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Crimea

Read A Section: Crimea

Ukraine

In February 2014 Russian forces entered Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and occupied it militarily. In March 2014 Russia announced the peninsula had become part of the Russian Federation following a sham referendum that violated Ukraine’s constitution. The UN General Assembly’s Resolution 68/262 on the “Territorial Integrity of Ukraine” of March 27, 2014, and Resolution 75/192 on the “Situation of Human Rights in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the City of Sevastopol (Ukraine)”of December 28, 2020, called on states and international organizations not to recognize any change in Crimea’s status and affirmed the commitment of the United Nations to recognize Crimea as part of Ukraine. In April 2014 Ukraine’s legislature (Verkhovna Rada) adopted a law attributing responsibility for human rights violations in Crimea to the Russian Federation as the occupying state. The United States does not recognize the attempted annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation. Russian law has been applied in Crimea since the Russian occupation and purported “annexation” of the peninsula. For detailed information on the laws and practices of the Russian Federation, see the Country Report on Human Rights for Russia.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

A local occupation authority installed by the Russian government and led by Sergey Aksyonov as “prime minister” of the “state council of the republic of Crimea” administers occupied Crimea. The “state council” is responsible for day-to-day administration and other functions of governing. In 2016 Russia’s nationwide parliamentary elections included seats allocated for purportedly annexed Crimea, a move widely condemned by the international community and that contravened the Ukrainian constitution.

Russian government agencies, including the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Federal Security Service (FSB), the Federal Investigative Committee, and the Office of the Prosecutor General, applied and enforced Russian law in Crimea as if it were a part of the Russian Federation. The FSB also conducted security, counterintelligence, and counterterrorism activities and combatted organized crime and corruption. A “national police force” operated under the aegis of the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs. Russian authorities maintained control over Russian military and security forces deployed in Crimea. Members of the security forces committed numerous abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: forced disappearances; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by Russia or Russia-led “authorities,” including punitive psychiatric incarceration; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions and transfer of prisoners to Russia; arbitrary arrest or detention; political prisoners or detainees; serious problems with the independence of the occupation judiciary; pervasive arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including violence, threats of violence, or unjustified arrests or prosecutions against journalists, censorship, and website blocking; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including on the Crimean Tatar Mejlis; severe restrictions of religious freedom; serious restrictions on movement; inability of citizens to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections; restrictions on political participation; serious acts of corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting members of national/racial/ethnic minority groups, or indigenous people, including Crimean Tatars and ethnic Ukrainians; and crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex persons.

Occupation authorities took few steps to investigate or prosecute officials or individuals who committed human rights abuses, creating an atmosphere of impunity and lawlessness.

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

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

According to the human rights group Crimea SOS, there were no new reports that occupation authorities committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, but impunity for past killings remained a serious problem. The Russian government tasked the Russian Investigative Committee with investigating whether security force killings in occupied Crimea were justifiable and whether to pursue prosecutions. The HRMMU reported the Investigative Committee failed to take adequate steps to prosecute or punish officials who committed abuses, resulting in a climate of impunity. The Office of the Prosecutor of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea also investigated security force killings from its headquarters in Kyiv, but de facto restrictions on access to occupied Crimea limited its effectiveness.

There were no reported investigations for the four Crimean Tatars found dead in 2019. Occupation authorities did not adequately investigate killings of Crimean residents from 2014 and 2015. According to the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 12 Crimean residents who had disappeared during the occupation were later found dead. Human rights groups reported occupation authorities did not investigate other suspicious deaths and disappearances, occasionally categorizing them as suicide. Human rights observers reported that families frequently did not challenge findings in such cases due to fear of retaliation.

b. Disappearance

There were reports of abductions and disappearances by occupation authorities. Crimea SOS reported 45 individuals have gone missing since Russian forces occupied Crimea in 2014, and the fate of 15 of these individuals remained unknown. The OHCHR reported occupation authorities have not prosecuted anyone in relation to the forced disappearances. NGO and press reports indicated occupation authorities were responsible for the disappearances. For example, in March 2014, Maidan activists Ivan Bondarets and Valerii Vashchuk telephoned relatives to report police in Simferopol had detained them at a railway station for displaying a Ukrainian flag. Relatives have had no communication with them since, and the whereabouts of the two men remained unknown. Occupation authorities denied international monitors, including the OHCHR and OSCE, access to Crimea, which made it impossible for monitors to investigate forced disappearances there properly.

Occupation authorities did not adequately investigate the deaths and disappearances, according to human rights groups. Human rights groups reported that police often refused to register reports of disappearances and intimidated and threatened with detention those who tried to report disappearances. The Ukrainian government and human rights groups believed Russian security forces kidnapped the individuals for opposing Russia’s occupation to instill fear in the population and prevent dissent.

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

There were widespread reports that occupation authorities in Crimea tortured and otherwise abused residents who opposed the occupation. According to the Crimean Human Rights Group, “The use of torture by the FSB and the Russia-led police against Ukrainian citizens became a systematic and unpunished phenomenon after Russia’s occupation of Crimea.” Human rights monitors reported that Russian occupation authorities subjected Crimean Tatars and ethnic Ukrainians in particular to physical abuse. For example, on January 28, plainclothes occupation authorities from the “ministry of internal affairs” detained Server Rasilchak, a 17-year-old Crimean Tatar, shortly after Rasilchak, his father, and two friends were stopped by traffic police at a gas station in Saki. The men beat and arrested Rasilchak and took him to a police station, where he was subjected to electric shocks, beaten, and threatened with sexual assault for several hours. Rasilchak’s mother claimed she filed a formal complaint with police, but human rights groups noted the difficulty of tracking the status of complaints and investigations in Crimea given the atmosphere of fear and impunity.

Occupation authorities reportedly demonstrated a pattern of using punitive psychiatric incarceration as a means of pressuring detained individuals. For example, according to press reports, on June 23, authorities transferred Crimean Tatar Ruslan Suleimanov to the Crimean Clinical Psychiatric Hospital for a forced psychiatric evaluation. Suleimanov was arrested in March 2019 and charged with allegedly belonging to the pan-Islamic organization Hizb ut-Tahrir, which is banned in Russia as a terrorist group but legal in Ukraine. Human right defenders viewed the authorities’ move as an attempt to break his client’s will and intimidate him.

According to the Crimean Human Rights Group, as of late September, approximately 10 Crimean Tatar defendants had been subjected to psychiatric evaluation and confinement against their will without apparent medical need since the beginning of the occupation (see section 1.d.).

Human rights monitors reported that occupation authorities also threatened individuals with violence or imprisonment if they did not testify in court against individuals whom authorities believed were opposed to the occupation.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions reportedly remained harsh and life threatening due to overcrowding and poor conditions.

Physical Conditions: The Crimean Human Rights Group reported inhuman conditions in official places of detention in Crimea. According to a June interim report by the UN secretary-general, inadequate conditions in detention centers in Crimea could amount to “inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” According to the report, prisons in Crimea were overcrowded, medical assistance for prisoners was inadequate, and detainees complained of systematic beatings and humiliating strip searches by prison guards.

Overcrowding forced prisoners to sleep in shifts in order to share beds. According to the Crimean Human Rights Group, detainees held in the Simferopol pretrial detention center complained about poor sanitary conditions, broken toilets, and insufficient heating. Detainees diagnosed with HIV as well as tuberculosis and other communicable diseases were kept in a single cell. On July 7, the Crimean Human Rights Group reported that three of the defendants in a case involving alleged involvement in the group Hizb ut-Tahrir complained of harsh conditions, including being kept in a basement cell with a sealed window in one case and sharing a 20-bed cell with 23 inmates in another.

There were reports detainees were denied medical treatment, even for serious health conditions. According to the June UN secretary-general’s special report, detainees often had to rely on relatives to provide medicine, since the medical assistance provided at detention centers was inadequate. For example, Dzhemil Gafarov, a 58-year-old Crimean Tatar civic activist imprisoned in Crimea, received inadequate treatment for severe kidney disease. On October 22, the Ukrainian Human Rights Ombudsperson reported Gafarov’s medical condition had severely deteriorated while in detention. As of November occupation authorities continued to ignore requests from Gafarov’s lawyer that Gafarov be hospitalized or medically released.

According to the Crimean Resource Center, 32 Crimean prisoners were transferred to the Russian Federation in the first eight months of the year, 26 of whom were Crimean Tatars. One factor in the transfers was the lack of specialized penitentiary facilities in Crimea, requiring the transfer of juveniles, persons sentenced to life imprisonment, and prisoners suffering from serious physical and mental illnesses.

According to defense lawyers, prisoners considered Russian citizens by the Russian Federation were denied Ukrainian consular visits, and some Crimean residents were transferred to prison facilities in Russia without Ukrainian passports.

Prison authorities reportedly retaliated against detainees who refused Russian Federation citizenship by placing them in smaller cells or in solitary confinement.

Independent Monitoring: Occupation authorities did not permit monitoring of prison or detention center conditions by independent nongovernmental observers or international organizations. Occupation authorities permitted the “human rights ombudsperson,” Lyudmila Lubina, to visit prisoners, but human rights activists regarded Lubina as representing the interests of occupation authorities and did not view her as an independent actor.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

See the Country Reports on Human Rights for Russia for a description of the relevant Russian laws and procedures that the Russian government applied and enforced in occupied Crimea.

Arbitrary Arrest: Arbitrary arrests continued to occur, which observers believed were a means of instilling fear, stifling opposition, and inflicting punishment on those who opposed the occupation. Security forces conducted regular raids on Crimean Tatar villages and the homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses, accompanied by detentions, interrogations, and often criminal charges. The Crimean Resource Center recorded 68 detentions and 70 interrogations that were politically motivated as of September 30. For example, on May 30, Ukrainian soldier Yevhen Dobrynsky disappeared while on duty near the administrative boundary between mainland Ukraine and Crimea. On June 2, the FSB announced it had detained Dobrynsky for “illegally crossing the border from Ukraine to Russia.” As of October, Dobrynsky was still detained by occupation authorities.

The HRMMU noted that justifications underpinning the arrests of alleged members of “terrorist” or “extremist” groups often provided little evidence that the suspect posed an actual threat to society by planning or undertaking concrete actions.

The HRMMU noted the prevalence of members of the Crimean Tatar community among those apprehended during police raids. According to the Crimean Tatar Resource Center, of the 173 individuals arrested between January and August, 133 were Crimean Tatars. The HRMMU noted raids were often carried out on the pretext of purported need to seize materials linking suspects to groups that are banned in the Russian Federation, but lawful in Ukraine.

For example, according to press reports, on July 7, the FSB raided houses of Crimean Tatars in various parts of the peninsula. Security forces reportedly targeted the houses of activists belonging to the Crimean Solidarity movement, a human rights organization that provides the relatives and lawyers of political prisoners with legal, financial, and moral support. Seven individuals were arrested during the raid. According to human rights groups, security forces had no warrant for the raid and denied detained individuals access to lawyers. Of the seven men arrested during the raid, three were charged with organizing the activities of a terrorist organization (Hizb ut-Tahrir, which is legal in Ukraine), which carries a sentence of up to life in prison. The rest were charged with participating in the activities of a terrorist organization, which carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.

Jehovah’s Witnesses were also targeted for raids and arbitrary arrests. For example, on May 26, Russian security forces in Kerch conducted searches of four homes belonging to Jehovah’s Witnesses, and one man was arrested on “extremism” charges as a result of the searches. The group is banned in Russia as an extremist organization but is legal in Ukraine. On June 4, Jehovah’s Witness Artyom Gerasimov was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment on “extremism” charges. Prosecutors presented secret audio recordings of Gerasimov and his family reciting prayers and Bible verses in their home, alleging these actions constituted illegal “organizational activities” on behalf of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Gerasimov was the second Jehovah’s Witness during the year to receive a six-year prison sentence on extremism charges after an arbitrary arrest for exercising his freedom of religion.

Failure to submit to conscription into the Russian military was also used as a basis for arbitrary arrests. Since 2015, Russia has conducted annual spring and fall conscriptions in Crimea, and failure to comply is punishable by criminal penalty. Since the beginning of the occupation, nearly 30,000 persons have been conscripted, and in February the Crimean Human Rights Group documented eight new criminal cases of Crimean residents for evading military service in the Russian Federation Armed Forces.

Detainees were often denied access to a lawyer during interrogation. For example, on August 31, FSB officers searched the homes of four Crimean Tatar activists belonging to the group Crimean Solidarity. FSB officers detained all four activists: Ayder Kadyrov, a correspondent for the Grani.ru online media, Ridvan Umerov (a leader of the local mosque), and Crimean Solidarity members Ayder Yabliakimov and Enver Topchi. The men were interrogated for eight hours, during which authorities refused to grant their lawyers access to them. Kadyrov’s lawyer claimed that authorities forced Kadyrov to sign a confession.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Under Russian occupation authorities, the judicial system was neither independent nor impartial. Judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys were subject to political directives, and the outcomes of trials appeared predetermined by government interference. The HRMMU noted that lawyers defending individuals accused of extremism or terrorism risked facing harassment or similar charges themselves. For example, human rights lawyer Emil Kurbedinov reported that occupation authorities physically surveilled him and likely tapped his office phone. Kurbedinov has faced longstanding pressure for his involvement in defending human rights defenders and activists in Crimea, including being previously arrested in 2017 and 2018.

Trial Procedures

Defendants in politically motivated cases were increasingly transferred to the Russian Federation for trial. See the Country Reports on Human Rights for Russia for a description of the relevant Russian laws and procedures that the Russian government applied and enforced in occupied Crimea.

Occupation authorities limited the ability to have a public hearing. According to the HRMMU, occupation authorities banned family members and media from the courtroom for hearings related to charges of Hizb ut-Tahrir membership and other activities deemed subversive under Russian law. The courts justified the closed hearings by citing vague concerns about the “safety of the participants.” The courts failed to publish judgments in these cases.

Occupation authorities interfered with defendants’ ability to access an attorney. According to the Crimean Human Rights Group, defendants facing terrorism or extremism-related charges were often pressured into dismissing their privately hired lawyers in exchange for promised leniency.

Occupation authorities intimidated witnesses to influence their testimony. On June 11, the FSB charged a former witness with providing false testimony at the hearings of individuals accused of membership in Hizb ut-Tahrir. In an August 2019 court hearing, the witness retracted his pretrial statements, claiming they had been coerced by FSB officers during interrogation. While the HRMMU found the witness’s claims of mistreatment to be credible, the court dismissed the allegations and ruled that the witness’s retraction was intended to assist the defendant in avoiding criminal liability. The former witness faced five years in prison.

The HRMMU reported that occupation authorities retroactively applied Russia’s laws to actions that took place before the occupation of the peninsula began.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

According to the Crimean Human Rights Group, as of August, 105 Crimeans were being deprived of freedom in occupied Crimea or in Russia on political or religious charges, 73 of whom were Crimean Tatar Muslims prosecuted on terrorism charges.

Charges of extremism, terrorism, or violation of territorial integrity were particularly applied to opponents of the occupation, such as Crimean Tatars, Jehovah’s Witnesses, independent journalists, and individuals expressing dissent on social media.

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

See the Country Reports on Human Rights for Russia for a description of the relevant Russian laws and procedures that the Russian government applied and enforced in occupied Crimea.

Occupation authorities and others engaged in electronic surveillance, entered residences and other premises without warrants, and harassed relatives and neighbors of perceived opposition figures.

Occupation authorities routinely conducted raids on homes to intimidate the local population, particularly Crimean Tatars, ethnic Ukrainians, and Jehovah’s Witnesses ostensibly on the grounds of searching for weapons, drugs, or “extremist literature.” According to the Crimean Tatar Resource Center, occupation authorities conducted 38 searches between January and August; 25 were in the households of Crimean Tatars.

Human rights groups reported that Russian authorities had widespread authority to tap telephones and read electronic communications and had established a network of informants to report on suspicious activities. Authorities reportedly encouraged state employees to inform on their colleagues who might oppose the occupation. According to human rights advocates, eavesdropping and visits by security personnel created an environment in which persons were afraid to voice any opinion contrary to the occupation authorities, even in private.

Occupation authorities regularly used recorded audio of discussions regarding religion and politics, obtained through illegal wiretapping of private homes, and testimonies from unidentified witnesses as evidence in court. For example, in June 2019 occupation authorities detained four Crimean Tatars in the Alushta region of Crimea on terrorism charges related to alleged involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir. Russian prosecutors used FSB wiretaps of the men’s conversations during private religious classes about the concept of an Islamic caliphate in Crimea as evidence the men were planning a “forcible seizure of power.” As of November the men were being held at detention facility in Rostov-on-Don in Russia as the trial proceeded.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

See the Country Reports on Human Rights for Russia for a description of the relevant Russian laws and procedures the Russian government applied and enforced in occupied Crimea.

Occupation authorities significantly restricted the exercise of freedom of expression and subjected dissenting voices including the press to harassment and prosecution. Occupation authorities’ reported failure to investigate or prosecute attacks on human rights defenders and peaceful protesters led to de facto restrictions on the exercise of freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

Freedom of Speech: The HRMMU noted occupation authorities placed “excessive limitations on the freedoms of opinion and expression.” On July 31, occupation authorities began enforcing a law that prohibited the unauthorized dissemination of information damaging to the FSB’s reputation without the FSB’s approval. Enforcement of this law in Crimea deprived Crimean residents of the opportunity to publicly criticize and disseminate information about reportedly unlawful actions of FSB officers and alleged violations or abuses of human rights.

Individuals could not publicly criticize the Russian occupation without fear of reprisal. Human rights groups reported the FSB engaged in widespread surveillance of social media, telephones, and electronic communication and routinely summoned individuals for “discussions” for voicing or posting opposition to the occupation. These unlawfully obtained recordings were often used against those who were arbitrarily arrested in closed trials.

Occupation authorities often deemed expressions of dissent “extremism” and prosecuted individuals for them. For example, according to press reports, on January 18, the FSB placed a 34-year entry ban on Taras Ibrahimov, a Ukrainian journalist who covered politically motivated lawsuits and human rights violations in Crimea. Occupation authorities officially informed Ibrahimov of the ban but did not provide a justification.

Occupation authorities harassed and fined individuals for the display of Ukrainian or Crimean Tatar symbols, which were banned as “extremist.” For example, on March 9, police dispersed a small group of women who began singing the Ukrainian national anthem during an authorized ceremony next to a monument to Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko in Simferopol. Police told the women their actions constituted an “act of provocation.”

Occupation authorities deemed expressions of support for Ukrainian sovereignty over the peninsula to be equivalent to undermining Russian territorial integrity. For example, on May 22, the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation charged in absentia Crimean Tatar television channel ATR deputy director Ayder Muzhdabaev with violating a Russian law against “public calls for committing terrorist activities.” The charges were purportedly due to his support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity, which he routinely expressed on the daily talk show that he cohosted.

There were multiple reports that occupation authorities detained and prosecuted individuals seeking to film raids on homes or court proceedings. For example, according to press reports, journalist Amet Suleimanov was among those arrested on “terrorism” charges in the FSB’s March 11 raid on multiple Crimean Tatars’ homes in Bakhchisaray district. Occupation authorities first detained Suleimanov in 2017 for filming security forces during a raid on the home of a fellow member of Crimean Solidarity. Occupation authorities have detained and released him multiple times since 2017, citing vague “terrorism” concerns. As of October Suleimanov was under house arrest.

During the year occupation authorities prosecuted individuals for the content of social media posts. For example, on May 28 a “district court” in occupied Crimea fined the acting chairman of the Alushta Muslim community, Ruslan Emirvaliev, for a social media post made in 2016 containing an image of a boy pointing at a banner displaying the words of the Islamic shahada, or statement of faith, in Arabic script. Court documents characterized these words as “an inscription in an unknown language, of an unknown nature and content.”

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent print and broadcast media could not operate freely. Most independent media outlets were forced to close in 2015 after occupation authorities refused to register them. According to the Crimean Human Rights Group, after the occupation began, many local journalists left Crimea or abandoned their profession. With no independent media outlets left in Crimea and professional journalists facing serious risks for reporting from the peninsula, civic activists were a major source of information on developments in Crimea.

Violence and Harassment: There were numerous cases of security forces or police harassing activists and detaining journalists in connection with their civic or professional activities. For example, on November 3, occupation authorities detained two journalists of the Russia-based Grani.ru website near a Russia-controlled military court building in Simferopol on administrative charges related to public order. The journalists had come to the military court building to report on the sentencing of three Crimean Tatars by a military court in Rostov-on-Don, which was due to be delivered on the same day. Occupation authorities suggested the reporters had been involved in protests in support of the defendants, although local media reported the crowds of protesters had already dispersed when the journalists were arrested.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Following Russia’s occupation of Crimea, journalists resorted to self-censorship to continue reporting and broadcasting.

There were reports occupation authorities sought to restrict access to or remove internet content about Crimea they disliked. As of September Russia-led authorities blocked 30 websites in Crimea, including the websites of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis (a representative body that Russia deems extremist), Jehovah’s Witnesses, Hizb ut-Tahrir, the Ministry of Integration of the Temporarily Occupied Territories of Ukraine, and several independent Ukrainian news outlets, among others. Censorship of independent internet sites was widespread (see Internet Freedom).

Occupation authorities banned most Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar-language broadcasts, replacing the content with Russian programming. On June 22, the Crimean Human Rights Group reported that occupation authorities were continuing to block Ukrainian FM radio stations in northern Crimea by broadcasting their stations on the same wavelength. The signal of Ukrainian FM radio stations was heard in only five of the area’s 19 settlements.

Human rights groups reported occupation authorities continued to forbid songs by Ukrainian singers from playing on Crimean radio stations.

National Security: Authorities cited laws protecting national security to justify retaliation against opponents of Russia’s occupation.

The Russian Federal Financial Monitoring Service included prominent critics of the occupation on its list of extremists and terrorists. Inclusion on the list prevented individuals from holding bank accounts, using notary services, and conducting other financial transactions.

Authorities frequently used the threat of “extremism,” “terrorism,” or other purported national security grounds to justify harassment or prosecution of individuals in retaliation for expressing opposition to the occupation. For example, on May 25, the Russia-controlled “supreme court” in occupied Crimea began hearing the in absentia trial of Lenur Isliamov, the owner of the Crimean Tatar television channel ATR. In 2015 occupation authorities charged Isliamov with “organizing an illegal armed group, committing sabotage, [and] public calls for extremist activities.” In 2015 Isliamov led a group of volunteers near the administrative border in blocking the transport of commercial goods to and from occupied Crimea. The Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group called the act an “essentially peaceful civic blockade of Crimea,” and the Ukrainian government subsequently approved the formal registration of Isliamov’s organization.

Internet Freedom

Russian occupation authorities restricted free expression on the internet (see section 2.a. of the Country Reports on Human Rights for Russia), by imposing repressive Russian Federation laws on Crimea. Security services routinely monitored and controlled internet activity to suppress dissenting opinions. According to media accounts, occupation authorities interrogated and harassed residents of Crimea for online postings with pro-Ukrainian opinions (see Censorship or Content Restrictions, above).

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

Occupation authorities engaged in a widespread campaign to suppress the Crimean Tatar and Ukrainian languages (see section 6, National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities).

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

See the Country Reports on Human Rights for Russia for a description of the relevant Russian laws and procedures that the Russian government applied and enforced in occupied Crimea.

According to the June UN secretary-general’s special report, “public events initiated by perceived supporters of Ukrainian territorial integrity or critics of policies of the Russian Federation in Crimea were reportedly prevented or prohibited by occupation authorities.”

Human rights monitors reported that occupation authorities routinely denied permission to hold assemblies based on political beliefs, in particular to opponents of the occupation or those seeking to protest the actions of the occupation authorities. Those who gathered without permission were regularly charged with administrative offenses. Expansive rules about what type of gatherings required permits and selective enforcement of the rules made it difficult for protesters to avoid such offenses. For example, according to a local news website, on January 19, police shut down a small women-led rally in Kerch against the possible closure of the Taigan Safari Park, which faced mismanagement-related litigation in Russia-based courts. Police and representatives of the Kerch city council told the rally’s participants that holding a public event unauthorized by the city council was illegal. The participants complied in ending the rally, and several of them began disseminating leaflets to passers-by. An hour later, police detained several of the women and took them to the police station. Police did not register the arrests.

Occupation authorities brought charges for “unauthorized assemblies” against single-person protests, even though preauthorization is not required for individual protests. For example, according to the Crimean Human Rights Group, on June 8, police charged activist Serhiy Akimov with an administrative offense for holding a one-person protest in Simferopol in front of the Crimean “parliament” building in support of Russian politician Nikolay Platoshkin, who was under house arrest in Moscow.

There were reports that authorities used a ban on “unauthorized missionary activity” to restrict public gatherings of members of religious minorities. For example, on April 1, the “prosecutor” of Alushta opened administrative proceedings against Yusuf Ashirov, the imam of the local Islamic community, for “illegal missionary activity.” The prosecutor did not explain how Ashirov’s performance of Friday prayers, a traditional rite for Muslims, violated the law.

A “regulation” limits the places where public events may be held to 366 listed locations, which, as the HRMMU noted, restricted the ability to assemble to a shrinking number of “specially designated spaces,” a move that appeared “designed to dissuade” peaceful assembly.

There were reports occupation authorities charged and fined individuals for allegedly violating public assembly rules in retaliation for gathering to witness security force raids on homes.

Freedom of Association

See the Country Reports on Human Rights for Russia for a description of the relevant Russian laws and procedures that the Russian government applied and enforced in occupied Crimea.

Occupation authorities broadly restricted the exercise of freedom of association for individuals who opposed the occupation. For example, there were numerous reports of authorities taking steps to harass, intimidate, arrest, and imprison members of the human rights group Crimean Solidarity, an unregistered movement of friends and family of victims of repression by occupation authorities (see section 1.d.). During the year the Crimean Human Rights Group documented multiple cases in which police visited the homes of Crimean Solidarity activists to threaten them or warn them not to engage in “extremist” activities. For example, on May 6, Seyran Menseitov, a member of the Crimean Solidarity movement, received a letter from the Yevpatoriya “prosecutor’s office,” which warned him against participating in gatherings related to the May 18 “Day of Remembrance for the victims of the Crimean Tatar Genocide,” as they might constitute “extremist” activities. At least 10 other Crimean Tatar activists and journalists received similar “preventive warnings” in advance of the May 18 holiday.

According to human rights groups, Russian security services routinely monitored prayers at mosques for any mention that Crimea remained part of Ukraine. Russian security forces also monitored mosques for anti-Russia sentiment and as a means of recruiting police informants, whose secret testimony was used in trials of alleged Hizb ut-Tahrir members.

The Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People remained banned for purported “extremism” despite a decision by the International Court of Justice holding that occupation authorities must “refrain from maintaining or imposing limitations on the ability of the Crimean Tatar community to conserve its representative institutions, including the Mejlis.” Following the 2016 ban on the Crimean Tatar Mejlis as an “extremist organization,” occupation authorities banned gatherings by Mejlis members and prosecuted individuals for discussing the Mejlis on social media.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

Occupation authorities imposed restrictions on freedom of movement.

In-country Movement: Occupation authorities maintained a state “border” at the administrative boundary between mainland Ukraine and Crimea. According to the HRMMU, the boundary and the absence of public transportation between Crimea and mainland Ukraine continued to undermine freedom of movement to and from the peninsula, affecting mainly the elderly and individuals with limited mobility. The government simplified crossing the administrative boundary for children in a decree that came into force on February 9. Children younger than 16 were allowed to cross the administrative boundary between mainland Ukraine and Crimea both ways if accompanied by one parent. Notarized permission of the second parent was no longer required. Children ages 14-16 could cross the administrative line both ways unaccompanied if they studied at an educational institution located in mainland Ukraine and resided or were registered in Crimea.

There were reports occupation authorities selectively detained and at times abused persons attempting to enter or leave Crimea. According to human rights groups, occupation authorities routinely detained adult men at the administrative boundary for additional questioning, threatened to seize passports and documents, seized telephones and memory cards, and questioned them for hours.

On March 14, Ukrainian authorities restricted crossing of the administrative boundary as a COVID-19 preventative measure. Under the restrictions, only individuals registered as residents of government-controlled territory could cross into mainland Ukraine, and only individuals registered in Crimea could cross into the occupied peninsula. Public backlash to the measures led the government to expand authorized crossings four days later, allowing for crossings for humanitarian reasons, such as family reunification, cases of serious illness, and the death of a close relative. On June 15, the State Border Guard Service rescinded the residency requirements and resumed normal operations of checkpoints along the administrative boundary, while still requiring self-isolation for persons leaving occupied Crimea. On August 1, the service rescinded the self-isolation requirement but temporarily closed the crossing points again from August 8 to 30.

On March 18, Russian occupation authorities banned Ukrainian citizens from entering occupied Crimea, citing COVID-19 prevention as justification. The number of administrative boundary crossings dropped to nearly 1 percent of historical levels as a result of these restrictions. For instance, from April to May, the State Border Guard Service registered 4,000 crossings of the administrative boundary, compared with 344,000 crossings during the same period in 2019.

On April 3, Russian occupation authorities imposed upon Ukrainians in Crimea a measure banning those they considered Russian citizens from leaving the territory of what they considered the Russian Federation. Occupation authorities justified the action by asserting that many Ukrainians in Crimea had Russian passports, many of which were issued without being requested. For example, on April 5, FSB officials at the administrative boundary denied the request of a Ukrainian citizen seeking cancer treatment in Kyiv to exit occupied Crimea, citing her alleged Russian citizenship. Similarly, on April 17, Soviet dissident and marathon swimmer Oleh Sofianyk presented a Ukrainian passport to Russian officials at the administrative boundary in order to cross into mainland Ukraine. The officials refused his request to exit occupied Crimea, citing his alleged Russian citizenship. On April 27, Sofianyk attempted a second time to exit Crimea, but authorities again refused his request. Sofianyk managed to leave the peninsula on June 2.

In other cases, occupation authorities issued entry bans to Crimean Tatars attempting to cross the administrative boundary. For example, on May 23, the FSB detained 61-year-old human rights defender Diliaver Memetov when he attempted to pass through an administrative boundary checkpoint for a planned trip to mainland Ukraine. Occupation authorities took Memetov to a police station, where he claims police tore out pages from his passport. Upon his release three hours later, Memetov attempted to cross again, but was denied entry and fined a substantial amount for presenting a damaged passport.

Occupation authorities launched criminal cases against numerous high-profile Crimean Tatar leaders, including Member of Parliament Mustafa Jemilev; the chairman of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis, Refat Chubarov; the director general of the ATR television channel, Lenur Isliamov; and ATR deputy director Aider Muzhdabayev.

According to the HRMMU, Ukrainian law restricts access to Crimea to three designated crossing points and imposes penalties, including long-term entry bans, for noncompliance. Crimean residents lacking Ukrainian passports, who only possessed Russian-issued Crimean travel documents not recognized by Ukrainian authorities, often faced difficulties when crossing into mainland Ukraine.

Citizenship: Russian occupation authorities required all residents of Crimea to be Russian citizens. Those who refused Russian citizenship could be subjected to arbitrary expulsion. According to the Crimean Human Rights Group, during the six years of Russia’s occupation, approximately 2,000 Ukrainians were prosecuted for not having Russian documents, and approximately 530 persons were ordered to be “deported.”

According to the HRMMU, in 2019 Crimean “courts” ordered “deportation” and forcible transfer of 109 Ukrainian citizens whose residence rights in Crimea were not recognized.

Residents of Crimea who chose not to adopt Russian citizenship were considered foreigners but in some cases could obtain a residency permit. Persons without Russian citizenship holding a residency permit were deprived of key rights and could not own agricultural land, vote or run for office, register a religious congregation, or register a vehicle. Authorities denied those who refused Russian citizenship access to “government” employment, education, and health care as well as the ability to open bank accounts and buy insurance, among other limitations.

According to the Crimean Human Rights Group, Russian authorities prosecuted private employers who continued to employ Ukrainians. Fines could be imposed on employers for every recorded case of employing a Ukrainian citizen without a labor license. Fines in such cases amounted to several million dollars.

In some cases authorities compelled Crimean residents to surrender their Ukrainian passports, complicating international travel, because many countries did not recognize “passports” issued by Russian occupation authorities.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Approximately 47,000 residents of Crimea registered as IDPs on the mainland, according to the Ministry of Social Policy. The Mejlis and local NGOs, such as Crimea SOS, believed the actual number could be as high as 100,000, as most IDPs remained unregistered. Many individuals fled due to fear that occupation authorities would target them for abuse because of their work as political activists or journalists. Muslims, Greek Catholics, and Evangelical Christians who left Crimea said they feared discrimination due to their religious beliefs.

Crimean Tatars, who made up the largest number of IDPs, said they left because of pressure on their community, including an increasing number of arbitrary searches of their homes, surveillance, and discrimination. In addition, many professionals left Crimea because Russian occupation authorities required them to apply for Russian professional licenses and adopt Russian procedures in their work.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

Recent Elections: Russian occupation authorities prevented residents from voting in Ukrainian national and local elections since Crimea’s occupation began in 2014.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

Corruption: There were multiple reports of systemic rampant corruption among Crimean “officeholders,” including through embezzlement of Russian state funds allocated to support the occupation. For example, on March 28, a “district court” found the former head of the Feodosiya city administration, Dmitri Shchepetkov, guilty of abuse of office and attempted bribe taking. He was sentenced to eight years in prison and fined 42 million rubles ($560,000).

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

Most independent human rights organizations ceased activities in Crimea following Russia’s occupation. Occupation authorities refused to cooperate with independent human rights NGOs, ignored their views, and harassed human rights monitors and threatened them with fines and imprisonment.

Russia continued to deny access to the peninsula to international human rights monitors from the OSCE and the United Nations.

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

Children

Birth Registration: Under both Ukrainian law and laws imposed by Russian occupation authorities, either birthplace or parentage determines citizenship. Russia’s occupation and purported annexation of Crimea complicated the question of citizenship for children born after February 2014, since it was difficult for parents to register a child as a citizen with Ukrainian authorities. Registration in the country requires a hospital certificate, which is retained when a birth certificate is issued. Under the occupation regime, new parents could only obtain a Russian birth certificate and did not have access to a hospital certificate. In 2016 the Ukrainian government instituted a process whereby births in Crimea could be recognized with documents issued by occupation authorities.

Anti-Semitism

According to Jewish groups, the Jewish population in Crimea was approximately 10,000 to 15,000, with most living in Simferopol. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

Since the beginning of the occupation, authorities singled out Crimean Tatars and Ukrainians for discrimination, abuse, deprivation of civil liberties and religious and economic rights, and violence, including killings and abductions (also see sections 1.a.-1.d., 1.f., 2.a., 2.b., and 2.d.). The June UN secretary-general’s report noted, “Law enforcement authorities seemed to target actual or perceived critics of the occupation of Crimea and the policies of the Russian Federation on the peninsula, such as the Mejlis and Crimean Solidarity.”

There were reports that Russian occupation authorities openly advocated discrimination against Crimean Tatars. Occupation authorities harassed Crimean Tatars for speaking their language in public and forbade speaking it in the workplace. There were reports teachers prohibited schoolchildren from speaking Crimean Tatar to one another. Crimean Tatars were prohibited from celebrating their national holidays and commemorating victims of previous abuses (see section 2.b.).

Occupation authorities also restricted the use of Crimean Tatar flags and symbols (see section 2.a.).

By the end of 2014, Ukrainian as a language of instruction was removed from university-level education in Crimea. According to the Crimean Resource Center, schools in Crimea no longer provided instruction in Ukrainian. Crimean Tatar was the sole instruction language for seven schools, and five schools that previously offered all instruction in Crimean Tatar added Russian language instruction. In 2017 the International Court of Justice ruled on provisional measures in proceedings brought by Ukraine against the Russian Federation, concluding unanimously that the Russian Federation must “ensure the availability of education in the Ukrainian language.”

Occupation authorities have not permitted churches linked to ethnic Ukrainians, in particular the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) and the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, to register under Russian law. Occupation authorities harassed and intimidated members of the churches and used court proceedings to force the OCU in particular to leave properties it had rented for years. On July 24, “court bailiffs” issued an order to Archbishop Klyment of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine to dismantle the only OCU church in Yevpatoriya within five days.

The largest OCU congregation in Crimea closed in September 2019 following a ruling by occupation authorities that the cathedral located in Simferopol must be “returned to the state.” The church was shut down after repeated refusals by the authorities to allow it to register.

Russian occupation authorities prohibited Crimean Tatars affiliated with the Mejlis from registering businesses or properties as a matter of policy.

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

Human rights groups and LGBTI activists reported that most LGBTI individuals fled Crimea after the Russian occupation began. Those who remained lived in fear of abuse due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. The UN Human Rights Council’s independent expert received reports of increased violence and discrimination of the LGBTI community in Crimea, as well as the use of homophobic propaganda employed by the occupation authorities. LGBTI persons reportedly were frequently subjected to beatings in public spaces and entrapped by organized groups through social networks. The council’s report noted, “this environment created an atmosphere of fear and terror for members of the community, with related adverse impacts on their mental health and well-being.”

According to the HRMMU, NGOs working on access to health care among vulnerable groups have found it impossible to advocate for better access to healthcare for LGBTI persons due to fear of retaliation by occupation authorities.

Occupation authorities prohibited any LGBTI group from holding public events in Crimea. LGBTI individuals faced increasing restrictions on their exercise of free expression and peaceful assembly, because occupation authorities enforced a Russian law that criminalizes the so-called propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations to minors (see section 6 of the Country Reports on Human Rights for Russia).

Section 7. Worker Rights

Occupation authorities announced the labor laws of Ukraine would not be in effect after 2016 and that only the laws of the Russian Federation would apply.

Occupation authorities imposed the labor laws and regulations of the Russian Federation on Crimean workers, limited worker rights, and created barriers to the exercise of freedom of association, collective bargaining, and the ability to strike. Trade unions are formally protected under Russian law but limited in practice. As in both Ukraine and Russia, employers were often able to engage in antiunion discrimination and violate collective bargaining rights. Pro-Russian authorities threatened to nationalize property owned by Ukrainian labor unions in Crimea. Ukrainians who did not accept Russian citizenship faced job discrimination in all sectors of the economy. Only holders of Russian national identification cards were allowed to work in “government” and municipal positions. Labor activists believed that unions were threatened in Crimea to accept “government” policy without question and faced considerable restrictions on advocating for their members.

Although no official data were available, experts estimated there was growing participation in the underground economy in Crimea.

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Ukraine

Taiwan

Executive Summary

Taiwan is a democracy led by a president and parliament selected in multiparty elections. On January 11, voters re-elected President Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party to another four-year term in an election considered free and fair.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. The National Police Agency, under the Ministry of Interior, maintains internal security. The police, military services, Agency of Corrections, and Coast Guard Administration report to the premier, who is appointed by the president. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: the existence of criminal libel laws and serious acts of corruption.

Authorities enforced laws prohibiting human rights abuses and prosecuted officials who committed them, including incumbent and former legislators involved in a high-profile bribery case. There were no reports of impunity.

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

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

There were no reports authorities or their agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The law stipulates no violence, threat, inducement, fraud, or other improper means should be used against accused persons, and there were no reports officials employed these practices. There were no reports of impunity in the security forces.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

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

Physical Conditions: There were no major concerns in prisons and detention centers regarding physical conditions or inmate abuse.

Administration: Prison authorities investigated claims of inhuman conditions and released the results of their investigations to judicial authorities and occasionally to the press. Authorities investigated and monitored prison and detention center conditions.

In August, two prison officers surnamed Lee and Chiu were sentenced to 10.5 years and nine years in jail, respectively, for complicity in abuses in October 2019 that led to the death of an inmate.

During the active investigation phase of their cases, authorities deprived a small number of detainees of visitation rights, on court order, although these detainees retained access to legal counsel.

Independent Monitoring: Authorities allowed independent nongovernmental observers to investigate prison conditions.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and relevant laws prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of defendants to challenge the lawfulness of their detention in court, and the authorities generally observed these requirements.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law requires a warrant or summons, except when there is sufficient reason to believe the suspect may flee or in urgent circumstances, as specified in the code of criminal procedures. Courts may release indicted persons on bail. Prosecutors must apply to the courts within 24 hours after arrest for permission to continue detaining a suspect. Authorities generally observed these procedures, and trials usually took place within three months of indictment. Prosecutors may apply to a court for approval of pretrial detention of an unindicted suspect for a maximum of two months, with one possible two-month extension. Prosecutors may request pretrial detention in cases in which the potential sentence is five years or more and when there is a reasonable concern the suspect could flee, collude with other suspects or witnesses, or tamper with or destroy material evidence.

The law allows defendants and their lawyers access to case files and evidence while in pretrial detention. The law also stipulates defendants must be assisted by a lawyer while in detention. For those who cannot afford to hire one, a public defender will be appointed. The law also specifies suspects may not be interrogated late at night.

The judicial branch (Judicial Yuan) and the National Police Agency operated a program to provide legal counsel during initial police questioning of indigenous suspects, qualifying indigent suspects who have a mental disability, or persons charged with a crime punishable by three or more years in prison. Detained persons may request the assistance of the Legal Aid Foundation, a publicly funded independent statutory organization that provides professional legal assistance through its 22 branch offices to persons who might not otherwise have legal representation. During regular consultations with police and when participating in police conferences, Legal Aid Foundation officials remind police of their obligation to notify suspects of the existence of such counseling. Authorities can detain a suspect without visitation rights, except for legal counsel, or hold a suspect under house arrest based on a prosecutor’s recommendation and court decision. The law affords the right of compensation to those whom police have unlawfully detained.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the authorities generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. Some political commentators and academics, however, publicly questioned the impartiality of judges and prosecutors involved in high profile, politically sensitive cases. Judicial reform advocates pressed for greater public accountability, reforms of the personnel system, and other procedural improvements.

The judicial system included options beyond appeal for rectifying an injustice. In a high-profile retrial in May, the death sentence for Hsieh Chih-hung, detained since 2000 for murder and rape, was overturned by the High Court’s Tainan branch due to insufficient evidence after the Taipei High Prosecutors’ Office petitioned for a retrial, citing new evidence of Hsieh’s innocence.

Trial Procedures

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

By law when any authority arrests or detains a person without a court order, any person, including the arrestee or detainee, may petition a court of justice having jurisdiction for a writ of habeas corpus, and the case must be brought before a judge within 24 hours. The law also requires agencies to inform detainees of their right to see a judge for a writ of habeas corpus. Detaining authorities who violate the law may face a maximum sentence of three years in prison and a modest fine.

All defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty. They also have the right to an attorney and to be present at trial. Trials are public, although court permission may be required to attend trials involving juveniles or potentially sensitive issues that might attract crowds. Judges decide cases; all judges receive appointments from and answer to the Judicial Yuan. A single judge, rather than a defense attorney or prosecutor, typically interrogates parties and witnesses. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly of charges, hire an attorney of their choice or have one provided, prepare a defense, confront witnesses against them, and present witnesses and evidence. Defendants have the right to free interpretation service, if needed, from the moment charged through all appeals.

By law a suspect may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt and a confession may not be the sole evidence used to find a defendant guilty. All convicted persons have the right to appeal to the next two higher court levels. The law extends the above rights to all suspects and convicted persons.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

In July the Transitional Justice Commission, responsible for the investigation of human rights abuses under the Kuomintang regime between 1945 and 1992, unveiled the fifth list of exonerated victims of political persecution during the authoritarian era. Since the 2018 establishment of the commission, 5,861 victims of political persecution have had their convictions overturned. In February the commission published a report on their investigation of the 1981 death of political dissident Chen Wen-chen, declaring he was most likely killed by security agents.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

There is an independent and impartial judiciary for civil matters. Administrative remedies are available in addition to judicial remedies for alleged wrongdoing, including human rights violations.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

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

Freedom of Speech: In February the High Court overruled the September 2019 acquittal of a man, Chia-yu Lee, and found him guilty of inciting individuals to burn the Republic of China flag. The lower court had acquitted him on the grounds that his act was a form of constitutionally protected speech.

The law most cited to curb the spread of disinformation was the Law for Maintaining Social Order, which authorities have used to limit or question speech to combat misinformation. For example, in December 2019 police questioned a political science professor for potential violations of this law arising from a video (deemed misleading by authorities) that he posted in 2018 on Facebook criticizing the administration’s policy on the National Palace Museum. Courts ruled in January that the comments constituted protected free speech. In July, two opposition Tainan City councilors were referred to the court for potentially violating that law, after publicly claiming that counterfeit versions of stimulus vouchers were being circulated. In September the Tainan district court concluded that the councilors’ comments fell within the scope of free speech and upheld its ruling that no punishment would be issued, rejecting police claims that the city councilors “spread rumors to disrupt public order.”

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. There were no credible reports authorities in Taiwan restricted media freedom.

In September the Ministry of Health and Welfare cancelled new regulations that barred media from placing suicide-related articles on front pages, the use of sensational headlines in suicide cases, and the use of photographs of suicides or the inclusion of hyperlinks to such images, as well as repetitive reporting of suicide-related news.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Officials in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) influenced Taiwan media outlets through pressure on the business interests of their parent companies in the PRC. Taiwan journalists reported difficulty publishing content critical of the PRC, alleging that PRC authorities had pressured Taiwan businesses with operations in China to refrain from advertising with Taiwan media outlets which published such material. To punish Taiwan media outlets deemed too critical of PRC policies or actions, the PRC would subject their journalists to heightened scrutiny at Chinese ports of entry or deny them entry to China. PRC actors also targeted the computers and mobile phones of Taiwan journalists for cyberattacks.

In January a new law criminalized receiving direction or funding from prohibited Chinese sources to conduct political activities, with sentences up to five years imprisonment and substantial fines. In response to the passage of this law, Master Chain, a Taiwan-based media group also operating in China, announced plans to suspend its Taiwan operations. Opposition politicians and some media outlets criticized these provisions as overly broad and potentially detrimental to freedom of expression, including for the press.

On November 18, Taiwan’s National Communications Commission (NCC) declined to renew the license of CTi News, the first nonrenewal of a news channel license since the NCC’s establishment in 2006. The independent regulatory agency noted CTi News’ repeated violations of broadcasting regulations for which the channel was fined 23 times for a total of 11.5 million New Taiwan (NT) dollars ($390,000) over the past six years. The NCC also cited CTi News’ failure to implement internal control and self-regulation reforms designed to remedy problems noted during its 2014 license renewal process. Opposition politicians and some academics and commentators claimed NCC’s decision not to renew the license was politically motivated retaliation for CTi News’ criticism of the ruling party. On the other hand, there have been serious allegations that CTi News and its sister publications owned by the Want Want Group took editorial direction from the PRC. CTi News challenged the NCC’s decision in administrative court but ceased broadcasting when its operating permit expired on December 11.

Libel/Slander Laws: Defamation and public humiliation are criminal offenses. Reporters faced online bullying and the threat of legal action, particularly under the liberal libel laws.

Under the law those who commit the offense of slander or libel by “pointing out or disseminating a fact which will injure the reputation of another” are subject to a sentence of up to two years or a fine. Victims of slander can also claim reasonable financial compensation and require measures for the rehabilitation of their reputations. These provisions allow the subjects of unfavorable press coverage to press criminal and civil charges directly against journalists and media outlets for defamation. Journalists were rarely convicted for criminal defamation, as the law also specifies that a person who makes “fair comment on a fact subject to public criticism” with “bona-fide intent…shall not be punished.” Some legal scholars and nongovernmental organizations (NGO) continued to urge that libel be treated exclusively as a civil matter.

In July 2019 the Want Want Group, which has substantial operations in the PRC, filed a criminal defamation lawsuit against Taiwan-based Financial Times journalist Kathrin Hille in apparent retaliation for a report she authored exposing coordination between Want Want media outlets in Taiwan and the PRC Taiwan Affairs Office. Want Want also filed suit against Taiwan’s state-run Central News Agency for citing the Financial Times report. Reporters without Borders called Want Want Group’s legal action an “abusive libel suit” against a journalist whose reporting was credible. These lawsuits remained pending.

Internet Freedom

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

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

Academic freedom is generally well protected. Some observers said that universities have sought to prevent or restrict speech related to the PRC.

In May a Chung Yuan Christian University professor surnamed Chao accused the university of interfering with academic freedom to appease Chinese students. The professor alleged the university pressured him to apologize for saying that the novel coronavirus likely originated in Wuhan and for identifying himself as “a professor from the Republic of China.”

There were no restrictions on cultural events.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

The constitution provides for freedoms of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and authorities generally respected these rights.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, authorities imposed border control restrictions. In August the Central Epidemic Command Center barred entry by children of Chinese spouses older than age six, including by those with a valid Taiwan residency permit.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, and authorities have not established a system for providing protection to refugees. Due to its unique political status, Taiwan is not eligible to become a party to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.

All PRC citizens unlawfully present are required by law to be returned to the PRC, although Taiwan allows PRC asylum seekers to remain in Taiwan on a case-by-case basis.

On July 1, the Taiwan-Hong Kong Office for Exchanges and Services under the Mainland Affairs Council began to provide humanitarian assistance to Hong Kong permanent residents.

In April Lam Wing-kee of Hong Kong received legal employment status. In April 2019 Lam, former owner of Causeway Bay Books in Hong Kong, relocated to Taiwan, citing concern that he could be extradited from Hong Kong to the PRC under Hong Kong’s proposed extradition bill.

In July Li Jiabao, a former PRC exchange student, reported he no longer had legal status in Taiwan and was facing deportation to the PRC. In March 2019 Li openly criticized PRC president Xi Jinping on Twitter, and in April 2019 he requested a long-term stay permit on political grounds. His student visa expired in April 2019 but in July 2019 the National Immigration Agency granted him a special six-month visa extension for study purposes.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In January 11 presidential and legislative elections, President Tsai Ing-wen won re-election and her party, the Democratic Progressive Party, maintained a majority in the legislature. Observers regarded the elections as free and fair, although there were allegations of vote buying by candidates and supporters of both major political parties.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate.

President Tsai Ing-wen is Taiwan’s first female president. Following January 11 elections, a record 42 percent of lawmakers were women, an increase from 38 percent in 2016, although less than 3 percent of the cabinet were women. Six seats are reserved in the legislature for representatives chosen by Taiwan’s indigenous people. In 2018 local elections, voters elected women to seven of the 22 mayoral and county magistrate seats. The number of women elected to local councils also continued to grow: Women won 307 of the 912 city and county council seats–an increase from 30.7 percent in 2014 with 33.8 percent in 2018.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and authorities generally implemented the law effectively. There were reports of official corruption during the year. In the year to May, nine high-ranking officials, 59 mid-level, 75 low-level, and 18 elected people’s deputies had been indicted for corruption.

Corruption: The Ministry of Justice and its Agency against Corruption are in charge of combating official corruption. The ministry received sufficient resources and collaborated with civil society within the scope of the law. Some legal scholars and politicians said the justice ministry was insufficiently independent and conducted politically motivated investigations of politicians. The Control Yuan, an independent investigative and auditing agency, is responsible for impeaching officials in cases of wrongdoing.

In January the Supreme Court upheld a guilty verdict for bribery against former minister of transportation and communications Kuo Yao-chi, who was sentenced to eight years in prison. Kuo was initially found innocent in two trials by the Taipei district court in 2009 and 2010, before being found guilty in a retrial by the High Court in 2011.

In September the Taipei District Prosecutors Office charged incumbent legislators Su Chen-ching of the Democratic Progressive Party, Liao Kuo-tung and Chen Chao-ming of the Kuomintang, and former New Power Party legislator Hsu Yung-ming with accepting bribes to assist a businessman in regaining control of the ownership of a department store chain. In addition independent legislator Chao Cheng-yu was indicted in a separate bribery case involving two funeral services companies and a plot of land in a national park. These cases were pending trial.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires specific appointed and elected officials and candidates in national and local elections to disclose their income and assets to the Control Yuan, which makes the disclosures public. Those making false declarations with the intent to conceal properties are subject to modest to substantial fines. The law also requires civil servants to account for abnormal increases in their assets and makes failure to do so a punishable offense and there are criminal and administrative sanctions for noncompliance.

The law stipulates 18 categories of politically exposed persons subject to strict oversight for money-laundering activities. These include the president, vice president, heads of the central and local governments, legislators, and leadership of state-owned enterprises, as well as their family members and close associates.

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

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

In August the Control Yuan established the National Human Rights Commission in charge of investigating abuses and discrimination, reviewing national human rights policies, publishing annual national human rights status reports, and promoting human rights in collaboration with domestic civil society and international NGOs.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of women and men, including spousal rape, and domestic violence, and provides protection for rape survivors. Rape trials are not open to the public unless the victim consents. The law allows experts to assist in questioning and appear in court as witnesses when rape victims are minors or have mental disabilities, and authorizes the use of one-way mirrors, video conferencing, or other practices to protect victims during questioning and at trial. The law permits a charge of rape even if the victim chooses not to press charges and allows prosecutors to investigate complaints of domestic violence even if the victim has not filed a formal complaint.

The law establishes the punishment for rape as a minimum of five years’ imprisonment, and courts usually sentenced individuals convicted of rape to five to 10 years in prison. Courts typically sentenced individuals convicted in domestic violence cases to less than six months in prison.

In one prominent case, in August a man surnamed Su was sentenced to 12 years in prison for sexually assaulting a woman.

Many victims did not report the crime for fear of social stigmatization, and NGOs and academic studies estimated the total number of sexual assaults was seven to 10 times higher than the number reported to police. Some abused women chose not to report incidents to police due to social pressure not to disgrace their families.

The law requires all cities and counties to establish violence prevention and control centers to address domestic and sexual violence, child abuse, and elder abuse.

In May the Constitutional Court issued an interpretation decriminalizing adultery. Activists lauded the ruling, asserting the laws had been used to pressure victims of sexual assault to refrain from filing charges.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment (see section 7.d.). In most cases perpetrators were required to attend classes on gender equality and counseling sessions, and when the victims agreed, to apologize to the victims. In 2019 a total of 408 fines were issued, up from 287 fines in 2018, with a combined total of seven million New Taiwan dollars ($238,000), a 40 percent increase from the previous year.

Incidents of sexual harassment were reportedly on the rise in public spaces, schools, the legislature, and in government agencies.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children and to manage their reproductive health. They had access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence, although their rights are abridged by the legal requirement that women concerned about the effect of pregnancy or childbirth on their mental health or family life must secure spousal consent before receiving certain forms of reproductive health care.

Contraceptive drugs and services were covered by the comprehensive mandatory health insurance system and readily available through prescription after a medical consultation. Pregnant women received full coverage of related medical expenses, including for 10 prenatal care outpatient visits and hospital or clinic services for labor and delivery. Fertility treatments are limited by law to married couples with a medical diagnosis of infertility or a major hereditary disease and when the wife is medically capable of carrying the pregnancy to term. Surrogacy is not legal. Staff members at designated hospitals were trained to acquire evidence and perform medical examinations for victims of sexual violence and to provide other sexual and reproductive health services.

In 2019, 99.83 percent of births were attended by a physician and 0.08 percent by a midwife. From 2009 through 2019, the adolescent birth rate remained at roughly four per 1,000 women between the ages of 15 and 19.

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

Discrimination: The law provides the same legal status and rights for women and men. Women experienced some discrimination in employment (see section 7.d.).

Gender-biased Sex Selection: The law prohibits sex selection and sex-selective abortion, except for diagnoses of sex-linked inheritance disorders. Even for embryos created via assisted reproductive technology, the fetal sex may not be revealed in any form unless medically required. According to National Health Administration statistics, the ratio of males-to-females for a first child born in 2019 was 1.07. A 2019 survey found 32 percent of respondents preferred a female baby, and 31 percent a male baby. Authorities worked with local health bureaus to monitor the sex ratio at birth and continued to promote gender equality.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from that of either parent. Births must be registered within 60 days; failure to do so results in the denial of national health care and education benefits. Registration is not denied on a discriminatory basis.

Child Abuse: The law stipulates persons learning of child abuse or neglect must notify police or welfare authorities. An official 24-hour hotline accepted complaints and offered counseling. Courts are required to appoint guardians for children of parents deemed unfit. Childcare center owners and teachers who physically abuse or sexually harass children may be fined, and the names of perpetrators and their institutions will be made public. Owners who fail to verify the qualifications of teachers and other employees may be fined.

Children’s rights advocates called on medical professionals to pay attention to infants and young children sent to hospitals with unusual injuries and to take the initiative to report suspected abuse to law enforcement while treating these children. Advocates also called attention to bullying, violence, and sexual assault cases at correctional institutions, while pointing out these facilities were often understaffed and that their personnel were inadequately trained to counsel and manage teenage inmates.

Central and local authorities coordinated with private organizations to identify and assist high-risk children and families and to increase public awareness of child abuse and domestic violence.

In August a couple surnamed Chiu and Wang were convicted of beating their two-year-old son to death in November 2019. They were sentenced to 15 years and eight years and four months in jail, respectively. In June a man surnamed Chang was sentenced to nine years and 10 months in jail for sexual abuse of three minors.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 18 years for men and 16 for girls.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children and child pornography. Under law a perpetrator who films an underage person engaging in sexual intercourse or obscene acts or produces pictures, photographs, films, videotapes, compact discs, electronic signals, or other objects that show an underage person engaging in sexual intercourse or obscene acts, is subject to imprisonment for between one and seven years, and could face a substantial fine.

The minimum age for consensual sexual relations is 16. Persons who engage in sex with children younger than age 14 face sentences of three to 10 years in prison. Those who engage in sex with minors between 14 and 16 receive a mandatory prison sentence of three to seven years. Solicitors of sex with minors older than 16 but younger than 18 face a maximum of one year in prison or hard labor or a substantial fine.

While authorities generally enforced the law domestically, elements of the law that treat possession of child pornography as a misdemeanor rather than a felony hampered enforcement in some cases. Authorities also did not investigate or prosecute any cases of child sexual exploitation committed by citizens while traveling abroad, although the law permits this.

In March a man surnamed Chen was sentenced to two years and two months in jail for distributing intimate photos of a 13-year-old girl through social media, in addition to an earlier sentence of eight years and six months for sexual assault against the same minor.

NGOs raised concerns regarding online sexual exploitation of children and reported sex offenders increasingly used cell phones, web cameras, live streaming, apps, and other new technologies to deceive and coerce underage girls and boys into sexual activity; the NGOs called for increased prosecutions and heavier penalties.

There were reports of minors in prostitution.

International Child Abductions: Due to its unique political status, Taiwan is not eligible to become a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community was very small, estimated at 1,000 individuals, predominately foreign residents. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities and stipulates authorities must provide certain services and programs to persons with disabilities. Persons with disabilities have the right to vote and participate in civic affairs.

Authorities made efforts to implement laws and programs to provide access to buildings, information, and communications. NGOs contended the lack of barrier-free spaces and accessible transportation systems continued to limit civic engagement by persons with disabilities, particularly outside Taipei. The Accessible Living Environment Supervisory Task Force under the Ministry of the Interior is responsible for monitoring efforts by local governments to improve the accessibility of public buildings. Authorities release an annual assessment on accessibility in public buildings and areas that serves as a reference for central government budget allocation.

Most children with disabilities attended mainstream schools, but separate primary, secondary, and vocational schools were also available for students with disabilities. NGOs asserted services for students with disabilities remained largely inadequate.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

As of December 2019, spouses born in Southeast Asian countries and the PRC accounted for more than 2.2 percent of the total population. Overseas spouses were reportedly targets of social discrimination or abuse outside and, at times, inside the home.

The law allows non-PRC-born foreign spouses of Taiwan passport holders to apply for Taiwan residency after three years, while PRC-born spouses must wait six years. Unlike non-PRC spouses, however, PRC-born spouses may work in Taiwan immediately on arrival. The status and rights of PRC-born spouses are governed by the Act Governing Relations Between the People of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area.

Starting in August 2019, seven Southeast Asian languages–Vietnamese, Indonesian, Thai, Burmese, Khmer, Malay, and Tagalog–were incorporated into the language curriculum in some elementary schools, reflecting the growing number of children of partial Southeast Asian descent. As of September more than 153,000 second-generation students were enrolled in elementary and junior high schools.

In February the Taiwan Railways Administration imposed a ban on sitting on the floor of the main hall of the Taipei Main Station, a public venue frequently used by foreign migrant workers to socialize, citing social distancing guidelines for the COVID-19 pandemic. After facing criticism from migrant worker rights groups, restrictions were lifted in July.

Indigenous People

Authorities officially recognize 16 indigenous tribes, accounting for approximately 2.3 percent of the population. The law provides indigenous people equal civil and political rights and stipulates authorities should provide resources to help indigenous groups develop a system of self-governance, formulate policies to protect their basic rights, and promote the preservation and development of their languages and cultures.

The law designates the languages of the 16 indigenous tribes as national languages and entitles indigenous peoples to use their languages in official settings. In February a foundation was launched to research, preserve, and support the use of indigenous languages. In a program begun in 2018, a total of 32 schools representing 10 ethnic groups were engaged in indigenous experimental education.

The Legal Aid Foundation operated a center in Hualian to provide legal assistance to indigenous persons.

Although the law allows for the delineation of government-owned traditional indigenous territories, some indigenous rights advocates argued a large amount of indigenous land was seized and privatized decades ago, depriving indigenous communities of the right to participate in the development of these traditional territories.

Existing law stipulates authorities and the private sector should consult with indigenous people and obtain their consent to or participation in, as well as share with them the benefits of, land development, resource utilization, ecology conservation, and academic research in indigenous areas. There are, however, no regulations in place for obtaining this consent with respect to private land.

Indigenous people participated in decisions affecting their land through the political process. The law sets aside six of the 113 seats in the legislature for indigenous tribal representatives elected by indigenous voters.

In August the Transitional Justice Commission exonerated Voyue Tosku, an indigenous Tsou tribesman, and Liao Li-chuan, sentenced in 1954 to 17 and 10 years in jail, respectively, for alleged involvement in a treason case during the martial law era. This was the first exoneration by the Transitional Justice Commission of members of indigenous tribes.

In November 2019 authorities announced NT$2.55 billion ($83.6 million) in compensation to residents on outlying Orchid Island, home to the indigenous Tao community, for the operation of a nuclear waste storage facility on the island over the past five decades without their consent. Local community representatives rejected the proposed compensation, reiterating demands that the nuclear waste be removed or relocated.

In June the Asia Cement Corporation announced it would initiate consultations with the local community aimed at achieving a settlement for the continuation of mining operations in Hualien County. The action followed a July 2019 Taipei high administrative court ruling in favor of indigenous Truku residents who protested the renewal of permits for the corporation’s mining operations near their community. The Bureau of Mines renewed the permit without the consent of the Truku community, which the court ruled violated legal requirements for governments or private parties to consult with and obtain consent from indigenous peoples in such cases.

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

The law stipulates employers cannot discriminate against job seekers based on sexual orientation and prohibits schools from discriminating against students based on their gender expression, gender identity, or sexual orientation.

Activists for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) rights said due to victims’ reluctance to lodge formal complaints, discrimination against LGBTI persons was more widespread than suggested by the number of court cases. Reported instances of violence against LGBTI individuals were rare, and police response was adequate.

In September several LGBTI advocacy and parents’ groups voiced support for, while other non-LGBTI groups protested against, the Ministry of Education’s selection of a children’s book featuring a same-sex couple for elementary-school readers.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The law prohibits potential employers from requesting health examination reports from job candidates to prove they do not have HIV or other communicable diseases. There was reported discrimination, including employment discrimination, against persons with HIV or AIDS (see section 7.d.).

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, conduct strikes, and bargain collectively. The law prohibits discrimination, dismissal, or other unfair treatment of workers for union-related activities and requires reinstatement of workers fired for legal trade union activity. Employees hired through dispatching agencies (i.e., temporary workers) do not have the right to organize and bargain collectively in the enterprises where they work.

The Labor Incident Act, which entered into force in January, clearly defines labor disputes and establishes special labor courts in the judicial system to handle all labor cases, including collective disputes involving a union.

According to the law, there are three types of unions: enterprise unions, industrial unions, and professional unions. Enterprise unions must have 30 members to form and there may only be one union per enterprise. Employees in companies with fewer than 30 workers may only join a professional union or an industrial union to exercise their rights. Industrial unions link workers in the same industry. Professional unions must be within the geographic boundaries of local administrative divisions; membership across boundaries is prohibited.

The right to strike remained highly restricted. Teachers, civil servants, and defense industry employees do not have the right to strike. Workers in industries such as utilities, hospital services, and telecommunication service providers are allowed to strike only if they maintain basic services during the strike. Authorities may prohibit, limit, or break up a strike during a disaster. Workers are allowed to strike only in “adjustment” disputes which include issues such as compensation and working schedules. The law forbids strikes related to rights guaranteed under the law.

The law requires mediation of labor disputes when authorities deem them sufficiently serious or involving unfair practices. Most labor disputes involved wage and severance issues. Local labor authorities often settle disputes through mediation or arbitration. Mediation usually resolved most cases within 20 days. Legally binding arbitration generally took between 45 and 79 working days. The law prohibits strikes or other acts of protest during conciliation or arbitration proceedings. Labor organizations stated this prohibition impeded workers’ ability to exercise their right to strike.

Through July the economic impact of COVID-19 increased labor dispute cases by 15 percent, particularly related to wage disputes and improper dismissals.

The Ministry of Labor oversees implementation and enforcement of labor laws in coordination with local labor affairs authorities. Authorities effectively enforced laws providing for the freedom of association and collective bargaining. Ministry arbitration committees reviewed cases of antiunion activities, and authorities subjected violators to fines or restoration of employee’s duties. Such fines were not commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights.

Large enterprises frequently made it difficult for employees to organize an enterprise union through methods such as blacklisting union organizers from promotion or relocating them to other work divisions. These methods were particularly common in the technology sector. There was only one enterprise union among the 520 companies in Hsinchu Science Park, where more than 150,000 employees work. The authorities provide financial incentives to enterprise unions to encourage negotiation of “collective agreements” with employers that detail their employees’ immediate labor rights and entitlements.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The law prescribes penalties for forced labor, and authorities effectively enforced the law, but courts delivered light sentences or fines in most forced labor convictions. Such penalties were not commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. Authorities can terminate brokers’ business operations but did not do so as of October. There is no legal prohibition against reopening a business through a proxy that registers as a new company.

Authorities continued public awareness campaigns, including disseminating worker-education pamphlets, operating foreign-worker hotlines, and offering Ministry of Education programs on labor trafficking as part of the broader human rights curriculum. Forced labor occurred primarily in sectors reliant on migrant workers including domestic services, fishing, farming, manufacturing, meat processing, and construction. Some labor brokers charged foreign workers exorbitant recruitment fees and used debts incurred from these fees in the source country as tools of coercion to subject the workers to debt bondage (see section 7.e.).

Migrant fishermen reported senior crewmembers employ coercive tactics such as threats of physical violence, beatings, withholding of food and water, retention of identity documents, wage deductions, and noncontractual compulsory sharing of vessel operational costs to retain their labor. These abuses were particularly prevalent in Taiwan’s large distant-waters fishing fleet, which operated without adequate oversight (see section 7.e.).

The Employment Services Act requires labor brokers to report mistreatment such as withholding identification documents, restrictions on access to dorms or residences, and excessive work hours violating the general work conditions of foreign workers to law enforcement authorities within 24 hours. Penalties for not doing so include small fines. The Employment Services Act introduced a new article to prohibit brokers from specific acts against migrant workers, including sexual assault, human trafficking, or forced labor with penalties including modest fines and possible criminal charges.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law provides a minimum age for employment of 15, but has an exception for work by children younger than 15 if they have completed junior high school and the appropriate authorities have determined the work will not harm the child’s mental and physical health. The law prohibits children younger than 18 from doing heavy or hazardous work. Working hours for children are limited to eight hours per day, and children may not work overtime or on night shifts. The law prohibits all the worst forms of child labor.

County and city labor bureaus effectively enforced minimum age laws by ensuring the implementation of compulsory education. Employers who violate minimum age laws face a prison sentence, fines, or both, which were not commensurate with those of analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment and occupation on the basis of race, religion, national origin, color, sex, ethnicity, disability, age, and sexual orientation. The law prohibits potential employers from requesting medical reports from job candidates to prove they do not have HIV or other communicable diseases. The law forbids termination of employment because of pregnancy or marriage. The law does not restrict women’s working hours, occupations, or tasks. The authorities effectively enforced the law and penalties were commensurate to laws related to civil rights, such as election interference.

Workers who encounter discrimination can file complaints with two independent committees composed of scholars, experts, and officials in city and county departments of labor affairs. Local labor affairs bureaus are empowered to intervene and investigate complaints of employment discrimination. Authorities enforced decisions made by those committees. Employers can appeal rulings to the Ministry of Labor and the administrative court.

The majority of sex discrimination cases reported in 2019 were forced resignations due to pregnancies. Scholars said sex discrimination remained significantly underreported due to workers’ fear of retaliation from employers and difficulties in finding new employment if the worker has a history of making complaints. According to a 2018 survey by the Ministry of Finance, the median monthly income for women was, on average, 87.5 percent of the amount their male counterparts earned.

The law requires 3 percent of the workforce in the public sector and 1 percent of the workforce in the private sector to be persons with disabilities. In 2019, 4.3 percent of the public-sector workforce consisted of persons with disabilities; the private sector continued to fall short of the target. Companies with more than 67 employees failing to meet the target are potentially liable for small fines.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The Ministry of Labor’s Basic Wage Committee sets a minimum wage that is adjusted annually. The minimum wage does not cover workers in categories not covered by the law, such as management employees, medical doctors and other healthcare workers, gardeners, bodyguards, self-employed lawyers, civil servants, contractors for local authorities, and domestic household workers. The minimum wage is above the Ministry of Health and Welfare’s poverty level, although foreign fishermen on vessels operating outside Taiwan’s territorial seas earned significantly below the national minimum wage, and NGOs reported that the monthly take-home pay of some domestic workers was as low as 6.7 percent below the official poverty level. Enacted in January, the Labor Incident Act clarified that employers, not workers, bear the burden of proof in wage and hour disputes.

Regular working hours are eight hours per day and 40 hours per week, with overtime limited to 54 hours per month. The law requires a mandatory rest interval for shift work of eight hours or longer in certain sectors and limits the number of working days to 12 days in a two-week period.

The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing the labor laws in conjunction with the labor agencies of local governments. Employees in “authorized special categories” approved by the Ministry of Labor are exempt from regular working hours stipulated in the law. These include security guards, flight attendants, insurance salespersons, real estate agents, media journalists, public transport drivers, domestic workers, and caregivers. Penalties are not commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud. The ministry effectively enforced is minimum wage and overtime laws.

To respond to concerns from religious leaders that the law did not guarantee a day off for many of the 220,000 foreign caregivers and household workers who wished to attend religious services on a certain day of the week, in September 2019 authorities introduced a “respite care service” to provide substitute caregivers on a per-day basis. Ministry of Labor statistics show employers utilized 23,882 respite-care days in 2019.

The law provides for occupational safety and health standards that are appropriate for the main industries in the economy. A May 2019 Labor Standards Act amendment prescribes to enterprise and dispatching agencies responsibility for occupational injury of temporary workers. The authorities effectively enforced occupational safety and health standards. Workers can remove themselves from a situation that endangers their health and safety and report to their supervisor without jeopardizing their employment. Employers, however, can terminate the employment contract if they can prove the worker abused the right to suspend work and the competent authority has affirmed the employer was in compliance. Employers are subject to civil but not criminal charges when their employees are involved in fatal accidents due to unsafe working conditions. Penalties for violations of occupational safety and health standards were commensurate with those for crimes like negligence. The freight and passenger transportation industries saw higher than average accident rates among drivers working overtime. Their employers often tried to make drivers rather than the companies liable for any accidents.

There were an insufficient number of inspectors for the number of workplaces to be inspected, despite the recruitment of additional 325 inspectors in 2019. Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections. Authorities can fine employers and revoke their hiring privileges for violations of the law, and the law mandates publicizing the names of offending companies. Employers found to be in violation of labor laws during an inspection are not eligible for certain tax reductions or grants.

More than 700,000 foreign workers were employed, primarily from Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Thailand; most were recruited through a labor broker. The Ministry of Labor is required to inspect and oversee the brokerage companies to ensure compliance. The ministry also operates a Foreign Worker Direct Hire Service Center and an online platform to allow employers to hire foreign workers without using a broker. Foreign workers may change employers in cases of exploitation or abuse.

The Taiwan International Workers’ Association complained, however, that bureaucratic red tape continued to enable brokers to extract profits from foreign workers and prevented the service center from being used more widely.

The Ministry of Labor maintained a 24-hour toll-free “1955” hotline service in six languages (Mandarin, English, Indonesian, Thai, Tagalog, and Vietnamese) where foreign workers can obtain free legal advice, request urgent relocation and protection, report abuse by employers, file complaints about delayed salary payments, and make other inquiries. All reporting cases are registered in a centralized database for law enforcement to track and intervene if necessary. Among the 186,014 calls in 2019, the hotline helped 5,322 foreign workers to reclaim a total of NT$179 million ($5.97 million) in salary payments.

Foreign workers’ associations maintained that, in spite of the existence of the hotline and authorities’ effective response record, foreign workers were often reluctant to report employer abuses for fear the employer would terminate their contract, subjecting them to possible deportation and leaving them unable to pay off their debt to recruiters.

Foreign workers generally faced exploitation and incurred significant debt burdens during the recruitment process due to excessive brokerage fees, guarantee deposits, and higher charges for flights and accommodations. Brokerage agencies often required workers to take out loans for “training” and other fees at local branches of Taiwan banks in their home countries at high interest rates, leaving them vulnerable to debt bondage. NGOs suggested the authorities should seek further international cooperation with labor-sending countries, particularly on oversight of transnational labor brokers.

Foreign fishermen were commonly subjected to mistreatment and poor working conditions. Domestic labor laws only apply to fishermen working on vessels operating within Taiwan’s territorial waters. Fishermen working on Taiwan-flagged vessels operating beyond Taiwan’s territorial waters (Taiwan’s distant-waters fishing fleet) were not afforded the same labor rights, wages, insurance, and pensions as those recruited to work within Taiwan’s territorial waters. For example, regulations only require a minimum monthly wage of $450 for these foreign fishermen in the distant water fleet, significantly below the domestic minimum wage. NGOs reported that foreign fishing crews in Taiwan’s distant-waters fishing fleet generally received wages below the required $450 per month because of dubious deductions for administrative fees and deposits.

Several NGOs, including Greenpeace and the Taiwan International Workers Association, advocated for the abolishment of this separate employment system, under which an estimated 35,000 migrant workers are employed in Taiwan’s distant-waters fishing fleet. The majority of these fishermen are recruited overseas, mostly from Indonesia and the Philippines. The United Kingdom-registered Environmental Justice Foundation conducted a survey between August 2018 and November 2019 and interviewed 71 Indonesian fishermen who had worked on 62 Taiwanese vessels. The results suggested that 24 percent of foreign fishermen suffered violent physical abuse; 92 percent experienced unlawful wage withholding; 82 percent worked overtime excessively. There were also reports fishing crew members could face hunger and dehydration and have been prevented from leaving their vessels or terminating their employment contracts.

The Fisheries Agency has officers in American Samoa, Mauritius, Fiji, Palau, South Africa, and the Marshall Islands since 2007 as well as inspectors in some domestic ports to monitor and inspect docked Taiwan-flagged long-haul fishing vessels. These Taiwan officials used a multilingual questionnaire to interview foreign fishermen and examine their labor conditions on board. The Fisheries Agency acknowledged they need further capacity building as they can currently conduct labor inspections of only 400 vessels per year.

Tajikistan

Executive Summary

Tajikistan is an authoritarian state dominated politically by President Emomali Rahmon and his supporters since 1992. The constitution provides for a multiparty political system, but the government has historically obstructed political pluralism and continued to do so during the year. Constitutional amendments approved in a 2016 national referendum outlawed religious-affiliated political parties and abolished presidential term limits for the “leader of the nation,” a title that has only been held by the incumbent, allowing President Rahmon to further solidify his rule. Rustam Emomali, the 33-year-old mayor of the capital, Dushanbe, and eldest son of President Rahmon, became speaker of the Majlisi Milli, the upper house of parliament, on April 17, placing him next in line for succession. The March 1 parliamentary elections lacked pluralism and genuine choice, according to international observers, many of whom called the process deeply flawed. The October 11 presidential election reelected President Rahmon for a new seven-year term but lacked pluralism or genuine choice and did not meet international standards.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs, Drug Control Agency, Agency on State Financial Control and the Fight against Corruption (Anticorruption Agency), State Committee for National Security, State Tax Committee, and Customs Service share civilian law enforcement responsibilities. The Ministry of Internal Affairs is primarily responsible for public order and manages the police. The Drug Control Agency, Anticorruption Agency, and State Tax Committee have mandates to investigate specific crimes and report to the president. The State Committee for National Security is responsible for intelligence gathering, controls the Border Service, and investigates cases linked to alleged extremist political or religious activity, trafficking in persons, and politically sensitive cases. All law enforcement agencies report directly to the president, and the Customs Service also reports directly to the president. Agency responsibilities overlap significantly, and law enforcement organizations defer to the State Committee for National Security. Nonlaw enforcement authorities only partially maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed numerous abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: kidnapping and forced repatriation of the country’s citizens in foreign countries, only to reappear in custody in the country; forced disappearances; torture and abuse of detainees by security forces; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary detention; political prisoners; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; significant problems with the independence of the judiciary; censorship, blocking of internet sites, and criminal libel; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, such as arrest of peaceful protesters and overly restrictive nongovernmental organization laws; severe restrictions of religious freedom; significant restrictions on freedom of movement; restrictions on political participation, including through the prevention of free or fair elections; significant acts of corruption and nepotism; violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons; and forced labor.

There were very few prosecutions of government officials for human rights abuses. Officials in the security services and elsewhere in the government mostly acted with 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

The law prohibits extrajudicial killings by government security forces, and there were no reports of arbitrary or unlawful killings by the government or its agents during the year.

b. Disappearance

The government took no action during the year in response to the preliminary findings of the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, which visited the country in 2019 for a general inspection. Following its visit, the Working Group noted “little interest” on the part of the government in addressing violations, including enforced disappearances that occurred during the 1992-97 civil war, and noted reports of some political opponents whose whereabouts were still unknown after being forcibly returned to the country.

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

The constitution prohibits the use of torture, although the government amended the criminal code in 2012 to add a separate article to define torture in accordance with international law. According to the 2019 UN Human Rights Committee (OHCHR) concluding observations, reports of beatings, torture, and other forms of coercion to extract confessions during interrogations were of concern. While authorities took some limited steps to hold perpetrators accountable, reports of torture and mistreatment of prisoners continued, and a culture of impunity and corruption weakened investigations and prosecutions. In some cases, judges dismissed defendants’ allegations of abuse during their pretrial detention hearings or trials. Officials did not grant sufficient access to information to allow human rights organizations to investigate claims of torture.

During the first six months the year, the Coalition against Torture, a group of local NGOs, documented 25 new cases of mistreatment with some victims alleging severe physical abuse. Of these complaints, 19 were against the Internal Affairs Ministry, one against the State Committee for National Security (GKNB), two against the Ministry of Justice’s Penitentiary Department, one against the State Financial Control and Anticorruption Agency, one against the Ministry of Defense, and one case was a victim of sexual harassment at work (in the private sector).

On July 14, the Prosecutor General’s Office reported that it had received eight complaints during the first six months the year of the possible use of torture and mistreatment. In the course of the prosecutor’s investigations, a criminal case was opened based on one allegation. In a July 16 press conference, Human Rights Ombudsman Umed Bobozoda stated that during the first six months of the year, his office received three complaints regarding the possible use of torture and mistreatment, but the facts of torture were not confirmed.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

The government operated 10 prisons, including one for women, and 12 pretrial detention facilities. Exact conditions in the prisons remained unknown, but detainees and inmates described harsh and life-threatening conditions, including extreme overcrowding and unsanitary conditions.

Physical Conditions: As of October, the total prison population was approximately 8,000. The government began a mass amnesty in October 2019 that reportedly released 3,000 prisoners. No official statistics were available regarding the actual number of prisoners released, although Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) and other outlets reported the mass amnesty. The RFE/RL report noted that this was the country’s 15th mass amnesty since 1992, but the list of those released did not include political prisoners. On October 30, President Rahmon announced an amnesty decree for another 378 prisoners, but the government did not publicly release the list of prisoners.

On July 13, the Ministry of Justice reported that in the first half of the year, 41 prisoners died from various diseases. The ministry reported that within the prison population, there were 213 HIV-positive inmates, 85 inmates with tuberculosis, and 244 drug-addicted inmates.

The government did not acknowledge the COVID-19 outbreak until the end of April and claimed the country had zero cases. The Ministry of Justice reported no instances of prisoners with COVID-19 but confirmed that 98 were ill with pneumonia, with 11 deaths. Relatives of prisoners expressed concern about the spread of COVID-19 within correctional facilities. Prison authorities banned prison visits starting March 30 to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Shukhrat Rahmatullo, the son of Rahmatullo Rajab, an imprisoned member of the banned Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), told media at the end of April that his father was in critical condition with a fever of over 102 degrees, and that doctors subsequently told him that “90 percent of sick prisoners have COVID-19.” Rahmatullo also claimed that prison authorities never tested any prisoners for COVID-19 despite likely community spread among prisoners. Additional media reports alleged that prisoners were denied access to medications and lacked personal protective equipment and that there were few thermometers. Authorities responded to these reports by asserting that prisons were well equipped with medicines, beds, X-ray machines, and mechanical ventilation devices.

Penal Reform International, an organization conducting prison reform work with regional representation out of Kazakhstan, described in a 2019 report the conditions in the women’s prison as frigid in the winter, with only intermittent electricity and heat, and a lack of sufficient food provisions for both inmates and staff. Disease and hunger were serious problems. The 2019 OHCHR concluding observations found concerning levels of tuberculosis and HIV in prisons. Authorities often held juvenile boys with adult men.

Administration: The Office of the Ombudsman conducted prison visits throughout the year but resolved fewer than 2 percent of complaints filed related to torture or other abuse. NGOs reported mistrust of the ombudsman due to the office’s loyalty to the president and frequent dismissal of human rights concerns. A special monitoring group with ombudsmen and NGO representatives conducted announced visits of prison conditions. No known complaints were filed regarding specific prison conditions.

Independent Monitoring: The Ministry of Justice continued to restrict access to prisons or detention facilities for representatives of the international community. Throughout the year the Coalition against Torture and the human rights ombudsman conducted visits of closed institutions, although officials denied Coalition against Torture monitors private interviews with detainees or access to internal correctional institution documents. The International Committee of the Red Cross continued to lack access to prisons due to the absence of an agreement with the government, a situation that has persisted since 2004.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

Arbitrary arrests were common and the law does not prohibit the practice. The law states that police must prepare a detention report and inform the prosecutor’s office of an arrest within 12 hours and file charges within 10 days. The law provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, but use of this provision was limited. Few citizens were aware of their right to appeal an arrest, and there were few checks on the power of police and military officers to detain individuals. Human rights activists reported incidents of forced military conscription, including of persons who should have been exempted from service.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law provides that police may detain a suspect for up to 12 hours before authorities must decide whether to open a criminal case against the individual. If authorities do not file charges after 12 hours, the individual must be released, but police often did not inform detainees of the arrest charges even if ones were filed. If police file criminal charges, they may detain an individual for 72 hours before they must present their charges to a judge for an indictment hearing. Judges are empowered to order detention, house arrest, or bail pending trial.

According to law, family members are allowed access to prisoners after indictment, but prisoners are often denied access to visitors. The law states that a lawyer is entitled to be present at interrogations at the request of the detainee or lawyer, but in many cases, authorities did not permit lawyers timely access to their clients, and initial interrogations occurred without them. Detainees suspected of crimes related to national security or extremism were held for extended periods without being formally charged.

Arbitrary Arrest: The government generally provided a rationale for arrests, but detainees and civil society groups frequently reported that authorities falsified charges or inflated minor incidents to make politically motivated arrests. According to Human Rights Watch, the country has arbitrarily detained and imprisoned more than 150 individuals on politically motivated charges since 2015.

On January 28, the prosecutor general reported that the government had detained 113 suspected members of “Ikhwon-ul-muslimin” (“Muslim Brotherhood”), a group banned and labelled as an extremist organization by the government in 2006. Prosecutor General Yusuf Rahmon announced that while detainees were members of the clergy, teachers, and employers of various universities, the group’s goal was to overthrow the government and establish an Islamic state. In February authorities released from custody about 30 detainees from Isfara and Istaravshan in the Sughd region after 10 to 20 days in detention.

On December 18, the Ismoili Somoni District Court in Dushanbe, following closed-door proceedings, found Asroriddin Rozikov guilty of participation in the activities of banned political parties or organizations and sentenced him to five years’ imprisonment. Human Rights Watch reported that on June 25, the GKNB detained Rozikov, son of Zubaidulloi Rozik, an imprisoned leader of the IRPT. The GKNB did not comment on the detention or conviction. Relatives alleged the motive for Rozikov’s arrest was to pressure his father to condemn publicly the leadership of the IRPT.

Jannatullo Komil, the head of the bureau of IRPT in Germany, one of the hundreds of members who live in exile in Europe, wrote in a July 8 Facebook post that local law enforcement bodies arrested five members of his family and detained them for a week without charges. According to Komil, his brother, sister, daughter-in-law, and two nieces were interrogated by the GKNB and Ministry of Internal Affairs. The interrogators demanded that the family hand over their sons who were living abroad in exile, largely in Europe.

Pretrial Detention: Defense lawyers alleged that prosecutors often held suspects for lengthy periods and registered the initial arrest only when the suspect was ready to confess. In most cases, pretrial detention lasted from one to three months but could extend as long as 15 months. Law enforcement officials must request an extension from a judge to detain an individual in pretrial detention after two, six, and 12 months. According to the OHCHR concluding observations, authorities tortured defendants in pretrial detention in attempts to extract confessions.

Detainees Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Persons arrested or detained, regardless of charge, are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention. Despite such rights to challenge detention, a decrease in the number of lawyers licensed to take on criminal cases and the general apprehension with which lawyers take on sensitive cases limited the exercise of this right for those arrested on charges suspected to be politically motivated.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the law provides for an independent judiciary, the executive branch exerted pressure on prosecutors, defense lawyers, and judges. Corruption and inefficiency were significant problems. According to numerous nongovernmental contacts, police and judicial officials regularly accepted bribes in exchange for lenient sentencing or release. During a research mission on the independence of the judiciary in May, the International Commission of Jurists noted, “judicial decisions are generally not available to members of the public unless they are participants in the proceedings.”

Trial Procedures

Defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty, but this presumption was often absent in practice. More than 90 percent of defendants were eventually found guilty. The International Commission of Jurists noted acquittals were extremely rare.

Although the law requires that defendants be informed of the criminal charges against them within 10 days, in practice they were not always promptly informed or granted a trial without undue delay. Courts generally allowed defendants to be present at their trial and to consult with an attorney during the trial, but defendants are often denied access to an attorney during the pretrial and investigatory periods, particularly in politically sensitive cases. Authorities continued to file politically motivated criminal charges against some defense lawyers to obstruct detained political opposition figures’ access to legal counsel and to dissuade other lawyers from taking on similar cases.

The government provides attorneys at public expense when requested, but defendants and civil society members complained that the government sometimes appointed attorneys as a means to deny defendants’ access to the legal counsel of their choice. Defendants and private attorneys said government-appointed attorneys often provided a poor and counterproductive defense. Moreover, the government abolished a grandfather clause allowing experienced lawyers to continue to practice after a 2016 law required all lawyers to retake the bar examination to renew their licenses. As a result, the number of lawyers accepting criminal defense cases in the country shrank from approximately 2,000 to little more than 500. International observers found many criminal cases in which defendants did not have legal representation. Criminal defendants enjoy the legal right to prepare their defense but this right was often infringed.

Defendants may present witnesses and evidence at trial with the consent of the judge. Defendants and attorneys have the right to confront and question witnesses and to present evidence and testimony. Courts provide interpreters for defendants who do not speak Tajik, the official language used for court hearings. No groups are barred from testifying and, in principle, all testimony receives equal consideration. Courts, however, generally give prosecutorial testimony far greater consideration than defense testimony. Local legislation allows criminal defendants not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants also enjoy the right to appeal.

Low wages for judges and prosecutors left them vulnerable to bribery, a common practice. Government officials subjected judges to political influence.

Although most trials were public, the law also provides for secret trials when there is a national security concern. Civil society members faced difficulties in gaining access to high-profile public cases, which the government often declared secret.

In July the Supreme Court began the trial of 116 alleged members of the Muslim Brotherhood, including some of those arrested in January. The press center of the Supreme Court announced the trial would be held behind closed doors. The defendants’ lawyers refused to speak with media due to the Supreme Court classifying the case as secret. Relatives of the accused also declined to comment on the case to journalists but said they were able to bring food to the detention center but not see their relatives. The family members also claimed that state-provided lawyers frequently do not communicate with relatives of suspects.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

While authorities claimed there were no political prisoners or politically motivated arrests, opposition parties and local and international observers reported the government selectively arrested and prosecuted political opponents. Although there was no reliable estimate of the number of political prisoners, in 2018 the government reported 239 prisoners who were members of banned political parties or movements.

On December 5, police in Dushanbe detained the deputy chairman of the Social Democratic Party of Tajikistan, Mahmurod Odinaev, on criminal charges of “hooliganism” and threats against law enforcement. The maximum punishment for these charges is five years in prison. The Office of the Prosecutor General released a statement indicating that the charges stemmed from an alleged altercation on October 29 during which Odinaev reportedly confronted military officials in Hissor for illegally drafting Odinaev’s son, Hojiakbar. A court in Hissor on December 7 approved a request by the local prosecutor’s office to order that Odinaev remain in detention for up to two months. Odinaev’s relatives claimed publicly that authorities targeted him due to his political activism.

Politically Motivated Reprisal against Individuals Located Outside the Country

During the year there were credible reports of attempted misuse of international law enforcement tools, such as law enforcement systems (for example, INTERPOL red notices), for politically motivated reprisals against specific individuals located outside the country. The government used INTERPOL notices in an effort to locate and forcibly repatriate Tajik dissidents targeted by the government. The Central Bank of Tajikistan keeps a public list of over 2,400 names of suspected terrorists as defined by authorities. The list also includes names of opposition journalists and activists. According to a RFE/RL report from October 2019, six journalists and opposition activists living in self-exile in Europe publicly demanded the bank remove their names from the list. Other dissidents were frequently harassed or detained on politically motivated charges of extremism. As of July, the government had placed 72 Muslim Brotherhood members on the international wanted list.

In June the Supreme Court sentenced 29-year-old opposition activist Hizbullo Shovalizoda to 20 years in prison on charges of extremism after he was extradited from Austria in March. The Supreme Court classified the trial as secret, preventing officials from discussing Shovalizoda’s trial with embassies and other interested parties. Shovalizoda’s relatives told RFE/RL that the family was not permitted to attend the trial. In July the Austrian Supreme Court invalidated the extradition order, ruling that Austria’s decision to reject Shovalizoda’s asylum request and extradite him to Tajikistan was illegal. The court further noted that the decision to reject the asylum request was based on outdated information.

In September a member of banned opposition “Group 24” told RFE/RL that one of its members, Shobuddin Badalov, had been arrested in Russia and forcibly repatriated to the country, where he was likely to face torture. Neither Russian nor Tajik officials issued official statements regarding the situation. In response to an inquiry, the government confirmed that Badalov was detained upon his arrival in Tajikistan and a case against him for “arranging activities of an extremist organization” was in pretrial investigation. He remained in custody.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Civil cases are heard in general civil courts, economic courts, and military courts. Judges may order monetary compensation for victims in criminal cases. No separate juvenile justice system exists, although there were some courts that provided a separate room for children linked to the courtroom by video camera. Individuals or organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations through domestic courts or through administrative mechanisms.

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

The constitution states the home is inviolable. With certain exceptions, it is illegal to enter a home by force or deprive a person of a home. The law states police may not enter and search a private home without the approval of a judge. Authorities may carry out searches without a prosecutor’s authorization in exceptional cases, “where there is an actual risk that the object searched for and subject to seizure may cause a possible delay in discovering it, be lost, damaged, or used for criminal purposes, or a fugitive may escape.” The law states courts must be notified of such searches within 24 hours. Police frequently ignored these laws and infringed on citizens’ right to privacy, including conducting personal searches without a warrant.

According to the law, “when sufficient grounds exist to believe that information, documents, or objects that are relevant to the criminal case may be contained in letters, telegrams, radiograms, packages, parcels, or other mail and telegraph correspondence, they may be intercepted” with a warrant issued by a judge. The law states only a judge may authorize monitoring of telephone or other communication. Security offices often monitored communications, such as social media and telephone calls, without judicial authorization.

According to the law, government authorities can punish family members for offenses committed by their relatives, for example, if an underage child commits an offense. There were continuing reports that Tajikistan-based relatives of perceived government critics in exile were harassed or targeted by local authorities.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

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

Freedom of Speech: Authorities continued to curb freedom of speech through detentions, prosecutions, the threat of heavy fines, the passage of strict and overreaching slander legislation, and the forced closure of media outlets.

In 2016 parliament amended the criminal code, originally passed in 2007, which provides for criminal responsibility for public insult or slander, including on the internet, against the president. The amendment also criminalizes such speech against the “leader of the nation.” Such an offense in both instances can carry an imprisonment term of up to five years.

In January and February, independent and private television and radio stations received two directives signed by Tojiddin Karimzoda, the head of the State Inspectorate for Television and Radio Broadcasting of the State Radio and Television of Tajikistan. The first, dated January 31, required private television and radio stations to submit their broadcasting schedule to the State Inspectorate on a weekly basis. The second, dated February 4, contained recommendations to promote issues “related to state policy.” Both directives stated that, if the recommendations are ignored, “punishment” would occur. When questioned, Karimzoda denied the recommendations represented inappropriate interference in the editorial freedom of private television and radio.

On July 4, President Rahmon signed into law amendments to the code of administrative offenses that impose fines and criminal penalties on individuals who disseminate “inaccurate” COVID-19 information, spread infectious diseases, or fail to wear protective masks in public. Prior to the amendments, the Ministry of Health had complained publicly about independent, factual reporting on COVID-19 in the country, claiming that such reporting mischaracterized the situation and would lead to panic. The president signed the law, approved by parliament on June 10, despite multiple appeals from media watchdogs and civil society organizations that argued the new law would undermine freedom of expression and critical media coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic. Following passage of the law, news sites began reporting less frequently on suspected deaths from COVID-19. An independent website that maintained an unofficial list of COVID-19 deaths based on reporting from surviving family members stopped posting regular updates, allegedly because families had become concerned about government reprisals for sharing information about deaths due to COVID-19. When COVID-19-like illnesses were officially reported as pneumonia by authorities, local news outlets typically refrained from questioning the diagnosis.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media faced significant and repeated government threats. Although some media published political commentary and investigatory material critical of the government, journalists observed that authorities considered certain topics off limits, including, among other matters, questions regarding financial improprieties of those close to the president or content regarding banned groups such as IRPT and Group 24.

Several independent television and radio stations were available in a small portion of the country, but the government controlled most broadcasting transmission facilities. A decree issued by the government, Guidelines for the Preparation of Television and Radio Programs, stipulates that the government through a state broadcast committee has the right to “regulate and control the content of all television and radio networks regardless of their type of ownership.”

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not renew the accreditation for RFE/RL’s Russian-language Current Time correspondent Anushervon Aripov after it expired on August 1. According to Radio Ozodi’s local bureau director, Muhammadvafo Rahmatov, the ministry expressed dissatisfaction over two articles published on RFE/RL’s website, claiming biased reporting by its correspondents and Aripov. In one of the articles, Aripov criticized President Rahmon’s campaigning methods during the 2013 presidential election. As of September 1, a total of 13 Radio Ozodi and Current Time employees were without accreditation. Of this group, the Foreign Affairs Ministry informed seven journalists that their accreditation was forthcoming, and they could therefore continue their work in the country. The other six, including Aripov, did not have permission to work as journalists for RFE/RL and another three journalists hired by RFE/RL had not been accredited as of October. In addition, three employees that Radio Ozodi planned to hire in summer 2019 never received accreditation and eventually pursued other employment opportunities.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs declined to renew the accreditation of the last three acting heads of Radio Ozodi’s Dushanbe branch and issued limited three-to-six month accreditations to all other employees whose accreditations were renewed after October 2019 (the standard length was 12 months). According to Radio Ozodi leadership, the ministry declined (in most cases) to offer specific explanations to Radio Ozodi for withholding or delaying accreditations to their staff. Public statements by the foreign minister and the country’s mission to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) indicated the reason for withholding accreditations was the outlet’s publication of interviews and quotes from members of banned opposition groups, primarily the IRPT and Group 24.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists continued to face harassment and intimidation by government officials. Radio Ozodi reported that several of its contacts and family members of its staff were questioned by authorities about the activities of its journalists and in some cases had their telephones confiscated for examination. Journalists from the Prague-based independent news website Akhbor were also warned by local authorities not to report on certain topics. On November 13, Akhbor editor in chief Mirzo Salimpur announced the media outlet had to shut down due to legal problems brought on by the Tajik government.

Two unknown assailants physically assaulted Asia-Plus journalist Abdulloh Ghurbati on May 11 near Dushanbe’s Korvon Market. According to an Asia-Plus article, Ghurbati received several threatening telephone calls from unknown individuals prior to the attack. The report also alleged that Ghurbati, known for covering sensitive topics, had come under online attack from a government “troll farm,” allegedly created by the country’s security services to silence government critics online. Other media outlets reported that immediately after the incident, Ghurbati sought medical treatment at three Dushanbe hospitals, but the hospitals turned him away, claiming they were under a COVID-19 quarantine. He finally received treatment at a local burn center, and he reported the attack to police. Media also noted that Ghurbati had been covering issues related to the spread of COVID-19 in the country.

On May 29, unknown assailants assaulted Ghurbati again in the Khuroson District of the Khatlon Region as he was reporting on the victims of damage caused by heavy rains and a mudslide that took place earlier in the district. Ghurbati reported that one of his assailants claimed to be the head of the Jamoat (municipality). On May 30, the Ministry of Interior Affairs released a statement regarding the attack alleging that Ghurbati attempted forcibly to enter a tent where victims of the recent rains were residing in order to film family members, especially minors. The residents reportedly resisted Ghurbati by driving him away. The ministry also claimed he wanted to awaken in residents a sense of discontent with the state and government. Ghurbati disputed this version of events, reporting he was not allowed to approach the areas of residences before he was accosted. On June 2, a court in the Khuroson District fined three local residents who perpetrated the attack on Ghurbati for petty hooliganism in the amount of 580 somoni ($58).

On July 3, the prosecutor general’s office in Dushanbe summoned and questioned two relatives of exiled journalist Mirzo Salimpur, the founder and chief editor of Akhbor. Salimpur told the Committee for Protection of Journalists (CPJ) in a telephone interview that he believed his relatives were interrogated by the Prosecutor’s Office in an attempt to pressure him to stop publishing criticism of the administration prior to the country’s presidential elections. During the incident, a man who identified himself as an official with the Prosecutor General’s Office interrogated two of Salimpur’s sisters-in-law who lived in the town of Hissor for several hours to learn about Salimpur’s other relatives. Salimpur said that his sisters-in-law felt intimidated and threatened by the interrogations.

On April 16, the Shohmansur District Court of Dushanbe sentenced independent journalist Daler Sharifov to one year in prison for allegedly inciting national and religious hatred. The GKNB detained Sharifov on January 28 and held him in custody for two months while his case was investigated. Sharifov pleaded not guilty but had no plans to appeal the verdict, as he would likely finish his sentence before the appeals process would finish. The guilty verdict came after a two-day closed trial. Sharifov’s lawyer and parents were permitted to attend the trial, but journalists and human rights activists were denied entry, allegedly as a COVID-19 preventative measure. According to Sharifov’s lawyer, the state prosecutor demanded that the judge sentence the journalist to two years and four months in prison, but the court sentenced him to a shorter term, because it was his first offense and he had young children. In December the Prosecutor General’s Office rejected the Penitentiary Department’s recommendation to transfer Sharifov to a less restrictive colony settlement for “good behavior,” ostensibly based on a determination that Sharifov was “a danger to society.”

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists regularly practiced self-censorship to avoid retribution from officials, according to media reports and journalists. Opposition politicians had limited or no access to state-run television. The government gave opposition parties minimal broadcast time to express their political views, while the president’s party had numerous opportunities to broadcast its messages.

Newspaper publishers reported the government exercised restrictions on the distribution of materials, requiring all newspapers and magazines with circulations exceeding 99 recipients to register with the Ministry of Culture. The government continued to control all major printing presses and the supply of newsprint. Independent community radio stations continued to experience registration and licensing delays that prevented them from broadcasting. The government restricted issuance of licenses to new stations, in part through an application process described as excessively complex. The National Committee on Television and Radio, a government organization that directly manages television and radio stations in the country, must approve and then provide licenses to new stations. The government continued to deny the BBC a renewal of its license to broadcast on FM radio.

Libel/Slander Laws: In 2012 the government repealed the law criminalizing libel and defamation and downgraded the offenses to civil violations, although the law retains controversial provisions that make publicly insulting the president an offense punishable by a fine or up to five years in jail.

Internet Freedom

Individuals and groups faced extensive government surveillance of internet activity, including emails, and often self-censored their views while posting on the internet. Authorities blocked some critical websites and news portals and used temporary blackouts of all internet services and messaging to suppress criticism. According to Human Rights Watch, authorities periodically cut access to mobile and messaging services when critical statements about the president, his family, or the government appeared online.

There were regular government restrictions on access to news websites, such as RFE/RL’s Radio Ozodi, Asia-Plus, and Akhbor. Independent and opposition news agencies and websites located outside the country have been blocked by the government for several years. The State Communications Service, the official communications regulator, routinely denied involvement in blocking these sites, but the government admitted to periodically implementing a law that allows interruption of internet content and telecommunications “in the interest of national security.” The government continued to implement a 2015 law enabling the GKNB to shut off internet and telecommunications during security operations.

In May, kvtj.com, a website created by a group of civil society activists to track those who died from COVID-19 and pneumonia, became inaccessible without a virtual private network. The website showed that the number of deaths due to COVID-19 was several times larger than that reported in official government statistics. Some of the website’s authors received warnings from the government about laws penalizing “false” or “misleading” information around COVID-19.

The law gives law enforcement bodies the right to track citizens using the internet, an ability they continue to exercise regularly. According to the law, security agencies can monitor internet traffic and have access to information about which internet sites citizens visit and the type of information they seek. In 2018 parliament further amended the criminal code to criminalize the use of the “like” or “share” function on social media regarding “terrorism” and “extremism-related” topics, with a penalty of up to 15 years in prison. Parliament also amended the law criminalizing public calls for the commission of terrorist crimes or publicly justifying terrorist activities, to include statements or calls made via the internet.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

The Ministry of Education maintained a dress code that bans wearing the hijab in schools and government institutions. Authorities allowed women to wear a traditional version of the head covering–a scarf that covers hair but not the neck–to schools and universities. Some female students wore the hijab to and from school but removed it upon entering the school building. Parents and school officials appeared to accept this arrangement. The ministry also maintained its ban on beards for all teachers. Students with beards reported being removed from class, questioned, and asked to shave. A Ministry of Education decree obliges all female teachers, university students, and schoolchildren to wear traditional dress during the academic year.

Government authorities increased the urgency of their effort to dissuade citizens from wearing “foreign clothing,” primarily focused on the hijab, which covers the hair, ears, and neck. According to media reports, the government’s Committee on Women and Family Affairs, in cooperation with the Ministry of Internal Affairs, conducted informational campaigns, or “raids,” in public areas against women wearing the hijab, threatening those who refused to remove their hijab with a large fine and six months’ imprisonment. Addressing these media reports, the ministry denied that such measures existed and claimed the government was conducting a public campaign to promote national culture and clothing.

A Ministry of Education directive requires school administrators to inform students of the Law on Parental Responsibility, which bans all persons younger than 18 from participating in public religious activities, with the exception of funerals. The law provides that, with written parental consent, minors between the ages of seven and 18 may obtain a religious education during their free time from school and outside the state education curriculum and may worship as part of educational activities at religious institutions.

The government requires all persons studying religion abroad to register with the Committee on Religious Affairs (CRA), Ministry of Education, and Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The law provides criminal penalties for violating restrictions on sending citizens abroad for religious education, preaching and teaching religious doctrines, and establishing ties with religious groups abroad without CRA consent.

The Ministry of Education reportedly issued a regulation in 2018 requiring students and academic staff to request government permission before any education-related travel abroad. During the year the ministry issued an amendment to the regulation that requires students who wish to travel abroad for educational purposes to provide detailed personal information about close relatives but does not specify consequences for noncompliance. Civil society organizations requested the ministry to exclude the data requirement, as it allegedly violates the provisions of the law on personal data, but the ministry has not yet responded.

There were several reports throughout the year that academics writing on sensitive subjects regarding politics, religion, and history feared publishing or even submitting their articles for review because of possible government retribution.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association through requirements to obtain permission from local governments and through frequent inspections by various government agencies.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The constitution provides the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, but the government required that individuals obtain permission from the government to stage public demonstrations. Individuals considering the staging of peaceful protests reportedly chose not to do so for fear of government reprisal.

Many female activists were subjected to anonymous harassment and attempts to denigrate them in social networks, including by falsely portraying them as sex workers, in retaliation for their participation in protests. In January the Vahdat police department refused to open a criminal case regarding the distribution of a video, which first appeared in September 2019, containing sexual scenes of activist D.M. with a man whose face on the video was erased. D.M. was among those who in April 2019 collected signatures requesting the president cancel the order to increase fees for mobile internet. The letter from the Investigative Department of Vahdat stated that no criminal case was opened due to the absence of evidence of a crime on the part of the man in the video.

On March 17, the GKNB detained and interrogated the former Dushanbe-based director of RFE/RL’s Tajik service Radio Ozodi, Nisso Rasulova. Observers believed the GKNB targeted Rasulova for attending a women’s empowerment event on March 13. The GKNB reportedly attempted, and failed, to prevent the event from taking place. After finding a venue and holding the event, several participants reported they were contacted, threatened, and blackmailed by GKNB agents.

On July 16, a Khatlon District Court sentenced 10 Khuroson residents to up to 10 days in prison for blocking a major highway on May 17 in a protest demanding government action in response to a mudslide. After heavy rain on May 14-16 caused extensive damage to critical infrastructure across the Khuroson region, dozens of residents took to the streets in protest. Police responded by dispersing the protestors with force. On May 18, the governor of Khatlon met with disaster victims, promising that government aid would be forthcoming, but also warning that “a tough response would follow any provocation.” As of October, in addition to the 10 convictions on July 16, six additional criminal cases against other protestors were still pending.

Freedom of Association

The constitution protects freedom of association, but the government restricted this right. In 2019 President Rahmon signed into law amendments to the Law on Public Associations (PAs) which require all PAs to post detailed financial reports on their websites and impose burdensome reporting requirements. As in the previous year, civil society organizations reported a noticeable increase in the number and intensity of registration and tax inspections by authorities.

On January 2, the president signed amendments to the code on administrative offenses. The penalty for managing the activities of unregistered, suspended, or prohibited public or religious associations increased fourfold, up to $1,200. Participation in the activities of such associations is now punishable by a penalty of up to $600, a sharp increase from the previous maximum penalty of $42. Individuals and organizations charged with funding the activities of illegal organizations also face fines.

The government continued to enforce the ban on activities held under the banner of the IRPT. As a result of a 2016 constitutional referendum, religious-affiliated political parties are banned.

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 foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government imposed some restrictions. According to the constitution, restrictions on the rights and freedoms of a person and a citizen are allowed only for ensuring the rights and freedoms of others, public order, protecting the foundations of the constitutional order, state security, national defense, public morality, public health, and the territorial integrity of the republic.

The government rarely cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, or other persons.

In-country Movement: The government prohibits foreigners, except diplomats and international aid workers, from traveling within a 15-mile zone along the borders with Afghanistan and China in the Khatlon Region and the Gorno-Badakhsan Autonomous Oblast (GBAO) unless they obtain permission from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Officials did not always enforce the restrictions along the western border with Afghanistan, although the government continued to require travelers (including international workers and diplomats) to obtain special permits to visit the GBAO. The government also continued to enforce a policy barring Afghan refugees from residing in urban areas.

Foreign Travel: Individuals in some cases do not have the right to leave the country due to arbitrary and inconsistent restrictions. Civil society organizations asserted that a new regulation requiring the Ministry of Education’s approval for all students wishing to study abroad is a restriction of citizens’ rights to freedom of movement inside and outside the country and is a violation of the country’s international obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In response, the ministry stated that the decree is necessary to better regulate international education programs, safeguard students, and better maintain education statistics.

At times border security guards placed arbitrary restrictions on citizens wishing to travel abroad. On February 21, border control officers refused to allow a citizen named Abdu Vohidov to cross into the Kyrgyz Republic because he lacked a certificate from the military department office stating he was not a conscript. Such a certificate is not required for travel abroad. The press center of the Border Guards office refused to respond to a media inquiry on the incident.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

Refoulement: National security concerns continued to dominate decisions related to protection and human rights, which often heightened the risk of deportation of asylum seekers and refugees. During the year there were six refugee families (28 persons) whose status the government revoked and who continued to be at risk of penalty and subsequent deportation a law that prohibits refugees and asylum seekers from living in major urban areas, including Dushanbe. In June the government amended the law to exclude deportation. Despite the update to the law, the risk of refoulement remains.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the access to asylum, and individuals may seek refugee status. The government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The refugee status determination process, as well as judicial procedures, does not comply with international standards. The criminal code criminalizes asylum seekers who entered the country illegally, in contrast to the country’s Refugee Law, which states that illegal entry is not a crime. These conflicting legal codes mean asylum seekers run the risk of arrest and subsequent deportation without access to asylum procedures. According to law, in order to seek asylum legally, asylum seekers must enter the country legally with valid travel documents and a visa obtained in advance.

The government provides asylum seekers with temporary certification while processing asylum applications through the National Refugee Status Determination Commission and, upon granting refugee status, refugee identification cards as a proof of legal stay. Government-recognized refugees enjoy socioeconomic rights on par with local nationals and can legally reside in the country. Formal notifications of administrative and legal decisions provided little insight into the rationale for adjudications.

The government continued to place significant restrictions on asylum seekers and registered refugees, and officials continued to enforce a 2000 law prohibiting them from residing in the capital and all major cities in the country. Security officials regularly monitored refugee populations. Police subjected them to raids if they were believed to be residing in prohibited areas.

National law grants refugee status for as long as three years. Since 2009 the Department of Citizenship and Works with Refugees, under the Passport Registration Services within the Ministry of Internal Affairs, has had responsibility for refugee issues. Refugees must check in annually with authorities to verify their address, but this is not a reregistration of their status. According to government statistics, there was a significant increase in the number of newly arrived asylum seekers in the first half of the year. The country had approximately 5,000 registered refugees, 99 percent of whom were Afghans.

Freedom of Movement: According to Government Resolution 325, refugees are not permitted to live in major urban areas, including Dushanbe, which restricts their ability to find work and go to school.

Access to Basic Services: Refugees and asylum seekers shared unhindered access to social, education, and health services with Tajik citizens. Although UNHCR’s activities were mostly focused on advocacy and protection, it maintained a limited humanitarian component to render assistance to the most vulnerable families. Thus, UNHCR through its NGO partner Refugees, Children, and Vulnerable Citizens (RCVC) provided books, school uniforms, and some language classes to children from vulnerable families and assistance with medical expenses. When refugees and asylum seekers faced legal issues, UNHCR’s legal assistance partner assisted clients in obtaining judicial redress while providing training and awareness-raising sessions to local authorities to strengthen their understanding of refugee rights.

Durable Solutions: The law does not provide for expedited naturalization, leaving refugees on equal standing with nonrefugee foreigners when applying for citizenship. As a prerequisite, refugees should denounce their refugee status and apply for a temporary residence permit to be able to apply further for naturalization. To date no such precedent has been recorded.

g. Stateless Persons

The total population of stateless persons and persons with undetermined nationality identified and registered by UNHCR and its partners was 47,746 persons (14,430 men and 33,316 women). The government, UNHCR, and NGO partners continued to implement a project to identify and find solutions for stateless persons and persons with undetermined nationality–such as former USSR citizens–in three pilot provinces of the country (Khatlon, Sughd, and Districts of Republican Subordination). UNHCR, NGOs, and local authorities worked together to find solutions–including confirming nationalities and issuing citizenship and identification documents–for 42,695 persons, both adults and children, with the remaining 5,051 still needing assistance to resolve their situation.

In December 2019 the government adopted an Amnesty Law allowing stateless persons and foreign nationals illegally residing in the country in violation of the rule of stay (for former USSR citizens) to legalize and regularize their legal status. The Amnesty Law is valid until December 2022, at which time all persons falling under the scope of the law must submit their applications for legalization. UNHCR evaluated the law as a major step in combating statelessness in the country.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair elections based on universal suffrage, but the government restricted this right. The president and his supporters continued to dominate the government while taking steps to eliminate genuine pluralism in the interest of consolidating power. The president’s political party, the People’s Democratic Party of Tajikistan (PDPT), dominated both houses of parliament. PDPT members held most government positions. The president had broad authority, which he exercised throughout the year, to appoint and dismiss officials.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The country held two major elections during the year, parliamentary elections in March and presidential elections in October.

The October 11 presidential elections resulted in victory for President Emomali Rahmon, his fifth consecutive term. The Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) deployed a limited election assessment mission for the presidential election. OSCE/ODIHR stated the decision to deploy a limited mission was due to a lack of progress in bringing the country’s electoral legal framework and its implementation closer in line with OSCE commitments and other international obligations and standards for democratic elections. In the lead up to the election, election authorities denied one presidential candidate from the Democratic Party, Saidjafar Usmanzoda, registration for failing to collect the required 250,000 signatures, deeming an unspecified number of signatures fraudulent. The only opposition party active within the country, the Social Democratic Party (SDP), boycotted the election. Rahmon won 91 percent of the vote with a total turnout of 85 percent of the country’s registered voters. Both figures were disputed by independent political commentators.

The March 1 parliamentary elections resulted in the ruling PDPT winning 47 out of 63 seats in the lower house of parliament. Progovernment parties shared the remaining seats. The SDP declared the elections unfair.

As it did for the subsequent presidential election, ODIHR decided to send a limited election assessment mission for the March 1 parliamentary elections due to the country’s lack of progress in adhering to international standards. ODIHR’S final report released on May 27 concluded that parliamentary elections took place in a tightly controlled environment. Systemic infringements on fundamental political rights and freedoms left no space for a pluralistic political debate, and genuine opposition was removed from the political landscape. Consequently, voters were not presented with genuine political alternatives. Operational aspects of the elections appeared to be efficiently administered, yet this did not offset the long-standing transparency and accountability challenges within election administration, which undermined the integrity and credibility of the process.

On March 18, the Sino District Court of Dushanbe refused to satisfy the claim by Davlat Habibov, candidate for a seat in the Dushanbe city council, to invalidate the results in electoral district N44. The court ruled that the candidate’s claims against the election commission were unfounded and that the deadline for filing a complaint had already passed. Habibov demanded the annulment of the election results in electoral district N44, as none of the six candidates managed to meet the required threshold of 50 percent plus 1 of the votes. The election commission, according to Habibov, promised that a second round of voting would be scheduled, but never took place.

Of the 41 amendments approved by referendum in 2016, three were significant changes to the constitution: one conferred the title of “leader of the nation” upon President Rahmon; removed presidential term limits on the “leader of the nation”; and gave him lifelong immunity from judicial and criminal prosecution. An additional amendment lowered the eligible age to run for president from 35 to 30, in an apparent effort to allow Rahmon’s son, Rustam Emomali, to become president in case his father was unable to finish his term. One amendment banned all religious-affiliated political parties, a follow-on to the 2015 Supreme Court ruling which made the IRPT, the main opposition group at the time, illegal.

Political Parties and Political Participation: There were seven legal major political parties, including the PDPT. With the exception of the SDP, the opposition parties were considered to be “pocket parties” that cooperated with the ruling PDPT to such a degree that they did not represent a significant threat to President Rahmon’s control of government. The opposition political parties had moderate popular support and faced high levels of scrutiny from the government. All senior members of President Rahmon’s government were PDPT members. Most members of the country’s 97-seat parliament were members of the PDPT, progovernment parties, or PDPT affiliates.

In June, SDP leader Rakhmatillo Zoirov wrote on his Facebook page that members of his party had been persecuted for several months across the country. In his statement, Zoirov alleged that an SDP activist from Gharm was arrested on fabricated charges, and that authorities seized the cars of two party activists from Hissor. Zoirov noted that two-thirds of SDP members had been forced to leave the country due to constant harassment.

On December 5, police in Dushanbe detained the deputy chairman of the SDP, Mahmurod Odinaev, on criminal charges of “hooliganism” and threats against law enforcement. The maximum punishment for conviction of these charges is five years in prison. The Office of the Prosecutor General released a statement indicating that the charges stemmed from an alleged altercation on October 29 during which Odinaev reportedly confronted military officials in Hissor for illegally drafting Odinaev’s son, Hojiakbar. A court in Hissor on December 7 approved a request by the local prosecutor’s office to order that Odinaev remain in detention for up to two months. Odinaev’s relatives claimed publicly that authorities targeted Odinaev due to his political activism.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process. Women were underrepresented in decision-making processes at all levels of political institutions. Female representation in all branches of government was less than 30 percent. There were three female ministers but no ministers from minority groups. Cultural practices discouraged participation by women in politics, although the government and political parties made efforts to promote their involvement, such as the 1999 presidential decree that mandated every ministry or government institution to have at least one female deputy. Civil society criticized the decree as a barrier to women holding top government positions.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively. Officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of corruption, nepotism, and regional hiring bias at all levels of government throughout the year. Media reported that over the previous two years, the vast majority of cases of bribe taking by officials had been reclassified as fraud, and officials were released by paying a symbolic fine, which in most cases was significantly lower than the amount of bribes allegedly received by the officials.

Corruption: Amendments adopted in 2017 give the State Anticorruption Agency the authority to inspect the financial activities of political parties, international organizations, and local public associations. Previously, the Agency had the authority only to check and audit governmental bodies. According to the new requirements, political parties must submit corruption risk assessment reports to the Anticorruption Agency annually. Political parties and in-country political experts raised concerns that empowering the Anticorruption Agency to investigate the activities and budget of political parties would tighten control over their activities.

Corruption in the Ministry of Education was systemic. Prospective students reportedly were required to pay thousands of somoni (hundreds of dollars) in bribes to enter the country’s most prestigious universities, and provincial colleges reportedly required several hundred somoni for entrance. Students reportedly often paid additional bribes to receive good examination grades. According to the Anticorruption Agency, there were 85 registered corruption cases in the education sector during the first six months of the year.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Anticorruption Agency, and the Prosecutor General’s Office are responsible for investigating, arresting, and prosecuting suspected corrupt officials. The government acknowledged a problem with corruption and took some steps to combat it, including putting lower-level officials on trial for taking bribes.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Anticorruption Agency submit cases to the Prosecutor General’s Office at the conclusion of their investigations. In some instances, the agencies collaborated with the Prosecutor General’s Office throughout the entire process.

Financial Disclosure: Public officials are not subject to financial disclosure laws.

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

Domestic human rights groups encountered increased difficulty monitoring and reporting on the general human rights situation. Domestic NGOs and journalists were careful to avoid public criticism of the president or other high-ranking officials and refrained from discussing issues connected to the banned IRPT. Human rights and civil society NGOs faced increasing pressure from the government. Authorities investigated a number of NGOs for alleged registration problems and administrative irregularities.

In June a Dushanbe court issued a two-month suspension of operations of the Zerkalo Center for Social Studies, the country’s leading independent pollster. The Ministry of Justice told reporters that the ministry initiated proceedings against the organization for its failure to correct “shortcomings” that violated its charter, in particular hiring new employees without necessary or correct documentation. The Zerkalo Center denied the charges and argued that it responded in a timely manner to a routine inspection by the ministry.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government facilitated visits to prison facilities by high-ranking officials from the United Nations, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and other international organizations but continued to deny access to the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman made little effort to respond to complaints from the public. The ombudsman’s office met with NGOs to discuss specific human rights cases and general human rights problems in the country, but no government action resulted.

The government’s Office for Constitutional Guarantees of Citizens’ Rights continued to investigate and answer citizens’ complaints but staffing inadequacies and inconsistent cooperation from other governmental institutions hampered the office’s effectiveness.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape, which is punishable by up to 20 years’ imprisonment. There is no separate statute for spousal rape. Law enforcement officials usually advised women not to file charges but registered cases at the victim’s insistence. Most observers believed the majority of cases were unreported because victims wished to avoid humiliation.

Domestic violence does not have its own statute in the criminal code. Violence against women, including spousal abuse, remained a widespread problem. Women underreported violence against them due to fear of reprisal or inadequate response by police and the judiciary, resulting in virtual impunity for the perpetrators. Authorities wishing to promote traditional gender roles widely dismissed domestic violence as a “family matter.”

The government Committee for Women’s Affairs had limited resources to assist domestic violence survivors, but local committee representatives referred women to crisis shelters for assistance.

In 2016 the government adopted official guidelines for the Ministry of Internal Affairs on how to refer and register cases of domestic violence, while not having a particular criminal statute to draw from to do so. Domestic violence incidents were registered under general violence and hooliganism, with a special notation in paperwork indicating a distinction for domestic violence.

Authorities seldom investigated reported cases of domestic violence, and they prosecuted few alleged perpetrators. The Ministry of Internal Affairs is authorized to issue administrative restraining orders, but police often gave only warnings, short-term detentions, or fines for committing “administrative offenses” in cases of domestic violence.

A Human Rights Watch report on domestic violence noted violence against women was “pervasive” and emphasized a failure to investigate reports of domestic violence in rural areas.

Sexual Harassment: No specific statute bans sexual harassment in the workplace.

Sexual harassment can be qualified under other articles of the criminal code, such as petty hooliganism. According to Supreme Court, in the first half of the year, the courts of Dushanbe considered 42 cases of sexual harassment. Of this number, only three cases were related to rape.

The Committee for Women and Family Affairs operated a call center for victims of sexual harassment in the workplace through which a specialist could provide legal and psychological assistance to the victims of harassment.

Victims often did not report incidents because of fear of social stigma. Women reporting sexual harassment faced retaliation from their employers as well as scrutiny from their families and communities. Human rights activists noted that victims of sexual harassment in most cases preferred to remain silent due to fear and public shame. One human rights activist told media that six women visited her with harassment complaints, but none of them agreed to go to court.

On October 27, the Firdavsi District Court of Dushanbe fined fashion designer Parvin Jahongiri and the newspaper Vecherka $400 ($200 each) for insulting Tajikistan Fashion Week director Tohir Ibragimov. The “insult” occurred when Vecherka published an article about Jahongiri’s claim that she faced harassment from Ibragimov, including the threat of sexual violence, while collaborating on the development of a joint brand called T&Z. The court ruled that Jahongiri’s case lacked sufficient evidence and stated that Jahongiri and Vecherka “insulted the honor and dignity” of Ibragimov. Jahongiri’s lawyer, Gulchehra Kholmatova, said they intended to appeal the decision.

A court chairman in the Northern Sughd region reportedly fired his court clerk after she refused to have sexual relations with him. Despite the clerk sending more than 30 letters to various authorities, including the President’s Office, with a request to investigate the case and restore her position, the courts rejected her request. The Supreme Court said the court clerk was dismissed for failing to disclose her brother’s criminal record during her initial background investigation. According to the clerk, however, her brother’s conviction had long been expunged.

Reproductive Rights: The government did not interfere with the rights of individuals and couples to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of their children; to manage their reproductive health; and to have the information and means to do so, free from coercion and violence. Intimate partner violence remained a significant problem impacting woman’s agency, including on sexual and reproductive health. Stereotypes related to gender roles and the taboo nature of conversations about sex prevented women and girls from obtaining information on reproductive health and access to services.

According to UN data, 54 percent of married or in-union women made decisions on their health care, 83 percent had autonomy in deciding to use contraception, and 60 percent said they could say “no” to sex. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the maternal mortality rate was 17 per 100,000 live births with 95 percent of births attended by skilled health personnel. In data from 2010-19, the most recent available, WHO reported that 58 percent of women did not have their contraception needs fully met. The adolescent birth rate was 54 percent in the period 2010-18.

Survivors of sexual violence have a legal right to protection and social services, although they had difficulty in gaining access to these services. Police and judicial authorities often failed to investigate instances of sexual violence and rarely issued orders of protection to prevent violence. The pervasive nature of victim blaming also meant that sexual violence went underreported and, even if reported, was often not fully prosecuted.

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

Discrimination: Although the law provides for men and women to receive equal pay for equal work, cultural barriers restricted women’s professional opportunities. The law protects women’s rights in marriage and family matters, but families often pressured female minors to marry against their will. Religious marriages were common substitutes for civil marriages due to the high marriage registration fees associated with civil marriages and the power afforded men under religious law.

A fatwa promulgated by the Council of Ulema in 2005 continued to prohibit Hanafi Sunni women, who constitute the vast majority of the female population, from praying in mosques. Religious ceremonies also made polygyny possible, despite the illegality of the practice. NGOs estimated that up to 10 percent of men practiced polygyny. Many of these polygynous marriages involved underage brides. Unofficial second and third marriages were increasingly common, with neither the wives nor the children of the subsequent marriages having legal standing or rights.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship by birth within the country’s territory or from their parents. There were no reports of birth registration being denied or not provided on a discriminatory basis. The government is required to register all births.

Education: Free and universal public education is compulsory until age 16 or completion of the ninth grade. UNICEF reported school attendance generally was good through the primary grades, but girls faced disadvantages, as parents often gave priority in education to their sons, whom they regarded as future breadwinners.

Child Abuse: The Committee on Women and Family Affairs and regional child rights protection departments are responsible for addressing problems of violence against children.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage of men and women is 18. Under exceptional circumstances, which a judge must determine, such as in the case of pregnancy, a couple may also apply to a court to lower the marriageable age to 17. Underage religious marriage was more widespread in rural areas.

The law expressly prohibits forced marriages of girls younger than 18 or entering into a marriage contract with a girl younger than 18. Early marriage carries a fine or prison sentence of up to six months, while forced marriage is punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment. Because couples may not register a marriage where one of the would-be spouses is younger than 18, many simply have a local religious leader perform the wedding ceremony. Without a civil registration certificate, the bride has few legal rights. According to the Office of Ombudsman for Human Rights, in 2018 there were 30 recorded cases of illegal marriage of underage persons in the country, with poverty reported as the main cause for early marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children and child pornography. In January the government amended the criminal code to conform with international law. As a result, the law now prohibits the buying and selling of children and outlines a provision that requires an exploitation act to qualify as human trafficking. The minimum age of consensual sex is 16. According to an NGO working with victims of domestic violence, sexual exploitation, and sex trafficking, there were several cases in which family members or third parties forced children into prostitution in nightclubs and in private homes.

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 reports of anti-Semitic acts. The country’s small Jewish community had a place of worship and faced no overt pressure from the government or other societal pressures. Emigration to other countries continued.

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 on social protection of persons with disabilities applies to individuals having physical or mental disabilities, including sensory and developmental disabilities. The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities in employment, education, access to health care, and provision of other state services, but public and private institutions generally did not commit resources to implement the law. The law requires government buildings, schools, hospitals, and transportation, including air travel, to be accessible to persons with disabilities, but the government has not provided any information about the enforcement of those provisions, although it appeared authorities were attempting to apply those standards with newly built government buildings.

Many children with disabilities were not able to attend school because doctors did not deem them “medically fit.” Children deemed “medically unfit” were segregated into special state-run schools specifically for persons with physical and mental disabilities. Doctors decided which subjects students were capable of studying, and directors of state-run schools could change the requirements for students to pass to the next grade at their discretion.

The government charged the Commission on Fulfillment of International Human Rights, the Society of Disabled, and local and regional governmental structures with protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. Although the government maintained group living and medical facilities for persons with disabilities, funding was limited, and facilities were in poor condition.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

There were occasional reports that law enforcement officials harassed persons of Afghan and Uzbek nationality.

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

Same-sex sexual conduct is legal in the country with the same age of consent as for opposite-sex relationships. The law, however, does not provide legal protection against discrimination. Throughout the country there were reports LGBTI individuals faced physical and psychological abuse, harassment, extortion, and exploitation for revealing their LGBTI status to their families. In 2019 the then ombudsman for human rights, Zarif Alizoda, announced the country would not implement the recommendations of international organizations on LGBTI rights because they conflict with local moral values. Earlier, the chief psychiatrist Khurshed Qunghurotov stated in a media interview that bisexuality, lesbianism, and homosexuality are all “pathologies of character” and that the LGBTI community is “mentally ill.”

There is no law against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, and LGBTI persons were victims of police harassment and faced threats of public beatings by community members. LGBTI representatives claimed law enforcement officials extorted money from LGBTI persons by threatening to tell their employers or families of their activities.

In some cases LGBTI persons were subjected to sex trafficking. Hate crimes against members of the LGBTI community reportedly went unaddressed. LGBTI representatives claimed health-care providers discriminated against and harassed LGBTI persons. LGBTI advocacy and health groups reported harassment from government officials and clergy, including violent threats as well as obstruction of their activities by the Ministry of Health.

Government authorities reportedly compiled a registry of hundreds of persons in the LGBTI community as part of a purported drive to promote moral behavior and protect vulnerable groups in society. In 2017 the Interior Ministry and the General Prosecutor’s Office drew up the list, which included 319 men and 48 women.

It was difficult for transgender persons to obtain new official documents from the government. The law allows for changing gender in identity papers if a medical organization provides an authorized document. Because a document of this form does not exist, it was difficult for transgender persons to change their legal identity to match their gender. This created internal problems involving any activity requiring government identification, including the acquisition of a passport for international travel.

The Brussels-based Antidiscrimination Center Memorial, in cooperation with LGBTI activists, filmed and released a documentary titled, Deafening Silence. The film’s author lived in the country until 2015 but fled with his partner to Europe after facing abuse by law enforcement. After filming, some of the featured individuals reportedly were harassed and the film crew was forced to live outside the country.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

There was societal discrimination against individuals with HIV/AIDS, and stigma and discrimination were major barriers for persons with HIV to accessing prevention, treatment, and support.

The government offered HIV testing free of charge at 140 facilities, and partner notification was mandatory and anonymous. The World Health Organization noted officials systematically offered HIV testing to prisoners, military recruits, street children, refugees, and persons seeking visas, residence, or citizenship.

Women remained a minority of those infected with HIV, although the incidence of infection among women was increasing.

As of the end of October, the Ministry of Health officially registered 9,329 HIV-positive individuals, including 1,070 children under the age of 18. During the first 10 months of the year, the ministry registered 890 new HIV-positive individuals, 739 of which contracted HIV through sexual contact.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right to form and join independent unions but requires registration for all NGOs, including trade unions, but the government did not effectively enforce the law. The law also provides that union activities, such as collective bargaining, be free from interference except “in cases specified by law,” but the law does not define such cases. Collective bargaining contracts covered 90 percent of workers in the formal sector.

Workers have the right to strike, but the law requires that meetings and other mass actions have prior official authorization, limiting trade unions’ ability to organize meetings or demonstrations. The law provides for the right to organize and bargain collectively, but it does not specifically prohibit antiunion discrimination. Penalties were commensurate with those under other laws involving denials of civil rights.

Workers joined unions, but the government used informal means to exercise considerable influence over organized labor, including influencing the selection of labor union leaders. The government-controlled umbrella Federation of Trade Unions of Tajikistan did not effectively represent worker interests. There were reports the government compelled some citizens to join state-endorsed trade unions and impeded formation of independent unions. There were no reports of threats or violence by government entities toward trade unions; however, government influence inhibited workers from fully exercising or demanding their rights. Most workers’ grievances were resolved with mediation between employees, with support from their union, and employer. Anecdotal reports from multiple in-country sources stated that citizens were reluctant to strike due to fear of government retaliation.

Labor NGOs not designated as labor organizations played a minimal role in worker rights, as they were restricted from operating fully and freely. In 2019 police reportedly arrested 15 agricultural workers, charging them with organizing an illegal event after they protested outside the Dushanbe headquarters of Faroz, a company belonging to President Rahmon’s family. Dozens of workers had gathered around the gates of the company to object to proposed lower wages for harvesting the medicinal plant ferula. All were subsequently released within 10 to 15 days of their arrest, with some paying nominal fines.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

Tajik children and adults may be subjected to forced labor in agriculture, mainly during the country’s fall cotton harvest, but also in dried fruit production. The government may have subjected some citizens to participate in manual labor, such as cleaning roads and park maintenance. Some Afghan and Bangladeshi citizens were victims of forced labor in the country, including in the construction industry. The law prohibits and criminalizes most forms of forced labor except for cleaning the streets (“subotnik” labor), work in the military, and “socially important” work. The country, however, does not consider those types of labor to be “forced labor.” The government did not effectively enforce this law and resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate to address concerns over forced labor. Employees of state institutions were sometimes required to perform agricultural work outside of and in addition to their regular employment. While penalties to discourage the practice of forced labor were stringent and commensurate with penalties for other serious crimes, such as rape, the government investigated, prosecuted, and convicted fewer individuals suspected of trafficking persons for forced labor than in prior years. In May, Tajik State Medical University students reported they were forced to work at hospitals treating coronavirus patients due to a shortage of medical personnel.

The government continued to implement its national referral mechanism that has formal written procedures for identification, referral, and assistance to victims of trafficking. Law enforcement reported screening for victims when making arrests for prostitution. NGOs reported that in many cases when victims were identified by authorities, they were detained but not put in jail.

See also 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 minimum age for children to work is 16, although children may work at age 15 with permission from the local trade union. By law children younger than 18 may work no more than six hours a day and 36 hours per week. The law applied only to contractual employment and children as young as seven may participate in household labor and agricultural work, which is separately classified as family assistance. The government did not effectively enforce the law and many children under the age of 15 worked in the country. Many children younger than 10 worked in bazaars or sold goods on the street. The highest incidences of child labor were in the domestic and agricultural sectors and some children performed hazardous work.

Enforcement of child labor laws is the responsibility of the Prosecutor General’s Office, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Social Welfare, Ministry of Internal Affairs, and appropriate local and regional governmental offices. Unions also are responsible for reporting any violations in the employment of minors. Citizens can bring unresolved cases involving child labor before the prosecutor general for investigation. There were few reports of violations because most children worked under the family assistance exception. There were reports that military recruitment authorities kidnapped children younger than 18 from public places and subjected them to compulsory military service to fulfill local recruitment quotas.

The government enforced child labor laws and worked with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to prevent the use of forced child labor. IOM and local NGOs noted that penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes. The overall instances of forced child labor in the cotton harvest decreased dramatically after 2013; the 2015 IOM annual assessment showed local or national government authorities responded to most cases, in which comprehensive data on child labor in the cotton harvest are available. Without comprehensive data (collected by the government, NGO(s), or a multilateral entity such as the IOM) it was not possible to assess the prevalence of child labor in the country’s cotton sector.

Also see the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment and occupation on the basis of race, sex, gender, disability, language, HIV-positive status, other communicable diseases, or social status. The law does not expressly prohibit worker discrimination on the basis of color, religion, political opinion, national origin, citizenship, sexual orientation, or age.

Persons holding foreign nationalities, including dual citizens and stateless persons, are prohibited from certain public sector positions, including serving in the police force.

Employers discriminated against individuals based on sexual orientation and HIV-positive status, and police generally did not enforce the laws. LGBTI persons and HIV-positive individuals opted not to file complaints due to fear of harassment from law enforcement personnel and the belief that police would not take action.

The law provides that women receive equal pay for equal work, but legal and cultural barriers continued to restrict the professional opportunities available to women. The law lists 37 employment categories in which women are prohibited from engaging, ostensibly to protect them from performing heavy labor. As a result, women are unable to work in the following sectors, affecting their earning potential: energy, mining, water, construction, factories, agriculture, and transportation.

The government did not effectively enforce discrimination laws; penalties were commensurate with those under other laws related to civil rights.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The government set a minimum monthly wage of 400 somoni ($38.80), which is below the poverty line. The legal workweek is 40 hours and the law mandates overtime payment, with the first two hours paid at a time-and-a-half rate and the remainder at double the rate, but there is no legal limit to compulsory performance of overtime.

The State Inspectorate for Supervision of Labor, Migration, and Employment under the Ministry of Labor, Migration, and Employment is responsible for the overall supervision of enforcing labor law in the country. The Ministry of Finance enforces financial aspects of the labor law, and the Agency of Financial Control of the presidential administration oversees other aspects of the law. Resources, including the number of inspectors, inspections, and remediation to enforce the law were inadequate. The State Inspectorate conducts inspections once every two years and has the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions. In 2018, however, President Rahmon suspended all labor-related inspections in the manufacturing sector to support “entrepreneurship,” so inspections have only occurred on the basis of complaints. The Inspectorate reported just under 50 such inspections during 2020.

Penalties for violations are commensurate with those for similar crimes, but the regulation was not enforced, and the government did not pay its employees for overtime work. Overtime payment was inconsistent in all sectors of the labor force. In May police fired on Chinese mine workers in the northern region of Sughd who were protesting over the payment of overdue salaries. Despite the use of live rounds, no individuals were reported injured, and the protestors dispersed.

The State Inspectorate for Supervision of Labor, Migration, and Employment is also responsible for enforcing occupational health and safety standards. The government did not fully comply with these standards, partly because of corruption and the low salaries paid to inspectors. The law provides workers the right to remove themselves from hazardous working conditions without fear of loss of employment, but workers seldom exercised this right. Medical personnel working with COVID-19 patients were fired for complaining about a lack of access to personal proactive equipment, according to media reports. There were zero industrial accidents during the year that caused the death or serious injury to workers. Farmers and agricultural workers, accounting for more than 60 percent of employment in the country, continued to work under difficult circumstances. There was no system to monitor or regulate working conditions in the agricultural and informal sectors. Wages in the agricultural sector were the lowest among all sectors, and many workers received payment in kind. The government’s failure to ensure and protect land tenure rights continued to limit its ability to protect agricultural workers’ rights.

Tanzania

Executive Summary

The United Republic of Tanzania is a multiparty republic consisting of the mainland region and the semiautonomous Zanzibar archipelago, whose main islands are Unguja (Zanzibar Island) and Pemba. The union is headed by a president, who is also the head of government. Its unicameral legislative body is the National Assembly (parliament). Zanzibar, although part of the union, exercises considerable autonomy and has its own government with a president, court system, and legislature. On October 28, the country held its sixth multiparty general election, resulting in the reelection of the union president, John Magufuli, with 85 percent of the vote, and the election of Dr. Hussein Mwinyi with 76 percent of the vote for his first term as president of Zanzibar. International and local election observers and civil society noted widespread election irregularities in the pre-election period, on election day, and in the postelection period which affected the credibility of the electoral process. Prior to the election, opposition candidates were routinely disqualified, harassed, and arrested. There were reports of significant and widespread voting irregularities, internet disruptions, intimidation of journalists, arrests, and violence by security forces both in mainland Tanzania and on Zanzibar resulting in an election that was neither free nor fair.

Under the union’s Ministry of Home Affairs, the Tanzanian Police Force has primary responsibility for maintaining law and order. The Field Force Unit, a special police division, has primary responsibility for controlling unlawful demonstrations and riots. The Tanzania People’s Defense Forces include the army, navy, air force, and National Services. The Defense Forces are responsible for external security but also have some domestic security responsibilities and report to the Ministry of Defense. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces and directed their activities. Members of domestic security forces committed numerous abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by the government or on behalf of the government; forced disappearance by the government or on behalf of the government; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by the government or on behalf of the government; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; political prisoners or detainees; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including violence, threats of violence, or unjustified arrests or prosecutions against journalists, censorship, site blocking, the existence of criminal libel laws even if not enforced; overly restrictive nongovernmental organization laws; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; refoulement of refugees to a country where they would face a threat to their life or freedom or other mistreatment of refugees that would constitute a human rights abuse; inability of citizens to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections; restrictions on political participation where elections have not been found to be genuine, free, or fair; serious acts of corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women; trafficking in persons; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting persons with disabilities, members of national/racial/ethnic minorities, or indigenous people; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex persons; existence or use of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults; and use of forced or compulsory child labor.

In some cases the government took steps to investigate and prosecute officials who committed human rights abuses, but impunity in police and other security forces and civilian branches of government was widespread.

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

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

There were several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. The Department of Public Prosecution is responsible for investigating whether security forces killings were justifiable and pursuing prosecutions.

In Zanzibar, on the island of Pemba, there were reports that security forces shot and killed approximately a dozen persons as a way to suppress freedom of assembly and expression before the election. On Pemba and the main island of Unguja, security forces reportedly killed a number of persons after the election, including individuals protesting the results of the election.

b. Disappearance

There were reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities. There were numerous cases of police using “snatch and grab” tactics where authorities arrested individuals who temporarily disappeared and then reappeared in police stations only after social media pressure. The government made no efforts to investigate or punish such acts.

On July 20, police released Sheikh Ponda Issa Ponda nine days after he was arrested and his location not disclosed. He was detained after he released a statement detailing long-held Muslim grievances.

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

The constitution prohibits such practices; however, the law does not reflect this constitutional restriction nor define torture. There were reports that police officers, prison guards, and soldiers abused, threatened, or otherwise mistreated civilians, suspected criminals, and prisoners. These abuses often involved beatings.

On September 25, Dar es Salaam police arrested three senior officials from the opposition political party ACT-Wazalendo at their election headquarters. An ACT-Wazalendo representative reported that one of the officials was physically mistreated while in custody.

The law allows caning. Local government officials and courts occasionally used caning as a punishment for both juvenile and adult offenders. Caning and other corporal punishment were also used routinely in schools.

On April 18, police raided a number of bars in Dar es Salaam, including one called “The Great,” where police caned patrons, staff, and managers for ignoring Regional Commissioner Paul Makonda’s order against visiting bars during the height of COVID-19 prevention measures. Video from Arusha taken in April showed an unidentified Maasai man, acting in his capacity as a security guard, caning passersby on the street for not maintaining social distancing guidelines.

In March, seven men were arrested for homosexual activity and purportedly subjected to forced anal exams. Their case was ongoing as of year’s end (see section 6).

According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions online portal, there were two allegations submitted during the year of sexual exploitation and abuse by Tanzanian peacekeepers deployed to UN peacekeeping missions. There were also nine open allegations submitted between 2015 and 2019 of sexual exploitation and abuse by Tanzanian peacekeepers deployed to UN peacekeeping missions. The alleged abuses involved rape of a child, transactional sex with an adult, exploitative relationship with an adult, and sexual assault. As of September, the government had not provided accountability for any of the 11 open allegations.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prisons and prison conditions remained harsh and life threatening due to food shortages, gross overcrowding, physical abuse, and inadequate sanitary conditions.

Physical Conditions: Prisons continued to hold more inmates than their capacity. Pretrial detainees and convicted prisoners were held together. Convicts were not separated according to the level of their offenses or age.

Authorities held minors together with adults in several prisons due to lack of detention facilities.

Information on the prevalence of deaths in prisons was not available.

Physical abuse of prisoners was common and there were reports of mistreatment during the reporting year. Female prisoners reported they were subject to sexual harassment and beatings by prison authorities.

Prison staff reported food and water shortages, a lack of electricity, inadequate lighting, and insufficient medical supplies. Prisons were unheated, but prisoners in cold regions reportedly received blankets and sweaters. Sanitation was insufficient. In 2018 President Magufuli publicly told the commissioner general of prisons that the government would no longer feed prisoners and that prisoners should cultivate their own food. While some prisons provided prisoners with food, the Ministry of Home Affairs reported that some prisoners were growing food for themselves. The Board of Prison Force Production Agency is meant to ensure prisons have sufficient food supply from their own cultivation projects. Other prisoners, however, reported receiving no food from the prison authorities and relied solely on what family members provided.

Medical care was inadequate. The most common health problems were malaria, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, respiratory illnesses, and diseases related to poor sanitation. Prison dispensaries offered only limited treatment, and friends and family members of prisoners generally had to provide medications or the funds to purchase them. Transportation to referral health centers and hospitals was limited. In addition, requests for medical care were often met with bureaucracy which delayed prisoners’ access to health care. While doctors conducted routine checkups in the prison clinics, they did not have adequate testing equipment or medicine.

Administration: Judges and magistrates regularly inspected prisons and heard concerns from convicts and detainees. In addition, relatives of inmates made complaints to the Commission for Human Rights and Good Governance (CHRAGG), which investigated reports of abuse. The results of those investigations were not public.

On the mainland prisoners could submit complaints to judicial authorities. The CHRAGG also served as the official ombudsman. The union Ministry of Home Affairs’ Public Complaints Department and a prison services public relations unit responded to public complaints and inquiries regarding prison conditions sent to them directly or through media.

Prisoners and detainees usually had reasonable access to visitors and could worship freely, with some exceptions.

The law allows for plea agreements designed to reduce case backlogs and ensure timely delivery of justice as well as reduce inmate congestion. Terrorism and serious drug offenses are excluded, so prosecutors do not have discretion to entertain plea agreements in these types of cases.

Independent Monitoring: The law prohibits members of the press from visiting prisons. Generally, access to prisoners was difficult for outside organizations, and the process for obtaining access was cumbersome.

Improvements: According to its 2019 report, the Federal Parole Board continued to pardon prisoners as a means to reduce overcrowding, and 648 prisoners were paroled from 2016 to 2019. On April 26, President Magufuli pardoned 3,973 prisoners, in part due to COVID-19 concerns. A total of 3,717 prisoners were freed, while 256 prisoners who faced death sentences were given alternative sentences. There were examples in the reporting year where the Director of Public Prosecution acquitted pretrial prisoners who had not yet been convicted. The director can withdraw cases on the grounds of a lack of interest in the case or not enough evidence to proceed. In September, 147 were prisoners were acquitted, mostly youth. On May 20, twenty human rights groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, wrote President Magufuli, praising efforts to reduce detainee populations but arguing that additional steps were necessary to protect prisoners from COVID-19.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, although regional and district commissioners have authority to detain a person for up to 48 hours without charge. This authority was used frequently to detain political opposition members or persons criticizing the government.

The law allows persons arrested or detained, regardless of whether on criminal or other grounds, the right to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention and obtain prompt release and compensation if found to have been unlawfully detained. The law requires, however, that a civil case must be brought to make such a challenge, and this was rarely done.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

On the mainland the law requires that an arrest for most crimes, other than crimes committed in the presence of an officer, be made with an arrest warrant based on sufficient evidence; however, authorities did not always comply with the law. Police often detained persons without judicial authorization. The law also requires that a person arrested for a crime, other than a national security detainee, be charged before a magistrate within 24 hours of arrest, excluding weekends and holidays, but authorities failed to comply consistently with this requirement. There were reports of police detaining individuals without charge for short periods on the orders of local authorities.

The law does not allow bail for suspects in cases involving murder, treason, terrorism, drugs, armed robbery, human trafficking, money laundering, other economic crimes, and other offenses where the accused might pose a public safety risk. In 2019 Dickson Paulo Sanga challenged nonbailable offenses as unconstitutional. In May the High Court ruled that section 148(5) of the Criminal Procedure Act was unconstitutional because it violated rights to personal liberty and presumption of innocence. The decision was appealed by the government on the same day. In August the Court of Appeals overruled the High Court decision, declaring that nonbailable offenses were constitutional, and that detention pending trial was important for peace and order in the country. The Court of Appeals ruling disappointed human rights stakeholders, who claimed authorities held human rights actors and businesspersons under false money laundering charges. For example, two businessmen, Harbinder Seth who is the owner of Independent Power Tanzania Limited (IPTL) and James Rugemalira, CEO of VIP Engineering Company were charged at Kisutu Court in 2017 with economic sabotage. The case was still pending in court and they remained in jail.

In some cases, courts imposed strict conditions on freedom of movement and association when they granted bail. In the primary and district courts, persons reportedly sometimes bribed officials to grant bail.

The law gives accused persons the right to contact a lawyer or talk with family members, but police often failed to inform detainees of this right. Indigent defendants and suspects charged with murder or treason could apply to the registrar of the court to request legal representation. Prompt access to counsel was often limited by the lack of lawyers in rural areas, lack of communication systems and infrastructure, and accused persons’ ignorance of their rights. In addition, on March 19, authorities banned all visits to prisons due to COVID-19, including those by prisoners’ lawyers. Since authorities provided no alternative methods for detainees to contact attorneys, Human Rights Watch argued this ban sharply slowed resolution of ongoing cases. As a result, most criminal defendants were not represented by counsel, even for serious offenses being tried before a high court. The government often did not provide consular notification when foreign nationals were arrested and did not provide prompt consular access when requested.

The government conducted some screening at prisons to identify and assist trafficking victims imprisoned as smuggling offenders; however, screenings were not comprehensive, potentially leaving some trafficking victims unidentified in detention centers. In June and July 2019, at the requests of the Ethiopian embassy, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) verified 1,354 Ethiopians in 27 prisons in 20 regions. Among the migrants were one woman and 219 minors. Between January 2015 and June 2019, the IOM provided assisted voluntary returns for 1,406 Ethiopian irregular migrants. The Ethiopians who remained in prison were either in pretrial detention (“remanded”), convicted, or postconviction but not released because of a lack of funds to deport them.

Arbitrary Arrest: By law the president may order the arrest and indefinite detention without bail of any person considered dangerous to the public order or national security. The government must release such detainees within 15 days or inform them of the reason for their continued detention. The law also allows a detainee to challenge the grounds for detention at 90-day intervals. The mainland government has additional broad detention powers under the law, allowing regional and district commissioners to arrest and detain anyone for 48 hours who is deemed to “disturb public tranquility.”

In July 2019 plainclothes police officers arrested investigative journalist and government critic Erick Kabendera and did not inform him of the charges. Initially, police did not inform his family to which police station he was taken. After seven days in detention, Kabendera was charged with money-laundering offenses. In February, Kabendera was released after agreeing to a plea deal. Kabendera was convicted on tax evasion and money laundering charges and he was fined 273 million Tanzanian shillings (TZS) ($118,000).

In December 2019 human rights lawyer Tito Magoti and his colleague Theodore Giyani, both working for the Legal and Human Rights Center, were arrested by plainclothes police officers after they tweeted support for vocal government critics. Following a public outcry, police admitted that they had arrested Magoti and Giyani. The accused were arraigned in Dar es Salaam in December 2019 and charged with money laundering, a nonbailable offense. Amnesty International and other human rights organizations called for their immediate and unconditional release in January, but at the end of the year the two remained in prison in pretrial detention.

Pretrial Detention: Arrests often preceded investigations, and accused persons frequently remained in pretrial detention–known as “remand”–for years before going to trial, usually with no credit for pretrial confinement at the time of sentencing. There is no trial clock or statute of limitations. Prosecutors obtained continuances based on a general statement that the investigation was not complete. According to the Ministry of Home Affairs, approximately 50 percent of the prison population consisted of pretrial detainees. Detainees generally waited three to four years for trial due to a lack of judges, an inadequate judicial budget, and the lengthy time for police investigations.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but many components of the judiciary remained underfunded, corrupt, inefficient (especially in the lower courts), and subject to executive influence. Judges and senior court officers are all political appointees of the president. The need to travel long distances to courts imposes logistical and financial constraints that limit access to justice for persons in rural areas. There were fewer than two judges per million persons. Court clerks reportedly continued to take bribes to open cases or hide or misdirect the files of those accused of crimes. Magistrates of lower courts reportedly occasionally accepted bribes to determine the outcome of cases. There were instances in which the outcomes of trials appeared predetermined by government. Authorities respected and enforced court orders.

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, but a weak judiciary often failed to protect this right. All trials are bench trials; there are no jury trials. Trials are not held continuously from start to finish. Instead, a trial may start, break for an indeterminate amount of time, and resume, perhaps multiple times. As a result, trials were often inefficient and could last for months or even years.

The law provides for the presumption of innocence, and the standard for conviction in criminal cases is “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Executive branch entities regularly accused political parties, civil society organizations, and international organizations of breaking the law and then demanded the accused clarify or defend their innocence. In most cases authorities informed detainees in detail of the charges against them once they had been taken to the police station. Charges were generally presented in Kiswahili or English with needed interpretation provided when possible. With some exceptions, criminal trials were open to the public and the press. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial. Courts that hold closed proceedings (for example, in cases of drug trafficking or sexual offenses involving juveniles) generally are required to provide reasons for closing the proceedings. In cases involving terrorism, the law states that everyone, except the interested parties, may be excluded from court proceedings, and witnesses may be heard under special arrangements for their protection.

The law requires legal aid in serious criminal cases, although only those accused of murder and treason were provided with free representation. Most other defendants could not afford legal representation and represented themselves in court. Defendants in criminal cases are entitled to legal representation of their choice. Legal representation was unavailable to defendants without the means to pay. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) represented some indigent defendants in large cities, such as Dar es Salaam and Arusha. For example, the Tanganyika Law Society provides free legal services upon request because its lawyers are encouraged to take at least one pro bono case per year. The Legal and Human Rights Centre and Tanzania Human Rights Defense Coalition also have had legal defense mechanisms for human rights defenders.

In Zanzibar the government sometimes provided public defenders in manslaughter cases. The law prohibits lawyers from appearing or defending clients in primary-level courts whose presiding officers are not degree-holding magistrates. Human rights groups criticized cases where lawyers attempting to represent clients in sensitive cases were reportedly themselves threatened with arrest.

Authorities did not always allow detainees sufficient time to prepare their defense, and access to adequate facilities was limited. Defendants have the right to free interpretation as necessary from the moment they are charged through all appeals. Defendants or their lawyers have the right to confront prosecution witnesses and the right to present evidence and witnesses on the defendant’s behalf. Prosecutors, however, have no disclosure obligations in criminal cases, and often the defense does not know what evidence the prosecutor will rely upon when the trial begins. Defendants were not compelled to testify or confess guilt.

All defendants charged with civil or criminal matters, except parties appearing before Zanzibari qadi courts (traditional Muslim courts that settle matters of divorce and inheritance), could appeal decisions to the respective mainland and Zanzibari high courts. All defendants can appeal decisions to the union Court of Appeal.

Judicial experts criticized the practice of police acting as prosecutors because of the risk police might manipulate evidence in criminal cases. The mainland Ministry of Constitutional and Legal Affairs continued hiring and training state prosecutors to handle the entire mainland caseload, although staffing shortages continued.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were reports of political detainees. Several opposition politicians and individuals critical of the government were arrested or detained during the year. These individuals were usually charged with sedition, incitement, or unlawful assembly. There was an unknown number of political prisoners, but according to opposition leaders and NGOs, there were at least 300 opposition activists and supporters who were detained or abducted on the mainland and about 150 in Zanzibar prior to and after the elections. The persons were given the same protections as other detainees, although the government often threatened to charge opposition leaders with nonbailable offenses.

For example, following the October 28 general election, members of the opposition parties, including some opposition leaders, were arrested. While some were subsequently released, there were still opposition party members in detention on November 6. There were also supporters of the opposition who were arrested, brought to prisons outside of Dar es Salaam, and who were still being held without bail.

For example, two opposition members of parliament (MPs), Freeman Mbowe and Esther Matiko of the opposition Party of Democracy and Development (CHADEMA), served four months in jail after the court revoked their bail in 2018. The High Court of Dar es Salaam upon appeal, however, ruled the bail revocation was invalid, and they were released in March 2019. Mbowe and Matiko were part of a group of nine CHADEMA members who were charged in 2018 with 11 crimes, including conspiracy, sedition, and inciting the commission of offenses. In March all nine CHADEMA leaders were found guilty of sedition and fined TZS 350 million ($150,000) or a five-month jail term. CHADEMA supporters fundraised and paid the fines of all the leaders.

On November 1, three CHADEMA leaders were arrested for planning postelection protests in Dar es Salaam. The three leaders were Freeman Mbowe, CHADEMA’s national chairman, Godbless Lema, former Arusha urban MP, and Boniface Jacob, former mayor of Ubungo. On November 3, Zitto Kabwe, party leader of ACT-Wazalendo was also arrested briefly on the same charges as the three CHADEMA leaders. On November 3, all four opposition leaders were released on bail without any charges.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Persons may bring civil lawsuits seeking damages for or the cessation of human rights violations and can appeal those rulings to the Court of Appeal on the mainland and other regional courts. Civil judicial procedures, however, were often slow, inefficient, and corrupt. In December 2019 the government withdrew the right of individuals and NGOs to file cases directly against it at the Arusha-based African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights. This meant that individuals and organizations with observer status were no longer able to bring complaints to the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

The East African Court of Justice (EACJ) has been a preferred route to bring human rights cases because it admits cases and eases the burden on local courts. For example the case concerning the 2017 government-led evictions of villagers in Loliondo was brought before the EACJ in September 2018; the EACJ ruled in the villagers’ favor. The implementation of this ruling, however, has yet to take place. According to a witness, individuals were beaten daily when they brought their cattle through the buffer zone to reach grazing lands.

Civil society organizations (CSOs) and politicians relied on the courts for challenges to government decisions. For example, in May 2019 the High Court of Dar es Salaam annulled the constitutional provision that empowered presidential appointees to supervise elections. This was significant because 80 percent of the supervising officials belonged to the ruling party. At first, this indicated the court provided an avenue to contest the ruling party, but the outcome of the decision was not upheld. In addition, in October 2019 the Court of Appeal, the country’s highest court, overturned the earlier High Court decision.

On June 10, parliament passed amendments to the Basic Rights and Duties Enforcement Act to restrict public interest lawsuits by limiting the ability of groups to challenge a law or policy that allegedly violates the constitution’s bill of rights. The restriction appeared to be aimed at stopping groups from filing purely public interest litigation without showing harm to an accuser. The amendment also provided broad immunity from civil and criminal cases to top government officials, including the president, vice president, prime minister, speaker, and chief justice.

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

The law generally prohibits such actions without a search warrant, but the government did not consistently respect these prohibitions. While only courts may issue search warrants, the law also authorizes searches of persons and premises without a warrant if necessary to prevent the loss or destruction of evidence or if circumstances are serious and urgent. The owners of social online platform Jamii Forums faced a court case for allegedly preventing a police force investigation, in violation of the law. Police had no search warrant but still requested the IP addresses of the platform’s users. The owners claimed that this request was a breach of privacy. In April the Dar es Salaam court sentenced the owners to pay a fine of three million TZS ($1,300) or face one year in prison. The owners paid the fine and immediately filed a notice of intent to appeal the case.

The law relating to terrorism permits police officers at or above the rank of assistant superintendent or in charge of a police station to conduct searches without a warrant in certain urgent cases, but there were no reports these cases occurred.

It was widely believed government agents monitored the telephones and correspondence of some citizens and foreign residents. The nature and extent of this practice were unknown, but due to fear of surveillance, many civil society organizations and leaders were unwilling to speak freely over the telephone. In July former deputy minister of good governance Mary Mwanjelwa’s telephone conversation with one of her supporters was recorded and leaked. However, it was not reported who recorded the conversation.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech but does not explicitly provide for freedom of the press. There were criminal penalties for libel, and authorities used these laws to stifle freedom of expression. Additionally, government attacks on human rights defenders and the arrest of opposition leaders calling for peaceful, democratic protests were restrictions on freedom of assembly and association. These rights have been further severely limited through a number of formal (legislative, regulatory) and informal (executive, government, and police statements) actions. These include the Written Laws (Miscellaneous Amendments) Act, No. 3 of 2020, which curtailed the ability of citizens to bring suit against government legislative or executive action unless an individual can prove the action has affected him or her personally, effectively outlawing public interest litigation.

Freedom of Speech: Public criticism of the government resulted in punitive action in some cases. Authorities used the Cybercrimes Act to bring criminal charges against individuals who criticized the government on a variety of electronic media.

On April 24, journalist Prince Bagenda was arrested for sedition for writing a book tentatively titled Magufuli Personification of Power and the Rise of Authoritarianism. He was detained for six days before being released on bail. His laptop was seized and not returned. He had to report to police headquarters every Monday as a condition of his bail.

On May 29, Zitto Kabwe, leader of the ACT-Wazalendo party, who has frequently been arrested for being critical of the government, was found guilty of sedition and incitement for having made false statements that 100 persons were killed in his home region in 2018 during clashes between herders and police forces. He was released without sentencing under the condition that he not say or write anything potentially seditious for one year.

On July 14, the Registrar of Societies under the Ministry of Home Affairs instructed all societies–specifically religious institutions–to stop engaging in politics, and threatened legal action and deregistration if they did not comply. Minister of Home Affairs Simbachawene also warned that he would not hesitate to deregister religious organizations. At the time, some pointed to this as a way to prevent religious institutions from participating in election observation. However, none of the religious institutions was accredited as observers anyway (see also section 3, Elections and Political Participation). Many religious institutions have viewed election observation as a longtime priority (see also section 1.b., Disappearance).

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media on the mainland were active and generally expressed varying views, although media outlets often practiced self-censorship to avoid conflict with the government. The government often utilized COVID-19 as a means to restrict freedom of speech and freedom of expression.

Registering or licensing new print and broadcast media outlets was difficult. Newspaper registration was at the discretion of the registrar of newspapers at the information ministries on both the mainland and Zanzibar. Acquiring a broadcasting license from the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) took an estimated six months to one year, and the TCRA restricted the area of broadcast coverage. The TCRA imposes registration and annual fees for commercial and community radio stations which disadvantage the creation and operation of small community radio stations.

On April 13, the TCRA suspended the newspaper Mwananchis online license for six months and fined it five million TZS ($2,100) for allegedly violating the Electronic and Postal (Online Content) Regulations of 2018 by publishing false and misleading news. The newspaper had published a video of President Magufuli buying fish at a market, apparently not complying with social distancing and COVID-19 regulations.

On June 23, the Information Services Department, which registers print media, announced it would revoke the Swahili newspaper Tanzania Daimas distribution and publication license as of June 24. The government alleged Tanzania Daima had violated journalistic ethics and laws, including spreading false information. Tanzania Daima is associated with the opposition politician Freeman Mbowe. The newspaper had just published a front-page article concerning a local bishop who called for peaceful protests to demand an independent electoral commission.

On August 6, the TCRA summoned Mwanza-based Radio Free Africa and demanded an explanation of why Radio Free Africa ran a BBC-produced interview with opposition party CHADEMA presidential candidate Tundu Lissu on July 29 without pursuing the government’s position on some of Lissu’s criticisms. Just days later, new rules were issued that required TCRA approval of all local radio and television outlet agreements with domestic and foreign content providers and required TCRA presence at meetings between foreign and domestic media representatives. Local television and radio outlets with existing agreements with foreign content providers were given seven days to comply.

All broadcast stations are required to receive approval from the Tanzania Film Board for locally produced content, including music videos, films, cartoons, and other video content. In June the government passed an amendment to the Films and Stage Plays Act (Amendment 3), providing the Tanzania Film Board with the authority to regulate, monitor and determine if foreign and local motion pictures, television shows, radio shows, and stage performances are approved for exhibition.

The government of Zanzibar controlled content on the radio and television stations it owned. There were government restrictions on broadcasting in tribal languages, and broadcasts in Kiswahili or English were officially preferred. The nine private radio stations on Zanzibar operated independently, often reading the content of national dailies, including articles critical of the Zanzibari government.

Violence and Harassment: Authorities attacked, harassed, and intimidated journalists during the year. Journalists and media outlets frequently self-censored to avoid government retribution.

On July 2, the TCRA Content Committee suspended Maria Sarungi’s Kwanza Online TV platform for 11 months for allegedly generating and disseminating biased, misleading, and disruptive content after reporting on a health alert by an embassy. According to TCRA Content Committee Vice-Chairperson Joseph Mapunda, Kwanza Online TV’s Instagram page posted COVID-19 stories that contradicted the government’s official reporting. Kwanza Online TV submitted a response on July 3 to the Ethics Committee arguing that it is the duty of the government to respond to anything misleading that could be in the embassy’s alert. On July 9, Kwanza Online TV announced its intention to appeal the suspension.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law authorizes police to raid and seize materials from newspaper offices and authorizes the minister of information to “prohibit or otherwise sanction the publication of any content that jeopardizes national security or public safety.”

According to Reporters without Borders, after President Magufuli came to office in 2015 the laws regulating media tightened and there have been cases of newspapers and radio stations being suspended for “incitement.” The TCRA publicized a mobile number and email address for the public to use for reporting all misleading information concerning COVID-19, and encouraged citizens to share screen shots of social media groups discussing the pandemic. While combatting the considerable amount of conspiracy theory and misinformation surrounding COVID-19 may have had good intentions, over time the TCRA used the Cyber Crimes Act to punish critics of the government’s handling of COVID-19 and those sharing COVID-19 information contrary to the tightly controlled government information on COVID-19.

In August the government banned all local media outlets from broadcasting foreign content without official permission. The new regulation requires local media organizations to submit their agreements with foreign media outlets to the authority within seven days and prohibits meetings between local and international media representatives without government authorities present. These regulations had a chilling effect on local broadcasts, with Voice of America, BBC, and Deutsche Welle reporting that media outlets throughout the country quickly stopped airing their content, although most stations resumed broadcasting after a week. On August 14, the TCRA announced it was placing four local radio stations (Radio Free Africa, Radio One, Radio Abood, and CG FM Radio) under close monitoring for violating broadcasting regulations after airing the BBC interview with Lissu.

On August 27, the TCRA suspended Clouds TV and Radio operations for seven days for violating television broadcasting regulations when they reported election candidates’ nominations that were uncontested and without certification from the National Electoral Commission (NEC). NEC Director for Elections Wilson Mahera warned media not to report unofficial election nomination results. On September 11, the TCRA banned Watafi FM from broadcasting for 7 days for allegedly broadcasting abusive language.

Authorities require a permit for reporting on police or prison activities, both on the mainland and in Zanzibar, and journalists need special permission to cover meetings of the National Assembly or attend meetings in the Zanzibar House of Representatives. Anyone publishing information accusing a Zanzibari representative of involvement in illegal activities is liable to a monetary fine, three years’ imprisonment, or both. The government may fine and suspend newspapers without warning.

There were examples of the government repressing information, extending to online newspapers and journals. Many government officials did not provide access to information for fear of sharing information that had not been approved by the National Bureau of Statistics. In June 2019 parliament lifted some restrictions on publishing statistical information and removed the threat of prison for civil society groups if they published independent statistical information. The law now allows individuals and organizations to conduct surveys and collect research data; however, Amnesty International stated that under the new law, authorities still maintain control over who is able to gather and publish information, as well as to determine what is factual. While the World Bank stated the amended law was in line with international norms, many observers continued to self-censor because of possible personal and professional repercussions, including the government’s ability to use media services and cybercrime acts against individuals who publish or share data that does not align with the government’s messaging.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law provides for arrest, prosecution, and punishment for the use of seditious, abusive, or derogatory language to describe the country’s leadership. The law makes defamation a criminal act. Defamation is defined as any matter likely to injure the reputation of any person by exposing him to hatred, contempt, or ridicule, or likely to damage any person in his profession or trade by an injury to his reputation.

In May authorities arrested and detained prominent comedian Idris Sultan for eight days before charging him on May 29 with “failure to register a SIM card previously owned by another person” and “failure to report change of ownership of a SIM card.” Police claimed that Idris had used the internet to harass the president after Idris had posted a video of himself laughing at the president in an ill-fitting suit. Amnesty International called the charges “politically motivated” and stated the government was trying to criminalize humor.

On October 2, authorities suspended campaign operations of CHADEMA presidential candidate Tundu Lissu for ethics violations after he reportedly used “seditious language” towards President Magufuli after Lissu accused Magufuli of attempting to rig the October 28 elections.

Internet Freedom

The government restricted access to the internet and monitored websites and internet traffic. In July the TCRA introduced new categories for online content licenses for news, educational, religious, and entertainment content, which widely expanded the scope of required license holders. The new categories require applicants for online content services, such as bloggers and persons operating online forums, to obtain licenses specifying a category of license depending on the content being offered. In addition, all online content providers must pay application and licensing fees totaling more than two million TZS ($870) in initial costs. Licenses are valid for three years, must be renewed annually for one million TZS ($435), and can be renewed upon expiration. Prohibitive costs led some citizens to stop blogging or posting content on online forums, including international social media platforms.

Under the regulations, internet cafes must install surveillance cameras to monitor persons online. Online material deemed “offensive, morally improper” or that “causes annoyance” is prohibited, and those charged with violating the regulations face a substantial monetary fine or a minimum sentence of 12 months in prison. The law criminalizes the publication of false information, defined as “information, data or facts presented in a picture, texts, symbol, or any other form in a computer system where such information, data, or fact is false, deceptive, misleading, or inaccurate.” Individuals who made critical comments on electronic media about the government were charged under the law, even when remarks reflected opinions or were factually true.

On January 21, police in Dodoma arrested Mugaya Tungu, a second-year student at the University of Dodoma, for cybercrimes. He allegedly posted on social media a photo of a long line of students waiting for water at the university campus.

On April 11, police in Shinyanga arrested Mariam Jumanne Sanane for cybercrimes for allegedly posting false information regarding COVID-19 on social media. On April 14, another person was arrested in Kilimanjaro for alleged cybercrimes after reporting on COVID-19 numbers. As of October, Sanane was awaiting trial.

In the days leading up to the October 28 elections, the internet slowed down and popular social media sites including Twitter, WhatsApp, Facebook, and YouTube were either blocked or rendered unusable, preventing the free flow of information. The TCRA also blocked bulk SMS messaging in the lead-up to the elections until November 11.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

In June 2019 parliament passed amendments to the law that previously had required individuals and organizations to obtain permission from the National Bureau of Statistics before conducting surveys, collecting research data, or publicizing results. The amendment removes the threat of prison for civil society groups if they publish independent statistical information. It also states persons have the right to collect and disseminate statistical information, and puts a system in place for persons who want to access or publish national data. (See also section 2.a., Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media.) Researchers were still required to obtain permission to conduct and publish research. There was a degree of self-censorship due to the government’s lack of tolerance for criticism.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The government restricted freedom of peaceful assembly, including through bans decreed by authorities but not supported by law. For example, in June 2016 the government banned political parties from organizing political activities and rallies until the campaign schedule for the October 28 elections was announced in August. The government requires organizers of political rallies to obtain police permission. Any organizing of demonstrations or rallies online is prohibited. Police may deny permission on public safety or security grounds or if the permit-seeker belongs to an unregistered organization or political party. The government and police limited the issuance of permits for public demonstrations and assemblies to opposition political parties, NGOs, and religious organizations. The only allowable political meetings are by MPs in their constituencies; outside participants, including party leaders, are not permitted to participate. The government restricted nonpolitical gatherings deemed critical of the government.

Prior to the beginning of the election season in August, the ruling Revolution Party (CCM) was the only party allowed to conduct public rallies on a regular basis. It used the umbrella of the implementing party manifesto to inform members when it was time to register to vote.

The opposition party rallies were not only shut down but police also used teargas to disperse CHADEMA gatherings on numerous occasions. For example, on September 28, police in the Mara region used teargas to disperse a crowd that had gathered to support CHADEMA presidential candidate Tundu Lissu as his motorcade passed by en route to an official campaign event.

On January 14, police briefly detained popular Zanzibar opposition leader Seif Sharif Hamad and questioned him concerning alleged illegal assembly in December 2019. He was later released.

On February 29 in Kilimanjaro, police arrested CHADEMA chairman Freeman Mbowe shortly after his political rally at Nkoromu Hai, for allegedly not obtaining a permit. He was later released.

On June 23 in Kilwa, police arrested ACT-Wazalendo party leader and MP Zitto Kabwe and five others for illegal assembly while they attended an internal party meeting. They were later transferred to Lindi and released on bail. At the end of the year, the case was ongoing.

On July 22, ACT-Wazalendo party representatives reported that police arrested 14 party members in Masasi, Mtwara, for attending an internal party meeting. The meeting was led by ACT Chair Seif Sharif Hamad, who departed the meeting before the arrests.

In the aftermath of the elections, the government arrested opposition leaders in both the mainland and on Zanzibar. On November 1 and 2, several opposition leaders and members were arrested after calling for peaceful democratic protests in opposition to the October 28 elections. Some of those arrested included CHADEMA chairman Freeman Mbowe, CHADEMA presidential candidate Tundu Lissu, ACT-Wazalendo leader Zitto Kabwe, along with other prominent opposition leaders and members throughout the country. The protests never manifested.

On Zanzibar several ACT-Wazalendo leaders, including Zanzibar presidential candidate Sharif Seif Hamad and Deputy Secretary General of Zanzibar Nassor Mazrui were arrested after calling for peaceful protests. Some ACT-Wazalendo leaders were reportedly beaten by police after they were arrested. There were also reports of heavily armed security forces patrolling the streets to stop any protests. In Pemba, the smaller of the two main islands that make up Zanzibar, there were reports of a full security lockdown, with some reports of widespread violence, including gender-based violence. Pemba was also reportedly subject to a complete internet blackout while the lockdown was in place.

Freedom of Association

The constitution provides for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. Thousands of NGOs and societies operated in the country. Political parties were required to register and meet membership and other requirements. Freedom of association for workers was limited (see section 7.a.).

According to the Legal and Human Rights Center (LHRC) and the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law, the freedom of association for NGOs has been jeopardized by the law, which reduces the autonomy of NGOs and provides for excessive regulation of the NGO sector. The registrar stated that the process of deregistering underscored the need for NGOs to comply with the law and provide transparency and accountability in their activities. Under existing law, however, the registrar of NGOs is granted sweeping powers to suspend and deregister NGOs, leaving loopholes that could be used to obstruct political opposition and human rights NGOs.

The law makes a distinction between NGOs and societies and applies different registration procedures to the two. It defines a society as any club, company, partnership, or association of 10 or more persons, regardless of its purpose, and notes specific categories of organizations not considered societies, such as political parties. The law defines NGOs to include organizations whose purpose is to promote economic, environmental, social, or cultural development; protect the environment; or lobby or advocate on topics of public interest. Societies and NGOs may not operate until authorities approve their applications.

In May the minister of home affairs stated that from July 2019 to March the Registrar of Societies received 248 registration applications, 156 from religious institutions and 92 from CSOs. The registrar registered 71 applications, three were disqualified as they did not meet the registration criteria, and 174 were still working on their applications. NGOs in Zanzibar apply for registration with the Zanzibar Business and Property Registration Agency. While registration generally took several weeks, some NGOs waited months if the registrar determined additional research was needed.

In September an official from the Zanzibar office of the Tanzania Media Women Association said registering NGOs was still a problem in Zanzibar. This official also said authorities continued to interfere with the affairs of NGOs. NGOs were forced to change wording in their constitutions to get registered, and some NGOs were blacklisted, deregistered, or had their operations withheld.

During the year the NGO registrar sought to deregister at least 250 NGOs. In August the government froze the bank accounts of the Tanzanian Human Rights Defenders Coalition and arrested its director, Onesmo Olengurumwa, and has actively sought to suspend or prevent the functioning of several others–including the NGO Inclusive Development for Change, and on Zanzibar, the Centre for Strategic Litigation (see also section 6, Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity).

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

In-country Movement: Refugees are confined to camps. The government limited refugee movement and enforced its encampment policy more strictly during the year, including the arrest of refugees caught moving outside the camps without official permission. With permits more difficult to obtain and livelihood opportunities inside the camps heavily constrained, refugees who left the camps in search of work were apprehended by police and arrested. Usually these persons were prosecuted and sentenced in local courts to six months’ detention or payment of a fine.

Foreign Travel: During the election, several opposition political leaders were blocked from leaving the country. Immigration officers blocked Godbless Lema (the former CHADEMA MP from Arusha) from leaving the country, alleging that he had committed economic crimes and that he lacked proper travel documentation. He later escaped using informal routes to Kenya and was granted political asylum in Canada. Another CHADEMA leader, Lazaro Nyalandu, was also blocked from crossing into Kenya at the Namanga border. Opposition presidential candidate Tindu Lissu, due to fear for his life and of being arrested, sought refuge in the German embassy and later moved to Belgium. Some opposition leaders were unable to travel out of the country without permission from police, due to ongoing investigations against them.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

There were no reports of large numbers of internally displaced persons.

f. Protection of Refugees

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) regarding treatment of internally displaced persons, refugees, asylum seekers, and stateless persons along the western border. The government did not grant UNHCR access to the southern border to assess the status of refugees entering from Mozambique.

Despite government assurances that its borders remained open to refugees, authorities closed the borders to new refugee arrivals from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Burundi. In 2018 the government withdrew from the UN’s Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework, announced it would no longer provide citizenship to Burundian refugees, and stated it would encourage refugees to return home. At that time the government assured UNHCR it would respect the choice of refugees on whether to return to their country of origin. While nearly 88,000 Burundian refugees have been repatriated since September 2017, there were numerous accounts of refugees facing intimidation or pressure by Tanzanian authorities to return home. UNHCR was concerned about validating the voluntariness of the returns. Some refugees who were pressured into returning to Burundi became refugees in other countries or returned to Tanzania. In November, Human Rights Watch released a report documenting at least 18 cases between October 2019 and August of Burundian refugees being forcibly disappeared, abused, and arbitrarily detained by police and intelligence services. Victims reported to Human Rights Watch that authorities detained them in rooms with no electricity or windows, hung them from the ceilings by their handcuffs, gave them electric shocks, rubbed their faces and genitals with chili, and beat and whipped them.

The government suspended livelihood options for refugees by closing businesses operating inside the camps and common markets outside the camps where refugees and the surrounding communities could exchange goods. According to NGOs working in the camps, there was an increase in gender-based violence and other problems due to the loss of livelihoods.

There were reports of refugees found outside the camps being detained, beaten, abused, raped, or killed by officials or citizens.

Sex- and gender-based violence against refugees continued, including allegations against officials who worked in or around refugee camps. UNHCR worked with local authorities and residents in the three refugee camps to strengthen coordination and address violence, including sexual violence, against vulnerable persons. The public prosecutor investigated, prosecuted, and punished perpetrators of abuses in the camp, while international NGOs provided assistance to the legal team when requested by a survivor. Local authorities and the public prosecutor handled most cases of refugee victims of crime and abuse outside the camp. Residents of the refugee camps suffered delays and limited access to courts, common problems also faced by citizens.

Refoulement: The government closed the last of the country’s official refugee reception centers in 2018, and during the year there were credible reports of push backs at the border as well as instances of obstructions to access for Congolese and Burundian asylum seekers following requests for international protection. In addition, the Burundian refugees who had been assisted by UNHCR during the year to return voluntarily to Burundi, but were forced to flee again and seek asylum for a second time, were unable to register with authorities. This prevented them from being able to access humanitarian assistance or basic services.

There were reports of refugees from Mozambique seeking asylum who were returned without access to UNHCR assessments of the voluntariness of the returns.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has an established system for providing protection to refugees. The National Eligibility Committee is required to meet regularly and make determinations on asylum applications. In December the committee conducted interviews in Dar es Salaam with asylum seekers for the first time since 2018. The rejection rate was 80 percent, but some families were recognized as refugees. The last session of the committee was held in the camps in 2018, at which point the rejection rate was 100 percent.

Despite the government’s strict encampment policy, authorities continued to permit a small population of asylum seekers and refugees to reside in Dar es Salaam. This group consisted principally of persons in need of international protection arriving from countries that are not contiguous, as well as individuals with specific reasons for being unable to stay in the refugee camps in the western part of the country. While access to formal employment opportunities remained limited for urban refugees, they did enjoy access to government health services and schools. UNHCR intervened in cases of irregular migrants in need of international protection following their arrest by authorities in Dar es Salaam or other urban centers to ensure that the migrants had access to national asylum procedures and were protected from forced return to their country of origin.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: No policy for blanket or presumptive denials of asylum exists for applicants arriving from a “safe country of origin” or through a “safe country of transit.” All asylum applications are evaluated individually. The law provides that, unless the transit country is experiencing a serious breach of peace, an asylum claim can be refused upon failure to show reasonable cause as to why asylum was not claimed in the transit country prior to entry into the country.

Freedom of Movement: Refugees apprehended more than 2.5 miles outside their camps without permits are subject by law to sentences ranging from a fine up to a three-year prison sentence. Policy restrictions limiting refugee freedom of movement and access to livelihoods left the refugee population almost totally dependent on humanitarian assistance and vulnerable to a range of protection risks, including sexual and gender-based violence. Interpartner violence continued to be reported as the leading category of sexual and gender-based violence, accounting for approximately 75 percent of incidents. Observers attributed this level of violence to the difficult living conditions in refugee camps, split-family decisions resulting from government pressure to return to their countries of origin; substance abuse; closure of larger markets, which undermined women’s self-reliance; and restrictions on freedom of movement, which placed women and girls in a precarious situation when they left the camps to collect firewood and seek foods to diversify their family’s diet.

Employment: Even when refugees have official status, they generally are not able to work, especially in view of the country’s strict encampment policies.

Durable Solutions: During the year the government focused on repatriation and did not support local integration as a durable solution. The government maintained pressure on Burundian refugees to return to Burundi, promoting repatriation as the only durable solution for Burundian refugees. UNHCR continued to assist voluntary returns under the framework of a tripartite agreement between the governments of Burundi and Tanzania and UNHCR, stressing that conditions inside Burundi were not yet conducive for large-scale returns because many Burundian refugees remained in need of international protection. Nonetheless, the government increased pressure on Burundian refugees to sign up for returns. The government implemented measures to make life more difficult for refugees, including closing the shared refugee and host community markets in February and restricting camp exit permits.

According to the Ministry of Home Affairs, from July 2018 to March 2019 a total of 662 Burundian refugees repatriated voluntarily. According to UNHCR, nearly 88,000 Burundian refugees have returned to Burundi with assistance since 2017. The government granted 162,000 former Burundian refugees citizenship in 2014-15. During 2019, 1,350 refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and 82 from other countries were resettled in other countries.

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, but it allows parliament to restrict this right if a citizen is mentally infirm, convicted of certain criminal offenses, or omits or fails to prove or produce evidence of age, citizenship, or registration as a voter. Citizens residing outside the country are not allowed to vote. The NEC is responsible for mainland and union electoral affairs, while the Zanzibar Electoral Commission manages elections in Zanzibar.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The country held its most recent multiparty general election on October 28. Separate elections are held for the union and for Zanzibar, ordinarily on the same day, in which citizens of the two parts of the union elect local officials, members of the national parliament, and a union (national) president. Additionally, Zanzibar separately elects a president of Zanzibar and members of the Zanzibar House of Representatives.

International and local observers noted that the October 28 elections were marred with numerous credible reports of irregularities, along with internet and social media outages. There were reports of the NEC denying registrations for opposition candidates, who were also frequently harassed and even arrested. The CCM benefitted from superior financial and institutional resources. This was the first election where the Zanzibar Electoral Commission allowed two days of voting. The first day was reserved for government security forces, who reportedly needed to vote on October 27 in order to stand duty on October 28. The mainland did not enact a similar policy, and voting there took place only on October 28.

In the lead-up to the national elections, the NEC was selective regarding approving credentials for organizations to provide election observers and voter education programs. Many asserted this represented a politicization of the accreditation process, whereby the government used the process to deny credentials to legitimate, experienced, and resourced domestic observer groups while approving observers without the resources, capacity, or reach to monitor the election effectively. Some organizations who were denied credentials appealed the decision to the commission, but ultimately were not accredited.

On August 25, the nomination day for candidates, 1,000 opposition candidates for parliament and councilor seats were disqualified. Many of the candidates appealed this ruling to the NEC, resulting in the reinstatement of 67 opposition candidates for parliament and 236 opposition candidates for ward council seats. Despite these reinstatements, 28 ruling party parliamentary candidates ran for their seats unopposed (equivalent to 10 percent of all constituencies), and 870 councilor seats were won unopposed (21.9 percent of ward seats).

On October 28, the country held its sixth multiparty general election, resulting in the reelection of the union president, John Magufuli, with 85 percent of the vote, and the election of Dr. Hussein Mwinyi, with 76 percent of the vote, for his first term as president of Zanzibar. International and local election observers and civil society noted widespread election irregularities in the pre-election period, on election day, and in the postelection period which affected the credibility of the electoral process. In the lead-up to the election, opposition candidates were routinely disqualified, harassed, and arrested. There were reports of significant and widespread voting irregularities, internet disruptions, intimidation of journalists, arrests, and violence by security forces both on the mainland and on Zanzibar resulting in an election that was neither free nor fair.

Local elections in November 2019 were widely criticized for a lack of fairness and credibility after thousands of opposition party candidates were disqualified from running. With most domestic observer groups banned from monitoring, and a widespread opposition boycott, the ruling party CCM claimed to have won 99.7 percent of the contests, ensuring nearly complete control at the local level.

In June 2019 the speaker of parliament removed opposition CHADEMA MP Tundu Lissu for absenteeism and failing to submit required disclosure statements in a timely manner. Lissu survived an attempt to kill him in 2017 and was abroad until July for medical care. The court dismissed Lissu’s challenge to his removal, and a CCM member was sworn in on September 3, 2019, to represent Lissu’s constituency. In August, Lissu became CHADEMA’s candidate for president.

In October 2019 the Court of Appeal overturned a May 2019 decision by the High Court of Dar es Salaam to prohibit district executive directors from supervising elections on the grounds that their supervision violates a constitutional ban on political parties from running elections. District executive directors are presidentially appointed to act as the secretary of district councils, and many are active members of the ruling CCM party.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The constitution establishes the country as a multiparty democracy and requires that persons running for office represent a registered political party. The law prohibits unregistered parties. There are 19 political parties with full registration and three with provisional registration. In the October election, 17 parties participated. To secure full registration, parties must submit lists of at least 200 members in 10 of the country’s 31 regions, including two of the five regions of Zanzibar.

The registrar of political parties has sole authority to approve registration of any political party and is responsible for enforcing regulations. In February 2019 an amendment of the Political Parties Act expanded the registrar’s powers, a move opposition MPs asserted would cement one-party rule. Under the amended act, the registrar may prohibit any individual from engaging in political activities and request any information from a political party, including minutes and attendee lists from party meetings. During the year, the political opposition faced difficulty forming a coalition due in part to the Political Parties Act requirement that all minutes, areas of agreement, and strategic plans be shared with the registrar of political parties.

The law requires political parties to support the union between Tanganyika (mainland Tanzania) and Zanzibar; parties based on ethnic, regional, or religious affiliation are prohibited.

MPs were sanctioned for criticizing the government, including in speeches on the floor of parliament.

The law provides for a “gratuity” payment of 235 million TZS to 280 million TZS ($102,000 to $121,000) to MPs completing a five-year term. Incumbents can use these funds in re-election campaigns. Several NGOs and opposition parties criticized this provision as impeding opposition parliamentary candidates from mounting effective challenges.

The mainland government allowed political opponents unrestricted access to media, but the ruling party had far more funding to purchase broadcast time.

The NEC updated the voter register in preparation for the October general elections. The law requires that voter registration drives be carried out twice every five years. The law, however, restricted political parties’ ability to offer civic education and outreach on voter registration and voting rights, as they had done in the past. With the mandate for providing voter education falling on NEC’s limited budget, combined with a rejection of foreign assistance, NEC issued accreditation for civic education to only 24 small and inexperienced CSOs. Since none of the accredited CSOs had the financial or technical capacity to carry out effective national voter education campaigns, few actual voter education messages reached citizens–especially during the voter registration period. In addition the NEC scheduled only seven days for registration in each region, a time frame stakeholders asserted was inadequate. Opposition parties asserted that widespread disenfranchisement resulted from a flawed voter registration process, especially on Zanzibar, where new Zanzibar identification requirements inserted political actors into the process and purportedly resulted in the disenfranchisement of as many as 80,000 voters on the island of Pemba.

There was political violence directed at opposition party members. On September 18, Deo Mosha, campaign manager of the opposition National Convention for Construction and Reform (NCCR) party, was wounded by knife-wielding assailants in Moshi. Other NCCR supporters were reportedly assaulted in Vunjo, the home constituency of James Mbatia, NCCR national chairman and MP candidate. One assault victim claimed that the perpetrators of this attack wanted her to pledge allegiance to the ruling party CCM but she refused.

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. Some observers believed cultural and financial constraints limited women’s participation in politics. There were special women’s seats in both parliament and the Zanzibar House of Representatives. Two women, Queen Sendinga of the Alliance for Democratic Change and Cecelia Mwanga of Demokrasia Makini, ran for president in October. There were also female running mates in five of the parties fielding presidential candidates. There were 21 women who won MP constituency seats on the mainland, including 19 from CCM. There were 94 CCM women who filled special seats. There are 20-22 seats that can be filled by CHADEMA.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year. Officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. President Magufuli took several high-profile steps to signal a commitment to fighting corruption. These included surprise inspections of ministries, hospitals, and the port of Dar es Salaam, often followed by the immediate dismissal of officials. Critics and observers claimed that President Magufuli used the anticorruption platform to go after those who opposed him.

Corruption: While efforts were being made to rein in corruption, it remained pervasive. The Prevention and Combating of Corruption Bureau (PCCB) reported that most corruption investigations concerned government involvement in mining, land, energy, and investments.

NGOs reported allegations of corruption involving the Tanzania Revenue Authority, local government officials, police, licensing authorities, hospital workers, and media.

On July 19, the PCCB director general, Brigadier General Mbungo, vowed to take legal action against political aspirants seeking financial support from businesses.

On August 13, the PCCB stated that it would allow the ruling CCM party to deal with corruption charges internally. Some civil society actors claimed that the PCCB acted as a political tool, seeking to leverage its role to harass and frustrate opposition political aspirants.

Corruption featured in newspaper articles, civil complaints, and reports of police corruption from the PCCB and from the Ministry of Home Affairs. In January the Minister of Home Affairs, Kangi Lugola, and the Fire and Rescue Brigade Commissioner General, Thobias Andengenye, were both fired for allegedly procuring fire and rescue equipment without authorization from the Ministry of Finance and Planning or approval from parliament. No legal action was taken against them.

The PCCB’s mandate excludes Zanzibar. In July 2019 the Zanzibar Anticorruption and Economic Crime Authority reported it had reduced corruption, citing one conviction and a pending investigation into corruption cases at the Ministry of Finance. As of September the Zanzibar Anticorruption Authority had filed 23 cases during the year at the High Court, among which seven cases garnered convictions. There were also approximately 100 pending files at the office of the director of public prosecution.

Financial Disclosure: Government ministers and MPs, as well as certain other public servants, are required to disclose their assets upon assuming office, annually at year’s end, and upon leaving office. The Ethics Secretariat distributes forms each October for collection in December. As of 2017, 98 percent of government leaders had submitted their forms to the secretariat (16,064 out of 16,339). When Tundu Lissu, former CHADEMA MP, was removed from his seat in June 2019, one of the reasons cited was that he did not file financial disclosure forms.

The president submitted his forms and urged other leaders to do the same. Although penalties exist for noncompliance, there was no enforcement mechanism or sufficient means to determine the accuracy of such disclosures. Information on compliance was considered sensitive and available only on request to the commissioner of the secretariat. Secretariat officials reportedly asked the individuals who failed to meet the deadline to show cause for the delay. Any declaration submitted or filed after the deadline must also explain the failure to observe the law. Asset disclosures are not public.

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

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups have generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. The overall climate for NGOs, however, has shifted in the last few years. Some international organizations have had delays in receiving work and residency permits. Some human rights NGOs complained of a negative government reaction when they challenged government practice or policy.

Many NGOs are concerned the government is using the NGO registration law passed in June 2019 to deregister NGOs that focus on human rights. In August 2019 the registrar of NGOs deregistered 158 NGOs for “unaccepted” behavior, alleging they were used for profit sharing and benefiting their members, which is outside the permitted NGO activities. In August the government froze the bank accounts of the Tanzanian Human Rights Defenders Coalition (THRDC) and arrested its director, Onesmo Olengurumwa. He was later released on bail. At the end of the year, the investigation of his case was ongoing. In the past, THRDC funded and trained many of the election-observer NGOs. The government actions against them created a void in the lead up to the elections, as many of the NGOs that were accredited did not have the needed expertise and guidance that THRDC usually provided.

In May 2019 the registrar of societies in the Ministry of Home Affairs issued a public notice requesting that all religious institutions and community-based organizations registered with the ministry verify their registration status, including all the required documentation. The countrywide process began with Dar es Salaam and the coastal regions in May and continued at year’s end. There are concerns about how the government can use this process to deregister organizations that make any statements related to human rights.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government generally cooperated with visits from UN representatives, such as special rapporteurs, as well as those from UN specialized agencies such as the International Labor Organization or other international organizations (but not including NGOs) that monitor human rights.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The union parliamentary Committee for Constitutional, Legal, and Public Administration is responsible for reporting and making recommendations regarding human rights.

The CHRAGG operated on both the mainland and Zanzibar, but low funding levels and lack of leadership limited its effectiveness. The commission has no legal authority to prosecute cases but can make recommendations to other offices concerning remedies or call media attention to human rights abuses, violations, and other public complaints. It also has authority to issue interim orders preventing actions in order to preserve the status quo, pending an investigation. The CHRAGG also issued statements and conducted public awareness campaigns on several topics. These included the need for regional and district commissioners to follow proper procedures when exercising their powers of arrest, the need for railway and road authorities to follow laws and regulations when evicting citizens from their residences, and a call for security organs to investigate allegations of disappearances or abductions, including of journalists, political leaders, and artists.

In September 2019 President Magufuli appointed a CHRAGG chairman and five commissioners. Activists expressed concern that the CHRAGG was not acting independently nor holding the government accountable for human rights abuses.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law provides for life imprisonment for persons convicted of rape, including spousal rape during periods of legal separation. The law stipulates a woman wishing to report a rape must do so at a police station, where she must receive a release form before seeking medical help. This process contributed to medical complications, incomplete forensic evidence, and failure to report rapes. Victims often feared that cases reported to police would be made public.

The law prohibits assault but does not specifically prohibit domestic violence. Domestic violence against women remained widespread, and police rarely investigated such cases.

Authorities rarely prosecuted persons who abused women. Persons close to the victims, such as relatives and friends, were most likely to be the perpetrators. Many defendants who appeared in court were set free because of corruption in the judicial system, lack of evidence, poor investigations, and poor evidence preservation.

There were some government efforts to combat violence against women. Police maintained gender and children desks in regions throughout the country to support victims and address relevant crimes. According to a Ministry of Health, Gender, Elderly, and Children budget speech, police gender desks increased from 417 to 427 in the fiscal year ending June 30. In Zanzibar, at One Stop Centers in both Unguja and Pemba, victims could receive health services, counseling, legal assistance, and a referral to police. The LHRC released a statement that condemned an increase in gender-based violence within the community during COVID-19 restrictions.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C from being performed on girls younger than age 18, but it does not provide for protection to women ages 18 or older.

Prosecutions were rare. Many police officers and communities were unaware of the law, victims were often reluctant to testify, and some witnesses feared reprisals from FGM/C supporters. Some villagers reportedly bribed local leaders not to enforce the law in order to carry out FGM/C on their daughters. In 2019 the Ministry of Health reported that approximately 10 percent of women had undergone FGM/C. The areas with the highest rates of FGM/C were Manyara (58 percent), Dodoma (47 percent), Arusha (41 percent), Mara (32 percent), and Singida (31 percent).

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment of women in the workplace. There were reports women were asked for sexual favors in return for promotions or to secure employment. According to the Women’s Legal Aid Center, police rarely investigated reported cases. Those cases that were investigated were often dropped before they got to court–in some instances by the plaintiffs due to societal pressure and in others by prosecutors due to lack of evidence. There were reports women were sexually harassed when campaigning for office, and one MP said that women MPs were subjected to sexual harassment frequently.

The LHRC released a report in 2018 stating female students were frequently sexually harassed in higher-learning institutions, a point reiterated by a professor at the University of Dar es Salaam in a 2019 tweet calling on President Magufuli to intervene because there were so many incidents of harassment on campus. In July police arrested an assistant lecturer from the University of Dodoma, Jacob Paul Nyangusi, for alleged sexual harassment of female students. He was released on bail and at the end of the year the case was ongoing. Another lecturer from the National Institute of Transport was sentenced for sexual assault. He paid a fine of five million TZS ($2,160).

On May 22, two special-seat female MPs from CHADEMA, Joyce Sokombi and Suzan Macele, held a press conference where they alleged that male CHADEMA leaders had sexually abused women during the nomination process. They did not disclose who had sexually abused women. The two MPs defected and joined the CCM. They did not file a police report. On May 23, Deputy Secretary of CHADEMA Benson Kigaila held a press conference where he denied all allegations. He added that the two women were CHADEMA MPs for five years and they had never complained. He claimed that when the two women lost in the intraparty nomination process, they decided to defect to the CCM, implying that was the impetus for their allegations.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children. Individuals have the right to manage their reproductive health, but access to the information and means to do so was not free from discrimination, coercion, or violence.

Schools did not provide comprehensive sexuality education, and students reported they did not have adequate information to prevent pregnancy. In addition, many girls became pregnant as a result of rape. From March to June, 67 girls became pregnant in the Biharamula and Ngara districts in Kagera Region. According to an education officer, 32 of the girls were in secondary school and were automatically expelled from further studies because of their pregnancies.

Less than one-third of married women used modern contraceptives. Nearly one in four women would like to prevent pregnancy but lacked access to family planning. Reproductive conditions and levels of contraceptive use varied based on factors including education, income level, geographical area, and age. For instance, the fertility rate in rural areas is six children per woman and 3.8 in urban areas. Modern contraceptive use also varied geographically, from 51 percent of those currently married in the Southern Zone to 14 percent in Zanzibar. While 12 percent of adolescents have started having sexual relations by age 15, and 60 percent by 18, only 8.6 percent of adolescent girls between ages 15 and 19 used modern contraceptive methods. One in four adolescent girls between ages 15 and 19 were already mothers or ware pregnant with their first child. Of adolescents living in rural areas, 32 percent had a live birth or were pregnant, compared with 19 percent of those living in urban areas. Adolescence was associated with a high frequency of child marriage, insufficient knowledge about sexually transmitted infections, and restricted access to sexual and reproductive health services. Persons with disabilities (especially adolescents) had greater sexual and reproductive health needs than the general population due to lack of information, and greater exposure to sexual abuse and rape, HIV and sexually transmitted infections, and stigma. Access to sexual and reproductive health services was hindered by communication and environmental barriers, physical inaccessibility, and negative interaction with service providers including lack of confidentiality, mistreatment and disrespect, and inadequacy of service delivery.

Information was not available on government assistance to survivors of sexual violence.

From 2007 to 2015, maternal mortality increased from 454 to 556 per 100,000 live births. Only 57 to 68 percent of pregnant women delivered with a skilled birth attendant. A recent study conducted in Lindi and Mtwara regions in Southern Tanzania found that traumatic and nontraumatic postpartum hemorrhage (PPH) was the most common cause of maternal deaths: 51 percent of women died within 24 hours of delivery; 60 percent of those who died were ages 25 to 36; and 63 percent were lower-income rural inhabitants.

Despite government efforts to improve the availability and quality of postabortion services, women and girls who suffered complications avoided seeking treatment for fear of being prosecuted, and many health-care providers were not aware they are legally allowed to provide treatment and that women have the right to such service. More than 21,400 women had untreated obstructed fistula, a situation resulting in large part from deficiencies in the health system. Women attributed fistula development to negative experiences such as disrespectful maternity care. Multiple studies reported that women also perceived that their fistula resulted from prolonged wait times in the primary health-care facility due to nurses’ negligence and failure to make decisions to transfer them to a better prepared facility in a timely manner. Moreover, mothers reported persistent systematic barriers and dismissive institutional norms and practice, including poor communication, denial of husbands’ presence at birth, denial of mobility, denial of safe traditional practices, no respect for their preferred birth positions, and poor physical condition of facilities. Community stigma was another major factor that delayed women seeking obstetric fistula treatment.

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

Discrimination: The law provides the same legal status and rights for women and men, including in employment, housing, education, and health care; however, the law also recognizes customary practices that often favored men.

While women faced discriminatory treatment in marriage, divorce, inheritance, and nationality, overt discrimination in education, credit, business ownership, and housing was uncommon. There are no legal restrictions on women’s employment in the same occupations, tasks, and working hours as men. Nevertheless, women, especially in rural areas, faced significant disadvantages due to cultural, historical, and educational factors.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth within the country or abroad if at least one parent is a citizen. Registration within three months of birth is free; parents who wait until later must pay a fee. Public services were not withheld from unregistered children. The Registration, Insolvency and Trusteeship Agency, in collaboration with the Tigo telecommunication company, facilitated birth registrations of more than 3.5 million children younger than age five over the last six years in 13 regions. The program is ongoing. As of August 12, they had registered 4.3 million children younger than age five in 16 regions. In Tanga and Kilimanjaro, Tigo provided 1,350 free smart phones to facilitate the registration process.

Education: According to law, primary education is compulsory and universal on both the mainland and Zanzibar until age 13. Secondary school is tuition-free in Zanzibar but is not compulsory. The ruling CCM party manifesto includes a policy to provide fee-free education for primary and secondary students. Parents must still provide food, uniforms, and transportation.

Girls represented approximately one-half of all children enrolled in primary school but were absent more often than boys due to household duties and lack of sanitary facilities. At the secondary level, child, early, and forced marriage and pregnancy often caused girls to be expelled or otherwise prevented girls from finishing school.

Under the Education and Training Policy launched by the government in 2015, pregnant girls may be reinstated in schools. In 2017, however, President Magufuli declared that girls would not be allowed to return to school after giving birth. Human rights NGOs criticized the policy as contrary to the country’s constitution and laws. This policy led to girls being excluded from educational opportunities, while the fathers of the babies were often their teachers or other older men who frequently did not suffer any consequences.

Child Abuse: Violence against and abuse of children were major problems. Corporal punishment was employed in schools and the law allows head teachers to cane students. The National Violence against Children Survey, conducted in 2009 (the most recent data available), found almost 75 percent of children experienced physical violence prior to age 18.

On August 17, police in the coast region arrested a primary school teacher, Evata Mboya, for allegedly caning a 12-year-old fifth-grade student. The student, who was being punished for making noise in the classroom, was admitted to Mloganzila hospital in Dar es Salaam with severe head injuries.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The law sets the legal age for marriage at 18. The law makes it illegal to marry a primary or secondary school student. To circumvent these laws, individuals reportedly bribed police or paid a bride price to the family of the girl to avoid prosecution. According to Human Rights Watch, girls as young as age seven were married. Zanzibar has its own law on marriage, but it does not specifically address child, early, and forced marriage. The government provided secondary school-level education campaigns on gender-based violence, which included information on child, early, and forced marriage.

In October 2019 the Court of Appeal rejected a government appeal to retain provisions in the law, which would permit girls as young as 14 to marry with parental consent, ruling that the act was unconstitutional and discriminatory towards girls. The government was supposed to remove the parental consent exceptions provision for marriage before the age of 18, but had not amended the law yet.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law criminalizes child sex trafficking and child pornography. Those convicted of facilitating child pornography are subject to fines ranging from nominal to substantial, a prison term between one and 20 years, or both. Those convicted of child sex trafficking are subject to fines ranging from nominal to substantial, a prison term of 10 to 20 years, or both. There were three prosecutions based on this law in 2019.

The law provides that sexual intercourse with a child younger than 18 is rape unless within a legal marriage. The law was not always enforced because cases were not always reported or because girls, facing pressure, dropped charges. For example there were accounts of statutory rapes of girls that went unreported in Zanzibar.

Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: Infanticide continued, especially among poor rural mothers who believed themselves unable to afford to raise a child. Nationwide statistics were not available.

Displaced Children: According to the Ministry of Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly, and Children, large numbers of children were living and working on the street, especially in cities and near the borders. The ministry reported 6,132 children were living in hazardous conditions during the year. These children had limited access to health and education services because they lacked a fixed address or money to purchase medicines, school uniforms, and books. They were also vulnerable to sexual abuse. According to the Ministry of Health, Community Development, Gender, Elders, and Children, from July 2019 to March, 15,680 displaced children received necessities including food, clothing, education, and health services from a combination of government and private organizations.

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

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish population is very small, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities, but the government did not effectively enforce these provisions.

Few public buildings were accessible to persons with disabilities. New public buildings, however, were built in compliance with the law to provide access. The law provides for access to information and communication, but not all persons with disabilities had such access.

There were six members of the union parliament with disabilities. Persons with disabilities held three appointed seats in the Zanzibar House of Representatives. The Prime Minister’s Office includes a ministerial position responsible for disabilities. The country defines persons with albinism as disabled and appointed a person with albinism as its ambassador to Germany in 2017.

Limits to the political participation of persons with disabilities included inaccessible polling stations, lack of accessible information, limited inclusion in political parties, the failure of the NEC to implement directives concerning disability, and prejudice toward persons with disabilities.

According to the Annual Education Survey of 2018/19, the government expanded school infrastructure for children with disabilities as part of its National Strategy for Inclusive Education 2018-21. In 2018-19, there were 49,655 children with disabilities enrolled in primary schools and 10,749 enrolled in secondary schools. There were 2,485 primary schools identified as inclusive. The government procured equipment such as braille machines, magnifiers, large print books, audiometers, and specialized furniture. More than 340,000 learners with special needs remained out of school.

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

Consensual same-sex sexual conduct is criminalized. The law on both the mainland and Zanzibar punishes “gross indecency” by up to five years in prison or a fine. The law punishes any person convicted of having “carnal knowledge of another against the order of nature or permits a man to have carnal knowledge of him against the order of nature” with a prison sentence on the mainland of 30 years to life and in Zanzibar of imprisonment up to 14 years. In Zanzibar the law provides for imprisonment up to five years or a fine for “acts of lesbianism.” In the past, courts charged individuals suspected of same-sex sexual conduct with loitering or prostitution. The law does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Police often harassed persons believed to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) based on their dress or manners.

During the year the government opposed improved safeguards for the rights of LGBTI persons, which it characterized as contrary to the law of the land and the cultural norms of society. Senior government officials made several anti-LGBTI statements. There were also reports of arrests and detentions to harass LGBTI activists. In March, seven men were arrested for same-sex sexual conduct and were purportedly subjected to forced anal exams. Their case was ongoing at year’s end.

LGBTI persons were afraid to report violence and other crimes, including those committed by state agents, due to fear of arrest. LGBTI persons faced societal discrimination that restricted their access to health care, including access to information regarding HIV, housing, and employment. There were no known government efforts to combat such discrimination.

In 2017 authorities filed a case against two women in Mwanza who exchanged rings in an engagement ceremony that was recorded and posted on social media. The case was withdrawn without being heard in 2018 and then reopened as a new case in June 2019. It was ongoing as of December.

On June 16, in Zanzibar the registrar summoned Hamid Muhammad Ali, director of the AIDS Initiative Youth Empowerment and Development, an LGBTI rights group, to a meeting in which officials questioned him and informed him that his organization’s registration was being suspended for “promoting homosexuality.” The meeting was later broadcast on television. Four days later, police visited and searched his home and directed him to undergo an anal examination at a local hospital the following day. He said he went to the hospital and was asked to provide his fingerprints and a copy of his national ID card but was not forced to undergo the examination. On August 10, the minister for regional administration, local government, and special departments cancelled the group’s NGO license for going against the “religious and social values” of Zanzibar.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The 2013 People Living with HIV Stigma Index Report indicated persons with HIV/AIDS experienced significant levels of stigma countrywide (39 percent), with stigma particularly high in Dar es Salaam (50 percent). The report highlighted that most common forms of stigma and discrimination were verbal insults and exclusion from social, family, and religious activities. Results also showed that more than one in five persons with HIV/AIDS experienced a forced change of residence or inability to rent accommodations. In Dar es Salaam, nearly one in three of these persons experienced the loss of a job or other source of income.

The law prohibits discrimination against any person “known or perceived” to be HIV-positive and establishes medical confidentiality standards to protect persons with HIV/AIDS. Police abuses of HIV-positive persons, particularly in three key populations (sex workers, drug users, and LGBTI persons), were not uncommon and included arbitrary arrest, extortion, and refusal to accept complaints from victims of crime. In the health sector, key populations experienced denial of services, verbal harassment and abuse, and violations of confidentiality.

After a pause in services earlier in the year, in 2017 the government allowed community-based services for key populations to be reinstated following the release of revised guidelines, although the distribution of lubricants was banned, as were “drop-in centers” that provided services specifically tailored for these marginalized groups. NGOs and CSOs serving these key populations continued to face occasional backlash and harassment from authorities and were often “de-registered” after investigations into whether they promote homosexuality. There was continuing fear among these NGOs to operate freely and openly, as well as among LGBTI persons to seek health services, including HIV prevention and treatment.

Gender desks at police stations throughout the country were established to help address mistrust between members of key populations and police, however, their effectiveness varied widely.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Despite efforts by the government and NGOs to reduce mob violence through educational outreach and community policing, mob violence continued. According to the LHRC 2019 Mid-Year Report, 385 were killed in mob violence. In May in the Rukwa region, a university student was killed by an angry mob after he stabbed his girlfriend. In July in Pwani, a domestic servant killed his boss’s two children and wounded the mother. He was killed by persons who witnessed the incident.

Witchcraft-related killings continued to be a problem. According to the LHRC Mid-Year Report in 2019, there were 106 witchcraft-related killings from January to June 2019. Major victims or targets of such killings were often children or elderly women. The regions with the greatest number of killings were Mbeya, Iringa, Dar es Salaam, and Shinyanga.

In 2015 the government outlawed witchdoctors in an attempt to curtail killings of persons with albinism. Attacks on persons with albinism declined, and there were no reported cases of persons with albinism being killed or attacked. Persons with albinism remained at risk of violence, however, especially during election times, as some ritual practitioners sought albino body parts in the belief they could be used to bring power, wealth, and good fortune. Schools used as temporary shelters in some cases evolved into long-term accommodations, with many students with albinism afraid to return to their homes.

Farmers and pastoralists sometimes argued over traditional animal grazing areas, and violence occurred during some disputes.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The mainland and Zanzibari governments have separate labor laws. Workers on the mainland, except for workers in the categories of “national service” and prison guards, have the right to form and join independent trade unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination. The government nevertheless restricted these rights. Reinstatement of workers fired for trade union activity is not mandatory.

Trade unions in the private sector must consist of more than 20 members and register with the government, while public-sector unions need 30 members. Five organizations are required to form a federation. Trade union affiliation with nonunion organizations can be annulled by the Labor Court if it was obtained without government approval, or if the union is considered an organization whose remit is broader than employer-worker relations. A trade union or employers association must file for registration with the Registrar of Trade Unions in the Ministry of Labor within six months of establishment. The law, however, does not provide for specific time limits within which the government must register an organization, and the registrar has the power to refuse registration on arbitrary or ambiguous grounds. The government prescribes the terms of office of trade union leaders. Failure to comply with government requirements is subject to fines, imprisonment, or both.

The law requires unions to submit financial records and a membership list to the registrar annually and to obtain government approval for association with international trade unions. The registrar can apply to the Labor Court to deregister or suspend unions if there is overlap within an enterprise or if it is determined the union violated the law or endangered public security.

Collective bargaining agreements must be registered with the Labor Commission. Public-service employees, except for limited exceptions, such as workers involved in “national service” and prison guards, may also engage in collective bargaining.

Employers have the right to initiate a lockout, provided they comply with certain legal requirements and procedures. For a strike to be declared legal, the law requires three separate notifications of intent, a waiting period of at least 92 days, and a union vote in the presence of a Ministry of Labor official that garners approval by at least 75 percent of the members voting. All parties to a dispute may be bound by an agreement to arbitrate, and neither party may then engage in a strike or a lockout until that process has been completed. Disputes regarding adjustments to or the terms of signed contracts must be addressed through arbitration and are not subject to strikes.

The law restricts the right to strike when a strike would endanger the life and health of the population. Picketing in support of a strike or in opposition to a lawful lockout is prohibited. Workers in sectors defined as “essential” (water, sanitation, electricity, health services, health laboratory services, firefighting, air traffic control, civil aviation, telecommunications, and any transport services required for these services) may not strike without a pre-existing agreement to maintain “minimum services.” Workers in other sectors may also be subject to this limitation as determined by the Essential Services Committee, a tripartite committee composed of employers, workers, and government representatives with the authority to deem which services are essential.

An employer may not legally terminate an employee for participating in a lawful strike or terminate an employee who accedes to the demands of an employer during a lockout.

Penalties for violations were not sufficient to deter violations. Penalties were commensurate with penalties for similar violations. Disputes over antiunion discrimination must be referred to the Commission for Mediation and Arbitration, a governmental department affiliated with the Ministry of Labor. There was no public information available regarding cases of antiunion discrimination.

There were no reports of sector-wide strikes or any other major strikes.

In Zanzibar the law requires any union with 50 or more members to be registered, a threshold few companies could meet. The law sets literacy standards for trade union officers. The law provides the registrar considerable powers to restrict union registration by setting criteria for determining whether an organization’s constitution protects its members’ interests. The law applies to both public- and private-sector workers and bans Zanzibari workers from joining labor unions on the mainland. The law prohibits a union’s use of its funds, directly or indirectly, to pay any fines or penalties incurred by trade union officials in the discharge of their official duties. In Zanzibar both government and private-sector workers have the right to strike as long as they follow procedures outlined in the law. For example, workers in essential sectors may not strike; others must give mediation authorities at least 30 days to resolve the issue in dispute and provide a 14-day advance notice of any proposed strike action.

The law provides for collective bargaining in the private sector. Public-sector employees have the right to bargain collectively through the Trade Union of Government and Health Employees; however, members of the police force and prison service, and high-level public officials (for example, the head of an executive agency) are barred from joining a trade union. Zanzibar’s Dispute Handling Unit addresses labor disputes. In Zanzibar judges and all judicial officers, members of special departments, and employees of the House of Representatives are excluded from labor law protection. In Zanzibar the courts are the only venue in which labor disputes can be heard. Enforcement of labor law in Zanzibar is insufficient, especially on the island of Pemba.

The government did not effectively enforce the law protecting the right to collective bargaining. Penalties were commensurate with penalties for similar violations. On both the mainland and in Zanzibar, private-sector employers adopted antiunion policies or tactics, although discriminatory activities by an employer against union members are illegal. The Trade Union Congress of Tanzania (TUCTA)’s 2018 annual report claimed that international mining interests bribed government officials to ignore workers’ complaints and write false favorable reports on work conditions in mines. TUCTA also reported that employers discouraged workers from collective bargaining and retaliated against workers’ rights activists via termination of employment and other measures.

TUCTA expressed concern over the proposal of a new formula for calculating pensions. Under the new formula, 25 percent of a pension would be issued as a lump sum while the remaining 75 percent would be paid in monthly installments. TUCTA called for the government to revert to the old formula, under which workers received a 50 percent lump sum payment upon retirement. By the end of December 2018, President Magufuli announced the new formula would not go into effect until 2023 to provide more time to reach consensus.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits most forms of forced or compulsory labor. The law allows prisoners to work without pay on construction and agriculture projects within prisons. The law deems such work acceptable as long as a public authority ensures the work is not for the benefit of any private party. The law also allows work carried out as part of compulsory national service in certain limited circumstances. The constitution provides that no work shall be considered forced labor if such work forms part of compulsory national service in accordance with the law, or “the national endeavor at the mobilization of human resources for the enhancement of society and the national economy and to ensure development and national productivity.”

The law establishes criminal penalties for employers using forced labor. Penalties were not commensurate with penalties for similar violations. The government did not adequately enforce the law. Neither the government nor the International Labor Organization (ILO) provided statistics on government enforcement. The ILO reported unspecified instances of forced labor, including those involving children from the southern highlands forced into domestic service or labor on farms, in mines, and in the informal business sector. Forced child labor occurred (see section 7.c.). In late 2018 the government drafted a national child labor strategy, addressing elimination of forced child labor, which has yet to be launched formally.

Prisoners perform unpaid and nonvoluntary labor on projects outside of the prison, such as road repair, agriculture, and government construction projects. The Ministry of Home Affairs reported that prisoners perform labor on a joint sugar plantation project, including planting 2,000 acres of sugar under an agreement between the National Social Security Fund and the Parastatal Pension Fund (PPF). The Moshi Prison Department, in collaboration with PPF, installed leather manufacturing equipment, and prisoners produce shoes and handbags. In Kigoma, the prisoners work on palm farms in palm oil production, in Dodoma and Singida they work on farms to produce corn and beans, and in Arusha, they work in meat production. The Minister of Home Affairs budget speech of 2020/21 included a statement about having prisoners produce their own food.

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 exploitation of children in the workplace. By law the minimum age on the mainland for employment is 14; in Zanzibar the minimum age is 15. Neither the mainland nor Zanzibar’s minimum age laws, however, extend to children in domestic work, leaving such children vulnerable to exploitation. Children older than 14 but younger than 18 may be employed only to do nonhazardous work that is not likely to be harmful to the child’s health and development or attendance at school. The government published regulations to define hazardous work for children in several sectors, including in agriculture, fishery, mining, quarrying, construction, service, informal operations, and transport. The law limits working hours for children to six hours a day. Although legal penalties for violations of minimum age laws are likely sufficient to deter violations, there are few reported instances of law enforcement officials imposing penalties. Penalties were not commensurate with penalties for similar violations.

Both the mainland’s and Zanzibar’s labor inspectorates lacked human and financial resources to adequately enforce minimum age laws, and labor inspectors lacked authority to assess penalties for violations. Inadequate enforcement left children vulnerable to exploitation. In January the ILO worked with the Ministry of Labor to train approximately 70 labor inspectors on child labor in Iringa.

Mainland officials arrested but were not able to obtain convictions for traffickers of children working in mining and domestic service. Zanzibar’s Ministry of Labor, Youth Development, Women, and Children did not take legal action related to child labor.

Government measures to ameliorate child labor included verifying that children of school age attended school, imposing penalties on parents who did not enroll their children in school, and pressing employers in the formal sector not to employ children younger than 18. In 2018 the government developed a national strategy for elimination of child labor; however, the government has yet to launch the strategy, indicating a lack of political will to prioritize its implementation.

On the mainland children worked as domestic workers, street vendors, and shopkeepers as well as in agriculture, family-based businesses, fishing, construction, and artisanal mining of gold and tanzanite. According to Human Rights Watch, children as young as eight worked in mining. In Zanzibar children worked primarily in fishing, clove picking, domestic labor, small businesses, and gravel making. In Micheweni and Mwambe villages, for example, children engaged in stone crushing, exposing them to being hit by rock fragments. In fishing villages such as Matemwe, children’s work at fish markets prevents them from attending school.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings  and the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits workplace discrimination, directly or indirectly, against an employee based on skin color, nationality, tribe, place of origin, race, national extraction, social origin, political opinion, religion, sex, gender, pregnancy, marital status, family responsibility, disability, HIV/AIDS, age, or station in life. The law does not specifically prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, language, citizenship, or other communicable disease status. The law distinguishes between discrimination and an employer hiring or promoting based on affirmative action. The government in general did not effectively enforce the law, and penalties were insufficient to deter violations. Penalties were commensurate with penalties for similar violations.

Women have the same status as men under labor law on the mainland. According to TUCTA, gender-based discrimination in terms of wages, promotions, and legal protections in employment continued to occur in the private sector. It was difficult to prove and often went unpunished. While employers in the formal sector were more attentive to laws against discrimination, problems were particularly acute in the informal sector, in which women were disproportionately employed. Women often were employed for low pay and in hazardous jobs, and they reported high levels of bullying, threats, and sexual harassment. A 2015 study by the LHRC found that women faced particular discrimination in the mining, steel, and transport industries. The 2019 LHRC human rights and business report shows women still experienced discrimination.

Discrimination against migrant workers also occurred. They often faced difficulties in seeking documented employment outside of the informal sector. The law gives the labor commissioner authority to deny work permits if a citizen with the same skills is available. During the year foreign professionals, including senior management of international corporations, frequently faced difficulties obtaining or renewing work permits. Because refugees lived in camps and could not travel freely (see section 2.d.), few refugees worked in the formal sector.

The LHRC stated that persons with disabilities faced discrimination in seeking employment and access to the workplace. While nongovernment and government actors made efforts to curb discrimination and violence against persons with albinism, the LHRC reported that this population still lived in fear of their personal security and therefore could not fully participate in social, economic, and political activities.

Inspections conducted since the enactment of the law in 2015 revealed 779 foreign employees working without proper permits. Of these, 29 were repatriated and 77 were arraigned in court. Because legal refugees lived in camps and could not travel freely (see section 2.d.), few worked in the formal sector.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The government established minimum wage standards in 2015 for employees in both the public and private sectors on the mainland, and it divided those standards into nine employment sectors. The minimum wage was above the government poverty line, but in many industries, it was below World Bank standards for what constitutes extreme poverty. The government’s poverty line has not been updated since 2012. The law allows employers to apply to the Ministry of Labor for an exemption from paying the minimum wage. The labor laws cover all workers, including foreign and migrant workers and those in the informal sector. The minimum wage on Zanzibar was above the poverty line. According to the Tanzania Mainland Poverty Assessment 2019 published by the World Bank and the Tanzania National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), the national basic needs poverty line for 2018 for the country was 49,320 TZS ($21) per adult per month (or $0.55 per day) and the food poverty line was 33,748 TZS ($14) per month ($0.50 per day).

The standard workweek is 45 hours, with a maximum of nine hours per day or six days per week. Any work in excess of these limits should be compensated with overtime pay at one-and-a-half times the employee’s regular wage. Under most circumstances, it is illegal to schedule pregnant or breastfeeding women for work between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.

The law states employees with 12 months of employment are entitled to 28 days of paid annual leave, and it requires employee compensation for national holidays. The law prohibits excessive or compulsory overtime, and it restricts required overtime to 50 hours in a four-week period or in accordance with previously negotiated work contracts. The law requires equal pay for equal work.

Several laws regulate occupational safety and health (OSH) standards in the workplace. According to TUCTA, OSH standards are appropriate for the main industries and enforcement of these standards has improved, but challenges remained in the private sector. In March the National Audit Office released a follow-up report on a 2013 performance audit on the management of occupational health and safety in the country. The audit found the vast majority of recommendations had been fully implemented.

OSH standards, however, were not effectively enforced in the informal economy. The Occupational Safety and Health Authority did not employ sufficient inspectors. By law workers can remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, but authorities did not effectively enforce this protection.

Workers may sue an employer if their working conditions do not comply with the Ministry of Labor’s health and environmental standards. Disputes were generally resolved through the Commission for Mediation and Arbitration. There were no exceptions for foreign or migrant workers.

Many workers did not have employment contracts and lacked legal protections. The LHRC reported many workers did not have written contracts, and those who did were often not provided with written copies of their contract. Additionally, employers often kept copies of the contracts that differed from the versions given to the employees. Companies frequently used short-term contracts of six months or less to avoid hiring organized workers with labor protections.

The government did not adequately enforce labor standards, particularly in the informal sector, where the majority of workers were employed. Penalties were insufficient to deter violations and were not commensurate with penalties for similar violations. The number of inspectors was insufficient to deter violations. Inspectors did have the authority to conduct unannounced inspections, but the penalties are imposed by the court.

In dangerous industries such as construction, employees often worked without protective equipment such as helmets, gloves, or harnesses. According to a 2008 Accident Notification Survey (latest available), the sectors with the highest rates of fatal accidents were construction and building, transport, and mining and quarrying. Domestic workers were reportedly frequent victims of abuse.

Thailand

Executive Summary

Thailand is a constitutional monarchy, with King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun (Rama X) as head of state. In March 2019 Thailand held the first national election after five years of rule by a junta-led National Council for Peace and Order. The National Council-backed Phalang Pracharath Party and 18 supporting parties won a majority in the lower house, and they retained as prime minister National Council leader Prayut Chan-o-Cha, the leader of the 2014 coup and a retired army general. The election was generally peaceful with few reported irregularities, although observers noted that a restrictive legal framework and selective enforcement of campaign regulations by the Election Commission favored Phalang Pracharath-aligned parties.

The Royal Thai Police and the Royal Thai Armed Forces share responsibility for law enforcement and the maintenance of order within the country. The police report to the Office of the Prime Minister; the armed forces report to the Ministry of Defense. The Border Patrol Police have special authority and responsibility in border areas to combat insurgent movements. While more authority has been returned to civilian authorities following the election, they still do not maintain full control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed a variety of abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings by the government or its agents; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by government officials; arbitrary arrest and detention by government authorities; political prisoners; politically motivated reprisal, including allegations of forced disappearance, against individuals located outside the country; political interference in the judiciary; serious restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including arrests and prosecutions of those criticizing the government, censorship, website blocking, and criminal libel laws; interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including harassment against human rights activists and government critics; refoulement of refugees facing threats to their life or freedom; restrictions on political participation; serious acts of corruption; trafficking in persons; and significant restrictions on workers’ freedom of association.

Authorities took some steps to investigate and punish officials who committed human rights abuses. Official impunity, however, continued to be a problem, especially in the southernmost provinces, where martial law remained in effect in Yala, Pattani, and Narathiwat provinces while the deep south emergency decree was in effect in all but six districts in those provinces. In each of the six districts where the emergency decree has been lifted since 2011, the 2008 Internal Security Act has been subsequently invoked.

Insurgents in the southernmost provinces committed human rights abuses and made attacks on government security forces and civilian targets.

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 that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. According to the Ministry of Interior’s Investigation and Legal Affairs Bureau, from the beginning of October 2019 to the end of September security forces–including police, military, and other agencies–killed 16 suspects during the arrest process, a decrease of 60 percent from the 2018-19 year.

On November 1, police shot and killed Charoensak Rachpumad, suspected of drug and weapons dealing, in Ron Phibun District, Nakhon Si Thammarat Province. Witnesses said Charoensak was raising his arms to surrender while surrounded by approximately 10 policemen. The policeman who killed him contended Charoensak was charging at him with a knife. The provincial police chief ordered an investigation.

Earlier cases of arbitrary or unlawful killings remained unsolved. In the shooting of prominent ethnic Lahu student activist Chaiyaphum Pasae in 2017, a Chiang Mai civil court ruled in October that Chaiyaphum was shot in self-defense by a Royal Thai Army soldier and dismissed the case without considering additional evidence, including closed-circuit television footage from the military checkpoint where the incident occurred. Chaiyaphum’s relatives and lawyer denied he acted violently toward the soldier, and petitioned the army to release the closed-circuit television footage and conduct a full, transparent investigation into the incident. In 2018, to determine liability, the Chiang Mai provincial court forwarded the case to the public prosecutor’s office, where it has been stalled for two years.

There were reports of killings by both government and insurgent forces in connection with the conflict in the southernmost provinces (see section 1.g.).

b. Disappearance

There were no official reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities from January to November (see section 1.e., Politically Motivated Reprisal against Individuals Located Outside the Country).

While most cases from prior years remained unresolved, in August the Department of Special Investigation stated it disagreed with (and would ask the attorney general to reconsider) the dropping of murder charges against four Kaeng Krachan National Park employees for the 2014 killing of Porlajee “Billy” Rakchongcharoen, a Karen-rights activist. Porlajee disappeared in Petchaburi Province after his detention in the park and questioning regarding unlawful wild-bee honey allegedly found in his possession. In September 2019 the Department of Special Investigation announced it had found Porlajee’s bones. The findings suggested Porlajee was tortured and murdered, and his body burned and placed into an oil tank submerged in the reservoir to conceal the murder. In November 2019 park chief Chaiwat Limlikhitaksorn and three park employees were charged with six offenses, including murder and concealing Porlajee’s body. In January prosecutors dropped the most serious charges, including murder, against the four defendants and charged them simply with malfeasance for failing to hand over Porlajee to police after they arrested him.

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

The constitution states, “Torture, acts of brutality, or punishment by cruel or inhumane means shall not be permitted.” Nonetheless, an emergency decree in effect in the southernmost provinces since 2005 effectively provides immunity from prosecution to security officers for actions committed during the performance of their duties. As of September the cabinet had renewed this emergency decree every three months since 2005, and it applied at that point to all but six districts in the three southernmost provinces: Si Sakhon, Su-ngai Kolok, and Sukhirin in Narathiwat Province; Betong in Yala Province; and Mai Kaen and Mae Lan in Pattani Province.

There were reports police abused and extorted prisoners and detainees, generally with impunity. Few complaints alleging police abuse resulted in punishment of alleged offenders, and there were numerous examples of investigations lasting years without resolution of alleged security force abuses.

Representatives of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and legal entities reported police and military officers sometimes tortured and beat suspects to obtain confessions, and newspapers reported numerous cases of citizens accusing police and other security officers of brutality. In April brothers Yutthana and Natthapong Sai Sa were arrested in Nakhon Phanom Province by the army’s northeastern antinarcotics task force and taken to a military base for questioning. Yutthana was later transferred to a hospital where he died, while Natthapong was found seriously injured in a separate location. Seven soldiers confessed to beating the two men during an interrogation to force them to admit to drug trafficking. As of November the case was under investigation by police and the National Anti-Corruption Commission.

There were numerous reports of hazing and physical abuse by members of military units. In March, Amnesty International reported that abuses were a widespread and longstanding pattern in the armed forces, especially against gay and transgender soldiers. There were reports of recruits dying soon after conscription, including Seree Butwong, who died in a Bangkok hospital 10 days after entering military service in September; military authorities attributed his death to an abnormal heartbeat.

The Ministry of Defense requires service members to receive human rights training. Routine training occurred at various levels, including for officers, noncommissioned officers, enlisted personnel, and recruits. The Royal Thai Police requires all cadets at its national academy to complete a course in human rights law.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in prisons and various detention centers–including drug rehabilitation facilities and immigration detention centers (IDCs) where authorities detained undocumented migrants, refugees, asylum seekers, and foreign nationals who violated immigration laws–were poor, and most were overcrowded. Child refugees and asylum seekers continued to be detained in the IDCs or temporarily in local police stations, despite the government’s previous pledge to end the detention. The Ministry of Justice’s Department of Corrections is responsible for monitoring prison conditions, while the Royal Thai Police Immigration Bureau monitors conditions in the IDCs.

The government continued to hold some civilian suspects at military detention facilities, despite instructions in July 2019 mandating the transfer of all civilian cases from military to civilian courts. According to the Department of Corrections, as of November there were at least six civilians at the 11th Military Circle detention facility in Bangkok.

Physical Conditions: Prison and detention-facility populations were approximately 50 percent larger than designed capacity. As of November authorities held 346,170 persons in prisons and detention facilities with a maximum designed capacity of 210,000 to 220,000 persons.

In some prisons and detention centers, sleeping accommodations were insufficient, and there were persistent reports of overcrowding and poor facility ventilation. Serious problems included a lack of medical care. Authorities at times transferred seriously ill prisoners and detainees to provincial or state hospitals. Authorities took effective measures against the transmission of COVID-19.

Conditions at the IDCs are not subject to many of the regulations that govern the regular prison system, and detainees at some IDCs complained of overcrowding and unhealthy conditions such as poorly ventilated rooms and lack of outdoor time. During the year the Immigration Bureau transferred dozens of detainees from the Suan Phlu IDC in Bangkok to the IDCs in other provinces to alleviate overcrowding. Refugee advocates reported that this reduced overcrowding in the Suan Phlu IDC, but overcrowding remained a problem in multiple IDCs throughout the country. In May authorities confirmed that at least 60 detainees in the Sadao IDC in Songkhla Province had tested positive for COVID-19.

Pretrial detainees were approximately 17 percent of the prison population. Prison officers did not segregate these detainees from the general prison population. The government often held pretrial detainees under the emergency decree in the southernmost provinces in military camps or police stations rather than in prisons.

NGOs reported that authorities occasionally held men, women, and children together in police station cells, particularly in small or remote police stations, pending indictment or immigration processing. In the IDCs authorities occasionally placed juveniles older than 14 with adults.

By law authorities may hold aliens without legal authorization to stay in the country, including refugees and asylum seekers or those who otherwise have violated immigration law, in the IDCs for years unless they are bailed out or pay a fine and the cost of their transportation home. The Immigration Bureau mostly held migrant mothers and children in separate, more spacious facilities, but continued to restrict their freedom of movement. NGOs urged the government to enact legislation and policies to end detention of children who are out of visa status and adopt alternatives, such as supervised release and noncustodial, community-based housing while resolving their immigration status. Other NGOs reported complaints, especially by Muslim detainees in the IDCs, of inadequate halal food.

Prison authorities sometimes used solitary confinement, as permitted by law, to punish male prisoners who consistently violated prison regulations or were a danger to others. Authorities also used heavy leg irons on prisoners deemed escape risks or potentially dangerous to other prisoners.

According to the Ministry of Interior’s Investigation and Legal Affairs Bureau, 713 persons died in official custody from the beginning of October 2019 to September 30, including 24 deaths while in police custody and 689 in the custody of the Department of Corrections. Authorities attributed most of the deaths to natural causes.

Administration: Authorities permitted prisoners or their representatives to submit complaints without censorship to ombudspersons but not directly to judicial authorities. Ombudspersons in turn may consider and investigate complaints and petitions received from prisoners and provide recommendations to the Department of Corrections, but they are not empowered to act on a prisoner’s behalf, nor may they involve themselves in a case unless a person files an official complaint.

Independent Monitoring: The government facilitated monitoring of prisons by the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand, including meetings with prisoners without third parties present and repeat visits. According to human rights groups, no external or international inspection of the prison system occurred, including of military facilities such as Bangkok’s 11th Military Circle.

Representatives of international organizations generally had access to detainees in the IDCs across the country for service delivery and resettlement processing. Access to individual IDCs varied from province to province and was subject to COVID-19-related restrictions throughout the year.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

One week before its dissolution in July 2019, the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) junta government repealed 76 orders, restoring some civil and community rights. Other NCPO orders, however, remained in force, and the military retains the authority to detain persons without charge or trial for a maximum of seven days.

The deep south emergency decree that gives the government authority to detain persons without charge for a maximum of 30 days in unofficial places of detention remained in effect (see section 1.g.).

Provisions from the deep south emergency decree make it very difficult to challenge a detention before a court. Under the decree, detainees have access to legal counsel, but there was no assurance of prompt access to counsel or family members, nor were there transparent safeguards against the mistreatment of detainees. Moreover, the decree effectively provides broadly based immunity from criminal, civil, and disciplinary liability for officials acting under its provisions.

In March the prime minister announced a nationwide COVID-19-related emergency decree that was renewed every month as of November. Critics claimed the decree was used as a pretext to arrest antigovernment protesters.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

While the law requires police and military officers to obtain a warrant from a judge prior to making an arrest, an NCPO order allows the detention of any individual for a maximum seven days without an arrest warrant. The courts tended to approve automatically all requests for warrants. By law authorities must inform persons of likely charges against them immediately after arrest and allow them to inform someone of their arrest.

The law provides for access to counsel for criminal detainees in both civilian and military courts, but lawyers and human rights groups claimed police sometimes conducted interrogations without providing access to an attorney.

Both the court of justice and the Justice Fund of the Ministry of Justice assign lawyers for indigent defendants. For the year ending September 30, the court of justice assigned 21,254 attorneys to adult defendants and 5,405 to juvenile defendants. During that period the Ministry of Justice provided 1,699 lawyers for needy defendants.

The law provides defendants the right to request bail, and the government generally respected this right.

Arbitrary Arrest: Under an NCPO order, the military has authority to detain persons without charge for a maximum of seven days without judicial review. Under the deep south emergency decree, authorities may detain a person for a maximum of 30 days without charge (see section 1.g.).

Pretrial Detention: Under normal conditions the law allows police to detain criminal suspects for 48 hours after arrest for investigation. Lawyers reported police mostly brought cases to court within the 48-hour period. They raised concerns, however, about the simultaneous use of laws applicable in national-security cases that may result in lengthy detentions for insurgency-related suspects in the far southern part of the country. Other laws allow civilian personnel from the Ministry of Justice’s Office of the Narcotics Control Board to detain without charge individuals suspected of committing drug-related crimes for up to three days before handing them over to police.

Laws and regulations place offenses for which the maximum penalty is less than three years’ imprisonment under the jurisdiction of district courts, which have different procedures and require police to submit cases to public prosecutors within 72 hours of arrest.

Before charging and trial, authorities may detain individuals for a maximum of 84 days (for the most serious offenses), with a judicial review required for each 12-day period. After formal charges and throughout the trial, depending on prosecution and defense readiness, court caseload, and the nature of the evidence, detention may last from three months to two years before a verdict, and up to six years before a Supreme Court appellate review.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. Portions of the 2014 interim constitution left in place by the 2017 constitution’s transitory provisions, however, provide the government with power to intervene “regardless of its effects on the legislative, executive, or judiciary” to defend the country against national-security threats. Human rights groups continued to express concern about the government’s influence on independent judicial processes, particularly the use of the judicial process to punish government critics.

Trial Procedures

The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right, except in certain cases involving national security, including lese majeste (royal insult) cases.

The law provides for the presumption of innocence. A single judge decides trials for misdemeanors; two or more judges try more serious cases. Most trials are public; however, the court may order a closed trial, particularly in cases involving national security, the royal family, children, or sexual abuse.

In ordinary criminal courts, defendants enjoy a broad range of legal rights, including access to a lawyer of their choosing, prompt and detailed information on the charges against them, free assistance of an interpreter as necessary, the right to be present at trial, and the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. They also have the rights not to be compelled to testify or to confess guilt, to confront witnesses, to present witnesses, and to appeal. Authorities did not always automatically provide indigent defendants with counsel at public expense, and there were allegations authorities did not afford defendants all the above rights, especially in small or remote provinces.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

As of November the Department of Corrections reported approximately 23 persons were awaiting trial or imprisoned under lese majeste laws that outlaw criticism of the monarchy (see section 2.a.). Human rights groups claimed the prosecutions and convictions of several lese majeste offenders were politically motivated. After public criticism of the monarchy escalated at protests in September, October, and November, authorities issued summons warrants for more than 30 protesters and protest supporters to face lese majeste charges. In December the criminal court dismissed a four-year-old lese majeste case against Patnaree Chankit, mother of political activist Sirawith “Ja New” Seritiwat, determining that her one-word reply of “yes” during a Facebook chat critical of the monarchy was not an intentional insult to the royal institution.

Politically Motivated Reprisal against Individuals Located Outside the Country

There continued to be allegations that Thai authorities took politically motivated reprisals against activists and critics outside the country.

International and local human rights organizations alleged government authorities were complicit in the disappearance of activist Wanchalearm Satsaksit, who was reportedly abducted by masked gunmen in Cambodia in June. Thai authorities had issued an arrest warrant for Wanchalearm, who had lived in exile in Cambodia since the 2014 coup, for inciting unrest through his Facebook page. Cambodian authorities began an investigation, reportedly in response to a Thai government request, and in September released preliminary findings that there was no evidence an abduction had occurred. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed concern that Wanchalearm’s reported abduction “may now comprise an enforced disappearance.” NGOs alleged that at least eight exiled Thai dissidents had been victims of such disappearances since the 2014 coup. In November, Wanchalearm’s sister traveled to Phnom Penh to give evidence in the case.

There were no further developments in the reported arrests in 2019 of activists Chucheep Chivasut, Siam Theerawut, and Kritsana Thapthai by Vietnamese authorities and their forcible return to Thailand.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

The law provides for access to courts and administrative bodies to sue for damages for, or cessation of, a human rights violation. The government generally respected this right, but the emergency decree in force in the southernmost provinces expressly excludes administrative-court scrutiny or civil or criminal proceedings against government officials. Victims may seek compensation from a government agency instead.

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

Provisions of an NCPO order along with the deep south emergency decree give government security forces authority to conduct warrantless searches. Security forces used this authority regularly, particularly in the southernmost provinces and other border areas. Other legislation allowing the search and seizure of computers and computer data, in cases where the defendant allegedly entered information into computer systems that is “likely to cause damage to the public,” is “false,” or is “distorted,” continued to be extensively utilized (see section 2.a.). The law gives the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society authority to request and enforce the removal of information disseminated via the internet.

The government monitored social media and private communications with limited oversight. Government agencies used surveillance technologies, including imported computer monitoring software and licenses to import telecommunications interception equipment, from European companies. The country lacks accountability and transparency mechanisms for government surveillance. Some legislation exempts data from privacy safeguards that are otherwise stipulated in law, does not protect individual privacy, and provides broad powers to the government to access personal information without judicial review or other forms of oversight.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the digital economy ministry introduced a mobile app to track and monitor individuals returning to the country from high-risk countries. The app required submission of information such as name, address, telephone number, and passport number, and it was made mandatory for all foreign arrivals. Observers noted uncertainty about how the data was used and by whom.

There were numerous reports of security forces harassing citizens who publicly criticized the government, including by visiting or surveilling their residences or places of employment. In July, Tiwagorn Withiton claimed that he was interrogated repeatedly by police and members of the military at his house after posting a picture of himself online wearing a T-shirt critical of the monarchy. He was later taken by six hospital personnel and a soldier from Internal Security Operations Command to a psychiatric hospital for 14 days of treatment. In June, Mahidol University student Bunkueanun “Francis” Paothong was reportedly visited at home by four police officers who warned him of possible legal problems related to protests he had organized, and asked him to identify other protest leaders. In October he and two other protesters were charged with attempted violence against the queen, which carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment, for their participation in an incident that delayed the queen’s motorcade as it proceeded near a protest site.

The Cross Cultural Foundation issued a report in January on forced DNA collection from Muslim males by military personnel in the southernmost regions, a practice that critics said was discriminatory.

g. Abuses in Internal Conflict

Internal conflict continued in the ethnic Malay-Muslim-majority southernmost provinces. Frequent attacks by suspected insurgents and government security operations stoked tension between the local ethnic Malay-Muslim and ethnic Thai-Buddhist communities.

The emergency decree in effect in the southern border provinces of Yala, Pattani, and Narathiwat (except for six exempted districts) provides military, police, and some civilian authorities significant powers to restrict some basic rights and delegates certain internal security powers to the armed forces. The decree also provides security forces broad immunity from prosecution. Moreover, martial law, imposed in 2006, remained in effect and significantly empowered security forces in the southernmost provinces.

Killings: Human rights groups accused government forces of extrajudicial killings of persons suspected of involvement with the insurgency. According to the NGO Deep South Watch, there were eight incidents of extrajudicial killings by security forces as of September, resulting in the deaths of 22 suspected insurgents. Government officials insisted the suspects in each case resisted arrest, necessitating the use of deadly force, a claim disputed by the families of the suspects and human rights groups.

In August government security officials killed seven suspects while searching for the perpetrators of twin bomb attacks that killed two soldiers in Pattani and Narathiwat provinces. Colonel Pramote Prom-in, a spokesman for the Internal Security Operations Command Region 4 Forward Command, stated authorities carried out lawful operations, enlisting the help of community and religious leaders to facilitate a surrender, before taking fire from the suspects. Authorities seized a number of weapons, and some of the bombings suspects killed in the raid were later identified as suspects in other violent incidents in the deep south.

According to Deep South Watch, violence resulted in 107 deaths and 155 injuries in 285 incidents as of November, a decrease compared with 2019. As in previous years, suspected insurgents frequently targeted government representatives, including district and municipal officials, military personnel, and police, with bombings and shootings.

In January a group of armed men hurled pipe bombs and launched grenades before storming a subdistrict defense operation base in Narathiwat Province. A Muslim territorial defense volunteer was killed and seven others wounded in the attack. Approximately an hour later, territorial defense volunteers responding to the assault on the base were themselves attacked by a bomb and gunfire. No further casualties were reported. Two bombs were found buried under the road near the bombing scene.

In February a motorcycle bomb targeting a deputy district chief and a group of territorial defense volunteers went off on a road outside a school in Songkhla. The blast wounded 10 persons: the deputy district chief, three volunteers, four villagers, and two students.

In March a pickup truck bomb exploded outside the Southern Border Provinces Administration Center located in Yala Province. The blast wounded 28 persons, including police officers, journalists, and villagers.

Some government-backed civilian defense volunteers received basic training and weapons from security forces. Human rights organizations continued to express concerns about vigilantism by these defense volunteers and other civilians.

Although suspected insurgents carried out numerous attacks on civilians, the numbers of both violent incidents and related casualties were lower in the first half of the year than in the same period in 2019, according to data from Deep South Watch.

Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: The local NGO Muslim Attorney Center received a complaint alleging torture of an insurgent suspect by security forces while in custody. The same NGO noted it was difficult to substantiate allegations due to the lack of cooperation from government officials in carrying out credible investigations and providing access to suspects in detention. According to the NGO Duai Jai, at least 77 persons were detained as of August. Human rights organizations maintained the detention of suspects continued to be arbitrary and excessive, and they criticized overcrowded conditions at detention facilities.

Martial law in the southernmost provinces allows detention for a maximum of seven days without charge and without court or government agency approval. The emergency decree in effect in the same areas allows authorities to arrest and detain suspects for an additional 30 days without charge. After this period authorities must begin holding suspects under normal criminal law. Unlike under martial law, detentions under normal criminal law require judicial consent, although human rights NGOs complained courts did not always exercise their right of review.

The Southern Border Provinces Police Operation Center reported through August that authorities arrested 20 persons via warrants issued under the emergency decree, a significant decrease compared with 2019. Of these, authorities released six, prosecuted 13, and held one in detention pending further investigation. Sources at the Southern Border Provinces Police Operation Center attributed the decrease in part to reduced suppression operations compared with 2019 and greater emphasis on preventive measures to curb violence. The Muslim Attorney Center attributed the decrease to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The government frequently armed both ethnic Thai-Buddhist and ethnic Malay-Muslim civilian defense volunteers, fortified schools and temples, and provided military escorts to monks and teachers.

Military service members who deploy in support of counterinsurgency operations in the southernmost provinces continued to receive specific human rights training, including training for detailed, situation-specific contingencies.

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. This right, however, was restricted by laws and government actions. For example the government imposed legal restrictions on criticism of the government and monarchy, favored progovernment media organizations in regulatory actions, harassed antigovernment critics, monitored media and the internet, and blocked websites.

Freedom of Speech: The lese majeste prohibition makes it a crime, punishable by a maximum of 15 years’ imprisonment for each offense, to criticize, insult, or threaten the king, queen, royal heir apparent, or regent. The law also allows citizens to file lese majeste complaints against one other.

In November, Royal Thai Police issued summons warrants to 12 protest leaders to face charges of lese majeste, the first such charges since 2018. Prior to that, human rights activists reported that although lese majeste prosecutions declined, the government increasingly turned to computer-crime and “sedition” legislation to restrict free speech, including speech critical of the monarchy.

As of September, according to the local NGO Internet Dialogue on Law Reform (iLaw), 15 persons remained imprisoned for lese majeste charges, while as of August, the court of justice reported that there were 23 pending lese majeste cases in criminal courts nationwide.

The government continued to conduct some lese majeste trials from previous years in secret and prohibited public disclosure of the alleged offenses’ contents. International and domestic human rights organizations and academics expressed concern about the lese majeste prohibition’s negative effect on freedom of expression.

The Constitutional Court may take legal action against individuals deemed to have distorted facts, laws, or verdicts related to the court’s adjudication of cases, or to have mocked the court.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active but faced significant impediments to operating freely.

Although the constitution requires owners of newspapers and other mass media organizations to be citizens, government officials publicly welcomed content-sharing agreements between Chinese state-run news agencies and domestic state-run outlets, contending that Chinese media offers an alternative perspective to that offered by Western media. The Royal Thai Government owns all spectrum used in media broadcast and leases it to private media operators, allowing the government to exert indirect influence on the media landscape. Media firms are known to practice self-censorship regularly.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Laws remain in effect empowering the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission to suspend or revoke the licenses of radio or television operators broadcasting content deemed false, defamatory to the monarchy, harmful to national security, or unnecessarily critical of the government. As of October there were no known cases of authorities revoking licenses. Authorities monitored media content from all media sources, including international press. Local practice leaned toward self-censorship, particularly regarding anything that might be critical of the monarchy or members of the royal family.

The emergency decree in the conflict-affected southernmost provinces empowers the government “to prohibit publication and distribution of news and information that may cause the people to panic or with an intention to distort information.” It also authorizes the government to censor news it considers a threat to national security.

In October media organizations and academics criticized a leaked order from the Royal Thai Police to investigate four online news outlets and the Facebook page of a prominent antigovernment protest group for possible violations under the October “severe emergency decree,” which prohibits dissemination or publication of information that affects state security or the public order. A court ultimately overturned petitions to shut down these four outlets and the Facebook page, and they remained operational. Separately, in September the minister of digital economy and society issued an order to the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission to notify internet providers and cellular operators to suspend the accounts of users associated with the protest movement. The minister also announced that 300,000 Uniform Resource Locators could be in violation of the decree.

Libel/Slander Laws: Defamation is a criminal offense punishable by a fine and two years’ imprisonment. Military and business figures filed criminal defamation and libel cases against political and environmental activists, human rights defenders, journalists, and politicians.

In June, 10 months after poultry firm Thammakaset dropped its civil defamation case against human rights activist Sutharee “Kratik” Wannasiri, the company lost its criminal defamation suit against her. Thammakaset argued that her social media posts in 2017 had damaged its reputation.

In October the Lopburi court of appeals overturned the conviction of Suchanee Cloitre, a television reporter, for criminal defamation and libel in a case initiated by Thammakaset. In December 2019 the Lopburi provincial court had sentenced Suchanee to two years in prison for her 2017 post on Twitter about the company’s labor rights violations.

On October 26, 12 international human rights organizations called on the government to decriminalize defamation and “take immediate steps to end frivolous criminal proceedings against journalists, human rights defenders, and whistleblowers including those accused by Thammakaset.” In recent years Thammakaset has filed at least 39 cases against human rights activists and journalists for criticizing their labor practices, alleging civil and criminal defamation.

National Security: Various NCPO orders continue to provide authorities the right to restrict distribution of material deemed to threaten national security.

Internet Freedom

The government continued to restrict internet access and penalize those who criticized the monarchy or shared unverified information about the spread of COVID-19. The government also monitored social media and private communications for what it considered false content and “fake news.” There were reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

By law the government may impose a maximum five-year prison sentence and a substantial fine for posting false content on the internet found to undermine public security, cause public panic, or harm others, based on vague definitions. The law also obliges internet service providers to preserve all user records for 90 days in case authorities wish to access them. Any service provider that gives consent to or intentionally supports the publishing of illegal content is also liable to punishment. By law authorities must obtain a court order to ban a website, although officials did not always respect this requirement. Media activists criticized the law, stating it defined offenses too broadly and that some penalties were too harsh.

Although individuals and groups generally were able to engage in peaceful expression of views via the internet, there were numerous restrictions on content. Civil society reported the government used prosecution or the threat of prosecution as a tool to suppress speech online. Authorities targeted for prosecution individuals posting a range of social-media commentary, from discussion of COVID-19 dispersion to lese majeste, criticism of the government’s operations, reporting on government scandals, and warning of government surveillance.

In January police arrested Thitima Kongthon and Ritthisak Wongthonglueang for spreading misinformation related to COVID-19 infected individuals; they could face five years in prison. In February officials from the digital economy ministry and provincial authorities raided houses in four provinces and arrested four suspects for posting on social media that COVID-19 had spread to Chiang Mai.

In February a university student from Chonburi Province known as Niranam (anonymous in Thai) was arrested by police and charged for “introducing information of national security concern into a computer system” after posting content deemed insulting towards King Rama X. Seven more counts of cybercrime violations were added to his list of charges after trial was postponed in June. He faced a maximum of 40 years in prison.

In April the Technology Crime Suppression Division announced plans to charge the administrator of a Facebook page, Mam Pho Dum, following her report on a mask-hoarding scandal involving an aide of Thammanat Prompow, deputy minister of agriculture and cooperatives. Mam Pho Dum claimed that the information she published was taken from the aide’s own Facebook page before it was deleted.

In August courts fined and sentenced 10 persons to one year in prison for sharing what the government stated was fake news about Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan. The offending post accused Prawit of procuring more than 90 billion baht (THB) (three billion dollars) worth of satellite technology to monitor citizens. The punishment was later reduced to two years’ probation.

Also in August the Digital Economy Ministry filed a complaint with police against exiled academic Pavin Chachavalpongpun for creating and serving as administrator of the antimonarchy Facebook page, Royalist Marketplace. The ministry also asked Facebook to take down the website, which Facebook did on August 24. In September, Digital Economy and Society Minister Buddhipongse Punnakanta stated his ministry had lodged complaints with police against Facebook and Twitter because those companies had not yet blocked access to some websites as previously requested by the ministry through the courts. The ministry also filed complaints with police against social media users who disseminated messages critical of the monarchy during the antigovernment protest on September 19 and 20, alleging these social media users committed sedition and put false information into a computer system.

The government closely monitored and blocked websites and social media posts and accounts critical of the monarchy. Prosecutions of journalists, political activists, and other internet users for criminal defamation or sedition for posting content online further fostered an environment of self-censorship. Many political online message boards and discussion forums closely monitored discussions and self-censored to avoid being blocked. Newspapers restricted access to their public-comment sections to minimize exposure to possible lese majeste or defamation charges. The National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission also lobbied foreign internet content creators and service providers to remove or censor locally lese majeste content. The government asked foreign governments to take legal action against Thai dissidents in their countries. Human rights observers reported that police sometimes asked detained political activists to reveal passwords to their social media accounts.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

University authorities reported the regular presence of security personnel on campus, monitoring lectures and attending student events. There were numerous accounts of authorities arresting students for exercising freedom of speech and expression. Universities reported self-censorship continued.

In June the Thai Enquirer news outlet reported several cases of harassment and intimidation of university students and faculty, including a student who claimed that police contacted the deputy dean at his university, who then took him to the police station where he was interrogated, had his electronic devices seized, and was forced to reveal his passwords to social media accounts. They also reported that faculty at an unnamed university in Bangkok were approached by government authorities and asked to identify protest leaders and monitor their activities.

In September, Thammasat University officials denied permission for student demonstrators to use university grounds for their protests. Thammasat had allowed a rally in August and declared it was appropriate for students to state their political demands, but Thammasat later apologized for allowing the university to be used as a venue for students to call for reform of the monarchy.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The country experienced large-scale peaceful protests from July through November.  That said, the government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association and arrested and brought charges against dozens of protest leaders under the COVID-19 emergency decree, sedition legislation, and other laws.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The constitution grants the freedom to assemble peacefully, subject to restrictions enacted to “protect public interest, peace and order, or good morals, or to protect the rights and liberties of others.” The government continued to prosecute prodemocracy and other human rights activists for leading peaceful protests.

In February student protesters and democracy activists began staging antigovernment rallies to protest the Constitutional Court’s decision to dissolve the Future Forward Party. In March, Prime Minister Prayut declared a state of emergency in an effort to contain the spread of COVID-19 and renewed the COVID-19 emergency decree every succeeding month of the year. In June police arrested Tattep “Ford” Ruangprapaikitseri, Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak, and Panusaya “Rung” Sithijirawattanakul for violating the COVID-19 emergency decree by holding two rallies to protest the disappearance of activist Wanchalearm Satsaksit and to commemorate the 1932 revolution that ended the country’s absolute monarchy. A July demonstration at the Democracy Monument in Bangkok led to sedition and other charges against more than 30 protest leaders.

Although the government eased restrictions related to public assembly under the COVID-19 emergency decree effective August 1, police continued to arrest protest leaders on charges of sedition and violations of other legislation. An August protest that called for reform of the monarchy led to computer-crime and sedition charges against protest leaders.

In September protest leaders Arnon Nampa and Panupong “Mike” Jadnok were detained for five days after a ruling that they had violated the terms of bail conditions from a prior arrest by continuing to participate in antigovernment protests.

On October 15, after a brief confrontation between a group of protesters and the queen’s motorcade, the government issued a “severe emergency decree” that limited gatherings to no more than five persons. On October 16, police deployed water cannons laced with skin irritants to disperse protesters who had gathered in violation of the decree. On October 22, Prime Minister Prayut cancelled the decree as protests continued unabated. Dozens of protesters were charged for participating in demonstrations during that period, and protest leaders Penguin, Rung, and Mike were arrested and detained for three weeks before their release on bail.

According to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, authorities filed charges against approximately 175 protesters in October and November for their participation in antigovernment demonstrations. Three activists faced the possibility of life imprisonment for the incident related to the queen’s motorcade. More than 30 protesters, including a high school student, age 16, were issued summons warrants to face lese majeste charges, which carry a three- to 15-year prison sentence, and more than 10 protest leaders have two or more lese majeste charges against them. At least 45 individuals, including a high school student, age 17, faced sedition charges which carry a maximum of seven years in prison. Many protest leaders faced multiple charges connected to various protest events.

Freedom of Association

The constitution grants individuals the right to free association subject to restrictions by law enacted to “protect public interest, peace and order, or good morals.”

The law prohibits the registration of a political party with the same name or logo as a legally dissolved party.

On February 21, the Constitutional Court dissolved the opposition Future Forward Party, ruling that the party took an illegal loan from its leader, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, and banned the party’s executives, including Thanathorn, from participating in politics until 2030 (see section 3).

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 provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation; the government enforced some exceptions, which it claimed were for “maintaining the security of the state, public order, public welfare, town and country planning, or youth welfare.”

In-country Movement: The government restricted the internal movement of members of hill tribes and members of other minority groups who were not citizens but held government-issued identity cards, including those registered as stateless persons. Authorities prohibited holders of such cards from traveling outside their home provinces without permission from the district chief. Offenders are subject to fines or a jail term of 45 to 60 days. Persons without cards may not travel at all. Human rights organizations reported that police at inland checkpoints often asked for bribes in exchange for allowing stateless persons to move from one province to another. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) noted that COVID-19 restrictions in place during part of the year played a significant role in restricting in-country movement. For example, provincial governments instituted COVID-19-related movement restrictions that affected all individuals and not just stateless persons.

Foreign Travel: Local authorities required resident noncitizens, including thousands of ethnic Shan and other non-hill-tribe minority group members, to seek permission from the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Interior for foreign travel.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government usually cooperated with UNHCR, the International Organization for Migration, and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern, although with many restrictions.

The government’s treatment of refugees and asylum seekers remained inconsistent. Nevertheless, authorities hosted significant numbers of refugees and asylum seekers, generally provided protection against their expulsion or forced return, and generally allowed persons fleeing fighting or other incidents of violence in neighboring countries to cross the border and remain until conflict ceased. Moreover, authorities permitted urban refugees and asylum seekers recognized by UNHCR and registered Burmese refugees in the nine camps on the border with Burma to resettle to third countries.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: As of August, 231 Rohingya and self-declared “Myanmar Muslim” individuals remained in detention, 143 in the IDCs and 88 in shelters.

The government continued to permit registered Burmese refugees in nine camps along the border with Burma to remain in the country temporarily and continued to refer to these refugee camps as “temporary shelters” even though they have been operated for decades. Authorities continued to treat all refugees and asylum seekers outside of these camps who do not have valid visas or other immigration permits as illegal migrants. Persons categorized as illegal migrants were legally subject to arrest, detention, and deportation. Authorities permitted bail only for certain categories of detained refugees and asylum seekers, such as mothers, children, and persons with medical conditions. Immigration authorities applied the criteria for allowing bail inconsistently, and NGOs, refugees, and asylum seekers reported numerous instances of immigration authorities demanding bribes in connection with requests for bail.

Humanitarian organizations reported concerns that migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers faced overcrowded conditions, lack of exercise opportunities, limited freedom of movement, and abusive treatment by authorities in the IDCs.

As part of an overall policy to reduce the number of illegal immigrants and visa overstayers in the country, immigration police in Bangkok sometimes arrested and detained asylum seekers and refugees, including women and children. As of August there were approximately 320 refugees and asylum seekers residing in the IDCs. In addition, 50 Uyghurs have been detained in the country since 2015.

Refoulement: Persons from Burma, if arrested without refugee status or legal permission to be in the country, were often escorted back to the Burmese border. Authorities sometimes provided preferential treatment to members of certain Burmese ethnic minority groups such as ethnic Shan individuals, allowing them greater leeway to remain in Thailand without formal authorization. Outside the nine camps along the border, government officials did not distinguish between asylum-seeking Burmese and other undocumented Burmese, regarding all as illegal migrants. If caught outside of camps without permission, authorities generally allowed registered and verified Burmese refugees to return to their camps.

Authorities generally did not deport persons of concern holding valid UNHCR asylum-seeker or refugee status. In one notable case, however, authorities forcibly returned Radio Free Asia blogger and Vietnamese national Truong Duy Nhat from Thailand to Vietnam in January 2019 after he applied for refugee status with UNHCR. In December 2020 he was tried and sentenced by a Vietnamese court to 10 years’ imprisonment on charges of “abusing his position and power while on duty.”

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government did not establish a system for providing protection to refugees. The government began to implement a regulation (referred to as the “National Screening Mechanism” by UNHCR and NGOs) that provides individuals whom the government determines to be protected persons with temporary protection from deportation.

UNHCR’s ability to provide protection to some groups of refugees outside the official camps remained limited. Its access to asylum seekers in the IDCs to conduct status interviews and monitor new arrivals varied throughout the year, in part due to COVID-19-related restrictions on visiting the IDCs. Authorities generally allowed resettlement countries to conduct processing activities in the IDCs, and humanitarian organizations were able to provide health care, nutritional support, and other humanitarian assistance. Access to specific asylum-seeker populations varied, reportedly depending on the preferences of each IDC chief, as well as central government policies restricting UNHCR and NGO access to certain politically sensitive groups.

The government allowed UNHCR to monitor the protection status of, and pursue solutions for, approximately 92,000 Burmese refugees and asylum seekers living in nine camps along the border with Burma. NGOs funded by the international community provided basic humanitarian assistance in the camps, including health care, food, education, shelter, water, sanitation, vocational training, and other services.

The government facilitated third-country refugee resettlement or private sponsorship to five countries for nearly 600 Burmese refugees from the camps as of September. Refugees residing in the nine camps along the border with Burma who were not registered with the government were ineligible for third-country resettlement unless they had serious medical or protection concerns and received special approval from a government committee. Separately the government coordinated with Burmese authorities to document and return to Burma registered camp residents who elected to participate in a voluntary repatriation program. During the 2016 to 2019 period, 1,039 registered refugees voluntarily returned to Burma in four tranches under the program. There were no voluntary repatriations under this program during the year in part due to border closures related to COVID-19.

Freedom of Movement: Refugees residing in the nine refugee camps on the border with Burma had no freedom of movement outside their camps. A refugee apprehended outside the official camps is subject to possible harassment, fines, detention, deregistration, and deportation. Authorities sometimes allowed camp residents limited travel outside of the camps for purposes such as medical care or travel to other camps for educational training.

For certain foreign victims of trafficking, including Rohingya refugees, the law permits the issuance of temporary stay permits while trafficking investigations are underway. The majority of such victims, however, were restricted to remaining in closed, government-run shelters with little freedom of movement.

Refugees and asylum seekers were not eligible to participate in the official nationality-verification process, which allows migrant workers from Burma, Cambodia, and Laos with verified nationality and passports to travel throughout the country.

Employment: The law prohibits refugees from working in the country. The government allowed undocumented migrant workers from Burma, Cambodia, and Laos to work legally in certain economic sectors if they registered with authorities and followed a prescribed process to document their status (see section 7.d.). The law allows victims of trafficking and witnesses who cooperate with pending court cases to work legally during their trial and up to two years (with possible extensions) after the end of their trial involvement. Work permits must be linked to a specific employer. For certain foreign victims of trafficking, including Rohingya, the government did not identify suitable employment opportunities for the issuance of work permits, citing a lack of local opportunities and immigration policy considerations. Registration, medical check-up, and health-insurance fees remained a deterrent for prospective employers of victims of trafficking.

Access to Basic Services: The international community provided basic services for refugees living inside the nine camps on the border with Burma. For needs beyond primary care, a medical referral system allows refugees to seek other necessary medical services. For the urban refugee and asylum-seeker population living in and around Bangkok, access to government-funded basic health services was minimal. Three NGOs funded in part by the international community provided or facilitated primary and mental health-care services and legal assistance. A UNHCR-led health panel coordinated referrals of the most urgent medical cases to local hospitals. The government announced during the year that it would provide free COVID-19 testing and treatment to all individuals, including migrants and refugees, who met specific case criteria. Implementation at the provincial and district levels remained uneven, however, according to NGOs. For example, the governor of Mae Hong Son Province decided that provincial hospitals would not provide COVID-19 testing or treatment to refugees living in the four camps in the province.

By law government schools must admit children of any legal status who can speak, read, and write Thai with some degree of proficiency, including refugee children. NGOs reported access to education for refugee children varied from school to school and often depended on the preferences of individual school administrators. Some refugee communities formed their own unofficial schools to provide education for their children. Others sought to learn Thai with support from UNHCR and other NGOs to prepare for admission to government schools. Since Burmese refugee children living in the camps generally did not have access to the government education system, NGOs continued to support camp-based community organizations in providing educational opportunities, and some were able to coordinate partially their curriculum with the Ministry of Education.

Temporary Protection: Authorities generally did not deport persons of concern holding valid UNHCR asylum-seeker or refugee status. The government continued to protect from deportation the majority of Rohingya refugees detained by authorities, including those who arrived in the country irregularly during the mass movement in the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea in 2015. The government continued to implement a policy of screening all Rohingya migrants apprehended transiting Thailand for victim-of-trafficking status. As of September authorities had not granted such status to any Rohingya. Authorities determined 74 individuals were illegal migrants but placed 30 mothers and children into shelters run by the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security as an alternative to detention in the IDCs. Other Rohingya determined to be illegal migrants were placed in the IDCs. UNHCR had access to the provincial shelters while authorities conducted formal screenings of the migrants’ eligibility for benefits as victims of trafficking. These Rohingya migrants, however, were in some cases confined to shelters without freedom of movement or access to work permits.

g. Stateless Persons

The government continued to identify stateless persons, provide documentation to preclude statelessness, and open paths to citizenship for longtime residents and students. As of June an estimated 480,000 persons, mainly residing in the northern region, were registered as stateless persons by the government, including ethnic minorities registered with civil authorities and previously undocumented minorities. From January to June, the government granted citizenship to 3,594 stateless persons and permanent residency to 87 others. In September the cabinet approved access to government health insurance for 3,042 registered stateless students. Authorities excluded Rohingya and Muslims from Burma, including individuals whose families had lived in Mae Sot near the Burmese border for multiple generations, from the statelessness recognition process. Without legal status, unregistered and undocumented stateless persons were particularly vulnerable to various forms of abuse including threat of deportation (see section 6, Children and Indigenous People).

A 2016 government resolution to end statelessness and provide a pathway to Thai nationality for approximately 80,000 stateless children and young adults covers persons born in the country whose parents are ethnic minorities, who are registered with the government, and who have resided in the country for a minimum of 15 years. It also applies to stateless youths certified by a state agency to have lived in the country for 10 years whose parentage is unknown. In 2019 the government enacted an amendment to the Civil Registration Act providing a pathway for foundlings to apply for a birth certificate and obtain a Thai national identification card. If the person proves continuous residence in the country for 10 or more years and meets other qualifications, the person is eligible to apply for Thai nationality.

Birth within the country does not automatically confer citizenship. The law grants citizenship at birth to children with at least one citizen parent. Individuals may also acquire citizenship by means of special government-designated criteria implemented by the Ministry of Interior with approval from the cabinet or in accordance with nationality law (see section 6, Children). Ethnic Thai stateless persons and their children who meet the added definition of “displaced Thai” may apply for the status of “Thai nationality by birth.”

By law stateless members of hill tribes may not vote, and their travel is restricted to their home province. As noncitizens, they are unable to own land. Stateless persons are legally permitted to work in any occupation, but licenses for certain professions (including doctors, engineers, and lawyers) are provided only to Thai citizens. Stateless persons had difficulty accessing credit and government services, such as health care. The law permits undocumented migrant and stateless children to enroll in schools alongside Thai national children, although access to education was uneven. There were reports that school administrators placed the term “non-Thai citizen” on these students’ high school certificates, severely limiting their economic opportunities. Stateless persons were permitted to enroll in tertiary education but did not have access to government educational loans.

Humanitarian organizations reported that village heads and district officials routinely demanded bribes from stateless persons to process their applications for official registration as stateless persons or to obtain permanent residency or citizenship. Police also demanded bribes from stateless persons at inland checkpoints in exchange for allowing them to move from one province to another.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution largely 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. In March 2019 the country held national elections after five years of rule by the military-led NCPO following a 2014 coup. The campaign season was mostly peaceful with many political parties competing for seats and conducting political rallies for the first time in five years. A restrictive legal framework and selective enforcement of campaign regulations by the Election Commission, however, impacted the final outcome in favor of the parties aligned with the Phalang Pracharath Party.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The country held national elections in March 2019, following five years of military rule. In June 2019 parliament voted to return Prayut Chan-o-Cha to the premiership and in July 2019 Prayut’s cabinet was sworn in, officially disbanding the junta NCPO. On December 20, the government held local elections for the first time since the 2014 coup.

There were few reports of election irregularities during the March 2019 national elections, although there were frequent reports of vote buying by both government and opposition parties. The NGO Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL)–the only global organization allowed by the government to observe the election–found the election “partly free, not fair.” ANFREL noted many positive aspects of the election primarily related to election-day activities, including high voter turnout, free access to the polls, and peaceful conditions during the campaign and on election day. ANFREL found, however, that a restrictive and biased legal framework and lack of transparency by the Election Commission meant authorities “failed to establish the healthy political climate that lies at the heart of free and fair electoral process.”

Political Parties and Political Participation: Critics complained that police and courts unfairly targeted opposition parties for legal action. In February the Constitutional Court dissolved the opposition Future Forward Party (FFP), citing an illegal loan to the party from its leader, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, and banned all members of the party’s 16-person executive committee from politics for 10 years. Prodemocracy activists alleged the decision was part of a politically motivated effort to weaken a key opposition party. Thanathorn and other former FFP leaders remained under indictment in more than 20 other cases, many of which carry jail terms.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No law limits participation of women and members of minority groups in the political process; however, their participation was limited. There were 76 female members of parliament in the elected lower house out of 489 members and 26 female senators out of 250 members. There were four women in the 35-member cabinet, all in deputy minister positions. There were four lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals in parliament and one member of the Hmong ethnic group.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials. Officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: In February opposition members of parliament accused Prime Minister Prayut of corruption involving land sold by Prayut’s father to a private company before he became prime minister. The parliamentarians alleged the land was significantly overvalued and noted that the purchasing company–created just seven days before the transaction–subsequently received a 50-year contract to manage the Queen Sirikit National Convention Center.

Also in February a soldier who claimed he had been swindled in a land deal by his commanding officer and the officer’s mother-in-law killed them both and then went on a shooting spree in the northeastern city of Nakhon Ratchasima, killing 29 individuals. The army removed two high-ranking officers to inactive posts and took measures to reduce the opportunity for corruption related to housing and land deals among soldiers.

In March, Sergeant Narongchai Intarakawi, known as “Sergeant Arm,” fled the army after alleging his name was used by other soldiers to receive bogus reimbursements. He reported back to military authorities in June and was granted bail. An army spokesman stated that Narongchai faced punishment solely for leaving his post, not for exposing financial wrongdoing. An army investigation supported the allegations of corruption, which were referred to the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC).

In May, six former officials of the National Buddhism Bureau were sentenced to prison terms ranging from six to 56 years after their convictions for embezzlement.

In August an NACC subcommittee summoned former natural resources and environment minister Anongwan Thepsuthin to testify on charges of corruption related to a THB 770 million ($25.7 million) soil and forest renewal project implemented under her tenure in 2008. Anongwan is the wife of Minister of Justice Somsak Thepsuthin, who publicly complained that the NACC was reinvestigating the case as political retaliation.

After Thai Airways was forced into a bankruptcy-court-managed restructuring process in September, a Ministry of Transport probe into the causes of the airline’s insolvency found that “corruption had definitely occurred” in the procurement of 10 Airbus A340 aircraft in 2003 and 2004. The investigation found that Thai Airways officials accepted bribes to ensure the aircraft procurements proceeded over the objections of the National Economic and Social Development Council, which questioned the suitability of these aircraft for Thai Airways routes. The Ministry of Transport referred the case to the NACC for further investigation.

Also in September politician Watana Muangsook was sentenced to 99 years’ imprisonment after his conviction for demanding bribes from developers of a low-cost housing project when he was minister of social development and human security in 2005-06.

Petty corruption and bribe taking were widespread among police, who were required to purchase their own uniforms and weapons. In July media and activists criticized the announcement that all charges had been dropped against Vorayit “Boss” Yoovidhya, the heir to the Red Bull beverage company, who struck and killed a police officer with his Ferrari in 2012. Prime Minister Prayut ordered a probe into the case, which found that corruption and conspiracy among police and prosecutors likely helped Yoovidhya escape charges. In August a new arrest warrant was issued for Yoovidhya with charges of reckless driving causing death, failing to help a victim after a crash, and drug abuse, and police announced legal action against 21 officers accused of mishandling the case. The NACC also conducted an investigation. In December the Office of the Attorney General announced that public prosecutors could not proceed with the indictment of Yoovidhya on drug charges until police arrested him and brought him to trial.

Financial Disclosure: Financial disclosure law and regulations require elected and appointed public officials to disclose assets and income publicly according to standardized forms. The law penalizes officials who fail to submit declarations, submit inaccurate declarations, or conceal assets. Penalties include a five-year political activity ban, asset seizure, and discharge from position, as well as a maximum imprisonment of six months, a nominal fine, or both.

In August 2019 the NACC indicted its own deputy secretary general, Prayat Puangjumpa, for concealing his assets on his mandatory disclosure. Prayat was found to have concealed foreign assets–a London townhouse that the NACC, citing the value in terms of foreign currency, said was worth $6.9 million and $400,000 in other assets held abroad–by listing them in his wife’s name. He later claimed that his wife was holding the assets for a third party. As of August the case was with the Office of the Attorney General pending indictment to the Supreme Court of Justice’s Criminal Division for Persons Holding Political Position.

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

A wide variety of domestic and international human rights organizations operated in the country. NGOs that dealt with sensitive political matters, such as political reform or opposition to government-sponsored development projects, faced periodic harassment.

Human rights workers focusing on violence in the southernmost provinces were particularly vulnerable to harassment and intimidation by government agents and insurgent groups. The government accorded very few NGOs tax-exempt status, which sometimes hampered their ability to secure funding.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: According to the United Nations, there were no developments regarding official visits previously requested by the UN working group on disappearances; by the UN special rapporteurs on freedom of opinion and expression, and on freedom of peaceful assembly and of association; or by the UN special rapporteurs on the situations of human rights defenders, migrants, internally displaced persons, torture, indigenous peoples, and sexual identity and gender orientation.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The independent National Human Rights Commission of Thailand (NHRCT) has a mission to protect human rights and to produce an annual country report. The commission received 472 complaints during the year ending September 30. Of these, 74 were accepted for further investigation and 30 related to alleged abuses by police. Human rights groups continued to criticize the commission for not filing lawsuits against human rights violators on its own behalf or on behalf of complainants. The government did not complete the process of selecting permanent NHRCT members, which was intended to occur in 2017 following the promulgation of the new constitution. The seven acting commissioners of the NHRCT remained in place with the exception of Chairman What Tingsmitr, who reached mandatory retirement age in September.

The Office of the Ombudsman is an independent agency empowered to consider and investigate complaints filed by any citizen. Following an investigation, the office may refer a case to a court for further review or provide recommendations for further action to the appropriate agency. The office examines all petitions, but it may not compel agencies to comply with its recommendations. During the year ending September 30, the office received 3,140 new petitions, of which 744 related to allegations of police abuses.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape of men and women is illegal, although the government did not always enforce the law effectively. The law narrowly defined rape as acts in which male sex organs were used to physically violate victims, thereby leaving victims assaulted by perpetrators in other ways without legal remedies. The law permits authorities to prosecute spousal rape, and prosecutions occurred. The law specifies penalties for conviction of rape or forcible sexual assault ranging from four years’ imprisonment to the death penalty as well as fines.

NGOs said rape was a serious problem and that victims underreported rapes and domestic assaults, in part due to a lack of understanding by authorities that impeded effective implementation of the law regarding violence against women.

According to NGOs, agencies tasked with addressing the problem were underfunded, and victims often perceived police as incapable of bringing perpetrators to justice.

Domestic violence against women was a significant problem. The Ministry of Public Health operated one-stop crisis centers to provide information and services to victims of physical and sexual abuse throughout the country. The law establishes measures designed to facilitate both the reporting of domestic violence complaints and reconciliation between the victim and the perpetrator. Moreover, the law restricts media reporting on domestic-violence cases in the judicial system. NGOs expressed concern the law’s family unity approach put undue pressure on a victim to compromise without addressing safety problems and led to a low conviction rate.

In May the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security reported a doubling of reports of domestic violence after the COVID-19 emergency decree in April. In response the ministry added more staff to its hotline section to manage the increasing number of calls.

Authorities prosecuted some domestic-violence crimes under provisions for assault or violence against a person, where they could seek harsher penalties. The government operated shelters for domestic-violence victims, one in each province. The government’s crisis centers, located in all state-run hospitals, cared for abused women and children.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): No specific law prohibits this practice. NGOs and international media reported Type IV FGM/C occurred in the Muslim-majority south, although statistics were unavailable. There were no reports of governmental efforts to prevent or address the practice.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is illegal in both the public and private sectors. The penal code specifies a fine and a jail term of one month for sexual harassment, while abuse categorized as an indecent act may result in a fine and a maximum 15 years’ imprisonment. Sexual harassment in the workplace may be punished by modest fines. The law governing the civil service also prohibits sexual harassment and stipulates five levels of punishment: probation, docked wages, salary reduction, suspension, and termination. NGOs claimed the legal definition of harassment was vague and prosecution of harassment claims difficult, leading to ineffective enforcement of the law.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children. Individuals have the right to manage their reproductive health and had access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. The publicly funded medical system provided access to contraceptive services and information, prenatal care, skilled attendance during childbirth, and essential obstetric and postpartum care. The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) estimated more than 98 percent of women could access prenatal and postnatal care and reported that skilled health-care personnel attended approximately 99 percent of births in 2019. The UNFPA estimated the birth rate during the year for those ages 15 to 19 was 18 births per 1,000, down from 29 per 1,000 the previous year. The Ministry of Education provided sex education in schools, and in 2019 the Ministry of Public Health announced that women and adolescent girls from age 10 could receive modern contraceptives free of charge and without parental consent. The Ministry of Social Development and Human Security and the Ministry of Public Health established one-stop service centers in all public hospitals to assist victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse.

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

Discrimination: The constitution provides that “men and women shall enjoy equal rights and liberties. Unjust discrimination against a person on the grounds of differences in origin, race, language, sex, age, disability, physical or health condition, personal status, economic or social standing, religious belief, education or political view, shall not be permitted.”

The Ministry of Social Development and Human Security took steps to implement legislation mandating gender equality by allocating funding to increase awareness about the law and promote gender education and equality, and by hearing from complainants who experienced gender discrimination. Since 2016 the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security has received 58 complaints and issued judgment in 44 cases; gender discrimination was ruled in 23 cases. The majority of cases related to transgender persons facing discrimination (see section 6, Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity). Human rights advocates expressed concern about lengthy delays in reviewing individual discrimination complaints and a lack of awareness among the public and within the ministry’s provincial offices.

Women generally enjoyed the same legal status and rights as men but sometimes experienced discrimination, particularly in employment. The law imposes a maximum jail term of six months, a fine, or both, for anyone convicted of gender discrimination. The law mandates nondiscrimination based on gender and sexual identity in policy, rule, regulation, notification, project, or procedure by government, private organizations, and any individual, but it also stipulates two exceptions criticized by civil society groups: religious principles and national security.

Women were unable to confer citizenship to their noncitizen spouses in the same way as male citizens.

Women comprised approximately 12 percent of the country’s military personnel. Ministry of Defense policy limits the percentage of female officers to not more than 25 percent in most units, with specialized hospital or medical, budgetary, and finance units permitted 35 percent. Military academies (except for the nursing academy) refused admission to female students, although a significant number of instructors were women.

Since 2018 women have been barred from applying to the police academy. Activists criticized this as contrary to the aims of legislation promoting gender equality and formally petitioned the Office of the Ombudsman to urge the decision be revisited. The police academy continues to accept only male applicants. The Royal Thai Police listed “being a male” as a requirement in an employment announcement for police investigators and other positions; the NHRCT and the Association of Female Police Investigators objected publicly to this requirement. The Committee Examining Gender Discrimination, an agency under the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, filed a petition to the Office of the Ombudsman, which responded that the committee did not have standing to file the petition. Despite this, the Royal Thai Police did accept some female police investigators in 2019.

Children

Birth Registration:  Citizenship is conferred at birth if at least one parent is a citizen.  Birth within the country does not automatically confer citizenship, but regulations entitle all children born in the country to birth registration, which qualifies them for certain government benefits regardless of citizenship (see section 2.g.).  The law stipulates every child born in the country receive an official birth certificate regardless of the parents’ legal status.  In remote areas some parents did not obtain birth certificates for their children due to administrative complexities and a lack of recognition of the importance of the document.  In the case of hill-tribe members and other stateless persons, NGOs reported misinformed or unscrupulous local officials, language barriers, and restricted mobility made it difficult to register births.

Education:  An NCPO order provides that all children receive free “quality education for 15 years, from preschool to the completion of compulsory education,” which is defined as through grade 12.  NGOs reported children of registered migrants, unregistered migrants, refugees, or asylum seekers had limited access to government schools.

Child Abuse:  The law provides for the protection of children from abuse, and laws on rape and abandonment carry harsher penalties if the victim is a child.  The penalties for raping a child younger than age 15 range from four to 20 years’ imprisonment and fines.  Those convicted of abandoning a child younger than age nine are subject to a jail term of three years, a fine, or both.  The law provides for protection of witnesses, victims, and offenders younger than age 18 in abuse and pedophilia cases.  Advocacy groups stated police often ignored or avoided child-abuse cases.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage:  The minimum legal age for marriage for both sexes is 17, while anyone younger than 21 requires parental consent.  A court may grant permission for children younger than 17 to marry.

In the Muslim-majority southernmost provinces, Islamic law used for family matters and inheritance allows the marriage of young girls after their first menstrual cycle with parental approval.  In 2018 the Islamic Committee of Thailand raised the minimum age for Muslims to marry from ages 15 to 17.  A Muslim younger than 17 may marry with a written court order or written parental consent, which is considered by a special subcommittee of three members, of which at least one member must be a woman with knowledge of Islamic law.

Sexual Exploitation of Children:  The minimum age for consensual sex is 15.  The law provides heavy penalties for persons who procure, lure, compel, or threaten children younger than 18 for the purpose of prostitution, with higher penalties for persons who purchase sexual intercourse with a child younger than 15.  Authorities may punish parents who allow a child to enter into prostitution and revoke their parental rights.  The law prohibits the production, distribution, import, or export of child pornography.  The law also imposes heavy penalties for sexually exploiting persons younger than 18, including for pimping, trafficking, and other sexual crimes against children.

Child sex trafficking remained a problem, and the country continued to be a destination for child sex tourism, although the government continued to make efforts to combat the problem.  Children from migrant populations, ethnic minority groups, and poor families remained particularly vulnerable, and police arrested parents who forced their children into prostitution.  Citizens and foreign sex tourists committed pedophilia crimes, including the commercial sexual exploitation of children, and production and distribution of child pornography.

There were numerous reported cases of rape and sexual harassment of girls, often in school environments.  In May police arrested five teachers and two alumni of a school in Mukdahan Province for repeatedly raping a student, age 14, over the course of one year.  Another student, age 16, subsequently alleged being raped by the same group of teachers and alumni.  The teachers were fired from their jobs and had their teaching licenses revoked.  They were charged with sexual assault and released on bail as the investigation continued.  In August the parents of a fifth-grade student at a school in Kalasin Province filed a complaint against a teacher, age 57, for molesting their child.  In October, five eighth-grade students filed complaints against the director of a school in Khon Kaen Province for sexual assault.  Investigations into both cases continued.

The government made efforts throughout the year to combat the sexual exploitation of children.  In July the Ministry of Education opened a center to protect students from sexual exploitation by teachers and other educational personnel.  The center developed a set of measures to prevent and suppress sexual assaults against students, and provided protection and compensation to the victims.  In its first month the center handled at least 16 cases, leading to the revocation of teaching credentials, suspension from duty of perpetrators, or both.

Displaced Children:  Authorities generally referred street children to government shelters located in each province, but foreign undocumented migrants avoided the shelters due to fear of deportation.  As of November the government estimated 30,000 street children sought shelter nationwide.  In November the NGO Foundation for the Better Life of Children reported approximately 50,000 children were living on the streets, 20,000 of them foreign born.  The government generally sent citizen street children to school, occupational training centers, or back to their families with social-worker supervision.  The government repatriated some street children who came from other countries.

Institutionalized Children:  There were limited reports of abuse in orphanages or other institutions.

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 resident Jewish community is very small, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution prohibits discrimination based on disability and physical or health conditions. The law provides tax benefits to employers employing a certain number of persons with disabilities, such as special income-tax deductions to promote employment of such persons.

The government modified many public accommodations and buildings to accommodate persons with disabilities, but government enforcement was not consistent. The law mandates persons with disabilities have access to information, communications, and newly constructed buildings, but authorities did not uniformly enforce these provisions. The law entitles persons with disabilities who register with the government to free medical examinations, wheelchairs, and crutches.

The government’s Community-based Rehabilitation Program and the Community Learning Center for Persons with Disabilities project operated in all provinces. The government provided five-year, interest-free, small-business loans for persons with disabilities.

The government maintained dozens of separate schools and education centers for children with disabilities and operated occupational and career development centers for adults with disabilities. The law requires all government schools nationwide to accept students with disabilities, and a majority of schools taught students with disabilities during the year. The government also operated shelters and rehabilitation centers specifically for persons with disabilities, including day care centers for autistic children.

Organizations for persons with disabilities reported difficulty in accessing information about a range of public services.

Some disability rights activists alleged that government officials, including from the National Office for Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities at the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, and private companies often contracted with organizations for persons with disabilities to recruit employees with disabilities, an arrangement that could allow dishonest officials and the staff of such organizations to keep a portion of the wages intended for those workers.

Indigenous People

Stateless members of hill tribes faced restrictions on their movement, were not permitted to own land, had difficulty accessing bank credit, and faced discrimination in employment. Although labor law gives them the right to equal treatment as employees, employers often violated those rights by paying them less than their citizen coworkers and less than minimum wage. The law further bars them from government welfare services but affords them limited access to government-subsidized medical treatment.

The law provides citizenship eligibility to certain categories of hill tribes who were not previously eligible (see section 2.g.). The government supported efforts to register citizens and educate eligible hill-tribe members about their rights.

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

No law criminalizes expression of sexual orientation or consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults.

The LGBTI community reported that police treated LGBTI victims of crime the same as other persons except in the case of sexual crimes, where there was a tendency to downplay sexual abuse or not to take harassment seriously.

The law does not permit transgender persons to change their gender on identification documents, which, coupled with societal discrimination, limited their employment opportunities.

The UN Development Program (UNDP) and NGOs reported that LGBTI persons experienced discrimination, particularly in rural areas. The UNDP also reported media represented LGBTI persons in stereotypical and harmful ways resulting in discrimination.

Legislation mandating gender equality prohibits discrimination “due to the fact that the person is male or female or of a different appearance from his or her own sex by birth” and protects transgender students from discrimination. The country’s Fourth National Human Rights Plan, covering the period 2019-22, was approved by the Office of the National Economic and Social Development Board in March and by the cabinet in June. The plan includes LGBTI persons as one of 12 groups in its action plan.

NGOs and the United Nations reported transgender persons faced discrimination in various sectors, including in the military conscription process, while in detention, and because of strict policies in place at most schools and universities that require students to wear uniforms that align with their biological gender. Some universities relaxed dress codes during the year, partly in response to student-led protests that called for reforms in the educational system. In June, Thammasat University announced it would allow students to wear uniforms that match their chosen sexual identity while also outlining a code of conduct that prohibits bullying, insulting, discriminating, or intimidating behavior by faculty or students towards LGBTI students.

In May 2019 the Ministry of Education introduced a new curriculum incorporating discussion of sexual orientation and gender diversity for grades one to 12; this followed two years of advocacy by the LGBTI community. NGOs continued to encourage the Ministry of Education to make the curriculum compulsory, and continued to work with the ministry on curriculum development and to organize training courses to prepare teachers to teach it effectively.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Some social stigma remained for persons with HIV/AIDS, despite intensive educational efforts by the government and NGOs.  There were reports some employers fired or refused to hire persons who tested positive for HIV.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The constitution provides that a person shall enjoy the liberty to unite and form an association, cooperative, union, organization, community, or any other group. The law provides for the right of workers in certain private-sector and state-owned enterprises (SOEs) to form and join independent trade unions. The law does not allow public-sector and migrant workers to organize trade unions. Civil servants may assemble as a group, provided that such assembly does not affect the efficiency of national administration and continuity of public services and does not have a political objective. The law provides for the right of certain workers to bargain collectively and to conduct legal strikes, although these rights come with some restrictions.

By law only workers with the same employer or in the same industry may form a union. Subcontract workers, even if working in the same factory and doing the same job as full-time workers, may not join the same union because they are classified as belonging to the service industry while full-time workers come under the “manufacturing industry.” Nevertheless, the law makes subcontract workers eligible for the same benefits as those enjoyed by union members. The inability of subcontract workers and full-time workers to join the same union limits the unions’ ability to bargain collectively as a larger group. In addition short-term contract workers are less likely to join unions, fearing antiunion retaliation in the form of nonrenewal of their contracts. Labor advocates claimed that many companies hire subcontract workers to undermine unionization efforts. A survey of the auto parts and electronics industries found that more than 45 percent of the workforce consisted of subcontract workers, approximately half on short-term contracts.

The law does not protect union members against antiunion discrimination by employers until their union is registered. To register a union, at least 10 workers must submit their names to the Department of Labor Protection and Welfare (DLPW). The verification process of vetting the names and employment status with the employer exposes the workers to potential retaliation before registration is complete. Moreover, the law requires that union officials be full-time employees of the company or SOE and prohibits permanent union staff. The law allows one union per SOE. Banks, trains, airlines, airports, marine ports, and postal services are among those industries owned by SOEs. If an SOE union’s membership falls below 25 percent of the eligible workforce, regulations require dissolution of the union. The law restricts formal links between unions of SOEs and their private-sector counterparts because they are governed by two separate laws.

The law requires unions to have 20 percent membership to bargain collectively. The law allows employees at workplaces without a union to submit collective demands if at least 15 percent of employees are listed as supporting that demand.

Employees in private enterprises with more than 50 workers may establish “employee committees” to represent workers’ interests in employment benefits; employees may also form “welfare committees” to represent workers’ interests in welfare benefits and nonfinancial interests. Employee and welfare committees may offer employers suggestions but are barred from submitting labor demands or going on strike.

The law prohibits employers from taking adverse employment actions against workers for their participation in these committees and from obstructing the work of the committees. Union leaders often join employee committees to avail themselves of this legal protection. Within 29,305 enterprises which have more than 50 workers in the country, there are 1,486 labor unions and 687 employee committees. NGOs reported that welfare committees were uncommon in the border regions where the majority of workers are migrants.

The law provides workers with the right to strike if they notify authorities and employers 24 hours in advance and if the strike does not include a demonstration on public roads. The government may block private-sector strikes with national security implications or with negative repercussions on the population at large. Strikes and lockouts are prohibited at SOEs, and penalties for violations include imprisonment, fines, or both.

The law prohibits termination of employment of legal strikers but permits employers to hire temporary workers or use subcontract workers to replace strikers. The legal requirement to call a general meeting of trade-union members and obtain strike approval by at least 50 percent of union members constrained strike action since many factories use shift workers, making it difficult to attain a quorum.

In May the minister of labor issued an order prohibiting employer lockouts and employee strikes while the emergency decree to contain the COVID-19 outbreak was in effect. The decree required any labor dispute to be arbitrated by a Labor Relations Committee in order to maintain public safety and ease industrial relations conflicts during the COVID-19-induced recession. NGOs criticized the order for violating the rights of workers to bargain collectively, while the government and certain union leaders viewed the decree as a means to promote negotiations to find ways to prevent business closures and mass layoffs.

Labor courts or the Labor Relations Committee may make determinations on complaints of unfair dismissals or labor practices and may require compensation or reinstatement of workers or union leaders with wages and benefits equal to those received prior to dismissal. The Labor Relations Committee consists of representatives of employers, government, and workers groups, and there are associate labor court judges who represent workers and employers.

Noncitizen migrant workers, whether registered or undocumented, do not have the right to form unions or serve as union officials. Migrants may join unions organized and led by Thai citizens. Migrant-worker participation in unions is low due to language barriers, weak understanding of legal rights, frequent changes in employment status, membership fees, restrictive union regulations, and segregation of citizen workers from migrant workers by industry and by zones (particularly in border and coastal areas) as well as due to migrants’ fears of losing their jobs due to their support for a union.

Unregistered associations, community-based organizations, and religious groups often represent the interests of migrant workers. In workplaces where the majority of workers are migrants, migrant workers are sometimes elected to the welfare committees and employee committees. Migrant workers are allowed to make collective demands if they obtain the names and signatures of at least 15 percent of employees. NGOs reported few cases, however, where migrant workers’ collective demands were successful in effecting change, particularly along the border areas.

The law protects employees and union members from criminal or civil liability for participating in negotiations with employers, initiating a strike, organizing a rally, or explaining labor disputes to the public, except where such activities cause reputational harm. The law does not protect employees and union members from criminal charges for reputational damage, and reputational damage charges have been used to intimidate union members and employees. The law does not prohibit lawsuits intended to censor, intimidate, or silence critics through costly legal defense. The law provides some protection to defendants in frivolous libel cases from prosecution. By law a court may dismiss a defamation lawsuit if it is considered dishonest. In June the Supreme Court upheld the appeals court not-guilty verdict in the case of a British worker rights activist who had been charged in 2013 for reporting on migrant workers’ rights.

Labor law enforcement was inconsistent and in some instances ineffective in protecting workers who participated in union activities. There were reports of workers dismissed for engaging in union activities, both before and after registration. Rights advocates reported that judges and provincial-level labor inspectors often attempted to mediate cases, even when labor rights violations requiring penalties had been found. In some cases labor courts ordered workers reinstated, although the court orders were not always complied with by employers. There were reports from unions and NGOs that employers attempted to negotiate terms of reinstatement after court orders were issued, offering severance packages for voluntary resignation, denying reinstated union leaders access to work, or demoting workers to jobs with lower wages and benefits.

In some cases judges awarded compensation in place of reinstatement when employers or employees claimed they could not work together peacefully; however, authorities rarely applied penalties against employers found guilty of labor violations. Penalties include imprisonment, a fine, or both and were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights.

Unions and NGOs reported that employers used various techniques to weaken labor-union association and collective-bargaining efforts. These included replacing striking workers with subcontractors, which the law permits as long as strikers continue to receive wages; delaying negotiations by failing to show up at Labor Relations Committee meetings or sending non-decision-makers to negotiate; threatening union leaders and striking workers; pressuring union leaders and striking workers to resign; dismissing union leaders, ostensibly for business reasons, violation of company rules, or negative attitudes toward the company; prohibiting workers from demonstrating in work zones; inciting violence, then using a court order to clamp down on protests; transferring union leaders to other branches, thus making them ineligible to participate in employee or welfare committees; transferring union leaders and striking workers to different, less desirable positions or stripping them of management authority; and supporting the registration of competing unions to circumvent established, uncooperative unions.

The unionization rate among wage and salary workers was estimated at 3.4 percent, and only 34 of 77 provinces had any labor unions.

Labor groups reported that employers exploited the COVID-19 pandemic to discriminate against union members during the year. In May, 93 of the 94 workers dismissed from Sunstar Engineering, an auto supplier, were members of the sectoral Thailand Auto Parts and Metal Workers Union. Another 800 workers from Body Fashion Factory in Nakhon Sawan Province, an undergarment and lingerie manufacturer, were dismissed without compensation after the workers gathered to demand that the company pay the previously agreed wages and bonuses.

Employers sometimes filed lawsuits against union leaders and strikers for trespass, defamation, and vandalism.

Private companies also continued to pursue civil and criminal lawsuits against NGOs and journalists as well as workers (see section 2.a., Libel/Slander Laws). Since 2016 and continuing into May, Thammakaset, a poultry farm owner in Lopburi Province, filed 13 criminal and civil cases against 14 former employees, labor rights activists, and journalists on various charges such as criminal defamation, theft of timecards, and computer crime. Authorities and courts dismissed most of these complaints and ordered Thammakaset to pay THB 1.7 million ($56,900) in compensation for back wages, overtime, and holiday pay to 14 former employees for labor-law violations. As of September some of these cases remained pending.

NGOs and labor advocates reported incidents where their staff members were followed or threatened by employers after they had been seen advocating for labor rights.

In October the Central Criminal Court for Corruption and Misconduct Cases found 13 State Railway Workers’ Union leaders guilty of “committing an official act of omission of the official duty or…to disrupt work or to cause damage by doing so together with five or more persons” and sentenced them to three years in prison. This case concerned the union’s role in organizing a strike in 2009 to protest against unsafe conditions following a train derailment that killed seven persons. The International Labor Organization (ILO) found that the union leaders’ actions were in line with international standards. In 2018 the Supreme Court ordered seven railway union leaders to pay a fine of THB 15 million ($500,000) plus accrued interest in connection with the same incident; the government then started to garnish the wages and seize the assets of union leaders. Various labor organizations and unions viewed these penalties as an effort to send a signal chilling freedoms of expression and association.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor, except in the case of national emergency, war, martial law, or imminent public calamity.  Penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.  The government enforced the law with mixed results.

In 2019 the government amended the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act for the third time in five years.  The new amendment added a separate provision specifically addressing “forced labor or services” and prescribed penalties of up to four years’ imprisonment.  More severe penalties can be pursued under the previously existing human trafficking statute or if victims were seriously injured.  Government agencies and nongovernmental groups worked on revisions of subordinate regulations, victim-identification guidelines, and standard operating procedures.

The Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, the Ministry of Labor, and the Office of Attorney General organized training workshops for law enforcement and multidisciplinary teams to understand changes to the law.

There were reports that forced labor continued in fishing, shrimp, garment production, agriculture, domestic work, and begging.  The government did not effectively enforce the law.  Penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.  NGOs acknowledged a decline in the most severe forms of labor exploitation in the fishing sector.  Some NGOs, however, pointed to inconsistencies in enforcing labor law, particularly around irregular or delayed payment of wages, illegal wage deductions, illegal recruitment fees, withholding of documents, and not providing written contracts in a language that workers understand.

Labor rights groups reported that some employers utilized practices indicative of forced labor, such as seeking to prevent migrant workers from changing jobs or forcing them to work by delaying wages, burying them in debt, or accusing them of theft.  NGOs reported cases where employers colluded to blacklist workers who reported labor violations, joined unions, or changed jobs.

The government and NGOs reported trafficking victims among smuggled migrants, particularly from Burma.  Most of those cases involved transnational trafficking syndicates both in Thailand and in the country of origin.  Many victims were subjected to deception, detention, starvation, human branding, and abuse during their journey.  Traffickers sometimes destroyed the passports and identity documents of victims.  Some victims were sold to different smugglers and subjected to debt bondage.

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 protects children from child trafficking, commercial sexual exploitation, use in illicit activities, and forced labor, but it does not meet the international standard for prohibiting military recruitment of children by nonstate armed groups.  The law regulates the employment of children younger than age 18 and prohibits employment of children younger than 15.  Children younger than 18 are prohibited from work in any activity involving metalwork, hazardous chemicals, poisonous materials, radiation, extreme temperatures, high noise levels, toxic microorganisms, operation of heavy equipment, and work underground or underwater.  The law also prohibits children younger than 18 from workplaces deemed hazardous, such as slaughterhouses, gambling establishments, places where alcohol is sold, massage parlors, entertainment venues, sea-fishing vessels, and seafood processing establishments.  As such, children ages 15 to 17 may legally engage in hazardous “homework” (work assigned by the hirer representing an industrial enterprise to a homeworker to be produced or assembled outside of the workplace).  The law provides limited coverage to child workers in some informal sectors, such as agriculture, domestic work, and home-based businesses.  Self-employed children and children working outside of employment relationships, defined by the existence of an agreement or contract and the exchange of work against pay, are not protected under labor law, but they are protected under laws on child protection and trafficking in persons.  Children participating in paid and nonpaid Muay Thai (Thai boxing) competitions, however, are not protected under labor law, and it was unclear whether child-protection legislation sufficiently protects child Muay Thai participants.

Penalties for violations of the law may include imprisonment or fines.  These penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.  Parents of victims whom the court finds were “driven by unbearable poverty” may be exempt from penalties.  The government effectively enforced law related to the worst forms of child labor but was less effective enforcing laws on the minimum age of work and hazardous work.

Government and private-sector entities used bone-density checks and dental examinations to identify potentially underage job applicants.  Such tests, however, were not always conclusive.  Labor inspectors used information from civil society to target inspections for child labor and forced labor.

Civil society and international organizations reported they rarely saw cases of child labor in manufacturing, fishing, shrimping, and seafood processing.  They attributed the decline to legal and regulatory changes both in 2014 that expanded the number of hazardous-job categories in which children younger than 18 were prohibited from working and in 2017 that increased penalties for the use of child laborers.

NGOs, however, reported that some children from within the country, Burma, Cambodia, Laos, and ethnic minority communities were working in informal sectors and small businesses, including farming, home-based businesses, restaurants, street vending, auto services, food processing, construction, domestic work, and begging.  Some children were forced to work in prostitution, pornography, begging, and the production and trafficking of drugs (see section 6, Children).  In 2019 the Thailand Internet Crimes against Children Task Force investigated 26 cases of child sex trafficking, three cases of forced child begging, and 31 cases of possession of child-pornographic materials.

The DLPW is the primary agency charged with enforcing child labor law and policies.  NGOs reported child labor violations found by the DLPW’s labor inspectors were usually referred to law enforcement officers for further investigation and prosecution.  NGOs reported families whose children suffered from trafficking or forced labor received some support, but little support was provided to children found working in violation of other child labor laws (minimum working age, hazardous work limits).

In 2019 the government reported a slight increase in the number of labor inspectors and interpreters directly employed by the Ministry of Labor.  During the year labor inspections were targeted at fishing ports and high-risk workplaces, including garment factories, shrimp and seafood processing, poultry and pig farms, auto repair shops, construction sites, and in service-sector businesses like restaurants, karaoke bars, hotels, and gas stations.  The DLPW reported 43 violations related to child labor, including the employment of underage children, failure to notify the government about the employment of child workers, and employing children younger than 18 to work in hazardous conditions or during the night.

Observers noted several limiting factors in effective enforcement of child-labor law, including insufficient labor inspectors, insufficient interpreters during labor inspections, ineffective inspection procedures (especially in hard-to-reach workplaces like private residences, small family-based business units, farms, and fishing boats), and a lack of official identity documents among young migrant workers from neighboring countries.  NGOs also reported insufficient protection for child-labor victims, including lack of legal assistance for claiming compensation and restitution, inadequate protection and counseling mechanisms, and a lack of safe repatriation (especially for migrant children).  They alleged that while there were clear mechanisms for the protection and repatriation of child trafficking victims, there was no such mechanism for child-labor victims.  A lack of public understanding of child-labor law and standards was also an important factor.

In June 2019 the government published its first national working-children survey, using research methodology in line with international guidelines.  This survey was the product of cooperation among the Ministry of Labor, the National Statistical Office, and the ILO.  The survey revealed that 3.9 percent of 10.47 million children ages five to 17 were working children, including 1.7 percent who were child laborers (exploited working children)–1.3 percent in hazardous work and an additional 0.4 percent in nonhazardous work.  The majority of child laborers were doing hazardous work in household or family businesses (55 percent), in the areas of agriculture (56 percent), service trades (23 percent), and manufacturing (20 percent).  Boys were in child labor more than girls, and more than half of child laborers were not in school.  Of the top three types of hazardous work which children performed, 22 percent involved lifting heavy loads, 8 percent working in extreme conditions or at night, and 7 percent being exposed to dangerous chemicals and toxins.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings and the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor law does not specifically prohibit discrimination in the workplace on the basis of race, religion, national origin, color, ethnicity, disability, age, sexual orientation, or HIV status. The law imposes penalties of imprisonment or fines for anyone committing gender or gender-identity discrimination, including in employment decisions. Penalties for gender discrimination were commensurate with those for laws related to civil rights, but the government did not effectively enforce its limited discrimination law. The law requires workplaces with more than 100 employees to hire at least one worker with disabilities for every 100 workers.

Women are prohibited from work underground, in mining, or in underwater construction; on scaffolding higher than 33 feet; and in production or transportation of explosive or inflammatory material.

Discrimination with respect to employment occurred against LGBTI persons, women, and migrant workers (see section 7.e.). Government regulations require employers to pay equal wages and benefits for equal work, regardless of gender. Union leaders stated the wage differences for men and women were generally minimal and were mostly due to different skills, duration of employment, and types of jobs, as well as legal requirements which prohibit the employment of women in hazardous work. Nonetheless, a 2016 ILO report on migrant women in the country’s construction sector found female migrant workers consistently received less than their male counterparts, and more than half were paid less than the official minimum wage, especially for overtime work (see section 6, Women). There were reports many companies intentionally laid off pregnant women during the year.

In 2018 the police cadet academy announced it would no longer admit female cadets. This decision was widely criticized as discriminatory and detrimental to the ability of the police force to identify some labor violations against women. Discrimination against persons with disabilities occurred in employment, access, and training. In April advocacy groups for the rights of persons with disabilities filed a complaint on embezzlement and illegal deduction of wages from workers with disabilities. The case was transferred from the Public Sector Anti-Corruption Commission to the National Anti-Corruption Commission because it involves senior government officials, and remains under investigation.

Members of the LGBTI community faced frequent discrimination in the workplace, partly due to common prejudices and a lack of protective law and policies on discrimination. Transgender workers reportedly faced even greater constraints, and their participation in the workforce was often limited to a few professions, such as cosmetology and entertainment.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum wage was three times higher than the government-calculated poverty line. It does not apply to employees in the public sector, SOEs, domestic work, and seasonal agricultural sectors.

The maximum workweek by law is 48 hours, or eight hours per day over six days, with an overtime limit of 36 hours per week. Employees engaged in “dangerous” work, such as the chemical, mining, or other industries involving heavy machinery, may work a maximum of 42 hours per week and may not work overtime. Petrochemical industry employees may not work more than 12 hours per day but may work continuously for a maximum period of 28 days.

The law requires safe and healthy workplaces, including for home-based businesses, and prohibits pregnant women and children younger than 18 from working in hazardous conditions. The law also requires the employer to inform employees about hazardous working conditions prior to employment. Workers do not have the right to remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.

Legal protections do not apply equally to all sectors. For example, the daily minimum wage does not apply to employees in the public sector, SOEs, domestic work, and seasonal agricultural work. Ministerial regulations provide household domestic workers some protections regarding leave, minimum age, and payment of wages, but they do not address minimum wage, regular working hours, social security, or maternity leave. According to government statistics, 54 percent of the labor force worked in the informal economy, with limited protection under labor law and the social security system.

The DLPW enforces laws related to wages, hours of work, labor relations, and occupational safety and health. Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and issue orders to employers to comply with the law. If an employer fails to comply with the order within a specified period, inspectors have a duty to refer the case for criminal law enforcement actions. The number of labor inspectors was insufficient to enforce compliance. The law subjects employers to fines and imprisonment for minimum-wage noncompliance, but the government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties were commensurate with or greater than those for similar crimes such as fraud.

The DLPW issued orders to provincial offices in 2018 prohibiting labor inspectors from settling cases where workers received wages and benefits less than those required by law; however, there were many reports during the year of minimum-wage noncompliance that went to mediation, where workers settled for owed wages lower than the daily minimum wage. NGOs reported contract workers in the public sector received wages below minimum wage as they were governed by separate law.

Labor inspections increasingly focused on high-risk workplaces and information received from civil society partners. Labor inspections, however, remained infrequent, and the number of labor inspectors and resources were inadequate. Trade-union leaders suggested that inspectors should move beyond perfunctory document reviews toward more proactive inspections. Rights advocates reported that provincial-level labor inspectors often attempted to mediate cases, even when labor rights violations requiring penalties had been found.

Due to the economic impact of COVID-19, union leaders estimated almost one million workers were laid off, and many workers, particularly subcontract workers and migrant workers, were laid off without receiving severance payment or advance notice as required by law.

The government did not effectively enforce minimum wage, overtime, and holiday-pay laws in small enterprises, in certain geographic areas (especially rural or border areas), or in certain sectors (especially agriculture, construction, and sea fishing). In 2019 labor unions estimated 5-10 percent of workers received less than the minimum wage; the share of workers who received less than minimum wage was likely higher among unregistered migrant workers and in the border region. Unregistered migrant workers rarely sought redress under the law due to their lack of legal status and the fear of losing their livelihood.

The law subjects employers to imprisonment and fines for violations of occupational safety and health (OSH) regulations. Penalties were commensurate with or greater than those for similar crimes such as negligence. The numbers of OSH experts and inspections were insufficient, however, with most inspections only taking place in response to complaints. The government did not effectively enforce OSH law.

Union leaders estimated 20 percent of workplaces, mostly large factories owned by international companies, complied with government OSH standards. Workplace safety instructions as well as training on workplace safety were mostly in Thai, likely contributing to the higher incidence of accidents among migrant workers. Medium-sized and large factories often applied government health and safety standards, but overall enforcement of safety standards was lax, particularly in the informal economy and among smaller businesses. NGOs and union leaders noted that ineffective enforcement was due to insufficient qualified inspectors, an overreliance on document-based inspection (instead of workplace inspection), a lack of protection against retaliation for workers’ complaints, a lack of interpreters, and a failure to impose effective penalties on noncompliant employers.

The country provides universal health care for all citizens, and social security and workers’ compensation programs to insure employed persons in cases of injury or illness and to provide maternity, disability, death, child-allowance, unemployment, and retirement benefits. Registered migrant workers in both the formal and informal labor sectors and their dependents are also eligible to buy health insurance from the Ministry of Public Health.

NGOs reported that many construction workers, especially subcontracted workers and migrant workers, were not in the social security system or covered under the workers’ compensation program because their employers failed to register them or did not transfer the payments to the social security system.

In March 2019 the Ministry of Labor issued regulations for a workers compensation plan for workplace accidents and injuries; however, the regulations do not cover vendors and domestic workers. Labor-union leaders reported that compensation for work-related illnesses was rarely granted because the connection between the health condition and the workplace was often difficult to prove.

In November 2019 a new labor-protection law for workers in the fishing industry came into effect. It required workers to have access to health-care and social security benefits and, for vessels with deck size more than 300 tonnage gross or which go out more than three days at a time, to provide adequate living conditions for workers. Social security benefits and other parts of the law, however, were not enforced pending approval of subordinate laws by the Council of State. The existing government requirements are for registered migrant fishery workers to buy health insurance and for vessel owners to contribute to the workers’ compensation fund. Since 2019 fishery migrant workers holding a border pass have been eligible for accident compensation. The lack of OSH inspections, first aid kits, and OSH training in the migrant workers’ language increased the vulnerability of fishery workers. During the year NGOs reported several cases where the navy rescued fishery workers who had been in accidents at sea.

Firms used a “subcontract labor system” under which workers sign a contract with labor brokers. By law businesses must provide subcontract laborers “fair benefits and welfare without discrimination.” Employers, however, often paid subcontract laborers less and provided fewer or no benefits.

Department of Employment regulations limit the maximum charges for recruitment fees, but effective enforcement of the rules was hindered by worker unwillingness to provide information and the lack of documentary evidence regarding underground recruitment, documentation fees, and migration costs. Exploitative employment-service agencies persisted in charging citizens working overseas illegal recruitment fees. NGOs reported that workers would often borrow this money at exorbitant interest rates from informal moneylenders.

In 2019, the latest year for which data were available, there were 94,906 reported incidents of accidents or work-related diseases. Of these, 2 percent resulted in organ loss, disability, or death. The Social Security Office reported most serious workplace accidents occurred in manufacturing, wholesale retail trade, construction, transportation, hotels, and restaurants. Observers said workplace accidents in the informal and agricultural sectors and among migrant workers were underreported. Employers rarely diagnosed or compensated occupational diseases, and few doctors or clinics specialized in them.

Tibet

Read A Section: Tibet

China | Hong Kong | Macau

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The majority of ethnic Tibetans in the People’s Republic of China live in the Tibetan Autonomous Region and Tibetan autonomous prefectures and counties in Sichuan, Qinghai, Yunnan, and Gansu provinces. The Chinese Communist Party’s Central Committee exercises paramount authority over Tibetan areas. As in other predominantly minority areas of the People’s Republic of China, ethnic Han Chinese members of the party held the overwhelming majority of top party, government, police, and military positions in the autonomous region and other Tibetan areas. Ultimate authority rests with the 25-member Political Bureau (Politburo) of the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee and its seven-member Standing Committee in Beijing, neither of which had any Tibetan members.

The main domestic security agencies include the Ministry of State Security, the Ministry of Public Security, and the People’s Armed Police. The People’s Armed Police continue to be under the dual authority of the Central Committee of the Communist Party and the Central Military Commission. The People’s Liberation Army is primarily responsible for external security but also has some domestic security responsibilities. Local jurisdictions also frequently use civilian municipal security forces, known as “urban management” officials, to enforce administrative measures. Civilian authorities maintained effective control of the security forces. Members of the security forces committed numerous abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment by the government; arbitrary arrest or detention; political prisoners; politically motivated reprisal against individuals located outside the country; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including censorship and site blocking; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; severe restrictions on religious freedom, despite nominal constitutional protections voided by regulations restricting religious freedom and effectively placing Tibetan Buddhism under central government control; severe restrictions on freedom of movement; the inability of citizens to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections; restrictions on political participation; serious acts of corruption; coerced abortion or forced sterilization; and violence or threats of violence targeting indigenous persons.

Disciplinary procedures for officials were opaque, and there was no publicly available information to indicate senior officials punished security personnel or other authorities for behavior defined under laws and regulations of the People’s Republic of China as abuses of power and authority.

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 public reports or credible allegations the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. There were no reports that officials investigated or punished those responsible for unlawful killings in previous years.

b. Disappearance

Unlike in previous years, there were no public reports or credible allegations of new disappearances carried out by authorities or their agents.

Derung Tsering Dhundrup, a senior Tibetan scholar who was also the deputy secretary of the Sichuan Tibet Studies Society, was reportedly detained in June 2019, and his whereabouts remained unknown as of December. Gen Sonam, a senior manager of the Potala Palace, was reportedly detained in July 2019, and his whereabouts were unknown as of December.

The whereabouts of the 11th Panchen Lama, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, the second most prominent figure after the Dalai Lama in Tibetan Buddhism’s Gelug school, remained unknown. Neither he nor his parents have been seen since People’s Republic of China (PRC) authorities disappeared them in 1995, when he was six years old. In May shortly after the 25th anniversary of his abduction, a PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson stated the Panchen Lama was a college graduate with a job and that neither he nor his family wished to be disturbed in their “current normal lives.” The spokesperson did not provide any further specifics.

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

According to credible sources, police and prison authorities employed torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment in dealing with some detainees and prisoners. There were reports that PRC officials severely beat some Tibetans who were incarcerated or otherwise in custody. Lhamo, a Tibetan herder, was reportedly detained by police in June for sending money to India; in August she died in a hospital after being tortured in custody in Nagchu Prefecture, Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR).

Reports from released prisoners indicated some were permanently disabled or in extremely poor health because of the harsh treatment they endured in prison. Former prisoners also reported being isolated in small cells for months at a time and deprived of sleep, sunlight, and adequate food. In April, Gendun Sherab, a former political prisoner in the TAR’s Nakchu Prefecture died, reportedly due to injuries sustained while in custody. Gendun Sherab was arrested in 2017 for sharing a social media message from the Dalai Lama.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Physical Conditions: Prison conditions were harsh and potentially life threatening due to inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care. According to individuals who completed their prison terms in recent years, prisoners rarely received medical care except in cases of serious illness.

Administration: There were many cases in which officials denied visitors access to detained and imprisoned persons.

Independent Monitoring: There was no evidence of independent monitoring or observation of prisons or detention centers.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

Arbitrary arrest and detention remained serious problems. Legal safeguards for detained or imprisoned Tibetans were inadequate in both design and implementation.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Public security agencies are required by law to notify the relatives or employer of a detained person within 24 hours of their detention but often failed to do so when Tibetans and others were detained for political reasons. Public security officers may legally detain persons for up to 37 days without formally arresting or charging them. Further detention requires approval of a formal arrest by the prosecutor’s office; however, in cases pertaining to “national security, terrorism, and major bribery,” the law permits up to six months of incommunicado detention without formal arrest.

When a suspect is formally arrested, public security authorities may detain him/her for up to an additional seven months while the case is investigated. After the completion of an investigation, the prosecutor may detain a suspect an additional 45 days while determining whether to file criminal charges. If charges are filed, authorities may then detain a suspect for an additional 45 days before beginning judicial proceedings.

Pretrial Detention: Security officials frequently violated these legal requirements, and pretrial detention periods of more than a year were common. Individuals detained for political or religious reasons were often held on national security charges, which have looser restrictions on the length of pretrial detention. Many political detainees were therefore held without trial far longer than other types of detainees. Authorities held many prisoners in extrajudicial detention centers without charge and never allowed them to appear in public court.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: This right does not exist in the TAR or other Tibetan areas.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The judiciary was not independent of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) or government in law or practice. In March for example, officials in Mangkhang County, TAR, announced that the local prosecutor’s office would hire five court clerks. Among the job requirements were loyalty to the CCP leadership and a critical attitude toward the 14th Dalai Lama. The November establishment of “Xi Jinping Thought on the Rule of Law” sought to strengthen this party control over the legal system.

Soon after an August meeting of senior CCP officials about Tibet during which President Xi Jinping stated the people must continue the fight against “splittism,” the Dui Hua Foundation reported that the Kandze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture Intermediate People’s Court in Sichuan Province had convicted nine Tibetans of “inciting splittism” during the year. Little public information was available about their trials.

Trial Procedures

Criminal suspects in the PRC have the right to hire a lawyer or other defense representation, but many Tibetan defendants, particularly those facing politically motivated charges, did not have access to legal representation while in pretrial detention. In rare cases, defendants were denied access to legal representation entirely, but in many cases lawyers are unwilling to take clients due to political risks or because Tibetan families often do not have the resources to cover legal fees. For example, Tibetan language activist Tashi Wangchuk, arrested in 2016 and convicted in 2018, has been denied access to his lawyer since his conviction. Access was limited prior to his trial, and the government rejected petitions and motions appealing the verdict filed by his lawyer and other supporters, although PRC law allows for such appeals.

While some Tibetan lawyers are licensed in Tibetan areas, observers reported they were often unwilling to defend individuals in front of ethnic Han judges and prosecutors due to fear of reprisals or disbarment. In cases that authorities claimed involved “endangering state security” or “separatism,” trials often were cursory and closed. Local sources noted trials were predominantly conducted in Mandarin, with government interpreters provided for defendants who did not speak Mandarin. Court decisions, proclamations, and other judicial documents, however, generally were not published in Tibetan.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

An unknown number of Tibetans were detained, arrested, or sentenced because of their political or religious activities.

Credible outside observers examined publicly available information and, as of late 2019, identified records of 273 Tibetans known or believed to be detained or imprisoned by PRC authorities in violation of international human rights standards. Of the 115 cases for which there was available information on sentencing, punishment ranged from 15 months’ to life imprisonment. This data was believed to cover only a small fraction of the actual number of political prisoners.

In January official media reported that in 2019 the TAR prosecutor’s office approved the arrest and prosecution of 101 individuals allegedly part of “the Dalai Lama clique” for “threatening” China’s “political security.” Details, including the whereabouts of those arrested, were unknown.

Politically Motivated Reprisal against Individuals Located Outside the Country

Approximately 150,000 Tibetans live outside Tibet, many as refugees in India and Nepal. There were credible reports that the PRC continued to put heavy pressure on Nepal to implement a border systems management agreement and a mutual legal assistance treaty, as well as to conclude an extradition treaty, that could result in the refoulement of Tibetan refugees to the PRC. Nepal does not appear to have implemented either proposed agreement and has postponed action on the extradition treaty.

In January in its annual work report, the TAR Higher People’s Court noted that in 2019 the first TAR fugitive abroad was repatriated. The fugitive reportedly was charged with official-duty-related crimes. The report stated the repatriation was part of the TAR’s effort to deter corruption and “purify” the political environment; no other details were available.

The Tibetan overseas community is frequently subjected to harassment, monitoring, and cyberattacks believed to be carried out by the PRC government. In September media outlets reported PRC government efforts to hack into the phones of officials in the Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and of several leaders in the Central Tibetan Administration, the governance organization of the overseas Tibetan community. The PRC government at times compelled Tibetans located in China to pressure their family members seeking asylum overseas to return to China.

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

Authorities electronically and manually monitored private correspondence and searched, without warrant, private homes and businesses for photographs of the Dalai Lama and other forbidden items. Police routinely examined the cell phones of TAR residents in random stops or as part of other investigations to search for “reactionary music” from India or photographs of the Dalai Lama. Authorities also questioned and detained some individuals who disseminated writings and photographs over the internet or listened to teachings of the Dalai Lama on their mobile phones.

The “grid system,” an informant system also known as the “double-linked household system,” facilitated authorities’ efforts to identify and control persons considered “extremist” or “splittist.” The grid system groups households and other establishments and encourages them to report problems to the government, including financial problems and political transgressions, in other group households. Authorities rewarded individuals with money and other forms of compensation for their reporting. The maximum reward for information leading to the arrests of social media users deemed disloyal to the government increased to 300,000 renminbi ($42,800), according to local media. This amount was six times the average per capita GDP of the TAR.

According to sources in the TAR, Tibetans frequently received telephone calls from security officials ordering them to remove from their cell phones photographs, articles, and information on international contacts the government deemed sensitive. Security officials visited the residences of those who did not comply with such orders. Media reports indicated that in some areas, households were required to have photographs of President Xi Jinping in prominent positions and were subject to inspections and fines for noncompliance. In a July case, international media reported local officials detained and beat a number of Tibetan villagers from Palyul in Sichuan’s Tibetan autonomous prefecture’s Kardze County for possessing photographs of the Dalai Lama found after raids on their residences.

The TAR regional government punished CCP members who followed the Dalai Lama, secretly harbored religious beliefs, made pilgrimages to India, or sent their children to study with Tibetans in exile.

Individuals in Tibetan areas reported they were subjected to government harassment and investigation because of family members living overseas. Observers also reported that many Tibetans traveling to visit family overseas were required to spend several weeks in political education classes after returning to China.

The government also interfered in the ability of persons to find employment. Media reports in June noted that advertisements for 114 positions of different types in Chamdo City, TAR, required applicants to “align ideologically, politically, and in action with the CCP Central Committee,” “oppose any splittist tendencies,” and “expose and criticize the Dalai Lama.” The advertisements explained that all applicants were subject to a political review prior to employment.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

Neither in law nor practice were constitutional provisions providing for freedom of expression respected.

Freedom of Speech: Authorities in the TAR and other Tibetan regions punished persons for the vaguely defined crime of “creating and spreading rumors.” Radio Free Asia reported in February that seven Tibetans were detained for “spreading rumors” about COVID-19. Tibetans who spoke to foreigners or foreign reporters, attempted to provide information to persons outside the country, or communicated information regarding protests or other expressions of discontent, including via mobile phones and internet-based communications, were subject to harassment or detention for “undermining social stability and inciting separatism.”

In July media sources reported that a court in the northeastern TAR sentenced Tibetan lyricist Khadro Tseten to seven years’ imprisonment and singer Tsego to three years’ imprisonment for a song praising the Dalai Lama that circulated on social media. The court found Tseten guilty of “incitement to subvert state power” and “leaking state secrets.” Local authorities had detained the two in April 2019. The song was posted on social media by an unnamed woman who was also detained but was reportedly released after a year of detention, according to Tibetan language media.

In December, Rights Defender, a Chinese blog site, reported a Chinese court sentenced Lhundhup Dorje, a Tibetan from Golog Prefecture in the TAR, to one year in prison on charges of “inciting separatism.” In March, Lhundhup Dorje posted a graphic on Weibo that used the phrase “Tibetan independence.” In May he posted a photo of the Dalai Lama on Weibo. Due to these social media posts, he was arrested on July 23.

According to multiple observers, security officials often cancelled WeChat accounts carrying “sensitive information,” such as discussions about Tibetan language education, and interrogated the account owners.

There were no reported cases of self-immolation during the year. The practice was a common form of protest of political and religious oppression in past years. It has declined in recent years, reportedly, according to local observers, because of tightened security by authorities, the collective punishment of self-immolators’ relatives and associates, and the Dalai Lama’s public plea to his followers to find other ways to protest PRC government repression. Chinese officials in some Tibetan areas withheld public benefits from the family members of self-immolators and ordered friends and monastic personnel to refrain from participating in religious burial rites or mourning activities for self-immolators.

The law criminalizes various activities associated with self-immolation, including “organizing, plotting, inciting, compelling, luring, instigating, or helping others to commit self-immolation,” each of which may be prosecuted as “intentional homicide.”

During the year, the TAR carried out numerous propaganda campaigns to encourage pro-CCP speech, thought, and conduct. These included a “TAR Clear and Bright 2020” program, designed to crack down on persons “misusing” the internet, including by making “wrong” comments on the party’s history and “denigrating” the country’s “heroes and martyrs.” The TAR Communist Party also launched specialized propaganda campaigns to counter support for “Tibetan independence” and undermine popular support for the Dalai Lama. The PRC’s continuing campaign against organized crime also targeted supporters of the Dalai Lama, who were considered by police to be members of a criminal organization. In September the TAR Communist Party secretary Wu Yingjie publicly urged everybody to follow Xi Jinping and criticize the Dalai Lama.

A re-education program called “Unity and Love for the Motherland” continued to expand. Participants in the program received state subsidies and incentives for demonstrating support for and knowledge of CCP leaders and ideology, often requiring them to memorize party slogans and quotations from past CCP leaders and to sing the national anthem. These tests were carried out in Mandarin Chinese.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Authorities tightly controlled journalists who worked for the domestic press and could hire and fire them based on assessments of their political reliability. CCP propaganda authorities were in charge of journalist accreditation in the TAR and required journalists working in the TAR to display “loyalty to the party and motherland.” The deputy head of the TAR Propaganda Department simultaneously holds a prominent position in the TAR Journalist Association, a state-controlled professional association to which local journalists must belong.

In January the TAR People’s Congress passed the “TAR Regulations on Establishing a Model Area for Ethnic Unity and Progress,” which mandated media organizations cooperate with ethnic unity propaganda work and criminalized speech or spreading information “damaging to ethnic unity.”

In April the TAR Department of Propaganda held a special region-wide mobilization conference on political ideological issues, and some journalists and media workers in the region reported they had officially promised to implement the CCP’s line and resolutely fight separatism and “reactionary press and media” overseas.

Foreign journalists may visit the TAR only after obtaining a special travel permit from the government, and authorities rarely granted such permission. When authorities permitted journalists to travel to the TAR, the government severely limited the scope of reporting by monitoring and controlling their movements, and intimidating and preventing Tibetans from interacting with the press.

Violence and Harassment: PRC authorities arrested and sentenced many Tibetan writers, intellectuals, and singers for “inciting separatism.” Numerous prominent Tibetan political writers, including Jangtse Donkho, Kelsang Jinpa, Buddha, Tashi Rabten, Arik Dolma Kyab, Gangkye Drupa Kyab, and Shojkhang (also known as Druklo), reported security officers closely monitored them following their releases from prison between 2013 and 2020 and often ordered them to return to police stations for further interrogation, particularly after they received messages or calls from friends overseas or from foreigners based in other parts of the PRC. Some of these persons deleted their social media contacts or shut down their accounts completely.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Authorities prohibited domestic journalists from reporting on repression in Tibetan areas. Authorities promptly censored the postings of bloggers and users of WeChat who did so, and the authors sometimes faced punishment. Authorities banned some writers from publishing; prohibited them from receiving services and benefits, such as government jobs, bank loans, and passports; and denied them membership in formal organizations.

Police in Malho Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Qinghai Province, arrested Tibetan writer and poet Gendun Lhundrub in December and held him at an undisclosed location, according to Radio Free Asia. In October the former monk released an anthology of poems and wrote on the website Waseng-drak that writers require freedom of expression.

The TAR Internet and Information Office maintained tight control of a full range of social media platforms.

The PRC continued to disrupt radio broadcasts of Radio Free Asia’s Tibetan- and Mandarin-language services in Tibetan areas, as well as those of the Voice of Tibet, an independent radio station based in Norway.

In addition to maintaining strict censorship of print and online content in Tibetan areas, PRC authorities sought to censor the expression of views or distribution of information related to Tibet in countries and regions outside mainland China.

In May the TAR city of Nakchu seized and destroyed “illegal publications” as well as illegal equipment for satellite signal reception.

Internet Freedom

There was no internet freedom. In May, TAR party secretary Wu Yingjie urged authorities to “resolutely control the internet, strengthen online propaganda, maintain the correct cybersecurity view, and make the masses listen to and follow the Party.”

As in past years, authorities curtailed cell phone and internet service in many parts of the TAR and other Tibetan areas, sometimes for weeks or months at a time. Interruptions in internet service were especially pronounced during periods of unrest and political sensitivity, such as the March anniversaries of the 1959 and 2008 protests, “Serf Emancipation Day,” and around the Dalai Lama’s birthday in July. When authorities restored internet service, they closely monitored its usage.

Many sources also reported it was almost impossible to register with the government, as required by law, websites promoting Tibetan culture and language in the TAR.

Many individuals in the TAR and other Tibetan areas reported receiving official warnings and being briefly detained and interrogated after using their cell phones to exchange what the government deemed to be sensitive information.

In July in advance of the Dalai Lama’s birthday, many locals reported authorities warned Tibetans not to use social media chat groups to send any messages, organize gatherings, or use symbols that would imply a celebration of the spiritual leader’s birthday. The TAR Internet and Information Office continued a research project known as Countermeasures to Internet-based Reactionary Infiltration by the Dalai Lama Clique. In May the TAR Cyber Security and Information Office held its first training program for “people working in the internet news and information sector” with the goal of spreading “positive energy” in cyberspace.

Throughout the year authorities blocked users in China from accessing foreign-based, Tibet-related websites critical of official government policy in Tibetan areas. Technically sophisticated hacking attempts originating from China also targeted Tibetan activists and organizations outside mainland China.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

As in recent years, authorities in many Tibetan areas required professors and students at institutions of higher education to attend regular political education sessions, particularly during politically sensitive months, to prevent “separatist” political and religious activities on campus. Authorities frequently encouraged Tibetan academics to participate in government propaganda efforts, both domestically and overseas, such as by making public speeches supporting government policies. Academics who refused to cooperate with such efforts faced diminished prospects for promotion and research grants. Academics in the PRC who publicly criticized CCP policies on Tibetan affairs faced official reprisal, including the loss of their jobs and the risk of imprisonment.

The government controlled curricula, texts, and other course materials as well as the publication of historically or politically sensitive academic books. Authorities frequently denied Tibetan academics permission to travel overseas for conferences and academic or cultural exchanges the party had not organized or approved.

The state-run TAR Academy of Social Science continued to encourage scholars to maintain “a correct political and academic direction” in its July conference to “improve scholars’ political ideology” and “show loyalty to the party” under the guidance of Xi Jinping.

In areas officially designated as “autonomous,” Tibetans generally lacked the right to organize and play a meaningful role in the protection of their cultural heritage. In accordance with government guidance on ethnic assimilation, state policies continued to disrupt traditional Tibetan culture, living patterns, and customs. Forced assimilation was pursued by promoting the influx of non-Tibetans to traditionally Tibetan areas, expanding the domestic tourism industry, forcibly resettling and urbanizing nomads and farmers, weakening Tibetan language education in public schools, and weakening monasteries’ role in Tibetan society, especially with respect to religious education.

The government gave many Han Chinese persons, especially retired soldiers, incentives to move to Tibet. Migrants to the TAR and other parts of the Tibetan plateau were overwhelmingly concentrated in urban areas. Government policies to subsidize economic development often benefited Han Chinese migrants more than Tibetans.

The PRC government continued its campaign to resettle Tibetan nomads into urban areas and newly created communities in rural areas across the TAR and other Tibetan areas. Improving housing conditions, health care, and education for Tibet’s poorest persons were among the stated goals of resettlement. There was, however, also a pattern of settling herders near townships and roads and away from monasteries, the traditional providers of community and social services. A requirement that herders bear a substantial part of the resettlement costs often forced resettled families into debt. The government’s campaign cost many resettled herders their livelihoods and left them living in poverty in urban areas.

A September report by a nongovernmental organization (NGO) alleged a PRC so-called government vocational training and job placement program during the first seven months of the year forced approximately 500,000 Tibetan rural workers away from their pastoral lifestyle and off their land into wage labor jobs, primarily in factories, and included many coercive elements.

Government policy encouraged the spread of Mandarin Chinese at the expense of Tibetan. Both are official languages of the TAR and appeared on some, but not all, public and commercial signs. Official buildings and businesses, including banks, post offices, and hospitals, frequently lacked signage in Tibetan. In many instances forms and documents were available only in Mandarin. Mandarin was used for most official communications and was the predominant language of instruction in public schools in many Tibetan areas. To print in the Tibetan language, private printing businesses in Chengdu needed special government approval, which was often difficult to obtain.

PRC law states that “schools and other institutions of education where most of the students come from minority nationalities shall, whenever possible, use textbooks in their own languages and use their languages as the media of instruction.” Despite guarantees of cultural and linguistic rights, many students at all levels had limited access to officially approved Tibetan language instruction and textbooks, particularly in the areas of “modern-day education,” which refers to nontraditional, nonreligious subjects, particularly computer science, physical education, the arts, and other “modern” subjects. “Nationalities” universities, established to serve ethnic minority students and ethnic Han Chinese students interested in ethnic minority subjects, only used Tibetan as the language of instruction in Tibetan language or culture courses. Mandarin was used in courses that taught technical skills and qualifications.

“Nationalities” universities, established to serve ethnic minority students and ethnic Han Chinese students interested in ethnic minority subjects, only used Tibetan as the language of instruction in Tibetan language or culture courses. Mandarin was used in courses that taught technical skills and qualifications.

In February many Tibetans posted articles and photos on social media to celebrate International Mother Language Day. That month Lhasa police detained five Tibetans and sent them to a week-long re-education program for discussing the importance of the Tibetan language in a bar. Security officials reportedly told them that discussing Tibetan language instruction was a political crime.

According to multiple sources, monasteries throughout Tibetan areas of China were required to integrate CCP members into their governance structures, where they exercised control over monastic admission, education, security, and finances. Requirements introduced by the party included geographic residency limitations on who may attend each monastery. This restriction, especially rigorous in the TAR, undermined the traditional Tibetan Buddhist practice of seeking advanced religious instruction from a select number of senior teachers based at monasteries across the Tibetan plateau.

In August the TAR Religious Affairs Bureau held a training course for Tibetan Buddhist nuns and CCP cadres working in convents. Nuns were told to “lead the religion in the direction of better compatibility with Socialism,” and the CCP cadres promised to manage the monasteries and convents with firm determination.

Authorities in Tibetan areas regularly banned the sale and distribution of music they deemed to have sensitive political content.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Tibetans do not enjoy the rights to assemble peacefully or to associate freely.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

Even in areas officially designated as “autonomous,” Tibetans generally lacked the right to organize. Persons who organize public events for any purpose not endorsed by authorities face harassment, arrest, prosecution, and violence. Unauthorized assemblies were frequently broken up by force. Any assembly deemed by authorities as a challenge to the PRC or its policies, for example, to advocate for Tibetan language rights, to mark religious holidays, or to protect the area’s unique natural environment, provoked a particularly strong response both directly against the assembled persons and in authorities’ public condemnation of the assembly. Authorities acted preemptively to forestall unauthorized assemblies. In July for example, local observers noted that many monasteries and rural villages in the TAR and Tibetan areas of Sichuan, Qinghai, and Gansu provinces received official warnings not to organize gatherings to mark the Dalai Lama’s birthday.

Freedom of Association

In accordance with PRC law, only organizations approved by the CCP and essentially directed by it are legal. Policies noted above designed to bring monasteries under CCP control are one example of this policy. Persons attempting to organize any sort of independent association were subject to harassment, arrest on a wide range of charges, or violent suppression.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

PRC law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation; however, the government severely restricted travel and freedom of movement for Tibetans, particularly Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns as well as lay persons whom the government considered to have “poor political records.”

In-country Movement: The outbreak of COVID-19 led to countrywide restrictions on travel, which affected movement in the TAR and other Tibetan areas. From January to April, the TAR and other Tibetan areas implemented a “closed-management” system, meaning all major sites, including monasteries and cultural sites, were closed.

In addition to COVID-19 restrictions, People’s Armed Police and local public security bureaus set up roadblocks and checkpoints in Tibetan areas on major roads, in cities, and on the outskirts of cities and monasteries, particularly around sensitive dates. These roadblocks were designed to restrict and control access for Tibetans and foreigners to sensitive areas. Tibetans traveling in monastic attire were subjected to extra scrutiny by police at roadside checkpoints and at airports. Tibetans without local residency were turned away from many Tibetan areas deemed sensitive by the government.

Authorities sometimes banned Tibetans, particularly monks and nuns, from leaving the TAR or traveling to it without first obtaining special permission from multiple government offices. Some Tibetans reported encountering difficulties in obtaining the required permissions. Such restrictions made it difficult for Tibetans to practice their religion, visit family, conduct business, or travel for leisure. Tibetans from outside the TAR who traveled to Lhasa also reported that authorities there required them to surrender their national identification cards and notify authorities of their plans in detail on a daily basis. These requirements were not applied to Han Chinese visitors to the TAR.

Outside the TAR, many Tibetan monks and nuns reported travel remained difficult beyond their home monasteries for religious and educational purposes; officials frequently denied them permission to stay at a monastery for religious education.

Foreign Travel: Tibetans faced significant hurdles in acquiring passports, and for Buddhist monks and nuns it was virtually impossible. Authorities’ unwillingness to issue new or renew old passports created, in effect, a ban on foreign travel for the Tibetan population. Han Chinese residents of Tibetan areas did not experience the same difficulties.

Sources reported that Tibetans and certain other ethnic minorities had to provide far more extensive documentation than other citizens when applying for a PRC passport. For Tibetans the passport application process sometimes required years and frequently ended in rejection. Some Tibetans reported they were able to obtain passports only after paying substantial bribes and offering written promises to undertake only apolitical or nonsensitive international travel. Many Tibetans with passports were concerned authorities would place them on the government’s blacklist and therefore did not travel.

Tibetans encountered particular obstacles in traveling to India for religious, educational, and other purposes. Tibetans who had traveled to Nepal and planned to continue to India reported that PRC officials visited their family homes and threatened their relatives in Tibet if they did not return immediately. Sources reported that extrajudicial punishments included blacklisting family members, which could lead to loss of a government job or difficulty in finding employment; expulsion of children from the public education system; and revocation of national identification cards, thereby preventing access to social services such as health care and government aid. The government restricted the movement of Tibetans through increased border controls before and during sensitive anniversaries and events.

Government regulations on the travel of international visitors to the TAR were uniquely strict in the PRC. The government required all international visitors to apply for a Tibet travel permit to visit the TAR and regularly denied requests by international journalists, diplomats, and other officials for official travel. Approval for tourist travel to the TAR was easier to secure but often restricted around sensitive dates. PRC security forces used conspicuous monitoring to intimidate foreign officials, followed them at all times, prevented them from meeting or speaking with local contacts, harassed them, and restricted their movement in these areas.

Exile: Among Tibetans living outside of China are the 14th Dalai Lama and several other senior religious leaders. The PRC denied these leaders the right to return to Tibet or imposed unacceptable conditions on their return.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

According to law, Tibetans, like other Chinese citizens, have the right to vote in some local elections. The PRC government, however, severely restricted its citizens’ ability to participate in any meaningful elections. Citizens could not freely choose the officials who governed them, and the CCP continued to control appointments to positions of political power.

The TAR and many Tibetan areas strictly implemented the Regulation for Village Committee Management, which stipulates that the primary condition for participating in any local election is the “willingness to resolutely fight against separatism;” in some cases this condition was interpreted to require candidates to denounce the Dalai Lama. Many sources reported that appointed Communist Party cadres replaced all traditional village leaders in the TAR and other Tibetan areas, despite the lack of village elections.

Recent Elections: Not applicable.

Political Parties and Political Participation: TAR authorities have banned traditional tribal leaders from running their villages and often warned those leaders not to interfere in village affairs. The top CCP position of TAR party secretary continued to be held by a Han Chinese, as were the corresponding positions in the vast majority of all TAR counties. Within the TAR, Han Chinese persons also continued to hold a disproportionate number of the top security, military, financial, economic, legal, judicial, and educational positions. The law requires CCP secretaries and governors of ethnic minority autonomous prefectures and regions to be from that ethnic minority; however, party secretaries were Han Chinese in eight of the nine autonomous prefectures in Gansu, Qinghai, Sichuan, and Yunnan provinces. One autonomous prefecture in Qinghai had an ethnic Tibetan party secretary.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: There were no formal restrictions on women’s participation in the political system, and women held many lower-level government positions. Nevertheless, women were underrepresented at the provincial and prefectural levels of party and government.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

PRC law provides criminal penalties for corrupt acts by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively in Tibetan areas, and high-ranking officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption in Tibetan areas; some low-ranked officials were punished.

In April an appeal hearing for Tibetan anticorruption activist A-Nya Sengdra was postponed indefinitely. A-Nya was arrested in 2018 by Qinghai police after exposing corruption among local officials who failed to compensate Tibetans for land appropriations. Held incommunicado for 48 days, he was sentenced in December 2019 to seven years in prison for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.”

Corruption: Local sources said investigations into corruption in the TAR and autonomous prefectures were rare; however, during the year news media reported two relatively high-profile corruption cases. In May the Tibetan Review, a monthly journal published in India, reported deputy secretary general of the TAR government Tashi Gyatso was being investigated for violations of discipline and law. Often the specifics of official investigations related to disciplinary violations are not made public but are commonly understood to be connected to bribery or abuse of power.

In July the Tibetan Review cited China’s official Xinhua news agency reporting that Wang Yunting, a Han Chinese CCP member and deputy director of Tibet’s health commission, was being investigated by the regional anti-graft authorities for “disciplinary” violations.

Financial Disclosure: The CCP has internal regulations requiring disclosure of financial assets, but these disclosures are not made public.

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

Some domestic human rights groups and NGOs were able to operate in Tibetan areas, although under substantial government restrictions. Their ability to investigate impartially and publish their findings on human rights cases was limited. A foreign NGO management law limits the number of local NGOs able to receive foreign funding and international NGOs’ ability to assist Tibetan communities. Foreign NGOs reported being unable to find local partners. Several Tibetan-run NGOs were also reportedly pressured to close. There were no known international NGOs operating in the TAR. PRC government officials were not cooperative or responsive to the views of Tibetan or foreign human rights groups.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: See section 6, Women, in the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2020 for China.

Sexual Harassment: See section 6, Women, in the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2020 for China.

Coercion in Population Control: As in the rest of China, there were reports of coerced abortions and sterilizations, although the government kept no statistics on these procedures. The CCP restricts the right of parents to choose the number of children they have and utilizes family planning units from the provincial to the village level to enforce population limits and distributions.

Discrimination: See section 6, Women, in the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2020 for China.

Children

Birth Registration: See section 6, Children, in the Country Reports on Human R9ights Practices for 2020 for China.

Education: The PRC’s nationwide “centralized education” policy was in place in many rural areas. The policy forced the closure of many village and monastic schools and the transfer of students to boarding schools in towns and cities. Media reports indicated the program was expanding. This, and aspects of education policy generally, led many Tibetan parents to express deep concern about growing “ideological and political education” that was critical of the “old Tibet,” and taught Tibetan children to improve their “Chinese identity” in elementary schools. In August, PRC President Xi Jinping personally urged local officials in the TAR and other Tibetan areas to further ideological education and sow “loving-China seeds” into the hearts of children in the region.

Authorities enforced regulations limiting traditional monastic education to monks older than 18. Instruction in Tibetan, while provided for by PRC law, was often inadequate or unavailable at schools in Tibetan areas.

The number of Tibetans attending government-sponsored boarding school outside Tibetan areas increased, driven by PRC government policy that justified the programs as providing greater educational opportunities than students would have in their home cities. Tibetans and reporters, however, noted the program prevented students from participating in Tibetan cultural activities, practicing their religion, or using the Tibetan language. Media reports also highlighted discrimination within government boarding school programs. Tibetans attending government-run boarding schools in eastern China reported studying and living in ethnically segregated classrooms and dormitories justified as necessary security measures, although the government claimed cultural integration was one purpose of these programs.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: See section 6, Children, in the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2020 for China.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: See section 6, Children, in the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2020 for China.

International Child Abductions: See section 6, Children, in the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2020 for China.

Anti-Semitism

See section 6, Anti-Semitism, in the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2020 for China.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

See section 6, Persons with Disabilities, in the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2020 for China.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

Although observers believe that ethnic Tibetans made up the great majority of the TAR’s permanent, registered population–especially in rural areas–there was no accurate data reflecting the large number of long-, medium-, and short-term Han Chinese migrants, such as officials, skilled and unskilled laborers, military and paramilitary troops, and their dependents, in the region.

Observers continued to express concern that major development projects and other central government policies disproportionately benefited non-Tibetans and contributed to the considerable influx of Han Chinese into the TAR and other Tibetan areas. Large state-owned enterprises based outside the TAR engineered or built many major infrastructure projects across the Tibetan plateau; Han Chinese professionals and low-wage temporary migrant workers from other provinces, rather than local residents, generally managed and staffed the projects.

Economic and social exclusion was a major source of discontent among a varied cross section of Tibetans.

There were reports in prior years that some employers specifically barred Tibetans and other minorities from applying for job openings. There were, however, no media reports of this type of discrimination during the year.

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

See section 6, Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, in the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2020 for China.

Promotion of Acts of Discrimination

Government propaganda against alleged Tibetan “pro-independence forces” contributed to Chinese social discrimination against ordinary Tibetans. Many Tibetan monks and nuns chose to wear nonreligious clothing to avoid harassment when traveling outside their monasteries. Some Tibetans reported that taxi drivers outside Tibetan areas refused to stop for them, hotels refused to provide lodging, and Han Chinese landlords refused to rent to them.

Section 7. Worker Rights

See section 7, Worker Rights, in the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2020 for China.

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China | Hong Kong | Macau

Timor-Leste

Executive Summary

Timor-Leste is a multiparty, parliamentary republic. After May 2018 parliamentary elections, which were free, fair, and peaceful, Taur Matan Ruak became prime minister, leading a three-party coalition government. The 2017 presidential and parliamentary elections were also free and fair. In contrast with previous years, these elections were conducted without extensive assistance from the international community.

The national police maintain internal security. The military is responsible for external security but also has some domestic security responsibilities. The national police report to the Ministry of Interior, and the military reports to the Ministry of Defense. The prime minister served concurrently as the minister of interior. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces reportedly committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: corruption; lack of investigation and accountability for violence against women; the worst forms of child labor; and trafficking in persons.

The government took some steps to prosecute members and officials of the security services who used excessive force but avoided conducting corruption (and labor law) investigations of politicians, government members, and leaders of the country’s independence struggle. Public perceptions of impunity persisted.

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. In March, two former police officers were sentenced to 25 and 20 years’ imprisonment for the shooting deaths of three civilians in 2018.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The law prohibits such practices and limits the situations in which police officers may resort to physical force and the use of firearms. During the year, there were multiple reports of the use of excessive force by security forces. Most complaints involved mistreatment or use of excessive force during incident response or arrest. Conduct of off-duty police officers was also a problem.

In May an off-duty member of the public order battalion allegedly shot a pedestrian when the pedestrian yelled at the car he was riding in for aggressive driving. The national police (PNTL) investigated, and the officer was in detention awaiting trial.

As of October the investigation continued into members of the police task force unit and public order battalion following a 2019 incident in the city of Baucau. Community members alleged the unit responded with excessive force to an incident during the National Sport Festival. Baucau police claimed the victim of the incident was drunk and created a disturbance outside the stadium.

The PNTL and the military suspended members for some months following an internal investigation into allegations they fired their weapons at a music festival in Maliana. The individuals returned to service; their case was pending trial.

Citizens reported obstacles to reporting complaints about police behavior, including repeated requests to return later or to submit their complaints in writing. There was a widespread belief that members of the security forces enjoyed substantial impunity for illegal or abusive actions and that reporting abuse would lead to retaliation rather than positive change. Social media users shared photographs of injuries from alleged encounters with police. Prolonged investigations, delays in bringing cases to trial, and critical editorials from watchdog NGOs also contributed to this perception.

Various bilateral and multilateral partners continued efforts to strengthen the development of the police, especially through community policing programs and technical assistance efforts, including work to improve disciplinary and accountability mechanisms within the PNTL. The Ombudsman’s Office for Human Rights and Justice (PDHJ) and the UN Human Rights Adviser’s Unit provided human rights training to both the PNTL and the military.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions generally did not meet international standards.

Physical Conditions: The prison in Dili (Becora), the country’s largest, was grossly overcrowded. It had an estimated capacity of 290 inmates, but in October it held 540 adult and juvenile male and female convicts and pretrial detainees. Separate blocks housed juvenile and adult prisoners, and pretrial detainees were held separately from convicts. Gleno Prison was also overcrowded, with 120 inmates in a prison designed for 80 to 90. Only Suai Prison, also designed for 80 to 90, did not face serious overcrowding problems, although it had 97 inmates.

Gleno Prison held adult male and female convicts and pretrial detainees, all in separate blocks. Conditions were the same for male and female prisoners, who shared recreation areas. Housing blocks separated nonviolent offenders from violent offenders. Prisoners with mental disabilities had access to a psychiatrist, who visited once a week.

Authorities provided food three times daily in prisons and detention centers. While authorities provided water in prisons, it was not always available in detention centers, and Gleno Prison experienced seasonal water shortages.

Medical care was inadequate. A doctor and a nurse staffed a clinic at Becora Prison five days per week and a psychiatrist visited once per week. A doctor visited Gleno Prison twice per week. For urgent cases and more advanced care, authorities took inmates to a local hospital in Gleno or Dili. Prisoners who tested positive for tuberculosis shared cells with tuberculosis-negative prisoners. Access to clean toilets was generally sufficient, although without significant privacy. The PDHJ assessed ventilation and lighting as adequate in prisons but not in detention centers. Prisoners were able to exercise for two hours daily.

According to human rights monitoring organizations, police station detention cells generally did not comply with international standards and lacked sanitation facilities and bedding, although police were making efforts to improve them.

Administration: Prisoners and detainees could submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and request investigation of credible allegations of problematic conditions. The PDHJ oversees prison conditions and prisoner welfare. It monitored inmates and reported the government was generally responsive to recommendations. Nonetheless, some human rights monitoring organizations questioned how widely known the complaint mechanism was and whether prisoners felt free to utilize it.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted prison visits by the PDHJ, foreign governments, international organizations, local NGOs, and independent human rights observers.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. The government generally observed these prohibitions.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law requires judicial warrants prior to arrests or searches, except in exceptional circumstances or in cases of flagrante delicto.

The law requires a hearing within 72 hours of arrest. During these hearings, the judge may determine whether the suspect should be released because conditions for pretrial detention had not been met, released conditionally (usually after posting some form of collateralized bail or on condition that the suspect report regularly to police), or whether the case should be dismissed due to lack of evidence. Backlogs continued to decrease during the year, particularly in courts outside of Dili, due to changes in the incentive structure for prosecutors and a policy requiring prosecutors to handle more cases. Justice-sector monitoring organizations reported the system adhered much more closely to the 72-hour timeline than in past years.

Time in pretrial detention may be deducted from a final sentence, but there is no remedy to compensate for pretrial detention in cases that do not result in conviction.

The law provides for access to legal representation at all stages of the proceedings, and provisions exist for providing public defenders for all defendants at no cost (see section 1.e.). Due to a lack of human resources and transportation, however, public defenders were not always able to attend to their clients and sometimes met clients for the first time during their first court hearing.

Pretrial Detention: The law specifies that a person may be held in pretrial detention for up to one year without presentation of an indictment, two years without a first-instance conviction, or three years without a final conviction on appeal. If any of these deadlines are not met, the detained person may file a claim for release. Exceptionally complex cases can also provide justification for the extension of each of those limits by up to six months with permission of a judge. In many cases, the length of pretrial detention equaled or exceeded the length of the sentence upon conviction. Pretrial detainees composed approximately 20 percent of the total prison population.

Detainees Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: While persons arrested or detained may challenge the legal basis of their detention and obtain prompt release, justice-sector monitoring organizations reported such challenges rarely occurred, likely due to limited knowledge of the provision allowing such challenges.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides that judges shall perform their duties “independently and impartially without improper influence” and requires public prosecutors to discharge their duties impartially. Many legal-sector observers expressed concern regarding the independence of some judicial organs in politically sensitive cases, a severe shortage of qualified personnel, and the complex legal regime influenced by legacies of Portuguese, Indonesian, and UN administration and various other international norms. An additional problem is that all laws and many trial proceedings and court documents are in Portuguese, a language spoken by approximately 10 percent of the population. Nonetheless, observers noted that citizens generally enjoyed a fair, although not always expeditious, trial and that the judiciary was largely independent.

Administrative failings involving the judge, prosecution, or defense led to prolonged delays in trials. Moreover, the law requires at least one international judge on a panel in cases involving past human rights abuses. There had been no new such cases since 2014; in addition, cases opened before 2014 were left pending indefinitely with no timeline for coming to trial.

There were 33 judges and 34 prosecutors in the country as of September. The government and judicial monitoring organizations cited human resource problems as a major issue in the justice system.

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair, timely, and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right, although trials were subject to long delays. Under the criminal procedure code, defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence, access to a lawyer, and rights against self-incrimination; to be informed promptly of charges; and to be present at their trial. Trials are held before judges or judicial panels; juries are not used. Defendants may confront hostile witnesses and present other witnesses and evidence and may not be compelled to testify. Defendants have a right of appeal to higher courts. The government provides interpretation as necessary into local languages. Observers noted the courts made progress in providing interpretation services during court proceedings, and all courts had at least one interpreter.

Justice-sector NGOs expressed concern that judges did not provide clear information or take the time to explain and read their decisions. Observers also claimed that in many cases judges did not follow the law that provides protections for witnesses. Additionally, the country has no juvenile-justice legislation, leaving many juveniles in the justice system without protections.

The constitution contemplates a Supreme Court, but one has never been established due to staffing and resource limits. The court of appeals carried out Supreme Court functions in the interim.

Mobile courts based in the cities of Dili, Baucau, Covalima, and Oecusse operated in areas that did not have a permanent court. These courts processed only pretrial proceedings and primarily handled cases of domestic and gender-based violence.

For “semipublic” crimes, where the process does not begin unless a victim files a complaint, some citizens utilized traditional (customary) systems of justice that did not necessarily follow due-process standards or provide witness protection but provided convenient and speedy reconciliation proceedings with which the population was comfortable.

The Public Defender’s Office, concentrated in Dili, was too small to meet the need, and many defendants relied on lawyers provided by legal aid organizations. A number of defendants who were assigned public defenders reported they never saw their lawyers, and some justice-sector NGOs noted that public defenders were confused about their duties to the client versus the state and that few viewed their role as client advocates. Public defenders did not have access to transportation to visit clients in detention, so at times they met their clients for the first time in court.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

As there is no separate civil judicial system in the country, civil litigation experienced the same problems encountered in the criminal justice system. No regional human rights body has jurisdiction in the country.

Property Restitution

Community concerns regarding evictions and inadequate compensation for government expropriation of land continued during the year.

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

Although the law prohibits arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home, or correspondence, civil servants noted a general lack of privacy protections throughout the government, particularly in the health sector.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press and a functioning democratic political system promoted freedom of expression, including for the press.

Internet Freedom

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

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were few government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events, although the National Language Institute must approve academic research on Tetum and other indigenous languages and regularly did so.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The constitution provides for “freedom to assemble peacefully and without weapons, without a need for prior authorization.” The law establishes guidelines on obtaining permits to hold demonstrations, requires police be notified five days in advance of any demonstration or strike, and establishes setback requirements at some buildings. The power to grant or deny permits is vested in the PNTL, which generally approved requests for demonstrations. During the COVID-19-related state of emergency, several requests to hold demonstrations were denied. Despite the restriction, the PNTL worked with demonstration organizers to provide them alternative means of safely speaking to their supporters and delivering their grievances to the subjects of their protest.

In September, Chief of Defense Force Lere Anan Timur announced his intention to detain Angela Freitas, leader of the new political movement National Resistance Defending Justice and the Constitution, following her and her movement’s efforts to organize a 15-day protest demanding the resignation of the president and challenging the legitimacy of the government. The group had received approval from the PNTL to hold their protest in the west end of Dili, and police officers had been assigned to provide support and security at the protest site. A small contingent of soldiers patrolled the street in front of Freitas’ house, which also served as the political movement’s headquarters, on the evening of September 1, acting on allegations of illegal weapons at the residence. No arrests were made. On September 2, Freitas criticized the general’s actions and announced the postponement of the protest.

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.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government implemented a state of emergency from March to June and again from August through the end of the year. The borders remained largely closed during this period, although the government permitted some entries and exits coordinated with the Ministries of Transport, Health, Interior, and Foreign Affairs.

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 on issues related to the provision of protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status; however, the system does not align with international standards. There were concerns that regulations governing asylum and refugee status may preclude genuine refugees from proving their eligibility for such status. For example, persons who wish to apply for asylum have only 72 hours to do so after entering the country. Foreign nationals already present in the country have only 72 hours to initiate the process after the situation in their home country becomes too dangerous for a safe return.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Electoral management bodies administered an early parliamentary election in May 2018. International observers assessed it as free and fair. President Lu-Olo swore in Prime Minister Taur Matan Ruak and a partial cabinet in June 2018. International observers similarly assessed national presidential and parliamentary elections in 2017 as free and fair, with only minor, nonsystemic irregularities.

Political Parties and Political Participation: To register, new political parties must obtain 20,000 signatures, which must also include at least 1,000 signatures from each of the 13 municipalities.

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. Electoral laws require that at least one-third of candidates on party lists be women. Following the 2018 parliamentary elections, women held 26 of the 65 seats in parliament but only eight of 46 ministerial, vice-ministerial, and secretary of state positions in the new government. Of 20 ministers, only the minister of social solidarity and inclusion (concurrently a deputy prime minister), the minister of foreign affairs and cooperation, and the minister of health were women. At the local level, at least three women must serve on all village councils, which generally include 10 to 20 representatives depending on village size. In 2016 local elections,