the video on social media. On July 25, the Imbaba misdemeanor court sentenced two defendants in a bullying case to two years in prison with labor and a fine. On September 5, President Sisi ratified amendments to the penal code to criminalize bullying. The new law criminalizes disparaging someone else’s race, gender, religion, physical attributes, social status, health, or mental condition with up to six months in prison a fine, or both.

According to the constitution, the state should make efforts to return Nubians to their original territories and develop such territories within 10 years of the constitution’s 2014 ratification.

On January 20, the prime minister presided over a ceremony granting compensation to Nubians in Aswan Governorate who were displaced by the construction of the two Aswan dams decades ago. The ministers of social solidarity and of culture and of housing attended the event. In his speech, the prime minister noted recent major development projects in Upper Egypt, including improvements to roads, electricity, housing, drinking water, sanitation, education, and health.

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

While the law does not explicitly criminalize consensual same-sex sexual activity, it allows police to arrest LGBTI persons on charges such as “debauchery,” “prostitution,” and “violating the teachings of religion” and it provides for prison sentences of up to 10 years. According to a local rights group, there were more than 250 reports of such arrests since 2013. Authorities did not use antidiscrimination laws to protect LGBTI individuals. Legal discrimination and social stigma impeded LGBTI persons from organizing or advocating publicly in defense of their rights. Information was not available on official or private discrimination in employment, occupation, housing, statelessness, or access to education or health care based on sexual orientation and gender identity. There were no government efforts to address potential discrimination. There were reports of arrests and harassment of LGBTI individuals. Intimidation and the risk of arrest greatly restricted open reporting and contributed to self-censorship. Rights groups and activists reported harassment by police, including physical assault and forced payment of bribes to provide information concerning other LGBTI individuals or to avoid arrest. The government has the authority to deport or bar entry to the country of LGBTI foreigners.

There were reports that authorities used social media, dating websites, and cell phone apps to entrap persons they suspected of being gay or transgender, a method LGBTI advocates described as especially effective as LGBTI-friendly public spaces had largely closed in recent years.

On June 1, the Administrative Court rejected a lawsuit filed by transgender Malak El-Kashef, whom authorities released from detention in July 2019, to compel the interior minister to establish separate facilities for transgender individuals inside prisons and police stations. A court ordered transgender male Hossam Ahmed, whom authorities subjected to invasive physical exams, released from pretrial detention in a women’s prison in September.

In a televised statement in early May, prominent actor Hisham Selim spoke openly about his son’s gender change and inability to change his identity card from female to male. On June 23, two lawyers filed lawsuits against Selim and his transgender son for an Instagram post that paid tribute to Egyptian LGBT activist Sara Hegazy, who died by suicide in 2020. Hegazy was reportedly subjected to electric shocks, verbally and sexually assaulted, and held in solitary confinement during her imprisonment for debauchery in 2017, reportedly because she flew a rainbow flag at a concert.

Rights groups reported that authorities, including the Forensic Medical Authority, conducted forced anal examinations. The law allows for conducting forced anal exams in cases of debauchery.

According to a LGBTI rights organization 2019 annual report issued in January, authorities arrested 92 LGBTI individuals in 2019 and conducted forced anal exams on seven persons.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

HIV-positive individuals faced significant social stigma and discrimination in society and the workplace. The health-care system provided anonymous counseling and testing for HIV, free adult and pediatric antiretroviral therapy, and support groups.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the rights of workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and strike, with significant restrictions. The constitution provides for freedom of association. The law prescribes union elections every four years and imposes a strict hierarchy for union formation consisting of a company-level trade union committee, a profession, or industry-level general union, and a national-level union.

While the law provides for collective bargaining, it imposes significant restrictions. For example, the government sets wages and benefits for all public-sector employees. The law does not provide for enterprise-level collective bargaining in the private sector and requires centralized tripartite negotiations that include workers, represented by a union affiliated with the Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF), business owners, and the Ministry of Manpower overseeing and monitoring negotiations and agreements. In January, 115 workers in the Mega Glass Company in Al Fayyum conducted a strike demanding better wages. The Local Ministry of Manpower officials negotiated a raise in workers’ pay with company management, resolving the strike.

The constitution provides for the right to “peaceful” strikes. The Unified Labor Law permits peaceful strikes as well, but it imposes significant restrictions, including prior approval by a general trade union affiliated with ETUF.

The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for the reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. Labor laws do not cover some categories of workers, including agricultural and domestic workers, and other sectors of the informal economy.

The Ministry of Manpower and affiliated directorates did not allow trade unions to adopt any bylaws other than those provided in the law. This position, according to local workers’ rights organizations, was contrary to the law, which states that unions can use the statutory bylaws as guidance to develop their own.

Government enforcement of applicable laws was inconsistent, and penalties for engaging in illegal strikes are more stringent than other laws involving denial of civil rights, such as discrimination. The government also occasionally arrested workers who stage strikes or criticize the government, and it rarely reversed arbitrary dismissals. Since February authorities arrested at least 10 doctors from the Egyptian Medical Syndicate for social media posts critical of the government’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis and charged the doctors with spreading false news, misuse of social media, and membership in a banned group, according to human rights groups. In March government prosecutors extended the detention of labor union activist Khalil Rizk on charges of spreading false news, misuse of social media, and membership in a banned group. Authorities first arrested Rizk in 2019 while he was advocating for workers in a pharmaceutical factory engaged in a dispute with management over wages. In April, Aswan University, a public university, laid off 1,500 workers when the university closed due to COVID-19. In June the National Steel Fabrication Company in Suez Governorate fired six workers, including trade union leadership, and suspended another 270 workers following a dispute over compensation.

The government seldom followed the requirement for tripartite negotiations in collective disputes, leaving workers to negotiate directly with employers, typically after resorting to a strike. In March workers from Al Masryia Company for Weaving and Textile struck for alleged unpaid raises and bonuses. Management and worker representatives reached an agreement on compensation and back pay.

Independent unions continued to face pressure to dissolve. In some cases the Ministry of Manpower delayed responding to unions’ applications for legal status, leaving many in legal limbo. In other instances the Ministry of Manpower refused to legalize proposed unions if an ETUF-affiliated counterpart existed. In January, Bibliotheca Alexandria workers resubmitted documents to form a trade union committee. Their application had been pending since 2018, and they filed multiple legal and administrative complaints to local police and the Ministry of Manpower to have it reviewed. A decision on accepting its registration remained pending.

Workers sometimes staged sit-ins on government and private property, often without obtaining the necessary permits. Rights groups claimed authorities sometimes arrested those seeking to obtain protest permits. In March police in Nasr City detained 70 street cleaner workers protesting an employer who reportedly withheld their salaries for three months. Police originally accused the workers of staging an illegal assembly, but subsequently released them without charges.

A new law provides that for a period of 12 months beginning July 1, a monthly 1 percent deduction will be made from the net income of all public-sector employees, and 0.5 percent of the net income of pensioners, to fund efforts to address the economic repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution states no work may be compulsory except by virtue of a law. The government did not effectively enforce the prohibition but conducted awareness raising activities such as distributing antitrafficking informational booklets to migrant laborers, and the NCW conducted a media campaign regarding the treatment of domestic workers, a population vulnerable to trafficking, and worked with NGOs to provide some assistance to victims of human trafficking, including forced labor. Penalties for forced labor and trafficking were less severe than for other analogous crimes, such as kidnapping.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law does not prohibit all of the worst forms of child labor. The law sets the minimum age for regular employment at age 15 and at age 13 for seasonal employment. The constitution defines a child as anyone younger than 18. A Ministry of Manpower decree bars children younger than 18 from 44 specific hazardous occupations, while the law prohibits employment of children younger than 18 from work that “puts the health, safety, or morals of the child into danger.” Provincial governors, with the approval of the minister of education, may authorize seasonal work (often agricultural) for children age 13 and older, provided duties are not hazardous and do not interfere with schooling. The labor code and law limit children’s work hours and mandate breaks.

Overall, authorities did not consistently enforce child labor laws. The maximum penalties for violating laws against child labor were fines, while those for other analogous serious crimes such as kidnapping ranged from imprisonment to the death penalty. The Ministry of Manpower, in coordination with the NCCM and the Interior Ministry, enforced child labor laws in state-owned enterprises and private-sector establishments through inspections and supervision of factory management. Labor inspectors generally operated without adequate training on child labor issues, although the Ministry of Manpower offered some child labor-specific training. The government did not inspect noncommercial farms for child labor, and there were very limited monitoring and enforcement mechanisms for children in domestic service. When authorities imposed penalties for violations, fines were insufficient to deter violations.

Although the government often did not effectively enforce relevant laws, authorities implemented a number of social, educational, and poverty reduction programs to reduce children’s vulnerability to exploitive labor. The NCCM, working with the Ministries of Education and Technical Education and of Social Solidarity, sought to provide working children with social security safeguards and to reduce school dropout rates by providing families with alternative sources of income.

Child labor occurred, although estimates on the number of child laborers varied. According to the 2012 joint International Labor Organization and Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics child labor survey, of the 1.8 million children working, 1.6 million were engaged in hazardous or unlawful forms of labor, primarily in the agricultural sector in rural areas but also in domestic work and factories in urban areas, often under hazardous conditions. Children also worked in light industry, the aluminum industry, construction sites, brick production, and service businesses such as auto repair. According to government, NGO, and media reports, the number of street children in Cairo continued to increase in the face of deteriorating economic conditions. Such children were at greater risk of sexual exploitation or forced begging. In some cases employers abused or overworked children. Children also worked in the production of limestone. On April 9, a total of 43 persons, mostly children, were injured when a truck carrying day-laborer children overturned near a security check point in the district of Abu Tesht, Qena. After an investigation, the government announced that the children worked in agriculture. Authorities charged the hiring contractor and the owner of the farm for violating laws against children engaging in the worst forms of child labor.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution states all citizens “are equal in rights, freedoms, and general duties without discrimination based on religion, belief, gender, origin, race, color, language, disability, social class, political or geographic affiliation, or any other reason.” While discrimination is a civil violation, penalties for other analogous violations of civil rights, such as those related to election interference, were punishable by imprisonment. The country has legal restrictions against women in employment to include limiting working hours at night, occupations such as mining, construction, factories, agriculture, energy, and jobs deemed hazardous, arduous, or morally inappropriate. It does not specify age, citizenship, sexual orientation, gender identity, or HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases. In April 2019 the Justice Ministry started its first training course for 22 employees working at the state’s real estate departments in Giza and Cairo to use sign language to help persons with disabilities fill out documents. The training came as part of a cooperation protocol signed in January 2019 between the Justice Ministry and the newly established NCPD. While the law provides for persons with disabilities to gain access to vocational training and employment, the government did not effectively enforce prohibitions against such discrimination. Discrimination also occurred against women and migrant workers (see sections 2.d. and 6), as well as workers based on their political views.

An employee facing discrimination can file a report with the local government labor office. If the employee and the employer are unable to reach an amicable settlement, they can file their claim in administrative court, which may order the employer to redress the complaint or to pay damages or legal fees. According to local rights groups, implementation of the law was inadequate. Additionally, the lengthy and expensive litigation process could deter employees from filing claims. In January the Ministry of Culture rescinded the appointment of artist Mona Al Qammah, who wore a niqab, from a managerial position in Behira Governorate. Al Qammah told the BBC the decision to cancel her appointment came after several online posts claimed she was an ISIS sympathizer and criticized her for wearing the niqab.

Local rights groups reported several cases of employers dismissing workers or depriving them from work for expressing antigovernment opinions.

In August the Ministry of Religious Endowments revoked the preaching license of an Al Azhar preacher after accusing him of membership in the banned Muslim Brotherhood and calling for violence.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Challenges to improving working conditions in both the private sector and informal sector include uneven application or lack of regulations and restrictions on engaging in peaceful protests as a means of negotiating resolutions to workplace disparities. For example, there is no national minimum wage in the private sector, but the government sets a monthly minimum wage for government employees and public-sector workers, which is above the poverty line. According to labor rights organizations, the government implemented the minimum wage for public-sector workers but applied it only to direct government employees and included benefits and bonuses in calculating total salaries. For government employees and public business-sector workers, the government also set a maximum wage limit per month. The law does not require equal pay for equal work. Penalties for violating laws on acceptable conditions of work were not commensurate with crimes such as fraud, which are punishable by imprisonment. In April the International Labor Organization Cairo Office commended the country’s efforts to combat COVID-19. The Egyptian Medical Syndicate, however, criticized a lack of personal protective equipment in hospitals and blamed a lack of COVID-19 testing for the spread of the virus among doctors. In April an international human rights organization accused private-sector garment factory owners of forcing workers to work without providing sufficient protections from contracting COVID-19 and urged the government to ensure that private-sector companies provide personal protective equipment at no cost to workers. In May a trade union NGO criticized the Ministry of Health for not providing sufficient polymerase chain reaction tests for health-care personnel and placing doctors, nurses, and their families at risk of contracting the virus.

The law stipulates a maximum 48-hour workweek for the public and private sectors and provides for premium pay for overtime and work on rest days and national holidays. The law prohibits excessive compulsory overtime. The government sets worker health and safety standards, for example, by prohibiting employers from maintaining hazardous working conditions. The law excludes agricultural, fisheries, and domestic workers from regulations concerning wages, hours, and working conditions.

The Ministry of Manpower is responsible for enforcing labor laws and standards for working conditions. The government did not effectively enforce the law. The ministry did not attempt to apply labor standards to the informal sector. Penalties include imprisonment and fine but were not sufficient to deter violations, as they were often unenforced. Labor inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions and did not face a moratorium on inspections during the year. The number of labor inspectors was insufficient to enforce compliance with the law.

By law workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to employment, although authorities did not reliably enforce this right. In March employees at the Port Said Investment Zone warned of the spread of COVID-19 and criticized restrictions against working from home. Following the circulation of a video depicting hundreds of factory workers working in close proximity, the governor ordered the closure of five factories for 15 days. Workers continued to protest the decision not to close all factories in the investment zone.

According to media reports, laborers in some remote areas worked in extremely dangerous environments. In North Sinai, workers’ movements were restricted by local government-established curfews and checkpoints run by both the military and nonstate armed groups.

The government provided services, such as free health care, to all citizens, but the quality of services was often poor. Other benefits, such as social insurance, were available only to employees in the formal sector. According to the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics, approximately 11.9 million of the 25.7 million Egyptians in the labor force did not have formal contracts with employers and were categorized as “informal” workers. In March the Ministry of Manpower announced that workers in the informal sector who registered with the ministry were eligible to receive three monthly payments because of wages lost due to the economic slowdown caused by COVID-19. The minister of manpower stated that 400,000 informal workers had registered with the ministry.

Many persons throughout the country faced poor working conditions, especially in the informal economy, which employed up to 40 percent of workers, according to some estimates. Domestic workers, agricultural workers, workers in rock quarries, and other parts of the informal sector were most likely to face hazardous or exploitive conditions. There were reports of employer abuse of citizen and undocumented foreign workers, especially domestic workers. Little information was available on workplace fatalities and accidents.

Israel, West Bank and Gaza

Read A Section: Israel

West Bank and Gaza

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Israel is a multiparty parliamentary democracy. Although it has no constitution, its parliament, the unicameral 120-member Knesset, has enacted a series of “Basic Laws” that enumerate fundamental rights. Certain fundamental laws, orders, and regulations legally depend on the existence of a “state of emergency,” which has been in effect since 1948. Under the Basic Laws, the Knesset has the power to dissolve itself and mandate elections. On March 2, Israel held its third general election within a year, which resulted in a coalition government. On December 23, following the government’s failure to pass a budget, the Knesset dissolved itself, which paved the way for new elections scheduled for March 23, 2021.

Under the authority of the prime minister, the Israeli Security Agency combats terrorism and espionage in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. The national police, including the border police and the immigration police, are under the authority of the Ministry of Public Security. The Israeli Defense Forces are responsible for external security but also have some domestic security responsibilities and report to the Ministry of Defense. Israeli Security Agency forces operating in the West Bank fall under the Israeli Defense Forces for operations and operational debriefing. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security services. The Israeli military and civilian justice systems have on occasion found members of the security forces to have committed abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings, including targeted killings of Israeli civilians and soldiers; arbitrary detention, often extraterritorial in Israel, of Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza; restrictions on Palestinians residing in Jerusalem including arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy, family, and home; interference with freedom of association, including stigmatizing human rights nongovernmental organizations; significant restrictions on freedom of movement; violence against asylum seekers and irregular migrants; violence or threats of violence against national, racial, or ethnic minority groups; and labor rights abuses against foreign workers and Palestinians from the West Bank.

The government took steps to prosecute and punish officials who committed abuses within Israel regardless of rank or seniority.

This section of the report covers Israel within the 1949 Armistice Agreement line as well as Golan Heights and East Jerusalem territories that Israel occupied during the June 1967 war and where it later extended its domestic law, jurisdiction, and administration. The United States recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in 2017 and Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights in 2019. Language in this report is not meant to convey a position on any final status issues to be negotiated between the parties to the conflict, including the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem, or the borders between Israel and any future Palestinian state.

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

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

There were several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. The Ministry of Justice’s Department for Investigations of Police Officers (DIPO) is responsible for investigating alleged unlawful actions involving police, while the Ministry of Justice’s State Attorney’s Office is responsible for investigating alleged unlawful actions involving the prosecution.

According to the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), there were 190 instances of rocket fire from Gaza at Israeli territory, 90 of which fell in uninhabited areas. The IDF intercepted 93 percent of the rockets fired at populated areas. In addition the IDF reported it foiled 38 infiltration attempts from Gaza and destroyed one terror tunnel into Israel.

The Israeli Security Agency (ISA, or Shin Bet) foiled 423 significant terror attacks in the West Bank and Jerusalem, according to the government. By comparison 563 attacks were thwarted in 2019, 581 in 2018, and 418 in 2017. Of the attacks the ISA prevented, 281 were classified as shootings, 78 as stabbings, 10 as ramming attacks, 58 as bomb attacks, and five as planned kidnapping attacks. Israeli forces engaged in conflict throughout the year with Palestinians militants in Gaza in response to rocket attacks, incendiary balloons and attempted infiltrations. Israeli forces killed 20 Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, including one person at the Gaza perimeter fence, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (UNOCHA) (see West Bank and Gaza section).

According to the government and media reports, terrorist attacks targeting Israelis killed one person in Israel, in Petah Tikva. The attacker was a Palestinian from the West Bank. In addition the Israeli government reported foiling numerous terrorist attacks during the year.

On June 30, Israeli police in Jerusalem’s Old City fatally shot Iyad Halak, a Palestinian resident with autism, after he allegedly failed to follow police orders to stop. Police stated they believed Halak was carrying a “suspicious object.” Defense Minister Benny Gantz expressed regret for the incident and called for a quick investigation. On October 21, DIPO issued a statement that the prosecution intended to indict, pending a hearing, a police officer suspected of the shooting on charges of reckless homicide. According to the Ministry of Justice, investigators carefully examined the circumstances of the incident and determined that Halak had not posed any danger to police and civilians who were at the scene, that the police officer discharged his weapon not in accordance with police procedures, and that the police officer had not taken proportionate alternative measures which were at his disposal.

On September 13, the NGO Adalah and PCATI submitted a request to the Supreme Court demanding the reversal of a decision of the then state attorney to close the investigation into the 2017 police killing of Yaqoub Abu al-Qian in Umm al-Hiran and criminally to indict officers responsible for the death of Abu al-Qian.

In October 2019 the Supreme Court granted a petition filed by the family of Israeli citizen Kheir al-Din Hamdan ordering Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit and the DIPO to indict police officer Yizhak Begin, who shot and killed Hamdan in 2014, to determine the exact charges. In 2015 the DIPO closed its investigation into Hamdan’s killing. On April 27, the Supreme Court President ordered an expanded panel of justices to review whether an indictment could be ordered against police officers who were questioned without a warning during the DIPO investigation. The review continued at year’s end.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The law prohibits torture, the application of physical or psychological pain, and assault or pressure by a public official. Israeli law exempts from prosecution ISA interrogators who use what are termed “exceptional methods” in cases that are determined by the ISA to involve an imminent threat, but the government determined in 2018 that the rules, procedures, and methods of interrogation were confidential for security reasons.

Authorities continued to state the ISA held detainees in isolation only in extreme cases and when there was no alternative option, and that the ISA did not use isolation as a means of augmenting interrogation, forcing a confession, or punishment. An independent Office of the Inspector for Complaints against ISA Interrogators in the Ministry of Justice handled complaints of misconduct and abuse in interrogations. The decision to open an investigation against an ISA employee is at the discretion of the attorney general.

In criminal cases investigated by police involving crimes with a maximum imprisonment for conviction of 10 years or more, regulations require recording the interrogations; however, an extended temporary law exempts the ISA from the audio and video recording requirement for interrogations of suspects related to “security offenses.” In non-security-related cases, ISA interrogation rooms are equipped with closed-circuit cameras, and only supervisors appointed by the Ministry of Justice have access to real-time audiovisual feeds. Supervisors are required to report to the comptroller any irregularities they observe during interrogations. The nongovernmental organization (NGO) Public Committee against Torture in Israel (PCATI) criticized this mechanism as insufficient to prevent and identify abuses, arguing that the absence of a recording of an interrogation impedes later accountability and judicial review.

According to PCATI, the government acknowledged that it used “exceptional measures” during interrogation in some cases, but the Ministry of Justice refused to provide information regarding the number of such “necessity interrogations.” These measures, according to PCATI, included beatings, forcing an individual to hold a stress position for long periods, threats of rape and physical harm, painful pressure from shackles or restraints applied to the forearms, sleep deprivation, and threats against families of detainees.

PCATI also argued that torture is not enumerated as a specific offense under the criminal code in Israel, despite the government’s statements to the relevant UN treaty bodies it would introduce such a law. According to PCATI, there was an uptick in the use of “special measures” on security detainees in 2019, with at least 15 persons subjected to what it considered physical torture during interrogations between August and November 2019. PCATI stated the government’s system for investigating allegations of mistreatment of detainees shows persistent and systematic shortcomings. According to PCATI, the average time it takes authorities to address complaints is more than 44 months. The Ministry of Justice stated that its internal reviews led to the opening of two investigations since 2018. PCATI claims that approximately 1,300 complaints of ISA torture were submitted to the Ministry of Justice since 2001, resulting in one criminal investigation and no indictments.

Israeli security forces arrested Samer al-Arbid, a Palestinian suspect in the August 2019 killing of Rina Shnerb, who was killed near the settlement of Dolev in the West Bank. Security forces placed al-Arbid in solitary confinement, and transferred him to an interrogation center in Jerusalem. Two days later he was admitted to a hospital unconscious and with serious injuries, including the inability to breathe, kidney failure, and broken ribs. According to PCATI, the ISA used “exceptional measures” in interrogating al-Arbid, who was subsequently released from the hospital into an Israeli Prison Service (IPS) medical facility, where his interrogation continued. The Ministry of Justice’s Inspector of Interrogee Complaints opened an investigation into the incident. The investigation was underway at year’s end.

The government stated that requests from prisoners for independent medical examination at the prisoner’s expense are reviewed by an IPS medical team. According to PCATI and Physicians for Human Rights Israel (PHRI), IPS medics and doctors ignored bruises and injuries resulting from violent arrests and interrogations. In its 2016 review of the country’s compliance with the UN Convention against Torture, the UN Committee against Torture recommended (among 50 other recommendations) that the government provide for independent medical examinations for all detainees.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

The law provides prisoners and detainees the right to conditions that do not harm their health or dignity.

Physical Conditions: Local human rights organizations reported Palestinian security prisoners (those convicted or suspected of nationalistically motivated violence) often faced more restrictive conditions than prisoners characterized as criminals. Restrictive conditions included increased incidence of administrative detention, restricted family visits, ineligibility for temporary furloughs, and solitary confinement.

A 2019 report by the Public Defender’s Office on 42 prisons and detention centers warned that despite efforts by the IPS to improve prison conditions and correct deficiencies noted in previous reports, grave violations of the rights of detainees continued to occur. The report described thousands of prisoners held in unsuitable living conditions in outdated facilities, some of which were unfit for human habitation. According to the report, many of the prisoners, especially minors, were punished by solitary confinement and disproportionate use of shackling. The Public Defender’s Office found this particularly concerning in cases where prisoners suffered from mental disabilities.

As of December the government had not applied a 2015 law authorizing force-feeding of under specific conditions of prisoners on hunger strikes. The Israel Medical Association declared the law unethical and urged doctors to refuse to implement it. Regulations stipulate that medical treatment must be provided in reasonable quality and time, based on medical considerations, and within the resources and funding available for the IPS. Regulations also allow the IPS to deny medical treatment if there are budgetary concerns, according to the PHRI.

A report published by the PHRI in 2019 pointed to significant failures in the IPS medical system. The report assessed that the separate health care system for prisoners was unable to provide services equivalent to those provided to the general population through enrollment in government-sponsored health maintenance organizations (HMOs). According to the PHRI’s findings, the services do not meet the accepted HMO standards, and in half of the incidents examined, there was a risk posed to the health of the inmates due to substandard treatment or denial of treatment. PHRI recommendations included applying national HMO standards to medical care provided in IPS facilities, establishing a professional and efficient supervision mechanism to govern medical services provided by IPS, and increasing the opportunities for outside medical practitioners to provide care in prisons.

Administration: Authorities conducted proper investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment, except as noted above. On August 25, the Knesset passed a law permitting virtual hearings with prisoners and detainees during the COVID-19 crisis. While authorities usually allowed visits from lawyers and stated that every inmate who requested to meet with an attorney was able to do so, this was not always the case. NGOs monitoring prison conditions reported that adult and juvenile Palestinian detainees were denied access to a lawyer during their initial arrest. The government granted visitation permits to family members of prisoners from the West Bank on a limited basis and restricted those entering from Gaza more severely.

Independent Monitoring: Despite COVID-19 pandemic restrictions in Israel, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) maintained its visits to detention facilities (including interrogation centers) with adapted visiting modalities to monitor conditions of detention, treatment, and access to family contacts. The ICRC also monitored humanitarian consequences of COVID-19 and related measures on Palestinian detainees and their families, and continued engaging concerned authorities in this regard. The ICRC’s family visit program–through which families of Palestinian detainees may visit their relatives in Israeli custody–remained suspended for families from Gaza due to COVID-19 movement restrictions.

Improvements: In 2018 the Knesset passed a temporary law for three years granting early release of prisoners (excluding security prisoners) in order to facilitate implementation of a Supreme Court verdict requiring prisons to allocate a living space of 48 square feet to each prisoner. According to the NGO Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), each prisoner is allocated 33 square feet, and approximately 40 percent of prisoners were imprisoned in cells that amounted to less than 32 square feet per person. The court ruled that the implementation of the verdict on the ISA detention center must be implemented no later than May 2021. The government notified the court that as of May no more than 40 percent of all prisoners were imprisoned in cells smaller than the minimal space determined to be adequate by the court.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, and the government generally observed these requirements. Authorities applied the same laws to all residents of Jerusalem, regardless of their citizenship status. NGOs and Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem alleged that security forces disproportionally devoted enforcement actions to Palestinian neighborhoods, particularly Issawiya, with temporary checkpoints and raids at higher levels than in West Jerusalem. Palestinians also criticized police for devoting fewer resources on a per capita basis to regular crime and community policing in Palestinian neighborhoods. Police did not maintain a permanent presence in areas of Jerusalem outside the barrier and only entered to conduct raids, according to NGOs. Palestinian residents of the West Bank and Gaza detained on security grounds fell under military jurisdiction, even if detained inside Israel (see West Bank and Gaza section).

The law allows the government to detain irregular migrants and asylum seekers who arrived after 2014 from countries to which government policy prohibits deportation, mainly Eritrea and Sudan, for three months “for the purpose of identification and to explore options for relocation of the individual.” The law also states authorities must provide for irregular migrants taken into detention to have a hearing within five days. After three months in detention, authorities must release the migrant on bail, except when the migrant poses a risk to the state or the public, or when there is difficulty in identity verification.

The government may detain without trial and for an indefinite period irregular migrants who were “implicated in criminal proceedings.” According to the NGO Hotline for Refugees and Migrants (HRM), this policy enabled indefinite detention either without a trial or following the completion of time served. According to HRM, during the year the government released 20 irregular migrants, detained under the criminal procedure, due to COVID-19 regulations seeking to reduce overcrowding in prisons. In 2017 the Supreme Court ruled that the legality of this policy required additional review, but it had not issued any guidance by year’s end.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Police must have a warrant based on sufficient evidence and issued by an authorized official to arrest a suspect. The following applies to detainees, excluding those in administrative detention. Authorities generally informed such persons promptly of charges against them; the law allows authorities to detain suspects without charge for 24 hours prior to appearing before a judge, with limited exceptions allowing for up to 48 hours; authorities generally respected these rights for persons arrested in the country; there was a functioning bail system, and detainees could appeal decisions denying bail; and authorities allowed detainees to consult with an attorney in a timely manner, including one provided by the government for the indigent, and to contact family members promptly.

Authorities detained most Palestinian prisoners within Israel. Authorities prosecuted under Israeli military law Palestinians held in Israel who were not citizens, a practice the government has applied since 1967. The government has asserted in domestic court proceedings that this practice is consistent with international obligations related to occupation. Some human rights groups, including Military Court Watch, claim that Israel’s detention of the majority of convicted Palestinians from the West Bank or Gaza in prisons inside Israel is a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. According to the circumstances of each case, such as the severity of the alleged offense, status as a minor, risk of escape, or other factors, authorities either granted or denied bail to noncitizens of Palestinian origin detained for security violations.

Authorities may prosecute persons detained on security grounds criminally or hold them as administrative detainees or illegal combatants, according to one of three legal regimes.

First, under a temporary law on criminal procedures, repeatedly renewed since 2006, the IPS may hold persons suspected of a security offense for 48 hours prior to bringing them before a judge, with limited exceptions allowing the IPS to detain a suspect for up to 96 hours prior to bringing the suspect before the senior judge of a district court. In security-related cases, authorities may hold a person for up to 35 days without an indictment (versus 30 days for nonsecurity cases). The law allows the court to extend detentions on security grounds for an initial period of up to 20 days for interrogation without an indictment (versus 15 days for nonsecurity cases). Authorities may deny security detainees access to an attorney for up to 21 days under civilian procedures.

Second, the Emergency Powers Law allows the Ministry of Defense to detain persons administratively without charge for up to six months, renewable indefinitely.

Third, the Illegal Combatant Law permits authorities to hold a detainee for 14 days before review by a district court judge, deny access to counsel for up to 21 days with the attorney general’s approval, and allow indefinite detention, subject to semiannual district court reviews and appeals to the Supreme Court.

The government stated it used separate detention only when a detainee threatened himself or others and authorities had exhausted other options–or in some cases during interrogation, to prevent disclosure of information. In such cases authorities maintained the detainee had the right to meet with International Committee of the Red Cross representatives, IPS personnel, and medical personnel, if necessary. According to the government, the IPS did not hold Palestinian detainees in separate detention punitively or to induce confessions. NGOs including Military Court Watch, the NGO HaMoked, and B’Tselem accused authorities of using isolation to punish or silence politically prominent Palestinian detainees.

The Public Defender’s Office reported in 2019 that prisoners with mental disabilities were often held in conditions that may worsen their mental health. Palestinian sources reported the IPS placed in isolation, without a full medical evaluation, Palestinian detainees with mental disabilities or who were a threat to themselves or others. According to the PHRI, isolation of Palestinian prisoners with mental disabilities was common.

Arbitrary Arrest: There were allegations that authorities arbitrarily arrested Israeli citizens and Palestinians who participated in protests. For example, on October 3, police arrested 35 protesters in demonstrations in Tel Aviv against the government. Many of the arrests, according to protest groups, were carried out in an arbitrary manner. Police stated grounds for the arrests included violation of COVID-19 emergency regulations regarding protests, which required social distancing, remaining within a one-half mile radius of one’s home, and wearing personal protective equipment (see section 2.b.).

In 2018 President Rivlin and then justice minister Ayelet Shaked invited Ethiopian-Israelis whom authorities had previously charged with minor offenses, such as insulting or obstructing a public servant, or participating in prohibited assemblies, to apply for their criminal records to be deleted if they were not imprisoned due to their offenses. According to the Ministry of Justice, since 2018, 115 requests were submitted to remove criminal records, 35 met the minimum requirements, 23 were granted, and eight were being processed at the end of the year.

Pretrial Detention: Administrative detention continued to result in lengthy pretrial detention for security detainees (see above).

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Exceptions to the right for a public trial include national security concerns, protection of the interest of a minor or an individual requiring special protection, and protection of the identity of an accuser or defendant in a sex-offense case. The law permits publishing the identity of a victim of a sex offense, provided the victim gives written consent for publication.

Defendants enjoy the rights to a presumption of innocence, to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them, to a fair and public trial without undue delay, and to be present at their trial. They may consult with an attorney or, if indigent, have one provided at public expense. They have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare their defense. Defendants who cannot understand or speak the language used in court have the right to free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals. Defendants have the right to confront witnesses against them and to present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. They may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt and may appeal to the Supreme Court.

The prosecution is under a general obligation following an indictment to provide all evidence to the defense. The government may on security grounds withhold from defense lawyers evidence it has gathered that is not for use in its case against the accused. The Supreme Court (with regard to civilian courts) and the Court of Appeals (with regard to military courts) may scrutinize the decision to withhold such evidence. The rules of evidence in espionage cases tried in criminal court do not differ from the normal rules of evidence, and no use of secret evidence is permissible.

Children as young as age 12 may be imprisoned if convicted of serious crimes such as murder, attempted murder, or manslaughter. The government reported no child was imprisoned under this law as of the end of the year.

The government tried Palestinian residents of the West Bank accused of security offenses in Israeli military courts.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

The government described security prisoners as those convicted or suspected of nationalistically motivated violence. Some human rights organizations claimed that Palestinian security prisoners held in Israel should be considered political prisoners.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

An independent and impartial judiciary adjudicates lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights violations. Administrative remedies exist, and court orders usually were enforced. Palestinian residents of Jerusalem may file suit against the government of Israel under the same rules that govern access to judicial and administrative remedies by Israeli citizens. By law nonresident Palestinians may file suit in civil courts to obtain compensation in some cases, even when a criminal suit is unsuccessful and the actions against them are considered legal.

Property Restitution

In 2016 the state comptroller recommended the government quickly act to settle land claims, plan resettlement of Bedouin citizens in cooperation with the Bedouin community, develop infrastructure in recognized Bedouin communities, and formulate an enforcement policy regarding illegal construction. A 2017 law increased the government’s power to demolish unpermitted structures. New construction remained illegal in towns that did not have an authorized plan for development. Arab members of the Knesset and human rights organizations condemned the law for increasing enforcement and demolitions without addressing the systemic housing shortages in Arab communities that led to unpermitted construction. According to human rights organizations, approximately 50,000 Arab families lived in unpermitted houses.

Some NGOs criticized the lack of Arab representation on regional planning and zoning approval committees, and stated that planning for Arab areas was much slower than for Jewish municipalities, leading Arab citizens to build or expand their homes without legal authorization, thus risking a government-issued demolition order. Authorities issued approximately 1,770 administrative and judicial demolition orders during the year, overwhelmingly against Arab-owned structures. In cases of demolitions with no agreement from the residents to relocate, the government levied fines against residents to cover costs of demolitions.

A development plan for the Bedouin village of al-Fura’a was not completed as of the end of the year, despite government recognition of the village in 2006. As a result the village lacked basic electricity and water infrastructure, and NGOs reported house demolitions occurred regularly. The government stated that a team from the Ministry of Agriculture’s Authority for the Development and Settlement of Bedouin in the Negev began working on this issue in the second half of 2018, after completing a survey of 180 Bedouin residential clusters.

Regarding 35 unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev inhabited by approximately 90,000 persons, the government stated it used a “carrot and stick” approach to attempt to compel Bedouin Israelis to move, including demolishing unpermitted structures and offering incentives to move to Bedouin towns. According to a State Comptroller report and information from NGOs, Bedouins often refused to participate because they asserted they owned the land or that the government had given them prior permission to settle in their existing locations. Bedouins also feared losing their traditional livelihoods and way of life, as well as moving onto land claimed by a rival Bedouin clan. The seven Bedouin townships in the Negev were all crowded, especially in comparison with the Jewish towns and cities in the area, and had low-quality infrastructure and inadequate access to services for health, education, welfare, public transportation, mail, and garbage disposal. According to the NGO Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality (NCF), Bedouins accounted for 34 percent of the population of the Negev, but only 12.5 percent of the residential-zoned land was designated for the Bedouin population.

As of 2019, approximately 31 percent of the 202,620 acres of Arab Bedouin land in the south of the country that was previously under ownership dispute was no longer in dispute as a result of either settlement agreements or following legal proceedings, according to the government.

In 2018 Bedouin residents of the unrecognized village Umm al-Hiran signed an agreement with the Ministry of Agriculture’s Authority for the Development and Settlement of Bedouin in the Negev to demolish their structures and relocate to vacant plots in the Bedouin town of Hura, following extended legal action and negotiations. Umm al-Hiran was to be replaced with a Jewish community called Hiran. As of September 14, Bedouin residents still resided in the unrecognized village and the government announced it would formulate a solution for Umm al Hiran residents within three months.

The NCF recorded 2,241 demolitions of Bedouin Israelis’ structures in 2019 and stated the demolition policy violated Bedouin Israelis’ right to adequate housing. The NGO Regavim praised the demolitions as combatting illegal construction by squatters. Other civil society contacts stated the demolitions ignored traditional Bedouin seminomadic lifestyles predating the modern state of Israel.

In addition to the Negev, authorities ordered demolition of private property elsewhere, including in Arab towns and villages and in East Jerusalem, stating some structures were built without permits. B’Tselem reported that authorities demolished 121 housing units in East Jerusalem, and owners had demolished 81 units to avoid additional fines by the end of the year. This represented a decrease of 28 percent and an increase of 92 percent, respectively, with the number of owner demolitions the highest since B’Tselem began recording data in 2008. Legal experts pointed to the Kaminitz Law, which reduced administrative processing times for demolitions and increased administrative fines for those failing to demolish their own buildings, as a key factor in the increased number of demolitions in East Jerusalem. There were credible claims that municipal authorities in Jerusalem placed insurmountable obstacles to prevent Palestinian residents from obtaining construction permits, including failure to incorporate community needs into zoning decisions, the requirement that Palestinian residents document land ownership despite the absence of a uniform post-1967 land registration process, the imposition of high application fees, and requirements that new housing be connected to often nonexistent municipal utilities and other physical infrastructure.

In addition, NGOs asserted that there was a continuing policy intended to limit construction to prevent the creation or maintenance of contiguous neighborhoods between the West Bank and Jerusalem. Israeli official policy remained aimed at maintaining an ethnic balance between Jews and non-Jews in Jerusalem, according to civil society and official reports. The Israeli MFA said that the Jerusalem Municipality did not have any such policy. Israeli law no longer prevents non-Jews from purchasing housing units, although cultural, religious, and economic barriers to integrated neighborhoods remain, according to civil society representatives.

According to the government, all land ownership cases are assessed individually by an administrative committee, which is subject to judicial review.

According to Ir Amim and B’Tselem, discrimination is a factor in resolving disputes over land titles acquired before 1948. The law facilitates the resolution of claims by Jewish owners to land owned in East Jerusalem prior to 1948 but does not provide an equal opportunity for Palestinian claimants to land they owned in West Jerusalem or elsewhere in the British Mandate. Additionally, some Jewish and Palestinian landowners in Jerusalem were offered compensation by Israel for property lost prior to 1948. Civil society reports noted that many Palestinian landowners were deemed ineligible for compensation because they had to be residents of Jerusalem as of 1973. Other Palestinian landowners refused to accept compensation because they deemed it to be inadequate or in principle due to their rejection of Israeli administration. Jordanian authorities between 1948 and 1967 housed Palestinians in some property which Jewish owners reclaimed after Israel occupied East Jerusalem in 1967. Legal disputes continue regarding many of these properties involving Palestinian residents, who have some protection as tenants under Israeli law.

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

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

The law prohibits such actions, and the government generally respected those prohibitions.

The 2003 Law of Citizenship and Entry, which is renewed annually, prohibits Palestinians from the West Bank or Gaza, Iranians, Iraqis, Syrians, and Lebanese, including those who are Palestinian spouses of Israeli residents or citizens, from obtaining resident status unless the Ministry of the Interior makes a special determination, usually on humanitarian grounds. The government has extended the law annually due to government reports that Palestinian family reunification allows entry to a disproportionate number of persons who are later involved in acts of terrorism. HaMoked asserted that statistics from government documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests contradicted these terrorism allegations, and that denial of residency to Palestinians from the West Bank or Gaza for the purposes of family reunification led to cases of family separation.

According to HaMoked 2018 reports, there were approximately 10,000 Palestinians from the West Bank or Gaza living in Israel, including Jerusalem, on temporary stay permits because of the law, with no legal provision that would allow them to continue living with their families. There were also cases of Palestinian spouses living in East Jerusalem without legal status. Authorities did not permit Palestinians who were abroad during the 1967 war or whose residency permits the government subsequently withdrew to reside permanently in Jerusalem. Amnesty International and other human rights organizations called on the government to repeal this law and resume processing family unification applications. The law allows the entry of spouses of Israelis on a “staying permit” if the male spouse is age 35 or older and the female spouse is age 25 or older, for children up to age 14, and a special permit for children ages 14-18, but they may not receive residency and have no path to citizenship. According to the Israeli MFA, the Population & Immigration Authority received 886 family unification requests from East Jerusalem in 2020, and 616 in 2019. Of these 256 were in approved and 540 are pending from 2020, while 373 were approved and 41 pending from 2019.

On March 16, the government issued an emergency regulation based on the country’s state of emergency, allowing the Shin Bet and police to track mobile phones to identify individuals in close contact with confirmed COVID-19 patients and to enforce quarantine orders. The government stated the program was the most effective way to maintain public health and economic stability. Some NGOs argued the regulations violated individual rights, including the right to privacy and dignity, and expressed concern regarding the role of the Shin Bet in monitoring the civilian population. They also questioned the effectiveness of the scheme, citing a low percentage of confirmed COVID-19 cases identified solely through the program and a reportedly high margin of error. On March 19, the Supreme Court issued an interim injunction that halted police tracking and subjected Shin Bet tracking to Knesset oversight. On April 26, the court ruled that the use of Shin Bet surveillance techniques must be authorized through legislation. On July 21, the Knesset passed a law allowing the government to utilize a limited version of the Shin Bet tracking program for 21 days at a time when there were more than 200 confirmed cases per day. On November 17, following an additional petition submitted by ACRI and Adalah on this issue, the Supreme Court ordered the government to explain further why Shin Bet tracking should be used in cases where COVID-19 patients are not cooperating with the epidemiological investigations, and why the government is not promoting an alternative method to Shin Bet tracking, as the law states. The petition was pending as of year’s end.

On March 27, media outlet Yedioth Ahronoth reported that under the auspices of the Shin Bet Law, the Shin Bet had been collecting data from mobile phones of all users of telecom services in Israel for 18 years, including calls, messages, and locations.

On December 13, Haaretz reported that police demanded internet providers to integrate a system that diverts data on police suspects, or on individuals visiting a specific website or IP address, to a police-controlled system. On December 14, Adalah sent an urgent letter to the attorney general and to the minister of public security, demanding they freeze police use of this system and clarify its legality, purpose, and mode of operation.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

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

The law imposes tort liability on any person who knowingly issues a public call for an economic, cultural, or academic boycott of the State of Israel or of institutions or entities in Israel or areas under its control in the West Bank. Plaintiffs must prove direct economic harm to claim damages under the law. The law also permits the finance minister to impose administrative sanctions on those calling for such a boycott, including restrictions on participating in tenders for contracts with the government and denial of government benefits.

The law bars entry to the country of visitors who called for boycotts, and in 2018 the Ministry of Strategic Affairs published a list of 20 organizations whose members would be refused entry. According to September 30 media reports, the Ministry of Interior permitted former Israeli citizen Dror Feiler, who participated in the 2010 Gaza flotilla and was banned from the country since 2010, entry to the country only upon deposit of a 100,000 shekel ($30,600) bond.

Freedom of Speech: The law prohibits hate speech and content liable to incite to violence or discrimination on grounds of race, origin, religion, nationality, and gender. In cases of speech that are defined as incitement to violence or hate speech, the law empowers police to limit freedom of expression.

Conviction of desecrating the Israeli flag carries a maximum penalty of three years in prison and a monetary fine.

The law prohibits individuals or organizations that initiate political or legal action abroad against IDF soldiers or the state of Israel from holding activities in schools, but the Ministry of Education had not issued regulations necessary to implement the law as of year’s end. Both supporters and opponents of the law stated it was intended to target the NGO Breaking the Silence (BTS), a group of military veterans whose goal is to end the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. BTS criticized the law as a violation of freedom of political expression.

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

Police regulations grant broad authorities to prevent journalists’ access to violent incidents (i.e., riots, demonstrations, protests) if there exists a concern that the entry of journalists would lead to “special circumstances,” such as risking the journalist’s life, furthering violence, disrupting investigative procedures, violating privacy, or violating a closure order. Police must also consider alternatives to minimize the violation of press freedom, for instance by escorting journalists in and out of dangerous situations.

In April the Government Press Office requested journalists to refrain from reporting from ultra-Orthodox areas due to the Jewish holiday of Passover.

Violence and Harassment: Palestinian journalists who were able to obtain entry permits, as well as Jerusalem-based Arab journalists, reported incidents of harassment, racism, and occasional violence when they sought to cover news in Jerusalem, especially in the Old City and its vicinity. In June the Journalists’ Support Committee, a nonprofit journalist advocacy organization, stated security forces committed more than 50 human rights violations against Palestinian journalists working in Jerusalem in the first half of the year, including arrests and expulsions from the city. In May the then public security minister Gilad Erdan extended for six months the closure order against Palestine TV’s East Jerusalem office, according to media reports. In November 2019, Erdan first ordered the closure when police raided the office.

On June 10, Likud officials published a video using the party’s official Twitter account calling for the imprisonment of Channel 13 News journalist Raviv Drucker for his coverage of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s trial. Likud officials accused Drucker of extorting witnesses, broadcasting criminal leaks, and obstructing justice. On July 25, the prime minister took to Facebook to characterize Channel 12 as a propaganda tool against him and his government.

Following a March 15 COVID-19 emergency regulation allowing the Shin Bet to track civilian cell phones for contact tracing purposes, the Union of Journalists in Israel petitioned the Supreme Court to have its members excluded in order to preserve press freedom and protect journalist sources. On April 26, the Supreme Court ruled that a journalist identified as a COVID-19 patient could refuse being tracked by the Shin Bet and instead undergo a manual epidemiological investigation, whereby the journalist would not reveal their sources but commit to notifying health officials regarding their infection.

Police detained, used violence against, and confiscated equipment of journalists during demonstrations throughout the country. On June 8, police officers hit, shoved to the floor, and then detained Haaretz photojournalist Tomer Appelbaum at the end of a demonstration against the extension of Israeli sovereignty to the West Bank. Witnesses indicated that Appelbaum was clearly identified as a journalist; however, police stated they did not notice his press credentials until after the incident. On September 5, police detained two photojournalists, according to the Israeli NGO Human Rights Defenders Fund (HRDF), after the journalists recorded protesters moving police barriers during a demonstration outside of the prime minister’s residence. Police stated they confiscated the equipment because the cameras contained evidence of an alleged crime committed by the protesters. The photographers and the association of journalists argued the material was privileged. On November 11, a magistrate court rejected the police request to use the footage as evidence, stating that in this case, the public interest of a free, effective, and objective press surpasses the public interest in the criminal investigation.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: All media organizations must submit to military censors any material relating to specific military issues or strategic infrastructure problems, such as oil and water supplies. Organizations may appeal the censor’s decisions to the Supreme Court, and the censor may not appeal a court judgment.

News printed or broadcast abroad is subject to security censorship. The government regularly enacted restrictive orders on sensitive security information and continuing investigations, and required foreign correspondents and local media to abide by these orders. According to data provided by the armed forces through a Freedom of Information Act request by +972 Magazine, in 2019 the censor acted on 1,973 articles out of 8,127 articles submitted to it, and banned 202 articles.

According to the Seventh Eye media watchdog group, police automatically requested gag orders during investigations of certain crimes and complex cases, and only on rare occasions did police request rescinding of such orders before the completion of its work in a case. This policy, according to the Seventh Eye, began in 2015, when a former deputy head of Shin Bet began serving as police commissioner. The policy was continued by his successors.

While the government retained the authority to censor publications for security concerns, anecdotal evidence suggested authorities did not actively review the Jerusalem-based al-Quds newspaper or other Jerusalem-based Arabic publications. Editors and journalists from those publications, however, reported they engaged in self-censorship.

Libel/Slander Laws: According to HRDF, individuals and right-wing NGOs used defamation lawsuits to discourage public criticism of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. For example, on July 13, the Samaria Regional Council sued head of the Zulat Institute Zehava Galon and former member of the Knesset for libel after she criticized on Twitter its granting of a certificate of honor to two settlers who in 2019 allegedly shot and killed a Palestinian attacker. According to B’Tselem, the settlers continued to shoot the Palestinian after he no longer posed a threat. In June an additional libel lawsuit against the Galon and B’Tselem NGOs and three individuals who tweeted on the incident was filed by Yehusha Sherman, who shot the attacker. The lawsuits continued at year’s end.

National Security: The law criminalizes as “terrorist acts” speech supporting terrorism, including public praise of a terrorist organization, display of symbols, expression of slogans, and “incitement.” The law authorizes restrictions on the release of bodies of terrorists and their funerals to prevent “incitement to terror or identification with a terrorist organization or an act of terror.”

In 2017 the Supreme Court imposed restrictions on an ISA practice of summoning Israeli political activists suspected of “subversive” activity unrelated to terror or espionage for questioning under caution, indicating they might be charged with a crime. Such summoning may be carried out only after consultation with the legal advisor of the ISA. Police and the ISA must clarify that questioning is voluntary and the person summoned is not required to appear; and the ISA must clarify during questioning that the suspect’s statements may not be used in court for other proceedings.

Internet Freedom

The government monitored electronic communications for security purposes, and censored online content suspected as illegal according to domestic law. The law authorizes district court judges to restrict access to internet sites to prevent the commission of crimes. The Cyber Unit of the State Attorney’s Office further requested that content intermediary companies remove or restrict access to, on a voluntary basis, content and accounts suspected of violating domestic law. The Cyber Unit’s data showed the number of requests for content removal in 2019 increased by 37 percent from 2018. In approximately 90 percent of the 19,606 requests submitted, content intermediaries voluntarily removed content from their platforms. According to the Cyber Unit’s data, 76 percent of the requests were due to offenses related to a terror organization, and 22 percent were due to incitement offenses. A petition by ACRI and Adalah to the Supreme Court against the voluntary track program, arguing that the program violates freedom of expression and the right to due process, was pending as of the year’s end.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were few government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.

The law prohibits institutions that receive government funding from engaging in commemoration of the “Nakba,” or “catastrophe,” the term used by Palestinians to refer to the displacement of Palestinians during Israel’s 1948 War of Independence. Activities forbidden by the law include rejection of the existence of Israel as a “Jewish and democratic state” or commemorating “Israel’s Independence Day or the day on which the State was established as a day of mourning.”

In January the Rishon LeTzion municipality removed a civics teacher from his position, following complaints he had expressed “radical left-wing positions” in the classroom and on social media, although the latter was not addressed in his termination hearing. ACRI stated that such incidents could lead to self-censorship by teachers, which stands in contradiction to the mission of educators.

On August 19, Minister of Education Yoav Galant intervened in the bible studies curriculum by cutting out Jewish history satirical sketches from the television show HaYehudim Baim (The Jews are Coming), following a protest from nationalist Orthodox rabbis. On August 21, ACRI demanded that the attorney general instruct the minister that he has no authority to intervene in the school curriculum.

Authorities continued to provide an edited version of the Palestinian Authority (PA) curriculum that deleted certain information on Palestinian history and culture for schools in neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. Authorities sought to tie funding for those schools to the use of the Israeli curriculum (see the West Bank and Gaza report for concerns regarding incitement and anti-Semitism in PA textbooks). Some Palestinians expressed concern at what they perceived as Israeli efforts to impose Israeli views on these students. Others welcomed the Israeli curriculum, and the additional resources associated with it, as better preparing students in Jerusalem to work in the Israeli workforce, compared to lower-paying employment in PA-controlled areas in the West Bank or in manual labor and low-wage sectors in Israel.

The government maintained prohibitions on some prominent Jerusalem-based Palestinian institutions, such as the Jerusalem Chamber of Commerce and the Orient House, which had been the de facto Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) office. The government renewed a closure order for these and other institutions under a 1994 law which requires the PA to obtain Israeli permission to open a representative office or hold a meeting in areas Israel recognizes as under its sovereignty. The government likewise continued to shut down Palestinian institutions and cultural events in Jerusalem that the government stated had PA participation or support, incited violence against Israel, or had anti-Israel or other objectionable content. Israeli authorities stated they would also detain and ban PA-affiliated officials in Jerusalem from conducting PA-related activities. According to Haaretz, the Ministry of Public Security approved dozens of such orders during the year. PA officials publicly point to the 1993 letter sent by then Israeli foreign minister Shimon Peres to his Norwegian counterpart Johan Holst as proof of an agreement to allow Palestinian institutions and activities in East Jerusalem.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The law provides for this right, and the government generally respected it.

A law passed in April and the subsequent COVID-19 emergency regulations permitted the continuation of demonstrations during the COVID-19 crisis with the stipulation that participants maintain social distancing, but in several instances police placed additional limitations on the ability of individuals to assemble for peaceful protest. On September 29, the Knesset passed an amendment to the law, which led to the limiting of the right to demonstrate to within one-half mile of one’s home, in groups of 20 persons or fewer, for a period of 14 days. On October 12, following a petition against the law filed on September 30 at the Supreme Court, the government announced it would not extend the regulation limiting the ability to protest further than one-half mile from one’s home beyond October 13. The government did not cancel the amendment, allowing it to reinstate the measure. The petition was pending at year’s end.

Police issued fines for alleged violations of COVID-19 regulations during demonstrations against the prime minister. On April 14, police fined two demonstrators in Kfar Saba for illegally gathering. Protesters argued they remained seven feet apart during the protest and viewed the fines as police efforts to deter protected political activity. On July 26, media published a recording in which Jerusalem District Police Commander Doron Yadid told Minister of Public Security Amir Ohana, in response to Ohana’s request for police intervention to quell political protests, that police fined 160 individuals for not wearing a mask during a demonstration near the prime minister’s residence.

On November 24, the prosecution filed two indictments against antigovernment protesters. Authorities filed an indictment against Gonen Ben Yitzhak, one of the leaders of the Crime Minister protest group, on charges of illegal assembly and disrupting the activities of a police officer by lying under a water cannon to prevent it from being used against protesters during a July demonstration.

There were reports that police used excessive force in response to protests. For example, on August 22, during a demonstration near the prime minister’s residence, Chief Superintendent Niso Guetta physically attacked protesters, including hitting a protester and dragging him on the ground, and hitting a photographer. Police arrested two protesters for allegedly attacking Guetta, but video footage showed Guetta’s attack was unprovoked; the detained protesters were subsequently released. On November 29, the prosecution indicted Guetta for assault. Prosecutors dismissed additional complaints against Guetta due to lack of evidence.

Police used water cannons and “skunk water” to disperse demonstrations. Video footage from a July 24 demonstration outside of the prime minister’s residence showed a water cannon spraying a protester in the face, despite police regulations that forbid this action. The Knesset’s Internal Affairs and Environment Committee subsequently held hearings on police tactics during demonstrations and demanded the publication of a reformed police procedure regarding the use of water cannons. A protest group petition against the use of water cannons at demonstrations was deleted on September 9, given the Knesset committee’s discussions. The police procedure published in September relaxed previous restrictions on the use of water cannons, according to Haaretz. Authorities used skunk water to disperse groups of ultra-Orthodox Jews demonstrating against military draft requirements. A 2018 petition against the use of skunk water in dense urban areas was deleted by the Supreme Court on August 19, following a change in police procedures limiting the use of the method. On December 23, an ultra-Orthodox activist petitioned for selective police use of skunk water.

In October, ACRI sent letters to the attorney general demanding the government halt police practices during demonstrations which limit the freedom of peaceful assembly, including crowd control during protest marches by restricting demonstrators to small areas, requesting protesters to show their identification cards and registering them, using private cell phones to video record demonstrations, and using undercover police officers to arrest demonstrators.

Freedom of Association

The law provides for this right, and the government generally respected it.

The law prohibits registration of an association or a party if its goals include denial of the existence of the State of Israel or of the democratic character of the state.

The law requires NGOs receiving more than one-half of their funding from foreign governments to state this fact in their official publications, applications to attend Knesset meetings, websites, public campaigns, and any communication with the public. The law allows a monetary fine for NGOs that violate these rules. The government had not taken legal action against any NGO for failing to comply with the law by the year’s end.

Local NGOs, particularly those focused on human rights problems and critical of the government, asserted the government sought to intimidate them and prevent them from receiving foreign government funding (see section 5).

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

The government imposed restrictions on freedom of movement in order to curb the spread of COVID-19 through emergency regulations.

In-country Movement: The barrier that divided the majority of the West Bank from Israel also divided some communities in Jerusalem, affecting residents’ access to places of worship, employment, agricultural lands, schools, and hospitals, as well as the conduct of journalism and humanitarian and NGO activities. For example, restrictions on access in Jerusalem had a negative effect on Palestinian patients and medical staff trying to reach the six Palestinian hospitals in East Jerusalem that offered specialized care, including delays at checkpoints lasting up to two hours. Authorities sometimes restricted internal movement in Palestinian neighborhoods of Jerusalem and Jerusalem’s Old City and periodically blocked entrances to the East Jerusalem neighborhoods of Issawiya, Silwan, and Jabal Mukabber. The government stated that the barrier was needed for security reasons and that restrictions on movement in Jerusalem were temporary and implemented only when necessary for investigative operations, public safety, or public order, and when there was no viable alternative.

According to the NGO Kav LaOved, Ministry of Health COVID-19 guidelines prohibited migrant caregivers from leaving their place of work, which resulted in some caregivers working without any breaks. Following a request by the NGO, since May 8, a government regulation has permitted migrant caregivers to have their weekly day of rest outside of their employers’ residence if they lived in an apartment without roommates, a requirement that these workers could not meet.

Foreign Travel: Citizens generally were free to travel abroad, provided they had no outstanding military obligations and no administrative restrictions. The government may bar citizens from leaving the country based on security considerations, unpaid debts, or unresolved divorce proceedings. Authorities do not permit any citizen to travel to any state officially at war with Israel without government permission. This restriction includes travel to Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Yemen. The government limited foreign travel due to COVID-19, but it continued to allow the entry of citizens and Jewish visitors intending to study in religious schools known as yeshivas. The government kept the border with Egypt closed despite Egypt opening its crossings to foreign citizens on July 1. On September 23, a petition to the Supreme Court demanding the opening of this border was rejected.

The government requires all citizens to have a special permit to enter “Area A” in the West Bank (the area, according to the Interim Agreement, in which the PA exercises civil and security responsibility), but the government allowed Arab citizens of Israel access to Area A without permits. The government continued selective revocations of residency permits of some Palestinian residents of Jerusalem. This meant those residents could not return to reside in Jerusalem. Reasons for revocation included holding residency or citizenship of another country; living in another country, the West Bank, or Gaza for more than seven years; or, most commonly, being unable to prove a “center of life” (interpreted as full-time residency) in Jerusalem. The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs report that as of October 28 the Israeli government had revoked 17 residency permits in Jerusalem on the grounds of regulation 11A of Israel’s Entry Regulations, regarding individuals who stayed outside of Israel for more than 7 years or have acquired Citizenship/ Permanent Residence Status outside of Israel. Some Palestinians who were born in Jerusalem but studied abroad reported losing their Jerusalem residency status; however, the government denied revoking residency status of anyone who left for the sole purpose of studying abroad. The government added that the residency of individuals who maintained an “affinity to Israel” would not be revoked and that former residents who wished to return to Israel could receive renewed residency status under certain conditions.

Palestinians possessing residency permits issued by the Israeli government, but no PA or Jordanian identity documents, needed special documents to travel abroad.

Citizenship: The law allows administrative courts to approve the minister of interior’s request for revocation of citizenship of a person on grounds of “breach of trust to the State of Israel” or following a conviction for an act of terror. The law grants the minister the authority to revoke permanent residency based on similar grounds. Legal appeals by Adalah and ACRI against the revocation of citizenships of two individuals convicted for an act of terror, which also questioned the constitutionality of the law itself, were pending as of the year’s end.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government cooperated with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern, except as noted below. The government did not allow UNHCR access to monitor regularly the detention facility at Ben Gurion Airport.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Communities with large concentrations of African migrants were occasionally targets of violence. Additionally, government policies on the legality of work forced many refugees to work in “unofficial” positions, making them more susceptible to poor treatment and questionable work practices by their employers. The Population and Immigration Authority (PIBA), unlike police or the IPS, did not have an external body to which migrants could file complaints if subjected to violence, according to HRM.

On July 20, a district court acquitted IPS officer Ronen Cohen and IDF soldier Yaakov Shamba of charges of aggravated battery against Eritrean asylum seeker Haptom Zerhom in 2015. A security guard at the Beer Sheva central bus station shot Zerhom, mistaking him for a terrorist attacker following a terrorist attack moments earlier. Following the shooting, a group of onlookers beat Zerhom, who later died at the hospital. The security guard was not charged, and two additional individuals received reduced sentences following plea deals in 2018.

Refoulement: The government provided some protection against expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom could be threatened, and stated its commitment to the principle of nonrefoulement.

As of September 30, there were 31,012 irregular migrants and asylum seekers in the country, of whom 28,175 were from Eritrea or Sudan, according to PIBA.

The government offered incentives to irregular migrants to leave the country and go to Uganda, including a paid ticket and a stipend. The government claimed the third-country government provided for full rights under secret agreements with Israel, but NGOs and UNHCR confirmed that migrants who arrived at the destination did not receive residency or employment rights. From January 1 to September 30, a total of 663 irregular migrants departed the country under pressure, compared with 2,024 in 2019. NGOs claimed many of those who departed to other countries faced abuses in those countries and that this transfer could amount to refoulement.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting of asylum or refugee status. The government has established a system for providing protection to refugees, but it has rarely granted a refugee status. According to the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), out of 64,542 asylum requests submitted to PIBA in 2011-19, 39 requests (0.06 percent) were approved, and 121 (0.2 percent) were rejected following a full examination. Another 16,777 (26 percent) were rejected either outright or were in various expedited processes. A total of 34,624 requests (54 percent) are still pending. There were 12,941 requests (20 percent) closed due to departure or lack of cooperation.

The majority of asylum seekers received a “conditional release visa” that requires frequent renewal in only two locations throughout the country. The government provided these individuals with a limited form of group protection regarding freedom of movement, protection against refoulement, and some access to the labor market. Advocacy groups argued that most government policies were geared toward deterring the arrival of future asylum seekers by pressuring those already in the country to depart, either by leaving them with limited or no access to social and medical services or by not examining their asylum requests.

Irregular migrants subject to deportation, including those claiming but unable to prove citizenship of countries included in Israel’s nonrefoulement policy, were subjected to indefinite detention if they refused to depart after receiving a deportation order. At the end of 2018, there were 165 migrants with undetermined or disputed citizenship in detention.

According to HIAS, as of June 6, PIBA examined only 21 asylum requests of Eritrean citizens despite a 2019 government announcement that it would reexamine all requests from Eritrean asylum seekers, including 3,000 that were previously turned down. PIBA recognized seven Eritreans as refugees in the first half of the year, according to UNHCR. The government continued not to examine asylum claims of Sudanese citizens from Darfur, Nuba Mountains, and Blue Nile, despite a 2018 PIBA response to the Supreme Court regarding the need to reexamine and request additional information for 1,500 such claims. On August 31, the government informed the Supreme Court that the lack of political clarity regarding Sudan did not allow for the formation of criteria to examine requests and did not allow for a ruling on individual requests of Darfuris.

On October 13, the Supreme Court ruled that 600 Sudanese who were granted special protection status in 2007 would be considered refugees.

Palestinian residents of the West Bank who claimed to be in a life-threatening situation due to their sexual orientation or other reasons, such as domestic violence, did not have access to the asylum system in Israel; however, many of them resided in Israel without legal status. NGOs stated this situation left persons who claimed they could not return to the West Bank due to fear of persecution vulnerable to human trafficking, violence, and exploitation. Some lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) Palestinians were able to obtain from the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) a temporary permit allowing them to stay in Israel without authorization to work or to access social services. A Supreme Court petition by NGOs demanding these rights was pending as of the year’s end. According to UNHCR, prior to the issuance of permits, COGAT requested proof of efforts to resettle in a third country. The government stated that COGAT examined the issue on a case-by-case basis. Following a HIAS administrative petition, on March 1, PIBA launched a program that allowed Palestinians recognized as trafficking victims to work in Israel.

On February 9, the Supreme Court ordered the government to recognize an Ivoirian family as refugees due to its minor daughters’ fear of being subjected to female genital mutilation in Cote d’Ivoire, and placing the burden of proof regarding a residential alternative on the government.

The government did not accept initial asylum claims at airports.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: PIBA applied a fast-track procedure to reject asylum applications from applicants from Georgia, Ukraine, and Russia, which the Ministry of the Interior determined were “safe” countries.

Freedom of Movement: The law allows the government to detain asylum seekers from countries to which government policy prohibits deportation for a period of three months. The government may detain, without trial and for an indefinite period, irregular migrants who were “implicated in criminal proceedings” (See section 1.d.).

Authorities prohibited asylum seekers released from detention after arrival in the country from residing in Eilat, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Petah Tikva, Netanya, Ashdod, and Bnei Brak–cities that already had a high concentration of asylum seekers.

Employment: Following a 2019 Supreme Court ruling, the government removed text stipulating “this is not a work visa” from the visas of Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers. According to HRM, employing asylum seekers remained a felony that is not enforced due to a government commitment to the Supreme Court. According to UNHCR, asylum seekers from countries not listed under Israel’s nonrefoulement policy were restricted from working for three to six months after submitting their requests if they did not have a visa before applying. Asylum seekers are prohibited from working on government contracts, including local government contracts for cleaning and maintenance, which often employed irregular migrants.

On April 23, the Supreme Court struck down a law that required employers to deduct 20 percent of an asylum seeker’s salary as an incentive to encourage their departure from the country. The court deemed the 20 percent deduction as unconstitutional, referring to it as a violation of the right to individual property of a population with little means and low salaries. The court kept in place an additional 16 percent deposit (equal to social benefits) paid solely by employers as an incentive for departure. In addition to halting the practice of salary deductions, the court ordered PIBA to return to asylum seekers the full amount deducted from their salaries within 30 days. The Supreme Court verdict came in response to a 2017 petition by NGOs. As of December, 14,473 asylum seekers received refunds totaling 210.5 million NIS ($63.1 million). 3,445 asylum seekers had not yet applied for their refund by year’s end.

As of February, according to PIBA, a gap of 710 million shekels ($217.6 million) existed between the funds deducted from asylum seekers’ salaries and the funds deposited for them by employers. According to Ministry of Labor information published by Haaretz on August 9, the ministry opened 60 investigation files against employers who deducted but did not deposit funds. Thirty employers received fines, and five criminal proceedings were launched, leading to one indictment.

According to advocacy groups, at least 70 percent of asylum seekers in Israel were left without a job due to COVID-19 and were ineligible for unemployment insurance or other social services.

The law bars migrants from sending money abroad, limits the amount they may take with them when they leave to minimum-wage earnings for the number of months they resided in the country, and defines taking additional money out of the country as a money-laundering crime.

Access to Basic Services: Legally recognized refugees received social services, including access to the national health-care system, but the government for the most part did not provide asylum seekers with public social benefits. Asylum seekers were able to enroll in a health-insurance program only through their employers. Without insurance through employers, or when employers did not arrange a private insurance policy for them as required by law, asylum seekers had access only to emergency care. The Ministry of Health offered medical insurance for minor children of asylum seekers for 120 shekels ($37) per month, but children of undocumented migrants were excluded from this program. On November 30, the Supreme Court ordered the Ministry of Health to allow children of undocumented migrants to be covered by a national health-insurance policy, requested in a petition by the PHRI; however, according to the PHRI, the Ministry of Health continued to exclude these children. The government sponsored a mobile clinic and mother and infant health-care stations in south Tel Aviv, which were accessible to migrants and asylum seekers. Hospitals provided emergency care to migrants and treated them for COVID-19 but often denied follow-up treatment to those who failed to pay, according to the PHRI. Due to COVID-19, the sole government-funded provider of mental health services had to limit its services, which resulted in only 250 patients being served. Asylum seekers who were recognized as victims of trafficking were eligible for rehabilitation and care. The same eligibilities did not apply for victims of torture.

According to A.S.S.A.F, several municipalities illegally segregated children of asylum seekers and other children in schools and kindergartens. For example, the Petah Tikva municipality delayed registration of Eritrean children for specific kindergartens in order for its schools to fill up with other students, and thus for the municipality to place all Eritrean children together, separate from Israeli children. A July 7 administrative petition against the municipality by the organization, Haifa University, and ACRI resulted in placing 140 Eritrean children in integrated kindergartens. On November 19, the petitioners reached an agreement with the municipality and the Education Ministry according to which future registration of children would be done in an integrated manner, and registration conditions would be equal for all children.

Durable Solutions: There is no procedure for recognized refugees to naturalize. According to the Tel Aviv University Refugee Rights Clinic, only under exceptional humanitarian circumstances may a recognized refugee receive permanent residency.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to individuals whom it did not recognize as refugees, or who may not qualify as refugees, primarily Eritrean and Sudanese irregular migrants as described above.

g. Stateless Persons

Despite being eligible for Israeli citizenship since 1981, an estimated 23,000 Druze living in territory captured from Syria in 1967 largely refused to accept it, and their status as Syrian citizens was unclear. They held Israeli identification cards, which listed their nationality as “undefined.”

Following cases of Bedouins having their citizenship revoked when arriving to receive services at the Ministry of Interior, on August 11, a PIBA official stated in a Knesset Internal Affairs Committee meeting that many of the 2,624 Bedouins whose citizenship had been erroneously revoked by the Ministry of Interior were unable to participate in national elections. According to the PIBA official, out of 500 Bedouins erroneously registered as Israelis since they were children of permanent residents, 362 were naturalized, 134 did not complete the process, and six were not naturalized for other reasons, including security.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. Palestinian residents of Jerusalem and Druze of the Golan Heights who have permanent residency status may vote in municipal elections and seek some municipal offices, but that of mayor. They may not vote in general elections or serve in the Knesset.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Observers considered the March 2 parliamentary elections free and fair. More than 71 percent of eligible voters cast ballots. During the March elections, observers noted minimal irregularities that had no impact on the final outcome.

After the Ministry of Interior retroactively canceled the citizenship of 2,624 Bedouin citizens, many of them were unable to participate in the national elections until their status was resolved (see section 2. g.).

Political Parties and Political Participation: The Basic Laws prohibit the candidacy of any party or individual that denies the existence of the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish people or the democratic character of the state or that incites racism. A political party may not be registered if its goals include support of an armed struggle, enemy state, or terror organization against Israel. Otherwise political parties operated without restriction or interference.

On January 29, the Central Election Commission (CEC) disqualified the candidacy of Joint List member of the Knesset Heba Yazbak, claiming she expressed support on social media for armed struggle. On February 9, the Supreme Court reversed the CEC decision and allowed Yazbak to run. NGOs and the Joint List of Arab parties claimed that the CEC sought to disqualify Arab candidates with the intention to delegitimize the political representation of Israel’s Arab minority.

The Northern Islamic Movement, banned in 2015, continued its practice of boycotting national elections.

The law restricts the funding of individuals and groups that engage in “election activity” during the period of a national election, which is typically three months. The law’s sponsors described it as an effort to prevent organizations and wealthy individuals from bypassing election-funding laws, but some civil society organizations expressed concern the law would stifle political participation.

The law allows dismissal of a member of the Knesset if 90 of 120 Knesset members vote for expulsion, following a request of 70 MKs, including at least 10 from the opposition. The party of an expelled member may replace the member with the next individual on its party list, and the expelled member may run in the next election. Joint List member of the Knesset Yousef Jabareen and some NGOs argued the government intended the law to target Arab legislators and that it harmed democratic principles such as electoral representation and freedom of expression.

In the period preceding the March elections, the NGO Adalah demanded that the CEC and the Ministry of Interior set up polling stations for Arab Bedouin citizens in the unrecognized villages in the Negev or provide the voters with transportation to their assigned polling stations. Authorities denied the request.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. The law provides an additional 15 percent in campaign funding to municipal party lists composed of at least one-third women. Women and minorities participated widely in politics, although their representation in the Knesset remained low. Of the 120-member Knesset, there were 30 women members and 20 members from ethnic or religious minorities (11 Muslims, five Druze, two Ethiopian-Israelis, and two Christians). As of December the government’s 36-member cabinet included seven women, one of whom was Ethiopian-Israeli. There were no Arabs. Four members of the 15-member Supreme Court were women, and one was Arab. Of the 257 mayors and local council heads, 14 were women.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. There were reports of government corruption, although impunity was not a problem.

Corruption: The government continued to investigate and prosecute top political figures. In 2019 Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit decided to indict Prime Minister Netanyahu for allegedly taking a bribe, fraud, and breach of trust, related to regulation of a telecommunications company. The indictment also covered an alleged attempt to direct authorities to suppress media coverage in exchange for favorable press, and the alleged receipt of inappropriate gifts. On May 24, the prime minister’s trial in the Jerusalem District Court began. On January 26, the attorney general decided to indict member of the Knesset David Bitan for taking a bribe, fraud, and breach of trust in nine cases between 2011 and 2017.

Former minister Haim Katz was indicted for separate offenses of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust. Minister of Interior Aryeh Deri and Deputy Minister of Housing and Construction Yakov Litzman are both, separately, under investigation for various alleged offenses.

The law prohibits police from offering a recommendation whether to indict a public official when transferring an investigation to prosecutors. The attorney general or state prosecutor may ask police for a recommendation, however. Detectives or prosecutors convicted of leaking a police recommendation or an investigation summary may be sentenced to up to three years’ imprisonment. The law does not apply to investigations in process at the time of the law’s passage.

The NGO Lawyers for Good Governance, which combats corruption in Israel’s 85 Arab municipalities, reported that it received 934 corruption-related complaints in 2019 through its hotline, up 20 percent from 2018. The NGO stated that during 2019 it prevented 48 senior staff appointments on the basis of nepotism or hiring without a public announcement.

Financial Disclosure: Senior officials are subject to comprehensive financial disclosure laws, and the Civil Service Commission verifies their disclosures. According to the NGO Shakuf, 12 ministers and deputy ministers, including the prime minister, did not submit their financial disclosure reports. Authorities do not make information in these disclosures public without the consent of the person who submitted the disclosure. There is no specific criminal sanction for noncompliance.

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

A variety of Israeli, Palestinian, and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were generally responsive to their views, and parliamentarians routinely invited NGOs critical of the government to participate in Knesset hearings on proposed legislation. The government stated it made concerted efforts to include civil society in the legislative process, in developing public policy, and in a variety of projects within government ministries, but it did not cooperate with human rights organizations that it deemed “politically affiliated.” Human rights NGOs have standing to petition the Supreme Court directly regarding governmental policies and may appeal individual cases to the Supreme Court.

Domestic NGOs, particularly those focused on human rights issues, continued to view the law requiring disclosure of support from foreign entities on formal publications as an attempt to stigmatize, delegitimize, and silence them. Supporters of the legislation described it as a transparency measure to reveal foreign government influence. Critics noted the law targeted only foreign government funding, without requiring organizations to report funding from private foreign sources.

The law mandates additional scrutiny of requests for National Service volunteers from NGOs that receive more than one-half of their funding from foreign governments. Following a change to the law in 2017, NGOs such as Kav LaOved, which had been able to employ national service volunteers for years, were no longer permitted to do so.

The staffs of domestic NGOs, particularly those calling for an end to the country’s military presence in and occupation of the West Bank and NGOs working for the rights of asylum seekers, stated they received death threats from nongovernmental sources. These threats spiked when government officials spoke out against the NGOs’ activities or criticized them as enemies or traitors for opposing government policy.

On October 12, the Supreme Court rejected Israeli organization Ad Kan’s petition to open a criminal investigation against NGO BTS for suspected espionage based on BTS’s collections of testimonies from IDF soldiers. The Supreme Court’s ruling came after the IDF and the prosecution found there was no need for an investigation, and after the attorney general rejected Ad Kan’s appeal on the matter. According to BTS, Ad Kan’s activities–including an attempt to infiltrate and mislead BTS in 2015–were attempts to delegitimize and silence BTS.

On March 25, Amnesty International submitted a petition to a district court demanding removal of a travel ban against its West Bank campaigner Laith Abu Zeyad imposed in October 2019 for undisclosed “security reasons.” According to Amnesty International, the travel ban is a punitive measure against the organization’s human rights work. Abu Zeyad’s permit to enter Israel has not been renewed since May 2019.

In March, Minister of Justice Amir Ohana barred the coordinator of the Israeli Ministry of Justice’s National Anti-Racism Unit, Kobi Aweke Zena, from participating in an ACRI conference. The minister argued that ACRI is political, controversial, and finances the legal fees to defend alleged terrorists in court. The minister took this action despite several attorney general letters since 2017 attesting to the legitimacy of ACRI as an established civil society organization. On August 9, the attorney general’s office affirmed in response to an ACRI letter the importance in maintaining dialogue between civil society and state authorities, including through public servant participation in NGO-sponsored conferences and events.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government generally cooperated with the United Nations and other international bodies. The country withdrew from UNESCO in 2018. The government continued its policy of nonengagement with the UN Human Rights Council’s “special rapporteur on the situation in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967.” On February 12, the government suspended relations with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), following publication of a United Nations Human Rights Council database of companies and “business activities related to settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.” OHCHR staff told news outlet the Middle East Eye that since June the government had not extended OHCHR staff visas due to the suspension of relations and that, as of October 15, nine of the 12 OHCHR foreign staff had left the country. Seventeen human rights and civil society organizations in Israel sent a letter on October 20 to the minister of foreign affairs demanding that the ministry reverse its measures against OHCHR and resume issuing visas.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The state comptroller served as ombudsman for human rights problems. The ombudsman investigated complaints against statutory bodies subject to audit by the state comptroller, including government ministries, local authorities, government enterprises and institutions, government corporations, and their employees. The ombudsman is entitled to use any relevant means of inquiry and has the authority to order any person or body to assist in the inquiry.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape, is a felony for which conviction is punishable by 16 years’ imprisonment. Conviction of rape under aggravated circumstances or rape committed against a relative is punishable by 20 years’ imprisonment. Killing a spouse following abuse is chargeable as murder under aggravated circumstances, with a sentence if convicted of life imprisonment. Authorities generally enforced the law.

In 2019 the number of requests for assistance related to rape to the Association for Rape Crisis Centers was 13 percent higher than in 2018. Authorities opened 1,386 investigations of suspected rape in 2019, compared with 1,480 in 2018. Authorities closed 92 percent of rape cases in 2019 without filing an indictment, mainly due to lack of evidence.

On September 2, police filed indictments against 11 men, including eight minors, for their involvement in the gang rape of a 16-year-old girl in Eilat. The indictments included rape under aggravated circumstances, aiding and abetting a rape, indecent assault, and failure to prevent a felony. The trial continued at year’s end.

During the year 16 women and girls were killed by their male partners or by other family members. According to police data provided to the Movement for Freedom of Information, 77 percent of domestic assault cases from 2016-19 did not lead to an indictment, and 30,756 cases out of 39,867 cases closed without an indictment.

According to Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services data, the number of reports of domestic violence almost tripled from March-October, compared with the same period in 2019. During the country’s first lockdown due to COVID-19, calls to police regarding violence against women increased by 19 percent from March-May compared with the same period in 2019, according to police data obtained by the Movement for Freedom of Information.

The Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, and Social Services operated 14 shelters for survivors of domestic abuse, including two for the Arab community, two mixed Jewish-Arab shelters, two for the ultra-Orthodox community, and eight for non-ultra-Orthodox-Jewish communities. On May 3, the ministry opened an additional shelter to accommodate women under mandatory quarantine. The ministry also operated a hotline for reporting abuse, and on April 30, it opened a text-message-based hotline to help women access assistance while quarantined with an abusive partner. During the COVID-19 crisis, the Ministry of Justice’s Legal Aid Department represented women seeking restraining and safety orders, and defended them in domestic violence cases.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is illegal. Penalties for sexual harassment depend on the severity of the act and whether the harassment involved blackmail. The law provides that victims may follow the progress on their cases through a computerized system and information call center. In 2019 prosecutors filed 104 indictments for sexual harassment, down from 168 in 2018. According to a Civil Service Commission report, in 2019 there were 214 sexual harassment complaints submitted to its Department of Discipline, compared with 194 complaints in 2018 and 168 in 2017. During 2019 the commission submitted 15 lawsuits to its disciplinary tribunal, compared with 12 in 2018.

On February 10, a magistrate court sentenced former Jerusalem district police chief Niso Shaham to 10 months’ imprisonment, eight months’ probation, a fine, and a compensation payment for sexually harassing female officers under his command. On July 14, a district court rejected Shaham’s appeal to overturn the magistrate court’s decision. Shaham appealed to the Supreme Court, and the appeal continued at year’s end.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of the birth of their children. Generally all individuals have the right to manage their reproductive health and had access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. According to NGOs, Arab Israeli women, particularly from the Bedouin population; female asylum seekers; and Palestinian women from East Jerusalem had limited access to health-care services. Traditional practices in Orthodox Jewish communities often led women to seek approval from a rabbi to use contraception.

The country maintained a pronatalist policy regarding reproductive care, subsidizing fertility treatments until the age of 45 but for the most part not subsidizing contraceptives, with the exception of women younger than age of 20 and women in the IDF.

The government provided sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence. On February 9, the Supreme Court ordered the government to recognize an Ivoirian family as refugees due to its minor daughters’ fear of being subjected to female genital mutilation in Cote d’Ivoire.

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

Discrimination: The law provides generally for the same legal status and rights for women as for men, including under family, religious, personal status, and national laws, as well as laws related to labor, property, inheritance, employment, access to credit, and owning or managing business property. The government generally enforced the law effectively, but a wage gap between women and men persisted. Women and men are treated differently in Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Druze religious courts responsible for adjudication of family law, including marriage and divorce. For example, although women served as judges in nonreligious courts, they are barred from serving as judges in rabbinical courts.

The law allows a Jewish woman or man to initiate divorce proceedings, and both the husband and wife must give consent to make the divorce final. Sometimes a husband makes divorce contingent on his wife conceding to demands, such as those relating to property ownership or child custody. Jewish women in this situation could not remarry and any children born to them from another man would be deemed illegitimate by the Rabbinate without a writ of divorce. Rabbinical courts sometimes punished a husband who refused to give his wife a divorce, while also stating they lacked the authority under Jewish religious law to grant the divorce without his consent.

A Muslim man may divorce his wife without her consent and without petitioning the court. A Muslim woman may petition for and receive a divorce through the sharia courts without her husband’s consent under certain conditions. A marriage contract may provide for other circumstances in which she may obtain a divorce without his consent. Through ecclesiastical courts, Christians may seek official separations or divorces, depending on their denomination. Druze divorces are performed by an oral declaration of the husband or the wife and then registered through the Druze religious courts.

In some ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, private organizations posted “modesty signs” demanding women obscure themselves from public view to avoid distracting devout men. The Beit Shemesh municipality received several extensions from the Supreme Court, which ordered it to remove such signs in 2018.

Women’s rights organizations reported a continuing trend of gender segregation and women’s exclusion, including in public spaces and events, in the IDF and in academia. In academia segregation in classes originally meant to accommodate the ultra-Orthodox population expanded to entrances, labs, libraries, and hallways, based on the Council of Higher Education inspections, revealed through a Freedom of Information Act request. Petitions to the Supreme Court regarding segregation in the academia were under review at year’s end. Incidents of segregation were also reported in government and local authorities’ events and courses. For example, the Ministry of Transportation prevented women from registering for some men-only defensive driving courses. In June the Ministry of Transportation committed to halt this practice, following a 2018 lawsuit by the Israel Women’s Network.

Children

Birth Registration: Regardless of whether they are born inside or outside of the country, children derive citizenship at birth if at least one parent is a citizen, provided the child resides with the parent who is a citizen or permanent resident. Births should be registered within 10 days of delivery. Births are registered in the country only if the parents are citizens or permanent residents. Any child born in an Israeli hospital receives an official document from the hospital that affirms the birth.

On July 26, the Supreme Court rejected a petition of a same-sex couple who demanded to make the process of registering parenthood for lesbian couples equal to that of heterosexual couples. The Israel LGBTI Task Force criticized the ruling and stated that the government chose to continue wrongful discrimination, which led to what the Task Force called “bureaucratic torture.” A petition by 34 lesbian mothers against the Ministry of Interior’s refusal to list nonbiological mothers on birth certificates, despite court-issued parenting orders, was pending at year’s end. For children of nonresident parents, including those who lack legal status in the country, the Ministry of the Interior issues a confirmation of birth document, which is not a birth certificate. The Supreme Court confirmed in a 2018 ruling that the ministry does not have the authority to issue birth certificates for nonresidents under existing law.

The government registers the births of Palestinians born in Jerusalem, although some Palestinians who have experienced the process reported that administrative delays may last for years. The St. Yves Society estimated that more than 10,000 children in East Jerusalem remained undocumented.

According to the NGO Elem, the number of homeless youth increased by 50 percent in the first three months of the COVID-19 outbreak compared with the same period in 2019.

Education: Primary and secondary education is free and universal through age 17 and compulsory through grade 12.

The government did not enforce compulsory education in unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev. Bedouin children, particularly girls, continued to have the highest illiteracy rate in the country, and more than 5,000 kindergarten-age children were not enrolled in school, according to the NCF. The government did not grant construction permits in unrecognized villages, including for schools.

Following the nationwide closure of schools in March due to COVID-19, NGOs stated that approximately 50,000 Bedouin students were left without access to distance learning for lack of access to computers and tablets, as well as their schools lacking access to funding and infrastructure to implement Ministry of Health hygiene and social distancing regulations.

There were reportedly insufficient classrooms to accommodate schoolchildren in Jerusalem. Based on population data from the Central Bureau of Statistics, the NGO Ir Amim estimated in previous years a shortage of 2,500 classrooms for Palestinian children who are residents in East Jerusalem, and 18,600 Palestinian children in Jerusalem were not enrolled in any school.

The government operated separate public schools for Jewish children, in which classes were conducted in Hebrew, and for Arab children, with classes conducted in Arabic. For Jewish children separate public schools were available for religious and secular families. Individual families could choose a public school system for their children to attend regardless of ethnicity or religious observance.

The government funded approximately 34 percent of the Christian school system budget and restricted the schools’ ability to charge parents tuition, according to church officials. The government offered to fund Christian schools fully if they become part of the public (state) school system, but the churches continued to reject this option, citing concerns that they would lose control over admissions, hiring, and use of church property.

Jewish schoolgirls continued to be denied admission to ultra-Orthodox schools based on their Mizrahi ethnicity (those with ancestry from North Africa or the Middle East) despite a 2009 court ruling prohibiting ethnic segregation of Mizrahi and Ashkenazi schoolgirls, according to the NGO Noar Kahalacha.

There is no Arabic-language school for a population of approximately 3,000 Arab students in Nof Hagalil (formerly Nazareth Ilit), a town where 26 percent of residents are Arab. As a result most Arab students there attended schools in Nazareth and nearby villages. An NGO petition seeking the establishment of an Arabic-language school remained pending at year’s end.

Child Abuse: The law requires mandatory reporting of any suspicion of child abuse. It also requires social service employees, medical and education professionals, and other officials to report indications that minors were victims of, engaged in, or coerced into prostitution, sexual offenses, abandonment, neglect, assault, abuse, or human trafficking. The Ministry of Education operated a special unit for sexuality and for prevention of abuse of children and youth that assisted the education system in prevention and appropriate intervention in cases of suspected abuse of minors. In 2019 the Knesset approved a law extending the statute of limitations on serious crimes against children from 10 to 15 years.

In its annual report, the National Council for the Child (NCC) recorded a 40 percent increase in the number of children at risk of suicide who have been treated by educational psychologists. The report also showed double the number of reports of suspected violence against children (from 609 in 2019 to 1,225). There was a drop from 302 reports in 2019 to 240 reports to school psychologists of children in isolation on suspicion of neglect. The NCC highlighted difficulties with studies, anxiety, and emotional distress among schoolchildren; nearly one-third of Israeli school children did not participate regularly in online learning, or did not have access to online learning. The reported noted that more than one-half of Arab students and approximately 35 percent of students in Jewish schools did not have access to a computer for distance learning.

According to local government officials and human rights organizations, Gaza fence protests, air-raid sirens, and rocket attacks led to psychological distress among children living near Gaza, including nightmares and posttraumatic stress disorder.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The law sets the minimum age of marriage at 18, with some exceptions for minors due to pregnancy and for couples older than age 16 if the court permitted it due to unique circumstances. Some Palestinian girls were coerced by their families into marrying older men who were Arab citizens of Israel, according to government and NGO sources. On September 17, the Supreme Court ordered police to reexamine a request of a Bedouin woman–a victim of two early and forced marriages who killed her second husband–to be recognized as a trafficking victim. The court ruled that while forced marriages do not constitute a trafficking offense in and of themselves, there is a possibility that such marriages would constitute trafficking if their purpose was to allow for sexual exploitation or forced labor, or if they placed an individual at risk of becoming a victim of these offenses.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits sexual exploitation of a minor and sets a penalty for conviction of seven to 20 years in prison. The law prohibits the possession of child pornography (by downloading) and accessing such material (by streaming). Authorities enforced the law. The Ministry of Public Security operated a hotline to receive complaints of activities that seek to harm children online, such as bullying, dissemination of hurtful materials, extortion, sexual abuse, and pressure to commit suicide.

The minimum age for consensual sex is 16. Consensual sexual relations with a minor between ages 14 and 16 constitute statutory rape for which conviction is punishable by five years’ imprisonment.

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

Anti-Semitism

Jews constituted close to 75 percent of the population, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics. The government often treated crimes targeting Jews as nationalistic crimes relating to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict rather than as resulting from anti-Semitism.

The government has laws and mechanisms in place regarding claims for the return of or restitution for Holocaust-era assets. Relevant laws refer to assets imported during World War II whose owners did not survive the war. Unclaimed assets were held in trust and not transferred to legal inheritors, who in most cases were not aware that their late relatives had property in Israel.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law protects the rights of persons with disabilities, including their access to education, employment, health services, information, communications, buildings, transportation, the judicial system, and other government services. The government generally enforced these laws. The law states that by the end of 2019, all public services must be provided from buildings or spaces accessible to persons with disabilities, excluding local authority buildings built before 2019, which should be made accessible by November 2021. The law allows for a one-year extension to the deadline. The Government Housing Administration predicted in November that by the end of the year 62 percent of public buildings would be accessible for individuals with disabilities. The Ministry of Justice published a memo in November, however, that proposed postponing the deadline to the end of 2021, with provision for another one-year extension. The law requires that at least 5 percent of employees of every government agency with more than 100 workers be persons with disabilities. In 2019, according to a report by the Commission for Equal Rights of Persons with Disabilities, 60 percent of government agencies met this requirement. Government ministries had not developed regulations regarding the accessibility of health services, roads, sidewalks, and intercity buses by the end of the year.

According to the Civil Society Forum for the Advancement of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in Israel, Arab persons with disabilities suffer from a higher percentage of inaccessible public buildings and spaces, due to lack of funding. They also lack access to information in Arabic from the government regarding their rights.

On May 30, a border police officer in Jerusalem chased and then shot and killed Iyad Halak, a Palestinian man with autism, after he had failed to heed calls to stop (see section 1.a.).

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

Arab Muslims, Christians, Druze, and Ethiopian citizens faced persistent institutional and societal discrimination.

There were multiple instances of security services or other citizens racially profiling Arab citizens. Some Arab civil society leaders described the government’s attitude toward the Arab minority as ambivalent; others cited examples in which Israeli political leaders incited racism against the Arab community or portrayed it as an enemy.

In 2018 the Knesset passed a basic law referred to as the Nation State Law. The law changes Arabic from an official language, which it had been since Israel adopted prevailing British Mandate law in 1948, to a language with a “special status.” The law also recognizes only the Jewish people as having a national right of self-determination and calls for promotion of “Jewish settlement” within Israel, which Arab organizations and leaders feared would lead to increased discrimination in housing and legal decisions pertaining to land. Druze leaders criticized the law for relegating a minority in the country to second-class-citizen status. Opponents also criticized the law for not mentioning the principle of equality to prevent harm to the rights of non-Jewish minorities.

Supporters of the law stated it was necessary to anchor the country’s Jewish character in a basic law to balance the 1992 Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty, which protected individual rights. Supporters noted the Supreme Court had already interpreted the 1992 law as mandating equality. Supporters argued that the Human Dignity and Liberty law continues to safeguard individual civil rights. Political leaders conceded that the criticisms of the Druze community must be addressed. Multiple lawsuits challenging the Nation State Law remained pending with the Supreme Court at year’s end.

On October 1, the PHRI published a report based on Central Bureau of Statistics data and surveys indicating significant health gaps between Jewish and Arab populations. The Arab population was found to be lagging behind in life expectancy, infant mortality, morbidity, self-assessed health, diabetes, obesity, smoking rates and more. The report’s findings point to gaps, sometimes significant, in the quality of health-care services provided to the country’s Arab residents compared to Jewish residents. These gaps emerged particularly with respect to primary care in the community and to a much lesser degree in terms of specialist care. In March further gaps emerged with respect to the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

On June 4, several Jewish Israelis attacked Muhammad Nasasrah, allegedly after they heard him speak Arabic. Joint List Member of Knesset Ahmad Tibi criticized police for failing to investigate the incident. On October 22, police arrested three suspects, and on November 5, the prosecution filed an indictment against the three suspects for “assault under aggravated circumstances.”

Throughout the year there were “price tag” attacks, which refer to violence by Jewish individuals and groups against Palestinians and Arab citizens of Israel and property with the stated purpose of exacting a “price” for actions taken by the government against the attackers’ interests. The government classifies any association using the phrase “price tag” as an illegal association and a price tag attack as a security (as opposed to criminal) offense. The most common offenses, according to police, were attacks on vehicles, defacement of real estate, harm to Muslim and Christian holy sites, assault, and damage to agricultural lands. On February 11, for example, 170 cars were vandalized and graffiti was sprayed on a mosque and on walls in Gush Halav saying “Jews wake up” and “stop intermarrying.” On January 24, unknown perpetrators set fire to a mosque in the Sharafat neighborhood of Jerusalem in a suspected hate crime, according to media reports. Graffiti sprayed on the side of the mosque indicated the suspected arson was related to an unpermitted West Bank outpost, portions of which the Israeli Border Police demolished on January 15.

On May 18, a district court convicted Amiram Ben Uliel on three murder charges, two attempted murder charges, arson, and conspiracy to commit a crime motivated by racism, for his role in an arson attack in Duma in 2015 that killed a Palestinian couple and their infant. On September 14, the court sentenced Ben Uliel to three life sentences plus 20 years and ordered him to pay a fine. Ben Uliel appealed the conviction to the Supreme Court, which was pending at year’s end. On September 16, as part of a plea bargain, the Supreme Court convicted and sentenced a minor who involved in arson and additional hate crimes to three and a half years in prison.

The government employed an “appropriate representation” policy for non-Jewish minorities in the civil service. The percentage of Arab employees in the public sector was 12.2 percent (61.5 percent of whom were entry-level employees), according to the Civil Service Commission. The percentage of Arab employees in the 62 government-owned companies was approximately 2.5 percent; however, during the year Arab citizens held 12 percent of director positions in government-owned companies, up from 1 percent in 2000, and Arab workers held 11 percent of government positions, up from 5 percent in 2000, according to the nonpartisan NGO Association for the Advancement of Civic Equality (Sikkuy).

Separate school systems within the public and semipublic domains produced a large variance in education quality. Arab, Druze, and ultra-Orthodox students passed the matriculation exam at lower rates than their non-ultra-Orthodox-Jewish counterparts. The government continued operating educational and scholarship programs to benefit Arab students. Between the academic year of 2009-10 and 2020, the percentage of Arab students enrolled increased significantly: in the undergraduate programs from 13 percent to 19 percent, in master’s degree programs from 7 percent to 15 percent, and in doctoral programs from 5 percent to 7 percent, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics.

Approximately 93 percent of land is in the public domain. This includes approximately 12.5 percent owned by the Jewish National Fund (JNF), whose statutes prohibit sale or lease of land to non-Jews. Arab citizens are allowed to participate in bids for JNF land, but the Israel Lands Administration (ILA) grants the JNF another parcel of land whenever an Arab citizen of Israel wins a bid. In 2018 the Supreme Court ruled that the Lands Administration Executive Council must have representation of an Arab, Druze, or Circassian member to prevent discrimination against non-Jews; however, there were no members from these groups on the executive council at year’s end.

The Bedouin segment of the Arab population continued to be the most socioeconomically disadvantaged. More than one-half of the estimated 260,000 Bedouin citizens in the Negev lived in seven government-planned towns. In nine of 11 recognized villages, all residences remained unconnected to the electricity grid or to the water infrastructure system, according to the NCF. Nearly all public buildings in the recognized Bedouin villages were connected to the electricity grid and water infrastructure, as were residences that had received a building permit, but most residences did not have a building permit, according to the government. Each recognized village had at least one elementary school, and eight recognized villages had high schools.

Approximately 90,000 Bedouins lived in 35 unrecognized tent or shack villages without access to any government services (see section 1.e. for issues of demolition and restitution for Bedouin property).

The government generally prohibited Druze citizens and residents from visiting Syria. The government has prevented family visitations to Syria for noncitizen Druze since 1982.

An estimated population of 155,300 Ethiopian Jews experienced persistent societal discrimination, although officials and citizens quickly and publicly criticized discriminatory acts against them.

On February 4, the DIPO submitted an indictment charging an off-duty police officer who shot and killed 18-year-old Selomon Teka in June 2019 with negligence. His trial continued at year’s end.

On February 12, the Supreme Court ordered police to explain why the court should not cancel a procedure allowing police to demand identification without reasonable suspicion, which leads to racial profiling and the targeting of Ethiopian-Israelis and other minority populations. The case continued at year’s end.

The IDF Ombudsman’s annual report for 2019 highlighted cases of racism towards Ethiopian soldiers from their commanders.

The Anti-Racism Coordinating Government Unit worked to combat institutional racism by receiving complaints and referring them to the relevant government authorities, and by raising public awareness. For example, following a complaint, the Legal Aid Department in the Ministry of Justice submitted a lawsuit to a magistrate court against an owner of a bed-and-breakfast who refused to host Ethiopians because of their race. The lawsuit demanded 131,800 shekels ($40,300) in compensation. The magistrate court had yet to issue a ruling by the year’s end.

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

The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, including in goods, services, and employment. The government generally enforced the law, although some discrimination in employment and housing persisted against LGBTQI+ persons in general and against transgender persons in particular. On April 20, a magistrate court ordered a company that refused to print materials with LGBTQI+ content for the Israel LGBTI Task Force to compensate the organization.

The trial against two individuals on charges of attempted murder of their 16-year-old brother, whom they stabbed outside an LGBTQI+ youth shelter in 2019, allegedly on the basis of his sexual orientation, was pending at year’s end. Some violent incidents against LGBTQI+ individuals during the year led to arrests and police investigations. For example, on August 12, police indicted two minors for assault and causing injury under aggravated circumstances to LGBTQI+ minors in Jaffa on August 1.

On February 4, then minister of education Rafi Peretz announced he would grant an Israel Prize for Torah literature to Rabbi Yaacov Ariel, the former rabbi of Ramat Gan, who made public statements against LGBTQI+ persons, including a 2014 call not to rent apartments to lesbian couples. On April 26, the Supreme Court rejected a petition filed by the Israel LGBTI Taskforce against the granting of the prize to Ariel, stating the case did not justify the court’s intervention. Ariel refused to retract his statements.

LGBTQI+ activists were able to hold public events and demonstrations but were restricted by COVID-19 emergency regulations limiting such participation (see section 2.b.).

IPS regulations prohibit holding transgender prisoners in solitary confinement. According to ACRI, one transgender woman was held in a separation wing used as a punitive measure for women removed from regular wings, for more than one year. In September she was transferred to a regular wing, following legal work by ACRI.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Discrimination against persons with HIV is illegal and, according to the Israel AIDS Task Force, institutional discrimination was rare. The AIDS task force received some complaints during the year regarding discrimination in the provision of alternative health care and cosmetic services. According to a poll conducted by the task force in November, social stigma remained a problem.

Following a two-year pilot program to accept blood donations from gay and bisexual men, the Ministry of Health stores blood donations from a gay or bisexual man until the man donates blood again four months later. If both donations pass routine screening tests, including for absence of HIV, both are be accepted.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Individuals and militant or terrorist groups attacked civilians in Israel, including two stabbing attacks characterized by authorities as terror attacks (see section 1.a.), in addition to rockets shot into Israel by Gaza-based terrorist groups. (For issues relating to violence or discrimination against asylum seekers, see section 2.d.)

Arab communities in Israel continued to experience high levels of crime and violence, especially due to organized crime and high numbers of illegal weapons, according to government data and NGOs. Causes included a low level of policing; limited access to capital; easy access to illegal weapons; and socioeconomic factors, such as poverty, unemployment, and the breakdown of traditional family and authority structures, according to the Abraham Fund Initiatives and other NGOs. The impact of the coronavirus pandemic on crime and violence exacerbated the situation, and surveys have shown Arab citizens trust police less than do Jewish citizens. Government actions to address the issues included: opening nine police stations in Arab towns since 2016, increasing enforcement to prevent violence, improving communication with Arab citizens through Arabic-language media and social media, enhancing trust with the community, enhancing community policing, and examining legal issues such as weapons control and raising the threshold for punishments.

Israeli authorities investigated reported attacks against Palestinians and Arab citizens of Israel, primarily in Jerusalem, by members of organizations that made anti-Christian and anti-Muslim statements and objected to social relationships between Jews and non-Jews.

The Israeli government and settler organizations in Jerusalem made efforts to increase property ownership by Jewish Israelis. Civil society organizations and representatives of the PA stated the efforts sought to emphasize Jewish history in Palestinian neighborhoods. UNOCHA and NGOs, such as Bimkom and Ir Amim, alleged that the goal of Jerusalem municipal and Israeli national policies was to decrease the number of Palestinian residents of Jerusalem. Official Israeli government policy aimed to maintain a 60 percent majority of Jews in Jerusalem. Jewish landowners and their descendants, or land trusts representing the families, were entitled to reclaim property they had abandoned in East Jerusalem during fighting prior to 1949, but Palestinians who abandoned property in Israel in the same period had no reciprocal right to stake their legal claim to the property (see section 1.e.). In some cases private Jewish organizations acquired legal ownership of reclaimed Jewish property in East Jerusalem, including in the Old City, and through protracted judicial action sought to evict Palestinian families living there. Authorities designated approximately 30 percent of East Jerusalem for Israeli neighborhoods/settlements. Palestinians were able in some cases to rent or purchase Israeli-owned property–including private property on government-owned land–but faced significant barriers to both. NGOs stated that after accounting for Israeli neighborhoods/settlements, government property, and declared national parks, only 13 percent of all land in East Jerusalem was available for construction by Palestinians or others.

Although the law provides that all residents of Jerusalem are fully and equally eligible for public services provided by the municipality and other authorities, the Jerusalem municipality and other authorities failed to provide sufficient social services, education, infrastructure, and emergency planning for Palestinian neighborhoods, especially in the areas between the barrier and the municipal boundary. Approximately 117,000 Palestinians lived in that area, of whom approximately 61,000 were registered as Jerusalem residents, according to government data. According to the Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research, 78 percent of East Jerusalem’s Arab residents and 86 percent of Arab children in East Jerusalem lived in poverty in 2017.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. After a union declares a labor dispute, there is a 15-day “cooling period” in which the Histadrut, the country’s largest federation of trade unions, negotiates with the employer to resolve the dispute. On the 16th day, employees are permitted to strike. Workers essential to state security, such as members of the military, police, prison service, Mossad, and the ISA, are not permitted to strike. The law prohibits strikes because of political issues and allows the government to declare a state of emergency to block a strike that the government deemed could threaten the economy or trade with foreign states. According to the Histadrut, this law has never been applied.

In May, Palestinian workers in Israel stopped paying an automatic fee to Israeli workers’ organizations, after years in which they had paid trade union fees without representation or treatment, according to the NGO Kav LaOved.

The law prohibits antiunion discrimination. A labor court has discretionary authority to order the reinstatement of a worker fired for union activity.

The government enforced applicable laws effectively, and penalties were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights.

According to the International Trade Union Confederation, some employers actively discouraged union participation, delayed or refused to engage in collective bargaining, or harassed workers attempting to form a union. Approval by a minimum of one-third of the employees in a workplace is needed to qualify a trade union to represent all workers in that workplace.

According to Kav LaOved, a growing number of workers in teaching, social work, security, cleaning, and caregiving are employed as contract workers, which infringes on their right to associate, as it reduces their bargaining power and their right to equality.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits and criminalizes forced or compulsory labor and prescribes penalties that are commensurate with those of other serious crimes, but the government did not effectively enforce laws protecting foreign workers and some citizens.

Migrant and Palestinian workers in agriculture and construction and women migrant domestic workers were among the most vulnerable to conditions of forced labor, including bonded labor, domestic servitude, and slavery. NGOs reported some vulnerable workers experienced indicators of forced labor, including the unlawful withholding of passports, restrictions on freedom of movement, limited ability to change employers, nonpayment of wages, exceedingly long working hours, threats, sexual assault, and physical intimidation, partly as a result of lack of adequate government oversight and monitoring.

For example, employees of the Turkish construction company Yilmazlar continued to pay a bond to the company before starting to work, received pay slips only intermittently, worked 12 to 24-hour days, lived in overcrowded conditions, and worked without proper safety measures. When trying to escape, workers were chased and beaten by individuals associated with the company, according to NGOs. A lawsuit filed by employees of Yilmazlar, alleging they suffered from abusive employment that amounts to human trafficking had yet to be adjudicated by year’s end. Four of the five workers who have already given testimony in the case had to depart the country during the year after losing their legal status due to unemployment.

On August 20, a total of 15 Thai agricultural workers employed in the south told Kav LaOved that their work conditions included extremely long work hours, lack of sleep, work in extreme heat, poor living conditions, fines for working “too slow,” no protection while working with toxins, late salary payments, and a salary below minimum wage. Kav LaOved asked authorities to investigate the matter, but no action was taken for one month, after which the NGO submitted a Supreme Court petition. On September 30, authorities recognized the workers as trafficking victims and moved them to a shelter.

Gray-market manpower agencies engaged in labor trafficking by exploiting visa waiver agreements between Israel and former Soviet Union and Eastern European countries. The traffickers illegally recruited laborers to work in construction, caregiving, and prostitution, charged them exorbitant recruitment fees, and sometimes sold them fake documentation.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor, provides for a minimum age of employment, includes limitations on working hours, and specifies occupational safety and health restrictions for children. Children age 14 and older may be employed during official school holidays in nonhazardous light work that does not harm their health. Children ages 15 and 16 who have completed education through grade nine may be employed as apprentices. Those who completed their mandatory education early or who were unable to attend an educational institution regularly may work with a government permit. Regulations restrict working hours for youths between ages 16 and 18 in all sectors. The law prohibits children younger than age 18 from working at construction sites and from working overtime.

The government generally enforced the law and conducted year-round inspections to identify cases of underage employment, with special emphasis on summer and school vacation periods. Penalties for child labor violations were not always commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes. During the year authorities imposed a number of sanctions against employers for child labor infractions, including administrative warnings and fines.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination in employment and occupation based on age, race, religion, national origin, ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation, and disability. The law prohibits an employer from discriminating against employees, contractors, or persons seeking employment. The Employers of Women law and work safety regulations, however, restrict women from working in jobs deemed hazardous to their health, including through exposure to certain chemicals. The Equal Pay Law provides for equal pay for equal work of male and female employees. The Equal Rights for Persons with Disabilities Law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities (see section 6). The law does not explicitly prohibit discrimination on the basis of citizenship and HIV or AIDS status.

The government generally enforced applicable law effectively, and penalties were commensurate to those for laws related to civil rights, but civil society organizations reported that discrimination in the employment or pay of women, Ethiopian-Israelis, and Arab citizens persisted. The law charges the Commission for Equal Employment Opportunities with the implementation and civil enforcement of the Equal Employment Opportunities Law. According to the commission’s annual report, in 2019 it received 780 complaints, compared to 748 in 2018.

According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, in 2018 the average monthly salary of men was 12,500 shekels ($3,800) and 8,540 shekels for women ($2,600). A part of the pay gap reportedly resulted from a differential between the number of hours men and women worked each week on average.

The gender gap in unemployment during the COVID-19 crisis increased significantly throughout the year, from 1 percent in the beginning of the year to 37 percent as of the year’s end. Experts anticipated increased gender inequality in the job market following the COVID-19 crisis due in part to the disparity in unemployment figures of women and men.

According to government and NGO data, migrant workers, irregular African migrants, and Palestinians (both documented and undocumented) were ineligible to receive benefits such as paid leave and legal recourse in cases involving workplace injury.

On April 6, the government issued COVID-19 emergency regulations allowing employers to place pregnant women, women on maternity leave, and women undergoing fertility treatments on leave-without-pay status. Employers were allowed to take this measure despite a law stipulating that such an action may only take place upon receiving a permit from the Ministry of Labor, which may be contested through a legal process. On April 17, the government retracted the regulation following petitions from NGOs. On April 20, NGOs cancelled the petitions.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law provides for a national minimum wage for all sectors of the economy. The minimum wage was above the poverty income level for individuals but below the poverty level for couples and families. Authorities investigated employers, imposed administrative sanctions, and filed indictments for violations of the Minimum Wage Law during the year.

The law allows a maximum 43-hour workweek at regular pay and provides for paid annual holidays. Premium pay for overtime is set at 125 percent for the first two hours and 150 percent for any hour thereafter up to a limit of 15 hours of overtime per week. The government did not effectively enforce minimum wage and overtime laws. According to the National Insurance, the level of noncompliance with the hourly minimum wage law stood at 11 percent of the labor market in 2018. Data from the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, and Social Services showed that enforcement actions were taken against 156 employers during 2019. Penalties were not always commensurate with those for similar crimes. According to Kav LaOved, 700,000 individuals were employed on an hourly basis, which reduced their social rights and benefits because most lacked an employment contract containing specific protections.

The Labor Inspection Service, along with union representatives and construction site safety officers, enforced labor, health, and safety standards in the workplace. The government did not effectively enforce the law in all sectors, and penalties for violations were seldom applied. Labor inspectors have the right to make unannounced visits, but the number of inspectors was insufficient to enforce compliance, particularly in the construction and agriculture industries, and scaffolding regulations were inadequate to protect workers from falls. No law protects the employment of workers who report on situations that endanger health or safety or remove themselves from such situations. Seventy percent of the labor inspectors were not working in April due to COVID-19 restrictions, according to Haaretz. Employers rather than inspectors were responsible for identifying unsafe situations.

On December 6, the government implemented a 2016 government resolution to issue work permits directly to Palestinian construction workers instead of to Israeli employers to avoid trade in permits and attendant high brokerage fees. This implementation followed a September petition submitted to the Supreme Court by ACRI and Kav LaOved. The government continued to issue work permits to Israeli employers rather than to Palestinian workers in other sectors. According to Kav LaOved, prior to this change approximately 100,000 migrant workers and Palestinian workers lacked mobility in the labor market because their work permits were tied to their employers. The work permits linked the employee to a specific employer, creating a dependence that some employers and employment agencies exploited by charging employees monthly commissions and fees. According to the Bank of Israel’s 2019 report, 30 percent of Palestinian workers in the country and the settlements paid brokerage fees for their permits in monthly payments of approximately 2,000 shekels ($610), or 20 percent of their salary. In many cases the employer of record hired out employees to other workplaces. More than one-half the documented Palestinian workers did not receive written contracts or pay slips, according to the International Labor Organization.

During the COVID-19 lockdowns, the Ministry of Defense issued an order allowing Palestinians working in essential sectors to continue their work only if they remained in Israel for an extended period of time without returning to the West Bank. The order placed responsibility on employers with regards to employees’ accommodation, but NGOs reported that many Palestinians lived in poor and dangerous conditions. Following a petition by NGOs to the Supreme Court, the government issued emergency regulations on May 5, and the Knesset passed a temporary law on August 5, which defined and regulated employers’ responsibilities towards employers, including regarding housing and health insurance.

The country has bilateral work agreements (BWAs) with Bulgaria, Moldova, Romania, Ukraine, and China to employ migrants in the construction sector and with Thailand and Sri Lanka for the agricultural sector. BWAs provided foreign workers with information regarding their labor rights as well as a translated copy of their labor contract prior to arrival in the country. The government continued to help fund a hotline for migrant workers to report violations, and the government’s enforcement bodies claimed all complaints were investigated. The absence of BWAs for foreign caregivers and additional migrant workers not covered by BWAs led to continuing widespread abuses and exploitative working conditions, including excessive recruitment fees, false employment contracts, and lack of legal protections related to housing, nonpayment of wages, physical and sexual violence, and harassment.

Some employers in the agriculture sector circumvented the BWAs by recruiting “volunteers” from developing countries to earn money and learn Israeli agriculture methods. Volunteers worked eight to 10 hours per day at a salary equal to half the minimum wage and without social benefits. The individuals received volunteer visas, which did not permit them to work. Other firms employed foreign students registered for work-study programs that consisted of long hours of manual labor and pay below the minimum wage. Some employers recruited low-skilled foreign workers under the guise of being “experts” in their field. PIBA adopted guidelines for classifying foreign workers as experts. Under these guidelines, the government considers an expert to be highly skilled in a field that does not require higher education or advanced degrees. Additionally, experts may not perform low-skilled jobs, come from a country with a lower GDP than Israel, come from a country listed on the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report as Tier 3 or Tier 2 watch list, or come from a country without a BWA.

A police unit was responsible for investigating workplace accidents that resulted in death or severe injuries, mainly at construction sites; however, according to media reports, the police unit carried out less than 10 investigations since its launch in 2019. On January 26, following an investigation conducted by the police unit, prosecutors indicted two junior workers, but no management workers, in causing a death “by negligence” of a Chinese worker. During the year, 65 workers died in work accidents, and another 423 workers were injured, according to Kav LaOved.

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West Bank and Gaza

Jordan

Executive Summary

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is a constitutional monarchy ruled by King Abdullah II bin Hussein. The constitution grants the king ultimate executive and legislative authority. The multiparty parliament consists of a 130-member popularly elected House of Representatives (Majlis al-Nuwwab) and a Senate (Majlis al-Ayan) appointed by the king. Elections for the House of Representatives occur approximately every four years and last took place on November 10. Local nongovernmental organizations reported some COVID-19-related disruptions during the election process but stated voting was generally free and fair.

Jordan’s security services underwent a significant reorganization in December 2019 when the king combined the previously separate Public Security Directorate (police), the Gendarmerie, and the Civil Defense Directorate into one organization named the Public Security Directorate. The reorganized Public Security Directorate has responsibility for law enforcement and reports to the Ministry of Interior. The Public Security Directorate and the General Intelligence Directorate share responsibility for maintaining internal security. The General Intelligence Directorate reports directly to the king. The armed forces report to the Minister of Defense and are responsible for external security, although they also have a support role for internal security. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: cases of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment; arbitrary arrest and detention, including of activists and journalists; infringements on citizens’ privacy rights; serious restrictions on free expression and the press, including criminalization of libel, censorship, and internet site blocking; substantial restrictions on freedom of association and freedom of peaceful assembly; serious incidents of official corruption; “honor” killings of women; trafficking in persons; and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons.

Impunity remained widespread, although the government took some limited steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed abuses. Information on the outcomes of these actions was not publicly available for all cases.

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

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

There were no reports of arbitrary or unlawful deprivation of life by security forces during the year. There were developments regarding custodial death cases from previous years.

Several nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported on the 2018 death of Bilal Emoush while in custody. Emoush was arrested in May 2018 by the PSD’s Anti-Narcotics Division and was reportedly beaten and tortured while in custody in order to extract a confession, according to multiple NGOs. He was transferred to the hospital in June 2018, where he died from his injuries. According to one local NGO, no official investigation of police mistreatment was conducted, the police officers involved in the incident were not prosecuted, and the case was dismissed for insufficient evidence. Another NGO reported that multiple health-care workers involved in the case were under investigation for negligence. The PSD reported that three individuals were referred to the Zarqa felony magistrate court at the end of 2019. The case remains pending.

Police officers are tried in police courts when facing either criminal penalties or administrative punishment. The quasi-governmental watchdog National Center for Human Rights demanded that police officers accused of gross violations of human rights be tried in independent civil courts instead of police courts, which fall under the Ministry of Interior and are considered less independent, according to many NGOs.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution bans torture, including psychological harm, by public officials and provides penalties up to three years’ imprisonment for its use, with a penalty of up to 15 years if serious injury occurs. While the law prohibits such practices, international and local NGOs reported incidents of torture and mistreatment in police and security detention centers. Human rights lawyers found the penal code ambiguous and supported amendments to define “torture” more clearly and strengthen sentencing guidelines. According to government officials, all reported allegations of abuse in custody were thoroughly investigated, but human rights NGOs questioned the impartiality of these investigations.

In contrast to 2019, local and international NGOs did not report that Anti-Narcotics Division personnel routinely subjected detainees to severe physical abuse but NGOs reported some instances of abuse. Allegations of abuses were made against the Criminal Investigations Division, which led to criminal charges. While there was no documentation of complaints of mistreatment by the General Intelligence Directorate (GID) during the year, local NGOs said abuse still occurred but citizens did not report abuse due to fear of reprisals.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in the country’s 18 prisons varied: Old facilities had poor conditions while new prisons met international standards. Authorities held foreigners without legal work or residency permits in the same facilities as citizens. (For information on asylum seekers and refugees, see section 2.f.)

Physical Conditions: International NGOs and legal aid organizations identified problems including overcrowding, limited health care, inadequate legal assistance for inmates, and limited social care for inmates and their families. The PSD opened Qafqafa Prison, with a capacity of 1,050 inmates, to receive detainees from overcrowded prison facilities.

The PSD took steps to monitor detention facilities and to promote compliance with detention policies, and by the end of 2019 were using electronic records to log every case and detainee. According to the PSD’s Human Rights and Transparency Office, the PSD received 39 cases of allegations of torture and mistreatment in prisons and rehabilitation centers between October 2019 and September 2020.

International and domestic NGOs reported that Islamist prisoners faced harsher prison conditions than other inmates.

According to the PSD, authorities designated some facilities to hold only pretrial detainees. The GID held some persons detained on national security charges in a separate detention facility. During the year the National Center for Human Rights (NCHR) made one announced visit to the GID facility. The GID allowed the NCHR to conduct unsupervised meetings with prisoners. Detainees complained of solitary confinement, isolation, and prolonged pretrial detentions of up to six months. According to human rights activists, the GID held detainees in solitary confinement. Local and international NGOs received reports of mistreatment, abuse, and torture in GID detention facilities.

Although basic medical care was available in all correctional facilities, medical staff complained that correctional facilities throughout the country lacked adequate medical facilities, supplies, and staff. Most facilities were unable to conduct blood tests and had limited X-ray capabilities, forcing doctors to rely largely on self-reporting by patients for certain conditions. If an inmate’s condition was too severe for treatment at the prison’s clinic, doctors recommended transfer to a local hospital.

Conditions in the women’s prisons were generally better than conditions in most of the men’s prisons.

Police stations had no separate holding areas for juveniles. Authorities held juveniles in special facilities supervised by the Ministry of Social Development.

Administration: Prosecutors exercised oversight regarding the condition of detainees. From October 2019 to September 2020, the PSD Human Rights and Transparency Office made a total of 519 visits to detention centers accompanied by observers from both local and international organizations. Karamah (a team of government officials and NGOs) and the NCHR also monitored prison conditions. In some cases, both prior to and during the COVID-19 pandemic, authorities severely restricted the access of detainees to visitors.

In March prison riots broke out in the Bab al-Hawa Correctional Center in the Irbid and Rmeimeen Correctional Center in Jerash following the government’s announcement it would suspend court appearances (effectively extending some individuals’ detentions) and suspend familial prison visits as part of the government’s COVID-19 mitigation response. Two prisoners died after falling and being trampled during the Bab al-Hawa riot.

Authorities sometimes did not inform families regarding the whereabouts of detainees or delayed notification of families between 24 hours and 10 days. The PSD has implemented a new system of electronic record keeping to address this problem.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted some local and international human rights observers and lawyers to visit prisons and conduct private interviews. The International Committee of the Red Cross had wide access to visit prisoners and detainees in all prisons, including facilities operated by the GID. Authorities approved some requests by local human rights observers to conduct monitoring visits independently of Karamah and the NCHR.

Improvements: The PSD renovated six prison facilities to improve sanitary facilities, sanitation, ventilation, and temperature control, and to increase access to drinking water, sunlight, and medical care. The Beireen and Aqaba prison facilities improved general maintenance and repairs and increased the number of beds. An outdoor garden for family visits was added to the Juweideh detention center. The PSD also allowed detainees at seven prison facilities to participate in court hearings by video conference. Authorities took steps to use alternatives to prison sentences for nonviolent offenders. From 2018 through August, the Ministry of Justice processed 326 criminals into alternative sentencing.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court; however, the government did not always observe these prohibitions.

Security services detained political activists for shouting slogans critical of authorities during protests. Some activists were arbitrarily arrested and held without charge, others were charged with insulting the king, undermining the political regime, or slander. Most detentions lasted for days, but some lasted several months. At least five detainees held a hunger strike from February through March to protest their arrest and arbitrary detention. As of October more than 20 individuals remained in detention for reasons connected to freedom of expression, according to media reports and local NGOs.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law provides a person in custody with the right to appear promptly before a judge or other judicial officer for a judicial determination of the legality of the detention. The law allows authorities to detain suspects for up to 24 hours without a warrant in all cases. It requires that police notify authorities within 24 hours of an arrest and that authorities file formal charges within 15 days of an arrest. Authorities can extend the period to file formal charges to as long as six months for a felony and two months for a misdemeanor. According to local NGOs, prosecutors routinely requested extensions, which judges granted. The State Security Court (SSC) can authorize Judicial Police (part of the PSD) to arrest and keep persons in custody for seven days prior to notification of arrest while conducting criminal investigations. This authority includes arrests for alleged misdemeanors. NGOs alleged that authorities transferred suspects to the SSC to extend the legal time from 24 hours to seven days for investigation prior to notification. NGOs also alleged that authorities transferred suspects from one police station to another to extend the period for investigation. During the year the Ministry of Justice operated an electronic notification system for judicial action to help lawyers remain up-to-date on their cases and reduce the pretrial detention period.

The penal code allows bail, and authorities used it in some cases. In many cases the accused remained in detention without bail during legal proceedings. PSD regulations exempt persons from pretrial detention if they have no existing criminal record and the crime is not a felony. NGOs reported cases of arbitrary administrative detention during the year. In January the Jordanian Bar Association civil liberties committee condemned the Zarqa governor for re-arresting and administratively detaining four Bani Hassan tribe hirak (movement) activists. According to the association, the governor justified arresting the four activists a second time because they allegedly insulted a police officer and blocked public roads.

Many detainees reported not having timely access to a lawyer. Courts appointed lawyers to represent indigent defendants charged with felonies carrying possible life sentences (often interpreted by the judiciary as 20 years) or the death penalty, although for lesser crimes legal aid services remained minimal.

At times authorities held suspects incommunicado for up to one week or placed them under house arrest. Several human rights activists alleged that authorities held arrestees incommunicado to hide evidence of physical abuse by security forces. Courts did not always offer adequate translation services for defendants who could not speak Arabic.

In 2019 Amnesty International reported that virginity testing was commonly requested by male guardians after female relatives had been detained by authorities for being “absent” from the male guardian’s home. Authorities generally complied with those requests despite international consensus that these tests violate women’s rights and are a form of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.

Arbitrary Arrest: In cases purportedly involving state security, security forces at times arrested and detained individuals without informing them of the charges against them and either did not allow defendants to meet with their lawyers or did not permit meetings until shortly before trial.

The law allows the 12 provincial governors to detain individuals administratively as they deem necessary for investigation purposes or to protect that individual. Authorities held some individuals in prison or under house arrest without due process and often despite a finding of not guilty in legal proceedings. According to the Ministry of Interior, from January through August, approximately 10,000 persons were held under administrative detention, including 6,152 individuals in Amman, 2,209 in Irbid, 698 in Zarqa, 516 in Balqa, 29 in Karak, 35 in Ma’an, 35 in Mafraq, 25 in Tafileh, 48 in Jerash, 41 in Aqaba, 39 in Madaba, and 23 in Ajloun. Several international and national NGOs, along with the NCHR, alleged governors routinely abused the law, imprisoning individuals when there was not enough evidence to convict them, and prolonging the detention of prisoners whose sentences had been completed.

Governors continued to issue thousands of administrative detention orders under a 1954 law that allows pretrial detention from three days to one year without charge or trial or any means of legal remedy. The Ministry of Interior released a total of 1,366 individuals placed under administrative detention by governors between October 2019 and July 2020 to reduce overcrowding in detention centers.

According to local and international NGOs, authorities routinely engaged in “protective” detention of women (a type of informal detention without trial) to deal with cases ranging from sex outside of marriage to absence from home to being the victim of sexual violence, all of which could put women at risk of so-called honor crimes. Since 2018 women at risk of gender-based violence and “honor” crimes are referred to Ministry of Social Development shelters. While previously authorities held these women in the same administrative detention facilities as criminals, the PSD began transferring some of them directly to the shelter.

According to Ministry of Social Development, since October 2019 approximately 68 women had been transferred to its shelter for varying periods of time. NGOs reported that some women were administratively detained at Juweideh Prison for “absence” from home without permission of a male guardian or for having sex outside of marriage. Juweideh Correctional Center held 412 women, including 102 administrative detainees, as of February (see section 6). Some detained women told a local NGO that self-defense from domestic violence and economic exploitation led to their detention. Most detained women were kept in prison due to a determination by authorities that a family member must provide a guarantee to protect them from attack prior to their release.

During the year local NGOs said that officials detained some foreign laborers; those whose employers did not administratively secure their release were held for working without authorization, being absent from their authorized workplace, or lacking proper residency permits. According to the PSD, a committee was formed to assess the detention of foreign workers. Most foreign workers were exempted from paying fines for overstaying their visas and subsequently were repatriated if they chose to return to their home country.

Pretrial Detention: The law criminalizes detaining any person for more than 24 hours without a prosecutor’s authorization. Rights activists said authorities routinely ignored this limit and, according to human rights organizations, impunity was very common for violations. In 2019, 39 percent of all those in detention were pretrial detainees, according to the University of London’s World Prison Brief, an 11 percent decrease from 2018.

The GID continued to subject individuals to prolonged pretrial detention (in some cases without charges), solitary confinement, and mistreatment, according to the NCHR and other organizations.

Detainees Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The law does not have an explicit provision that entitles victims of arbitrary or unlawful detention to restitution. The law does not provide for routine judicial review of administrative detentions ordered by governors. Detainees can bring civil lawsuits for restitution for arbitrary or unlawful detention or bring criminal lawsuits for illegal incarceration; however, the legal community reported such lawsuits seldom occurred. Detainees must hire a lawyer with at least five years’ experience, must pay their own fees, and must present a copy of the order of detention. There were no cases of restitution during the year.

During the year the Ministry of Justice allocated money to provide electronic monitoring bracelets as an alternative to detention.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary. Since 2018, the judicial training institute has been housed at the Judicial Council and judges enjoy lifetime tenure, which strengthens judicial independence, according to local NGOs.

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and the judiciary generally sought to enforce this right. The law presumes that defendants are innocent. Officials sometimes did not respect the right of defendants to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them or to a fair and public trial without undue delay. According to the law, all civilian court trials and SSC trials are open to the public unless the court determines that the trial should be closed to protect the public interest.

Authorities occasionally tried defendants in their absence. The country allows defendants to be tried in their absence, but it requires a retrial upon their return. The SSC has more restrictions than the other courts on conducting trials when the defendant is not present.

Defendants are entitled to legal counsel, provided at public expense for the indigent in cases involving the death penalty or life imprisonment, but only at the trial stage. Most criminal defendants lacked legal representation prior to and at trial. Frequently defendants before the SSC met with their attorneys only one or two days before their trial began.

In 2019 the PSD and the Jordanian Bar Association signed a Memorandum of Understanding allowing lawyers access to all detention centers and prison facilities, and to meet with their clients privately in dedicated rooms. Authorities did not uniformly provide foreign residents, especially foreign workers who often did not speak Arabic, with free translation and defense. The Ministry of Justice, in collaboration with the Jordanian Bar Association and another human rights NGO, maintained a designated unit to provide legal aid services to witnesses and defendants, as mandated by law. Through August, 353 individuals received legal aid through this program.

Defendants may present witnesses and evidence and may cross-examine witnesses presented against them. Defendants do not have the right to refuse to testify. Although the constitution prohibits the use of confessions extracted by torture, human rights activists noted that courts routinely accepted confessions allegedly extracted under torture or mistreatment.

Defendants can appeal verdicts; appeals are automatic for cases involving the death penalty or a sentence of more than 10 years’ imprisonment. When defendants at trial recant confessions obtained during the criminal investigation, those confessions are not used against the defendant; the trial then relies solely on the evidence collected and presented at trial.

In the SSC, defendants have the right to appeal their sentences to the Court of Cassation, which has the authority to review issues of both fact and law.

The government allowed international observers to visit the SSC and the military and police courts to observe court proceedings throughout the year. For example, in 2019 foreign diplomats observed police court proceedings in many cases, including those involving drug use, unlawful intimidation in a landlord-tenant dispute, domestic violence, and theft from migrant workers during police stops. In January foreign diplomats observed a corruption trial at the SSC.

Civil, criminal, and commercial courts accord equal weight to the testimony of men and women. In sharia courts, which have civil jurisdiction over Muslim marriage, divorce, and inheritance cases, the testimony of one man equals that of two women, with exceptions in certain cases. As a response to local and international human rights recommendations, the Sharia Judicial Institute conducted over 35 training sessions for all its judges and prosecutors as part of the Institute’s newly introduced human rights curriculum.

The law places the age of criminal responsibility at 12 years. The law stipulates that juveniles charged with committing a crime along with an adult be tried in a juvenile court. Juveniles tried at the SSC were held in juvenile detention centers. The law stipulates alternative penalties for juvenile offenders, including vocational training and community service. According to the Ministry of Social Development, a behavior control office at the SSC was established to follow up on cases of juveniles indicted for drug use and trafficking.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were numerous instances of the government detaining and imprisoning activists for political reasons, including criticizing the government, criticizing the government’s foreign policy, publishing criticism of government officials and official bodies, criticizing foreign countries, and chanting slogans against the king. Citizens and NGOs alleged the government used administrative detention for what appeared to be political reasons.

In September the Amman Magistrate’s Court charged the Islamic Action Front’s election campaign director, Badi-al-Rafai’aa, with “impudent/offensive speech against a sisterly country” based on alleged Facebook postings critical of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, as well as retweets of four other posts. Rafai’aa was denied bail, leaving him detained until trial. Family members claimed Rafai’aa was innocent and had been charged due to his political work. As of the end of the year, the case remained pending.

In August prominent Jordanian cartoonist Emad Hajjaj was detained for publishing in a United Kingdom periodical a caricature critical of UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed and the Abraham Accords Peace Agreement. Hajjaj was referred to the SSC and charged with disturbing relations with a foreign country, an offense under the Anti-Terrorism Law. Hajjaj was released from custody shortly after his arrest. Prior to his release, the state security prosecutors changed the charges to defamation and slander under the Cybercrimes Law, and referred the case to the civilian courts. At the end of the year, the case remained pending.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Individuals may bring civil lawsuits related to human rights violations through domestic courts.

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

The constitution protects the right to privacy, but allows for surveillance “by a judicial order in accordance with the provisions of the law.” The Anti-Terrorism Law permits the prosecutor general to order surveillance upon receiving “reliable information” that “a person or group of persons is connected to any terrorist activity.”

The law prohibits such actions, but individuals widely believed that security officers monitored telephone conversations and internet communication, read private correspondence, and engaged in surveillance including monitoring online comments by cataloging them by date, internet protocol (IP) address, and location, without court orders.

The NetBlocks internet observatory reported that Facebook Live video streaming features were restricted on multiple internet providers several times in late July and early August coinciding with demonstrations related to the Jordanian Teachers Syndicate.

Some tribes continued to employ the custom of jalwa, where the relatives of a person accused of homicide are displaced to a different geographic area pending resolution between the involved families to prevent further bloodshed and revenge killings. Even though jalwa and tribal law were abolished from the legal system in 1976, security officials sporadically continued to facilitate banishment and other tribal dispute resolution customs.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides, “The State shall guarantee freedom of opinion; and every Jordanian shall freely express his opinion by speech, writing, photography, and the other means of expression, provided that he does not go beyond the limits of the law.” Authorities applied regulations to limit freedom of speech and press in practice. Authorities applied articles of the Anti-Terrorism Law, Cybercrimes Law, Press and Publications Law, and penal code to arrest local journalists.

Freedom of Speech: The law permits punishment of up to three years’ imprisonment for insulting the king, slandering the government or foreign leaders, offending religious beliefs, or fomenting sectarian strife and sedition. The government restricted the ability of individuals to criticize the government by arresting a number of activists for political expression. Authorities used laws against slander of public officials, blackmail, and libel to restrict public discussion, as well as employed official gag orders issued by the public prosecutor.

In April authorities arrested three activists associated with opposition organizations: Oday Abu Rumman, Ahmad Nuwaifi Khawaldeh, and Hisham Saraheen. Saraheen was released the same day as his arrest. Abu Rumman was released in early May. Khawaldeh was charged with slandering the royal family and for offenses under the Cybercrimes Law.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: All publications must obtain licenses from the government to operate. There were many daily newspapers. Observers considered several as independent of the government, including one regarded as close to the Islamic Action Front (the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood’s legally registered political party). Observers also judged several daily newspapers to be close to the government.

The independent print and broadcast media largely operated with limited restrictions. Media observers reported government pressure, including the threat of large fines and prison sentences, on media to refrain from criticizing the royal family, discussing the GID, covering ongoing security operations, using language deemed offensive to Islam, or slandering government officials. The government influenced news reporting and commentary through political pressure on editors and control over important editorial positions in government-affiliated media. Journalists of government-affiliated and independent media reported that security officials used bribes, threats, and political pressure to force editors to place articles favorable to the government in online and print newspapers.

In August, Human Rights Watch reported certain local and foreign journalists operating in the country said that over the past few years, they experienced increased restrictions on their reporting in the form of gag orders, harassment by security forces, and withholding of permits to report. In July prosecutors questioned JO24 news website editor Basil Okour after his outlet was accused of publishing articles related to the government’s standoff with the Jordanian Teachers Syndicate in defiance of a prosecutor’s gag order.

The law grants authority to the head of the Media Commission to close any unlicensed theater, satellite channel, or radio channel. In 2019, the Media Commission granted broadcasting licenses to companies owned by citizens and foreigners. Those with licenses may not legally broadcast anything that would harm public order, social security, national security, or the country’s relations with a foreign country; incite hatred, terrorism, or violent sedition; or mislead or deceive the public. The cabinet must justify the reasons for rejecting a license and allow the applicant to appeal the decision to the judiciary. There is a fine for broadcasting without a license.

The government has a majority of seats on the board for the leading semiofficial daily newspaper al-Rai and a share of board seats for the ad-Dustour daily newspaper. According to press freedom advocates, the GID’s Media Department must approve editors in chief of progovernment newspapers.

Media observers noted that when covering controversial subjects, the government-owned Jordan Television, Jordan News Agency, and Radio Jordan reported only the government’s position.

The Media Commission ordered the suspension of Amman-based Iraqi Dijlah TV Satellite channel twice for violating licensing provisions of the Jordanian Audio-Visual Law in January and May by illegally broadcasting from Jordan without a permit. The station was suspended in 2019 for covering the protests in Iraq, according to media sources. The station continued during the suspension to operate online via Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram.

By law, any book can be published and distributed freely. Nonetheless, if the Media Commission deems that passages violate public norms and values, are religiously offensive, or are “insulting” to the king, it can request a court order to prohibit the distribution of the book. The Media Commission banned the distribution of selected books for religious and moral reasons.

The Media Commission licenses all public-opinion polls and survey research centers in accordance with the Press and Publications Law.

Violence and Harassment: The government subjected journalists to harassment and intimidation.

In its report Under the Curfew … The Status of Media Freedom in the Shadow of the Corona Pandemic, the Center for Defending the Freedom of Journalists (CDFJ), a local NGO, documented 17 specific cases of violations of freedoms against journalists and media organizations between March and June. The CDFJ reported a decline in media freedom this year, attributed primarily to the application of the Defense Law and associated Defense Orders. The CDFJ attributes the decline in specific cases of violations to the government’s denial of access to journalists covering updates and news, as well as self-censorship.

Authorities arrested or temporarily detained some journalists, and government officials or private individuals threatened some journalists.

Police beat two journalists who covered the Teachers Syndicate protests, in violation of the gag order, according to HRW.

In April, Roya TVs General Manager Fares Sayegh and News Director Mohammad Alkhalidi were arrested following a news report on Roya News’ website and social media pages highlighting workers’ complaints about the economic impact of the COVID-19 curfew. Prosecutors charged Sayegh and Alkhalidi under the Anti-Terrorism Law. Both were released on bail three days later, and at the end of the year the case remained pending.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government directly and indirectly censored the media and online activists, reducing the variety of information available on the internet. The government’s efforts to influence journalists, including withholding financial support, scholarships for relatives, and special invitations, led to significant control of media content.

The CDFJ report and journalists noted widespread self-censorship among journalists. Fearing arrest and prosecution, journalists avoided reporting on certain issues, including political opposition based abroad and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community.

Editors reportedly received telephone calls from security officials instructing them how to cover events or to refrain from covering certain topics or events, especially criticism of political reform. At times, editors in chief censored articles to prevent lawsuits. According to media reports, at least two journalists were denied publication of their articles. Bribery of journalists took place and undermined independent reporting. In an opinion poll conducted by the CDFJ, 44 percent of journalists said the government limited information to certain sources, and 41 percent said movement restrictions limited their ability to conduct investigative reporting. Journalists cited the weak financial condition of media outlets, the threat of detention and imprisonment for defamation for a variety of offenses, and court-ordered fines of as much as 150,000 Jordanian dinars (JD) ($210,000) as factors influencing media content.

During the year the Media Commission circulated official gag orders restricting discussion in all media, including social media. One gag order involved the closure of the Teachers Syndicate and detention of its leadership, and a second gag order involved the killing of a woman in a domestic violence case. For grand felony cases or cases of domestic violence, the public prosecutor may issue a gag order to protect the victims or witnesses involved. The Media Commission also bans publication of any reports about the armed forces outside of statements made by the armed forces’ spokesperson.

Libel/Slander Laws: The Cybercrimes Law allows public prosecutors to detain individuals suspected of violating libel and slander laws. Internet users face at least three months in jail and a maximum fine of 2,000 dinars ($2,800) if they are found guilty of defamation on social or online media. Government prosecutors relied on privately initiated libel, slander, and defamation lawsuits to suppress criticism of public figures and policies. Dozens of journalists, as well as members of parliament, faced libel and slander accusations filed by private citizens. Amendments to the law place the burden of proof for defamation on the complainant. The law forbids any insult of the royal family, state institutions, national symbols, or foreign states, as well as “any writing or speech that aims at or results in causing sectarian or racial strife.” Defamation is also a criminal offense.

In March journalist Hiba Abu Taha was detained for criticizing the prime minister on Facebook. She was charged with “prolonging the tongue” (insulting), opposing the political system, and broadcasting false news. Abu Taha was released on bail, but at the end of the year the case remained pending. In May police officers arrested Yarmouk University political science professor Mohammed Turki Bani Salamah on charges of slander, after he alleged three prime ministry staffers corruptly obtained their appointments. Bani Salamah was released a couple of weeks after the three staffers dropped the charges.

National Security: The government used laws protecting national security to restrict criticism of government policies and officials.

Internet Freedom

The government restricted or disrupted access to the internet and censored online content. There were credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The law requires the licensing and registration of online news websites, holds editors responsible for readers’ comments on their websites, requires that website owners provide the government with the personal data of its users, and mandates that editors in chief be members of the Jordan Press Association. The law gives authorities explicit power to block and censor websites. The Press and Publications Law allows the media commissioner to ban websites without a court order.

The Telecommunications Law requires that telecommunications providers take appropriate measures to enable the tracking of user communications upon a judicial or administrative order.

The government continues to order internet service providers (ISPs) to block access to messaging apps on days that secondary school students sit for their national exam (Tawjihi) in order to prevent cheating. Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services are restricted by some ISPs, such as WhatsApp and Viber, while Facebook Messenger, Telegram, and Skype remain accessible.

In February detained activists Bashar al-Rawashdeh and Malek al-Mashagbeh launched hunger strikes while in detention. Rawashdeh was charged with incitement under the Cybercrimes Law for criticizing the U.S. “Vision for Peace” Middle East peace plan on Facebook. He began a hunger strike immediately after his arrest. Mashagbeh was sentenced to one year’s imprisonment for “lese-majeste” (the crime of insulting the monarch or monarchy), and launched a hunger strike soon after. Another three activists were released earlier in the year following deterioration of their health as a result of hunger strikes.

Authorities continued to block the website of an online lifestyle magazine with an LGBTI target audience on the grounds that it was an unlicensed publication.

According to the Media Commission, there is no registration fee for a website. News websites must employ editors in chief with at least four years’ membership in the Jordan Press Association. The owner and editor in chief can be fined, in addition to criminal penalties, for website content that “includes humiliation, defamation, or disparagement of individuals in a manner that violates their personal freedoms or spreads false rumors about them.”

According to journalists, security forces demanded that websites remove some posted articles. The government threatened websites and journalists that criticized the government, while it actively supported those that reported favorably on the government. The government monitored electronic correspondence and internet chat sites. Many individuals believed they were unable to express their views fully or freely via the internet, including by personal email.

During the year, according to local and international NGOs, security forces blocked live-streamed videos of protests posted on Facebook.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

The government placed some limits on academic freedom. Some members of the academic community claimed there was a continuing government intelligence agency presence in academic institutions, including monitoring academic conferences and lectures. The government monitored political meetings, speech on university campuses, and sermons in mosques and churches. Academics reported the GID must clear all university professors before their appointment. Academics also reported university administrators must approve all research papers, forums, reading materials, movies, or seminars. Administrators clear potentially controversial material through the GID. Authorities edited commercial foreign films for objectionable content before screening in commercial theaters.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The constitution provides for freedom of assembly but the government sometimes limited this right. Security forces provided security at demonstrations granted permits by government or local authorities.

The law requires a 48-hour notification to the local governor for any meeting or event hosted by any local or international group. While not required by law, several local and international NGOs reported that hotels, allegedly at the request of security officials, required them to present letters of approval from the governor prior to holding training courses, private meetings, or public conferences. There were some reported cases of the governor denying approval requests without explanation, according to local and international human rights NGOs. Without letters of approval from the government, hotels cancelled the events. In some cases, NGOs relocated the events to private offices or residences, and the activities were held without interruption.

Protests regarding economic policies, corruption, and government ineffectiveness occurred across the country throughout the year. The weekly protests by activists that began in 2018 have not been held since March, following the imposition of public health-related government restrictions on gatherings of more than 20 persons to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

On July 25, hundreds of teachers protested in cities across the country after the government suspended the Jordanian Teachers Syndicate (the syndicate). Crowds were not as large as in the previous year, but large protests occurred across the country including in Karak, Tafileh, Jerash, and Madaba. Demonstrations were generally peaceful, with a significant presence of Jordanian security forces. The deputy head of the syndicate, Nasser al-Nawasreh, was cited in a HRW report describing his arrest on the Irbid-Amman highway, when he was surrounded by three unmarked vehicles, and a hood was placed over his head. On July 29 in Amman, hundreds of teachers and supporters held another protest against the July suspension order. Security services prevented protestors from reaching their intended destination and videos showed police using batons to beat back demonstrators who attempted to push through cordons. Authorities arrested over 600 persons during the protests; all were released within 24 hours.

On July 22, hundreds of demonstrators held a sit-in in front of parliament to protest violence against women and so-called honor killings in the wake of the “Ahlam” case (see section 6). Despite regulations mandating masks, social distancing, and groups of fewer than 20 persons, protesters were allowed to gather without interference from security services.

Security services and protesters generally refrained from violence during demonstrations. Occasional scuffles occurred when protesters attempted to break through security cordons intended to limit demonstrations to particular locations. In such situations police occasionally used tear gas.

Security services detained political activists for shouting slogans critical of authorities during protests. Some activists were arbitrarily arrested and held without charge, others were charged with insulting the king, undermining the political regime, or slander.

Freedom of Association

The constitution provides for the right of association but the government limited this freedom. The law authorizes the Ministry of Social Development and Ministry of Trade, Industry, and Supply to approve or reject applications to register organizations and to prohibit organizations from receiving foreign funding for any reason. It prohibits the use of associations for the benefit of any political organization. The law also gives these ministries significant control over the internal management of associations, including the ability to dissolve associations, approve boards of directors, send government representatives to any board meeting, prevent associations from merging their operations, and appoint an auditor to examine an association’s finances for any reason. The law requires associations to inform the Ministry of Social Development of board meetings, submit all board decisions for approval, disclose members’ names, and obtain security clearances from the Interior Ministry for board members. The law includes penalties, including fines, for violation of the regulations. The Ministry of Social Development is legally empowered to intervene in NGO activities and issue warnings for violation of the law. NGOs that receive a warning are given a two-month probationary period to address violations.

In January the Ministry of Social Development instituted a new system for reviewing foreign fund transfers to local NGOs. Local NGOs feedback was mixed; some reported applications were processed in under 30 days as required by the law, while other NGOs claimed officials reviewing the foreign fund transfers applied arbitrary criteria to delay or reject their fund transfer applications. Some NGOs reported that unexplained, months-long delays in the decision process continued and that there was no formal process to appeal untransparent decisions.

Citizens widely suspected that the government infiltrated civil society organizations, political parties, and human rights organizations and their internal meetings.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, although there were some restrictions. Restrictions on freedom of movement due to public health measures designed to mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic included the suspending of regular commercial passenger flights from March through September, though a limited number of repatriation flights were permitted; and temporary restrictions on travel between governorates were implemented.

There were continued reports of forced refugee relocations to Azraq refugee camp, including many to Azraq’s restricted Village 5, as an alternative to deportation for offenses by Syrian refugees. Such offenses included “irregular status” (expired registration documents or working without a work permit); criminal activities; and potential security risks, which were not clearly defined.

As of September, Azraq camp hosted more than 40,000 individuals, including more than 9,000 adults and children in the fenced-off Village 5 area. In 2019, NGOs estimated that the government forcibly relocated more than 3,800 refugees to Azraq camp, including more than 2,300 to Village 5 for security reasons. The vast majority of these refugees were not informed of the reasons for their detention and did not receive legal assistance. Residents of Village 5 had access to basic humanitarian assistance inside the village but had limited access to the broader camp facilities, including the camp hospital, which required a security escort.

Although some refugees were permitted to leave Village 5 each month, the process for Village 5 residents to relocate to the larger camp remained irregular and slow; NGOs reported only 1,269 individuals left Village 5 in 2019, leading to a growing resident population which lacked freedom of movement within and outside of the camp. NGOs reported nearly half of Village 5 residents had been there for more than three years.

Civil documents of Palestinian Refugees from Syria (PRS) and other refugees were held by authorities during their stay in the camp, and residents were required to apply for leave in order to go outside the camp, severely limiting their freedom of movement.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

In 2019 the government halted all registrations of new non-Syrian asylum seekers by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), pending a government review of poorly defined registration procedures. As of September, the halt in registrations affected more than 7,000 individuals, primarily from Sudan, Somalia, Egypt, and Yemen. According to UNHCR, there was no backlog of registration for Syrian refugees, and it was possible for Syrians to register with UNHCR at centers in Amman and Irbid. With the COVID-19 pandemic and temporary closures of the centers, the government decided that it would accept expired documentation in support of refugee and asylum seeker requests for access to services, including health care, until the end of the year.

A number of PRS and other refugees resided in King Abdullah Park (KAP), an unused fenced public space repurposed since 2016 to house PRS, mixed Syrian-PRS families, and some individuals of other nationalities who arrived from Syria. As of August, 578 individuals were held in KAP, of whom 391 were PRS, 145 Syrians, 20 Jordanians, and 22 of other nationalities. Refugees in KAP were exposed to a wide range of vulnerabilities, including but not limited to overcrowding and a lack of space and privacy while using common facilities such as latrines, drinking water sources, and kitchens.

PRS who lacked legal status in Jordan limited their movements to avoid coming into contact with authorities. In addition, some PRS with legal documentation reported delays of up to four years for renewal of their documentation.

For PRS with Jordanian citizenship, potential revocation of that citizenship remained a concern. The UN Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) was aware of at least 50 cases of citizenship revocation since the beginning of the Syrian conflict in 2011. In most cases, authorities provided no information regarding the reasons for the revocation.

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government lacked a formal system of protecting refugees. A 1998 memorandum of understanding between the government and UNHCR, renewed in 2014, contains the definition of a refugee, confirms adherence to the principle of nonrefoulement, and allows recognized refugees a maximum stay of one year, during which period UNHCR must find them a durable solution. The time limit is renewable, and the government generally did not force refugees to return to their country of origin. As of 2014 authorities require all Syrians in the country to register with the Ministry of Interior and obtain a ministry-issued identification card.

The country’s border crossings with Syria remained closed to new refugee arrivals. The Jaber-Nassib border crossing with Syria was partially closed in March for COVID-19 prevention. It remained open for commercial traffic only until August, when it closed completely. The Jaber-Nassib crossing reopened for commercial traffic in September. The Rukban border crossing remained closed. The government determined it would not accept additional Syrian refugees after a 2016 suicide attack along the northeast border with Syria, declaring the surrounding area a “closed military zone.” The government restricted humanitarian access to the area. The government’s 2013 announcement that it would not allow entry of PRS remains in effect.

Employment: Since 2016 the government has issued more than 192,000 work permits to UNHCR-registered Syrian refugees, with 95 percent of these work permits being issued to men. More than 28,000 work permits remained active. Syrian refugees are eligible for work permits in a limited number of sectors and occupations. COVID-19 mitigation measures reduced the number of work permits issued to Syrian refugees from 47,766 in 2019 to 23,258 as of September.

Tens of thousands of refugees continued to work in the informal economy. Very few non-Syrian refugees had access to the formal labor market due to difficulty in obtaining documentation, ineligibility for work permits, and costs involved in seeking work.

The Ministries of Interior and Labor, in coordination with the United Nations, permitted Syrian refugees living in the camps to apply for work permits. The agreement allows camp-based refugees to use their work permits as a 30-day leave pass to work outside the camp. Camp-based refugees receiving work permits must report to the camp at least one day per month.

Some Jordan residents of Palestinian descent, such as those referred to as “Gazans” for short, do not have Jordanian citizenship. To accommodate this population of 158,000 individuals, authorities issued two-year temporary Jordanian passports without national identity numbers to Palestinian refugees originally from Gaza. These functioned as travel documents and provided these refugees with permanent residency in Jordan. Without a national identity number, though, Palestinian refugees from Gaza were unable to access national support programs fully and were excluded from key aspects of health and social service support. Those refugees from Gaza who were not registered with UNRWA also experienced restrictions and hindrances in accessing education, obtaining driving licenses, opening bank accounts, and purchasing property.

Since 2017 the government has gradually introduced Cabinet decisions and associated instructions that have eased some restrictions on “ex-Gazans,” especially those holding an ID and residency card issued by the Ministry of Interior. These new decisions allow the ex-Gazans with IDs to benefit from the “bread cash support” by allowing them to apply for Ministry of Social Development and National Aid Fund support schemes including opening bank accounts, accessing health and education services–although still with higher fees–establishing and registering businesses, and purchasing and registering vehicles and property in their own names.

Access to Basic Services: The government allowed UNHCR-registered refugees to access public health and education facilities. In 2019 the government reduced the fees for Syrian refugees to the same rate as uninsured Jordanians pay for access to primary and secondary medical care, and exempted them from paying fees for maternity and childhood care. During the year, this service was also extended to non-Syrian refugees.

The government continued to provide free primary and secondary education to Syrian refugee children and to permit all school-age Syrian refugees access to education. As of the end of the 2019-20 academic year, however, an estimated 50,900 Syrians remained out of school due to financial challenges, transportation costs, child labor, early marriage, and administrative challenges. Non-Syrian refugees must pay to attend government schools and face documentary requirements as barriers to entry. Public schools were overcrowded, particularly in the north of the country, and 201 schools operated on a double-shift schedule to accommodate Syrian students. Through September more than 136,000 Syrian refugee students were enrolled for the 2019-20 school year, representing a 59 percent gross enrollment rate for the K-12 school-aged population.

For those not eligible to access formal education because they have been out of school for three or more years, the Ministry of Education developed a catch-up program for students between the ages of nine and 12. Children age 13 and older who were not eligible to enroll in formal education could participate in informal education through drop-out programs implemented by NGO partners, in close coordination with the Ministry of Education. In 2019, 3,200 Syrian students were enrolled in the Ministry of Education’s informal education program.

Tens of thousands of refugee children faced barriers to attending public schools, including lack of transportation, lack of documentation, long distances to schools, bullying by fellow students and teachers, or child labor.

Palestinian refugees from Gaza and other non-West Bank areas who entered the country following the 1967 war are not entitled to receive any UNRWA services, including access to public assistance and higher education. Refugees from Gaza who came to Jordan between June 1946 and May 1948 are eligible to receive UNRWA services.

Access to basic civil services–including renewal of identity documents and the registration of marriages, deaths, and births–remained highly complex for PRS. These vulnerabilities put undocumented refugees at additional risk of abuse by third parties such as employers and landlords.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. The government tolerated the prolonged stay of many Iraqis and other refugees beyond the expiration of the visit permits under which they had entered the country. Iraqi and other non-Syrian refugees accrued fines for overstaying their visit permits. Refugees must pay or settle the fines and penalties prior to receiving an exit visa from Jordan and face a five-year ban from re-entry into Jordan.

g. Stateless Persons

Only fathers can transmit citizenship. Women do not have the legal right to transmit citizenship to their children, which can lead to statelessness. Children of female citizens married to noncitizens receive the nationality of the father. Women may not petition for citizenship for noncitizen husbands, who may apply for citizenship only after fulfilling a requirement that they maintain continuous Jordanian residency for 15 years. Once a husband has obtained citizenship, he may apply to transmit citizenship to his children. Such an application could take years, and the government can deny the application.

A large number of Syrian marriages reportedly took place in Jordan without registration due to refugees’ lack of identity documents, which were sometimes lost or destroyed when they fled Syria or confiscated by government authorities when they entered the country. Refugees were sometimes unable to obtain birth certificates for children born in the country if they could not present an official marriage certificate or other nationality documents. The government opened a legal process for such cases to adjust and obtain registration documents. Refugee households headed by women faced difficulty in certifying nationality of offspring in absence of the father, which increased the risk of statelessness among this population. Civil registry departments and sharia courts in the Za’atri and Azraq camps helped Syrian refugees register births.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law does not provide citizens the ability to choose their executive branch of government. The king appoints and dismisses the prime minister, cabinet, and upper house of parliament; can dissolve parliament; and directs major public policy initiatives. Citizens have the ability to choose the lower house of parliament in generally credible periodic elections based on universal and equal suffrage and conducted by secret ballot. Citizens also elect 97 of the 100 mayors, most members of governorate councils, and all members of municipal and local councils. While the voting process was well run, official obstacles to political party activity and campaigning limited participation. International organizations continued to have concerns about the gerrymandering of electoral districts. The cabinet, based on the prime minister’s recommendations, appoints the mayors of Amman, Wadi Musa (Petra), and Aqaba, a special economic zone.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The government held parliamentary elections on November 10. Local monitors reported the November 10 election was technically well administered and public health procedures were widely followed.

Special voting hours were held for voters in quarantine for COVID-19 exposure but who had not tested positive for the virus. A Defense Order applied criminal penalties for COVID-19-positive citizens who disregarded public health restrictions and did not remain quarantined. The Ministry of Health provided a list of COVID-19-infected patients to the Independent Election Commission. Poll workers briefly closed several polling centers after voters listed by the Ministry of Health as having COVID-19 presented themselves to vote. The Independent Election Commission reported one COVID-19-positive citizen was referred to prosecutors for appearing at a polling center. Observers with the NCHR noted some older voters encountered difficulties accessing some polling centers.

In preparation for November’s parliamentary election, the Ministry of Parliamentary and Political Affairs set out preliminary measures and activities, including six workshops on youth capacity building and political party participation during March. In September the Independent Election Commission (IEC), an autonomous legal entity that supervised elections and administered polls, investigated approximately 25 cases of “political money” (illicit campaign spending) and referred at least four cases to the Amman public prosecutor. The IEC conducted in-person and virtual sessions with youth, women, organizations for persons with disabilities, and others to promote political participation.

The 2017 governorate and municipal elections marked the first time the IEC administered subnational elections, which had previously been managed by the Ministry of Interior. In addition to the election of mayors and local councils, the election seated new governorate-level councils. Many monitors praised the elections as technically well run, but the nongovernmental elections monitoring body Rased registered more than 500 allegedly illegal incidents.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Political parties have been legal since 1992. The law places supervisory authority of political parties in the Ministry of Political and Parliamentary Affairs. Political parties must have 150 founding members, all of whom must be citizens habitually resident in the country and who cannot be members of non-Jordanian political organizations, judges, or affiliated with the security services. There is no quota for women when founding a new political party. Parties may not be formed on the basis of religion, sect, race, gender, or origin, meaning that the party may not make membership dependent on any of these factors. The law stipulates citizens may not be prosecuted or discriminated against for their political party affiliation. Many politicians believed that the GID would harass them if they attempted to form or join a political party with a policy platform.

In 2019 the cabinet approved a new bylaw increasing the benchmarks parties must meet to receive funding, in an effort to encourage actual political activity. Previously, all political parties meeting certain membership levels received equal government funding, regardless of whether they participated in elections or conducted any other activities. Some of the benchmarks in the new bylaw include the number of candidates fielded in elections, the percentage of votes won, the number of seats attained, and the number of female and youth candidates who win seats.

The Committee on Political Party Affairs oversees the activities of political parties. The secretary general of the Ministry of Political and Parliamentary Affairs chairs the committee, which includes representatives from the Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Culture, NCHR, and civil society. The law grants the committee the authority to approve or reject applications to establish or dissolve parties. It allows party founders to appeal a rejection to the judiciary within 60 days of the decision. According to the law, approved parties can only be dissolved subject to the party’s own bylaws or by a judicial decision for affiliation with a foreign entity, accepting funding from a foreign entity, violating provisions of the law, or violating provisions of the constitution. The law prohibits membership in unlicensed political parties.

There were approximately 49 registered political parties, but many were weak, had vague platforms, and were personality centered. The strongest and most organized political party was the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Islamic Action Front (IAF). According to the Ministry of Parliamentary and Political Affairs, seven new political parties registered with the ministry since October 2019. At the end of the year, these applications remained pending.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or minorities in the political process. The electoral law limits parliamentary representation of certain minorities to designated quota seats. Human rights activists cited cultural bias against women as an impediment to women participating in political life on the same scale as men. There are quotas for women in the lower house of parliament, governorate councils, municipal councils, and local councils. Women elected competitively or appointed through quota systems held a small minority of positions in national and local legislative bodies and executive-branch leadership roles.

In August the Ministry of Parliamentary and Political Affairs conducted a training program for women interested in running for election, in collaboration with the Jordanian National Commission for Women.

In January leaders from government, civil society, and the private sector convened for a conference on women’s economic empowerment organized by the Inter-Ministerial Committee for Women’s Empowerment in partnership with parliament. Panel speakers emphasized the need for sustainable empowerment programs.

The 32-member cabinet included three female ministers: the Minister for Institutional Performance Development; the Minister of Industry, Trade, and Supply; and the Minister of Energy and Mineral. Of the 376 governate seats, 53 were held by women. At the municipal council level, women won 28 indirectly elected seats and 57 by quota, out of a total of 1,783 seats. At the local council (village and neighborhood) level, women won 231 seats in free competition and received 324 seats through the quota system, out of a total of 1,179 seats. No women won mayorships.

Citizens of Palestinian origin were underrepresented at all levels of government and the military. The law reserves nine seats in the lower house of parliament for Christians and three seats for the Circassian and Chechen ethnic minorities combined, constituting an overrepresentation of these minorities. The law stipulates that Muslims must hold all parliamentary seats not specifically reserved for Christians. There are no reserved seats for the relatively small Druze population, but its members may hold office under their government classification as Muslims. Christians served as cabinet ministers, senators, and ambassadors. There was one Druze cabinet member.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, although the government did not implement the law effectively. Authorities have shown an increased willingness to open public corruption investigations, some of which implicated former cabinet ministers and agency heads, but these investigations have not resulted in completed trials or convictions as of September. The use of family, business, and other personal connections to advance personal economic interests was widespread.

The Jordan Integrity and Anticorruption Commission (JIACC) is the main body responsible for combating corruption, and the Central Bank’s Anti-Money Laundering Unit is responsible for combating money laundering. Despite increased investigations, some local observers questioned the JIACC’s effectiveness due to its limited jurisdiction and insufficient staff. The law allows the JIACC to request asset seizures, international travel bans, and suspension of officials under investigation for corruption. The JIACC has administrative and operational autonomy, though the prime minister appoints its leadership board.

Corruption: Government officials and prosecutors launched a number of high-profile corruption investigations during the summer. The former minister of agriculture resigned in the spring due to public corruption charges against his staff for their having sold “movement passes” issued selectively to allow certain individuals to conduct essential business during periods of COVID-19 lockdown. In June the government announced a campaign to combat tax evasion which involved tax authorities opening hundreds of investigations and raiding over a dozen firms. On July 1, a former minister of public works and housing pleaded not guilty to charges of abuse of office; his trial was ongoing as of September. In July and August, prosecutors ordered the temporary detention of a major government contractor related to a member of parliament. The businessman was accused of wasting public funds; his case was in the pretrial stage as of September.

In 2019 the SSC began the trial of 54 defendants accused of illegal production and smuggling of tobacco. In 2018, the government announced it had extradited from Turkey the key suspect in the case, businessman Awni Motee, who fled the country before being arrested in 2018. In 2019, the SSC prosecutor ordered the detention of a former customs department director and former minister of water and irrigation as well as four serving officials linked to the case. The former customs director, the former water minister, and the other four officials were released on bail. Other defendants were refused bail and remain in detention including key suspect Motee. The trial is ongoing.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires certain government officials, their spouses, and dependent children to declare their assets privately to the Ministry of Justice within three months of their assuming a government position. Officials rarely publicly declared their assets. Authorities blocked efforts by transparency activists to identify officials publicly who did not declare their assets. JIACC officials may review disclosure information in the event of a complaint or credible allegation. Under the law, failure to disclose assets may result in a prison sentence from one week to three years or a fine. No officials were punished for failing to submit a disclosure.

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

A number of domestic and international human rights groups operated in the country with some restrictions. The law gives the government the ability to control NGOs’ internal affairs, including acceptance of foreign funding. NGOs generally were able to investigate and report publicly on human rights abuses, although government officials were not always cooperative or responsive. In one case security services intimidated staff of a human rights NGO. A legal aid organization reported that lawyers were harassed for following up on cases and threatened with disbarment by the Jordanian Bar Association.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The NCHR, a quasi-independent institution established by law, received both government and international funding. The prime minister nominates its board of trustees, and the king ratifies their appointment by royal decree. Its board of trustees appoints NCHR’s commissioner general. In July a new commissioner was appointed by the prime minister based on a recommendation by the NCHR Board of Trustees. The NCHR compiles an annual report assessing compliance with human rights that sometimes criticizes government practices. The NCHR submits the report to the upper and lower houses of parliament and to the cabinet. NCHR recommendations are not legally binding, but the government coordinator for human rights (GCHR) is required to respond to the report’s recommendations and to measure progress towards international human rights standards.

Ministries’ working groups continued to meet and implement their responsibilities under the national human rights action plan, a 10-year comprehensive program launched in 2016 to reform laws in accordance with international standards and best practices, including improving accessibility for persons with disabilities. Developments on the action plan were regularly published on the ministries’ websites. Ministries affirmed commitment to the plan but expressed frustration with the limited resources available to implement it.

To implement the action plan, the GCHR maintained a team of liaison officers from government, NGOs, security agencies, and other institutions to improve collaboration and communication. The minister of justice convened a committee consisting of the GCHR, the Legislative and Opinion Bureau’s director, NCHR’s commissioner, the secretary general of the Jordanian National Commission for Women, and the head of the Press Association to reassess the implementation of the objectives of the national plan for human rights. Through September, 20 percent of the plan’s activities were completed, 42 percent remained ongoing, and 38 percent remained pending.

In July the prime minister appointed a new head of the GCHR to replace the previous head, who had resigned in June. The new GCHR head and the Prime Minister’s Office human rights unit coordinate government-wide implementation of the national plan, including drafting and responding to human rights reports. The GCHR office conducted 47 activities during the year under the national human rights plan, including discussions of the Universal Periodic Review recommendations, inclusion of persons with disabilities in the public and private sectors, gender, trafficking in persons, and general human rights awareness workshops.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law stipulates a sentence of at least 10 years’ imprisonment with hard labor for the rape of a girl or woman age 15 or older. Spousal rape is not illegal. The law makes prosecution mandatory for felony offenses, including rape. Nonfelony offenses, such as certain cases of domestic violence, are first subjected to mediation by the Family Protection Department (FPD) of the PSD. The law provides options for alternative sentencing in domestic violence cases, with consent of the victim. The government did not effectively enforce the law against rape. Violence against women was prevalent. While the reported number of “honor” crimes decreased, local NGOs reported deaths from domestic violence increased. In August a human rights NGO reported that 15 women died from domestic violence in the year. In September the Euro-Med Monitor reported 21 women murdered in the year, versus seven in 2018.

On August 29, a criminal court prosecutor charged a man with the premeditated murder of his Lebanese wife, whom he killed and set on fire in Madaba.

Women may file complaints of rape or physical abuse with certain NGOs or directly with judicial authorities. However, due to social taboos and degrading treatment at police stations, gender-based crimes often went unreported. The FPD investigated cases but gave preference to mediation, referring almost all cases to the social service office. Some NGOs and lawyers reported pressure against taking physical abuse cases to court. Spousal abuse is technically grounds for divorce, but husbands sometimes claimed cultural authority to strike their wives. Observers noted while judges generally supported a woman’s claim of abuse in court, due to societal and familial pressure and fear of violence such as “honor” killings, few women sought legal remedies. In July the PSD announced a restructuring of the FPD in response to ongoing family violence crimes. New directives expanded the FPD’s jurisdiction to include misdemeanor offenses of premarital sex and adultery, which were previously handled by other PSD departments. The PSD, the judiciary, and Ministries of Justice, Health, and Social Development were jointly developing a formal mediation process, according to the FPD.

NGO representatives reported fewer women at risk of becoming victims of “honor” crimes but more women at risk of domestic violence. According to international human rights organizations operating in the country, gender-based violence, particularly domestic violence, increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. Emotional and physical abuse, often perpetrated by an intimate partner or member of the family, were the most common forms of abuse. UN Women reported that 62 percent of women surveyed, particularly those living in households of five or more persons, felt at increased risk of violence as a result of pandemic-related household tensions, including food insecurity.

Governors used the Crime Prevention Law to detain women administratively for their protection. The Ministry of Social Development operated a shelter for women at risk of violence and “honor” crimes. In its second year of operation since opening in 2018, the shelter served 166 women, including administrative detainees from the Juweideh women’s correctional and rehabilitation center, women referred to the shelter by the FPD, and women who were directly referred to the shelter by governors. Children younger than age six were allowed to accompany their mothers, including children reunited with their mothers who had previously been detained under protective custody.

The FPD operated a domestic violence hotline and received inquiries and complaints via email and in person. The Ministry of Social Development maintained a second shelter for female victims of domestic violence in Irbid.

In 2019 the Ministry of Social Development launched a national initiative aimed at preventing and responding to gender-based violence. The ministry also created a manual for providing health care to and treating sexual assault victims. NGOs reported that health-care providers and teachers were still hesitant to report abuse due to the absence of witness protection guarantees. Specialized judges continued expediting and classifying domestic violence cases; misdemeanor cases took approximately three months to resolve, according to legal aid NGOs. A judge must oversee the resolution of each case and confirm consent of both parties, and may order community service or quash criminal charges. Another legal aid NGO assisted the Government of Jordan in developing mediation guidelines.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Civil society organizations stated that many “honor” crimes went unreported, especially in nonurban areas.

In July a family murder that was deemed an “honor” crime by NGOs provoked nationwide protests against gender-based violence. On July 17, a woman in her thirties was murdered by her father. Social media users circulated a video with a hashtag that translated to “screams of Ahlam” that showed a woman (identified as the victim) screaming for help in the vicinity of witnesses, before her father allegedly bludgeoned her to death with a brick. The prosecutor’s office charged the father with murder, and he remains in detention. Prosecutors issued a gag order, stopping reporting on further details on the case, including the victim’s full name. On July 22, hundreds of demonstrators held a sit-in in front of parliament to protest violence against women in the wake of the Ahlam case. Protesters called for stricter penalties for domestic violence and crimes against women.

There were no reported instances of forced marriage as an alternative to a potential “honor” killing during the year, although NGOs noted many cases of forced marriage occurred shortly after an accusation of rape, due to family and societal pressure before any formal trial began. Observers noted that, according to customary belief, if a woman marries her rapist, her family members do not need to kill her to “preserve the family’s honor,” despite a 2017 amendment to the law ending the practice of absolving rapists who married their victims. Nevertheless, NGOs noted that this amendment helped reduce such instances and encouraged more women to report rape, especially since the establishment of the shelter.

Governors referred potential victims of “honor” crimes to the Ministry of Social Development shelter instead of involuntary protective custody in a detention facility. During the year governors directly referred 69 women to the shelter.

The law authorizes DNA tests and scientific means to identify paternity of a newborn associated with “rape, deception, and deceit.”

Sexual Harassment: The law strictly prohibits sexual harassment and does not distinguish between sexual assault and sexual harassment. Both carry a minimum prison sentence of four years’ hard labor. The law also sets penalties for indecent touching and verbal harassment but does not define protections against sexual harassment. Sexual harassment of women and girls in public was widely reported. NGOs reported refugees from Syria and foreign workers, particularly garment workers and domestic workers, were especially vulnerable to gender-based violence, including sexual harassment and sexual assault, in the workplace.

Reproductive Rights: The law permits couples the basic right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children. Contraceptives, except emergency contraceptives, were generally accessible and provided free of charge in public clinics. Advocates have raised concerns over barriers to services for unmarried women and access problems for women and girls with disabilities, including consent for hysterectomies. Human rights groups have raised concerns over the treatment of single women who give birth at hospitals, including hospital staff’s reporting them to authorities. According to estimates in the UN Population Fund’s State of World Population 2020, 21 percent of women aged 15-49 years used a modern method of contraception.

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence, but emergency contraception was generally not available, limiting clinical management of rape.

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

Discrimination: The constitution guarantees equal rights to men and women. However, the law does not necessarily provide for the same legal status, rights, and inheritance provisions for women as for men. Women experienced discrimination in a number of areas, including divorce, child custody, citizenship, the workplace, and, in certain circumstances, the value of their testimony in a sharia court handling civil law matters.

No specialized government office or designated official handles discrimination claims. The Jordanian National Commission for Women, a quasi-governmental organization, operated a hotline to receive discrimination complaints.

Under sharia, daughters inherit half the amount that sons receive, with some exceptional cases. A sole female heir receives only half of her parents’ estate, with the balance going to uncles, whereas a sole male heir inherits all of his parents’ property. Women may seek divorce without the consent of their husbands in limited circumstances such as abandonment, spousal abuse, or in return for waiving financial rights. The law allows retention of financial rights under specific circumstances, such as spousal abuse. Special religious courts for recognized Christian denominations under the Council of Churches adjudicate marriage and divorce for Christians, but for inheritance, sharia applies to all persons, irrespective of religion.

In March the sharia court took COVID-19 response measures in line with the Defense Law. Alimony for women was paid electronically or through the Jordan Post Office. Due to suspension of work and salaries in some cases, the court resorted to the Alimony Credit Fund to pay women and children’s alimony.

The law allows fathers to obtain a court order to prevent their children younger than 18 from leaving the country. This procedure is unavailable to mothers. Authorities did not stop fathers from leaving the country with their children when the mother objected, although divorced mothers may seek injunctions on their former spouses to prevent them taking their children abroad.

The government provided men with more generous social security benefits than women. Family members who inherited the pension payments of deceased civil servants received differing amounts according to the heir’s gender. Laws and regulations governing health insurance for civil servants permit women to extend their health insurance coverage to dependents or spouses, even if the woman is not a citizen. Men must be citizens to extend full insurance benefits to spouses and dependents.

In April 2019 parliament amended the law to allow a non-Muslim mother to retain custody of her Muslim children beyond the age of seven (the previous limit).

Children

Birth Registration: Only fathers can transmit citizenship. The government did not issue birth certificates to all children born in the country during the year. The government deemed some children, including children of unmarried women or interfaith marriages involving a Muslim woman and converts from Islam to another religion, illegitimate and denied them standard registration. Instead, the government issued these children, as well as orphans, special national identification numbers that differed from the standard national identification numbers given to most citizens. This made it difficult for these children to attend school, access health services, or receive other documentation. National identification numbers do not change during a person’s lifetime and are used in all forms of identification. If children of Jordanian mothers and noncitizen fathers apply and meet certain criteria, they may gain access to certain services enjoyed by citizens, including subsidized health care; the ability to own property, invest, and obtain a driver’s license; and employment priority over other foreigners. To access these services, children must obtain a special identification card through the Civil Status Bureau. Under the law, children of Jordanian mothers and noncitizen fathers who apply for social services must reside in the country and prove the maternal relationship. By law the cabinet may approve citizenship for children of Jordanian mothers and foreign fathers under certain conditions, but this mechanism was not widely known, and approval rarely occurred.

Authorities separated children born out of wedlock from their mothers and placed them in orphanages, regardless of the mother’s desire for custody. NGOs reported two cases of newborns born out of wedlock who were allowed to reunite with their mothers who were residing at the Ministry of Social Development shelter.

Education: Education is compulsory from ages six through 16 and free until age 18. No legislation exists to enforce the law or to punish guardians for violating it. Children without legal residency face obstacles enrolling in public school. Some children of female citizens and noncitizen fathers must apply for residency permits every year, and authorities did not assure permission (see section 2.g., Stateless Persons). See section 2.f. for information on access to education for refugees.

Child Abuse: No specific law provides protection for children, but other laws specify punishment for child abuse. For example, conviction for rape of a child younger than age 15 potentially carries the death penalty. There were no convictions for rape of a child younger than 15 during the year. Local organizations working with abused children pointed to gaps in the legal system that regularly resulted in lenient sentencing, particularly for family members. In child abuse cases, judges routinely showed leniency in accordance with the wishes of the family. In some cases, authorities failed to intervene when confronted with reports of abuse, resulting in escalating violence and death.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum age for marriage is 18. With the consent of both a judge and a guardian, a child as young as age 16 may be married. Judges have the authority to decide if marriage of girls between age 16 and 18 would be “in their best interest” and to adjudicate the marriage contract. Early and forced marriage among refugee populations remained higher than among the general population. During the year a large number of marriages of Syrians in the country involved an underage bride, according to many sources. According to local and international organizations, some Syrian refugee families initiated early marriages for their daughters to help mitigate the stresses of poverty.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law stipulates a penalty for the commercial exploitation of children of six months’ to three years’ imprisonment. The law prohibits the distribution of pornography involving persons younger than age 18. The law does not specifically prohibit the possession of child pornography without an intention to sell or distribute. The law penalizes those who use the internet to post or distribute child pornography. The minimum age of consensual sex is 18, although sexual relations between minors whose marriages the courts approved are legal.

Displaced Children: Given the large refugee population, there were significant numbers of displaced children (see section 2.f.).

Institutionalized Children: Authorities automatically referred cases involving violence against persons with disabilities or institutionalized persons to the FPD. The community monitoring committee highlighted the pervasive use of physical discipline; physical and verbal abuse; unacceptable living conditions; and a lack of educational, rehabilitative, or psychosocial services for wards and inmates.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parent Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.

Anti-Semitism

Aside from foreigners, there was no resident Jewish community in the country. Anti-Semitism was present in media. Editorial cartoons, articles, and opinion pieces sometimes negatively depicted Jews, without government response. The national school curriculum, including materials on tolerance education, did not mention the Holocaust, but it was taught in some private school curriculums.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law generally provides equal rights to persons with disabilities, but authorities did not uphold such legal protections. Disabilities covered under the law include physical, sensory, psychological, and mental disabilities. The Higher Council for Affairs of Persons with Disabilities (HCD), a government body, worked with ministries, the private sector, and NGOs to formulate and implement strategies to assist persons with disabilities. Citizens and NGOs universally reported that persons with disabilities faced problems obtaining employment and accessing education, health care, information, communications, buildings, transportation, the judicial system, and other services, particularly in rural areas.

The electoral law directs the government to verify that voting facilities are accessible to persons with disabilities and allows such persons to bring a personal assistant to the polling station. In August the HCD signed a Memorandum of Understanding and a joint cooperation protocol with the Independent Election Commission, aimed at expanding the participation of persons with disabilities in the electoral process, and ensuring their right to vote and run for elected office.

In March the HCD criticized the government for the lack of communication for persons with disabilities on the COVID-19 response. HCD issued a statement highlighting the importance of inclusive messaging regarding COVID-19 prevention and healthcare for persons with disabilities. In response to this and calls by other disability advocates, local TV channels added sign-language interpretation to the daily afternoon special COVID-19 news update, including reports by correspondents in the field. Additionally the HCD started posting videos on the Council’s Facebook page that added audiovisual aids and sign-language clips to government announcements.

The law tasks the Special Buildings Code Department with enforcing accessibility provisions and oversees retrofitting existing buildings to comply with building codes. The vast majority of private and public office buildings continued to have limited or no access for persons with disabilities. Municipal infrastructure, such as public transport, streets, sidewalks, and intersections, was largely not accessible.

The PSD’s national 911 emergency call center provided emergency services for citizens with hearing and speech disabilities by using sign language over a video call with specially trained officers on duty. These PSD interpreters were also available for citizens to use when discussing issues with government offices without a representative who could communicate via sign language.

Children with disabilities experienced extreme difficulty in accessing constitutionally protected early and primary education. The NCHR noted school classrooms were not fully accessible and that there was a limited number of qualified teachers for children with disabilities. The NCHR reported that the appointment of qualified teachers was restricted by a Defense Order imposing a temporary moratorium on new appointments and the secondment of personnel in ministries, government departments, and public official institutions and bodies. Families of children with disabilities reported further challenges from COVID-19 prevention measures.

Human rights activists and media reported cases of physical and sexual abuse of children and adults with disabilities in institutions, rehabilitation centers, and other care settings. The government operated some of these institutions.

The HCD did not receive any complaints of abuses of persons with disabilities during the year.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

Four distinct groups of Palestinians resided in the country, not including the PRS covered in section 2.f., many of whom faced some discrimination. Those Palestinians and their children who migrated to the country and the Jordan-controlled West Bank after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war received full citizenship, as did those who migrated to the country after the 1967 war and held no residency entitlement in the West Bank. Those Palestinians and their children still holding residency in the West Bank after 1967 were not eligible to claim full citizenship, but they could obtain temporary travel documents without national identification numbers, provided they did not also carry a Palestinian Authority travel document. These individuals had access to some government services; they paid 80 percent of the rate of uninsured foreigners at hospitals and noncitizen rates at educational institutions and training centers. Refugees and their children who fled Gaza after 1967 are not entitled to citizenship, and authorities issued them temporary travel documents without national numbers. These persons had no access to government services and were almost completely dependent on UNRWA services.

Palestinians were underrepresented in parliament and senior positions in the government and the military, as well as in admissions to public universities. They had limited access to university scholarships. They were well represented in the private sector.

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

Authorities can arrest LGBTI individuals for violating public order or public decency ordinances. While consensual same-sex sexual conduct among adults is not illegal, societal discrimination against LGBTI persons was prevalent, and LGBTI persons were targets of violence and abuse, including rape, with little legal recourse against perpetrators. Transgender individuals were especially vulnerable to acts of violence and sexual assault. LGBTI persons reported discrimination in housing, employment, education, and access to public services. The law does not prohibit discrimination against LGBTI individuals. LGBTI individuals reported the authorities responded appropriately to reports of crime in some cases. Other LGBTI individuals reported their reluctance to engage the legal system due to fear their sexual orientation or gender identity would either provoke hostile reactions from police, disadvantage them in court, or be used to shame them or their families publicly. LGBTI community leaders reported that most LGBTI individuals were not openly gay and feared disclosure of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The Media Commission banned books containing LGBTI content.

There were reports of individuals who left the country due to fear that their families would kill them because of their gender identity.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

HIV and AIDS were largely taboo subjects. Lack of public awareness remained a problem because many citizens believed the disease exclusively affected foreigners and members of the LGBTI community. Society stigmatized individuals with HIV, and those individuals largely concealed their medical status. The government continued its efforts to inform the public about the disease and eliminate negative attitudes about persons with HIV or AIDS, but it also continued to test all foreigners annually for HIV, as well as for hepatitis B, syphilis, malaria, and tuberculosis. The government deported migrant workers who were diagnosed with HIV.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right to form and join trade unions and conduct legal strikes, but with significant restrictions. There is no right to collective bargaining, although the law provides for collective agreements. The law identifies specific groups of public- and private-sector workers who may organize. It also defines 17 industries and professions in which trade unions may be established. The law requires that these 17 trade unions belong to the government-linked General Federation of Jordanian Trade Unions, the country’s sole trade union federation. The establishment of new unions requires at least 50 founding members and approval from the Ministry of Labor. The law authorizes additional professions to form professional associations on a case-by-case basis.

There were no reports of threats of violence against union heads, although labor activists alleged that the security services pressured union leaders to refrain from activism that challenged government interests. Strikes generally occurred without advance notice or registration.

In July authorities suspended The Jordanian Teachers Syndicate (the syndicate) and detained its 13-member governing board. All were released on bail following 30 days in detention. Security forces raided several of the syndicate’s offices. Under the suspension, the syndicate is prohibited for two years from conducting any activities or using its headquarters in Amman or its 12 branch offices in the governorates. Authorities stated they had acted against the syndicate because of financial transgressions under investigation by the Anti-Corruption Commission, inflammatory decisions issued by the syndicate’s council and circulated on social media, and videos of “incendiary” remarks by acting syndicate head Nasser Nawasreh released on social media. All public school teachers belong to the syndicate, which has approximately 100,000 members. On July 25 and 29, hundreds of teachers and their supporters protested in Amman and other cities (see section 2.b.).

On August 3, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) sent a letter to the government in which it denounced the attacks against the syndicate, emphasizing that the international right to freedom of association is protected by law. ITUC called for the government to immediately release the arrested teachers and syndicate council members, to annul the Attorney General’s order to dissolve the syndicate, and to refrain from further attacks against and harassment of the syndicate and its members. The NCHR reported that some detained teachers signed pledges not to participate in protests or disturb the public order.

When conflicts arise during labor negotiations, the law requires that union representatives and employers first attempt to resolve the issue through informal mediation. If the issue remains unresolved, the union is required to submit a request for a Ministry of Labor-appointed mediation. Labor-appointed mediators are assigned to cases for up to 21 days. If initial mediation fails, the issue is referred to a higher mediation council composed of an employer representative, a labor representative, and a chair appointed by the minister of labor. If the council’s adjudication is unsuccessful, this issue is referred to a labor court with a panel of ministry-appointed judges for 21 days.

In March, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government suspended the mandatory legal periods and deadlines regarding labor disputes stipulated in the law. The judiciary resumed operations on June 1.

In December 2019 the General Trade Union of Workers in Textile, Garment and Clothing Industries, along with the Jordan Garments, Accessories & Textiles Exporters’ Association and the Association of Owners of Factories, Workshops and Garments signed a three-year collective bargaining agreement (CBA). The agreement added new provisions to its previous versions and adopts internal policies proposed by the Ministry of Labor to eliminate abusive behaviors. The new CBA calls for employers to provide medical care for workers and to adopt zero-tolerance policies against sexual harassment. The Ministry of Labor signed a total of 19 CBAs in the year.

The law allows foreign workers to join unions but does not permit them to form unions or hold union office. Authorities did not permit civil servants to form or join unions or engage in collective bargaining. No new trade union has been established since 1976. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and protects workers from employer retaliation for union affiliation or activities. The law does not explicitly provide the right to reinstatement for workers fired due to antiunion views.

There are limits on the right to strike, including a requirement to provide a minimum of 14 days’ notice to the employer. The law prohibits strikes if a labor dispute is under mediation or arbitration. The law prohibits management from arbitrarily dismissing workers engaged in labor activism or arbitration, but enforcement was inconsistent. Labor organizations reported that some management representatives used threats to intimidate striking workers.

The government did not fully respect freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Many worker organizations were not independent of the government, and the government influenced union policies and activities.

The government subsidized and audited salaries and activities of the General Federation of Jordanian Trade Unions and monitored union elections. The government denied recognition to independent unions organized outside the structure of the government-approved federation. The government did not meet with these unions, and the lack of legal recognition hampered their ability to collect dues, obtain meeting space, and otherwise address members’ workplace concerns. Labor organizations also reported difficulty getting government recognition for trade unions in new sectors beyond the 17 sectors established in law, in part because new unions would require approval by a tripartite committee in which the existing 17 union heads are represented.

Some foreign workers whose residency permits are tied to work contracts were vulnerable to retaliation by employers for participating in strikes and sit-ins. Participation in a legally unrecognized strike is counted as an unexcused absence under the law. The law allows employers to consider employment contracts void if a worker is absent more than 10 consecutive days, as long as the employer provides written notice. Labor rights organizations reported instances of refusing to renew foreign workers’ contracts due to attempts to organize in the workplace.

Observers noted that the labor code did not explicitly protect nonunionized workers from retaliation. This was particularly the case for foreign workers in all sectors as well as citizens working as day laborers in the public sector on short-term contracts.

Labor NGOs working to promote the rights of workers generally focused on promoting the rights of migrant workers. Labor NGOs did not face government restrictions in addition to or apart from those discussed in section 2.b.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor except in an emergency such as war or natural disaster or when prison sentences include hard labor. The government enforced the law, although penalties were not commensurate with those prescribed for analogous crimes in all cases. Labor activists noted that law enforcement and judicial officials did not consistently identify victims or open criminal investigations of forced labor.

The government inspected garment factories, a major employer of foreign labor, and investigated allegations of forced labor. A 2019 study by the Global Alliance against Trafficking in Women found that female Bangladeshi garment workers in the country suffered physical, verbal, and psychological abuse and were provided crowded, bedbug-infested living conditions and unsanitary food. Forced labor or conditions indicative of forced labor also occurred among migrant workers in the domestic work and agricultural sectors. Activists highlighted the vulnerability of agricultural workers due to minimal government oversight. Activists also identified domestic workers, most of whom were foreign workers, as particularly vulnerable to exploitation due to inadequate government oversight, social norms that excused forced labor, and workers’ isolation within individual homes. Activists further noted cases where domestic workers who used an employer’s phone to complain to a Ministry of Labor hotline sometimes experienced retaliation when the hotline returned the call to their employers. In 2019 the International Organization for Migration reported the Ministry of Labor’s Countertrafficking Unit preferred to settle potential cases of domestic servitude through mediation rather than referring them for criminal prosecution. High staff turnover at the unit also reportedly made prosecution more difficult.

Government bylaws require recruitment agencies for migrant domestic workers to provide insurance with medical and workplace accident coverage. The bylaws authorize the Ministry of Labor publicly to classify recruitment agencies based on compliance with the labor law, and to close and withdraw the license of poorly ranked agencies. As of August the ministry warned 23 recruitment agencies and transferred 11 domestic helper complaints to the PSD’s Countertrafficking Unit. A closure recommendation is an internal procedure in which inspectors send to the minister of labor their recommendation to close recruitment agencies with multiple labor violations. Based on that recommendation, the minister may issue a closure decision.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits all of the worst forms of child labor. The law forbids employment of children younger than age 16, except as apprentices in light work. The law bans those between the ages of 16 and 18 from working in hazardous occupations, limits working hours for such children to six hours per day, mandates one-hour breaks for every four consecutive working hours, and prohibits work after 8 p.m., on national or religious holidays, and on weekends.

The Ministry of Labor’s Child Labor Unit was responsible for coordinating government action regarding child labor in collaboration with the National Committee on Child Labor. The Child Labor Unit, with the ministry’s labor inspectors, was responsible for enforcing all aspects of the labor code, including child labor. Authorities referred criminal violations to the magistrate’s penalty court which handles labor cases. The law provides that employers who hire a child younger than age 16 pay a fine which was not clearly prescribed. In 2019 the Ministry of Labor’s Child Labor Unit increased the number of inspectors by more than 25 percent, and established and began using an electronic child labor monitoring system to coordinate government and civil society efforts to remove children from illegal labor and provide them with services. The government increased the number of families receiving assistance through the National Aid Fund, a program that provides cash transfers to families who re-enroll working children in school. In addition, the government provided shelter, education, and financial services to children engaged in child labor. Children continue to be engaged in the worst forms of child labor, including street work and dangerous tasks in agriculture. Despite government measures, Syrian children still face barriers to education due to socioeconomic pressures, bullying, and costs associated with transportation and supplies.

Labor inspectors reportedly monitored cases of legally working children between ages 16 and 18 to issue advice and guidance, provide safe work conditions, and cooperate with employers to permit working children to attend school concurrently. The Labor Ministry had a zero-tolerance policy for labor of children younger than age 16 and hazardous work for children younger than 18.

The government took actions to combat child labor but did not fully and effectively enforce child labor laws. The government did not impose penalties that were commensurate with those for analogous crimes. The government had limited capacity to monitor children working in the informal work sector, such as those working in family businesses and the agricultural sector.

The Ministries of Labor, Education, and Social Development collaborated with NGOs seeking to withdraw children from the worst forms of child labor.

Refugee children worked in the informal sector, sold goods in the streets, worked in the agricultural sector, and begged in urban areas. In 2019 NGOs reported that when government inspectors withdrew Syrian refugee children from child labor, inspectors often took the children to the Azraq refugee camp, even when their families lived in distant urban centers or the Za’atari refugee camp, separating families for days, weeks, or months. NGOs report the reception center has since been shut down and they are aware of a very small number of cases of refugee children engaged in child labor still being sent to Azraq camp.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https:www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law does not prohibit discrimination with respect to employment and occupation on the basis of race, disability, language, political opinion, national origin, citizenship, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, HIV-positive status, other communicable diseases, or social status.

The law requires private companies to hire workers with disabilities, forbids employers from firing employees solely because of a disability, and directs employers to make their workplaces accessible to persons with disabilities. Citizens and NGOs, however, reported that persons with disabilities faced problems obtaining employment. In December 2019 a coalition of 20 NGOs, private- and public-sector organizations, and disabilities advocates issued a position paper on labor law related to persons with disabilities. An NGO held discussions between government stakeholders and the HCD to review the Ministry of Labor’s Employment Bylaw. In January a group of disabilities advocates and activists held discussions at the Civil Service Bureau to reassess employment mechanisms for persons with disabilities.

Discrimination in employment and occupation also occurred with respect to gender, national origin, and sexual orientation (see section 6).

The law places restrictions on professions women are allowed to pursue, normally only “socially acceptable” positions such as nursing and teaching. By law the minister of labor issues decisions specifying the industries and economic activities that are prohibited for women, as well as the hours during which they are allowed to work. Women are prohibited from working in quarries and other hazardous environments, and are not allowed to work between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. except in hotels, theaters, restaurants, airports, offices of tourism, hospitals, clinics, and some transportation industries. Evening work for women is limited to 30 days per year and a maximum of 10 hours per day. These restrictions limit job competition in favor of men. The Civil Service Ordinance of Jordan discriminates on the allocation of benefits such as the family allowance and cost of living allowance, which are higher for men than for women.

In October 2019 the Ministry of Labor increased the number of professions closed to foreign workers from 11 to 28, with the stated purpose of creating job opportunities in the private sector for Jordanian youth. The decision includes not renewing previously granted foreign worker permits for any of these closed professions. Amendments to the labor law passed during the year prohibit discrimination in wages based solely on gender, and include labor law protections for flexible and part-time work contracts.

Union officials reported that sectors predominantly employing women, such as secretarial work, offered wages below the official minimum wage. The law prohibits women from working in technical roles. Many women reported traditional social pressures discouraged them from pursuing professional careers, especially after marriage. According to the Department of Statistics, for the second quarter of the year, economic participation by women was 14.1 percent, and unemployment among women holding a bachelor’s degree was 78.2 percent, compared with 26 percent for men. The female unemployment rate was 28.6 percent, compared with a male unemployment rate of 21.5 percent and the overall unemployment rate of 23.1 percent.

According to the Employment Ministry, Egyptians make up the majority of foreign workers in the country. Jordan exports highly skilled and educated workers while hosting unskilled migrants to perform lower-level jobs its citizens avoid. NGOs reported foreign workers, including garment workers and domestic workers, were especially vulnerable to gender-based violence, sexual harassment, and sexual assault in the workplace. Lawyers criticized the law on harassment in the workplace, saying it did nothing to hold perpetrators of harassment accountable and only assisted victims by allowing them to resign.

Some persons with disabilities faced discrimination in employment and access to the workplace despite the law, which requires any workplace over 50 employees to have 4 percent or more of its employees be persons with disabilities. According to the Ministry of Labor, agreements were signed with private sector companies to ensure implementation of the 4-percent requirement and to allow the ministry to conduct inspections. Some migrant workers faced discrimination in wages, housing, and working conditions (see section 7.e.).

The Ministry of Labor implemented a three-year program on “Economic Empowerment and Social Participation of Persons with Disabilities.” Through the program, 13 instructors were certified to train civil society organizations, private sector companies, and the public sector. The ministry continued to implement a sign language program and offer simultaneous interpretation devices across the ministry’s departments. The Ministry also allocated 80,000 dinars ($113,000) from its budget towards the Employment of Persons with Disabilities Department.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law provides for a national minimum wage, per month, which is above the poverty line.

The law sets a workweek of 48 hours and requires overtime pay for hours worked in excess of that level. Because there was no limit on mutually agreed overtime, the Ministry of Labor reportedly permitted employees in some industries, such as the garment sector, to work as many as 70 to 75 hours per week, and observers reported many foreign workers requested overtime work. NGOs reported some instances of forced overtime. As part of the COVID-19 pandemic response, the government announced policies for remote work, reduced wages, and suspension of operations for private sector companies. The policies included permission for employers to reduce workers’ salaries up to 50 percent in cases where employees could not report to work.

Employees are entitled to one day off per week. The law provides for 14 days of paid sick leave and 14 days of paid annual leave per year, which increases to 21 days of paid annual leave after five years of service with the same firm. Workers also received additional national and religious holidays designated by the government. The law permits compulsory overtime under certain circumstances, such as conducting an annual inventory, closing accounts, preparing to sell goods at discounted prices, avoiding loss of goods that would otherwise be exposed to damage, and receiving special deliveries. In such cases actual working hours may not exceed 10 hours per day, the employee must be paid overtime, and the period may not last more than 30 days. Observers reported some violations, mostly delays of salary payment during periods when the country was locked down for public health reasons.

Employers are required to abide by all occupational health and safety standards set by the government. The law requires employers to protect workers from hazards caused by the nature of the job or its tools, provide any necessary protective equipment, train workers on hazards and prevention measures, provide first aid as necessitated by the job, and protect employees from explosions or fires by storing flammable materials appropriately.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcement of labor laws and acceptable conditions of work. The number of labor inspectors was sufficient to enforce compliance. Labor inspectors did not regularly investigate reports of labor abuses or other abuses of domestic workers in private homes, and inspectors cannot enter a private residence without the owner’s permission except with a court order. Employees may lodge complaints regarding violations of the law directly with the Ministry of Labor or through organizations such as their union or the NCHR. The ministry opened an investigation for each complaint.

In July the ministry temporarily shut down a factory in the Jordan Valley after workers became ill from an accidental insecticide poisoning. In June the Ministry of Labor issued verbal and written warnings to two textile factories in Karak following a notice of concern from foreign investors and complaints from employees of maltreatment and poor working conditions. The ministry placed inspectors at both locations for two weeks.

Labor standards apply to the informal sector, but the Ministry of Labor did not consistently inspect and monitor all workplace violations or apply all the protections of the labor code to domestic and agricultural workers. Authorities were also hampered by barriers to the inspection of homes where domestic workers lived. Labor organizations stated that many freelancing agricultural workers, domestic workers, cooks, and gardeners, most of whom were foreign workers, were not enrolled for social benefits from the Social Security Corporation because only salaried employees were automatically enrolled, and optional enrollment was limited to citizens. Maternity leave is not consistent between the public and private sector. Domestic workers face discrimination by nationality in their wages. Although the law was amended in 2008 to extend certain rights to domestic and agricultural workers, the law required that each group be covered by its own legislation. A regulation on domestic workers enacted in 2009 did not extend collective bargaining rights or the right to form an association. In August bylaws which regulate working conditions for agricultural workers were published for public comment by the Labor Ministry’s Legislation and Opinion Bureau.

The government requires garment-exporting manufacturers to participate in the Better Work Jordan program, a global program implemented by the International Labor Organization and the International Finance Corporation to improve labor standards. All 77 of the foreign-exporting factories required by the government to join Better Work Jordan were active members of the program.

Wage, overtime, safety, and other standards often were not upheld. Some foreign workers faced hazardous and exploitative working conditions in a variety of sectors. Penalties were not commensurate with those for similar crimes. Authorities did not effectively protect all employees who attempted to remove themselves from situations that endangered their health and safety. Labor organizations reported that female citizen workers were more likely than men to encounter labor violations, including wages below the minimum wage and harassment in the workplace.

A local NGO criticized the lack of safety protections for agricultural workers under the labor law, and reported that many migrant worker dormitories were built using combustible materials, putting residents at a greater risk of fire.

In the garment sector, foreign workers were more susceptible than citizens to dangerous or unfair conditions. Better Work Jordan stated that reports of coercion decreased during the year. Indebtedness of foreign garment workers to third parties and involuntary or excessive overtime persisted. While the law sets the minimum wage, according to an international NGO a substantial portion of the standard monthly minimum wage for foreign workers in the garment industry was used to pay employment placement agencies for food, accommodation, and travel for workers from their home countries.

Employers subjected some workers in the agricultural sector, the vast majority of whom are Egyptians, to exploitative conditions. According to a domestic NGO, agricultural workers usually received less than the minimum wage. Some employers in the agricultural sector confiscated passports. Egyptian migrant workers were also vulnerable to exploitation in the construction industry, where employers usually paid migrant workers less than the minimum wage and failed to uphold occupational health and safety standards.

Domestic workers often faced unacceptable working conditions. While domestic workers could file complaints in person with the Ministry of Labor’s Domestic Workers Directorate or the PSD, many domestic workers complained there was no follow-up on their cases. The Counter Trafficking Unit at the PSD operates a 24-hour hotline, with operators available in all languages spoken by migrant domestic workers in the country, including Tagalog, Bengali, and Tamil.

Advocates for migrant domestic workers reported that domestic workers who sought government assistance or made allegations against their employers frequently faced counterclaims of criminal behavior from the employers. Employers could file criminal complaints or flight notifications with police stations against domestic workers. Authorities waived immigration overstay fines for workers deported for criminal allegations or expired work permits. Most of the fleeing domestic workers reportedly fled conditions indicative of forced labor or abuse, including unpaid wages and, to a lesser extent, sexual or physical abuse. By law employers are responsible for renewing foreign employees’ residency and work permits but often failed to do so for domestic employees. In May the government launched an online platform called “Hemaya” to assist expatriate workers who were facing uncertainties due to the COVID-19 pandemic and wanted to return to their countries. Medium and small factories were especially affected by the pandemic; some could not meet commitments to staff, and some cancelled contracts and closed worker dormitories. The government continued its cooperation with foreign embassies to waive overstay fees for migrant domestic workers who wished to repatriate after a two-year stay in the country, a policy that greatly reduced the number of domestic workers stranded at their embassies’ shelters.

Kuwait

Executive Summary

Kuwait is a constitutional, hereditary emirate ruled by the Al-Sabah family. While there is also a democratically elected parliament, the amir holds ultimate authority over most government decisions. The most recent parliamentary general election, considered generally free and fair, was held on December 5, and members of the opposition won a majority of the seats.

Police have sole responsibility for the enforcement of laws not related to national security, while the Kuwait State Security oversees national security matters. Both report to the Ministry of Interior, as does the Coast Guard. The Kuwait National Guard is an independent body from the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Defense; it reports to the prime minister and the amir. The armed forces are responsible for external security and report to the Ministry of Defense. The Kuwait National Guard is responsible for critical infrastructure protection, support for the Ministries of Interior and Defense, and the maintenance of national readiness. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were some allegations that members of the security forces committed abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: reports of torture; political prisoners; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including censorship, internet site blocking, and criminalization of libel; interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; restrictions on freedom of movement; trafficking in persons; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex persons; and criminalization of consensual adult male same-sex sexual conduct.

The government took significant steps in some cases to prosecute and punish officials who committed abuses, whether in the security services or elsewhere in the government. Impunity was a problem in corruption cases.

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution and law prohibit torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, but there continued to be reports of torture and mistreatment by police and security forces against detained members of minority groups and noncitizens.

Several noncitizens claimed police or Kuwaiti State Security (KSS) force members beat them at police checkpoints or in detention. Since 2017, at least nine foreign nationals, including one still in detention, reported credible cases of abuse or mistreatment during arrest or interrogation by the Ministry of Interior’s Drug Enforcement General Directorate. Some detainees alleged they were beaten with a wooden rod, hung upside down and beaten, or both. In their initial meeting with prisoners, public prosecutors must ask if the prisoner is injured; it is the prisoner’s responsibility to raise the subject of abuse. The prosecutors also look for visible injuries. If a prisoner states they are injured or if the injuries are visible, prosecutors must ask how the injury happened and refer the prisoner to medical professionals.

Numerous activists representing a particular group of stateless persons known as “Bidoon” reported mistreatment at the hands of authorities while in detention. There continued to be allegations from individuals that they were subjected to unlawful detention and physical and verbal abuse inside police centers and State Security detention centers. There are credible indications that police, KSS force members, and the Ministry of Interior’s Drug Enforcement General Directorate abused prisoners during arrest or interrogation. Transgender individuals have reported multiple cases of rape and physical and verbal abuse at the hands of police and prison officials.

The government investigated complaints against police and took disciplinary action when the government determined it was warranted. Disciplinary actions included fines, detention, and removal or termination from professional postings. The government did not make public the findings of its investigations or administrative punishments. According to the latest government figures, prisoners in the four main prisons filed five complaints of sexual or physical violence. As of November the government had received 204 complaints from the public against Ministry of Interior employees. While the majority were in response to verbal abuse, a “very few” pertained to abuses of power or authority. Of those 204 cases, 52 ministry staff were punished, 44 cases were referred to the court, five ministry staff were released from their positions, and three were terminated.

Although government investigations do not often lead to compensation for victims, the victim can utilize government reports and results of internal disciplinary actions to seek compensation via civil courts.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

According to the National Assembly’s Human Rights Committee, prisons lacked the minimum standards of cleanliness and sanitation, were overcrowded, and suffered from widespread corruption in management, resulting in prisoner safety problems and drug abuse by inmates. International observers who visited the Central Prison corroborated reports of drug use and trafficking.

Physical Conditions: Prison overcrowding continued to be a significant problem during the pandemic. Prisoners share large dormitory cells designed to accommodate 20-30 inmates. Prisoners at the facilities reported it was common for double or triple that number of prisoners to be held in one cell. Inmates incarcerated at Central Prison said the prison cells were so overcrowded that they were forced to sleep on the floor of their cells, on mattresses in the hallway outside their cells, or share beds with other inmates.

In February, Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah issued an annual decree pardoning 1,390 prisoners held on various charges, including the immediate release of 151 prisoners and the reduction of penalties for 839 others. In 2019, 120 land telephones were installed inside most wards in Central Prison to control the smuggling of cell phones. According to the government, during the year prisoners were allowed to make one domestic telephone call per day and one international call per month. International observers confirmed that prisoners were able to make domestic calls via a landline for approximately 10 minutes each day.

In order to decrease overcrowding in the prisons, in February the government asked the governments of Iran, Egypt, Iraq, Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, and Sri Lanka to repatriate any their nationals who had served more than half of their prison terms and have them serve the remainder of their sentences at home. Iraq and Iran reportedly repatriated at least 13 and 130 of their citizens, respectively.

In February the Public Prosecution and legal experts warned of the risk of disease outbreaks due to COVID-19 in overcrowded prisons. The report indicated that prisons have the capacity to accommodate 3,432 inmates, while the number of inmates at that time was 4,420. That same month, a female inmate at the Central Prison died of COVID-19. According to government figures from November, 433 prisoners had been infected with COVID-19 and 370 had recovered.

In May, several prisoners reportedly went on a hunger strike over the spread of COVID-19 in the prisons and inadequate health conditions. The strike at the Central Prison reportedly went on for several weeks.

As of November the number of inmates at the Talha Deportation Center was 570 men and 230 women. Noncitizen women pending deportation were held at the Women’s Prison in the Central Prison Complex due to lack of segregated facilities at the deportation center. Resident representatives from various foreign missions reported that detainees complained of discrimination according to national origin and citizenship status. The smuggling of contraband into prisons, particularly drugs and cell phones, continued to be an issue.

In October, several dozen family members of Central Prison inmates gathered outside the prison complex to protest alleged mistreatment and raids by prison guards for illegal cell phones and narcotics. The Ministry of Interior denied reports of rioting, although the ministry confirmed that some guards and inmates had been hospitalized during a scuffle.

Administration: There were some reports of corruption and lack of supervision by the administration of the prison and detention center system. While inmates lodged complaints against prison officials and other inmates, no information was available on the resolution of these complaints.

Independent Monitoring: The Ministry of Interior permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions by some nongovernmental observers and international human rights groups. Written approval was required for visits by local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Authorities permitted staff from the International Committee of the Red Cross and the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) to visit prisons and detention centers. The Kuwait Society for Human Rights and the Kuwait Association for the Basic Evaluation of Human Rights were allowed to visit prisons during the year. In June a delegation from the semigovernmental Human Rights Bureau visited the Central Prison to review the government’s steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the prisons. The delegation praised the Ministry of Interior’s preparedness to combat the virus.

Improvements: Efforts by the government to decrease the prison population in order to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 substantially reduced overcrowding in the prison population. Observers indicated that matters regarding sanitation and the maintenance of facilities had generally improved from previous years, particularly in light of steps by the government to provide early release to prisoners who have committed minor offenses or served most of their time. Approximately 1,000 prisoners were released under these measures. In order to decrease overcrowding in the prisons, in February the government asked the governments of Iran, Egypt, Iraq, Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, and Sri Lanka to repatriate any their nationals who had served more than half of their prison terms and have them serve the remainder of their sentences at home. Iraq and Iran reportedly repatriated at least 13 and 130 of their citizens, respectively. In August the Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs announced it had provided computer science courses to inmates in the prisons, addiction treatment centers, and halfway houses.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

A police officer generally must obtain an arrest warrant from a state prosecutor or a judge before making an arrest, except in cases of hot pursuit or observing the commission of a crime. There were numerous reports of police arresting and detaining noncitizens without a warrant, apparently as part of the government’s effort against unlawful residents. The courts usually do not accept cases without warrants issued prior to arrests. Authorities generally informed detainees promptly of the charges against them and allowed access to their lawyers and family members. Diplomatic representatives observed that in some detention cases, authorities permitted lawyers to attend legal proceedings but did not allow direct contact with their clients. Some defendants were sentenced in absentia. Detainees facing “state security” charges were routinely denied access to their lawyers, interpreters, and document translators in advance of hearings. Police investigated most misdemeanor cases, and suspects were released within 48 hours after paying bail or a fine. For more serious misdemeanors and felonies, police can hold a suspect a maximum of four days on their own authority before they must refer the case to prosecution. Nonetheless, there were cases of detainees, especially those held for drug and state security crimes, who were detained for periods of one to two weeks, who were not made aware of the specific charges against them. They were also not allowed to make telephone calls or contact lawyers and family members.

If authorities file charges, a prosecutor may remand a suspect to detention for an additional 10 days for a serious misdemeanor and three weeks for a felony in order to question the suspect and investigate the case. Prosecutors also may obtain court orders to extend detention for another 15 days, up to a maximum of four months’ detention pending trial. There is a functioning bail system for defendants awaiting trial.

Arbitrary Arrest: No arbitrary arrests were reported during the year.

Pretrial Detention: Arbitrary lengthy pretrial detention sometimes occurred. Authorities held some detainees beyond the maximum detention period of six months. NGOs familiar with the judicial system reported that they believed the number of judges and prosecutors working at the Ministry of Justice was inadequate to process cases in a timely manner and the main cause of delays. As of November there were 732 men and 20 women in pretrial custody.

Prolonged detention at the government-run Talha Deportation Center was also a problem, particularly when the detainee was a foreign worker who owed money to a citizen or was a citizen from a country without diplomatic representation in the country able to facilitate exit documents. International organizations reported that these cases could take up to one month to resolve. The government, however, claimed that most deportation cases were resolved within three days.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law and the constitution provide for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. The Supreme Judicial Council nominates all prosecutors and judges and submits nominations to the amir for approval. Judges who were citizens received lifetime appointments until they reached mandatory retirement age; judges who were noncitizens held one- to three-year renewable contracts. As of November there were 800 judges (including eight women) and 562 prosecutors (including 55 women). During the year 18 female prosecutors were appointed. The Supreme Judicial Council may remove judges for cause. In August the Supreme Judicial Council suspended seven judges and stripped them of immunity from prosecution at the request of the Public Prosecutor over alleged ties to a money-laundering network run by detained Iranian national Fouad Salehi. Noncitizen residents involved in legal disputes with citizens frequently alleged the courts showed bias in favor of citizens. In some cases legal residency holders–principally foreign laborers–were detained and deported without recourse to the courts.

Under the law, questions of citizenship or residency status are not subject to judicial review, so noncitizens arrested for unlawful residency, or those whose lawful residency is canceled due to an arrest, have no access to the courts. The clause that allows government authorities to administratively deport a person without judicial review requires the person to be a threat to the national security or harmful to the state’s interests. The law is broadly used and subjects noncitizens charged with noncriminal offenses, including some residency and traffic violations, to administrative deportations that cannot be challenged in court. Noncitizens charged in criminal cases, however, face legal deportations, which can be challenged in court. The Ministry of Interior investigates misdemeanor charges and refers cases to the misdemeanor court as appropriate. An undersecretary in the Ministry of Interior is responsible for approving all administrative deportation orders. In January 2021 the government announced it had deported 8,143 foreigners in 2020 compared to 40,000 in 2019. Most were deported for violating the residency law and perpetrating crimes and misdemeanors.

Trial Procedures

The constitution provides for the presumption of innocence and the right to a fair public trial, and the judiciary generally enforced this right. The law forbids physical and psychological abuse of the accused. Defendants enjoy the right to be present at their trial and to receive prompt, detailed information on the charges against them. Defendants who did not speak or understand Arabic, however, often learned of charges against them after their trial began, because an interpreter was not provided when the charges were presented against them. Criminal trials are public unless a court decides the “maintenance of public order” or the “preservation of public morals” necessitates closed proceedings. During the year judges exercised wide discretion in closing their courtroom or limiting members of the public in court proceedings due to COVID-19 guidelines. The bar association is obligated upon court request to appoint an attorney without charge for indigent defendants in civil, commercial, and criminal cases, and defendants used these services. Defendants have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Most court documents were not publicly accessible. The Ministry of Justice is required to provide defendants with an interpreter for the entire judicial process, but this did not always occur.

Defendants have the right to confront their accusers, to confront witnesses against them, and to present their own witnesses, although these rights were not always respected. Defendants cannot be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants have the right to appeal verdicts to a higher court, and many exercised this right.

There are credible indications of disparate treatment of persons arrested and sentenced in the country’s judicial system.

Under the domestic labor law, domestic workers are exempted from litigation fees. If foreign workers had no legal representation, the public prosecutor arranged for it on their behalf, but with little or no involvement by the workers or their families. When workers received third-party assistance to bring a case, the cases were often resolved when the employer paid a monetary settlement to avoid a trial.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were many instances of persons detained for expressing their political views. Throughout the year the government continued to arrest individuals on charges such as insulting the amir, leaders of neighboring countries or the judiciary; organizing public demonstrations amongst the Bidoon; spreading false news; or undermining the state’s efforts to control the spread of COVID-19. Some defendants were acquitted, while others received jail sentences. During the year sentences for organizing public demonstrations amongst the Bidoon, participating in unlicensed or illegal demonstrations against the country’s ruling system, spreading false news, criticizing the amir or other leaders on social media ranged from six months in prison to 10 years plus fines for multiple offenses.

The government actively monitored social media and incarcerated bloggers and political activists for expressing antigovernment opinions and ideas. Media reported between two and four such convictions per month. In February the Criminal Court sentenced another blogger to three years in prison and hard labor for criticizing the amir and posting false news on Twitter. As of November, 35 cases of insulting the amir were registered at the courts. Defendants of five of these 35 cases received final verdicts by the Court of Cassation.

In October authorities extradited three Egyptian opposition figures who called for protests against Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

The law provides for an independent and impartial judiciary and trial for individuals or organizations in civil matters regarding human rights abuses, but authorities occasionally did not enforce such rulings for political reasons. Authorities frequently used administrative punishments in civil matters, such as instituting travel bans or deportations. In the majority of cases of human rights or labor law abuses, victims can go to the Public Authority for Manpower or the Domestic Workers Employment Department to reach a negotiated settlement outside of court. If that is unsuccessful, individuals can pursue their cases in court, although this process was often prolonged, making it unrealistic for many foreign workers. In November a Filipina domestic worker returned to the Philippines after eight years of court cases following her 2012 stabbing by a traffic police officer. The Court of First Instance sentenced the officer to death in 2014, but the Court of Appeals later commuted the sentence to life in prison.

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

The constitution and the law prohibit arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy, family, home, or correspondence, and the government respected these prohibitions. Cybercrime agents within the Ministry of Interior, however, regularly monitored publicly accessible social media sites and sought information regarding owners of accounts, although foreign-owned social media companies denied most requests for information.

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, although these rights were routinely violated. The courts convicted more than one dozen individuals for expressing their opinions, particularly on social media. The law also imposes penalties on persons who create or send “immoral” messages, spread false news, and gives unspecified authorities the power to suspend communication services to individuals on national security grounds.

Freedom of Speech: The Press and Publications Law establishes topics that are off limits for publication and discussion. Topics banned for publication include insulting religion, in particular Islam; criticizing the amir or other heads of state; insulting members of the judiciary or displaying disdain for the constitution; compromising classified information; sorcery; and publishing information that could lead to devaluing of the currency or creating false worries regarding the economy. In August the Attorney General filed a complaint with the Public Prosecutor requesting it take all necessary actions against individuals who criticize the judiciary via social media. The Attorney General asked the Public Prosecutor to summon activists and bloggers for interrogation and prosecute them.

The Public Prosecutor investigated numerous COVID-19-related cases concerning the alleged dissemination of false news. In March an Egyptian national was arrested and deported after posting a video criticizing measures taken by the government to stem the spread of COVID-19. A second Egyptian national was also arrested and deported for writing on social media that the Egyptian authorities should have imposed equivalent measures against Kuwaiti citizens. Between March and April, the Ministry of Interior referred a total of 17 website administrators to be investigated for allegedly disseminating inaccurate news and rumors regarding COVID-19 in violation of the law. In March the Ministry of Interior referred 23 social media accounts of individuals and groups for investigation for allegedly posting misinformation concerning COVID-19. In April the Ministry of Information announced that it had referred 25 websites to the Public Prosecutor, mostly for “offending the government” over its handling of COVID-19. As of May, 40 news websites had been referred since the beginning of the pandemic.

Local activists, academics, journalists, and opposition political figures reported they were regularly contacted by state security services and Ministry of Information officials after they published opinions deemed contrary to the government view. Government authorities did not always take immediate action in the cases of social media posts to which they objected made by citizens while overseas, but under the law the government may take action once the author returns to the country. Under existing law there is broad latitude in the interpretation of what constitutes a crime when voicing dissent against the amir or the government, and activists can face up to seven years in prison for each count of the offense.

The courts continued to sentence political activists to harsh prison sentences for charges of speaking out against the amir, the government, religion, or neighboring states. In August the government announced it had passed to the Egyptian government for prosecution 16 complaints against Egyptian nationals for insulting the country on social media and Egyptian satellite television channels.

In January the Criminal Court sentenced blogger Musab al-Failakawi to three years in prison with hard labor over charges of spreading false news on Twitter and Snapchat. In February the Court of Cassation rejected an appeal filed by 21 citizens, including activists and former lawmakers, who had been indicted for promoting a speech by former member of parliament (MP) Musallam al-Barrak that the government argued insulted the amir. The court reaffirmed the two-year verdict and a bail payment from each defendant, including 10 former MPs. In March the Criminal Court sentenced social media activist Abdullah al-Saleh to five years in prison with hard labor in absentia over charges of broadcasting false news, defaming the amir, and insulting the judiciary (al-Saleh was granted asylum in the United Kingdom). The latest charges are in addition to al-Saleh’s 51-year sentence in connection with cases related to insulting Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Bahrain.

Political activist Sagar al-Hashash, who was out of the country in self-imposed exile, has been convicted multiple times (including twice during the year) on various charges that included defaming the amir, speaking out against the judiciary, and insulting neighboring countries such as Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. In August the Criminal Court sentenced al-Hashash to three years in prison with hard labor for insulting the amir, bringing his total sentence to 94 years and eight months.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a variety of views within legally permissible limits. All print media were privately owned, although their independence was limited by law and self-censorship based on fear of prosecution. The government did not permit non-Islamic religious publishing companies, although several churches published religious materials solely for their congregations’ use. The law allows for large fines and up to 10 years in prison for persons who use any means (including media) to subvert the state. The Ministry of Commerce and Industry may ban any media organization at the request of the Ministry of Information. Media organizations can challenge media bans in the administrative courts. Newspaper publishers must obtain an operating license from the Ministry of Information. Broadcast media, made up of both government and privately owned stations, are subject to the same laws as print media. In August the Public Prosecutor issued a gag order on the publication or circulation of any information related to a money laundering case involving an Iranian citizen, social media influencers, and seven judges. The gag covered traditional and online media as well as personal accounts on social media.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The Ministry of Information censored all imported books, commercial films, periodicals, videotapes, CDs, DVDs, and other materials according to the guidelines enumerated for speech and media. Media outlets exhibited a range of opinions on topics relating to social problems, but all apparently self-censored, avoiding critical discussion on topics such as the amir, foreign policy, and religion, to avoid criminal charges or fines, or to keep their licenses. Discussions of certain sensitive topics, such as sex and the role of women in society, were also self-censored. Authorities censored most English-language educational materials that mentioned the Holocaust and required educational material either to refer to Israel as “Occupied Palestine” or to remove such references entirely, although authorities did not censor these topics in news media. Widely available satellite dishes and virtual private networks allowed unfiltered media access.

As of November the Ministry of Information announced it had not blocked any media outlet or website since the beginning of the year. The ministry also announced it referred 49 media outlets to the Public Prosecutor’s Office over violations of the law. As of November the Ministry of Information announced it received 2,955 books and publications to approve. Of those, 2,525 were approved while 311 were banned over violations of the law. No one made challenges to the ban decisions.

Throughout the year publishers reportedly received pressure from the Ministry of Information, resulting in the publishers often restricting which books were available in the country. According to the Ministry of Information, the Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs reviewed books of a religious nature. In August the National Assembly approved amendments to the Press and Publications Law that dismantled the Ministry of Information’s oversight committee for imported publications (mainly books). Importers are expected to provide the book title and author’s name to the Ministry of Information and remain liable to legal action if the courts receive an official complaint from the public. Reports indicate that the ministry has censored more than 4,000 books in the past seven years. Other amendments to the Press and Publications law prohibited publishing any content that “stirs up sectarianism or tribal strife” or racist ideas.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law mandates jail terms for anyone who “defames religion,” and any Muslim citizen or resident may file criminal charges against a person the complainant believes has defamed Islam. Any citizen may file a complaint with authorities against anyone the citizen believes harmed public morals.

National Security: The law forbids publication or transmission of any information deemed subversive to the constitutional system on national security grounds. The government prosecuted online bloggers, political activists, and social media outlets under the Cybercrime Law, the Printing and Publishing Law, and the National Security Law. The government generally restricted freedom of speech in instances purportedly related to national security, including the glorification of Saddam Hussein, and referring to the “Arabian Gulf” as the “Persian Gulf.”

In February prominent human rights defender and lawyer Hani Hussein was arrested and charged with “broadcasting false news about the Saudi-Kuwait Neutral Zone” and violating the nationality unity law. Hussein was released on bail and was found innocent by the Court of First Instance. The government has appealed the decision.

In April the Attorney General ordered the detention of Egyptian-Kuwaiti businesswoman and television anchor Dalia Badran over charges of insulting the country’s armed forces after Badran called for the departure of American forces in the country and their replacement with Egyptian troops. She was later released on bail while the case was referred to the court.

In July the Ministry of Interior announced it had issued directives calling for severe punishment of anyone who managed fake social media accounts with the aim of destabilizing the country’s security, attacking senior officials, or leaking sensitive security information.

Internet Freedom

The law criminalizes certain online activities, including illegal access to information technology systems; unauthorized access to confidential information; blackmail; use of the internet for terrorist activity; money laundering; and utilizing the internet for human trafficking. As of November the Cybersecurity Department at the Ministry of Interior had received 2,537 complaints and the government had 130 pending cases.

The government’s E-Licensing program requires bloggers and websites that provide news in the country to register with the Ministry of Information and apply for a license or face a fine. No such fines were issued during the year. As of November the Ministry of Information had received 101 new application for registration, and rejected none of them during the year. (The existing number of registered sites is 408).

The government continued to monitor internet communications, such as blogs and discussion groups, for defamation and general security reasons. The Ministry of Communications blocked websites considered to “incite terrorism and instability” and required internet service providers to block websites that “violate [the country’s] customs and traditions.” The government prosecuted and punished individuals for the expression of political or religious views via the internet, including by email and social media, based on existing laws related to libel, national unity, and national security. The government prosecuted some online bloggers under the Printing and Publishing Law and the National Security Law. In March, Minister of Information Mohammad al-Jabri announced that the administrators of 14 websites had been referred to the Public Prosecutor for violating the 2016 E-Media law by spreading rumors regarding the government’s COVID-19 response. That same month three Indian nationals working at the Kuwait National Petroleum Corporation were arrested for insulting Islam and Muslims. Also in March the Criminal Court began hearing the case against former MPs and professor Abdullah al-Nefisi for insulting the UAE on Twitter.

In March social media influencer Fouz al-Fahd was arrested for promoting an “unlicensed” COVID-19 test kit over Snapchat. In May former MP and constitutional law professor Obaid al-Wasmi was arrested and interrogated by the Public Prosecutor over a Ministry of Health complaint that he posted tweets alleging financial irregularities in the ministry’s purchase of COVID-19-related medical equipment. He was later released on bail and the case was referred to the courts. The Ministry of Health filed a similar complaint against former MP Dr. Hassan Johar over his tweets regarding alleged corruption in the ministry’s contracts for COVID-19 supplies. Both al-Wasmi and Johar were later acquitted of all charges. The Public Prosecutor also interrogated television anchor Ahmed al-Fadhi in June at the request of the Ministry of Health over an interview in which he alleged corruption in the ministry.

The government filtered the internet primarily to block pornography and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) material (to include health, advocacy, and legal information), and sites critical of Islam. As of November the Communication and Information Technology Regulatory Authority (CITRA) was reported to have blocked 490 websites out of 4,500 websites operating from the country. According to CITRA, websites are blocked upon receipt of a request from the Public Prosecution or security authorities.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

The law provides for the freedoms of opinion and research, but self-censorship limited academic freedom, and the law prohibits academics from criticizing the amir or Islam.

The Ministry of Interior reserved the right to approve or reject public events it considered politically or morally inappropriate.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The constitution provides for freedoms of peaceful assembly and association for citizens, but noncitizens and Bidoon residents are prohibited from demonstrating. Citizens must receive permission from authorities in order to peacefully assemble and associate.

Bidoon activists reported that if they tried to assemble peacefully or organize campaigns to gain equal rights, authorities regularly harassed them. Some Bidoon activists indicated they were detained for questioning by authorities each time they planned campaigns or protests. During the year authorities sentenced three of 17 Bidoon activists who had participated in peaceful protests in 2019 on numerous charges, including organizing and participating in gatherings and rallies without a license, which the government would not issue to Bidoon residents. In January the Criminal Court found 12 of the Bidoon activists innocent of all charges, with the exception of participating in an unlicensed rally or demonstration. In June the remaining two activists who participated in the protests were found innocent of all charges by the Court of Appeals, with the exception of participating in an unlicensed rally or demonstration. All acquitted defendants signed pledges promising “good conduct” for two years, preventing their participation in future rallies or demonstrations.

Freedom of Association

The constitution provides for freedom of association, but the government placed restrictions on this right. The law prohibits officially registered groups from engaging in political activities.

The government used its power to register associations as a means of political influence and to limit public engagement on controversial topics or proscribed activities. The Ministry of Social Affairs can reject an NGO’s application if it deems the NGO does not provide a public service. Most instances in which the government closed a charity resulted from the charity improperly reporting fundraising activities, which included not getting permission from the ministry or failing to submit annual financial reports. Dozens of unlicensed civic groups, clubs, and unofficial NGOs had no legal status, and many of those chose not to register due to bureaucratic inconvenience, including inability to meet the minimum 50-member threshold. The Ministry of Social Affairs continued to reject some new license requests, contending established NGOs already provided services similar to those the petitioners proposed. Members of licensed NGOs must obtain permission from the ministry to attend international conferences as official representatives of their organization.

Following the submission of a large number of applications from inactive NGOs to take part in activities abroad, the Ministry of Social Affairs’ NGOs Department in 2019 set regulations for NGO members to take part in conferences, lectures and seminars held outside the country, including limiting the maximum number of participants to two per NGO; ensuring the conference theme is part of the goals of the concerned organization’s establishment; and notifying the ministry at least one month in advance.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

The constitution generally provides for freedom of internal movement, but numerous laws constrain foreign travel.

Because there is no path to citizenship, all legal noncitizen workers are considered foreign workers rather than migrants.

Foreign Travel: Bidoon residents and foreign workers faced problems with, or restrictions on, foreign travel. The government restricted the ability of many Bidoon residents to travel abroad by not issuing travel documents, although it permitted some Bidoon residents to travel overseas for medical treatment and education, and to visit Saudi Arabia for the annual Hajj. The Ministry of Interior issued Article 17 passports (temporary documents that do not confer nationality) to some Bidoon for these purposes as long as they held valid identification documents issued by the Central Agency for Illegal Residents and did not have security restrictions placed on their file.

In July the Ministry of Interior revealed that approximately 17,000 Bidoon had paid 3,000 dinars ($9,770) each in bribes between 2014 and 2018 to obtain Article 17 passports. As part of the investigation into the crimes, Assistant Undersecretary of the Ministry of Interior General Sheikh Mazen al-Jarrah was arrested for accepting bribes. In November the Ministry of Defense announced that it was requiring all Bidoon military personnel to turn in their passports by the end of the month. Those who wish to reapply for a passport would need to provide a justification for travel, identity documentation, and pass a medical exam. Press reports estimated the number of Bidoon residents in the military to be 3,500.

The law also permits travel bans on citizens and noncitizens accused or suspected of violating the law, including nonpayment of debts, and it allows other citizens to petition authorities to impose one. This provision was sometimes imposed arbitrarily and resulted in delays and difficulties for citizens and foreigners leaving the country. Human rights activists reported being banned from travel in order to prevent them from participating in overseas events. They claim the government told them they were put under a travel ban for failing to pay parking tickets or other small fines. The Ministry of Justice announced in July 2019 that it would not impose travel bans on those who owed “small amounts” (defined as 300 dinars or $977). As of November the government had banned 18,603 citizens and foreign nationals from traveling outside of the country.

In July the Ministry of Interior announced travel bans against 14 citizens over corruption, money laundering, and embezzlement. Press reported that among the 14 were members of the ruling family, two former ministers, and four sitting deputy ministers.

In August the government reopened the airport at 30 percent capacity but announced a ban on commercial flights from 31 “high risk” locations to curb the spread of COVID-19, including Egypt, India, and the Philippines. This ban precluded the admission into the country of noncitizens directly from these 31 locations, including those previously resident in the country, although they could enter the country after spending 14 days in a country without a ban. The government later clarified that citizens, their domestic workers, and immediate relatives were permitted to return to the country at any time, even if they were traveling from one of the banned locations, provided they carried proof of a negative COVID-19 test.

Citizenship: By law the government is prohibited from revoking the citizenship of an individual who was born a citizen unless that individual has taken a second nationality. The government can revoke the citizenship of naturalized citizens for cause and can subsequently deport them. The justifications for such revocations include: felony conviction for “honor-related and honesty-related crimes,” obtaining citizenship dishonestly, and threatening to “undermine the economic or social structure of the country.” As of November government sources announced that no one was naturalized nor had their citizenship revoked during the year. In 2018 the Court of Cassation, the country’s highest court, affirmed that it is not permissible to withdraw citizenship from any citizen without a legitimate reason, stressing that a final court ruling must justify any withdrawal of citizenship.

On occasion some persons had their citizenship revoked. If a person loses citizenship, all family members whose status was derived from that person also lose their citizenship and all associated rights and became stateless individuals. Authorities can seize the passports and civil identification cards of persons who lose their citizenship and enter a “block” on their names in government databases. This “block” prevented former citizens from traveling or accessing free health care and other government services reserved for citizens.

The law prohibits the granting of citizenship to non-Muslims, but it allows non-Muslim male citizens to transmit citizenship to their descendants.

The government may deny a citizenship application by a resident based on security or criminal violations committed by the individual’s family members.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government generally cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to persons of concern.

Access to Basic Services: The government enacted policies making public healthcare more expensive for foreign workers but has put a cap on education fees. UNHCR received feedback from persons of concern that healthcare expenses were beyond their reach. They also had challenges in enrolling their children in schools, particularly those who did not have valid residency permits. Support for children with special needs was limited and often inaccessible for foreigners.

g. Stateless Persons

Bidoon residents are stateless Arabs who are considered illegal residents by authorities and not granted citizenship. According to press, figures there were approximately 88,000 Bidoon residents in the country. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International estimated the Bidoon resident population at more than 100,000. The law does not provide stateless persons, including Bidoon persons, a clear path to acquire citizenship. As of November government sources announced no Bidoon or foreigners had been naturalized during the year. The judicial system’s lack of authority to rule on the status of stateless persons further complicated the process for obtaining citizenship, leaving Bidoon with no access to the judiciary to present evidence and plead their case for citizenship.

The Central Agency for Illegal Residents oversees Bidoon resident affairs. In November the Council of Ministers issued a resolution extending the agency’s expired term by one additional year. Bidoon residents, Bidoon rights advocates, MPs, and human rights activists protested the decision, arguing that the Agency had not been effective in resolving matters pertaining to the Bidoon. They argued that conditions for Bidoon residents had dramatically deteriorated under the agency’s leadership. They pointed to dozens of Bidoon community members, especially youth, who had committed suicide in recent years due to dire social and economic conditions. The agency received tens of thousands of citizenship requests by Bidoon residents for review since its establishment in 2010.

According to Bidoon advocates and government officials, many Bidoon residents were unable to provide documentation proving ties to the country sufficient to qualify for citizenship. Since the government considers Bidoon illegal residents, many lacked identification cards, which prevented them from engaging in legal employment or obtaining travel documents.

Although Bidoon residents are by law entitled to government benefits including free healthcare and education, and ration cards, community members have alleged it was often difficult for them to access those services due to bureaucratic red tape. Some Bidoon residents and international NGOs reported that the government did not uniformly provide government services and benefits to Bidoon residents. Like other noncitizens, Bidoon do not have the right to own real estate. Since citizen children were given priority to attend public school, a small minority of Bidoon children whose families could afford it enrolled in substandard private schools. Some activists alleged that they or their family members have been deprived of access to education, healthcare, and jobs for advocating on behalf of the Bidoon. Press reports indicated that in March the Central Bank of Kuwait had directed banks to remove the ban on banking for Bidoon with expired IDs.

The government alleged that the vast majority of Bidoon residents concealed their “true” nationalities and were not actually stateless. Agency officials have extended incentive benefits to Bidoon who disclose an alternate nationality, including priority employment, and the ability to obtain a driver’s license. In 2018 approximately 12,700 Bidoon admitted having a claim on another nationality.

Bidoon leaders alleged that when some members of the Bidoon community attempted to obtain government services from the Central Agency, officials would routinely deceive them by promising to provide the necessary paperwork only if the Bidoon agreed to sign a blank piece of paper. Later, Bidoon reported, the agency would write a letter on the signed paper purportedly “confessing” the Bidoon’s “true” nationality, which rendered them ineligible for recognition or benefits as Bidoon. In March the Court of Cassation ruled that all decisions issued by the Central Agency for Illegal Residents fall under the jurisdiction of the judiciary and as a result are challengeable in the courts. The Central Agency is tasked with granting or revoking government identification, birth, death, or marriage certificates, recommendations for employment, and other official documentation, whereas the Supreme Committee for the Verification of Citizenship at the Ministry of Interior manages all citizenship revocations and naturalizations. Nonetheless, many Bidoon and activists on their behalf continued to accuse the Agency of not complying with the law and failing to implement court rulings requiring it to register Bidoon residents and issue them required documents.

According to international observers, some Bidoon residents underwent DNA testing purportedly to “prove” their Kuwaiti nationality by virtue of blood relation to a citizen. Bidoon residents are required to submit DNA samples confirming paternity to become naturalized, a practice critics said leaves them vulnerable to denial of citizenship based on DNA testing. Children of Bidoon fathers and citizen mothers are typically rendered stateless, as the law does not allow women to transmit nationality.

The government previously amended the existing law on military service to allow the Bidoon sons of soldiers who served in the military for 30 years and the Bidoon sons of soldiers killed or missing in action to be eligible to join the military. According to a 2019 statement from the head of the Interior and Defense Parliamentary Committee, as a result more than 27,000 Bidoons were awaiting enlistment.

In January the Court of Appeals upheld a three-year prison sentence with labor for Bidoon activist Mohammad Khodhair al-Enezi for taking part in an illegal rally in 2019, and encouraging the murder of employees of the Central Agency for Illegal Residents.

In February, several MPs announced they would work to stop a Public Authority for Manpower (PAM) proposal that all Bidoon working in the private sector be registered with the PAM. The MPs noted that Bidoon must sign affidavits confessing they hold citizenship with other countries as part of this registration, which the Bidoon argued was inhuman and coercive.

In 2019 the KSS arrested 15 Bidoon activists (and charged one in absentia) on numerous charges including: joining a banned organization aimed at undermining political, economic, and social systems of the country and overthrowing the regime; spreading false news; organizing and participating in gatherings and rallies without a license (which the government would not grant to Bidoon residents); and incitement to murder. All defendants denied the charges. In January the Criminal Court announced its verdicts in the case. Muhammad Wali received a life sentence in absentia. Humoud Rabah and Ridha Thamir were both sentenced to 10 years for calling for the overthrow of the regime and joining a banned organization. Abdulhakim al-Fadhli and 11 other defendants were released on suspended sentences under a pledge of “good conduct” for two years. Five of the 12, including al-Fadhli, were also required to pay bail. In July the Court of Appeals overturned the 10-year prison sentence for Humoud Rabah and Ridha Thamir and acquitted them of attempting to overthrow the government, but sentenced them to two years imprisonment for participating in and calling for unlicensed gatherings. However, the court released them both on suspended sentences and after paying in bail. They were also required to sign a “good conduct” pledge for two years. The defendants have appealed the case to the Court of Cassation in an attempt to get all fines and charges fully overturned.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution stipulates the country is a hereditary emirate. The 50 elected members of the National Assembly (plus government-appointed ministers) must, by majority vote conducted by secret ballot, approve the amir’s choice of crown prince. According to the Succession Law, the crown prince must be a male descendant of Sheikh Mubarak Al-Sabah and meet three additional requirements: have attained the age of 30, possess a sound mind, and be a legitimate son of Muslim parents. The National Assembly may remove the amir from power by a two-thirds majority vote if it finds that any of these three conditions is or was not met.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Observers generally considered the December parliamentary election free and fair, and reported no serious procedural problems. In November the Interior Ministry announced that 34 of the 395 candidates had been disqualified without explanation, although 20 were later reinstated. One of these candidates was elected to the Parliament. The election was characterized by a short campaign period and a ban on in-person events due to COVID-19 health concerns.

Opposition MPs took 24 of the National Assembly’s 50 seats, an increase of 16 seats from the last parliament. Thirty candidates younger than age 45 were elected, while none of the 33 women candidates won seats. There were 13 percent fewer candidates during the year than in the last election in 2016.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The government did not recognize political parties or allow their formation, although no formal law bans political parties. National Assembly candidates must nominate themselves as individuals. Well organized, unofficial blocs operated as political groupings inside the National Assembly, and MPs formed loose alliances. Those convicted of insulting the amir and Islam are banned from running for elected office. In March 2019 the Court of Cassation issued a verdict that banned citizens convicted of calling for or participating in unregistered demonstrations and protest rallies or resisting security operatives from voting or running in public elections. Voters may register to vote every February upon reaching the voting age of 21. Prosecutors and judges from the Ministry of Justice supervise election stations. Women prosecutors served as supervisors for the first time during the 2016 elections. In February reports revealed that the Ministries of Interior and Justice were working together to purge from voter registration lists the names of those convicted of insulting the amir. Cases must reach a final verdict before names can be removed.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate in political life. Although women gained the right to vote in 2005, they still faced cultural and social barriers to political participation. For example, some tribal leaders have successfully excluded women from running for office or choosing preliminary candidates by banning them from being considered or attending unofficial tribal primaries. The one appointed woman cabinet member can vote with the country’s 50-seat parliament. Although 33 women candidates ran in the December Parliamentary election, no women were ultimately elected. To explain the results, analysts pointed to widespread public opinion, which does not support women in leadership roles, and an electoral system, which minimizes the likelihood of voters allocating their one vote per slate of 10 district candidates to a female candidate. In July the Public Prosecutor appointed eight female judges for the first time in the country’s history.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by government officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively. Observers believed officials engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year. The Anti-Corruption Authority (ACA) is charged with receiving and analyzing complaints and forwarding complaints to the appropriate authorities in either the Public Prosecutor’s Office or police for further investigation or action. As of November the ACA had received 424 corruption reports (109 reports were administratively closed, 261 were pending reviewing by the Reports Reception Department, and 54 were under investigation). The ACA referred eight reports to the Public Prosecutor during the same period.

There were many reports that individuals had to pay intermediaries to receive routine government services. Police corruption was a problem, especially when one party to a dispute had a personal relationship with a police official involved in a case. Widespread reports indicated that police favored citizens over noncitizens. There were several reports of corruption in the procurement and bidding processes for lucrative government contracts.

All judicial officers received training on corruption and transparency obligations as part of the Judicial Institute’s official curriculum.

Corruption: The State Audit Bureau is responsible for supervising public expenses and revenues and for preventing misuse or manipulation of public funds. The government distributes reports by the State Audit Bureau annually to the amir, prime minister, head of parliament, and minister of finance. The public did not have access to these reports. Parliament’s Committee on the Protection of Public Funds frequently announced inquiries into suspected misuse of public funds. In January the Minister of State for Assembly Affairs Mubarak al-Harees announced that the cabinet issued a resolution urging all governmental bodies to establish auditing and inspection departments and to monitor closely financial and administrative affairs in order to protect public funds.

In January former minister of health Dr. Ali al-Obaidi and two undersecretaries at the ministry were removed from their positions, sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment with hard labor, ordered to refund $81 million, and fined them double that sum.

In January the Public Prosecutor referred the case of a multibillion dollar Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft deal to the investigation committee of a special court that investigates ministerial-level crimes. The case involved kickbacks from the inflated costs of the purchase of 28 aircraft. In July, Sheikh Sabah Jaber al-Mubarak al-Sabah, the son of a former prime minister, and his reported business partner Hamad al-Wazzan were arrested and released on bail over money laundering related to the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MBD) scandal, according to Kuwaiti and UK news outlets. In July the Court of Cassation upheld a Court of Appeals ruling sentencing a colonel at the Ministry of Interior to 15 years imprisonment with hard labor, and several foreign residents to jail terms ranging between seven and 10 years, after they were convicted of misappropriation and laundering funds from the Police Cooperative Society. In September the ACA stated it had received more than 300 reports of corruption and referred 40 cases to the Public Prosecution since its inception in 2016.

Investigations have uncovered widespread use of false academic credentials by citizens and foreign residents in the public and private sectors, exposing a lack of transparency in the hiring and promotion of officials and fraud. In July several high-ranking Ministry of Interior officials were implicated in a scandal involving forged higher education degree certificates.

Financial Disclosure: As of November the ACA announced that 9,605 government officials were required by law to present financial disclosures. Of those, 8,351 had submitted their disclosures. Between January 1 and March 12, a total of 430 officials were referred to the Public Prosecutor for failure to submit their disclosures. The government implemented a forgiveness period starting March 12 for those who could prove their submissions were delayed due to COVID-19.

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

The government imposed limits on the operations of domestic and international human rights groups. Domestic and international human rights groups generally operated with limited restrictions, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. The law permits the existence of NGOs, but the government continued to deny registration to some. To be registered, NGOs are required to demonstrate that their existence is in the public interest, they are expected to conduct business beneficial to the country, and their work does not undermine cultural values and norms as defined by the government. NGOs may not engage in political activity or encourage sectarianism.

Major local NGOs dedicated specifically to human rights included the Kuwait Society for Human Rights and the Kuwaiti Association of the Basic Evaluators of Human Rights. The majority of local registered NGOs were devoted to the rights or welfare of specific groups such as women, children, prisoners, and persons with disabilities. These organizations operated with little government interference. A few dozen local unregistered human rights groups also operated discreetly but ran the risk of sanction if they were too vocal in calling out abuses. The government and various national assembly committees met occasionally with local NGOs and generally responded to their inquiries.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The National Assembly’s Human Rights Committee, which operates independently of the government, is an advisory body that primarily hears individual complaints of human rights abuses and worked with plaintiffs and relevant stakeholders to reach a mutual settlement. The committee visited the Central Prison and the Central Deportation Center throughout the year to review overcrowding, prison and detainee treatment, and the condition of both facilities. The committee had adequate resources and was considered effective. In January the committee started receiving grievances online.

In June a delegation from the semigovernmental Human Rights Bureau, which commenced public activities in 2019, visited the Central Prison to review the government’s steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the prisons. The delegation praised the Ministry of Interior’s preparedness to combat the virus. The Bureau consists of 11 voting members and five nonvoting governmental observers, and reports to the Council of Ministers.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape carries a maximum penalty of death, which the courts occasionally imposed for the crime; spousal rape is not a crime under the law. Authorities did not effectively enforce laws against rape. Violence against women continued to be a problem. The law allows a rapist to avoid punishment on the condition that he marry his victim and that her guardian consents that the perpetrator not be punished. There were reports alleging that some police stations did not take seriously reports by both citizens and noncitizens of sexual assault and domestic violence, which service providers stated contributes to a culture of underreporting by survivors.

When reported, police typically arrested perpetrators and investigated allegations of rape and, in a limited number of cases, prosecuted the accused. For example, in January police arrested a Bangladeshi national for kidnapping and raping a foreign resident woman. In February, three men were arrested and referred to the Public Prosecutor after abducting, raping, and holding a teenage girl captive in an apartment. In August a man was arrested after stabbing his aunt several times in her sleep, reportedly with the intent to kill her. In September a woman was killed by her second brother while recovering in the hospital after an initial attempt on her life by another brother over “family disputes.” Press reports indicated the brothers intended to kill their sister because they did not approve of her marriage. Both brothers were detained by police. In December a man was arrested for stabbing his sister to death. He was charged with premeditated murder and his case was referred to the Public Prosecutor.

Although the government does not regularly publish statistics on domestic violence, domestic violence cases against women were regularly reported by local NGOs. Service providers observed that domestic violence was significantly underreported to authorities but press publicized some high profile cases. In July the Court of Cassation upheld a death penalty sentence for a citizen who was charged with killing his pregnant Saudi wife three years ago. In March a man was arrested for murdering his wife and burying her body in the desert.

Women’s rights activists documented numerous stories of citizen and women foreign workers seeking help to leave an abusive situation who faced obstacles because no shelters for victims of domestic violence existed. A woman may petition for divorce based on injury from spousal abuse, but the law does not provide a clear legal standard regarding what constitutes injury. In domestic violence cases, since for any type of physical assault, a woman must produce a report from a government hospital to document her injuries in addition to having at least two male witnesses (or a male witness and two female witnesses) who can attest to the abuse. Advocates reported that women who reach out to police rarely get help because officers were not adequately trained to deal with domestic violence cases. Victims were generally sent back to their male guardians, who in some instances were also their abusers.

In August the National Assembly approved the country’s first-ever domestic violence law. The law criminalizes domestic violence and provides victims with legal, medical, and rehabilitation services. It defines domestic violence as any form of physical, psychological, sexual, or financial mistreatment done by one family member against another. The law also calls for the establishment of a domestic violence shelter, and requires the Ministry of Social Affairs to begin compiling statistics on domestic violence in the country. The Ministry of Social Affairs was expected also to establish special teams to investigate domestic violence claims.

In January press reported that a foreign resident woman had filed rape charges against the Ambassador of her home country for an incident dating back to 2018. Reports indicated police refused to file the charges because the Ambassador maintained diplomatic immunity and the location of the alleged crime–the Ambassador’s residence–was outside their jurisdiction.

In February the Criminal Court sentenced a security officer at Kuwait International Airport to seven years imprisonment for rape in an airport inspection room. He was also ordered to pay compensation.

As of November there were 34 rape cases registered at the courts. Final verdicts were issued in four of these cases. Final and appealable rulings for convicted cases included death penalty and jail terms from five years up to 15 years and life imprisonment.

As of November there were 420 cases of violence against women registered at the courts. Final verdicts were issued in 46 of these cases. Final and appealable rulings for convicted cases included jail terms from five years up to 15 years and life imprisonment.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Officials did not report any so-called honor killings during the year. In February the Criminal Court confirmed that honor killings as described in article 153 of the penal code would henceforth be treated as cases of premeditated murder, rather than as misdemeanors. In February the Criminal Court issued the death penalty against a man who alleged he had killed his daughter because he had suspicions regarding her “honor.” In the ruling, the judge clarified that the honor killing section of the law was not applicable in this case because the father had not caught his daughter “in the act.”

Sexual Harassment: Human rights groups characterized sexual harassment in the workplace as a pervasive and mostly unreported problem. No specific law addresses sexual harassment. The law criminalizes “encroachment on honor,” which encompasses everything from touching a woman against her will to rape, but police inconsistently enforced this law. The government deployed female police officers specifically to combat sexual harassment in shopping malls and other public spaces. Perpetrators of sexual harassment and sexual assault faced fines and imprisonment.

Reproductive Rights: The government restricted some aspects of couples’ and individuals’ rights to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children. Laws, criminal penalties, and social and cultural attitudes did not prevent unmarried women from seeking out information on reproductive health, yet some physicians were reluctant to administer certain procedures, such as pap smears, to unmarried women despite there being no law against it. Skilled attendance during prenatal care, essential obstetric care, childbirth, and postpartum care was available free of charge but not without significant penalties for unmarried individuals. Many stateless Bidoon and unmarried women reportedly had difficulty accessing nonemergency care.

Contraceptives were available without prescription regardless of nationality or age, but some doctors were reluctant to provide advice or information on contraceptives to unmarried women. Cultural stigmas discouraged unmarried women from accessing contraceptives.

A mother who gives birth out of wedlock can be imprisoned along with her child. If an unmarried Kuwaiti woman is pregnant, authorities have been known to summon her partner and request a marriage certificate that is backdated nine months in order for the mother and father to avoid arrest. Families are known to pressure unmarried pregnant women to claim falsely they have been raped in order to avoid jail time and the stigma associated with sexual relations prior to marriage.

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence, but these services were largely inadequate. A large percentage of survivors of sexual violence had little access to health services. Expatriate survivors of sexual violence often had even less access to such services, particularly if they were illegal residents or their employer did not provide adequate medical coverage.

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

Discrimination: The law does not provide women the same legal status, rights, and inheritance provisions as men. Women experienced discrimination in most aspects of family law, including divorce and child custody, as well as in the basic rights of citizenship, the workplace, and in certain circumstances, the value of their testimony in court. Sharia (Islamic law) courts have jurisdiction over personal status and family law cases for Sunni and Shia Muslims. As implemented in the country, sharia discriminates against women in judicial proceedings, marriage, child custody, and inheritance. There were no reported cases of official or private sector discrimination in accessing credit, owning or managing a business, or securing housing, but no official government system exists to track this issue.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to both citizen and noncitizen women (see section 7.d.). Secular courts allow any person to testify and consider the testimony of men and women equally, but in sharia courts the testimony of a women equals half that of a man. A July study released by the Kuwait Society for Human Rights found that, while the constitution provides for equal rights for women, its implementation often falls short and many laws contradict its equal protection provisions.

Inheritance is also governed by sharia, which varies according to the specific school of Islamic jurisprudence. In the absence of a direct male heir, a Shia woman may inherit all property, while a Sunni woman inherits only a portion, with the balance divided among brothers, uncles, and male cousins of the deceased.

Women do not enjoy equal citizenship rights as men. Female citizens are unable to transmit citizenship to their noncitizen husbands or to children. Failure to provide equal citizenship rights to women subjects their children to statelessness when a woman is married to a stateless Bidoon resident. In exceptional cases some children of widowed or divorced female citizens were granted citizenship by amiri decree, although this was a discretionary act. Individuals can petition the Ministry of Interior to include their name on a list of naturalizations, to be reviewed by the Council of Ministers. If approved, the names go to the amir for signature and are published in the national gazette. Male citizens married to female noncitizens do not face such discrimination, and their children are accorded the full legal protections of citizenship.

In August the General Administration of Residency Affairs rescinded its ban on allowing foreign worker mothers to sponsor their children’s residence visas. The previous rule stated that a foreign worker mother could only sponsor her child if she was divorced or a widow. In July the National Assembly approved an amendment that would allow women to sign off on surgical procedures for family members. Previously, women needed a male guardian’s consent to authorize such procedures, including for their own children.

The law requires segregation by gender of classes at all public universities and secondary schools, although it was not always enforced.

Children

Birth Registration: Birth registration is generally available to all citizens and foreign residents as long as the parents have a recognized marriage certificate dated at least seven months prior to the birth date of their child. Citizenship is transmitted exclusively by the father (see section 6, Discrimination). The government designates the father’s religious group on birth certificates. The government often granted citizenship to orphaned or abandoned infants, including Bidoon infants. Bidoon parents, and in a few cases citizen women married to Bidoon or foreigners, but they were sometimes unable to obtain birth certificates for their children even after completing extensive administrative procedures. The lack of a birth certificate prevented Bidoon children from obtaining identification papers and accessing public services such as education and health care.

Education: Education for citizens is free through the university level and compulsory through the secondary level. Education is neither free nor compulsory for noncitizens. The 2011 Council of Ministers decree which extended public education to Bidoon has not been implemented fully. Lack of identification documents sometimes prevented Bidoon resident access to education even at private schools. The Education Ministry sets annual quotas for the number of Bidoon residents who can attend public schools, most of whom have citizen mothers. The others must attend private schools and pay fees. Charitable organizations offer tuition support to some but not all of these students.

Medical Care: Lack of identification papers restricted Bidoon residents’ access to free medical care. In July the Ministry of Health announced that parents or legal guardians who do not vaccinate their children would be fined or jailed up to six months.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: There are no laws specific to child pornography because all pornography is illegal. There is no statutory rape law or minimum age for consensual sexual relations; premarital sexual relations are illegal.

A new policy aimed at protecting children from dangers posed by social media platforms and exploitation by parents and other adults had been put in place by the Child Protection Office in the Ministry of Health. The policy holds families of children 13 years old or younger responsible for the use of social media applications that might be unsuitable for young children or could expose them to sexual predators.

In January a foreign worker was arrested and sentenced to five years in jail for sexually assaulting a minor girl. In February a man was arrested for kidnapping and raping an eight-year-old boy.

The Ministry of Health’s child protection office announced in January that it had received 2,139 complaints regarding abuse of children between 2015 and 2019. Complaints included physical violence, neglect, and sexual assault. The office received 650 complaints in 2019 compared to 100 in 2015.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.

Anti-Semitism

There were no known Jewish citizens and an estimated few dozen Jewish foreign resident workers. Anti-Semitic rhetoric generally originated from self-proclaimed Islamists or conservative opinion writers. There were reported cases of clerics and others making statements that perpetuated negative stereotypes of Jews. Columnists often conflated Israeli government actions or views with those of Jews more broadly. Reflecting the government’s nonrecognition of Israel, there are longstanding official instructions to teachers to expunge any references to Israel or the Holocaust from English-language textbooks. The law prohibits local companies from conducting business with Israeli citizens, included transporting Israeli passport holders on the country’s national airline. In January, Yusuf Mehanna claimed that his citizenship had been revoked after he gave a public interview noting his intention to convert to Judaism.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with permanent physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, air travel and other transportation, access to health care, or the provision of other government services. It imposes penalties on employers who refrain without reasonable cause from hiring persons with disabilities. The law also mandates access to buildings for persons with disabilities. The government generally enforced these provisions. Noncitizens with disabilities neither had access to government-operated facilities nor received stipends paid to citizens with disabilities that covered transportation, housing, and social welfare costs. The government had not fully implemented social and workplace programs to assist persons with physical and, in particular, vision disabilities.

The government continued to reserve a small number of admissions to Kuwait University for citizens with disabilities, and there was regular media coverage of students with disabilities attending university classes. In June 2019 the Public Authority for the Disabled announced it would start providing university scholarships for students with disabilities.

Authorities did not provide noncitizens with disabilities the same educational opportunities as citizens. Noncitizen students attended private schools only, which generally lacked accessible materials and reasonable accommodations.

Most citizen children with disabilities attended public school. The government supervised and contributed to schools and job training programs oriented to persons with disabilities. In August the Ministry of Education announced it would suspend in-person classes for students with disabilities until further notice because of COVID-19. The ministry reported that there were more than 52,000 persons with disabilities registered with the government, including thousands of school-aged children.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

Approximately 70 percent of residents were noncitizens, many originating from other parts of the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent, and South and Southeast Asia. Societal discrimination against noncitizens was prevalent and occurred in most areas of daily life, including employment, education, housing, social interaction, and health care (see sections 2.g, and 7.d.). The Ministry of Interior used administrative deportation, which is not subject to judicial review, to deport noncitizens for minor offenses, such as operating a taxi without a license.

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

Consensual same-sex sexual conduct between men and crossdressing are illegal. The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual activity between men older than age 21 with imprisonment of up of to seven years; those engaging in consensual same-sex sexual activity with men younger than age 21 may be imprisoned for up to 10 years. No laws criminalize same-sex sexual activity between women. The law criminalizes and imposes a fine and imprisonment for one-to-three years for persons imitating the appearance of the opposite sex in public. These penalties were enforced. Transgender persons reported cases of repeated harassment, detention, abuse, and rape by police, who blackmailed and raped them without fear of reprisal.

In June transgender woman Maha al-Mutairi claimed via social media that she was detained by police due to her gender identity and jailed in a men’s prison, where she was sexually assaulted and raped by police officers. Al-Mutairi was ordered to pay a fine for “cross dressing and imitating the opposite sex” and released without charges after widespread outcry from local and international LGBTI organizations. Al-Mutairi did not formally press charges and the alleged perpetrators were not investigated or prosecuted by authorities.

Societal discrimination and harassment based on sexual orientation and gender identity occurred. Officials practiced such discrimination, usually upon discovering that a person stopped for a traffic violation did not appear to be the gender indicated on the identification card.

No registered NGOs focused on LGBTI matters, although unregistered ones existed. Due to social convention and potential repression, LGBTI organizations neither operated openly nor held LGBTI human rights advocacy events or Pride marches.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Local human rights NGOs reported limited accounts of societal violence or discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS, but persons with HIV/AIDS did not generally disclose their status due to social stigma associated with the disease. Since 2016 authorities deported hundreds of foreign residents with HIV/AIDS. In February the government announced that some of the 42 officials found to be HIV positive in the Ministries of Interior and Defense, as well as the National Guard, would be sent into retirement as a result of their diagnosis.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Unmarried persons, particularly foreign workers, continued to face housing discrimination and eviction based on their marital status and income. For example, authorities frequently raided apartment blocks housing foreign worker “bachelors,” and reportedly shut off water and electricity to force single male workers out of accommodations. Single foreign workers faced eviction due to a decision by the municipality to enforce this prohibition and remove them from residences allocated for citizen families, citing the presence of single men as the reason for increased crime, a burden on services, and worsening traffic.

The spread of COVID-19 in the early part of the year was followed by a strong upsurge in xenophobic rhetoric. A poll released in August showed that 65 percent of citizens believed foreign workers were mainly to blame for the spread of COVID-19 in the country. In July a Kuwaiti national was arrested for assaulting a migrant worker at a grocery store. On June 24, civil society organizations released a letter decrying the upsurge of hate speech during the pandemic.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law protects the right of citizen workers to form and join trade unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes, with significant restrictions. The government generally enforced applicable laws which were commensurate with those for other laws involving denial of civil rights, such as discrimination.

The law does not apply to public-sector employees, domestic workers, or maritime employees. Discrete labor laws set work conditions in the public and private sectors, with the oil industry treated separately. The law permits limited trade union pluralism at the local level, but the government authorized only one federation, the Kuwait Trade Union Federation. The law also stipulates any new union must include at least 100 workers and that at least 15 must be citizens.

The law provides workers, except for domestic workers, maritime workers, and civil servants, a limited right to collective bargaining. There is no minimum number of workers needed to conclude such agreements. The government did not effectively enforce the law. Based on available information, it was unclear whether penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

Public-sector workers do not have the right to strike. Citizens in the private sector have the right to strike, although cumbersome provisions calling for compulsory negotiation and arbitration in the case of disputes limit that right. The law does not prohibit retaliation against striking workers or prevent the government from interfering in union activities, including the right to strike. In August the National Assembly approved amendments to the private sector labor law that would provide full end-of-service benefits for workers. The indemnity covers a full end-of-service benefits package without deducting the employer’s contribution to the Social Insurance Institution during the employee’s period of employment.

In January, several vocational rehabilitation employees at the Public Authority for Disabled Affairs organized a sit-in protest of the suspension of their shift allowance. In July approximately 200 workers of a restaurant chain protested three months’ worth of unpaid salaries during COVID-19-related lockdowns.

In March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ministry of Interior established the “Leave Safely” campaign, which aimed to deport approximately 200,000 residence violators. The program granted violators an amnesty period through April 30, waiving all penalties and fees. The government also provided free tickets back to violators’ home countries. In May unrest was reported at two migrant worker shelters for Egyptian nationals awaiting repatriation. Residents were barred from leaving the shelters due to authorities’ fear the workers would transmit coronavirus to the general population, despite reports of limited access to water and electricity inside the facility. Kuwaiti Special Forces dispersed the crowds with tear gas and arrested several Egyptian laborers.

According to the PAM, as of November only 4.8 percent of the total workforce in the private sector were citizens. Most citizens (81.5 percent) worked in the public sector where they constituted 76.8 percent of the total workforce, in part because the government provided lucrative benefits to citizens, including generous retirement.

The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and employer interference with union functions. It provides for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. Nevertheless, the law empowers the courts to dissolve any union for violating labor laws or for threatening “public order and morals,” although a union can appeal such a court decision. The Ministry of State for Economic Affairs can request the Court of First Instance to dissolve a union. Additionally, the amir may dissolve a union by decree.

The government enforced applicable laws, with some exceptions, and procedures were generally not subjected to lengthy delay or appeals.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits and criminally sanctions forced or compulsory labor “except in cases specified by law for national emergency and with just remuneration.” The law allows for forced prison labor as a punishment. Although the law prohibits withholding of workers’ passports, the practice remained common among sponsors and employers of foreign workers, particularly domestic employees in the home, and the government demonstrated no consistent efforts to enforce this prohibition. The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

Employers confined some domestic and agricultural workers to their workspaces by retaining their passports and, in the case of some domestic workers, locked them in their work locations. Workers who fled abusive employers had difficulty retrieving their passports, and authorities deported them in almost all cases. The government usually limited punishment to administrative actions such as assessing fines, shutting employment firms, issuing orders for employers to return withheld passports, or requiring employers to pay back wages.

In January a group of foreign workers employed at a company contracted by the Ministry of Communications filed a complaint with the PAM over four months of unpaid salaries for 200 employees. The group also alleged that the company forced them to pay an illegal fee of 900 dinars ($2,930) for their residence permits under threat of expelling them from their housing. In July the Ministry of Education announced it was moving to suspend the licenses of six private schools for not paying teachers’ wages.

Some incidents of forced labor and conditions indicative of forced labor occurred, especially among foreign domestic and agricultural workers. Such practices were usually a result of employer abuse of the sponsorship system (kafala) for foreign workers. Employers frequently illegally withheld salaries from domestic workers and minimum-wage laborers.

Domestic servitude was the most common type of forced labor, principally involving foreign domestic workers employed under kafala, but reports of forced labor in the construction and sanitation sectors also existed. Forced labor conditions for migrant workers included nonpayment of wages, long working hours, deprivation of food, threats, physical and sexual abuse, and restrictions on movement, such as withholding passports or confinement to the workplace. As of November private sector and domestic labor employers filed approximately 15,000 reports claiming that employees “absconded.” Domestic workers filed approximately 425 complaints against their employers in accordance with the domestic labor law. As of November, PAM statistics indicated that 2634 domestic helper-related complaints had been filed. Numerous domestic workers who escaped from abusive employers reported waiting several months to regain passports, which employers had illegally confiscated when they began their employment. In July the PAM announced it would no longer accept private sector complaints over absenteeism, after reports some employers were filing them maliciously as a pretext to violate labor laws.

In September the PAM, the Supreme Council for Planning and Development, the United Nations Development Program and the International Organization for Migration launched the “Tamkeen Initiative” to implement the International Recruitment Integrity System to promote ethical recruitment of migrant workers.

The PAM operated a shelter for abused domestic workers. As of November according to a government source, the shelter had a capacity of 500 and housed 461 female domestic workers, victims of abuses or persons who were otherwise unwilling to continue to work for their employers and preferred to leave the country.

A government-owned recruiting company designed to mitigate abuses against domestic workers (“Al-Durra”) officially launched its services in 2017 and initially planned to bring 120 domestic workers a month from the Philippines and approximately 100 male workers from India. Al-Durra’s services included worker insurance, a 24/7 abuse hotline, and follow-up on allegations of labor rights violations. As of November the company announced that it helped bring into the country 205 domestic workers from the Philippines, 354 from India, 978 from Sri Lanka and four from Burkina Faso. The target recruitment fee depends on domestic workers’ experience and skillset. The government regularly conducted information awareness campaigns via media outlets and public events and otherwise informed employers to encourage compliance by public and private recruiting companies with the law.

There were numerous media reports throughout the year of sponsors abusing domestic workers or injuring them when they tried to escape. Some reports alleged that abuse resulted in workers’ deaths. Female domestic workers were particularly vulnerable to sexual abuse. Police and courts were reluctant to prosecute citizens for abuse in private residences but prosecuted some serious cases of abuse when reported, particularly when the cases were raised by the source country embassies. According to a high-level government official, authorities prosecuted several cases of domestic worker abuse. In August a female citizen was detained for torturing an elderly Sri Lankan maid by burning various parts of her body. Her three underage sons were also involved. Security forces freed the Sri Lankan migrant woman and transferred her to the Sri Lankan embassy to complete legal procedures. The case was pending as of November. In September the government announced it was opening an investigation into the death and alleged torture of a separate Sri Lankan domestic worker. The sponsor and his wife were under investigation.

In January the Philippines imposed a full ban on new workers bound to the country after the death of Filipina domestic worker Jeanelyn Villavende. The Philippine government noted that an autopsy showed Villavende was raped and beaten before she died at the hands of her employers in December. The Public Prosecutor detained because of her death a couple who had employed Villavende and referred the case to the Criminal Court on charges of premeditated murder, which carries the death sentence. The defendants denied the charges in a February court appearance. The government lifted the worker ban in February after coming to agreement over a standardized work contract that gave additional protections to workers. On December 30, the wife was sentenced to death by the Criminal Court and the husband was sentenced to four years for attempting to cover up the crime. Under the law, all death sentences are automatically reviewed by the Appeals Court.

Numerous media reports highlighted the problem of residence permit or visa trading, wherein companies and recruitment agencies collude to “sell” visas fraudulently to prospective workers. Often the jobs and companies attached to these visas do not exist, and workers are vulnerable to exploitation in the black market where they are forced to earn a living and repay the cost of their residence visa. Arrests of traffickers and illegal labor rings occurred almost weekly. In July the Minister of Social Affairs and Minister of State for Economic Affairs announced that the ministry had suspended the licenses of 2,207 companies and institutions in connection with visa trading. In August the PAM stated it had referred more than 400 companies to the Public Prosecutor over visa trading allegations since the beginning of the pandemic. Since workers cannot freely change jobs, many were unwilling to leave their initial job, even if their position existed only “on paper,” or due to low wages, wage nonpayment, or unacceptable working conditions. Workers who left their employers due to abusive treatment, nonpayment of wages or other practices associated with visa trading risked falling into illegal residency status, being accused of “absconding,” and being deported.

The COVID-19 pandemic brought increased public and press attention to visa trading. Civil society groups, press outlets, and MPs called for the government to increase its efforts to protect victims and punish traders and their enablers. In April and May, the Ministry of Interior announced numerous visa-trading investigations into government officials and those with government ties.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits all of the worst forms of child labor. The legal minimum age for employment is 18, although employers may obtain permits from the Ministry of State for Economic Affairs to employ juveniles between 15 and 18 years of age in some nonhazardous trades. Juveniles may work a maximum of six hours a day with no more than four consecutive hours followed by a one-hour rest period. Juveniles cannot work overtime or between 7 p.m. and 6 a.m.

Although not extensive, there were credible reports that children of South Asian origin worked as domestic laborers. Some underage workers entered the country on travel documents with falsified birth dates.

The government did not effectively enforce the child labor law. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. PAM labor and occupational safety inspectors routinely monitored private firms for labor law compliance. Noncompliant employers faced fines or a forced suspension of their company operations. Nevertheless, the government did not consistently enforce child labor laws in the informal sector, such as in street vending.

Also, see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings/ .

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law sets a national monthly minimum wage in the oil and private sector and a minimum monthly wage for domestic workers. Most low-wage employees were not able to bring their families to the country. Employers generally provided some form of housing. In 2019, the country ratified the Convention on the Elimination of Violence and Harassment by Public and Private Employers, which came into effect in July.

The law limits the standard workweek to 48 hours (40 hours for the petroleum industry) and gives private-sector workers 30 days of annual leave. The law also forbids requiring employees to work more than 60 hours per week or 10 hours per day. The law provides for 13 designated national holidays annually. Workers are entitled to 125 percent of base pay for working overtime and 150 percent of base pay for working on their designated weekly day off. The government effectively enforced the law. Penalties were commensurate to laws related to civil rights, such as election interference.

The government issued occupational health and safety standards that were up-to-date and appropriate for the main industries. For example, the law provides that all outdoor work stop between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. during June, July, and August, or when the temperature rises to more than 120 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade. A worker could file a complaint against an employer with the PAM if the worker believed his safety and health were at risk. In July the PAM reported that 138 companies had violated the summer heat work ban during its recent inspections.

The law and regulations governing acceptable conditions of work in the private sector do not apply to domestic workers. The PAM has jurisdiction over domestic worker matters and enforces domestic labor working standards.

The PAM is responsible for enforcement of wages, hours, overtime, and occupational safety and health regulations of workers. Enforcement by the ministry was generally good, but there were gaps in enforcement with respect to low-skilled foreign laborers. Several ministry officials cited inadequate numbers of inspectors as the main reason for their inability to enforce the laws better.

Labor and occupational safety inspectors monitored private firms. The government periodically inspected enterprises to raise awareness among workers and employers and to assure that they abided by existing safety rules, controlled pollution in certain industries, trained workers to use machines, and reported violations. In April the PAM announced the establishment of emergency hotlines to track visa trading and labor infraction allegations.

The government did not effectively enforce the private sector labor law. The number of inspectors was not sufficient to deter violations. The PAM monitored work sites to inspect for compliance with rules banning summer work and recorded hundreds of violations during the year. Workers could also report these violations to their embassies, the Kuwait Trade Union Federation, Kuwait Society for Human Rights, or the Labor Disputes Department. Noncompliant employers faced warnings, fines, or forced suspensions of company operations, but these were not sufficient to deter violators.

In the first 10 months of the year, the Labor Disputes Department received approximately 10,498 complaints from workers, of which approximately 2,693 were referred to the courts. These complaints were either regarding contract matters, such as nonpayment of wages, or concerning difficulties transferring work visas to new companies. Most of the complaints were resolved in arbitration, with the remaining cases referred to the courts for resolution.

At times the PAM intervened to resolve labor disputes between foreign workers and their employers. The authority’s labor arbitration panel sometimes ruled in favor of foreign laborers who claimed violations of work contracts by their employers. The government was more effective in resolving unpaid salary disputes involving private sector laborers than those involving domestic workers.

Foreign workers were vulnerable to unacceptable conditions of work. Domestic workers and other unskilled foreign workers in the private sector frequently worked substantially in excess of 48 hours a week, with no day of rest.

Domestic workers had little recourse when employers violated their rights except to seek admittance to the domestic workers shelter where the government mediated between sponsors and workers either to assist the worker in finding an alternate sponsor, or to assist in voluntary repatriation. There were no inspections of private residences, which is the workplace of the majority of the country’s domestic workers. Reports indicated employers forced domestic workers to work overtime without additional compensation. In July 2019 the PAM announced it was planning to unveil a “blacklist” system that would prevent the sponsorship of domestic workers by recruitment offices or employers that violate workers’ rights. The PAM began implementing this system in February.

Some domestic workers did not have the ability to remove themselves from an unhealthy or unsafe situation without endangering their employment. There were reports of domestic workers’ committing or attempting to commit suicide due to desperation over abuse, including sexual violence or poor working conditions. A 2016 law provides legal protections for domestic workers, including a formal grievance process managed by the PAM. A worker not satisfied with the department’s arbitration decision has the right to file a legal case via the labor court.

Several embassies with large domestic worker populations in the country met with varying degrees of success in pressing the government to prosecute serious cases of domestic worker abuse. Severe cases included those where there were significant, life-threatening injuries or death.

Morocco

Executive Summary

Morocco is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary national legislative system under which ultimate authority rests with King Mohammed VI, who presides over the Council of Ministers. The king shares executive authority with Head of Government (prime minister) Saadeddine El Othmani. According to the constitution, the king appoints the head of government from the political party with the most seats in parliament and approves members of the government nominated by the head of government. International and domestic observers judged the 2016 parliamentary elections credible and relatively free from irregularities.

The security apparatus includes several police and paramilitary organizations with overlapping authority. The National Police Force manages internal law enforcement in cities and reports to the Ministry of Interior. The Auxiliary Forces also report to the Ministry of Interior and support gendarmes and police. The Royal Gendarmerie, which reports to the Administration of National Defense, is responsible for law enforcement in rural regions and on national highways. The judicial police (investigative) branches of both the Royal Gendarmerie and the National Police report to the royal prosecutor and have the power to arrest individuals. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over security forces. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.

The Kingdom of Morocco claims the territory of Western Sahara and administers the territory that it controls. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el Hamra and Rio de Oro (POLISARIO), an organization that seeks the territory’s independence, disputes Morocco’s claim to sovereignty over the territory. Moroccan and POLISARIO forces fought intermittently from 1975, when Spain relinquished colonial authority over the territory, until a 1991 cease-fire and the establishment of a UN peacekeeping mission. After resignation of Personal Envoy of the Secretary General Horst Kohler in May 2019, the UN Security Council returned to one-year renewals of the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara. As of December, the UN secretary-general had not yet appointed a new personal envoy and the mission mandate was extended for another year.

Significant human rights issues included: torture by some members of the security forces, although the government condemned the practice and made efforts to investigate and address any reports; allegations that there were political prisoners; serious restrictions on free expression, including criminalization of libel and certain content that criticized Islam, the monarchy, and the government’s position regarding territorial integrity; substantial interference with freedom of assembly and association; corruption; and criminalization of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex conduct.

There were few examples of investigations or prosecutions of human rights abuses by officials, whether in the security services or elsewhere in the government, which contributed to impunity.

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

According to the annual report from the UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances, from May 2018 to May 2019, the country had 153 outstanding cases of forced disappearances between 1956 and 1992, seven fewer than at the beginning of the reporting period. The National Council on Human Rights (CNDH), a publicly funded national human rights institution, reported that as of July, six cases of forced disappearances between 1956 and 1992 remain unresolved. The CNDH continued to cooperate with the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on unresolved cases of disappearance.

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

The constitution and the law prohibit such practices, and the government denied it authorizes the use of torture. To combat degrading treatment and punishment in prisons, on March 19, parliament passed a law to fund doctors for training in forensics to identify signs of torture and abuse. As of August 11, the Prison Administration (DGAPR) reported that the Fes Court of Appeals received two cases of torture in 2019. In both cases prisoners alleged they were beaten and insulted in al-Hoceima. The government launched an investigation that concluded both allegations were unfounded. In April the CNDH issued a report confirming security officials had subjected an inmate at the Souk Larbaa Prison in Kenitra Province to torture and degrading treatment. The DGAPR initiated an investigation into the claims that continued at year’s end. During the year there were 20 complaints of torture or degrading treatment filed with the Prosecutor General’s Office. The office closed 15 cases, and one remained under investigation at year’s end.

From January to June, the National Police Force’s (Direction Generale de la Surete Nationale–DGSN) internal mechanism for investigation of torture and degrading treatment investigated four cases involving six police officials. The DGSN reprimanded and imposed administrative sanctions on two officials, and transferred two cases involving the other four officers to the Prosecutor General’s Office. The Prosecutor General’s Office initiated legal proceedings in at least one of the cases.

The CNDH reported it opened investigations into 28 complaints of torture or degrading treatment between January 1 and August 31.

In the event of an accusation of torture, the law requires judges to refer a detainee to a forensic medical expert when the detainee or lawyer requests it or if judges notice suspicious physical marks on a detainee. In some cases judges have refused to order a medical assessment when a detainee made an allegation of abuse. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and media documented cases of authorities’ failure to implement provisions of the antitorture law, including failure to conduct medical examinations when detainees alleged torture.

Reports of torture have declined over the last several years, although Moroccan government institutions and NGOs continued to receive reports about the mistreatment of individuals in official custody. Reports of mistreatment occurred most frequently in pretrial detention. There were also accusations that security officials subjected Western Sahara proindependence protesters to degrading treatment during or following demonstrations or protests calling for the release of alleged political prisoners.

In March the CNDH released a report on 20 allegations by Hirak protesters that they were tortured during detention; the report determined that these allegations, highlighted in a February 19 report by Amnesty International, were unfounded.

In January the spouse of Abdelqader Belliraj, who was serving a life sentence on terrorism-related charges, told Human Rights Watch (HRW) that Belliraj has been deprived of contact with other inmates since 2016 and was kept in confinement 23 hours a day. HRW called these measures inhumane. According to media reports, the DGAPR disputed the validity of the allegations, stating Belliraj received an hour break each day that allowed for interactions with other inmates and was allowed family visits. Belliraj claimed he was convicted based on confessions obtained under police torture.

According to media, the Marrakech branch of the auxiliary forces suspended two officers after they appeared in a video violently arresting a suspect on May 6.

According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions online portal, there were no allegations submitted from January to August of sexual exploitation and abuse by Moroccan peacekeepers deployed to UN peacekeeping missions. Morocco and the United Nations were jointly investigating three allegations in 2019 of sexual exploitation and abuse by Moroccan peacekeepers deployed to UN peacekeeping missions; one case alleged transactional sex with an adult, and two cases alleged rape of a child. As of September, all three investigations remained underway. In one of the alleged rape cases, identification of the alleged perpetrator was pending.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions improved during the year but in some cases did not meet international standards.

Physical Conditions: The Moroccan Observatory of Prisons (OMP), an NGO focused on the rights of prisoners, continued to report that some prisons were overcrowded and failed to meet local and international standards. In newer prisons, pretrial detainees and convicted prisoners were held separately, but in older prisons the two groups remained together.

According to government sources and NGOs, prison overcrowding was also due in large part to an underutilized system of bail or provisional release, a severe backlog in cases, and lack of judicial discretion to reduce the length of prison sentences for specific crimes. Government sources stated that administrative requirements also prevented prison authorities from transferring individuals in pretrial detention or the appeals phase to facilities outside the jurisdiction where their trials were to take place.

According to a DGAPR report in May, the prison population dropped by 7 percent as a result of royal pardons and the Prosecutor General’s Office conducting virtual trials. Overcrowded prisons emerged as a key concern during the COVID-19 pandemic. On March 27, approximately 150 human rights associations and activists signed a petition calling for the DGAPR to release “prisoners of conscience,” such as prisoners arrested during the 2016-17 Rif protests, female prisoners with children, and low-risk offenders, as well as those vulnerable to COVID-19 (detainees older than age 60 or ill). The so-called Rif prisoners were arrested for their involvement in a series of protests in the northern Rif region in 2016 and 2017. Found guilty of damaging public property, injuring law enforcement members, and threatening the stability of the state, approximately four were sentenced to up to 20 years in prison in 2018. On April 5, King Mohammed VI pardoned 5,654 detainees and gave orders to take necessary measures to strengthen the protection of detainees in prisons against COVID-19. In July a royal pardon of an additional 6,032 inmates and 105 others on bail included individuals who were vulnerable to the virus.

The law provides for the separation of minor prisoners from adult prisoners. In all prisons, officials classify youth offenders into two categories, both of which are separated from other prisoners: minors under 18 and youthful offenders 18 to 20 years old. According to authorities, minors are not held with prisoners older than 20 years. The DGAPR had three dedicated juvenile “centers for reform and education” but maintained separate, dedicated youth detention areas for minors in all prisons. The government reported that, in cases where a juvenile court judge ruled that detention was necessary, minors younger than 14 were detained separately from minors 15 to 18 years old. In cases where a minor is ordered to be detained, a judge must follow up on a monthly basis.

The DGAPR reported there was no discrimination in access to health services or facilities based on gender for female prisoners, who make up just over 2 percent of the prison population. Some officials reported that female inmates often had a harder time accessing gender-specific health specialists such as OB/GYNs, than a general physician. Local NGOs asserted that prison facilities did not provide adequate access to health care and did not accommodate the needs of prisoners with disabilities. The DGAPR reported that a nurse and a psychologist examined each prisoner on arrival and that prisoners received care upon request. The DGAPR reported conducting extensive COVID-19 tests and medical consultations in prisons.

The DGAPR provided fresh food to inmates at no cost, certified by the Ministry of Health as meeting the nutritional needs of the average adult male. According to the DGAPR, the penitentiary system accommodated the special dietary needs of prisoners suffering from illnesses and of prisoners with religious dietary restrictions.

NGOs frequently cited cases where prisoners protested the conditions of their detention with hunger strikes. According to Amnesty International, prisoners launched hunger strikes to protest prison conditions, including poor hygiene and sanitation, inadequate health care, overcrowding, and detention far from their families, as well as limited visiting rights and access to education. Prisoners Nabil Ahamjik and Nasser Zefzafi went on a hunger strike on February 22 over allegations of abuse and mistreatment in prison. They demanded better prison conditions, adequate medical care, and visitation rights. Both ended their hunger strike on March 17. According to the OMP, however, most hunger strikes were in protest of judiciary processes and sentences rather than detention conditions. The CNDH and the DGAPR regularly addressed requests for transfer based on family proximity, and the DGAPR sometimes granted such requests. At other times, the DGAPR informed the detainee that the requested transfer was not possible, often because of overcrowding at the requested location.

Some human rights activists asserted that the prison administration reserved harsher treatment for Islamists who challenged the king’s religious authority and for those accused of “questioning the territorial integrity of the country.” The DGAPR denied that any prisoners received differential treatment and asserted that all prisoners received equal treatment in accordance with the law.

Families of detainees from Western Sahara charged that they faced unusually harsh prison conditions. The DGAPR contested this claim and asserted that prisoners in Western Sahara and Sahrawi prisoners in the rest of Morocco received the same treatment as all other prisoners under its authority.

According to the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Center, as of May 15, journalist and Sahrawi activist Mohamed al-Bambary was detained with 45 other prisoners in a cell that was 25 feet by 18.5 feet. The journalists and activists were detained because of their involvement in a movement questioning the territorial integrity of Morocco.

Administration: While authorities generally permitted relatives and friends to visit prisoners, there were reports that authorities denied visiting privileges in some instances. The DGAPR assigned each prisoner to a risk classification level, which determined visiting privileges. According to its prisoner classification guide, the DGAPR placed restrictions on the level of visits, recreation, and types of educational programming for higher-risk prisoners. At all classifications, prisoners may receive visits, although the length, frequency, and number of visitors may vary. Most prisons assigned each prisoner a designated “visit day” to manage the number of visits to the prison. The DGAPR authorizes religious observances and services provided by religious leaders for all prisoners, including religious minorities. In an effort to limit the spread of COVID-19 during the pandemic, DGAPR suspended family and lawyer visits but increased phone time privileges for inmates.

The CNDH and the DGAPR investigated allegations of inhumane conditions. The CNDH and the DGAPR effectively served the function of an ombudsman, and a system of “letterboxes” operated in prisons to facilitate prisoners’ right to submit complaints regarding their imprisonment. Detainees could submit complaints without censorship to the DGAPR Delegate General’s Office for processing, as well as to the CNDH.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted some NGOs with a human rights mandate to conduct unaccompanied monitoring visits. Government policy also permitted academics, as well as NGOs that provided social, educational, or religious services to prisoners, to enter prison facilities. According to prison officials, academics and various NGOs conducted 79 visits through June. The OMP conducted 53 monitoring visits through June. The CNDH conducted two monitoring visits during the year.

Between January 1 and August 31, the CNDH’s three commissions in the south carried out nine visits to prisons including two visits in Laayoune-Sakia and Smara to focus on the prevention of COVID-19 in prisons. The CNDH observed the DGAPR took a number of steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in prisons, including the establishment of a digital platform to provide remote psychological support to prison staff and detainees, limiting the number of family visits and raising awareness through an information campaign among detainees. The Laayoune branch of the CNDH conducted monitoring visits and found the local prison in Dakhla remained overcrowded and insufficiently equipped to provide appropriate living conditions to the detainees. The objectives of the visits were to prevent practices likely to lead directly or indirectly to any form of torture and mistreatment, to verify whether the preventive measures recommended by the public authorities against COVID-19 are in place in compliance with international standards and to engage in a constructive dialogue with the authorities responsible.

Improvements: To alleviate overcrowding and improve overall conditions, the DGAPR reported there were six prisons currently under construction and prison extensions. The DGAPR opened a new prison in Berkane.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge in court the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention. Observers indicated that police did not always respect these provisions or consistently observe due process, particularly during or in the wake of protests. According to local NGOs and associations, police sometimes arrested persons without warrants or while wearing civilian clothing. Individuals have the right to challenge the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention and request compensation by submitting a complaint to the court. The UN secretary-general’s report on Western Sahara in September noted the OHCHR received reports of human rights violations perpetrated by government officials against Sahrawis, including arbitrary detention.

In Western Sahara, human rights organizations continued to track alleged abusers who remained in leadership positions or who had been transferred to other positions. International and local human rights organizations claimed that authorities dismissed many complaints of abuse and relied only on police statements. Government officials generally did not provide information on the outcome of complaints. The CNDH and DGAPR provided human rights training for prison officials and members of the security forces in Western Sahara.

On March 12, HRW published a report of police violence against two Western Sahara activists, Walid el-Batal and Yahdhih el-Ghazal in Smara, in June 2019. According to HRW’s report, Moroccan security forces attempted to prohibit the men from attending an event for activist Salah Labsir who was serving a four-year prison sentence on charges for premeditated violence against police and the destruction of public goods. A video of the incident showed a dozen individuals in civilian clothing forcibly dragging two men from their truck and assaulting them with batons. Two Moroccan police vehicles were in the background of the scene, and the batons matched the style of police-issued equipment while one man wore a police helmet, leading HRW to determine the perpetrators were plainclothes police officers. Ghazal informed HRW that “they beat and tortured us there, and then they took us to the police station. They beat us there. And we passed out–I passed out; when I woke up I found myself in the hospital.” Court documents showed that el-Batal and el-Ghazal were taken to a hospital after their arrest. Moroccan authorities claimed the men were brought to the hospital because of injuries they sustained in colliding with police barriers and resisting arrest. The OHCHR requested an investigation into el-Batal’s case, raising concerns over human rights abuses. The public prosecutor opened an investigation, which resulted in the indictment of five police officers for police brutality. The investigation continued at year’s end.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

By law police may arrest an individual after a general prosecutor issues an oral or written warrant. The law permits authorities to deny defendants’ access to counsel or family members during the initial 96 hours of detention under terrorism-related laws or during the initial 24 hours of detention for all other charges, with an optional extension of 12 hours with the approval of the Prosecutor’s Office. Authorities did not consistently respect these provisions. Reports of abuse generally referred to these initial detention periods, when police interrogated detainees. The government continued to require new police officers to receive security and human rights training facilitated in partnership with civil society.

In ordinary criminal cases, the law requires police to notify a detainee’s next of kin of an arrest immediately after the above-mentioned period of incommunicado detention, unless arresting authorities applied for and received an extension from a magistrate. Police did not consistently abide by this provision. Authorities sometimes delayed notifying the family or did not inform lawyers promptly of the date of arrest, and the families and lawyers were not able to monitor compliance with detention limits and treatment of the detainee.

The law states, “in the case of a flagrant offense, the Judicial Police Officer has the right to keep the suspect in detention for 48 hours. If strong and corroborated evidence is raised against this person, [the officer] can keep them in custody for a maximum of three days with the written authorization of the prosecutor.” For common crimes, authorities can extend this 48-hour period twice, for up to six days in detention. Under terrorism-related laws, a prosecutor may renew the initial detention by written authorization for a total detention time of 12 days. According to the Antiterrorism Act, a suspect does not have a right to a lawyer during this time except for a half-hour monitored visit at the midpoint of the 12-day period. Observers widely perceived the law on counterterrorism as consistent with international standards.

At the conclusion of the initial detention period in police custody, a detainee must be presented to a prosecutor, who may issue provisional charges and order additional investigation by an investigatory judge in preparation for trial. The investigative judge has four months, plus a possible one-month extension, to interview the individual and determine what charges, if any, to file for trial. An individual may be detained in investigatory detention or at liberty during this phase. At the end of five months (if an extension is granted), the investigative judge must either file charges, decline to file charges and drop the case, or release the individual pending an additional investigation and a determination of whether to file. Authorities generally followed these timelines.

NGO sources stated that some judges were reticent to use alternative sentences permitted under the law, such as provisional release. The law does not require written authorization for release from detention. In some instances judges released defendants on their own recognizance. A bail system exists; the deposit may be in the form of property or a sum of money paid to the court as surety to ensure the defendant’s return to future court proceedings. The amount of the deposit is subject to the discretion of the judge, who decides depending on the offense. Bail may be requested at any time before the judgment. According to the law, defendants have the right to attorneys; if a defendant cannot afford private counsel, authorities must provide a court-appointed attorney when the criminal penalty exceeds five years in prison. Authorities did not always provide effective and timely counsel.

Arbitrary Arrest: Security forces often detained groups of individuals, took them to a police station, questioned them for several hours, and released them without charge.

Under the penal code, any public official who orders an arbitrary detention may be punished by demotion and, if it is done for private interest, by imprisonment for 10 years to life. An official who neglects to refer a claimed or observed arbitrary or illegal detention to his superiors may be punished by demotion. During the year no security officials were investigated for arbitrary arrest associated with enforcement of the shelter-in-place protocol due to COVID-19 restrictions. There was no information available as to whether these provisions were applied during the year.

Pretrial Detention: Although the government claimed that authorities generally brought accused persons to trial within two months, prosecutors may request as many as five additional two-month extensions of pretrial detention. Pretrial detentions can last as long as one year. Government officials attributed delays to the large backlog of cases in the justice system. The government stated that a variety of factors contributed to this backlog, including a lack of resources devoted to the justice system, both human and infrastructure; the lack of plea bargaining as an option for prosecutors, lengthening the amount of time to process cases on average; the rare use of mediation and other out-of-court settlement mechanisms allowed by law; and the absence of legal authority for alternative sentencing. The government reported that, as of May, approximately 6.5 percent of detainees were in pretrial detention awaiting their first trial. In some cases detainees received a sentence shorter than the time they spent in pretrial detention, particularly for misdemeanors.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and, as in previous years, NGOs asserted that corruption and extrajudicial influence weakened judicial independence. The Supreme Judicial Council, mandated by the constitution, manages the courts and day-to-day judicial affairs in place of the Ministry of Justice. The president of the Court of Cassation (the highest court of appeals) chairs the 20-member body. Additional members include the president of the First Chamber of the Court of Cassation; the prosecutor general (equivalent of the attorney general); the mediator (national ombudsman); the president of the CNDH; 10 members elected by the country’s judges; and five members appointed by the king. While the government’s stated aim in creating the council was to improve judicial independence, its effect on judicial independence was not clear since its inception as an independent entity in late 2017. According to media reports and human rights activists, outcomes of trials in which the government had a strong interest, such as those touching on Islam as it related to political life and national security, the legitimacy of the monarchy, and Western Sahara, sometimes appeared predetermined.

On November 4, the Court of Cassation reviewed the appeals to the 2017 verdict against 23 Sahrawi individuals arrested during the 2010 dismantling of the Gdeim Izik Camp. The sentences issued ranged from time served to life imprisonment. The individuals had been previously convicted in a military trial in 2013. A 2015 revision of the Code on Military Justice eliminated military trials for civilians, and in 2016 the Court of Cassation ruled on appeal that the group should receive a new civilian trial. Two were given reduced sentences (from 25 years to 4.5 years and 6.5 years) and were released, joining two others whose 2013 sentences of time served were confirmed by the civilian court. Two other individuals also received reduced sentences (from 30 years to 25 years and from 25 years to 20 years). On November 9, HRW noted concerns that an earlier verdict was reached based on information obtained under torture.

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial with the right of appeal, but this did not always occur. The law presumes that defendants are innocent. Defendants are informed promptly of potential charges after the initial arrest and investigation period. Defendants are then informed of final charges at the conclusion of the full investigatory period, which may last several months. Trials are conducted in Arabic, and foreigners have the right to request interpretation if they do not speak Arabic.

Defendants have the right to be present at their trial and to consult in a timely manner with an attorney. Defendants have the right to refuse to participate in their trial, and a judge may decide to continue the proceedings in the defendant’s absence while providing a detailed summary to the defendant. Authorities often denied lawyers timely access to their clients and, in some cases, lawyers met their clients only at the first hearing before the judge. Authorities are required to provide attorneys in cases where the potential sentence is greater than five years, if the defendant is unable to afford one. Publicly provided defense attorneys were often poorly paid and neither properly trained in matters pertaining to juveniles nor provided to defendants in a timely fashion. The appointment process for public defenders was lengthy, often resulting in a defendant arriving to trial before a court-appointed attorney was designated. In these cases the judge may ask any attorney present to represent the defendant. This practice often resulted in inadequate representation. Many NGOs provided attorneys for vulnerable individuals (minors, refugees, victims of domestic violence), who frequently did not have the means to pay. Such resources were limited and specific to larger cities.

The law permits defense attorneys to question witnesses. Despite the provisions of the law, some judges reportedly denied defense requests to question witnesses or to present mitigating witnesses or evidence.

The law forbids judges from admitting confessions made under duress without additional corroborating evidence, government officials stated. NGOs reported that the judicial system often relied on confessions for the prosecution of criminal cases, and authorities pressured investigators to obtain a confession from suspects in order for prosecution to proceed. HRW and local NGOs charged that judges, at their discretion, sometimes decided cases based on forced confessions. According to the government, in order to move away from a confession-based judicial system, cases based solely on confessions and without any other substantiating evidence are not accepted by the courts.

According to the DGSN, during the year the forensics unit in partnership with international technical experts trained 85 judges and public prosecutors on forensics evidence for prosecutions. Since 2016 the National Police have had evidence preservation centers throughout the country to secure evidence collected at crime scenes and to ensure compliance with chain of custody procedures. According to the Ministry of Justice, legal clerks manage the evidence preservation centers and coordinate the court’s and the defense’s access to evidence.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

The law does not define or recognize the concept of a political prisoner. The government did not consider any of its prisoners to be political prisoners and stated it had charged or convicted all individuals in prison under criminal law. Criminal law covers nonviolent advocacy and dissent, such as insulting police in songs or “defaming Morocco’s sacred values” by denouncing the king and regime during a public demonstration. NGOs, including the Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH), Amnesty International, and Sahrawi organizations, asserted the government imprisoned persons for political activities or beliefs under the cover of criminal charges.

The HRW annual report highlighted, “authorities continued to selectively target, prosecute, jail and harass critics, and enforce various repressive laws, notably pertaining to individual liberties.”

In December 2019 police in Rabat arrested Ben Boudouh, also known as Moul al-Hanout (grocery store owner), for “offending public officials” and “incitement to hatred.” Boudouh posted a live video on his Facebook page criticizing the king for allowing corruption. On January 7, the court of first instance of Khemisset, sentenced Ben Boudouh to three years in prison for “insulting constitutional institutions and public officials.” Ben Boudouh was in Tiflet Prison at year’s end. Amnesty International claimed the charges against Ben Boudouh were politically motivated.

Security forces arrested Soulaimane Raissouni, journalist and editor in chief of newspaper Akhbar al-Yaoum, in Casablanca on May 22 on an allegation he sexually assaulted a young man. On May 25, an investigating judge charged him with “violent and indecent assault and forced detention” and ordered his detention in Oukacha Prison. The arrest of Soulaimane generated criticism from civil society groups and activists, who asserted the arrests were politically motivated.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Human rights and proindependence groups considered a number of imprisoned Sahrawis to be political prisoners. This number included the 19 Gdeim Izik prisoners who remained in prison as well as members of Sahrawi rights or proindependence organizations.

Although individuals have access to civil courts for lawsuits relating to human rights violations and have filed lawsuits, such lawsuits were frequently unsuccessful due to the courts’ lack of independence in politically sensitive cases or lack of impartiality stemming from extrajudicial influence and corruption. The Supreme Judicial Council is tasked with ensuring ethical behavior by judicial personnel (see section 4). There are administrative as well as judicial remedies for alleged wrongs. Authorities sometimes failed to respect court orders in a timely manner.

The Institution of the Mediator (national ombudsman) helped to resolve civil matters that did not clear the threshold to merit involvement of the judiciary, including cases involving civil society registration issues. Although it faced backlogs, it gradually expanded the scope of its activities and subjected complaints to in-depth investigation. The mediator retransmitted to the CNDH for resolution cases specifically related to allegations of human rights abuses by authorities. The CNDH continued to be a conduit through which citizens expressed complaints regarding human rights abuses.

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

While the constitution states an individual’s home is inviolable and that a search may take place only with a search warrant, authorities at times entered homes without judicial authorization, employed informers, and monitored, without legal process, personal movement and private communications–including email, text messaging, or other digital communications intended to remain private.

On June 22, Amnesty International published a report claiming authorities had used NSO spyware to target journalist Omar Radi’s phone from January 2019 to January 2020. Starting on June 26, the judicial police, gendarmerie, and prosecutors summoned Radi for 12 interrogation sessions of six to nine hours each regarding multiple accusations, including allegedly providing “espionage services” to foreign governments, firms, and organizations. On July 29, police arrested Radi on charges of “indecent assault with violence; rape; the receipt of foreign funds for the purpose of undermining state’s domestic security; and initiation of contacts with agents of foreign countries to harm the diplomatic situation of the country.” According to HRW, the rape and indecent assault charges against Radi were based on a complaint filed July 23 by one of Radi’s colleagues. His trial commenced on December 24.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and law generally provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, although they criminalize and restrict some freedom of expression in the press and social media–specifically criticism of Islam, the institution of the monarchy, or the government’s positions regarding territorial integrity and Western Sahara. Such criticism can result in prosecution under the penal code, with punishments ranging from fines to prison time, despite the freedom of expression provided for in the press code. The press code applies only to journalists accredited by the department of communication, under Ministry of Culture, Youth, and Sports, for speech or publications in the line of work; private speech by accredited journalists remains punishable under the penal code. According to the Freedom House 2020 Freedom in the World report, the press enjoyed a significant degree of freedom when reporting on economic and social policies, but authorities used an array of financial and legal mechanisms to punish critical journalists. International and domestic human rights groups criticized criminal prosecutions of journalists and publishers as well as libel suits, claiming that the government principally used these laws to restrict independent human rights groups, the press, and social media.

According to the UN secretary-general’s report on Western Sahara in September, the OHCHR remained concerned by reports alleging excessive surveillance of human rights defenders and journalists in Western Sahara. The report added that the OHCHR continued to receive reports of harassment and arbitrary arrests of journalists, bloggers, and human rights defenders covering human rights violations. Amnesty International stated Sahrawi human rights activists remained subject to intimidation, questioning, arrest, and intense surveillance that occasionally amounted to harassment.

Freedom of Speech: The law criminalizes criticism of Islam, of the legitimacy of the monarchy, of state institutions, of officials such as those in the military, and of the government’s positions regarding territorial integrity and Western Sahara. The government sometimes prosecuted persons who expressed criticism on these topics. Amnesty International and HRW highlighted dozens of cases in which freedom of expression was restricted. During the year the government displayed intolerance for individuals critical of the monarch, local authorities and Islam. According to the government, 359 individuals were specifically charged for criminal speech, including defamation, slander, and insult (see Libel/Slander Laws and National Security).

On January 16, the Laayoune Court of Appeals sustained a court of first instance conviction for Hamza Sbai but reduced the prison sentence from 36 months to eight months. Sbai was convicted under the penal code for his rap video posted on YouTube, titled We Understand. According to the Ministry of Interior, he was sentenced by the court in December 2019 to three years of prison and a fine for “insulting constitutional institutions.” Sbai was transferred from a prison in Laayoune to Bouizakarne in January and was released on August 28.

On March 23, parliament passed a law declaring a health emergency and setting a penalty of a three-month prison sentence for anyone disobeying “orders and decisions taken by public authorities” and for anyone “obstructing” through “writings, publications or photos” those decisions. As of May, 91, a total of 623 individuals were briefly detained or fined for breaking the new state of emergency law, of whom 558 remained in detention.

On March 28, the secretary general of the Presidency of the Public Prosecutor’s Office reported that police had arrested 56 individuals for publishing false information regarding COVID-19.

On May 5, local representatives of the Ministry of Interior in Tiflet reportedly assaulted two journalists while they were covering the COVID-19 lockdown’s impact on local market activity during Ramadan on behalf of a national Amazigh television station. Media reports indicated the officials verbally assaulted a female journalist before slapping her and pushing her to the ground, while her accompanying cameraman sustained a hand injury as he tried to prevent the authorities from confiscating his camera. On May 7, Reporters without Borders condemned the “unacceptable” assault and stated, “The coronavirus crisis must not be used as an excuse to harass journalists who are just trying to do their job.” On May 8, the ministry announced to the French Press Agency that it opened an internal investigation of the claims. The Ministry of Interior denied the claims of police intervention and allegations of assault against the journalist and cameraman.

In August, 400 artists and intellectuals wrote a manifesto denouncing police repression and defamation campaigns, exacerbated by the pandemic situation, citing “several cases of political imprisonment and harassment, including the arrest of journalists Omar Radi (see section 1.f.) and Hajar Raissouni (who was convicted of engaging in premarital sex and attempting to get an abortion before receiving a royal pardon in 2019), as well as repression against social movements.” When some decided to withdraw their signatures from the petition, other activists claimed they had been subjected to intimidation.

On April 27, authorities arrested Omar Naji, vice president of the AMDH Nador branch, and charged him with defamation and spreading false information after he posted on Facebook that local authorities were confiscating goods sold by local merchants in the informal economy. Naji was released on bail pending trial on June 2. The AMDH called Naji’s arrest an attack on freedom of expression, although Naji was found not guilty.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media, as well as partisan media, were active and expressed a variety of views within the restrictions of the law. The press code limits punishments for accredited journalists to fines. As of September 6, two journalists were prosecuted under the press code during the year, compared with two in all of 2019.

Two publishing directors of news websites were brought before the crown prosecutor in Mohammedia for allegedly publishing “fake news” on COVID-19. Five other individuals were arrested for sharing the same news via their Facebook accounts.

In March international NGOs drew attention to the government’s suspension of print newspapers during the outbreak of COVID-19 to reduce contact and the spread of the virus.

In March, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Mi Naima, a YouTuber with a large following, posted a video in which she claimed that COVID-19 did not exist. She was arrested and sentenced to one year in prison for “sharing fake news.”

On March 17, journalist Omar Radi was sentenced to a four-month suspended prison sentence and fine over a tweet in 2019 in which he criticized the judge who handed down prison sentences against activists of the Hirak movement (see section 1.f.).

On March 27, Kawtar Zaki and Abdelilah Sakhir, both of the online outlet Eljarida 24, received six-month suspended prison sentences and fines for publishing information from a parliamentary committee on corruption by elected officials. Hakim Benchamach, speaker of the upper chamber of parliament, filed the complaint that led to the case, according to Freedom House.

Actor Rafiq Boubker was prosecuted in May for blasphemy, insulting Islam, insulting a corporate body, and violating the state of emergency. In a video leaked on social media, an apparently intoxicated Boubker called an imam derogatory names and called on Moroccans to “pray with vodka”–leading to charges of “insulting the Islamic religion and undermining the sanctity of worship.” Boubker was arrested on the basis of complaints to the crown prosecutor. On July 14, the Ain Sebaa Court of First Instance in Casablanca was set to take place on November 10 but postponed for a later date.

Journalists continued to denounce the cumbersome administrative procedures and the long wait times to receive accreditation under the press code. Some members of the press claimed that journalists from outlets close to the government and palace received their credentials sooner than journalists from independent outlets. They claimed journalists waiting for their credentials had to operate without a press card in an ambiguous legal status, as the protections of the press code are only available to accredited journalists.

The government also enforced strict procedures governing journalists’ meetings with NGO representatives and political activists. Foreign journalists needed, but did not always receive, approval from the Ministry of Culture, Youth, and Sports before meeting with political activists.

The trial for seven members of the Moroccan Association for Investigative Journalism, including Hicham Mansouri, Maati Monjib, and Hisham Almiraat, has been repeatedly postponed since 2015; the individuals had not been sentenced at year’s end. According to the Ministry of Justice, Mansouri, Monjib, and Almiraat were suspected of accepting foreign funds intended for acts threatening the internal security and territorial integrity of the country. The seven individuals were charged for posing a threat to the internal security of the country, fraud, managing an association exercising unauthorized acts, and accepting unauthorized foreign funds. On December 29, Maati Monjib was arrested on charges of embezzlement. He had been under a new investigation since October 7 on accusations of money laundering against him. His trial was scheduled to begin in January 2021.

Violence and Harassment: Authorities subjected some journalists to harassment and intimidation, including attempts to discredit them through harmful rumors about their personal lives. Journalists reported that selective prosecutions served as a mechanism for intimidation. According to Reporters without Borders, the government intimidated activists and journalists, often putting them on trial for matters seemingly unrelated to journalism or political activities.

According to media reports, authorities rejected one international journalist’s accreditation request during the year because he lacked a valid permit. The government stated that foreign media representatives who comply with local laws are allowed to perform their duties without interference and that allegations that authorities expelled foreign journalists were unsubstantiated.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Self-censorship and government restrictions on sensitive topics remained serious hurdles to the development of a free, independent, and investigative press. Publications and broadcast media require government accreditation, and the government may deny and revoke accreditation as well as suspend or confiscate publications that breach public order or criticize Islam, the institution of the monarchy, or the government’s positions on territorial integrity. While the government rarely censored the domestic press, it exerted pressure through written and verbal warnings and by pursuing legal cases that resulted in heavy fines and suspended publication. Such cases encouraged editors and journalists to self-censor and host opposition news sites on servers outside the country to avoid being shut down by the authorities. According to Freedom House, personal attacks and derogatory comments received by activists and opinion makers online, often in response to their criticism of government policies, also contributed to self-censorship.

Libel/Slander Laws: The press code includes provisions that permit the government to impose financial penalties on accredited journalists and publishers who violate restrictions related to defamation, libel, and insults. A court may impose a prison sentence if an accredited journalist is unable or unwilling to pay the fine.

Individuals not registered as journalists may be charged for defamation, libel, and slander under the criminal code, as can accredited journalists for their private actions.

Between November 2019 and January, NGOs reported 10 individuals were arrested for “offending public officials and institutions.”

National Security: The antiterrorism law provides for the arrest of individuals, including journalists, and filtering websites deemed to “disrupt public order by intimidation, terror, or violence.” The law assigns legal liability to the author and anyone who in any way helps the author to disseminate information deemed as a justification for acts of terrorism, which would include site owners and internet service providers. While the law was designed to combat terrorism, authorities retain the discretion to define terms such as “national security” and “public order,” under the penal code for which the government can seek fines of up to 200,000 s ($21,000) for publishing content online seen as disruptive to public order, with the maximum fine of 500,000 s ($52,000) if the content offends the military. Online speech offenses related to the monarchy, Islam, and Western Sahara, as well as threats to national security can carry prison sentences of two to six years.

Internet Freedom

The government did not disrupt access to the internet, but it did apply laws governing and restricting public speech and the press on the internet. The press code stipulates that online journalism is equivalent to print journalism. Laws on combatting terrorism permit the government to filter websites. According to Freedom House’s 2020 Freedom on the Net report, the government did not block or filter any political, social, or religious websites during the year. Nonetheless, security officials pressured activists to delete sensitive content. The same report indicated there has been an influx of progovernment online outlets that published false and defamatory news about dissidents. The report also noted there have been cases in which bloggers were arrested or imprisoned for content the government deemed politically sensitive. Social media and communication services, including YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, were available in the country, as were international blog-hosting services. Freedom House claimed, however, that unfair disbursement of advertising money, strict self-censorship, and continuing trials of journalists have prevented the emergence of a vibrant online media environment. According to the government, funds for advertisements derive from the private sector, not from the public sector. The government also repeatedly reminded online journalists to obey the law. The government also prosecuted individuals for expressing certain ideological views online, particularly related to protests in the northern Rif region.

According to Freedom House, numerous accounts were created on Twitter and Facebook with the apparent purpose of harassing, intimidating, and threatening activists who criticize authorities. Activists believed these progovernment commentators were also equipped with direct or indirect access to surveillance tools, since they often obtained private information about other users.

Many contributors working for online news outlets and many online news outlets themselves were unaccredited and therefore not covered under the press code for their publications. They remained subject to provisions of the antiterrorism law and the penal code that permit the government to jail and impose financial penalties on anyone who violates restrictions related to defamation, libel, and insults.

On April 27, a draft bill seeking to limit social media commentary promoting boycotts and businesses was leaked. After the draft language sparked rapid and broad condemnation by civil society, the minister of justice on May 3 withdrew the bill from consideration and initiated consultations on the proposed legislation with the CNDH and civil society. On May 12, during a video conference on human rights, CNDH president Amina Bouayach said she considered the bill significantly “outdated” and “unsuitable for Morocco,” reiterating that the CNDH had a clear stance on free speech online and viewed social media as “an incubator of freedoms.”

According to various NGOs, the government frequently hacked Sahrawi citizen journalists’ and bloggers’ social media accounts.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

The law permits the government to criminalize presentations or debate questioning the legitimacy of Islam, the legitimacy of the monarchy, state institutions, and the status of Western Sahara. The law restricts cultural events and academic activities, although the government generally provided more latitude to political and religious activism confined to university campuses. The Ministry of Interior approves appointments of university rectors.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The law provides for the right of peaceful assembly. The government generally allowed authorized and unauthorized peaceful demonstrations to occur. Under the law groups of more than three persons require authorization from the Ministry of Interior to protest publicly. Some NGOs complained that the government used administrative delays and other methods to suppress or discourage unwanted peaceful assembly. Security forces intervened on occasion to disband both authorized and unauthorized protests when officials deemed the demonstration a threat to public security. Amnesty International reported continued arbitrary restrictions on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, particularly of individuals supporting independence for Western Sahara.

Several proindependence organizations and some human rights NGOs in Western Sahara stated that in recent years the submission of applications for permits to hold demonstrations declined because police rarely granted them. In most cases the organizers proceeded with planned demonstrations in the absence of authorization, and there was no discernible difference in security forces’ reaction to authorized or unauthorized protests. Violent confrontations between security forces and protesters were less common than in previous years, according to several local NGOs, although violent dispersals occurred on occasion. Security force practices were similar to those in internationally recognized Morocco; however, in Western Sahara there was often a higher ratio of members of security forces to protesters.

On March 23, the government implemented a royal decree concerning the state of health emergency, making a violation of public authority confinement measures punishable with one to three months’ imprisonment, a fine of up to 1,240 s ($130), or both; the decree also makes the use of social media or broadcast networks to spread misinformation about COVID-19 or incite criminal activity punishable with up to one year in prison. The UN high commissioner for human rights noted that security forces “used excessive force to make people abide by lockdowns and curfews.” According to a report by Amnesty International published in June, a total of 91,623 individuals were prosecuted from March to May for breaking the state of emergency. At least 588 persons remained in detention for breaking the state of emergency, according to the May 22 official statement of the public prosecutor’s office.

Some NGOs complained that authorities did not apply the approval process for holding a demonstration consistently and used administrative delays and other methods to suppress or discourage unwanted peaceful assembly. HRW’s World Report 2020 highlighted interference with associations that expressed views critical of the monarch and events organized by the AMDH. Police allowed many protests demanding political reform and protesting government actions, but often forcibly dispersed peaceful protests, arrested protesters and protest leaders, or prevented demonstrations from occurring. According to the government, approximately 4,400 protests took place from January to July. While most protests proceeded peacefully, on several occasions violence erupted between protesters and police.

Security forces were generally present both in and out of uniform at protests, particularly if the protest was expected to address a sensitive issue. In general, officers were under orders to observe and not intervene, unless the demonstration became unruly, threatening to bystanders, or overflowed into public highways. In those cases, under standard operating procedures, officers were required to give the crowd three warnings that force would be used if they did not disperse. Security forces would then attempt to force protesters to leave the area, using riot shields to push standing protesters into a designated area or carrying seated protesters to the designated area.

Security force tactics did not differ significantly whether the protest was authorized or unauthorized, although the decision on whether to intervene sometimes depended on whether the protest was authorized. According to the government, if officers intervened in a protest, a police judiciary officer not involved in the intervention and under the supervision of the attorney general must produce a statement documenting the circumstances of the case, the number of victims, and the material damage due to the operation. The police judiciary officer must address the statement to the Attorney General’s Office with a copy to the governor of the territorial jurisdiction where the incident transpired. The government organized training on human rights-based methods to manage crowds throughout the year.

In February the CNDH released a report about security force actions to disperse the 2017 Hirak protests and largely upheld police action on the basis that the protests had gradually escalated towards violence. NGOs and the CNDH continued to monitor the Rif Hirak prisoners sentenced by the Casablanca Court of Appeal in April 2019.

On January 28, two participants from a “Philosophy in the Street” event promoting freedom of expression were arrested and later released in Rabat. Event organizers stated this was the first time members from the group had been arrested as part of a public meeting. On July 22, one of the activists was tried for public intoxication and fined 500 s ($50).

The CNDH’s Laayoune and Dakhla regional commissions monitored 24 demonstrations from January to July. Security forces dispersed several demonstrations by force, with clashes resulting in injuries on both sides.

In July, CNDH’s Laayoune Commission was approached by an association of migrants about a clash between law enforcement officials and a group of 78 sub-Saharan migrants in an irregular situation, who were held in a reception center and tried to leave it without authorization. The commission visited the scene of the clashes and monitored the exchange of violence between police and this group of immigrants who stormed the outer door of the accommodation center in a bid to break the health state of emergency, which led the police officer present to shoot two rubber bullets in the air as a warning; a third rubber bullet hit a migrant. The situation was contained, while a police officer and four migrants were admitted to hospital with minor bruises. The judicial police of Laayoune opened a preliminary investigation.

Freedom of Association

The constitution and the law provide for freedom of association, although the government sometimes restricted this freedom. The government prohibited or failed to recognize some political opposition groups by deeming them unqualified for NGO status. While the government does not restrict the source of funding for NGOs operating in the country, NGOs that receive funding from foreign sources are required to report the amount and its origins to the government within 30 days from the date of receipt. The government denied official recognition to NGOs it considered to be advocating against Islam as the state religion or questioning the legitimacy of the monarchy or the country’s territorial integrity. Authorities obstructed the registration of a number of associations perceived to be critical of the authorities by refusing to accept their registration applications or to deliver receipts confirming the filing of applications (see section 5).

Amnesty International reported that Moroccan authorities routinely rejected the registration applications of Sahrawi human rights groups.

The Ministry of Interior required NGOs to register before being recognized as legal entities, but there was no comprehensive national registry publicly available. A prospective organization must submit its objectives, bylaws, address, and photocopies of members’ identification cards to local officials of the ministry. The local officials of the ministry issue a receipt to the organization that signifies formal approval. Organizations without receipts are not formally registered. According to the law, however, any association not denied registration that did not receive a receipt within 60 days of submitting the required documentation has the right to engage in activities. These same organizations reported extended delays in receiving correspondence from the ministry on the receipt issue.

Unregistered organizations could not access government funds or legally accept contributions. On February 13, a group of human rights organizations gathered to denounce the ministry’s refusal to issue receipts of registration to certain organizations that cover human rights. The organizations stated local officials’ refusal to issue receipts is a violation of article five of Law 75, which governs the right of association. One of the organizations, the Moroccan Federation of Human Rights, reported the ministry has refused to issue it a registration receipt for the last five years.

On February 29, media reported the authorities prevented an NGO from conducting training on “national and international mechanisms to protect human rights activists” in Meknes. Media reported the hotel had received notice from authorities to cancel the activity. According to the government, the local authorities did not cancel the event, rather, the hotel refused to host the event after the organizers were unable to provide the necessary meeting permits.

The National Federation of Amazigh Associations, an organization supporting the inclusion of the Amazigh (Berber) population in public life, reported that, as of October, nine Amazigh organizations denied registration in 2017 continued to be denied registration during the year, including the federation itself (see section 6, National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities).

The Justice and Charity Organization, a Sunni Islamist movement that rejects the king’s spiritual authority, remained banned but largely tolerated, although authorities continued to monitor its activities.

In October 2019 local authorities refused to accept the application of a religious freedom organization based in Casablanca, which attempted to register as an association.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights, although it limited movement to areas experiencing widespread unrest. The government denied entry to individuals it believed threatened the stability of the country. The government continued to make travel documents available to Sahrawis to travel and encouraged the return of Sahrawi refugees from Algeria and elsewhere if they acknowledged the government’s sovereignty over Western Sahara. Refugees wishing to return are required to obtain the appropriate travel or identity documents at a Moroccan consulate abroad, often in Mauritania. There were a few reported cases, however, of authorities preventing Sahrawis from traveling.

On January 2, the Moroccan authorities prevented representatives of Sahrawi NGOs from celebrating activist Aminatou Haidar’s reception of the 2019 Right Livelihood Award. Authorities denied activists access to the venue and forced all those present to leave the headquarters of the Sahrawi Association of Victims of Grave Violations of Human Rights Committed by the State of Morocco in El-Ayoun.

In-country Movement: There were several reports of government authorities denying local and international organizations and press access to the Rif and Eastern regions. The government, however, maintained that no international organizations or press were denied access to the Rif region.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern. The government also provided funding to humanitarian organizations to provide social services to migrants, including refugees.

The government has historically deferred to UNHCR as the sole agency in the country entitled to perform refugee status determinations and verify asylum cases. UNHCR referred cases that meet the criteria for refugee recognition to the government’s interministerial Commission in Charge of Hearings for Asylum Seekers within the Bureau of Refugees and Stateless Persons.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants were particularly vulnerable to abuse. Authorities continued cooperation with Spanish and EU authorities to thwart trafficking networks and arrest smugglers. A decrease in Europe-bound human smuggling and human trafficking coincided with increased border controls implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic.

CNDH regional branches reported receiving several complaints regarding the rights of migrants. There were reports of government authorities arresting or detaining migrants, particularly around the Spanish enclave cities of Melilla and Ceuta, and forcibly relocating them to other parts of the country to deter attempts to cross illegally into Spanish territory. Several NGOs reported the week of February 14 that authorities were forcibly removing groups of migrants from proximity to the coast and Spanish enclave cities to the southern region. One NGO alleged that security services moved approximately 10,000 sub-Saharan migrants from the north to the south of the country and deported another 3,000 migrants from Guinea-Conakry, Mali, or Cameroon to their home countries. The government maintained the return of third-country nationals to their country of origin was coordinated with diplomatic legations who endorsed these departures and issued the appropriate papers (see section 2.f, Durable Solutions).

On February 10, the international NGO Alarm Phone reported to the press that Morocco allegedly deported a Yemeni migrant to Algeria in mid-September 2019.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of refugee status. The government recognizes asylum status for refugees designated according to the UNHCR statute. The government continued to grant status to UNHCR-recognized refugees and temporary status to registered Syrians. There were 1,363 refugees registered in the country and six asylum seekers.

Access to Basic Services: Recognized refugees and migrants were generally able to work and access health care and education services, including publicly funded professional and vocational training. Requests on behalf of women and children receive automatic approval, with immediate access to education and health care. Asylum seekers were, however, sometimes unable to access the national health care system and continued to have little access to the judicial system until recognized as refugees.

Durable Solutions: The government facilitated voluntary returns in cooperation with UNHCR and, when necessary, the resettlement of recognized refugees to third countries. Since 2004 the government and the International Organization for Migration have cofunded the voluntary return of migrants to their countries of origin. According to the government, it assisted with the voluntary return to the country of origin of an average of 2,000 migrants between January 2019 and March 2020.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. Syrians and Yemenis benefited from “exceptional regularization” outside the more permanent migrant regularization program.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The country is a constitutional monarchy under which ultimate authority rests with King Mohammed VI, who presides over the Council of Ministers. The king shares executive authority with the head of government (prime minister). According to the constitution, the king appoints the head of government from the political party with the most seats in parliament and approves members of the government nominated by the head of government.

The law provides for, and citizens participated in, free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage for parliament’s Chamber of Representatives and municipal and regional councils. Regional and professional bodies indirectly elected members of parliament’s less powerful Chamber of Counselors.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2016 the country held direct elections for the Chamber of Representatives (the more powerful lower house of parliament). The major political parties and domestic observers considered the elections free, fair, and transparent. International observers considered the elections credible, noting voters were able to choose freely and the process was free of systemic irregularities. As stipulated by the constitution, the king tasked the Party of Justice and Development, which won the most seats in the newly elected chamber, to form a governing coalition and nominate new ministers.

Political Parties and Political Participation: A political party may not legally challenge Islam as the state religion, the institution of the monarchy, or the country’s territorial integrity. The law prohibits basing a party on a religious, ethnic, or regional identity.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Voters elected a record number of women in the 2016 elections, although very few subsequently won leadership positions as ministers or parliamentary committee presidents.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government generally did not implement the law effectively. Officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were reports of government corruption in the executive, judicial, and legislative branches during the year.

Corruption: Observers generally considered corruption a persistent problem, with insufficient governmental checks and balances to reduce its occurrence. There were reports of petty government corruption.

The National Authority for Probity, Prevention, and Fighting Corruption (INPPLC) is responsible for combating corruption. In addition to the INPPLC, the Ministry of Justice and the High Audit Institution (government accountability court) had jurisdiction over corruption issues, and the latter has authority to conduct investigations.

The Ministry of Justice ran a hotline for the public to report instances of corruption. As of August the government reported there were 9,550 calls to the hotline alleging corruption that resulted in 39 cases in court during the year. The government also reported 90 percent of the calls were inquiries about corruption cases in trial, rather than new reports of alleged corruption. The Prosecutor General’s Office reported it registered 950 calls to its anticorruption hotline from private citizens during the year; the office stated there were convictions against the officials involved in 16 cases.

In January a “money for diplomas” scandal came to light in Tetouan at a public Abdelmalik Essaadi University. The university president declared the report an isolated incident and launched an internal investigation. The prosecutor for the case suggested that hundreds of diplomas were issued fraudulently.

On February 5, a court in Marrakesh sentenced Khalid Ouaya to 10 years in prison and one million s for receiving kickbacks from land deals. He was serving his prison sentence and awaiting trial by the court of appeals. On March 5, media reported a collusion scheme among judges, prosecutors, clerks, and bailiffs of the Casablanca Court of First Instance, legal representatives of public and private creditors, and service providers that filed thousands of suits against citizens without their knowledge. The Prosecutor General’s Office reportedly opened an investigation into the case that continued at year’s end.

The government claimed to investigate corruption and other instances of police malfeasance through an internal mechanism. Nevertheless, international and domestic human rights organizations claimed that authorities dismissed many complaints of abuse and relied only on police statements.

The judicial police investigated allegations, including those against security forces, and advised the court of their findings. Cases at times languished in the investigatory or trial phases. The government reported 45 cases in September where there was sufficient evidence pointing to police officers engaging in corruption, extortion, collusion with drug traffickers, or misappropriation of seized objects, and 16 police officers received disciplinary sanctions in connection to the cases.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires judges, ministers, and members of parliament to submit financial disclosure statements to the High Audit Institution, which is responsible for monitoring and verifying disclosure compliance. According to allegations from government transparency groups, however, many officials did not file disclosures. There are no effective criminal or administrative sanctions for noncompliance.

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

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups investigated and published findings on human rights cases; however, the government’s responsiveness to, cooperation with, and restrictions on domestic and international human rights organizations varied, depending on its evaluation of the political orientation of the organization and the sensitivity of the issues.

The government did not approve AMDH appeals during the year to register multiple regional branches. The organization regularly faced difficulties renewing the registration of its offices.

During the year activists and NGOs reported continuing restrictions on their activities in the country (see section 2.b, Freedom of Association). According to the government, registered organizations are authorized to meet within their established headquarters, but any meetings outside that space, including privately owned establishments, were considered to be in public spaces and require authorization from the Ministry of Interior. Organizations stated that government officials told them their events were canceled for failing to follow required procedures for public meetings, although the organizations claimed to have submitted the necessary paperwork or believed the law did not require it.

Some unrecognized NGOs that did not cooperate officially with the government still shared information informally with both the government and government-affiliated organizations.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government cooperated with the United Nations and permitted requested visits.

Nonetheless, in September the UN secretary-general urged the state and other parties to address outstanding human rights problems and enhance cooperation with the OHCHR. The report noted that the human rights situation in Western Sahara has been adversely affected by COVID-19, especially with regard to economic and social rights.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The CNDH is a national human rights institution established by the constitution that operates independently from the elected government. It is publicly funded and operates in conformity with the Principles of Paris, according to the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions. The council filled the role of a national human rights monitoring mechanism for preventing torture. The CNDH oversees the National Human Rights Training Institute, which collaborated with international organizations to provide training to civil society, media, law enforcement, medical personnel, educators, and legal practitioners.

Via its regional offices in Dakhla and Laayoune, the CNDH continued a range of activities, including monitoring demonstrations, visiting prisons and medical centers, and organizing capacity-building activities for various stakeholders. It also maintained contact with unregistered NGOs. The CNDH also occasionally investigated cases raised by unregistered NGOs, especially those that drew internet or international media attention.

The Institution of the Mediator acted as a general ombudsman. It considered allegations of governmental injustices and has the power to carry out inquiries and investigations, propose disciplinary action, and refer cases to the public prosecutor.

The mission of the Interministerial Delegation for Human Rights (DIDH), which reports to the minister of state in charge of human rights, is to promote the protection of human rights across all ministries, serve as a government interlocutor with domestic and international NGOs, and interact with relevant UN bodies regarding international human rights obligations. The DIDH coordinates government responses to UN bodies on adherence to treaty obligations and serves as the principal advisory body to the king and government on human rights. The DIDH oversaw the launch during the year of the National Plan of Action on Democracy and Human Rights (PANDDH), approved by parliament in 2017 and the king in 2019. The PANDDH includes more than 400 measures to improve democracy, governance, economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights as well as reforms to institutional and legal frameworks.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law punishes individuals convicted of rape with prison terms of five to 10 years; when the conviction involves a minor, the prison sentence ranges from 10 to 20 years. Spousal rape is not a crime. Numerous articles of the penal code pertaining to rape perpetuate unequal treatment for women and provide insufficient protection. A 2018 law provides a stronger legal framework to protect women from violence, sexual harassment, and abuse. Under the law a sexual assault conviction may result in a prison sentence of six months to five years and a fine. For insults and defamation based on gender, an individual may be fined up to 60,000 s for insults and up to 120,000 s for defamation ($6,300 to $12,600). General insult and defamation charges remain in the penal code. A March reform of the law requires the DGSN, Prosecutor General’s Office, Supreme Judicial Court, and Ministries of Health, Youth, and Women to have specialized units that coordinate with one another on cases involving violence against women. The Judicial Police reported gender-based violence response units opened in 132 police precincts across the country as of late 2019. These specialized units intake and process cases of gender-based violence and provide psychological support and other services to victims. In 440 precincts where gender-based violence response units have not been established, a regular police officer is designated to process the cases.

The National Union for Women in Morocco (UNFM) launched an online platform in January to provide support for victims of domestic abuse. The platform gave victims access to legal counsel, a network to find employment, and a social support network. The UNFM also offered temporary housing and vocational training for victims of domestic violence.

Later in the year, the COVID-19 pandemic saw a spike in domestic abuse as a result of isolation measures. The government and NGOs expanded programming and outreach that provided shelter, assistance, and guidance for survivors of domestic abuse. According to the Public Prosecutor’s Office, the government adopted protective measures, such as shelters, for victims of domestic violence in the first half of the year. On May 28, the government adopted a bill to create a national registry for social support programs for women and children. Several NGOs adapted services provided to victims of domestic violence, providing hotlines, shelter, resources, guidance, and legal support.

There were reports, however, that these shelters were not accessible to persons with disabilities. Courts maintained “victims of abuse cells” that brought together prosecutors, lawyers, judges, women’s NGO representatives, and hospital personnel to review domestic and child abuse cases to provide for the best interests of women or children.

According to local NGOs, survivors did not report the vast majority of sexual assaults to police due to social pressure and the concern that society would most likely hold the victims responsible. Some sexual assault victims also reported police officers at times turned them away from filing a police report or coerced them to pay a bribe to file the report by threatening to charge them with consensual sex outside of marriage, a crime punishable with up to one year in prison. Police selectively investigated cases; among the minority brought to trial, successful prosecutions remained rare.

The law does not specifically define domestic violence against women and minors, but the general prohibitions of the criminal code address such violence. Legally, high-level misdemeanors occur when a victim’s injuries result in 20 days of disability leave from work. Low-level misdemeanors occur when a victim’s disability lasts for less than 20 days. According to NGOs, the courts rarely prosecuted perpetrators of low-level misdemeanors. Police were slow to act in domestic violence cases, and the government generally did not enforce the law and sometimes returned women against their will to abusive homes. Police generally treated domestic violence as a social rather than a criminal matter. Physical abuse was legal grounds for divorce, although few women reported such abuse to authorities.

On January 21, media reported that 20 suspects kidnapped “Oumaima”, a 17-year-old girl, in the Moulay Rachid district (in Casablanca) and then gang raped and abused her for 25 days before she convinced a friend of the perpetrators to assist in her escape. According to the victim’s mother, during confinement, the perpetrators forced the girl to ingest toxic substances to try to kill her. The girl was hospitalized after her escape. According to an NGO, three of the 20 suspects were arrested, and two of the three were later released on bail.

In February the Court of Appeal in Rabat sentenced the perpetrator of the summer 2019 rape and murder of Hanane al-Iraki to death; the principal defendant was convicted of premeditated murder on February 10. Six accomplices in the crime were sentenced to five years in prison. The conviction closed a case that surfaced in July 2019 when footage of the crime was published on the internet.

Sexual Harassment: Before the law on violence against women was passed in 2018, sexual harassment was only a crime if it was committed by a supervisor in the workplace. Under the 2018 law, sexual harassment is a crime punishable by up to six months in prison and a fine up to 10,000 s ($1,000) if the offense takes place in a public space or by insinuations through texts, audio recording, or pictures. In cases where the harasser is a coworker, supervisor, or security official, the sentence is doubled. Prison sentences and fines are also doubled in cases where a spouse, former spouse, fiance, or a family member perpetrates the harassment act, physical violence, or abuse or mistreatment or breaks a restraining order or if the crime is perpetrated against a minor. In the past authorities did not effectively enforce laws against sexual harassment. Civil society leaders stated they did not observe efforts by the government to enforce the 2018 law or provide training on the new law for judicial or law enforcement officials.

Reproductive Rights: Individuals and couples have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children. Individuals have the right to manage their reproductive health and had access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. Authorities generally did not discriminate against women in accessing sexual and reproductive health care, including for sexually transmitted infections. Contraception was legal, and most forms were widely available. According to the Population Reference Bureau, the country has invested in increasing the availability of voluntary family-planning services, expanding and improving maternal health care, and providing for access to obstetric care by eliminating fees.

The contraceptive pill was available over the counter, without a prescription. Skilled health attendance at delivery and postpartum care were available for women who could afford it, with approximately 75 percent of overall births attended by skilled health personnel.

While a 2018 law strengthened penalties for violence against women (see section 6, Women) and required certain government agencies to establish units to provide psychological support and other services to victims of gender-based violence, Human Rights Watch assessed at the time of the law’s passage that it did not sufficiently define the government’s role in providing services to victims. The government responded that it provides services to victims of sexual assault via the UN Population Fund.

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

Discrimination: While the constitution provides women equal rights with men in civil, political, economic, cultural, and environmental affairs, laws favor men in property and inheritance. Numerous problems related to discrimination against women remained, both with inadequate enforcement of equal rights provided for by the laws and constitution and in the reduced rights provided to women in inheritance.

According to the law, women are entitled to a share of inherited property, but a woman’s share of inheritance is less than that of a man. Women are generally entitled to receive half the inheritance a man would receive in the same circumstances. A sole male heir would receive the entire estate, while a sole female heir would receive half the estate with the rest going to other relatives.

In 2019 the government revised the structure and administration of communal lands, allowing female heirs to inherit, and be titled as owners of, those lands.

The family code places the family under the joint responsibility of both spouses, makes divorce available by mutual consent, and places legal limits on polygamy. Implementation of family law reforms remained a problem. The judiciary lacked willingness to enforce them, as many judges did not agree with their provisions. Corruption among working-level court clerks and lack of knowledge about its provisions among lawyers were also obstacles to enforcing the law.

The law requires equal pay for equal work, although in practice this did not occur.

Children

Birth Registration: The law permits both parents to pass nationality to their children. The law establishes that all children have civil status regardless of their family status. There were, nonetheless, cases in which authorities denied identification papers to children because they were born to unmarried parents, particularly in rural areas or in the cases of poorly educated mothers unaware of their legal rights.

Child Abuse: NGOs, human rights groups, media outlets, and UNICEF claimed child abuse was widespread. According to the government, in 2019 a total of 6,399 individuals were investigated for criminal offenses associated with 5,699 reported cases of child abuse. Prosecutions for child abuse were extremely rare. Some children rights NGOs expressed concerns over the lack of legislation to prosecute cases involving incest.

On January 28, the Taroudant Court of First Instance sentenced Boujemaa Bodhim, a teacher, to a six-month prison sentence, a four-month suspended sentence, and a fine for beating an eight-year-old student.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal age for marriage is 18, but parents, with the informed consent of the minor, may secure a waiver from a judge for underage marriage. According to a statement released by the Prosecutor General’s Office in July, the judiciary in 2019 approved 2,334 requests. Under the framework of the PANDDH, the CNDH maintained a national awareness-raising campaign against the marriage of minors.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The age of consent is 18. The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation, sale, offering or procuring for prostitution, and practices related to child pornography. Penalties for sexual exploitation of children under the criminal code range from two years’ to life imprisonment and fines from 9,550 s ($1,000) to 344,000 s ($36,100).

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings .

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

Anti-Semitism

The constitution recognizes the Jewish community as part of the country’s population and guarantees each individual the freedom to “practice his religious affairs.” Community leaders estimated the size of the Jewish population at 3,500. Overall there appeared to be little overt anti-Semitism, and Jews generally lived in safety.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities in employment, education, and access to health care. The law also provides for regulations and building codes that provide for access for persons with disabilities. The government did not effectively enforce or implement these laws and regulations. While building codes enacted in 2003 require accessibility for all persons, the codes exempt most pre-2003 structures, and authorities rarely enforced them for new construction. Most public transportation is inaccessible to persons with disabilities, although the national rail system offers wheelchair ramps, accessible bathrooms, and special seating areas. Government policy provides that persons with disabilities should have equal access to information and communications. Special communication devices for persons with visual or audio disabilities were not widely available.

In March disability rights groups reported the government’s COVID-19 hotline was not accessible to persons with disabilities.

The Ministry of Family, Solidarity, Equality, and Social Development has responsibility for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities and attempted to integrate persons with disabilities into society by implementing a quota of 7 percent for persons with disabilities in vocational training in the public sector and 5 percent in the private sector. Both sectors were far from achieving the quotas. The government maintained more than 400 integrated classes for children with learning disabilities, but private charities and civil society organizations were primarily responsible for integration.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

The majority of the population, including the royal family, claimed some Amazigh heritage. Many of the poorest regions in the country, particularly the rural Middle Atlas region, were predominantly Amazigh and had illiteracy rates higher than the national average. Basic governmental services in this mountainous and underdeveloped region were lacking.

On August 2, parliament approved an education bill that encourages instruction in Tifinagh and foreign languages in schools. Article 5 of the constitution identifies Arabic and Tamazight as the official languages of the state, although Arabic remained dominant. Tamazight is one of three national Amazigh dialects.

On September 3, the Council of Ministers established a commission tasked with monitoring the implementation of Tifinagh, the alphabet used in Tamazight language.

Amazigh cultural groups contended they were rapidly losing their traditions and language to Arabization. The government offered Tamazigh language classes in some schools. Although the palace-funded Royal Institute of Amazigh Culture created a university-level teacher-training program to address the shortage of qualified teachers, Amazigh NGOs contended that the number of qualified teachers of regional dialects of Amazigh languages continued to decrease. The government reported, however, that the number of teachers employed to teach the official national Amazigh language has increased. Instruction in the Amazigh language is mandatory for students at the Ministry of Interior’s School for Administrators.

In March authorities in Casablanca refused to register the birth of a girl under an Amazigh name. The incident confirmed complaints of Amazigh NGOs about administrative discrimination. Two cases were filed regarding the incidents by two separate families, and an open letter was written to the head of government. According to the government, as of March 18, the registration for the Amazigh name for one of the two girls named in the two cases fully complied with the law, while it denied claims of a second case.

Amazigh materials were available in news media and, to a much lesser extent, educational institutions. The government provided television programs in the three national Amazigh dialects of Tarifit, Tashelhit, and Tamazight. According to regulations, public media are required to dedicate 30 percent of broadcast time to Amazigh language and cultural programming. According to Amazigh organizations, however, only 5 percent of broadcast time was given to Amazigh language and culture.

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

The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual activity, with a maximum sentence of three years in prison for violations. According to a report by the Prosecutor General’s Office released in 2019, the state prosecuted 122 individuals in 2019 for same-sex sexual activity. Media and the public addressed questions of sexuality, sexual orientation, and gender identity more openly than in previous years. According to some human rights organizations, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) victims of violence in high-profile cases from previous years continued to be harassed when recognized in public.

On May 7, two Moroccan journalists based in France posted on social media that a young gay man in Sidi Kacem (a town in the Rabat-Sale-Kenitra region), was arrested on April 10 after he attempted to press defamation charges against an individual who outed him on Facebook. The young man was held in police custody for 48 hours for violating the state of emergency confinement measures, while he claimed he had a permit to leave his residence. On October 6, Sidi Kacem preliminary court sentenced activist and playwright Abdellatif Nhaila to four months’ suspended sentence and 1,000 dirhams ($10) fine for violating the state of emergency confinement measures.

In March and April, a transgender Moroccan LGBTI activist based in Turkey started a campaign encouraging the outing of closeted homosexuals in Morocco. As a result an international warrant for his arrest was issued. The investigation remained underway. The press reported numerous cases of harassment resulting from these outings, and some victims reported receiving death threats.

The AMDH and other individual liberties groups followed suit with a letter condemning the homophobic acts and demanding that authorities arrest those responsible for defamation. As of April 20, LGBTI groups indicated at least 50 individuals were targeted as a result of Instagram live video; of whom an estimated 21 were physically abused or rendered homeless and several others committed suicide.

Antidiscrimination laws do not apply to LGBTI persons, and the penal code does not criminalize hate crimes. There was a stigma against LGBTI persons, including some reports of overt discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing, and health care.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Persons with HIV and AIDS faced discrimination and had limited treatment options. The Joint UN Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) reported that some health-care providers were reluctant to treat persons with HIV and AIDS due to fear of infection. According to UNAIDS, treatment coverage increased from 16 percent in 2010 to 48 percent in 2016, and the National Strategic Plan 2017-2021 commits the country to reduce new infections among key and vulnerable populations, eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV, reduce AIDS-related deaths, confront discrimination, and strengthen governance for an efficient response.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The constitution provides workers with the rights to form and join unions, strike, and bargain collectively, with some restrictions.

The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and prohibits companies from dismissing workers for participating in legitimate union-organizing activities. Courts have the authority to reinstate workers dismissed arbitrarily and may enforce rulings that compel employers to pay damages and back pay. Trade unions complained that the government at times used the penal code to prosecute workers for striking and to suppress strikes.

The law prohibits certain categories of government employees, including members of the armed forces, police, and some members of the judiciary, from forming and joining unions and from conducting strikes. The law excludes migrant workers from assuming leadership positions in unions.

The government generally respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Employers limited the scope of collective bargaining, frequently setting wages unilaterally for most unionized and nonunionized workers. The law allows independent unions to exist but requires 35 percent of the employee base to be associated with a union to permit the union to be represented and engage in collective bargaining. Domestic NGOs reported that employers used temporary contracts to discourage employees from affiliating with or organizing unions. Unions can legally negotiate with the government on national-level labor issues. At the sectoral level, trade unions negotiated with private employers concerning minimum wage, compensation, and other concerns. Labor disputes were common and, in some cases, resulted from employers failing to implement collective bargaining agreements and withholding wages.

The law concerning strikes requires compulsory arbitration of disputes, prohibits sit-ins, and calls for a 10-day notice of a strike. The government may intervene in strikes. A strike may not occur over matters covered in a collective contract for one year after the contract commences. The government has the authority to disperse strikers in public areas not authorized for demonstrations and to prevent the unauthorized occupancy of private space. Unions may neither engage in sabotage nor prevent those individuals who were not on strike from working.

The government did not adequately enforce labor laws, particularly inspections. Inspectors reported that their role as mediators of labor conflicts significantly limited the amount of time they can spend proactively inspecting worksites, and remediating and uncovering violations. Inspectors do not have punitive power and cannot independently levy fines or other punishments. Only action by the public prosecutor that results in a judicial decree, can force an employer to take remedial actions. Penalties were considered insufficient to deter offenses. Enforcement procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals.

Most union federations affiliated with political parties, but unions were generally free from government interference.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor and prescribes penalties of a fine for the first offense and a jail term of up to three months for subsequent offenses; these penalties were not commensurate with those prescribed for analogous crimes such as kidnapping.

The domestic workers law provides protections to domestic workers, including limits on working hours and a minimum wage. Penalties for violating the law start with a fine and, in cases of repeated offenses, can include one to three months’ imprisonment.

Labor inspectors did not inspect small workshops with fewer than five employees and private homes where many such violations occurred, as the law requires a warrant or permission of the owner to search a private residence. The law establishes a conciliation process for labor inspectors to handle disputes between domestic workers and their employers, but the law lacks time limits for a resolution. Labor inspectors reported their small numbers, scarce resources at their disposal, and the broad geographic dispersion of sites limited their ability to enforce the law effectively.

Reports indicated that forced labor, especially of children, occurred (see section 7.c.).

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law establishes a minimum age for employment and the government enforced the law. A law passed in 2016 that became effective in 2018 prohibits children younger than age 16 from working as domestic servants and strictly limiting the work of children younger than 18. The overwhelming majority of child laborers worked in rural areas, according to the government’s statistical agency, the High Planning Commission. Punishments for violations of the child labor laws include criminal penalties, civil fines, and withdrawal or suspension of one or more civil, national, or family rights, including denial of legal residence in the country for five to 10 years. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. The Ministry of Labor and Vocational Integration continued to conduct child labor inspections in the formal economy across the country, but the government reported it remained concerned about child labor violations in the informal sector, including potential forced child labor crimes. The government reported that, overall, labor inspections suffered from insufficient personnel and resources to address child labor violations, including potential child trafficking crimes, throughout the country. Furthermore, there was no national focal point to submit complaints about child labor or forced child labor and no national mechanism for referring children found during inspections to appropriate social services.

The labor code does not apply to children who work in the traditional artisan or handicraft sectors for businesses with fewer than five employees or to those who work on private farms or in residences. Some children became apprentices before they were 12, particularly in small, family-run workshops in the handicraft industry and in the construction industry and mechanic shops. Children also worked in hazardous occupations as designated by law (see section 7.e.). These included fishing and, in the informal sector, in textiles, light manufacturing, and traditional handicrafts. Children’s safety, health conditions, and wages were often substandard.

The government adopted Law 51.17, which requires the government to enact compulsory education for children between the ages of four and 16 by 2025, and significantly increased the number of prosecutions related to the worst forms of child labor, from five cases in 2018 to 170 cases in 2019. The law prohibits the employment of children younger than age 16 in dangerous labor; however, it does not prohibit all of the worst forms of child labor. The law does not specifically prohibit the use, procuring, or offering of a child for illicit activities, in particular for the production and trafficking of drugs. In some cases employers subjected children to the worst forms of child labor, including commercial sexual exploitation (see section 6, Children); forced domestic work; and forced labor in the production of artisan products and construction.

Children in Western Sahara engaged in the worst forms of child labor, including agriculture and forced domestic work; they also produced artisanal handicrafts. Laws related to the minimum age for work and the use of children for illicit activities do not meet international standards and government programs that target child labor did not fully address the problem.

The Moroccan government continued to invest in education in Western Sahara through the Tayssir cash assistance program and continued to provide child protection services through the second phase of the National Initiative for Human Development Support Project. Residents of Western Sahara received more assistance per capita from this program than persons living in internationally recognized Morocco.

For more information see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings/ .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The labor code prohibits discrimination against persons in employment and occupation based on race, religion, national origin, color, sex, ethnicity, or disability, including physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disability. The law does not address age or pregnancy.

Discrimination occurred in all categories prohibited by law, Women are prohibited from working in occupations that present a risk of excessive danger, exceeds their capacity or is likely to undermine their morality, such as jobs in quarries and underground in mines, or engaging in work that exposes them to the risk of falling or slipping as well as work in a constant squatting or leaning position, work or activities using asbestos and benzene and any other activity exposing them to dangerous chemical agents.

Migrant worker organizations reported that some migrants, particularly those from sub-Saharan African countries, experienced discrimination in hiring, wages, or conditions of employment. These workers often reported employer noncompliance with low or unpaid wages, excessive hours of work, restricted movement, dangerous and difficult work conditions. Even after obtaining a residence card, their vulnerability was reinforced by lack of access to the formal economy, pushing them to the margins of society. Most lived in crowded rooms in dilapidated neighborhoods, while others slept on the streets, in cemeteries, and forests.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum wage was above the poverty line. The law provides for a 44- to 48-hour maximum workweek with no more than 10 hours work in a single day, premium pay for overtime, paid public and annual holidays, and minimum conditions for health and safety, including limitations on night work for women and minors. The law prohibits excessive overtime. An April 2019 tripartite agreement between the government, employers, and unions stipulated a 10 percent minimum wage increase per month phased into two 5 percent increases. The first occurred in 2019, and the second was planned for July. In a July 27 press release, the General Confederation of Enterprises of Morocco called on companies “in difficulty” to postpone the wage increase to preserve jobs and avoid layoffs and suggested only companies in sectors not affected by the COVID-19 crisis should implement the second 5 percent wage increase.

Occupational health and safety standards, reviewed and enforced by the Ministry of Employment and Vocational Integration, are rudimentary, except for a prohibition on the employment of women and children in certain dangerous occupations. The law prohibits persons younger than age 18 from hazardous work in 33 areas, including working in mines, handling dangerous materials, transporting explosives, and operating heavy machinery.

Many employers did not observe the legal provisions regulating conditions of work. The government did not effectively enforce basic provisions of the labor code, such as payment of the minimum wage and other basic benefits under the National Social Security Fund. The country’s labor inspectors reported that although they attempted to monitor working conditions and investigate accidents, they lacked adequate resources, preventing effective enforcement of labor laws.

There were no major workplace accidents during the year. There were, however, numerous media reports of accidents, sometimes fatal, on construction sites that lacked inadequate safety standards or safety equipment. In the formal sector, workers can remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities effectively protected employees in such situations.

Oman

Executive Summary

The Sultanate of Oman is a hereditary monarchy ruled since January by Sultan Haitham bin Tarik Al Said; Haitham was the designated successor of Qaboos Al Said, who had ruled since 1970. The sultan has sole authority to enact laws through royal decree, although ministries and the bicameral Majlis Oman (parliament) can draft laws on non-security-related matters, and citizens may provide input through their elected representatives. The Majlis Oman is composed of the Majlis al-Dawla (upper house or State Council), whose 85 members are appointed by the sultan, and the elected 86-member Majlis al-Shura (lower house or Consultative Council). In October 2019 nearly 350,000 citizens participated in the Majlis al-Shura elections for the Consultative Council; there were no notable claims of improper government interference.

The Royal Office, Royal Oman Police (ROP), Internal Security Service, and Ministry of Defense comprise the security apparatus. The Royal Office is responsible for matters of foreign intelligence and security. The ROP, which includes Civil Defense, Immigration, Customs, and the Coast Guard, performs regular police duties as well as many administrative functions more similar to a Ministry of Interior in other countries. An inspector general serves as the head of the ROP, which is a ministerial-level position that reports directly to the sultan. Formerly under the Royal Office, the Internal Security Service is now an independent body headed by an official with ministerial-level rank. The Internal Security Service investigates matters related to domestic security. Sultan Haitham appointed his brother as deputy prime minister for defense affairs, although the sultan remains the supreme commander of the armed forces. The sultan, as well as the senior civilian and military authorities who reported to him, maintained effective control over the security forces. There were no reports that members of the security forces committed abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including censorship, site blocking, and criminal libel laws; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; required exit permits for foreign workers; restrictions on political participation; and criminalization of consensual lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex conduct.

Authorities generally held security personnel and other government officials accountable for their actions. The government acted against corruption during the year, with cases proceeding through the court system.

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

The law prohibits such practices. In May 2019 Amnesty International reported allegations that authorities physically abused defendants from the al-Shehhi tribe who criticized the government’s policies in the Musandam governorate in order to extract confessions, which resulted in life sentences for the six defendants. The government-funded Oman Human Rights Commission (OHRC) examined the allegations in this report and did not find any abusive treatment of the defendants, the commission concluded in September.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

While prison and detention center conditions generally met international standards, there were some allegations of abuse and life-threatening conditions.

Physical Conditions: In a March 2019 report, Amnesty International described the conditions in Samail Central Prison as “poor.” According to the report, the prison did not provide appropriate meals or prescribe medications to inmates with diabetes or other illnesses, and it supplied prisoners with one uniform per year. At least one diplomatic observer noted that prisoners’ difficulties in obtaining medications were generally due to misunderstandings or translation issues. The OHRC said that an OHRC delegation visited Samail Central Prison in 2019, met with male and female prisoners, and observed that sick prisoners had access to medical care and appropriate food.

During the COVID-19 outbreak, there were reports of infections among inmates in some of the country’s prisons. Following prison visits during the year, the OHRC reported that prison and detention center officials were working to protect inmates and prevent the spread of COVID-19 by isolating and monitoring new prisoners for 14 days in separate areas before transferring them to their cells, and educating inmates on health and virus-prevention best practices.

Administration: There was no established prison authority to which prisoners could bring grievances concerning prison conditions. The OHRC conducted prison and detention center site visits and reviewed written complaints in conjunction with prison administrators. There was no ombudsman to serve on behalf of prisoners and detainees; this responsibility falls under the public jurisdiction of the public prosecution, which maintained an office in Samail Central Prison. Prisoners and detainees did not always have regular access to visitors.

Independent Monitoring: The OHRC reported on human rights conditions to the sultan via the State Council. The OHRC investigated claims of abuse, conducted prison and detention center site visits, and published a summary of its activities in an annual report. The law permits visits by international human rights observers, yet no such groups were based in the country, and there were no reports of independent, nongovernmental observers from abroad requesting to visit the country. Consular officers from some diplomatic missions reported difficulties in meeting with prisoners or delayed notification about detained citizens.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention. The government generally observed these requirements. Persons arrested or detained are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis of their detention.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law does not allow the ROP to arrest or detain a person “without an order to this effect from a concerned legal authority.” The law stipulates that police must either release the person or refer the matter to the public prosecution within 48 hours. For most crimes the public prosecution must then order the person’s “preventive detention” or release the person within 24 hours; preventive detention is warranted if “the incident is an offense or an act of misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment.” A preventive detention order shall not exceed 30 days, or 45 day in offenses involving public funds, narcotics, and psychoactive drugs. The law requires those arrested be informed immediately of the charges against them. The government generally observed these requirements. There was a functioning bail system. Detainees generally had prompt access to a lawyer of their choice. The state provided public attorneys to indigent detainees, as required by law. Authorities generally allowed detainees prompt access to family members. In cases involving foreign citizens, police sometimes failed to notify the detainee’s local sponsor or the citizen’s embassy.

Arbitrary Arrest: The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention. The government generally observed these requirements.

The Internal Security Service arrested and detained Ghazi al-Awlaki, a political activist and Omani citizen, for his peaceful activities on social media, human rights observers reported in August. In September observers said that authorities had released al-Awlaki without charge after 50 days in detention.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the law provides for an independent judiciary, the sultan may act as a court of final appeal and exercise his power of pardon as chairman of the Supreme Judicial Council, the country’s highest legal body, which is empowered to review all judicial decisions. The country has civil courts though principles of sharia (Islamic law) inform the civil, commercial, and criminal codes. The law allows women to serve as judges; none presently do. Civilian or military courts try all cases. There were no reports judicial officials, prosecutors, and defense attorneys faced intimidation or engaged in corruption.

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair trial and stipulates the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. Citizens and legally resident noncitizens have the right to a public trial, except when the court decides to hold a session in private in the interest of public order or morals; the judiciary generally enforced this right. The government reserved the right to close sensitive cases to the public. The government did not uniformly provide language interpretation or document translation for non-Arabic speakers.

Defendants have the right to consult with an attorney. The law provides defendants the right to be informed promptly of charges. There is no provision for adequate time for defense attorneys to prepare, but in practice most court dates provide ample time. The law states that an interpreter shall assist litigants and witnesses who do not know Arabic to submit their statements, but there is no provision for free interpretation. Courts provide public attorneys to indigent detainees and offer legal defense for defendants facing prison terms of three years or more. The prosecution and defense counsel direct questions to witnesses through the judge. Defendants have the right to be present, submit evidence, and confront witnesses at their trials. There is no known systemic use of forced confession or compulsion to self-incriminate during trial proceedings in the country. Those convicted in any court have one opportunity to appeal a jail sentence longer than three months and fines of more than 480 rials ($1,250) to the appellate courts. The judiciary enforced these rights for all citizens; some foreign embassies claimed these rights were not always uniformly enforced for noncitizens, particularly migrant workers.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

The number of political prisoners was unknown. Political prisoners were afforded the same rights as other prisoners and could ask to speak with representatives from the OHRC or the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Amnesty International reported in March 2019 that a court sentenced six members of the al-Shehhi tribe to life imprisonment in verdicts issued in 2018 for “infringement of the country’s independence or unity or the sanctity of its territory.” In a subsequent report in May 2019, Amnesty International described one of those convicted as a “prisoner of conscience” and noted that it had not been able to review the full list of charges against the other five individuals involved. According to the report, all six individuals had criticized the government’s policies in the Musandam governorate and claimed that the prosecution had portrayed them as plotters of a secessionist conspiracy. Four of the defendants were citizens and two were Emirati nationals. According to the OHRC, the defendants had the right to secure legal representation and communicate with their family members.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Civil laws govern civil cases. Citizens and foreign residents could file cases, including lawsuits seeking damages for human rights violations, but no known filings occurred during the year.

The Administrative Court reviews complaints regarding the misuse of governmental authority. It has the power to reverse decisions by government bodies and to award compensation. Appointments to this court are subject to the approval of the Administrative Affairs Council. The court’s president and deputy president are appointed by royal decree based on the council’s nomination. Citizens and foreign workers may file complaints regarding working conditions with the Ministry of Labor for alternative dispute resolution. The ministry may refer cases to the courts if it is unable to negotiate a solution.

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

The law does not allow public officials to enter a private home without first obtaining a warrant from the public prosecution. The government monitored private communications, including cell phone, email, and social media exchanges. The government blocked most voice over internet protocol (VoIP) sites, but in March the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) lifted its ban on platforms such as Skype, Google Meet, Zoom, and WebEx during what TRA called the “exceptional period” of COVID-19. Authorities blocked the import of certain publications, for example, pornography and religious texts, without the necessary permit. Shipping companies claimed customs officials sometimes confiscated these materials.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The law provides for limited freedom of speech and press, but authorities did not always respect these rights. Journalists and writers exercised self-censorship.

Freedom of Speech: The law prohibits criticism of the sultan in any form or medium, as well as any “provocative propaganda to undermine the prestige of the state,” electronic communication that “might prejudice the public order or religious values,” and “defamation of character.” Therefore, it is illegal to insult any public official or private citizen. Authorities have prosecuted individuals for writing about the sultan in a way the government perceived to be negative. In January 2018 the government issued a new penal code that generally increased maximum penalties for crimes related to “undermining the state.” International human rights organizations expressed concern that the penal code contains vaguely defined articles that the security services could use to target activists and further restrict freedom of expression, including online.

Authorities reportedly used intimidation to discourage some activists from calling for reforms or writing about the country’s political situation following the death of Sultan Qaboos, a human rights organization said in January. According to the report, one activist living in exile said that he and members of his family in Oman received threats from Omani officials, who instructed his family to prevent him from posting anything on social media.

In July the sultan reportedly pardoned four exiled Omani political activists, social media and press sources said, although no official government channel released information regarding these pardons. Two of the reported pardon recipients returned to Oman and professed loyalty to the sultan in social media videos. Press reports alleged that the activists who returned also agreed to limit their social media engagement.

In April authorities postponed indefinitely due to COVID-19 the trial of Musallam al-Ma’ashani, according to a human rights organization that reported on this matter. In November 2019 human rights organizations reported that authorities arrested al-Ma’ashani at the Sarfait border crossing upon his return from Yemen. These groups and social media users claimed authorities arrested al-Ma’ashani for printing a book documenting tribal activities in Dhofar, which he intended to submit to the Ministry of Information for display at the 2020 Muscat International Book Fair. According to social media posts, authorities later released al-Ma’ashani in November on bail after approximately two weeks in detention.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Media did not operate freely. Authorities tolerated limited criticism in privately owned newspapers and magazines; however, editorials generally were consistent with the government’s views. Although mainstream social debate occurred in traditional and social media (especially on Twitter), the government and privately owned radio and television stations did not generally broadcast political material criticizing the government.

Courts issued fines and prison sentences and ordered the confiscation of several individuals’ phones for disseminating rumors and messages violating public order, the Supreme Committee on COVID-19 announced in April.

Authorities required journalists to obtain a license to work; freelance journalists were ineligible for a license.

Violence and Harassment: Some journalists reported harassment by high-level government officials for printing stories perceived as critical of their particular ministries.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Headlines in both public and private media print outlets were subject to an official nontransparent review and approval process before publication. Journalists and writers exercised self-censorship. The law permits the Ministry of Information to review all media products including books produced within or imported into the country. The ministry occasionally prohibited or censored material from domestic and imported publications viewed as politically, culturally, or sexually offensive. There was only one major publishing house in the country, and publication of books remained limited. The government required religious groups to notify the Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs before importing any religious materials. The government confiscated or prohibited more than 20 books during the country’s annual state-run Muscat International Book Fair, human rights organizations said in February.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel is a criminal offense, which allows for up to one year’s imprisonment.

National Security: The government prohibited publication of any material that “undermines the prestige of the state.”

Internet Freedom

The law restricts free speech exercised via the internet, and the government enforced these restrictions. The law allows authorities to prosecute individuals for any message that “violates public order and morals” sent via any medium. The law details crimes that take place on the internet that “might prejudice public order or religious values” and specifies a penalty of between one month and a year in prison. Authorities could apply the law against bloggers and social media users who insult the sultan. Authorities placed individuals who abused social media in custody for up to two weeks and provided them with “advice and guidance,” the OHRC said in September.

In June police arrested and detained Awadh al-Sawafi, an activist and blogger, for social media posts in which he criticized the government for threatening citizens, according to human rights organizations. Reports said that a court issued al-Sawafi a suspended one-year prison sentence and banned him from using social media for one year.

In June a court of appeals sentenced a citizen to three years’ imprisonment, confiscated the defendant’s phone, and closed his Twitter account for “provoking and inciting hatred and division among the country’s population,” according to the Public Prosecution.

Human rights observers expressed concern that the country’s new Cyber Defense Center, established in June under the Internal Security Service, would further compromise internet freedom and freedom of expression.

Authorities monitored the activities of telecommunications service providers and obliged them to block access to numerous websites considered pornographic, or culturally or politically sensitive. Authorities sometimes blocked blogs as well as most VoIP technologies, but in March the TRA lifted its ban on VoIPs such as Skype, Google Meet, Zoom, and WebEx during what the TRA called the “exceptional period” of COVID-19.

Social media users exercised self-censorship and shared warnings exhorting users to follow local laws and regulations.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

The government restricted academic freedom and cultural events. Academics largely practiced self-censorship. Colleges and universities were required to have permission from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Higher Education before meeting with foreign diplomatic missions or accepting money for programs or speakers.

The government censored publicly shown films, primarily for sexual content and nudity, and placed restrictions on performances in public venues. The law also forbids dancing in restaurants and entertainment venues without a permit.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association. Human rights organizations expressed concern that overly broad provisions in the penal code could further restrict the work of human rights activists and limit freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The law provides for limited freedom of assembly, but the government restricted this right. Under the penal code, gatherings of 10 or more persons in a public place are unlawful if they “endangered the public security or order” or “influenced the function of authorities.”

Freedom of Association

The law provides for freedom of association for undefined “legitimate objectives and in a proper manner.” Examples of such associations include registered labor unions and social groups for foreign nationalities.

The government limited freedom of association by prohibiting associations whose activities it deemed “inimical to the social order” or otherwise inappropriate. Citizens joining groups deemed harmful to national interests could be subject to revocation of citizenship.

Associations must register with their corresponding ministries, which approve all associations’ bylaws and determine whether a group serves the interest of the country. The time required to register an association ranged from two months to two years. Approval time varied based on the level of preparedness of the applying organization, the subject matter of the organization, its leadership, and the organization’s mission. The law limits formal registration of nationality-based associations to one association for each nationality and restricts activities of such associations. The government sometimes denied permission for associations to form.

The penal code forbids associations from conducting any kind of fundraising without government approval, including for charitable causes. Individuals convicted of accepting unlawful funding for an association may receive up to one year in jail. Foreign diplomatic missions are required to request meetings with nongovernmental associations through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs by diplomatic note. Associations may not meet with foreign diplomatic missions and foreign organizations without prior approval from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The government enforced this law, and all foreign-funded educational and public diplomacy programs required prior government review.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

The law provides for freedom of internal movement and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. Citizens could generally travel freely outside the country, although this right is not codified.

In-country Movement: There are no official government restrictions on internal travel for any citizen. The government must approve on a case-by-case basis official travel by foreign diplomats to the Dhofar and Musandam regions. There were reports many foreign domestic employees had their passports confiscated by employers, who sponsor the foreign workers, even though the law prohibited this practice.

Employers have a great amount of control over these workers, particularly domestic workers who are not covered by existing labor laws. The country’s visa-sponsorship system (kafala) ties migrant workers to their employers and prevents them from changing jobs without their sponsor’s consent. Migrant workers generally cannot work for a new employer in the country within a two-year period without the permission of their current employer, even if they complete their contract. Employers can have a worker’s visa canceled arbitrarily. Workers who leave their jobs without the consent of their employer can be punished with fines, deportation, or reentry bans. In May, however, the ROP issued a decision that as of January 1, 2021, expatriates would no longer require a “no-objection certificate” to secure new work upon completion or termination of their employment contracts.

Foreign Travel: Foreign workers must obtain exit permits from their employer to leave the country legally. Exit permits may be denied when there is a dispute over payment or work remaining, leaving the foreign citizen in country with recourse only through local courts. In theory courts provided recourse to workers denied exit permits, but the process was opaque with domestic workers consistently alleging that existing dispute resolution mechanisms were inadequate to protect them.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government generally did not allow asylum seekers to remain in the country. Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) personnel occasionally visited the country but did not maintain an office or personnel locally. The Committee for International Humanitarian Law considers issues of refugees and displaced persons, according to the OHRC.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The country has a large number of female migrant workers from Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, and Uganda, many of whom are employed as domestic workers. Nongovernmental organizations based outside the country and embassies of labor-sending countries alleged that domestic workers faced maltreatment, to include physical, sexual, and psychological abuse. The law criminalizes slavery and trafficking, and the government was making efforts to combat trafficking. Although forced labor is punished under the labor law, domestic workers are excluded from the law’s protections. In 2019 courts convicted seven individuals for human trafficking crimes. For the first time, the government convicted two Omani nationals of trafficking.

Refoulement: The government did not provide comprehensive protection to asylum seekers from involuntary returns to countries where their lives or freedom could be threatened, subjecting them to the possibility of refoulement. Tight control over the entry of foreigners effectively limited access to protection for asylum seekers.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refuge for displaced persons, and the government has established a system for providing protection. The ROP’s system for granting asylum and resettlement was not transparent, and the law does not specify a timeframe in which the ROP must adjudicate an asylum application. It was policy not to recognize refugees from conflict zones such as Yemen, although the government provided temporary medical care to certain Yemeni citizens. In practice there are no substantive legal protections for asylum seekers in the country.

Temporary Protection: The government provided emergency medical care to certain Yemeni citizens who demonstrated they could not receive adequate care in Yemen. These Yemenis and one accompanying family member per patient were offered status in Oman during the treatment period.

g. Stateless Persons

Under the law citizenship is passed only through the father. Therefore, children born to foreign fathers and Omani citizen mothers in Oman were at risk of statelessness.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law does not provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections based on universal and equal suffrage. The sultan retains ultimate authority on all foreign and domestic issues. With the exception of the military and other security forces, all citizens who have reached 21 years of age have the right to vote for candidates for the Majlis al-Shura and the provincial councils.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In October 2019 nearly 350,000 citizens participated in the Majlis al-Shura elections for the Consultative Council, or lower house of parliament. Electoral commissions reviewed potential candidates against a set of objective educational and character criteria (at least a high school education and no criminal history or mental illness) before they allowed candidates’ names on the ballot. The Ministry of Interior administered and closely monitored campaign materials and events. There were no notable or widespread allegations of fraud or improper government interference in the voting process. The government did not allow independent monitoring of the elections, but it invited some international journalists to the country to report on election day events. The OHRC said it was a member of the Main Elections Committee and a key partner in overseeing the electoral process.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, in May the sultan postponed quadrennial municipal council elections, last held in 2016. The government did not set a date for when these elections would take place.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The law does not allow political parties, and citizens did not attempt to form them.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. During the Majlis al-Shura elections in October 2019, voters elected two women as representatives. The sultan appointed 15 women to the Majlis al-Dawla in November 2019.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, and the government generally implemented these laws effectively. The Financial and Administrative State Audit Institution (FASAI) submitted an annual report to the sultan and the Majlis Oman. The Majlis al-Shura had the authority to summon and question ministers.

Corruption: There were reports of government corruption, including in the police, ministries, and state-owned companies. Political and social favoritism were widespread in public and private institutions.

Authorities detained a local broadcaster for his social media activity regarding possible corruption in the country, releasing him one day later, human rights observers reported in March. Authorities reportedly also arrested four other citizens who reposted the tweet, including a former member of the Majlis al-Shura.

Financial Disclosure: Public officials are subject to financial disclosure laws. When selected for disclosure, officials are required to list their finances, business interests, and property, as well as that of their spouses and children. These records are made public, and there are fines associated with noncompliance. The FASAI monitors this process.

In July the state investment authority removed ministers and undersecretaries from the boards of directors of state-owned companies.

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

No independent, officially sanctioned, domestic human rights organizations existed in the country. There were civil society groups that advocated for persons protected under human rights conventions, particularly women and persons with disabilities. These groups were required to register with the Ministry of Social Development.

The law permits domestic and international actors to request permission to engage in human rights work, but none did because they believed the government was not likely to grant permission.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The OHRC, a government-funded commission made up of members from the public, private, and academic sectors, reported on human rights to the sultan via the State Council. The OHRC also published an annual report summarizing the types of complaints it received and how it handled those complaints.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape with penalties of up to 15 years in prison. The law does not criminalize spousal rape explicitly, but it does criminalize all “sex without consent.” The government generally enforced the law when individuals reported cases. Foreign nationals working as domestic employees occasionally reported that their sponsors had sexually assaulted them. According to diplomatic observers, police investigations resulted in few rape convictions.

The law does not specifically address domestic violence, and judicial protection orders prohibiting domestic violence do not exist. Charges could be brought, however, under existing statutes outlawing assault, battery, and aggravated assault, which can carry a maximum sentence of three years in prison. Allegations of spousal abuse in civil courts handling family law cases reportedly were common. Victims of domestic violence may file a complaint with police, and reports suggested that police responded promptly and professionally. The government operated a hotline for reporting incidents of domestic violence and a shelter for victims.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits health practitioners from conducting “traditional practices” that are harmful to a child’s health, and the 2019 Executive Regulations for the Child Law introduced “disfiguring female genital organs” as one of these harmful practices. There are no national statistics on the prevalence of FGM/C.

Sexual Harassment: Although the law does not explicitly prohibit sexual harassment, it has been prosecuted using statutes prohibiting offensive language and behavior.

Reproductive Rights: The government recognized the right of married couples to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children. Married couples have access to family planning and information, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. Health clinics disseminated information on family planning under the guidance of the Ministry of Health. Some forms of birth control, including condoms, were available at pharmacies and supermarkets, although doctor-prescribed birth control medication was generally not available for unmarried women. The government provided free childbirth services to citizens within the framework of universal health care. Prenatal and postnatal care was readily available and used. While survivors of sexual violence could seek medical treatment at public healthcare facilities, the government did not provide dedicated sexual and reproductive health services to victims.

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

Discrimination: The law prohibits gender-based discrimination against citizens, but the government did not appear to enforce the law effectively. Local interpretations of Islamic law and practice of cultural traditions in social and legal institutions discriminated against women. In some personal status cases, such as divorce, a woman’s testimony is equal to half that of a man. The law favors male heirs in adjudicating inheritance.

The Ministry of Interior requires both male and female citizens to obtain permission to marry foreigners, except nationals of Gulf Cooperation Council countries, whom citizens may marry without restriction; authorities do not automatically grant permission, which is particularly difficult for Omani women to obtain. Citizen marriage to a foreigner abroad without ministry approval may result in denial of entry for the foreign spouse at the border and preclude children from claiming citizenship and residency rights. It also may result in a bar from government employment.

Despite legal protections for women from forced marriage, deeply embedded tribal practices ultimately compel most citizen women towards or away from a choice of spouse.

The law provides for transmission of citizenship at birth if the father is a citizen, if the mother is a citizen and the father is unknown, or if a child of unknown parents is found in the country. Women married to noncitizens may not transmit citizenship to their children and cannot sponsor their noncitizen husband’s or children’s presence in the country. Children from a marriage between an Omani woman and a non-Omani man are not eligible for citizenship and are at risk of statelessness.

The law provides that an adult may become a citizen by applying for citizenship and subsequently residing legally in the country for 20 years or 10 years if married to a male citizen.

Government policy provided women with equal opportunities for education, and this policy effectively eliminated the gender gap in educational attainment. Although some educated women held positions of authority in government, business, and media, many women faced job discrimination based on cultural norms. The law entitles women to paid maternity leave and equal pay for equal work. The government, the largest employer of women, observed such regulations, as did many private sector employers.

The Ministry of Social Development is the umbrella organization for women’s issues. The ministry provided support for women’s economic development through the Oman Women’s Association and local community development centers.

Authorities suspended a women’s rights Twitter account, a women’s rights advocate said in an anonymous Twitter post in February. A human rights organization said that the Internal Security Service was responsible for the suspension because account commentators were calling for more freedom for female university students.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from the father. Women married to noncitizens may not transmit citizenship to their children, and there were a few reported cases of stateless children based on this law. Children of unknown parents are automatically eligible for citizenship. Government employees raised abandoned children in an orphanage. Such children receive free education through the university level and a job following graduation. Citizen marriage to a foreigner abroad without ministry approval may preclude children from claiming citizenship rights.

Child Abuse: According to the law, any concerned citizen must report child abuse, and each governorate had an interagency committee that would meet to discuss the allegations and possibly take the child out of the parent’s custody until the allegations were investigated. The government operated a child abuse hotline, which reported 707 calls in 2019. The government reported that the main complaint was negligence, followed by physical abuse and sexual abuse.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The age of legal marriage for men and women is 18, although a judge may permit a person to marry younger when the judge or family deemed the marriage was in the minor’s interest. Child marriage occurred in rural communities as a traditional practice.

In August reports of marriages of some minor girls and births among juvenile mothers as young as 15 prompted a local Arabic press outlet to publish an article clarifying that Islam and civil law prohibit marriage under 18 years of age, except in special cases that a judge permits.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Commercial sexual exploitation of children and child pornography are punishable by no fewer than five years’ imprisonment. The penal code stipulates a punishment of life imprisonment for rape of a child younger than 15 years. The minimum age of consensual sex is 18. All sex outside of marriage is illegal, but sex with a minor younger than 15 carries a heavier penalty (up to 15 years’ imprisonment). Authorities do not charge minors. There were no known reports of child prostitution; soliciting a child for prostitution is prohibited.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.

Anti-Semitism

There was no indigenous Jewish population. One Arabic-language newspaper featured at least one cartoon critical of the Israeli government in which a man wearing the Star of David represented the state of Israel.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law provides persons with disabilities the same rights as other citizens in employment, education, access to health care, and the provision of other state services. Persons with disabilities, however, continued to face discrimination. The law mandates access to public transportation and buildings for persons with disabilities, but many older buildings, including government buildings and schools, did not conform to the law.

The government provided alternative education opportunities for citizen children with disabilities, including overseas schooling when appropriate.

Additionally, the Ministry of Education collaborated with the International Council for Educational Reform and Development to operate a curriculum for students with intellectual disabilities within the standard school system. The ministers of education and of health crafted a broad-based, prioritized strategy for various ministries to coordinate the issue of child autism in the country, including early autism diagnosis and intervention. The Ministry of Education also coordinated with UNICEF to improve its alternative education systems.

The Ministry of Social Development is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. The Directorate General of Disabled Affairs within the Ministry of Social Development creates and implements programs for persons with disabilities in coordination with relevant authorities. The directorate was authorized further to supervise all of the ministry’s rehabilitation and treatment centers for persons with disabilities.

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

The penal code criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual conduct with a jail term of six months to three years, but it requires a spouse or guardian complaint to initiate prosecution. The government did not actively enforce this law.

The penal code identifies “crossdressing” (defined as males dressing in female clothing) as a criminal act punishable by up to one year’s imprisonment.

Public discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity remained a social taboo. There were no known lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) organizations active in the country; however, regional human rights organizations focused on the human rights of LGBTI citizens. Authorities took steps to block LGBTI-related internet content.

Information was not available on official or private discrimination in employment, occupation, housing, statelessness, or access to education or health care based on sexual orientation and gender identity. There were no government efforts to address discrimination.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Foreigners seeking residency in the country are tested for HIV/AIDS. If tested positive, the residency permission is denied, and foreigners must leave the country, but there were no known occurrences of this.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides that workers can form and join unions, as well as conduct legal strikes and bargain collectively, but with significant restrictions. The law provides for one general federation, to which all unions must affiliate, and which represents unions in regional and international fora. The law requires a minimum of 25 workers to form a union, regardless of company size. The law requires an absolute majority of an enterprise’s employees to approve a strike, and notice must be given to employers three weeks in advance of the intended strike date. The law allows for collective bargaining; regulations require employers to engage in collective bargaining on the terms and conditions of employment, including wages and hours of work. Where there is no trade union, collective bargaining may take place between the employer and five representatives selected by workers. The employer may not reject any of the representatives selected. While negotiation is underway, the employer may not act on decisions related to problems under discussion. The law prohibits employers from firing or imposing other penalties on employees for union activity, although it does not require reinstatement for workers fired for union activity.

Despite the legal protections for labor unions, no independent organized labor unions existed. Worker rights continued to be administered and directed by the General Federation of Oman Workers (GFOW).

The GFOW responded to reports of labor rights violations, some precipitated by the COVID-19-related economic downturn. During the COVID-19 outbreak in the country, the GFOW received complaints that employers reduced or failed to pay wages, forced workers to take unpaid leave, and deducted time in quarantine from workers’ leave banks, according to several local press reports. As of September publicly released GFOW statistics highlighted that the Federation had received 370 reports of violations, participated in more than 200 settlement agreements, and referred some companies to the Public Prosecution.

Government-approved unions are open to all legal workers regardless of nationality, though the law prohibits members of the armed forces, other public security institutions, government employees, domestic workers, as well as individuals convicted of criminal activity or acts against the security of the country or national unity from forming or joining such unions. In addition, labor laws apply only to workers who perform work under a formal employment agreement and excludes domestic workers.

The law prohibits unions from accepting grants or financial assistance from any source without the Ministry of Labor’s prior approval. All unions are subject to the regulations of the government federation and may be shut down or have their boards dismissed by the federation.

The government generally enforced applicable laws effectively and respected the rights to collectively bargain and conduct strikes, although strikes in the oil and gas industries are forbidden. The government provided an alternative dispute resolution mechanism through the Ministry of Labor, which acted as mediator between the employer and employee for minor disputes such as disagreement over wages. If not resolved to the employee’s satisfaction, the employee could, and often did, resort to the courts for relief. The country lacked dedicated labor courts, and observers noted the mandatory grievance procedures were confusing to many workers, especially foreign workers. The Ministry of Labor had sufficient resources to act in dispute resolution.

Freedom of association in union matters and the right to collective bargaining exist, but often the threat of a strike can prompt either company action or government intervention. Strikes rarely occurred and were generally resolved quickly, sometimes through government mediation.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forced or compulsory labor but explicitly excludes domestic workers. All police officials underwent training in how to identify victims of trafficking in persons to help them identify cases of forced or compulsory labor.

Conditions indicative of forced labor were present. By law all expatriate workers, who constituted approximately 80 percent of the workforce, must be sponsored by a citizen employer or accredited diplomatic mission. Some migrant workers, employed as domestic workers or as low-skilled workers in the construction, agriculture, and service sectors, faced working conditions indicative of forced labor, including withholding of passports, restrictions on movement, usurious recruitment fees, nonpayment of wages, long working hours without food or rest, threats, and physical or sexual abuse. These situations were generally considered civil or contract matters by authorities, who encouraged dispute resolution rather than criminal action. Authorities continued to rely on victims to identify themselves and report abuses proactively, rather than proactively investigating trafficking in vulnerable communities.

Sponsorship requirements left workers vulnerable to exploitative and abusive conditions and made it difficult for them to change employers (see section 2.d.). Some sponsors allow their employees to work for other employers, sometimes in return for a fee. This practice is illegal, but enforcement was weak, and such arrangements left workers vulnerable. The government clarified that sponsors of domestic workers are not allowed to send their workers to another home to work, but the regulation was weakly enforced. Some employers of domestic workers, contrary to law, withheld passports and other documents, complicating workers’ release from unfavorable contracts and preventing workers’ departure after their work contracts expired. The ROP issued a decision on May 31 that expatriates will no longer require a “no objection certificate” (NOC) from their employers to secure new work upon completion or termination of their employment contracts, effective January 1, 2021. Some employers exploited the NOC requirement to demand exorbitant release fees totaling as much as four months’ salary before permitting workers to change employers. Until the elimination of the NOC requirement becomes effective, foreign workers are required to either depart the country for a minimum of two years or remain in their current position. There were reports that sponsors were reluctant to provide NOCs, which would result in loss of the foreign labor certificate for that position.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The minimum age for employment is 16, or 18 for certain hazardous occupations. Employees younger than 18 may work only between the hours of 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. and are prohibited from working for more than six hours per day, on weekends, or on holidays. The law allows exceptions to the age requirement in agricultural works, fishing, industrial works, handicrafts, sales, and administrative jobs, under the conditions that it is a one-family business and does not hinder the juvenile’s education or affect health or growth.

The Ministry of Labor and ROP are responsible for enforcing laws with respect to child labor. The law provides for fines for minor violations and imprisonment for repeat violations. Employers are given time to correct practices that may be deemed child labor.

In 2019 the country made a moderate advance in eliminating the worst forms of child labor, and there is evidence that children in the country engaged in child labor, including in fishing and selling items in kiosks. The government does not publish information on the enforcement of child labor laws.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at HYPERLINK “https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings/”https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings/.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws and regulations do not address discrimination based on race, sex, gender, nationality, political views, disability, language, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV-positive status or having other communicable diseases, or social status. Labor laws generally restrict women from working the same hours as men, and, while the laws do not allow women to work in jobs deemed hazardous or arduous, there are no industry-specific occupations that are closed to women. Discrimination occurred based on gender, sexual orientation, nationality, disability, and gender identity. Foreign workers were required to take HIV/AIDS tests and could only obtain or renew work visas if the results were negative.

Although some educated women held positions of authority in government, business, and media, many women faced job discrimination based on cultural norms. The law entitles women to paid maternity leave and equal pay for equal work. The government, the largest employer of women, observed such regulations, as did many private sector employers. The percentage of females working in the government sector increased from 41 percent of the total number of workers in 2014 to 59 percent in 2018, according to official government statistics that the OHRC cited.

The law provides persons with disabilities the same rights as other citizens in employment, and the provision of other state services. Persons with disabilities, however, continued to face discrimination. The law mandates access to public transportation and buildings for persons with disabilities, but many older buildings, including government buildings and schools, did not conform to the law. The law also requires government agencies and private enterprises employing more than 50 persons to reserve a certain percentage of positions for persons with disabilities. This percentage was 2 percent for the private sector; the Civil Service Council was responsible for determining the percentage for the public sector. Authorities did not systematically enforce this regulation.

For further discussion of discrimination, see section 6.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The country has a minimum monthly wage for citizens that does not apply to noncitizens in any occupation. Minimum wage regulations do not apply to a variety of occupations and businesses, including small businesses employing fewer than five persons, dependent family members working for a family firm, or some categories of manual laborers. Most citizens who lived in poverty were engaged in traditional subsistence agriculture, herding, or fishing, and generally did not benefit from the minimum wage. The private sector workweek is 45 hours and includes a two-day rest period following five consecutive days of work. Government workers have a 35-hour workweek. The law mandates overtime pay for hours in excess of 45 per week.

The government sets occupational health and safety standards. The law states an employee may leave dangerous work conditions without jeopardy to continued employment if the employer was aware of the danger and did not implement corrective measures. Employees covered under the labor law may receive compensation for job-related injury or illness through employer-provided medical insurance. The government offered free COVID-19-related treatment to any resident of the country, regardless of legal status, who showed symptoms and did not have the means to pay for medical costs.

Neither wage and hour nor occupational safety and health regulations apply to domestic workers.

The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing labor laws, and it employed inspectors in Muscat and around the country. It generally enforced the law effectively with respect to citizens; however, it did not always effectively enforce regulations regarding hours of employment and working conditions for foreign workers.

In July some expatriate workers for a construction company protested against alleged COVID-19-related loss of pay and inadequate food provision, causing significant damage to company property, according to social media and traditional press sources. The company stopped the demonstrations with the support of the government and reached out to embassies to coordinate the repatriation of expatriate employees who had lost jobs.

Labor inspectors performed random checks of worksites to verify compliance with all labor laws. Inspectors from the Department of Health and Safety of the Labor Care Directorate are responsible for enforcement of health and safety codes. Limited inspections of private sector worksites are required by law to deter or redress unsafe working conditions in the most dangerous sectors.

The Ministry of Labor effectively enforced the minimum wage for citizens. No minimum wage existed for noncitizens. In wage cases the Ministry of Labor processed complaints and acted as mediator. In a majority of cases, the plaintiff prevailed, gaining compensation, the opportunity to seek alternative employment, or return to their country of origin in the case of foreign laborers, although they rarely used the courts to seek redress. The ministry was generally effective in cases regarding minor labor disputes.

The government increased efforts to prevent trafficking in persons violations, which disproportionately affected foreign workers.

Foreign workers were vulnerable to poor, dangerous, or exploitative working conditions. There were reports that migrant laborers in some firms and households worked more than 12 hours a day without a day off for below-market wages. Employers often cancelled the employment contracts of seriously sick or injured foreign workers, forcing them to return to their countries of origin or remain in the country illegally. Some labor inspections focused on enforcing visa violations and deporting those in an irregular work visa status rather than verifying safe and adequate work conditions.

There are no maximum work-hour limits for domestic workers nor any mandatory rest periods, although the contract between the employer and worker can specify such requirements. There were some reports that domestic workers were forced to work with inadequate rest periods. Separate domestic employment regulations obligate the employer to provide domestic workers with free local medical treatment throughout the contract period. Penalties for noncompliance with health regulations were insufficient to deter violations. Some domestic workers were subjected to abusive conditions.

There was no data available on workplace fatalities or safety. In July, two expatriate workers died when an excavation site collapsed, according to the local press.

Qatar

Executive Summary

Qatar is a constitutional monarchy in which Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani exercises full executive power. The constitution provides for hereditary rule by men in the amir’s branch of the Al Thani family. The most recent elections were in 2019 for the Central Municipal Council, an advisory and consultative body. Observers considered these elections free and fair. All cabinet members, including the prime minister, are appointed by the amir.

The national police and Ministry of Interior forces maintain internal security that addresses, among other matters, terrorism, cyberattacks, and espionage. The national police oversee general law enforcement. The army is responsible for external security. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over security forces. Security forces infrequently committed abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: restrictions on free expression, including criminalization of libel; restrictions on peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including prohibitions on political parties and labor unions; restrictions on migrant workers’ freedom of movement; limits on the ability of citizens to choose their government in free and fair elections; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women; criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual conduct; and reports of forced labor.

The government took limited steps to prosecute those suspected of committing human rights abuses. The government took steps to address forced labor.

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution and law prohibit torture and other inhuman or degrading treatment and punishment.

The government interprets sharia as allowing corporal punishment for certain criminal offenses, including court-ordered flogging in cases of alcohol consumption and extramarital sex by Muslims. Courts typically reduced sentences to imprisonment or a fine. The Ministry of Interior reported 375 sentences that resulted in flogging as a punishment in 2019. In May authorities executed a death sentence by a firing squad against a Nepalese expatriate who was accused of murdering a Qatari citizen in 2017. The court upheld the sentence after the family of the victim had refused the blood money in return for degrading the sentence.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions generally met international standards. In 2019 the National Human Rights Committee (NHRC) conducted 96 field visits to detention and interrogation facilities across the country.

Physical Conditions: In May social media users claimed the spread of COVID-19 among prisoners had created unrest in the Central Prison. Social media users circulated unconfirmed leaked photographs and audio recordings from inside the prison, claiming that there were clashes between prisoners and guards and prisoner strikes. The government denied the allegations. The NHRC conducted a number of visits to detention centers and sent a list of recommendations to the government, including accession to the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT), establishing an independent commission within the judiciary to investigate allegations of torture and mistreatment, and replacing corporal punishment with voluntary social work.

Administration: Authorities conducted investigations into credible allegations of mistreatment. No statute allows ombudsmen to advocate for prisoners and detainees.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring visits by independent human rights observers and international bodies to all facilities except the state security prison. The government routinely provided foreign diplomats access to state security prisoners. NHRC representatives conducted regular visits to all facilities. In 2019 the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention visited Doha at the invitation of the government. Following the visit, the working group stated “there was an urgent need for a paradigm shift to guarantee the right of every individual to personal liberty, as well as independent and effective judicial control over detention.”

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. The government usually observed these requirements.

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention reported in 2019 that the detainee tracking system did not allow police to determine the number and status of detainees held in any given institution. At some police stations, the register of persons in police custody did not state the date and time when individuals were taken into custody and transferred to the public prosecution. This lack of record keeping made it difficult to determine how long those detainees had been held. The UN Working Group invited authorities to address “shortcomings” in the detainee registers to prevent arbitrary detention.

In October, Amnesty International published a report detailing the 2018 arrest and detention for five months without charge of Mohamed al-Sulaiti and also posted on Twitter comments that criticized the government for imposing a travel ban on al-Sulaiti. In August, Amnesty International published a report regarding four persons, including al-Sulaiti, who were put under a travel ban without trial. Amnesty International alleged that in all of these cases authorities’ actions were conducted purely administratively, without affording any legal recourse by which the affected individuals could contest or appeal the decisions or present their claims to an independent reviewer.

In 2019 the NHRC reported receiving seven complaints of arbitrary detention and added that after examining the cases and contacting the authorities concerned, all detainees were released.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law requires that persons be apprehended with warrants based on sufficient evidence and issued by an authorized official, be charged within 24 hours, and be brought before a court without undue delay.

The law provides procedures that permit detention without charge for as long as 15 days, renewable for up to six months. The law permits an additional six months’ detention without charge with the approval of the prime minister, who may extend the detention indefinitely in cases of threats to national security. The law allows the Ministry of Interior to detain persons suspected of crimes related to national security, honor, or impudence; in these cases persons detained are generally released within 24 hours or brought before a court within three days of detention. Decisions under this law are subject to appeal to the prime minister only. The law permits the prime minister to adjudicate complaints involving such detentions. The law permits a second six-month period of detention with approval from the criminal court, which may extend a detention indefinitely with review every six months. The state security service may arrest and detain suspects for up to 30 days without referring them to the public prosecutor.

In most cases a judge may order a suspect released, remanded