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Egypt

Executive Summary

According to its constitution, Egypt is a republic governed by an elected president and bicameral legislature, with the upper house reconstituted in 2020 as the Senate after a six-year absence. Presidential elections were held in 2018. Challengers to incumbent President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi withdrew ahead of the election, citing personal decisions, political pressure, legal troubles, and unfair competition; in some cases they were arrested for alleged abuses of candidacy rules. Domestic and international organizations expressed concern that government limitations on association, assembly, and expression severely constrained broad participation in the political process. A progovernment coalition won an overwhelming majority of seats in multistage, multiround elections for parliament’s reconstituted Senate and House of Representatives. Domestic and international observers said government authorities professionally administered parliamentary elections in accordance with the country’s laws and that their results were credible. Observers noted restrictions on freedom of peaceful assembly, political association, and expression significantly inhibited the political climate surrounding the elections.

The Interior Ministry supervises law enforcement and internal security, including the Public Security Sector Police, the Central Security Force, the National Security Sector, and the Passports, Immigration, and Nationality Administration. The Public Security Sector Police are responsible for law enforcement nationwide. The Central Security Force protects infrastructure and is responsible for crowd control. The National Security Sector is responsible for internal security threats and counterterrorism along with other security services. The armed forces report to the minister of defense and are responsible for external defense, but they also have a mandate to assist police in protecting vital infrastructure during a state of emergency. On October 25, President Sisi announced he would not renew the state of emergency that expired on October 24 and had been in place almost continuously nationwide since 2017 after terrorist attacks on Coptic churches. On November 11, President Sisi ratified legislation allowing the president to take appropriate measures, not to exceed six months, to maintain public order and security, such as curfews or evacuations of specified areas, in the event of a natural disaster or terrorism event. The amendments also authorize the military to assist local authorities in protecting critical infrastructure. Defense forces operate in North Sinai as part of a broader national counterterrorism operation with general detention authority. The Border Guard Forces, under the Ministry of Defense, are responsible for border control. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed numerous abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by the government or its agents, and by terrorist groups; forced disappearance by state security; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by the government; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary detention; political prisoners or detainees; politically motivated reprisals against individuals located in another country; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious abuses in a conflict, including reportedly enforced disappearances, abductions, physical abuses, and extrajudicial killings; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including arrests or prosecutions of journalists, censorship, site blocking, and the abuse of criminal libel laws; serious restrictions on internet freedom; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including overly restrictive laws on the organization, funding, or operation of nongovernmental and civil society organizations; restrictions on freedom of movement, including travel bans imposed on human rights defenders, journalists, and activists; serious and unreasonable restrictions on political participation; serious government restrictions on domestic and international human rights organizations; and crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex persons and use of the law to arrest and prosecute arbitrarily such persons.

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

Attacks by terrorist organizations caused arbitrary and unlawful deprivation of life. Terrorist groups conducted deadly attacks on government, civilian, and security targets. Authorities investigated terrorist attacks and prosecuted alleged perpetrators. Terrorists and other armed groups abducted and killed civilians in North Sinai. There were incidents of societal sectarian violence against Coptic Christians.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

There were numerous reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings that occurred while making arrests or holding persons in custody or during disputes with civilians.

There were also reports of civilians killed during military operations in North Sinai.

There were reported instances of persons tortured to death and other allegations of killings in prisons and detention centers by security forces. The government charged, prosecuted, and convicted perpetrators in some cases, but lack of accountability remained a problem.

On May 25, an Italian judge ordered four senior members of the country’s security services to stand trial in Italy concerning their suspected role in the killing of Italian graduate student Giulio Regeni, who was found dead in Cairo in 2016 bearing what forensics officials said were signs of torture. On June 15, the prosecutor general gave the Italian ambassador a document for the Italian court outlining a lack of evidence in the case. On October 14, the Italian judge suspended the trial and sent the case back to a preliminary hearings judge to determine whether the defendants knew they had been charged. According to Italian media, a hearing before the preliminary hearings judge was scheduled for January 2022.

There were several reports of groups of suspected terrorists and other suspected criminals killed during security raids conducted by security forces. On August 5, Amnesty International called on the country’s Public Prosecution to investigate a video released on August 1 by the armed forces spokesperson allegedly showing two extrajudicial killings in North Sinai.

ISIS-Sinai Province (formerly known as Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis) conducted deadly attacks on government, civilian, and security targets in North and South Sinai. Other terrorist groups, including Harakat al-Suwad Misr, reportedly continued to operate. There were no official, published data on the number of victims of terrorist violence during the year. A combination of local and international press reporting, government press releases, and social media accounts tracking events in Sinai suggested terrorist groups killed or wounded more than 90 civilians in 2020. Approximately 15 of these civilians were reported to have been killed by booby traps left by ISIS-Sinai Province between October and December 2020.

b. Disappearance

International and local human rights groups reported continuing large numbers of enforced disappearances, alleging authorities utilized this tactic to intimidate critics.

Authorities detained individuals without producing arrest or search warrants. According to a local nongovernmental organization (NGO), authorities detained many of these individuals in unspecified National Security Sector offices and police stations, but they were not included in official registers. Authorities held detainees incommunicado and denied their requests to contact family members and lawyers.

Photojournalist Hamdy al-Zaeem was arrested on January 4 and held without knowledge of his whereabouts by his family or attorneys until he appeared on January 17 before the Supreme State Security Prosecution (State Security Prosecution), a branch of the Public Prosecution specialized in investigating national security threats, who ordered his detention pending investigation into charges of spreading false news, joining an unspecified banned group, and misusing social media. Journalist Ahmed Khalifa was arrested on January 6, the day after he covered a labor protest, and was held without knowledge of his whereabouts by his family or attorneys until he appeared on January 16 before the State Security Prosecution, who ordered his detention pending investigation into the same allegations as al-Zaeem. Khalifa was released in July, while Zaeem remained in pretrial detention at year’s end.

On June 25, 1,000 days after the 2018 disappearance of former parliamentarian Mustafa al-Naggar, 15 local and international organizations called on the government to investigate and disclose information on his whereabouts, as ordered by the Administrative Court in 2020.

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

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

Local rights organizations reported torture was systemic, including deaths that resulted from torture. According to domestic and international human rights organizations, police and prison guards resorted to torture to extract information from detainees, including minors. Reported techniques included beatings, electric shocks, psychological abuse, and sexual assault. On July 15, Human Rights First issued a report documenting alleged abuses, including torture, by security forces based on testimony from prisoners released between 2019 and 2021. Human Rights First characterized torture and other abuse as pervasive in prisons.

On March 1, detained activist Alaa Abdel Fattah, who was sentenced to five years in prison on December 20, claimed during a pretrial detention hearing that he had been subjected to incidents of intimidation after he reported hearing fellow prisoners being subjected to torture with electric shocks.

The government released journalist Solafa Magdy and her photographer husband Hossam el-Sayed on April 14 and journalist Esraa Abdel Fattah on July 18 from pretrial detention. International organizations reported that Magdy and Abdel Fattah were abused while in pretrial detention following their 2019 arrests. The abuse reportedly included beatings and suspension from a ceiling.

On September 17, a local human rights attorney said that secretary general of the Foundation for the Defense of the Oppressed, Ahmed Abd-al-Sattar Amasha, had been deprived of visits, exercise, sunlight, and access to health care for more than a year. He had been detained since his June 2020 arrest and was previously arrested in 2017, allegedly abused, and released in 2019. He joined an international campaign in 2016 urging authorities to close the maximum-security branch of Tora Prison and cofounded the League of Families of the Disappeared in 2014.

There were reports that prisoners detained on politically motivated charges were held in prolonged and indefinite solitary confinement. Local media reported that the state detained Strong Egypt party deputy president Mohamed el-Kassas in solitary confinement and had prevented him from exercising, reading, or listening to the radio since his initial arrest in 2018 on allegations of joining an unspecified banned group and spreading false news. El-Kassas was re-arrested in three new cases during continuous confinement without release, all on similar charges in 2019, in August 2020, and again on July 28.

According to human rights activists, impunity was a significant problem in the security forces. The Prosecutor General’s Office (for Interior Ministry actions) and the Military Prosecution (for military actions) are responsible for pursuing prosecutions and investigating whether security force actions were justifiable.

On April 4, the Court of Cassation upheld as a final verdict a 2019 acquittal of six police officers and two noncommissioned police personnel charged with torturing to death a citizen and forging official documents inside a police station in 2017. According to local media, the victim was arrested with his brother on charges of murdering and robbing their grandmother.

On April 10, a criminal court reconvicted, in absentia, two noncommissioned police personnel on charges of torturing to death Magdy Makeen, a donkey-cart driver, in a Cairo police station in 2016. In December 2020 a criminal court sentenced a police officer and eight other noncommissioned personnel to three years in prison in this case. A police corporal also charged in the case was acquitted.

On August 5, a criminal court acquitted 11 police officers in a retrial that challenged their suspended one-year prison sentences and their convictions for the killing of protesters during the January 25 revolution in 2011.

On December 28, a court ruled that the family of Khaled Said, who died of police brutality in 2010, would receive one million Egyptian pounds (EGP) ($62,500) in compensation. Two police officers were convicted of the crime in 2011.

According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions online portal, there were two allegations submitted during the year of sexual exploitation and abuse by the country’s peacekeepers deployed to the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA). This follows one allegation of attempted transactional sex in 2020 and another of sexual assault in 2016, both of which also occurred in MINUSCA. As of September investigations into the three most recent allegations were pending. A separate investigation substantiated the 2016 allegation, leading to the repatriation and, imprisonment of the perpetrator.

Human rights organizations said the Public Prosecution continued to order forced medical exams in “family values” or “debauchery” cases. On July 5, the New York Times published testimony from women who claimed sexual abuse in detention by police, prison guards, and state-employed doctors, including forced stripping, invasive examinations, so-called virginity tests, and forced anal examinations in front of onlookers (see section 6).

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening due to widespread overcrowding and lack of adequate access to medical care, proper sanitation and ventilation, food, and potable water.

Physical Conditions: According to domestic and international NGO observers, prison cells were overcrowded On April 11, a local human rights organization estimated the total prison population at more than 119,000 located in an estimated 78 prisons, including approximately 82,000 convicted prisoners and 37,000 pretrial detainees. Human rights groups and international observers maintained the government detained or imprisoned between 20,000 and 60,000 individuals on politically motivated grounds.

Authorities did not always separate juveniles from adults and sometimes held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners. In a March 24 report based on research conducted between February 2020 and November 2020 from the experiences of 67 individuals (10 of whom had died in custody) in 16 prisons (three for women and 13 for men) in seven governorates, a local human rights organization reported that conditions in prisons and detention centers included medical negligence; solitary confinement; and the denial of visits, telephone calls, academic studies, and the provision of outside food, or some kinds of foods, to prisoners and detainees.

In July, Human Rights First released a report alleging recruitment by ISIS in the prison system. The report said that prisoners were more susceptible to recruitment in part because of poor prison conditions.

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

On January 5, an Interior Ministry security source denied social media accounts of the spread of COVID-19 among prison inmates and the deaths of several inmates from COVID-19. On May 17, the Minister of Health announced the government’s intent to give COVID-19 vaccines to prisoners across the country. On June 26, the Interior Ministry filed a court document in response to several lawsuits, stating that it had vaccinated 5,000 prison inmates, officers, and those working in prisons, according to local media. On August 23, the Administrative Court denied a request for COVID-19 vaccines for researcher Patrick Zaki, lawyer Mohamed Elbakr, and other high-profile detainees and prisoners, according to local media. Zaki was released on December 8 pending trial (see section 2.b.). At year’s end it remained unclear whether Elbakr had received the COVID-19 vaccine.

On July 24, imprisoned former presidential candidate and Strong Egypt Party leader Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh survived a “severe heart attack” but did not receive medical treatment despite calling out for help, according to statements by Aboul Fotouh’s son on social media. Aboul Fotouh’s son said that in the weeks prior to his heart attack, Aboul Fotouh had been prevented from buying anything from the prison canteen and from receiving injections for spinal pain. According to an August 18 report by four international organizations, 10 detainees died in custody between July 6 and August 11. Activist Mona Seif quoted her brother, imprisoned activist Alaa Abdel Fattah, saying that one of his prison mates, Ahmad Sabir, died in prison on July 11 after Sabir became ill and his cellmates shouted to guards for medical help without any response for five hours.

Inmates often relied upon outside visitors for food and other supplies or were forced to purchase those items from the prison canteen at significantly inflated prices, according to local NGOs. In September a local human rights organization reported that skin diseases were widespread among prisoners in high security prisons due to unhygienic conditions and a lack of sunlight, and in the Qanater women’s prison due to lack of clean water and overcrowding. Provisions for temperature control and lighting generally were inadequate. Reports that guards abused prisoners, including juveniles in adult facilities, were common. Prison conditions for women were reported to be marginally better than those for men. Media reported some prisoners protested conditions by going on hunger strikes.

Local media reported that the Interior Ministry’s social protection sector sent medical providers from various specialties to eight prisons (male and female) in July and August to provide medical services to prisoners. According to reports, 55 prisoners received medical evaluations and medications at Mansoura prison and 39 prisoners received limb prostheses at the Borg al-Arab prison.

There were reports authorities sometimes segregated prisoners accused of crimes related to political or security matters from other prisoners accused of nonpolitical crimes and subjected the former to verbal or physical abuse and punitive solitary confinement. On May 11, Amnesty International called for the release of political activist Ahmed Douma after what it called a “grossly unfair and politically motivated” trial that resulted in a 15-year prison sentence in 2020. Since his arrest in 2015, Douma had been held in solitary confinement for more than 2,200 days.

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

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

The criminal procedure code and the law regulating prisons ostensibly provide for reasonable access to prisoners, but according to NGO observers and relatives, the government regularly prevented visitors’ access to detainees. Rights groups also claimed that state security emergency court hearings and trials were not accessible to family or legal counsel and detainees lacked full access to legal counsel and documents related to their charges. Authorities cited restrictions put in place during the year as part of COVID-19 preventive measures.

Independent Monitoring: The government arranged visits between January and May for delegations of local and foreign media correspondents, representatives of human rights organizations, religious leaders, and the National Council for Human Rights to Tora Prison, Borg al-Arab Prison, El Marag General Prison, Wadi al-Natroun Prison, Fayoum Prison, and three prisons in Minya Governorate.

Improvements: In October the country opened its new Wadi al-Natroun Reform and Rehabilitation Center, which included new medical facilities, vocational training spaces, and worship areas including a mosque and a church. Officials stated inmates from 12 aging prisons planned for closure would be transferred to the new prison, and the new prison will provide improved onsite medical care, including treatment for addiction and mental health, psychological therapy and services, dialysis, dental treatment, dermatology, and computerized tomography scans.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

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

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

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

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

Charges involving the death penalty or life imprisonment, such as joining an unspecified banned group that is claimed to undermine state institutions, sometimes were added to cases related to expression or other politically motivated cases. As a result, authorities might hold some individuals charged with nonviolent crimes by prolonging the duration of their trial or rearresting them into new cases to avoid the two-year pretrial detention limit.

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

According to a local human rights attorney, police arrested journalist Gamal el Gaml on February 22 upon his return from his “voluntary” exile since 2017 in Istanbul. Local media noted el Gaml had gained limited notoriety in 2014 when President Sisi called him directly regarding el Gaml’s assertions that the country did not provide basic services; al-Masry al-Youm newspaper halted his regular column in 2015. On July 18, el Gaml was released pending trial.

In 2019 Ramy Kamel, a Coptic Christian human rights activist, was arrested in his home in Cairo. On June 22, the Criminal Court renewed for 45 days his pretrial detention on accusations of joining an unspecified terror group and spreading false news. An international organization stated Kamel had been held in solitary confinement since his arrest. He remained in custody at year’s end.

Inmate Abdulrahman el-Showeikh’s mother, father, and sister were arrested on April 27, which international human rights organizations claimed was in retaliation for his mother’s reports in early April that el-Showeikh had been abused in Minya Prison, as well as his brother’s April 26 social media posts from Turkey condemning the alleged abuse. El-Showeikh’s father and sister were released shortly after their arrest and his mother was accused of joining a terrorist group and publishing and broadcasting false news. On December 30, a human rights organization reported that el-Showeikh’s mother remained in pretrial detention in solitary confinement without visits or medical care for certain medical problems, according to a son’s social media post. Kholoud Said, the head of the translation unit of the publication department at Bibliotheca Alexandria, was charged on January 11 in a new case with joining an unspecified terrorist group, spreading false news, and misusing social media, the same charges as in the original case for which she had been arrested in April 2020. Despite a December 2020 order for her release in the original case, Said was not released and remained in pretrial detention. Freelance translator Marwa Arafa remained in pretrial detention after her April 2020 arrest on similar charges. Representatives of a women’s rights organization said they could not identify any apparent reason for these arrests.

On March 17, a criminal court convicted activist Sanaa Seif, sister of imprisoned activist Alaa Abdel Fattah, and sentenced her to 18 months in prison for broadcasting false news by making allegations the government asserted were false concerning the spread of COVID-19 in prisons, defaming and insulting a public employee, and using an electronic account to commit a crime. Seif was arrested in June 2020 outside the New Cairo Public Prosecutor’s office where her family was filing a complaint seeking to receive communications from Abdel Fattah. On December 23, Seif was released after serving the entirety of her sentence.

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

Media reported that after four years of pretrial detention, al-Jazeera journalist Mahmoud Hussein was released on February 6 with precautionary measures that required him to report to a police station two days per week. Hussein continued to face charges in several cases pending trial, including spreading false news and receiving foreign funds to defame the state’s reputation. On August 21, Reporters Without Borders called for the release of al-Jazeera journalist Rabie el Sheikh, who was arrested at Cairo International Airport on August 1, and three other al-Jazeera journalists in pretrial detention since 2019 and 2020. All were charged with spreading false news and membership in a terrorist group.

On August 23, the State Security Prosecution referred human rights lawyer and executive director of the Egyptian Coordination for Rights and Freedoms Ezzat Ghoneim to trial before the Emergency State Security Criminal Court on charges including joining and financing the Muslim Brotherhood, deliberately broadcasting false news, and disturbing security. Ghoneim had been in pretrial detention since his 2018 arrest and was added to second case in May 2020 and a third case on May 29, all on similar charges.

Political activist Sameh Saudi, whom authorities arrested in 2018 and added to new cases in 2019 and 2020 remained in pretrial detention.

On November 20, the State Security Prosecution released journalist Ahmed Shaker after exceeding the maximum limit of 24 months of pretrial detention, according to local media. Security forces had arrested Shaker in 2019 and charged him with spreading false news and participating in a terrorist group.

The Public Prosecution released Ola Qaradawi on December 12, according to local media. Authorities had arrested Qaradawi and her husband, Hosam Khalaf, in 2017 on charges of communicating with and facilitating support for a terrorist group. At year’s end Khalaf remained in pretrial detention.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary. Individual courts sometimes appeared to lack impartiality and to arrive at outcomes that were politically motivated or without individual findings of guilt. The government generally respected court orders. Human rights organizations claimed the State Security Prosecution bypassed court orders to release detainees by arresting them again in a new case, in some instances on the same charges.

The law imposes penalties on individuals designated by a court as terrorists, even without criminal convictions. The government has designated the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group and prosecutes individuals for membership in or support for the Muslim Brotherhood group. The effects of a designation include a travel ban, asset freeze, loss of political rights, and passport cancellation. The court designation may be appealed directly to the country’s highest appeals court, and authorities do not inform most individuals of their impending designation before the court rules.

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

Under the state of emergency that expired on October 24, authorities regularly used military courts to try civilians accused of threatening national security. Public access to information concerning military trials was limited. Military trials were difficult to monitor because media were usually subjected to restraint orders. Rights groups and lawyers said defense attorneys in military trials had difficulty gaining access to their clients and to documentation related to the cases.

Authorities released journalist Moataz Wadnan on July 18. Police arrested Wadnan in 2018, after he conducted a press interview with the former head of the Central Audit Organization, and charged Wadnan with joining an unspecified banned group and spreading false news. Two days after a court ordered Wadnan’s release in May 2020, the State Security Prosecution added him to a new case with the additional charges of inciting terrorist crimes. Before his July 18 release, Wadnan had been in continuous pretrial detention for more than three years. Journalist Mostafa al-Asaar, who was also arrested in 2018, and lawyer Mahienour al-Masry, who was arrested in 2019 after she defended detainees arrested during street protests, were released on July 18. Police charged all three with joining a banned group and spreading false news.

Some trials involving hundreds of defendants continued, particularly in cases involving demonstrators sympathetic to former president Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013 and 2014.

On April 8, Mahmoud Ezzat was sentenced to life in prison for inciting violence and other terrorism-related charges, stemming from clashes outside the Muslim Brotherhood headquarters in 2013 that resulted in the killing of nine persons and injuring of 91 others.

On June 14, the Court of Cassation issued a final ruling upholding the death penalty sentences for 12 members of the Muslim Brotherhood, including three senior Brotherhood leaders: Mohamed El-Beltagy, Safwat Hegazy, and Abdel-Rahman El-Bar. The court also commuted the death sentences to life imprisonment for 31 others in the same case, the 2013 Rabaa sit-in.

On July 11, in a separate case, the Court of Cassation upheld the 2019 sentencing of 10 Muslim Brotherhood leaders, including Mohamed Badie, to life imprisonment on charges of killing policemen, organizing mass jail breaks, and undermining national security by allegedly conspiring with foreign militant groups, including Hamas and Hezbollah, during 2011 unrest. The Court of Cassation in the same case also overturned the convictions of eight mid-level Muslim Brotherhood members who had been sentenced in 2019 to 15 years in prison. It remained unclear at year’s end whether they were released or were held pending charges in other cases.

In an August 23 statement, a local human rights organization said the Public Prosecution refused to allow attorneys to visit blogger Mohamed Ibrahim (aka “Mohamed Oxygen”) after Ibrahim reportedly attempted suicide in pretrial detention in July. According to his attorneys, Ibrahim had been suffering mentally from mistreatment, including because of authorities depriving him family visits for a period exceeding 15 months, which the government said was due to COVID-19 preventive measures. Ibrahim had been in pretrial detention between his 2019 arrest and his December 20 conviction on allegations of joining an unspecified banned group, spreading false news, and misusing social media, after he tweeted a list of protesters and journalists detained in 2019 who had protested alleged military corruption. On October 16, the State Security Prosecution referred Ibrahim, activist Alaa Abdel Fattah, and human rights lawyer Mohamed Elbakr to trial before an emergency court. On December 20, an emergency court sentenced Abdel Fattah to five years in prison, and Ibrahim and Elbakr to four years in prison. Human rights groups and activists said the trial lacked due process and called for presidential commutation or pardon for all three individuals; at year’s end their sentences remained in place.

Khaled Lotfy, founder of the Tanmia bookstores and publishing house, remained in custody at year’s end. He was arrested in 2018 and sentenced to five years in prison by a military court for distributing the Arabic edition of The Angel: The Egyptian Spy Who Saved Israel, as well as charges of spreading false news and allegedly divulging military secrets.

Trial Procedures

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

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

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

On June 15, President Sisi ratified law 70/2021, which criminalizes, with a fine, the filming, photographing, or recording of criminal court hearings without prior permission from the presiding judge and prosecutor general.

On November 11, the president ratified amendments to a 2015 terrorism law that ban the photography, recording, or live broadcasting of trial sessions involving any terrorism crimes without prior approval.

On May 24, an international human rights organization said there had been at least 53 mass trials since 2011, in which 2,182 persons were sentenced to death.

On August 13, Amnesty International said the government had executed at least 81 persons in 2021. On July 4, authorities executed engineering student Moataz Hassan, who was convicted of participating in the 2018 attempted assassination of Major General Mustafa al-Nimr. A human rights organization claimed security forces had coerced Hassan’s confession with torture and threats after his 2018 arrest.

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

The military judiciary law governing the military court system grants defendants in the military court system the right to appeal up to the Supreme Military Court of Appeals. The president or his delegate must certify sentences by military courts. There were limited media reports concerning the ratification of military court sentences. In 2019 local independent media reported that the military ruler ordered the retrial of one military case presented for ratification. State security emergency courts, which were activated pursuant to the nationwide state of emergency in effect between 2017 and October, had jurisdiction concerning cases related to the state of emergency, which had been broadly interpreted to include several politically motivated cases. By law verdicts in state security emergency courts have no avenue for judicial appeals and require ratification, annulment, amendment, or an order for retrial by the president or his delegate.

On June 13, the Cairo 24 private news website asked the prime minister not to ratify the June 10 state security emergency misdemeanor court’s convictions against journalists Islam Saadi and Moamen Samir for publishing and spreading false news. Local media had reported on June 12 that their arrests came after they took photographs of Saadi’s mother in a government hospital where she was being treated for COVID-19.

On June 22, the state security emergency misdemeanor court convicted Central European University researcher Ahmed Samir Santawy and sentenced him to four years in prison and a fine for joining a terrorist group and publishing false news. International and local human rights organizations condemned the action and called on the president, in the absence of the possibility for judicial appeal, to commute the sentence. At year’s end Santawy’s conviction remained subject to ratification by the president or his delegate. According to local media, Santawy was questioned in December 2020 upon his arrival in the country to visit family, regarding his research on women’s rights for his graduate studies program in Vienna. On January 23, security forces searched his family’s apartment in South Sinai and ordered Santawy to report to the National Security office in Cairo. Santawy voluntarily reported to a police station in Cairo on February 1 and appeared before the State Security Prosecution on February 6. Local human rights organizations reported that Santawy and former member of parliament Ziyad el-Aleimy, whose five-year emergency court prison sentence on November 17 was ratified on November 24 (see section 2.a.), were physically abused in detention by security forces on May 21.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were reports of significant numbers of political prisoners and detainees, although verifiable estimates of their total number were not available. Human rights groups and international observers maintained the government detained or imprisoned between 20,000 and 60,000 persons solely or chiefly because of their political beliefs or activities.

Amnesty: The government periodically issued pardons of prisoners, sometimes including individuals whose cases human rights organizations considered to be politically motivated. Local press reported that the Interior Ministry Prisons Authority ordered the release of thousands of inmates based on presidential decrees in April, May, July, and October on the Eid al-Fitr, Eid El Adha, Sinai Liberation Day, and Armed Forces Day holidays.

Politically Motivated Reprisal against Individuals Located Outside the Country

Threats, Harassment, Surveillance, and Coercion: According to local media and international human rights organizations, on February 10, police raided a house in Luxor belonging to the family of Germany-based academic and political activist Taqadum al-Khatib, seizing personal property and documents belonging to Khatib’s parents. Khatib previously served in the National Association for Change in Egypt and had posted recollections of Mubarak’s overthrow in the weeks leading up to the Luxor raid. In February security forces raided the homes of six relatives of a prominent human rights activist based abroad. Two family members were arrested, while others were questioned regarding their contact with the activist.

On February 11, Human Rights Watch called on the government to reverse its December 2020 decree, published in the official gazette, that revoked the citizenship of Ghada Naguib, a political activist and frequent critic of the government who lived in Turkey. The government’s decision stated Naguib falsely claimed she was born in Cairo and cited Law 26 of 1975, which gives the government the power to revoke citizenship without judicial review. Naguib denied any false statements and said she was born in the country to a Syrian father.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

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

Property Seizure and Restitution

The Supreme Standing Committee for Human Rights (Standing Committee) and the National Council for Human Rights (National Council) released reports in April and February, in part to review grievances faced by North Sinai residents following government counterterrorism operations in 2018 that resulted in demolition of homes and commercial buildings and seizure of farmland to establish a buffer zone in North Sinai Governorate, which authorities stated was needed to interdict weapons smuggling and incursions, including to and from the Gaza Strip. The government implemented plans to expand the commercial and military capacity of the Arish Airport, south of al-Arish, which local NGOs said threatened to displace 4,000 families.

The Standing Committee reported $224 million (out of a total $260 million budgeted) in government expenditures as of April 2020 used to compensate North Sinai residents for houses or land lost or damaged in counterterrorism operations, compensation for the families of “martyrs” and injured, as well as for humanitarian and medical aid and social assistance. The Standing Committee report detailed $196 million in housing and agricultural compensation. The Ministry of Planning’s Citizen Investment Plan for North and South Sinai governorates was established to provide $548 million to further develop housing infrastructure and public services in the area.

According to the National Council, North Sinai residents complained that slow compensation distribution coincided with rising construction costs and inflation, which complicated efforts to use reimbursements to acquire a comparable house or plot of land elsewhere. Residents also complained of lack of documentation regarding ownership, maximum compensation limits, the government’s inability to conduct assessments due to security problems, and rent previously owed to the government for farming on government land.

On March 17, Human Rights Watch alleged the military’s continuing home demolitions and forced evictions during the armed conflict in North Sinai were abuses of international humanitarian law and likely amounted to war crimes.

On March 19, local media reported that police detained five residents of Tersa district in Giza during a small gathering of 30 residents to protest the February cabinet decision to demolish 27 legally registered residential buildings. According to local media, local officials tried to persuade the residents to sign eviction notices, which most refused to do without sufficient guarantees of compensation. On March 20, local media reported the administrator of a Facebook page campaigning against the government actions, also a Tersa district resident, was detained at his home.

In December a Cairo governorate source told media that the government paid 454 million EGP ($28.4 million) to residents in compensation for demolishing their homes to accommodate a highway expansion project.

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

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

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

Surveillance was a significant concern for internet users. The constitution states that private communications “may only be confiscated, examined, or monitored by causal judicial order, for a limited period of time, and in cases specified by the law.” Judicial warrants are required for authorities to enter, search, or monitor private property such as homes. During a state of emergency, warrantless searches are allowed provided the Public Prosecution is notified within 24 hours, and police may detain suspects for up to seven days before handing them over to the prosecution. The government’s surveillance operations lacked transparency, potentially violating the constitution’s privacy protections. There were credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority, including cyberattacks to gain access to devices and accounts belonging to critics of the government.

On February 5, the government released film director and screenwriter Moamen Hassan from detention pending trial on allegations of using social media for the purpose of “promoting a terrorist act.” Local media reported that on January 25, security forces arrested Hassan after stopping his taxi in the vicinity of Tahrir Square, searching his mobile phone, and alleging he had sent suspicious texts containing inappropriate political comments regarding the government. Hassan reportedly appeared before the State Security Prosecution on January 31, and a court ordered his release on February 4.

On August 9, a local human rights organization claimed the Public Prosecution’s Communication, Guidance, and Social Media Department, established in 2019 to monitor the internet for crimes, facilitated mass surveillance without due process of law.

g. Conflict-related Abuses

The conflict in North Sinai involving government security forces, terrorist organizations, and other armed groups (including militias and criminal gangs) continued. According to press releases and international media reports, at least 135 armed forces soldiers were killed in attacks on government positions or in counterterrorist operations during the year. The government continued to impose restrictions on North Sinai residents’ travel to the country’s mainland and movement within North Sinai Governorate and severely restricted media access to North Sinai.

Killings: The government acknowledged no civilian deaths due to security force actions. Human rights organizations alleged that some persons killed by security forces were civilians. According to an international NGO, at least 26 civilian deaths, 51 security force deaths, and 31 terrorist deaths occurred in the conflict in Sinai between January and July. According to an ISIS media affiliate, ISIS-Sinai Province claimed 101 attacks resulting in 206 casualties during the year.

Terrorist and other armed groups continued to target the armed forces and civilians, using gunfire, improvised explosive devices, and other tactics.

According to another international organization’s July 31 report covering January through July, ISIS-Sinai Province killed approximately 22 civilians, including a woman and a child; kidnapped 26 civilians; and killed approximately 51 members of the armed forces, including seven from an armed group of North Sinai tribes fighting alongside the army. The same report documented four civilian deaths by security forces.

Abductions: Terrorist groups and other armed groups abducted civilians in North Sinai, almost always alleging cooperation with the government as the rationale. According to human rights groups, terrorist groups and other armed groups sometimes released abductees; some abductees were shot or beheaded. According to media and social media reports, at least 30 civilians were abducted by terrorist and militant elements in Sinai between January and August. In June, ISIS-Sinai Province reportedly abducted five construction contractors supporting a government developmental project near the al-Salam canal.

Other Conflict-related Abuse: Explosions caused by hidden explosive devices killed at least two children during the year. Approximately 15 civilians died between October and December 2020 due to improvised explosive devices left behind by ISIS-Sinai Province members following an offensive in North Sinai.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, but includes a clause stating, “It may be subject to limited censorship in times of war or public mobilization.” The government frequently did not respect this right. Human rights defenders, journalists, activists, and others regularly faced criminal prosecution on charges that observers assessed were brought in response to criticism of the government. Government failure to investigate or prosecute attacks on human rights defenders and peaceful protesters led to de facto restrictions on freedom of assembly and association. According to the law, newspapers are required to print their issues at licensed printing houses registered with the Supreme Council for Media Regulation; news websites must host their servers in the country; newspapers must submit 20 copies of each printed issue to the council; and news websites and television outlets must keep copies of all published or broadcast material online for one year and submit a copy of their published or broadcast material to the council every month. The law also prohibits any recording, filming, or interviews in public places with the intention of broadcasting them on a media outlet without a permit issued by the council.

Freedom of Expression: Citizens expressed their views on a wide range of political and social topics. The government initiated investigations and prosecutions based on allegations of incitement of violence, insults to religion, insults to public figures and institutions such as the judiciary and the military, or abuse of public morals.

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

On January 6, the General Authority for Health Insurance banned photography inside hospitals and banned mobile phones from intensive care units. The decision reportedly came after citizens published videos from hospitals showing deaths and suffering of COVID-19 patients due to alleged shortages in the oxygen supplies. The government denied oxygen shortages had contributed to COVID-19-related deaths.

Housing rights researcher Ibrahim Ezzedine remained in pretrial detention since 2019, more than the two years permitted by law. According to a local human rights organization, he was detained after criticizing the government’s urban slums policies and appeared in 2019 before the State Security Prosecution, where he was accused of joining a banned group and spreading false news.

Between January and June, a local organization that tracks freedom of association and speech recorded 65 abuses of the freedoms of media and artistic and digital expression. For example, in 2019 several political figures, including former member of parliament Ziyad el-Aleimy and journalists Hossam Moanes and Hisham Fouad, were arrested on criminal charges of joining a banned group and spreading false news after they met to form the Alliance of Hope political group to run in parliamentary elections. On July 14, they were referred to trial before a misdemeanor emergency court. On November 17, the emergency court sentenced el-Aleimy to five years in prison and a fine, and Moanes and Fouad to four years in prison and a fine, all for spreading false news inside and outside the country. On November 24, the prime minister, as President Sisi’s delegate, ratified the sentences. The defense team told local press that “many legal violations took place in this case” and claimed they were not given access to more than 1,000 prosecution documents. Local human rights lawyers said the sentences issued by the emergency court could not be appealed and that only the president or his delegate could choose to annul, amend, or not implement the sentences. At year’s end the three remained imprisoned. On July 14, the Court of Cassation upheld an April 2020 ruling to include 13 Alliance of Hope defendants on the terrorism list, including el-Aleimy and activist Ramy Shaath, for alleged collaboration with the banned Muslim Brotherhood.

According to media reports, on February 22, the State Security Prosecution transferred Hazem Hosni, spokesperson for Sami Anan’s 2018 presidential campaign and Cairo University political science professor, to house arrest pending further investigations. On June 27, a human rights lawyer announced the criminal court reduced Hosni’s house arrest from seven to three days per week. Hosni had been held in pretrial detention since his 2019 arrest.

Sinai activists Ashraf al-Hefni and Ashraf Ayoub were released on May 27, according to local media. Al-Hefni, who advocated for human rights and the rights of residents of Sinai but publicly rejected “normalization” with Israel, was detained in 2019. Ayoub had been detained since August 2020.

After a criminal court ordered human rights lawyer Mohamed Ramadan’s release on June 13, Ramadan appeared on June 15, still detained, before the State Security Prosecution in a new case on allegations of joining a banned group and spreading false news. Ramadan had been arrested in 2018 for “inciting social unrest” after he posted a photograph of himself wearing a yellow vest akin to those worn by political protesters in France. As of year’s end, he remained in pretrial detention.

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

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

Police arrested several journalists during the year for covering politically sensitive topics, some of whom were released, while others remained in detention. Photojournalist Hamdy al-Zaeem was arrested on January 4, one day after he covered worker protests at a chemical plant. Al-Zaeem appeared before the State Security Prosecution on January 16, where he was detained pending trial on allegations of joining a terrorist group and spreading false news on social media, according to local media. At year’s end he remained in pretrial detention.

Journalist Hamdy Atef Hashem Abdel Fattah was arrested on January 4, after publishing a video showing lack of oxygen for COVID-19 patients at a hospital in Gharbia Governorate. He appeared before the State Security Prosecution on January 11 and was subsequently detained on charges of joining a terrorist group and spreading false news on social media, according to media. At year’s end he remained in pretrial detention.

According to a local NGO, cartoonist Ashraf Hamdy was released between August and September pending trial on allegations of misusing social media and spreading false information. He was arrested on January 25 after posting a video on the 10th anniversary of the January 25 revolution.

Business News company owner Mustafa Saqr was released on March 8. He had been held in pretrial detention on allegations of colluding with a terrorist organization, spreading false news, and misusing social media since his April 2020 arrest after publishing an article that discussed the impact of COVID-19 on the economy. On March 8, Islam al-Kalhy, a journalist affiliated with Daarb news website, who was arrested while covering a demonstration in Monieb, Giza, in September 2020, and freelance journalist Hassan al-Qabbani, who was arrested in 2019, were also released.

On April 13, the State Security Prosecution released journalist and former al-Dostour Party leader Khaled Dawoud pending investigation of charges of colluding with a terrorist group, spreading false news, and misusing social media. Dawoud had been held in pretrial detention since his arrest in 2019.

According to the organization, a plainclothes security officer arrested laborer Ahmed al-Araby on May 12 in Banha based on political social media posts he made. The organization added that during the 19 days after his arrest, al-Araby was subjected to beating and electric shocks, interrogated as to whether he had links to the Muslim Brotherhood, and forced to confess involvement in street demonstrations, which he later recanted. He remained in pretrial detention pending trial on allegations of joining a terrorist group, spreading false news, and misusing social media.

As of December the Committee to Protect Journalists reported 25 journalists were imprisoned in the country.

Violence and Harassment: According to media reports and local and international human rights groups, state actors arrested, imprisoned, harassed, and intimidated journalists. The family of detained journalist Mohamed Salah said on social media that Salah had been subjected to severe physical assault and abuse in pretrial detention on January 9. Human rights organizations added that the abuse included stripping Salah and his cell mates of their clothes, hanging them in a hallway, and beating them with metal objects. Amnesty International reported in May that Salah was arrested in 2019, beaten at a police station in December 2020, ordered released, and rearrested in a new case without release. At year’s end he remained in pretrial detention.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Official censorship occurred. The emergency law allows the president to censor information during a state of emergency.

On January 25, an administrative court ordered the Media Regulating Authority to ban YouTube channels that broadcast a film produced in 2013 regarding the Prophet Mohammed that was found to be offensive. On June 30, authorities asked al-Maraya Publishing House to not display and sell a book by imprisoned political activist Ahmed Douma at the Cairo International Book Fair, according to local media.

Media rights organizations said the government blocked thousands of websites, including 127 news websites, including Mada Masr, alManassa, and Daarb.

The law considers websites and social media accounts with at least 5,000 subscribers to be media outlets, requires them to pay a licensing fee, and grants the Supreme Council for Media Regulation broad discretion to block their content. On August 23, the council announced that it blocked some websites it said failed to apply for such a license.

The number of arrests for social media posts reportedly had a chilling effect on online speech. Some activists and many journalists reported privately they self-censored criticism of the government or comments that could be perceived as sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood, due to the government designating the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization and the progovernment media environment. Publishers were also wary of publishing books that criticized religious institutions, such as al-Azhar, or challenged Islamic doctrine. Online journalists were also reluctant to discuss sensitive topics.

Libel/Slander Laws: Blasphemy is a criminal offense. Local and international rights groups reported cases of authorities charging and convicting individuals with denigrating religion under the so-called blasphemy law, targeting primarily Christians but also Muslims.

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

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

On May 29, former ambassador to Venezuela Yehia Negm was arrested on allegations of joining a terrorist group, spreading false news, and misusing social media after he posted a tweet criticizing the government’s management of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam topic.

Atef Hasballah, editor in chief of Alkarar Press website, was released during the year on precautionary measures pending trial, according to a local NGO. Hasballah was arrested in March 2020 following a post on his Facebook page questioning official statistics on the spread of COVID-19 cases in the country.

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

Internet Freedom

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

Telecommunications services and internet service providers are regulated by the National Telecommunications Regulatory Authority under the telecommunication regulation law. The law does not guarantee the independence of the National Telecommunications Regulatory Authority. The government centralized internet infrastructure and fiber-optic cables, allowing considerable state control over internet access, including restricting and disrupting user access and censoring online content. Law enforcement agencies restricted or disrupted individuals’ access to the internet, and the government monitored social media accounts and internet usage. The public prosecutor prosecuted individuals accused of posting “insulting” material.

The counterterrorism law criminalizes the use of the internet to “promote ideas or beliefs that call for terrorist acts” or to “broadcast what is intended to mislead security authorities or influence the course of justice in relation to any terrorist crime.” The law also authorizes the public prosecutor and investigators to monitor and record online communications among suspects in terrorism cases for a period of 30 days, renewable in 30-day increments. The law does not specify a maximum period for this surveillance.

The cybercrime law states, “The relevant investigating authority may, when the evidence indicates that a website is broadcasting phrases, numbers, pictures, videos, or any promotional material that constitutes one of the crimes enshrined in this law and poses a threat to national security or endangers the security or economy of the country, order the blocking of the website.”

On January 12, the Cairo Economic Appeals Court annulled the two-year sentences of TikTok influencers Haneen Hossam and Mawada Eladhm and three other defendants. The court also annulled Hossam’s fine but upheld the same fine for the other defendants. Charges included violating family values, inciting “debauchery,” publishing content deemed inappropriate, and recruiting others to commit similar crimes. On June 20, in a separate case, the Cairo Criminal Court sentenced Hossam in absentia to 10 years in prison and a fine, and Eladhm and three others to six years in prison and fines. All five were convicted on charges of human trafficking, running social media accounts with the aim of recruiting young women for video sharing online, and publishing video content deemed inappropriate by authorities. The objectionable content included dancing and lip-syncing, which are common on the platform. After being sentenced in absentia, Hossam posted a video on June 22 in which she asked President Sisi to order a retrial and was subsequently arrested in Cairo. On November 4, a court ordered a retrial in her case, which was scheduled for January 18, 2022. In August 2020 a criminal court upheld an administrative decision to freeze the assets of Hossam and Eladhm.

TikTok influencer Manar Samy remained imprisoned serving her September 2020 sentence of three years in prison with hard labor for “inciting debauchery and violating family values” for content she posted on social media. On July 4, the Benha Criminal Court acquitted members of Samy’s family, who had been arrested in 2020 for resisting authorities. On June 13, the Economic Misdemeanor Court of Appeals upheld the Economic Misdemeanor Court’s September 30 convictions of TikTok influencers Sherifa Rifaat, known as “Sherry Hanim,” and her daughter Zumoroda for assaulting family values and inciting prostitution, based on photographs posted to social media. The court of appeals reduced their sentences from six years in prison to five years and fined each of them.

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

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

As part of investigations, security forces may apply for warrants from the prosecutor general to access mobile phone company databases to obtain information regarding activities of specific customers, which observers noted could lead to lack of online anonymity.

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

On May 3, a local media rights organization reported that the state had blocked hundreds of websites, including 127 news websites. The blocked sites included international NGOs, local human rights NGOs, and numerous virtual private network services. Some blockages appeared to respond to critical coverage of the government or to disrupt antigovernment political activity or demonstrations.

In 2017 the news website Mada Masr sued the government seeking information on why it was blocked. In 2018 the Court of Administrative Justice referred the case for technical review by the Justice Ministry’s Authority of Experts. This review remained pending without resolution at year’s end. According to a local human rights organization, in April the Media Regulating Authority issued licenses for 40 private news websites, including Cairo 24, while not acting on the license requests of 110 other websites. This was part of a legal requirement to regulate the status of electronic press websites in the country.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

In May the prosecutor general renewed University of Washington doctoral student Walid Salem’s travel ban, according to a statement by local and international human rights organizations. Their statement added that Salem was also prevented from traveling in May 2020 when authorities at Cairo International Airport confiscated his passport. Salem had been on probation since 2018 pending trial on charges of spreading false news and belonging to a terrorist group.

On July 12, authorities released Alia Mossallam, a postdoctoral fellow at the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in Berlin, on bail pending trial on allegations of joining a terrorist group, spreading false news, and misusing social media after they arrested her at the Cairo International Airport on July 11 upon her arrival from Berlin, according to a human rights lawyer. Mosallam was researching the history of the country’s social and political movements through popular memory, according to local media.

On November 17, authorities reportedly released Ayman Mansour Nada pending trial on allegations of insulting the president of Cairo University and several university officials and using social media to commit the crime. Nada, a Cairo University media professor, was arrested in September after he criticized the government-appointed president of Cairo University and government-aligned media professionals.

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

On June 27, the Musicians Syndicate banned five singers of Mahraganat music, a popular street-music genre, from performing in the country because they did not obtain a permit to work or belong to the syndicate. The syndicate banned nine others on November 17 for the same reasons.

On July 25, the Administrative Court ordered the Central Administration for Censorship of Audio and Audiovisual Works to grant the film The Last Days of the City, which deals with the January 25 revolution, a license to be shown inside the country. According to local media, the ruling was final and had to be implemented. The film, which was produced in 2016 and won several international film festival awards, was first denied presentation in the country at the 2016 Cairo International Film Festival.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government restricted the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

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

The Prison Regulation Law prevents the conditional release of those convicted of assembly crimes, among other crimes.

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

On December 8, Patrick George Zaki, a student at the University of Bologna, was released pending trial before an emergency court. He faced charges of inciting individuals to protest in 2019, spreading false news, promoting terrorism, and harming national security. He had been held in pretrial detention since his February 2020 arrest at Cairo International Airport, after which media reported he was beaten and subjected to electric shocks.

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

On June 4, security forces broke up a demonstration in the Shooting Club area in Alexandria and arrested approximately 30 residents protesting government plans to relocate them to a new location in the governorate. While most detained residents were immediately released, 13 remained in detention until June 17 on charges of inciting protests, throwing stones at security forces, and injuring security forces. The 13 were acquitted on December 29.

Since his 2018 arrest, activist Mohamed Adel remained in pretrial detention in three separate cases, related to allegations of violating the protest law, joining a banned group, and spreading false news.

Freedom of Association

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

A 2019 law governing NGOs eliminated prison sentences as penalties and removed formal oversight roles for security and intelligence authorities. On January 14, the government published executive regulations clarifying that NGOs would have exclusive access to and control of NGO funds as well as procedural protections, such as impartial administrative and judicial appeal mechanisms. The 2019 law stipulates that NGOs are established through notification; however, the executive regulations require NGOs to provide extensive data to register with authorities, including information on founders and planned activities. All NGOs must receive the approval of the Ministry of Social Solidarity to register, receive funding, or conduct activities. Further, international NGOs are required to receive approval from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to register to operate. NGOs must also comply with money laundering and antiterrorism legislations.

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

At year’s end lawyer Amr Emam remained in pretrial detention pending investigations on charges of colluding with a terrorist organization, publishing false news, and misusing social media to spread false information. Emam was arrested in 2019 after he began a hunger strike and sit-in to protest the arrests, alleged abuse, and continued detention of journalist Esraa Abdel Fattah, activist Alaa Abdel Fattah, and lawyer Mohamed Elbakr. Esraa Abdel Fattah was released on June 9, while Alaa Abdel Fattah and Elbakr remained imprisoned following their December 20 convictions by an emergency state security misdemeanors court, which sentenced them to five and four years, respectively (see section 1.c.). At year’s end their convictions remained subject to ratification by the president or his delegate.

Ibrahim Metwally Hegazy, a human rights lawyer and founder of the Association of the Families of the Disappeared, remained in pretrial detention since his 2017 arrest at the Cairo International Airport while traveling to Geneva to participate in the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances.

The government listed the Muslim Brotherhood as a designated terrorist organization. On July 28, the Court of Cassation upheld the life sentences of Muslim Brotherhood supreme guide Mohamed Badie, his deputy Khairat el-Shater, and six others who were convicted in 2019 on charges of collaborating with Hamas.

Authorities continued investigations into local NGOs that received foreign funding under Case 173, originally brought in 2011. On October 21, local media reported that 75 locally organized NGOs had charges dismissed in Case 173 to date, although at least six continued to face charges.

On January 20, the Administrative Court annulled the Cairo Governor’s 2016 decision to close the El-Nadeem Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence and Torture. El-Nadeem was among the local NGOs still facing charges in Case 173 of receiving foreign funds.

On January 28, the Administrative Court ordered the Ministry of Social Solidarity to approve a 1.5 million euro ($1.76 million) grant from the embassies of Germany, Switzerland, and Norway to the Sadat Association for Development and Social Care, which was headed by former member of parliament and opposition figure Mohamed Anwar Sadat. This came in response to the Sadat Association’s 2018 lawsuit challenging the ministry’s denial of the grant based on security grounds. The court ruled a rejection on security concerns, without specifics, was insufficient. The court also declared that the Sadat Association was registered under the 2002 NGO law and the donors were working legally in the country, and that denying the grant would prevent the Sadat Association from exercising its constitutional and international convention rights to operate without restrictions as long as its activities did not disrupt public peace or safety.

On July 31, the Court of Cassation turned down the prosecution’s appeal of the 2017 acquittal of spouses Aya Hijazi and Mohamed Hassanein, founders of the Belady Foundation NGO, and their codefendants of torturing children, sexual assault, forcing children to participate in illegal demonstrations, and operating a criminal group for the purposes of trafficking, among other charges.

On February 2, the NGO Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights announced that it was forced to vacate its office after the landlord suddenly gave the lease to the parliamentary bloc of the Youth Coalition for Parties and Politicians, a body created by President Sisi in 2018. The organization added that troubles with its lease started after the November 2020 arrests and December 2020 releases of its members Mohamed Basheer, Karim Ennarah, and Gasser Abdel Razek on charges of joining a terror group and spreading false news. The three remained subject to court-ordered travel bans and asset freezes.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country

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

In-country Movement: Citizens and foreigners may not travel freely in areas of the country designated as military zones. The government sought to prevent private individuals, journalists, civil society figures, and international organizations from entering North Sinai on safety grounds, which the government stated were necessary restrictions in response to long-running counterterrorism operations. According to a local human rights organization, security forces set up security checkpoints in downtown Cairo and other locations around the anniversaries of street protests and conducted searches and arrests without warrants.

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

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

The government imposed travel bans on some human rights defenders and political activists who were under investigation or formally charged. Local human rights groups maintained that authorities used travel bans to intimidate and silence human rights defenders. A 2018 court ruling stated a travel ban “does not require the investigation of certain facts and their certainty,” but there must be “serious evidence that there are reasons for it and that the decision to prevent travel is due to security reasons and the interests of the state.” Case 173 defendants who still had travel bans or asset freezes included Hossam Bahgat, Mohamed Zarea, Bahey Eldin Hassan, Abd El Hafez Tayal, and Mostafa El Hassan. On August 24, political science professor Hassan Nafaa posted on Twitter that hours before he intended to travel abroad that day, he learned that he had been banned from traveling. Nafaa appealed to the prosecutor general to reconsider the list of those banned from traveling, claiming the ban in general had changed from a precautionary measure into punishment outside the scope of the law. In March 2020 the State Security Prosecution released Nafaa along with 14 others.

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

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

g. Stateless Persons

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

On February 11, the Interior Ministry announced it granted citizenship to three brothers from the al-Muzaina tribe in Dahab, South Sinai. Media reported in February that some Bedouins in Sinai remained stateless after Israel handed the Sinai back to the country in 1982, and others remained stateless in disputed border areas with Sudan.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: There were two rounds of elections in 2020 for the 200 elected seats in the re-established 300-seat upper house, called the Senate, and for the 568 elected seats of the House of Representatives. A progovernment coalition won an overwhelming majority of the Senate’s 200 elected seats; the president appointed the remaining 100 seats. Election observers documented visible judicial supervision, a tight security presence, and COVID-19 precautions in place. Local media noted higher than expected participation by women and youth voters. One political coalition alleged instances of vote rigging and bribery that advantaged an opponent political party during the House of Representatives’ elections. Some opposition parties questioned the youth turnout, especially in poorer areas, and claimed young persons were “bussed in” to vote. No significant acts of violence or disturbances to the election processes were observed.

Domestic and international organizations expressed concern that government limitations on freedoms of speech, association, and assembly severely constrained broad participation in the political process. On July 12, the Public Prosecution referred Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights executive director Hossam Bahgat to court on charges of insulting the National Elections Authority, spreading false rumors alleging electoral fraud, and using social media accounts to commit crimes, based on a tweet Bahgat posted in December 2020 criticizing the 2020 parliamentary elections as marred with widespread abuses. Bahgat was not detained in the case. In November the court found Bahgat guilty of insulting the National Elections Authority and fined him. Bahgat’s lawyers announced they planned to appeal.

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

On November 18, the Court of Cassation rejected the appeals of former presidential candidate and Strong Egypt Party leader Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, Strong Egypt Party deputy Mohamed el-Kassas, lawyer Mohamed Elbakr, activist Alaa Abdel Fattah, and others challenging their placement on the terrorism list for five years. Aboul Fotouh was placed on the terrorism list. On August 31, the State Security Prosecution referred Aboul Fotouh, el-Kassas, and others to criminal trial on charges of leading a terrorist group, financing a terrorist group, possessing weapons and ammunition, promoting the ideas of a terrorist group, and deliberately broadcasting false news, statements, and rumors at home and abroad. Aboul Fotouh and el-Kassas had reportedly been held in solitary confinement in pretrial detention since their 2018 arrests.

The Freedom and Justice Party, the political wing of the banned Muslim Brotherhood, and the Islamist Building and Development Party, remained banned. Authorities did not ban other Islamist parties, including the Strong Egypt Party.

On June 19, local media reported that the Supreme Administrative Court refused to hear two lawsuits demanding the cessation of all activities of the Bread and Freedom Party and the Strong Egypt Party on the grounds that the leaders were members of banned groups.

The government does not broadcast or publish parliamentary sessions in the House of Representatives or Senate. On May 26, a local human rights organization filed a lawsuit challenging this as violating the constitution’s provisions on holding parliamentary sessions in public.

In September 2020 the National Election Authority disqualified Mohamed Anwar Sadat, head of the Reform and Development Party, from running in the 2020 House of Representatives elections, citing Sadat’s failure, as a military school graduate, to obtain approval from the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to run in the election as required by law for active or retired military personnel before running in presidential, parliamentary, or local council elections. In October 2020 the Administrative Court rejected Sadat’s lawsuit to challenge the decision.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: The law requires that women receive at least 10 percent of Senate seats and 25 percent of House seats. Women held 40 seats in the 300-seat Senate (13 percent) and 148 seats in the 568-seat House of Representatives (26 percent).

No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Social and cultural barriers, however, limited women’s political participation and leadership in most political parties and some government institutions.

Eight women led cabinet ministries, including one Christian woman, and two women served as deputy ministers. There were two Christians (in Ismailia and Damietta Governorates) among the appointed governors of the 27 governorates. In 2018 authorities appointed Manal Awad Michael, a Christian woman, governor of Damietta. On June 2, President Sisi announced that for the first time, women could work at the State Council and the Public Prosecution starting on October 1. On June 14, the Administrative Prosecution Authority appointed two female chief administrative prosecutors (in Menoufia and Qena Governorates), which it stated brought to 24 the number of female chief administrative prosecutors appointed since June 2020. In December 2020 a female academic was appointed as deputy to the president of the Supreme Constitutional Court. In September 2020 the General Assembly of the Cairo Economic Court appointed for the first time a female judge as the head of civil division circuit of an appellate court. In 2018 the Supreme Judiciary Council promoted 16 female judges to higher courts, including the Qena Appeals Court. Legal experts stated there were approximately 66 female judges serving in family, criminal, economic, appeals, and misdemeanor courts; that total was less than 1 percent of judges. Several senior judges were Christian.

Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

International and local human rights organizations stated the government continued to be uncooperative with their efforts to investigate alleged abuses of human rights. On September 11, the government launched a five-year National Human Rights Strategy that included a focus on jobs, health care, clean water, food, and affordable housing, and initiatives to enhance civil society and free expression. It also called for human rights training for police and prison officers, whistleblower protections, reforms to pretrial detention, increased government and civil society collaboration on human rights matters, and continued prison inspections by the National Council for Human Rights and civil society, to improve respect of human rights. Activists and NGOs cited a lack of details on timelines or implementation of the strategy, and a focus on quality-of-life topics and not freedom of expression and association.

The Supreme Standing Committee for Human Rights, chaired by the minister of foreign affairs as an intragovernmental body, developed the strategy over 18 months of consultations with government and civil society leaders. Domestic civil society organizations acknowledged the consultations, but some criticized them as insufficient. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that with an October meeting between it and 50 NGOs led by the Supreme Standing Committee for Human Rights, consultations had begun to implement the strategy and plans for the Year of Civil Society in 2022, announced concurrently with the strategy. The Awqaf and Social Solidarity Ministries created human rights units in September and November, respectively, and the Ministry of Local Development revised its human rights unit in October, all in response to the cabinet’s order that each ministry and governorate establish a human rights unit.

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

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

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

The government continued investigations into the receipt of foreign funding by several human rights organizations, dropping the cases against several organizations that had been charged originally while continuing cases against others (see section 2.b.). Major international human rights organizations, such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, had not maintained offices in the country since 2014 due to security restrictions and lawsuits targeting their presence in the country.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: Authorities did not allow the International Committee of the Red Cross access to prisoners and detainees.

Government Human Rights Bodies: On December 29, President Sisi ratified the House of Representative’s October 4 announcement of a new 27-person National Council for Human Rights headed by Ambassador Moushira Khattab, former minister of family and population and the first woman to head the council. According to the National Council for Women (NCW), 44 percent of the new members were women. The quasi-governmental council is charged with monitoring the human rights situation, issuing reports and recommending legislation that improves human rights.

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

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

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

On April 11, the Cairo Criminal Court convicted Ahmed Bassam Zaki and sentenced him to eight years’ total imprisonment – seven years for sexual assault on three minor girls and one year for drug use. The court acquitted Zaki of violating the privacy of survivors, threatening survivors, and abusing social media and telecommunications. The Cairo Economic Court convicted Zaki in a separate case in December 2020 for misuse of social media and sexual assault and sentenced him to three years in prison with labor. On March 15, an appeals court heard Zaki’s appeal in this separate case, but a decision had not been reported by year’s end. Zaki’s July 2020 arrest, after more than 50 women accused him online of rape, sexual assault, and harassment dating back to 2016, gave rise to what media referred to as the country’s #MeToo movement.

On May 11, the Public Prosecution announced that none of the men it ordered arrested in 2020 for allegedly gang raping a woman at the Fairmont Nile City hotel in 2014 would be tried, due to a “lack of evidence,” and that it had released the men it detained in the case. Prosecutors pointed to a six-year lag between the incident and its being reported, the difficulty in identifying individuals based on photographs made available, the inability of the prosecution to access a video clip of the rape, and inconsistent and recanted testimony as factors that impaired efforts to bring the case to trial. In a separate rape case, the North Cairo Criminal Court on November 9 sentenced two of the defendants released in the Fairmont Nile City case to life in prison and a third to 15 years in prison. On August 10, the Shubra El-Kheima Criminal Court sentenced a doctor to seven years in prison for drugging and sexually assaulting a schoolteacher receiving treatment at his clinic.

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

The Interior Ministry includes a unit responsible for combating sexual and gender-based violence. The NCW was responsible for coordinating government and civil society efforts to empower women. In September the prime minister issued a decree to establish the country’s first integrated governorate-level units to serve survivors of violence. These units are mandated to coordinate and improve integrated survivor-centered services to women. An NCW study found that approximately 1.5 million women reported domestic violence each year. According to NCW and UNICEF data, the COVID-19 pandemic increased the risks of violence and economic hardships for women.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): FGM/C is illegal, and the government strengthened legislation banning the practice, but it remained a serious problem. Although declining, FGM/C continued to be widely practiced. The prevalence, however, was reportedly much higher among older age groups. Type 3 FGM/C (infibulation) was more prevalent in the South (Aswan and Nubia), and in some cases was associated with difficulty in giving birth, obstructed labor, and higher rates of neonatal mortality. The government enlisted the support of religious leaders to combat cultural acceptance of FGM/C and encourage family planning. According to international and local observers, the government took steps to enforce the FGM/C law. In 2019 the government formed a national task force to end FGM/C, led by the National Council for Women and the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood.

On April 28, President Sisi ratified amendments to the penal code that increase FGM/C minimum sentences from one to 15 years to five to 20 years in prison, removed the “medical exception” in the law, introduced bans for medical providers and medical institutions from providing medical services for a period after involvement in the crime, and extended criminal liability to anyone supporting the crime, including family members of the survivor. On March 28, a local human rights organization said the extended criminal liability to anyone involved in the crime could inhibit some survivors and family members from reporting the crime due to fear their relatives might be arrested.

According to local media reports, authorities arrested a father and a retired nurse on February 2 after they allegedly conducted FGM/C on a 15-year-old girl at her home in a poor district in Qalyoubia Governorate. The father took his daughter, who suffered severe complications, to a nearby hospital, where the attending physician reported the incident to the Public Prosecution, resulting in the two arrests. National Council for Women head Maya Morsi praised the quick action of authorities and called on parliament to quickly pass draft legislation (formally introduced on January 24 and ratified April 28), to sharpen the FGM/C penalties.

On September 25, using the new FGM/C law, a criminal court sentenced a nurse to 10 years in prison, the longest sentence ever given in the country for FGM/C. In the same case, the court also sentenced the father to three years in prison for subjecting his eight-year-old daughter to FGM/C.

On October 13, the Public Prosecution detained a doctor who reportedly performed FGM/C operations in Beni Suef pending investigation and released the mother of an FGM/C survivor on bail.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The law allows leniency towards men who kill their wives upon discovering them in an act of adultery. The law does not specifically address “honor” crimes, which authorities treated as any other crime. In January a local NGO said there were at least 14 “honor killings” in the country in 2020. In March local media reported that the Cairo Criminal Court sentenced a man to five years in prison for killing his sister because he believed she committed “inappropriate” and “suspicious” acts. On May 9, a court in Abbasiya sentenced three defendants to 10 years in prison for the death of a female doctor who was thrown to her death from the balcony in her Cairo apartment after she invited a man to her apartment. On November 17, an Assiut criminal court sentenced a man to three years in prison for killing his mother after a video reportedly showed her in an “immoral relationship” with another person.

Sexual Harassment: While the government took several steps to prevent sexual harassment, it remained a serious problem. On August 18, the president ratified amendments to the penal code that upgrade sexual harassment to a felony offense, increase minimum sentences to two to seven years in prison (up from six months to five years), increase minimum fines, and add a provision that repeat offenders may face double the prison time. On October 17, under the new amendments, a misdemeanor court sentenced a young man accused of harassing a girl at a Cairo Metro station to three years and six months in prison.

Media and NGOs reported that sexual harassment by police was also a problem and that the potential for further harassment, lengthy legal procedures, and lack of survivor protections further discouraged women from filing complaints. On November 9, the North Cairo Criminal Court sentenced physician Michael Fahmy to life imprisonment for forcibly molesting six girls inside his clinic. The court acquitted his wife. Charges against the two included the kidnapping of six girls by luring them to his residence and a private clinic and making them believe that they needed “special treatment and examination.” Some survivors spoke out regarding harassment on social media in September 2020.

On July 15, the Cairo Criminal Court sentenced dentist Bassem Samir to 16 years in prison for sexual harassment and misconduct against male patients and visitors to his clinic, including actor Abbas Aboul Hassan and singer Tameem Youness.

On October 31, the Mansoura Economic Misdemeanors Court convicted two lawyers for defamation of and threats against the survivor of mass harassment in Mit Ghamr in December 2020. One lawyer was sentenced to two years in prison and a fine, and the other lawyer to six months in prison and a fine. Media reported the two lawyers published videos and personal photographs of the survivor with the aim of threatening her to change her statements against their clients, who were accused of sexual assault but acquitted by the Mansoura Criminal Court on March 21 on a procedural error. On March 23, local media quoted the survivor saying during the trial that she was threatened with murder, maiming, and rape. The prosecution appealed the verdict on May 17 that acquitted the seven defendants.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. There were no reports regarding the ability of vulnerable populations (individuals with disabilities, members of minorities, etc.) to provide informed consent to medical treatment affecting reproductive health, including for sterilization.

The Ministry of Health and Population distributed contraception and assigned personnel to attend births, offer postpartum care to mothers and children, and provide treatment for sexually transmitted diseases at minimal or no cost. The government also did not restrict family-planning decisions. Gender norms and social, cultural, economic, and religious barriers inhibited some women’s ability to make reproductive decisions and to access contraceptives. Some women lacked access to information on reproductive health, and the limited availability of female health-care providers reduced access to skilled health attendance during pregnancy and childbirth, in view of the preference many women had for female health-care providers for social and religious reasons.

There was limited information on government assistance to survivors of sexual assault, including whether emergency contraception was available as part of clinical management of rape.

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

Women faced widespread societal discrimination, threats to their physical security, and workplace bias in favor of men, thus hindering women’s social and economic advancement.

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

On January 3, the Supreme Constitutional Court ruled that the penal code unconstitutionally discriminates against women by stipulating longer prison terms for adultery for women, in hearing the appeal of a women sentenced to two years in prison for adultery.

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

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

In a June 2 meeting with top judicial figures, President Sisi announced that for the first time in the country’s history women would be allowed to work at the State Council and the Public Prosecution, starting on October 1. He also announced that the State Lawsuits Authority would be required to state a reason for rejecting any judicial applicants, and that personnel of the same rank in the State Council, Administrative Prosecution, State Lawsuits Authority, and judiciary would receive the same financial entitlements, including equal wages. A local NGO said in a Facebook statement on August 22 that the Supreme Judicial Council approved the prosecutor general’s request to transfer 11 female judges, including one Copt, to work in the Public Prosecution for the judicial year from September until September 2022.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The constitution states all citizens “are equal in rights, freedoms, and general duties without discrimination based on religion, belief, gender, origin, race, color, language, disability, social class, political or geographic affiliation, or any other reason.” It does not specify age, citizenship, sexual orientation, gender identity, or HIV-positive or other communicable disease status. The main groups facing racial or ethnic violence and discrimination included Nubians and Bedouins.

Nubians are indigenous to northern Sudan and the south of the country. Population estimates for this ethnolinguistic group ranged from 100,000, according to a government census in the early 1960s, to approximately four million in other estimates.

Although positive steps regarding compensation reportedly were made for the damage Nubians suffered because of the building of the Aswan Low Dam in 1902 and later the construction of the Aswan High Dam, completed in 1971, no land return had occurred as of year’s end.

During the year the government provided compensation to a limited number of Nubians (11,500 according to government estimates). Nubian activists complained compensation was disbursed only to those who provided documents proving their properties had been destroyed.

Conflict and war in the Sinai Peninsula over decades contributed to the disruption of the lives of Bedouin there.

The country also hosted approximately 6.3 million migrants, according to 2020 estimates from the International Organization for Migration. More than half of the migrants were from Sudan and South Sudan, where conflicts continued to displace tens of thousands of persons annually. Migrants reported incidents of racial insults and sexual harassment due to their skin color.

In October 2020 the killing of a 12-year-old Sudanese boy, Mohamed Hassan, by a local man led to large protests, which security forces dispersed using tear gas and a water cannon and reportedly arrested 70 Sudanese refugees and migrants. The local man was later arrested and convicted of murdering the boy.

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution states persons with disabilities are equal without discrimination before the law. The law prohibits discrimination in education, employment, health, political activity, rehabilitation, training, and legal protection. On December 23, President Sisi ratified new amendments to the law that stipulate a prison sentence of no less than two years, a fine, or both for bullying persons with disabilities, with prison terms and fines doubled for repeat offenders. Persons with disabilities do not have access on an equal basis with others to education, health services, public buildings and transportation. The new National Human Rights Strategy included a section on the rights for persons with disabilities. The strategy calls for helping persons with disabilities enjoy all rights under the law and calls for increased medical and educational services for persons with disabilities.

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

The National Council for People with Disabilities, an independent body, aimed to promote, develop, and protect the rights of persons with disabilities and their constitutional dignity. The council signed a cooperation protocol with the Justice Ministry to address the rights of persons with disabilities and to train employees in the government on how to help persons with hearing disabilities.

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

On May 5, local media reported that EgyptAir announced a 20 percent discount for passengers with disabilities on international flights and a 10 percent discount to their flight companions.

On May 11, local media reported that the National Telecom Regulatory Authority announced a 50 percent discount for customers with disabilities on their monthly voice and internet packages.

On August 29, local media reported that the minister of social solidarity announced the addition of sign language to the state-run digital platform to raise awareness for youth regarding marriage.

On September 3 and November 16, the UN special rapporteur on human rights defenders issued official statements of concern regarding the continued pretrial detention of university student Oqaba Alaa Labib Hashad, who she said was unable to walk without his prosthetic limb. The November 16 statement reported Hashad was arrested in 2019 and was allegedly subjected to physical and psychological torture, including being suspended from a ceiling and subjected to electric shocks. The statement said that a prison investigator reportedly took Hashad’s prosthetic leg in January in retaliation for a human rights report his exiled brother had published. The statement added that Hashad was held in solitary confinement without family visits for three months after he complained on March 5 of the lack of his prosthetic leg.

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

While the law does not explicitly criminalize consensual same-sex sexual activity, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons were arrested and prosecuted on charges such as “debauchery,” “prostitution,” and “violating family values,” for which the law provides for prison sentences of up to 10 years. According to a local rights group, there were more than 250 reports of such arrests since 2013. Rights groups and activists reported harassment by police, including physical assault and forced payment of bribes to provide information concerning other LGBTQI+ individuals or to avoid arrest. There were reports that authorities used social media, dating websites, and mobile phone apps to entrap persons they suspected of being gay or transgender, a method LGBTQI+ advocates described as especially effective since LGBTQI+-friendly public spaces had largely closed in recent years. Rights groups reported that authorities, including the Forensic Medical Authority, conducted forced anal examinations, which rights groups indicated primarily targeted LGBTQI+ individuals. The law allows for conducting forced anal exams in cases of “debauchery.”

Authorities did not use antidiscrimination laws to protect LGBTQI+ individuals. Legal discrimination and social stigma impeded LGBTQI+ persons from organizing or advocating publicly in defense of their rights. Information was not available on discrimination in employment, occupation, housing, statelessness, or access to education or health care based on sexual orientation and gender identity. There were no government efforts to address potential discrimination. There were reports of arrests and harassment of LGBTQI+ individuals. Intimidation and the risk of arrest greatly restricted open reporting and contributed to self-censorship. The government has the authority to deport or bar entry to the country of LGBTQI+ foreigners.

The Egyptian Medical Syndicate allows for gender-affirming treatment with approval by a special committee composed of medical doctors and al-Azhar clergy, according to international media citing a local LGBTQI+ activist on February 6. The committee relies on a fatwa that stipulates gender affirming treatment must be “medically necessary” and justified by a “biological,” not a “mental” matter. According to Human Rights Watch, the surgery was allowed only for intersex persons, which left transgender individuals to seek treatment from unregulated and often unsafe clinics. On August 26, according to Human Rights Watch, Ezz Eldin, a 26-year-old transgender man, bled to death following surgery in an underground clinic.

On May 6, border guards prevented two transgender Israelis from entering Sinai for tourism because they did not appear to belong to the sex listed in their passports.

According to a LGBTQI+ rights organization 2020 annual report issued in January, authorities arrested 25 LGBTQI+ individuals in 2020 and conducted forced anal exams on six persons.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the rights of workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and strike, but it imposes significant restrictions. The constitution provides for freedom of association. The law prescribes union elections every four years and imposes a strict hierarchy for union formation consisting of a company-level trade union committee, a profession or industry-level general union, and a national-level union. The government did not effectively enforce applicable laws or levy penalties commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination. However, penalties for engaging in illegal strikes were more stringent. The law requires centralized tripartite negotiations that include workers, represented by a union affiliated with the Egyptian Trade Union Federation (Union Federation), business owners, and the Ministry of Manpower overseeing and monitoring negotiations and agreements. The government seldom followed the requirement for tripartite negotiations in collective disputes, leaving workers to negotiate directly with employers, typically after resorting to a strike. In March 2020 workers from al-Masryia Company for Weaving and Textile struck for alleged unpaid raises and bonuses. Media reported in late December 2020 that management and worker representatives reached an agreement on compensation and back pay without the participation of the Ministry of Manpower.

The constitution provides for the right to “peaceful” strikes, and the law permits them but imposes significant restrictions, including prior approval by a general trade union affiliated with the Union Federation. In April the International Labor Organization (ILO) removed the country from the preliminary list of cases for discussion by the ILO Committee on the Application of Standards, which discusses discrepancies between a country’s law and practice and ILO conventions the country has ratified.

In July more than 1,200 workers at the Nile Linen Group, based in Alexandria’s special economic zone, went on strike concerning the company’s refusal to implement agreed-upon wage increases and add workers’ family members to company health insurance policies. Four days later, local media reported that the Nile Linen Group’s union committee reached an agreement with management regarding certain aspects of the wage dispute and agreed to resume negotiations on the remaining demands.

The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for the reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. In March the head of the union at the Alexandria Spinning and Weaving Company, Ashraf Abdel Moneim, alleged that the company had transferred seven committee members to new positions in retaliation for the workers’ refusal to implement the company’s decision to stop production and dismiss workers. According to media reports, Lord International Company terminated 84 workers in August following strikes by approximately 2,000 workers demanding that the company comply with the country’s minimum wage laws.

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

The government occasionally arrested workers who staged strikes or criticized the government, and it rarely reversed arbitrary dismissals. On January 22, local media reported that the government released two doctors arrested in 2020 for posting comments to Facebook critical of the government’s coronavirus response. Labor union activist Khalil Rizk was released on May 21 pending trial on charges of spreading false news, misuse of social media, and membership in a banned group. Authorities had first arrested Rizk in 2019 while he was advocating for workers in a pharmaceutical factory engaged in a dispute with management concerning wages.

In March the Ministry of Manpower announced, without stating when, that it had previously established a trade union grievance committee to examine complaints submitted by trade union organizations and provide unions with technical assistance in meeting regulatory requirements.

Independent unions continued to face pressure to dissolve. In many cases the Ministry of Manpower delayed responding to unions’ applications for legal status, leaving many in legal limbo. In other instances the Ministry of Manpower refused to legalize proposed unions if a Union Federation-affiliated counterpart existed.

Workers sometimes staged sit-ins on government and private property, often without obtaining the necessary permits. In July the Court of Cassation ruled that prison sentences for organizing protests without permits would apply to protest organizers and participants.

For a period of 12 months ending in August, a monthly 1 percent deduction was made from the net income of all public-sector employees and 0.5 percent of the net income of pensioners to fund efforts to address the economic repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution states no work may be compulsory except by virtue of a law. The law prohibits and criminalizes all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government did not effectively enforce the prohibition. The government conducted awareness-raising activities for migrant laborers, and domestic workers, a population vulnerable to trafficking, and worked with NGOs to provide some assistance to survivors of human trafficking, including forced labor. Penalties were not commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law does not prohibit or criminalize all the worst forms of child labor or provide sufficient protection for children from exploitation in the workplace, including limitations on working hours, and occupational safety and health restrictions.  Children were subjected to the worst forms of child labor, including in commercial sexual exploitation, sometimes as a result of human trafficking, quarrying limestone, and organized begging.  The law sets the minimum age for regular employment at age 15 and at age 13 for seasonal employment.  The constitution defines a child as anyone younger than 18.  A Ministry of Manpower decree bars children younger than 18 from 44 specific hazardous occupations, while the law prohibits employment of children younger than 18 from work that “puts the health, safety, or morals of the child into danger.”  Provincial governors, with the approval of the minister of education, may authorize seasonal work (often agricultural) for children age 13 and older, provided duties are not hazardous and do not interfere with schooling.  The law limits children’s work hours and mandates breaks.

The government did not effectively enforce child labor laws.  The maximum penalties for violating laws against child labor were fines and therefore not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.  The Ministry of Manpower, in coordination with the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood and the Interior Ministry, enforced child labor laws in state-owned enterprises and private-sector establishments through inspections and supervision of factory management.  Labor inspectors generally operated without adequate training on child labor matters, although the Ministry of Manpower offered some child labor-specific training.  The government did not inspect noncommercial farms for child labor, and there were very limited monitoring and enforcement mechanisms for children in domestic service.  Authorities implemented several social, educational, and poverty reduction programs to reduce children’s vulnerability to exploitative labor.  The National Council for Childhood and Motherhood, working with the Ministries of Education and Technical Education and of Social Solidarity, sought to provide working children with social security safeguards and to reduce school dropout rates by providing families with alternative sources of income.

Estimates on the number of child laborers varied. According to the 2012 joint International Labor Organization and Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics child labor survey, of the 1.8 million children working, 1.6 million were engaged in hazardous or unlawful forms of labor, primarily in the agricultural sector in rural areas but also in domestic work and factories in urban areas, often under hazardous conditions. Children also worked in light industry, the aluminum industry, limestone production, construction sites, brick production, and service businesses such as auto repair. According to government, NGO, and media reports, the number of street children in Cairo continued to increase due to deteriorating economic conditions. Such children were at greater risk of sexual exploitation or forced begging. In some cases employers abused or overworked children.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution states all citizens “are equal in rights, freedoms, and general duties without discrimination based on religion, belief, gender, origin, race, color, language, disability, social class, political or geographic affiliation, or any other reason.” It does not specify age, citizenship, sexual orientation, gender identity, or HIV-positive or other communicable disease status. The law does not specifically protect some categories of workers, including agricultural and domestic workers, and other sectors of the informal economy. Penalties for violations were not commensurate with laws related to civil rights, such as election interference.

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

Labor laws provide for equal rates of pay for equal work for men and women in the public but not the private sector. Educated women had employment opportunities, but social pressure against women pursuing a career was strong. On April 19, the Ministry of Manpower issued new labor regulations that removed gender-based restrictions preventing women from working in the evenings and performing jobs related to manufacturing spirits, fireworks, fertilizers, pesticides, asphalt, painting metals, radioactive substances, and moving machines. The new regulations require employers to provide women safe transportation and working conditions at night and grant women the right to perform any job function except in fields with chemical, physical, biological, and engineering risks during pregnancy and lactation periods.

Large sectors of the economy controlled by the military excluded women from high-level positions. While the law provides for persons with disabilities to gain access to vocational training and employment, the government did not effectively enforce prohibitions against such discrimination. Discrimination also occurred against women and migrant workers (see sections 2.d. and 6), as well as workers based on their political views.

An employee facing discrimination may file a report with the local government labor office. If the employee and the employer are unable to reach an amicable settlement, they may file their claim in administrative court, which may order the employer to redress the complaint or to pay damages or legal fees. According to local rights groups, implementation of the law was inadequate. Additionally, the lengthy and expensive litigation process could deter employees from filing claims. On January 21, the Ministry of Planning and Economic Development announced the creation of an Equal Opportunities Unit to prevent discrimination and promote gender equity and inclusiveness in the ministry. On July 3, the Supreme Administrative Court reversed a decision by the Health Insurance Board to terminate a female worker for being sexually harassed in the street. The board had previously said the employee’s termination was necessary since she would be “offensive to her colleagues” as a woman who had been sexually harassed.

Local rights groups reported several cases of employers dismissing workers or depriving them from work for expressing antigovernment opinions. On August 1, President Sisi ratified new amendments to the civil service law that authorize the government to summarily dismiss public employees who commit certain acts against the state. The minister of transportation had asked parliament to pass such a law to enable the ministry to terminate 162 employees, whom the minister claimed were members of the Muslim Brotherhood and had contributed to several railway crashes. According to progovernment media reports, the Supreme Council for Universities tasked university presidents on July 26 with compiling a list of “terrorist employees” to terminate pursuant to the new law. The law allows employees to appeal termination decisions to the Administrative Court and protects the pension and severance pay of terminated individuals.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The government sets a monthly minimum wage for government employees and public-sector workers, which is above the poverty line. The law stipulates a maximum 48-hour workweek for the public and private sectors and provides for premium pay for overtime and work on rest days and national holidays. The law prohibits excessive compulsory overtime. According to labor rights organizations, the government implemented the minimum wage for public-sector workers but applied it only to direct government employees and included benefits and bonuses in calculating total salaries. For government employees and public business-sector workers, the government also set a maximum wage limit per month. The government sets worker health and safety standards, for example, by prohibiting employers from maintaining hazardous working conditions. The law excludes agricultural, fisheries, and domestic workers from regulations concerning wages, hours, and working conditions.

The law does not require equal pay for equal work. Penalties for violating laws on acceptable conditions of work were not commensurate with crimes such as fraud, which are punishable by imprisonment.

Occupational Safety and Health: Occupational safety and health standards were not always appropriate for the main industries, such as agriculture, manufacturing, and services. The Ministry of Manpower is responsible for enforcing labor laws and standards for working conditions. The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties for violations included imprisonment and fines, but they were not effectively enforced. It was unclear whether such penalties were commensurate with laws such as negligence. Labor inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions.

By law workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to employment, although authorities did not reliably enforce this right. Little information was available on workplace fatalities and accidents. Responsibility for identifying unsafe situations remains with occupational safety and health experts and the employer and not the worker.

On November 10, the medical syndicate announced that approximately 633 doctors had died of COVID-19 since March 2020. According to media reports, laborers in some remote areas worked in extremely dangerous environments. In March, 20 persons were killed (and 24 others injured) when a fire broke out in a garment factory north of Cairo. In the following month, approximately eight individuals died (with two others injured) when a 10-story building housing a garment factory collapsed. On August 14, five persons were killed in an oil refining plant in the Abu Rawash Industrial Zone. Local media reported the arrest of the plant owners by authorities following an investigation, which revealed that the plant had been operating unlicensed and illegally for four years. In North Sinai workers’ movements were restricted by local government-established curfews and checkpoints run by both the military and nonstate armed groups in the area due to the military’s campaign against militants.

The government provided services, such as free health care, to all citizens, but the quality of services was often poor. Other benefits, such as social insurance, were available only to employees in the formal sector. Many private-sector employers reportedly required workers to sign undated resignation letters as a condition of employment, which the employers could use to terminate employees at will. On June 18, the minister of manpower utilized an emergency fund created to pay workers’ wages in the event of economic hardship to assist 257 workers of the Egyptian Company for Modern Food Industries.

Informal Sector: The Ministry of Manpower did not attempt to apply labor standards to the informal sector. Many persons throughout the country faced poor working conditions, especially in the informal economy, which employed up to 40 percent of workers, according to some estimates. According to the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics, approximately 11.9 million of the 25.7 million workers in the labor force did not have formal contracts with employers and were categorized as “informal” workers. Obstacles to improving working conditions in both the private sector and informal sector included uneven application or lack of regulations and restrictions on engaging in peaceful protests as a means of negotiating resolutions to workplace disparities. Domestic workers, agricultural workers, workers in rock quarries, and other parts of the informal sector were most likely to face hazardous or exploitative conditions. There were reports of employer abuse of citizen and undocumented foreign workers, especially domestic workers, particularly Sudanese and other sub-Saharan Africans.

Morocco

Executive Summary

Morocco is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system under which ultimate authority rests with King Mohammed VI, who presides over the Council of Ministers. The king shares executive authority with Head of Government Aziz Akhannouch. According to the constitution, the king appoints the head of government from the political party with the most seats in parliament and approves members of the government nominated by the head of government. Parliamentary elections were held September 8, and observers characterized them as well organized and conducted without significant problems or irregularities.

The security apparatus includes several police and paramilitary organizations with overlapping authority. The National Police Force manages internal law enforcement in cities and reports to the Ministry of Interior. The Auxiliary Forces also report to the Ministry of Interior and support gendarmes and police. The Royal Gendarmerie, which reports to the Administration of National Defense, is responsible for law enforcement in rural regions and on national highways. The judicial police (investigative) branches of both the Royal Gendarmerie and the National Police report to the royal prosecutor and have the power to arrest individuals. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over security forces. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Morocco claims the territory of Western Sahara and administers the territory that it controls. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el Hamra and Rio de Oro (POLISARIO), an organization that seeks the territory’s independence, disputes Morocco’s claim to sovereignty over the territory. Moroccan and POLISARIO forces fought intermittently from 1975, when Spain relinquished colonial authority over the territory, until a 1991 cease-fire and the establishment of a UN peacekeeping mission. On October 6, the UN secretary-general appointed Staffan de Mistura as the new personal envoy for Western Sahara. The UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara mandate was renewed on October 29. The POLISARIO withdrew from the cease-fire in November 2020, and since then there have been reports of intermittent indirect fire between Morocco’s Royal Armed Forces and POLISARIO fighters across the 1,700-mile separation barriers (the “berm”).

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: torture or degrading treatment by some members of the security forces; allegations there were political prisoners; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including criminalization of libel and certain content that criticized Islam, the monarchy, and the government’s position regarding territorial integrity; substantial interference with the freedom of assembly and freedom of association, including surveillance and intimidation of political activists; serious government corruption; and criminalization of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex conduct.

The government took steps to investigate officials who allegedly committed human rights abuses and acts of corruption, but investigations into police, security force, and detention center abuses lacked transparency and frequently encountered long delays and procedural obstacles that contributed to impunity.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

There were reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. On September 8, Youssef Bejjaj was reportedly chased by three police officers for not wearing a helmet on a moped. Bejjaj’s mother claimed he was then beaten to death by plainclothes police officers. On November 17, the National Brigade of the Judicial Police opened an investigation. The police investigation found that the cause of death was due to the collision of Bejjaj’s motorcycle with a police motorcycle. The report stated that the autopsy revealed injuries consistent with a collision and concluded there had been “no use of excessive force” against Bejjaj.

International and local media reported that on November 3, the Royal Armed Forces conducted an airstrike in POLISARIO-controlled territory of Western Sahara using an unmanned aerial vehicle, which killed three Algerian civilian drivers in Bir Lahlou.

b. Disappearance

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

According to the annual report from the UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances, from May 2018 to May 2019, the country had 153 outstanding cases of forced disappearances between 1956 and 1992, seven fewer than at the beginning of the reporting period. The National Council on Human Rights (CNDH), a publicly funded national human rights institution, reported that as of July, six cases of forced disappearances between 1956 and 1992 remained unresolved. The CNDH continued to cooperate with the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on unresolved cases of disappearance. According to the government, the working group transmitted no new allegations of enforced disappearances. Also, according to the government, no prosecutions were recorded in the first half of the year regarding past enforced disappearances.

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

The constitution and the law prohibit such practices, and the government denied it authorizes the use of torture.

Although government institutions and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) continued to receive reports about the mistreatment of individuals in official custody, reports of torture have declined over the last several years. According to the government, 385 accusations of mistreatment by police were recorded, of which 336 complaints were processed and 49 complaints were under investigation. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, there were eight complaints of torture or degrading treatment filed with the Prosecutor General’s Office during the year. An investigation into the case of Said Feryakh concluded that the detainee had not been subjected to any treatment outside the legal framework by personnel at Souk Larbaa prison during his incarceration. According to the General Delegation for Prison Administration and Reintegration (DGAPR) Feryakh was inciting inmates to revolt and undertake collective action that could jeopardize security and disrupt order in the institution.

As of year’s end, there were continuing investigations by the National Brigade of the Judicial Police of six security officers for use of violence in the course of their duties. The CNDH reported it opened 20 investigations into complaints of torture or degrading treatment between January 1 and August 31.

In the event of an accusation of torture, the law requires judges to refer a detainee to a forensic medical expert when the detainee or lawyer requests it, or if judges notice suspicious physical marks on a detainee. In some cases judges refused to order a medical assessment when a detainee made an allegation of abuse. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, human rights NGOs, and media documented cases of authorities’ failure to implement provisions of the antitorture law, including failure to conduct medical examinations when detainees alleged torture.

Reports of mistreatment occurred most frequently in pretrial detention. There were also accusations that security officials subjected Western Sahara proindependence protesters to degrading treatment during or following demonstrations or protests calling for the release of alleged political prisoners. OHCHR noted in March it had received reports of unnecessary and disproportionate use of force by security forces to disperse protests.

On March 17, a video posted on social media networks showed a member of the security services in civilian clothes assaulting teachers during a union demonstration organized in Rabat. The individual, identified as Sahm Bouhfid, was detained on March 18 for violence, assault and battery, misuse of office, and interference with duties of a public office. On April 5, Bouhfid was sentenced to one year in prison. On July 26, his sentence was reduced to eight months on appeal.

According to Amnesty International, on March 25 Moroccan police in Western Sahara detained and allegedly tortured 15-year-old Mustapha Razouk for peacefully protesting the detention of another activist. According to Razouk’s testimony, authorities beat Razouk, poured boiling melted plastic on him, and suspended him from the ceiling. He alleged that he was not given access to a doctor during the first three days in custody and was forced to sign a police report without being allowed to read it. Razouk was sentenced to one month in prison for participating in a protest and throwing stones at a police vehicle. He was released on April 26. There was no information on official investigation into Razouk’s torture claims.

In April a female teacher accused law enforcement officials in Rabat of sexually assaulting her during a teachers’ demonstration calling for maintaining retirement benefits. According to the government, the Prosecutor General’s Office offered to provide medical exams to 21 other demonstrators who said they also had been sexually assaulted during the demonstration. The investigation was still pending as of year’s end.

In January 2020 the spouse of Abdelqader Belliraj, who was serving a life sentence on terrorism-related charges, told Human Rights Watch (HRW) that Belliraj has been deprived of contact with other inmates since 2016 and was kept in confinement 23 hours a day. According to media reports, the DGAPR stated Belliraj received an hour break each day that allowed for interactions with other inmates and was allowed family visits and access to a telephone. Belliraj claimed he was convicted based on confessions obtained under police torture. Belliraj was transferred at his request to a prison in Marrakech in March.

In Western Sahara, human rights organizations continued to track alleged abusers from local security forces who remained in leadership positions or who had been transferred to other positions. International and local human rights organizations claimed that authorities dismissed many complaints of abuse and relied only on police statements. Government officials generally did not provide information on the outcome of complaints.

In March 2020, HRW published a report of police violence against two Western Sahara independence activists, Walid el-Batal and Yahdhih el-Ghazal, in Smara in June 2019. According to HRW’s report, Moroccan security forces attempted to prohibit the men from attending an event for activist Salah Labsir who was serving a four-year prison sentence on charges of premeditated violence against police and destruction of public goods. OHCHR requested an investigation into el-Batal’s case, raising concerns regarding human rights abuses. The National Police Force (DGSN) opened a judicial investigation into this incident. According to the DGAPR, six police officers were prosecuted following the dissemination on social networks of a video illustrating the circumstances of arrest.

According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions online portal, there were two allegations submitted during the year of sexual exploitation and abuse by Moroccan peacekeepers deployed to UN peacekeeping missions. The first concerned transactional sex in late 2020 in the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The second concerned attempted rape of a child and soliciting transactional sex with an adult in the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic. Moroccan and UN Office of Internal Oversight Services investigations into both allegations remained pending.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions improved during the year but in some cases did not meet international standards.

Physical Conditions: The Moroccan Observatory of Prisons (OMP), an NGO focused on the rights of prisoners, continued to report that some prisons were overcrowded and failed to meet local and international standards. In newer prisons pretrial detainees and convicted prisoners were held separately, but in older prisons the two groups remained together.

According to government sources and NGOs, prison overcrowding was also due in large part to an underutilized system of bail or provisional release, a severe backlog in cases, and lack of judicial discretion to reduce the length of prison sentences for specific crimes. Government sources stated that administrative requirements also prevented prison authorities from transferring individuals in pretrial detention or the appeals phase to facilities outside the jurisdiction where their trials were to take place.

As of August 16, there were 37 registered hunger strike cases. On January 20, the families of detainees held for their role in 2016 demonstrations in the Riffian city of al- Hoceima conducted a 48-hour hunger strike to protest detention of their family members Nasser Zafzafi, Nabil Ahmjik, Mohamed Jalloul, Mohammed Hakki, Samir Ighid, Zakaria Adahchour, along with journalists Soulaiman Raissouni, Omar Radi and the academic Maati Monjib. NGOs frequently cited cases where prisoners protested the conditions of their detention with hunger strikes. In February several NGOs reported mistreatment of Mohamed Lamine Hadi after he commenced a hunger strike in a detention center in the Rabat-Tiflet region on January 13 to protest his poor prison conditions, including continued isolation, medical negligence, and deprivation of basic rights. Reports also claimed his family was deprived of visitation rights. The DGAPR investigated the claims and issued a written response that stated the allegations were false.

King Mohammed VI pardoned 4,181 inmates during the calendar year. Of the inmates who received a royal pardon, 17 were Hirak (popular mass protest movement) detainees.

The law provides for the separation of minor prisoners from adult prisoners. In all prisons, officials classify youth offenders into two categories, both of which are separated from other prisoners: minors younger than 18 and offenders between 18 and 20 years old. According to authorities, minors were not held with prisoners older than age 20. The DGAPR had three dedicated juvenile “centers for reform and education” but maintained separate, dedicated youth detention areas for minors in all prisons. The government reported that, in cases where a juvenile court judge ruled detention was necessary, minors younger than 14 were detained separately from minors 15 to 18 years old. A judge must monitor cases monthly of detained minors.

The DGAPR reported there was no discrimination in access to health services or facilities based on gender for female prisoners, who make up just over 2 percent of the prison population. Some officials reported that female inmates often had a harder time accessing gender-specific health specialists such as OB/GYNs than a general physician. Local NGOs asserted that prison facilities did not provide adequate access to health care and did not accommodate the needs of prisoners with disabilities. The DGAPR reported a nurse and a psychologist examined each prisoner on arrival and that prisoners received care upon request. The DGAPR reported conducting extensive COVID-19 tests and medical consultations in prisons.

The DGAPR provided to inmates fresh food, certified by the Ministry of Health as meeting the nutritional needs of the average adult male. According to the DGAPR, the penitentiary system accommodated the special dietary needs of prisoners suffering from illnesses and of prisoners with religious dietary restrictions.

Some human rights activists asserted that the prison administration reserved harsher treatment for Islamists who challenged the king’s religious authority and for those accused of “questioning the territorial integrity of the country.” The DGAPR denied that any prisoners received differential treatment and asserted that all prisoners received equal treatment in accordance with the law.

Families of detainees from Western Sahara alleged that they faced unusually harsh prison conditions. The DGAPR contested this claim and asserted that prisoners in Western Sahara and Sahrawi prisoners in the rest of the country received the same treatment as all other prisoners under its authority.

On September 26, authorities released journalist and Sahrawi activist Mohamed al-Bambary after six years in detention. According to the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Center, he had been detained with 45 other prisoners in a cell that was 25 feet by 18.5 feet.

Administration: While authorities generally permitted relatives and friends to visit prisoners, there were reports that authorities denied visiting privileges in some instances. The DGAPR assigned each prisoner to a risk classification level, which determined visiting privileges. According to its prisoner classification guide, the DGAPR placed restrictions on the level of visits, recreation, and types of educational programming for higher-risk prisoners. At all classifications, prisoners may receive visits, although the length, frequency, and number of visitors may vary. Most prisons assigned each prisoner a designated “visit day” to manage the number of visits to the prison. The DGAPR authorized religious observances and services provided by religious leaders for all prisoners, including religious minorities. To limit the spread of COVID-19 during the pandemic, DGAPR suspended family and lawyer visits but increased phone time privileges for inmates. The DGAPR put in place several measures such as cleaning and periodic disinfection while providing officials and inmates with means of prevention, including hydroalcohol gels and masks.

The CNDH and the DGAPR investigated allegations of inhuman conditions. The CNDH and the DGAPR effectively served the function of an ombudsman, and a system of “letterboxes” operated in prisons to facilitate prisoners’ right to submit complaints regarding their imprisonment. Detainees could submit complaints without censorship to the DGAPR Delegate General’s Office for processing, as well as to the CNDH.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted some NGOs with a human rights mandate to conduct unaccompanied monitoring visits. Government policy also permitted academics, as well as NGOs that provided social, educational, or religious services to prisoners, to enter prison facilities. According to prison officials, academics and various NGOs conducted 49 visits through June. The OMP conducted seven monitoring visits through June. The CNDH conducted 137 monitoring visits during the year.

Between January 1 and August 31, the CNDH’s three commissions in Western Sahara carried out nine visits to prisons, including two visits in Laayoune-Sakia and Smara to focus on the prevention of COVID-19 in prisons. The CNDH observed the DGAPR took steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in prisons, including the establishment of a digital platform to provide remote psychological support to prison staff and detainees, limiting the number of family visits and raising awareness through an information campaign among detainees. The Laayoune branch of the CNDH conducted monitoring visits and found the local prison in Dakhla remained overcrowded and insufficiently equipped to provide appropriate living conditions to the detainees. The CNDH stated the objectives of the visits were to prevent practices likely to lead directly or indirectly to any form of torture and mistreatment, to verify whether the preventive measures recommended by the public authorities against COVID-19 were in place in compliance with international standards, and to engage in a constructive dialogue with the authorities responsible.

Improvements: According to the DGAPR, construction for five new prisons began in the cities of Assilah, El Jadida, Dakhla, Laayoune and Tamesna. The Assilah prison opened in December. The DGAPR reported the penitentiaries of Outita and Elksar El Kebir, where detainees were obligated to work on farms, closed in January due to dilapidated and unhealthy conditions. The Mohamed VI Foundation offered integrated juvenile re-integration program in 60 penitentiaries.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge in court the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention. Observers indicated that police did not always respect these provisions or consistently observe due process, particularly during or in the wake of protests. According to local NGOs and associations, police sometimes arrested persons without warrants or while wearing civilian clothing.

No official from the DGSN has been investigated for arbitrary detention related to the application of measures pertaining to the state of health emergency.

Individuals have the right to challenge the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention and request compensation by submitting a complaint to the court.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

By law police may arrest an individual after a general prosecutor issues an oral or written warrant. The law permits authorities to deny defendants’ access to counsel or family members during the initial 96 hours of detention under terrorism-related laws or during the initial 24 hours of detention for all other charges, with an optional extension of 12 hours with the approval of the Prosecutor’s Office. Authorities did not consistently respect these limits. Reports of abuse most referred to these initial detention periods when police interrogated detainees. The government continued to require new police officers to receive security and human rights training facilitated by civil society.

In ordinary criminal cases, the law requires police to notify a detainee’s next of kin of an arrest immediately after the above-mentioned period of incommunicado detention, unless arresting authorities applied for and received an extension from a magistrate. Police did not consistently respect this requirement. Authorities sometimes delayed notifying the family or did not inform lawyers promptly of the date of arrest, and the families and lawyers were not able to monitor compliance with detention limits and treatment of the detainee.

The law states, “in the case of a flagrant offense, the Judicial Police Officer has the right to keep the suspect in detention for 48 hours. If strong and corroborated evidence is raised against this person, [the officer] can keep them in custody for a maximum of three days with the written authorization of the prosecutor.” According to the Antiterrorism Act, a terrorism suspect can be detained for up to 12 days. The suspect has a right to a 30-minute visit by a lawyer, but this visit can be delayed until the end of the 12-day detention period. In non-terrorism-related cases the lawyer’s visit must occur no later than the midpoint of the detention period. NGO observers and human rights activists widely assessed that the law on counterterrorism is inconsistent with international standards.

At the conclusion of the initial detention period in police custody, a detainee must be presented to a prosecutor, who may issue provisional charges and order additional investigation by an investigating judge in preparation for trial. The investigating judge has four months, plus a possible one-month extension, to interview the individual and determine what charges, if any, to file for trial. An individual may be detained in investigatory detention or at liberty during this phase. At the end of five months (if an extension is granted), the investigative judge must either file charges, decline to file charges and drop the case, or release the individual pending an additional investigation and a determination of whether to file. Authorities generally followed these timelines.

NGO sources stated that some judges were reticent to use alternative sentences permitted under the law, such as provisional release. The law does not require written authorization for release from detention. In some instances judges released defendants on their own recognizance. A bail bond system exists; the bond may be in the form of property or of cash paid to the court. The amount of the bond is subject to the judge’s discretion, depending on the offense. Bail may be requested at any time before the verdict. According to the law, defendants have the right to attorneys; if a defendant cannot afford private counsel, authorities must provide a court-appointed attorney if the criminal penalty exceeds five years in prison. Authorities did not always provide effective and timely counsel.

Arbitrary Arrest: Security forces often detained groups of individuals, took them to a police station, questioned them for several hours, and released them without charge.

Under the penal code, any public official who orders an arbitrary detention may be punished by demotion and, if it is done for private interest, by imprisonment for 10 years to life. An official who neglects to refer a claimed or observed arbitrary or illegal detention to his superiors may be punished by demotion. During the year no security officials were investigated for arbitrary arrest associated with enforcement of the shelter-in-place protocol due to COVID-19 restrictions. There was no information available as to whether these provisions were applied during the year.

On December 15, the Court of Cassation approved the extradition to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) of Uyghur journalist Idriss Aishan, who was arrested on July 19 upon his arrival to Morocco based on a 2017 INTERPOL Red Notice issued at the request of the PRC. Reporters without Borders and other human rights NGOs reported that the notice was a politically motivated instance of transnational repression targeting a perceived dissident. Even after the warrant was withdrawn in August, Aishan remained in detention. Aishan was pursuing an appeal process in the Moroccan courts.

Following alleged mistreatment while in detention, prisoner Mohamed Lamine Hadi who was arrested for participating in the 2010 Gdeim Izik camp protest, reportedly began a hunger strike on January 13. OHCHR stated Haddi took this action to protest his detention and isolation as arbitrary. The government denied Haddi undertook a hunger strike. On January 25, Haddi told his family that he had received death threats from the prison director of the Tifelt 2 prison. He was then not heard from until March, when his mother reported Haddi had called her claiming he was in poor health and had been subject to forced feeding.

OHCHR noted in March it had received reports of arbitrary arrests and detention of Sahrawi activists.

Pretrial Detention: Although the government claimed authorities generally brought accused persons to trial within two months, prosecutors may request as many as five additional two-month extensions of pretrial detention. Government officials attributed delays to the large backlog of cases in the justice system caused by a lack of resources devoted to the justice system, both human and infrastructure; the lack of plea bargaining as an option for prosecutors, lengthening the amount of time to process cases on average; the rare use of mediation and other out-of-court settlement mechanisms allowed by law; and the absence of legal authority for alternative sentencing, among other issues. The government reported that, as of November approximately 43 percent of detainees were in pretrial detention awaiting their first trial. In some cases defendants were held in pretrial detention for longer than their eventual sentence, particularly for misdemeanors.

Journalist Suleimane Raissouni was held in pretrial detention for more than a year before he was sentenced on July 9 to five years in prison on sexual assault charges. International NGOs stated trials had procedural flaws, the inability of defense teams to call witnesses, and the court denying the defense lawyers from fully presenting their client’s’ defense.

Journalist Suleimane Raissouni was held in pretrial detention for more than a year before he was sentenced on July 9 to five years in prison on sexual assault charges. International NGOs stated trials had procedural flaws, the inability of defense teams to call witnesses, and the court denying the defense lawyers from fully presenting their client’s’ defense.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and, as in previous years, NGOs asserted that corruption and extrajudicial influence weakened judicial independence. The Supreme Judicial Council, mandated by the constitution, manages the courts and day-to-day judicial affairs in place of the Ministry of Justice. The king appoints the president of the Court of Cassation (the highest court of appeals), who chairs the 20-member council. Additional members include the president of the First Chamber of the Court of Cassation; the prosecutor general; the mediator (national ombudsman); the president of the CNDH; 10 members elected by the country’s judges; and five members appointed by the king. While the government’s stated aim in creating the council was to improve judicial independence, there was limited progress in that regard since its inception as an independent entity in 2017. Human rights activists alleged trials in cases involving Islam as it related to political life and national security, the legitimacy of the monarchy, and Western Sahara, sometimes appeared politicized.

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial with the right of appeal, but this did not always occur. The law presumes that defendants are innocent. Defendants are informed promptly of potential charges after the initial arrest and investigation period. Defendants are then informed of final charges at the conclusion of the full investigatory period, which may last several months. Trials are conducted in Arabic, and foreigners have the right to request interpretation if they do not speak Arabic.

Defendants have the right to be present at their trial and to consult in a timely manner with an attorney. Defendants have the right to refuse to participate in their trial, and a judge may decide to continue the proceedings in the defendant’s absence while providing a detailed summary to the defendant. Authorities at times denied lawyers timely access to their clients, and in some cases lawyers met their clients only at the first hearing before the judge. Authorities are required to provide attorneys in cases where the potential sentence is greater than five years if the defendant is unable to afford one. Publicly provided defense attorneys were often poorly paid and not properly trained in matters pertaining to juveniles. If an attorney has not yet been appointed when a trial begins, the judge may ask any attorney present to represent the defendant. This practice often resulted in inadequate representation. At times NGOs provided attorneys for vulnerable individuals (minors, refugees, victims of domestic violence), who frequently did not have the means to pay. Access to NGO resources was limited and specific to larger cities.

The law permits defense attorneys to question witnesses. Despite the provisions of the law, some judges reportedly denied defense requests to question witnesses or to present mitigating witnesses or evidence. Several NGOs noted arbitrary access to case files for the defense teams presented a significant challenge to representing their clients. NGOs also noted sometimes multiple hearings using the same defense team were scheduled at the same time, impeding the ability of defense teams to provide fair representation.

The law forbids judges from admitting confessions made under duress without additional corroborating evidence, government officials stated. NGOs reported that the judicial system often relied on confessions for the prosecution of criminal cases, and authorities pressured investigators to obtain a confession from suspects to expedite prosecution. HRW and local NGOs charged that judges, at their discretion, sometimes decided cases based on forced confessions. According to the government, to move away from a confession-based judicial system, cases based solely on confessions and without any other substantiating evidence were no longer accepted by the courts.

According to the DGSN, during the year the forensics unit in partnership with international technical experts trained 85 judges and public prosecutors on forensics evidence for prosecutions. The National Police have evidence preservation centers throughout the country to secure evidence collected at crime scenes and to ensure compliance with chain of custody procedures. According to the Ministry of Justice, legal clerks manage the evidence preservation centers and coordinate access to evidence.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

The law does not define or recognize the concept of a political prisoner. The government did not consider any of its prisoners to be political prisoners and stated it had charged or convicted all individuals in prison under criminal law. The criminal law penalizes certain nonviolent advocacy and dissent, such as insulting police in songs or “defaming Morocco’s sacred values” by denouncing the king and regime during a public demonstration. NGOs, including the Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH), Amnesty International, and Sahrawi organizations, asserted the government imprisoned persons for political activities or beliefs under the cover of criminal charges.

In 2019 police in Rabat arrested Mohammed Boudouh, also known as Moul al-Hanout (grocery store owner), for “offending public officials” and “incitement to hatred.” Boudouh posted a live video on his Facebook page criticizing the king for allowing corruption. In January 2020 the court of first instance of Khemisset, sentenced Mohammed Boudouh to three years in prison for “insulting constitutional institutions and public officials.” As of year’s end, Mohammed Boudouh remained in Tiflet Prison. Amnesty International claimed the charges against Mohammed Boudouh were politically motivated.

Security forces arrested Soulaimane Raissouni, journalist and editor in chief of newspaper Akhbar al-Yaoum, in Casablanca in May 2020 after an individual claimed on Facebook that Raissouni sexually assaulted him in 2018. Raissouni disputed the allegation, and civil society groups and activists asserted his arrest was politically motivated to silence independent journalists. An investigating judge charged him with “violent and indecent assault and forced detention” and ordered his detention in Oukacha Prison. Reporters Without Borders described his original trial as “tainted by irregularities,” as the defense lawyers were not able to consult the indictment issued by the investigating judge. On April 8, Raissouni launched a 118-day hunger strike. On April 22, following a request by his lawyers, Raissouni was allowed to consult his criminal file under the supervision of the prison administration. In early June his lawyer claimed Raissouni could barely sit, stand, or walk on his own. According to the CNDH, Raissouni was held in the prison’s health unit where he received daily medical visits. The DGAPR ordered Raissouni’s transfer to Ibn Roch Hospital for treatment but said Raissouni refused. After one year in pretrial detention, on July 10, a court convicted Raissouni and sentenced him to five years in prison. According to the government, the judge ordered Raissouni to appear at the trial to hear the verdict, but Raissouni refused due to his poor health. Raissouni ended his hunger strike in August. His appeal process was ongoing at year’s end.

Human rights and proindependence groups considered a number of imprisoned Sahrawis to be political prisoners. This number included the 19 Gdeim Izik prisoners who remained in prison, as well as members of Sahrawi rights or proindependence organizations. In 2020 the Court of Cassation upheld the appeals verdict against 23 Sahrawi individuals arrested during the 2010 dismantling of the Gdeim Izik Camp, in which 11 Moroccan security officials and more than 30 protesters were killed. The sentences ranged from time served to life imprisonment. The individuals had been previously convicted in a military trial in 2013. A 2015 revision of the Code on Military Justice eliminated military trials for civilians, and in 2016 the Court of Cassation ruled on appeal that the group should receive a new civilian trial. HRW noted concerns that the verdict was reached based on a confession obtained under torture.

Sahrawi political activists alleged security authorities unlawfully entered their homes to harass, intimidate, and confiscate personal belongings. Some activists alleged security authorities carried out these acts to signal that if their political activities did not stop, harassment and intimidation would increase.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Although individuals have access to civil courts for lawsuits relating to human rights violations and have filed lawsuits, such lawsuits were frequently unsuccessful due to the courts’ lack of judicial independence in politically sensitive cases or lack of impartiality stemming from extrajudicial influence and corruption. The Supreme Judicial Council is tasked with ensuring ethical behavior by judicial personnel (see section 4). There are administrative as well as judicial remedies for alleged wrongdoing. Authorities sometimes failed to respect court orders in a timely manner.

The Institution of the Mediator (akin to a national ombudsman) helped resolve civil matters that did not clear the threshold to merit involvement of the judiciary, including cases involving civil society registration issues. Although this office faced backlogs, it gradually expanded the scope of its activities and subjected complaints to in-depth investigation. The mediator retransmitted to the CNDH for resolution cases specifically related to allegations of human rights abuses by authorities. The CNDH continued to be a conduit through which citizens expressed complaints regarding human rights abuses.

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

While the constitution states an individual’s home is inviolable and that a search may take place only with a search warrant, authorities at times entered homes without judicial authorization, employed informers, and monitored, without legal process, personal movement, and private communications – including email, text messaging, or other digital communications intended to remain private.

Amnesty International and OHCHR reported in July that Sahrawi rights activist Sultana Khaya had been under de facto house arrest since November 2020. Although the government denied Khaya was under house arrest, security forces stationed at her house monitored her movements and interactions. Khaya stated that police have raided her house several times. During one of these raids in May, Khaya alleged that police officials physically assaulted her sister and mother. Amnesty International reported that Khaya and her sister said police raped them during the raid, a charge that authorities denied. Additionally, activist Babuizid Muhammed Saaed Labhi and two student activists who were staying in Khaya’s house were reportedly detained. The Regional Council on Human Rights (CRDH) in Laayoune attempted to meet with Khaya at her home on February 13 to discuss her allegations and facilitate access to medical care. Khaya declined CRDH’s assistance, citing her distrust of the authorities’ willingness to conduct an impartial investigation. According to the government, in May the Laayoune Court of Appeal opened an investigation into Khaya’s allegations of police brutality and sexual assault. There was no official investigation into these claims, which Khaya attributed to her distrust of the authorities’ willingness to conduct an impartial investigation and the government stated was a result of her unwillingness to cooperate.

In June 2020 Amnesty International published a report claiming authorities used spyware made by Israel-based company NSO Group to target journalist Omar Radi’s phone from January 2019 to January 2020. In July 2020 police arrested Radi on charges of “indecent assault with violence; rape; the receipt of foreign funds for the purpose of undermining state’s domestic security; and initiation of contacts with agents of foreign countries to harm the diplomatic situation of the country.” According to HRW, the rape and indecent assault charges against Radi were based on a complaint filed in July 2020 by one of Radi’s colleagues. After Radi refused in March to have his trial held in a virtual format during the COVID-19 pandemic, his trial was postponed to May 18. In April 2021 Radi carried out a 22-day hunger strike to protest his lengthy pretrial detention. He ended the strike on May 1. On May 5, a judge denied Radi’s request for provisional release. Radi’s trial was later postponed until June 1 by the criminal chamber of the Casablanca Court of Appeal due to his poor health. Media outlets reported Radi was weakened to the point of not being able to answer the questions. The trial was postponed three times in June due to an accusation by his attorneys of procedural irregularities and further delayed due to Radi’s poor health. On July 19, Radi was found guilty on charges of espionage and sexual assault and sentenced to six years in prison.

According to Amnesty International, academic Maati Monjib was additionally subjected to government surveillance through the NSO Group spyware technology.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution and law generally provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, although criticism of Islam, the institution of the monarchy, or the government’s positions regarding territorial integrity and Western Sahara is criminalized. Such criticism can result in prosecution under the penal code, with punishments ranging from fines to prison time. The press code, which provides for freedom of expression, applies only to journalists accredited by the department of communication, under the Ministry of Culture, Youth, and Sports, and only for speech or publications in the line of work; private speech by accredited journalists remains punishable under the penal code.

According to the Freedom House 2021 Freedom in the World report, the press enjoyed a significant degree of freedom when reporting on economic and social policies, but authorities used an array of financial and legal mechanisms to punish critical journalists. NGOs reported that despite press codes intended to prevent the unlawful imprisonment of individuals exercising their freedom of expression, authorities utilized penal codes to punish commentators, activists, and journalists criticizing the government.

Freedom of Expression: The law criminalizes criticism of Islam, of the legitimacy of the monarchy, of state institutions, of officials such as those in the military, and of the government’s positions regarding territorial integrity and Western Sahara. The government sometimes prosecuted persons who expressed criticism on these topics. Amnesty International and HRW highlighted dozens of cases in which freedom of expression was restricted. During the year there were instances where individuals publicly critical of the monarch, local authorities, and Islam were harassed by government authorities. According to the government, 359 individuals were specifically charged for criminal speech, including defamation, slander, and insult (see Libel/Slander Laws and National Security).

In response to the COVID pandemic, parliament passed a law in 2020 declaring a health emergency and setting a penalty of a three-month prison sentence for anyone disobeying “orders and decisions taken by public authorities” and for anyone “obstructing” through “writings, publications or photos” those decisions.

In December 2020 national security institutions in charge of internal security such as external security (DGED) and the DGSN filed an official complaint with the Prosecutor General of the Rabat Court of First Instance against six Moroccans residing abroad for “insults and defamation of public officials and security bodies and denunciation of fictional crimes, ultimately undermining national security.”

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Independent media, as well as partisan media, were active and expressed a variety of views within the restrictions of the law. The press code limits punishments for accredited journalists to fines.

According to an October 1 report submitted by UN secretary-general pursuant to the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) mandate, OHCHR remained concerned by reports of undue restrictions imposed by the government on the rights to freedom of expression and excessive surveillance of human rights defenders and journalists in Western Sahara. The report added that OHCHR continued to receive reports of harassment and arbitrary arrests of journalists, bloggers, and human rights defenders covering human rights violations.

On April 8, prosecutors in Mohammedia arrested and charged two editors of online outlet Mohammedia Press for publishing “false information” in relation to a video the editors posted that the government claimed contributed to the spread of anti-COVID-19 vaccine information. Five other persons were arrested for sharing the same information via their Facebook accounts. A court later acquitted the editors and ordered their release.

On July 8, YouTube commentator Mustapha Semlali, was sentenced to two years in prison for “undermining the monarchy” after he allegedly defamed Prince Moulay Rachid, the king’s brother.

Journalists continued to denounce the cumbersome administrative procedures and the long wait times to receive accreditation under the press code. Some members of the press claimed that journalists from outlets close to the government and palace received their credentials sooner than journalists from independent outlets. They claimed journalists waiting for their credentials had to operate without a press card in an ambiguous legal status, as the protections of the press code are only available to accredited journalists.

The government also enforced strict procedures governing journalists’ meetings with NGO representatives and political activists. Foreign journalists needed, but did not always receive, approval from the Ministry of Culture, Youth, and Sports before meeting with political activists.

The trial for seven members of the Moroccan Association for Investigative Journalism, including Hicham Mansouri, Maati Monjib, and Hisham Almiraat, was repeatedly postponed through the year since 2015. According to the Ministry of Justice, Mansouri, Monjib, and Almiraat were suspected of accepting foreign funds intended for acts threatening the internal security and territorial integrity of the country. The seven individuals were charged with posing a threat to the internal security of the country, fraud, managing an association exercising unauthorized acts, and accepting unauthorized foreign funds. On January 27, a court sentenced Monjib to one year in prison and a fine for charges of fraud and endangering national security in a separate case dating back to 2015 after authorities arrested him in December 2020. On March 23, authorities released Monjib after he carried out a hunger strike. He has an appeal hearing date on February 24. On October 13, Monjib attempted to leave the country for medical treatment but was denied boarding. The prosecutor of the Rabat Court of First Instance stated that the terms of Monjib’s provisional release do not allow him to leave the country.

Violence and Harassment:Authorities subjected some journalists to harassment and intimidation, including attempts to discredit them through harmful rumors about their personal lives. Journalists reported that selective prosecutions served as a mechanism for intimidation.

According to media reports, authorities rejected one international journalist’s accreditation request during the year because he lacked a valid permit for journalism.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Self-censorship and government restrictions on sensitive topics remained serious hurdles to the development of a free, independent, and investigative press. Publications and broadcast media require government accreditation, and the government may deny and revoke accreditation as well as suspend or confiscate publications that breach public order or criticize Islam, the institution of the monarchy, or the government’s positions on territorial integrity. While the government rarely censored the domestic press, it exerted pressure through written and verbal warnings and by pursuing legal cases that resulted in heavy fines and suspended publication. Such cases encouraged editors and journalists to self-censor and host opposition news sites on servers outside the country to avoid being shut down by the authorities. According to Freedom House, personal attacks and derogatory comments received by activists and opinion makers online, often in response to their criticism of government policies, also contributed to self-censorship.

Libel/Slander Laws: The press code includes provisions that permit the government to impose financial penalties on accredited journalists and publishers who violate restrictions related to defamation, libel, and insults. A court may impose a prison sentence if an accredited journalist is unable or unwilling to pay the fine.

Individuals not registered as journalists may be charged with defamation, libel, and slander under the criminal code, as may accredited journalists for their private actions.

After reports from several NGOs in July accusing the government of using Pegasus spyware developed by the Israeli company NSO Group to monitor dissidents, human rights activists, and other high-profile individuals, the government reportedly sued several NGOs and media outlets for “defamation” and “spreading false information.” The government filed lawsuits against Amnesty International and the French media organization Forbidden Stories for defamation, and decision was pending at year’s end.

National Security: The antiterrorism law provides for the arrest of individuals, including journalists, and filtering websites deemed to “disrupt public order by intimidation, terror, or violence.” The law assigns legal liability to the author and anyone who in any way helps the author to disseminate information deemed as a justification for acts of terrorism, which would include site owners and internet service providers. While the law was designed to combat terrorism, authorities retain the discretion to define terms such as “national security” and “public order,” under the penal code for which the government can seek fines of up to 200,000 Moroccan dirhams ($21,000) for publishing content online seen as disruptive to public order, with the maximum fine of 500,000 Moroccan dirhams ($52,000) if the content offends the military. Online speech offenses related to the monarchy, Islam, and Western Sahara, as well as threats to national security can carry prison sentences of two to six years.

Internet Freedom

The government did not disrupt access to the internet, but it did apply laws governing and restricting public speech and the press on the internet. The press code stipulates that online journalism is equivalent to print journalism. Laws on combatting terrorism permit the government to filter websites. The government repeatedly reminded online journalists to obey the law. The government also prosecuted individuals for expressing certain ideological views online, particularly related to protests in the northern Rif region.

According to Freedom House, numerous accounts were created on Twitter and Facebook with the apparent purpose of harassing, intimidating, and threatening activists who criticize authorities. Activists believed these progovernment commentators were also equipped with direct or indirect access to surveillance tools, since they often obtained private information about other users. According to various NGOs, the government frequently hacked Sahrawi citizen journalists’ and bloggers’ social media accounts.

Many contributors working for online news outlets and many online news outlets themselves were unaccredited and therefore not covered under the press code for their publications. They remained subject to provisions of the antiterrorism law and the penal code that permit the government to jail and impose financial penalties on anyone who violates restrictions related to defamation, libel, and insults.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

The law permits the government to criminalize presentations or debate questioning the legitimacy of Islam, the legitimacy of the monarchy, state institutions, and the status of Western Sahara. The law restricts cultural events and academic activities, although the government generally provided more latitude to political and religious activism confined to university campuses. The Ministry of Interior approves appointments of university rectors.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The law provides for the right of peaceful assembly. The government generally allowed authorized and unauthorized peaceful demonstrations to occur. Under the law groups of more than three persons require authorization from the Ministry of Interior to protest publicly. Several NGOs complained that the government used administrative delays and other methods to suppress or discourage unwanted peaceful assembly. Security forces intervened on occasion to disband both authorized and unauthorized protests when officials deemed the demonstration a threat to public security. Amnesty International and Transparency International reported continued arbitrary restrictions on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, particularly of individuals supporting independence for Western Sahara.

Several proindependence organizations and some human rights NGOs in Western Sahara stated that in recent years the submission of applications for permits to hold demonstrations declined because police rarely granted them. In most cases the organizers proceeded with planned demonstrations in the absence of authorization, and there was no discernible difference in security forces’ reaction to authorized or unauthorized protests. NGOs in Western Sahara were unwilling to gather in public spaces in areas of Laayoune. Violent confrontations between security forces and protesters were less common than in previous years, according to several local NGOs, although violent dispersals occurred on occasion. Security force practices were similar to those in internationally recognized Morocco; however, in Western Sahara there was often a higher ratio of members of security forces to protesters.

In March 2020 the government implemented a royal decree concerning the state of health emergency, making a violation of public authority confinement measures punishable with one to three months’ imprisonment, a small fine, or both; the decree also makes the use of social media or broadcast networks to spread misinformation regarding COVID-19 or incite criminal activity punishable with up to one year in prison. The UN high commissioner for human rights noted that security forces “used excessive force to make people abide by lockdowns and curfews.” Deputy Interior Minister Noureddine Boutayeb reported that between July 2020 and April 22, 1.5 million individuals were fined or arrested for being in violation of COVID-19 restrictions.

Some NGOs complained that authorities did not apply the approval process for holding a demonstration consistently and used administrative delays and other methods to suppress or discourage unwanted peaceful assembly. HRW’s World Report 2021 highlighted interference with associations that expressed views critical of the monarch and events organized by the AMDH. Police allowed many protests demanding political reform and protesting government actions, but often forcibly dispersed peaceful protests, arrested protesters and protest leaders, or prevented demonstrations from occurring. According to the government, approximately 7,747 protests took place from January to July. While most protests proceeded peacefully, on several occasions violence erupted between protesters and police.

Security forces were generally present both in and out of uniform at protests, particularly if the protest was expected to address a sensitive issue. In general, officers were under orders to observe and not intervene, unless the demonstration became unruly, threatening to bystanders, or overflowed into public highways. In those cases, under standard operating procedures, officers were required to give the crowd three warnings that force would be used if they did not disperse. Security forces would then attempt to force protesters to leave the area, using riot shields to push standing protesters into a designated area or carrying seated protesters to the designated area.

Security force tactics did not differ significantly whether the protest was authorized or unauthorized, although the decision on whether to intervene sometimes depended on whether the protest was authorized. According to the government, if officers intervened in a protest, a police judiciary officer not involved in the intervention and under the supervision of the attorney general must produce a statement documenting the circumstances of the case, the number of victims, and the material damage due to the operation. The police judiciary officer must address the statement to the Attorney General’s Office with a copy to the governor of the territorial jurisdiction where the incident transpired. The government organized training on human rights-based methods to manage crowds throughout the year.

In February the CNDH released a report regarding security force actions to disperse the 2017 Hirak protests and largely upheld police action on the basis that the protests had gradually escalated towards violence. NGOs and the CNDH continued to monitor the Rif Hirak prisoners sentenced by the Casablanca Court of Appeal in 2019.

The Laayoune Commission monitored 21 demonstrations that were held despite restrictions on public gatherings implemented in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The commission also investigated and monitored 10 cases of alleged human rights violations reported on social media. Security forces dispersed several demonstrations by force, with clashes resulting in injuries on both sides.

Freedom of Association

The constitution and the law provide for freedom of association, although the government sometimes restricted this freedom. The government prohibited or failed to recognize some political opposition groups by deeming them unqualified for NGO status. While the government does not restrict the source of funding for NGOs operating in the country, NGOs that receive funding from foreign sources are required to report the amount and its origins to the government within 30 days from the date of receipt. The government denied official recognition to NGOs it considered to be advocating against Islam as the state religion or questioning the legitimacy of the monarchy or the country’s territorial integrity. Authorities obstructed the registration of a number of associations perceived to be critical of the authorities by refusing to accept their registration applications or to deliver receipts confirming the filing of applications (see section 5).

Amnesty International stated Sahrawi human rights activists remained subject to intimidation, questioning, arrest, and intense surveillance that occasionally amounted to harassment. Authorities routinely rejected the registration applications of Sahrawi human rights groups. NGOs in Western Sahara complained of surveillance, harassment, and intimidation from security forces.

The Ministry of Interior required NGOs to register before being recognized as legal entities, but there was no comprehensive national registry publicly available. A prospective organization must submit its objectives, bylaws, address, and photocopies of members’ identification cards to local officials of the ministry. The local officials of the ministry issue a receipt to the organization that signifies formal approval. Organizations without receipts are not formally registered. According to the law, however, any association not denied registration and which did not receive a receipt within 60 days of submitting the required documentation has the right to engage in activities. These same organizations reported extended delays in receiving correspondence from the ministry on the receipt issue.

Unregistered organizations could not access government funds or legally accept contributions. The organizations stated local officials’ refusal to issue receipts was a violation of article five of Law 75, which governs the right of association. One of the organizations, the Moroccan Association of Human Rights, reported the ministry has refused to issue it a registration receipt for the last six years.

The National Federation of Amazigh Associations, an organization supporting the inclusion of the Amazigh (Berber) population in public life, reported that, as of October, nine Amazigh organizations denied registration in 2017 continued to be denied registration during the year, including the federation itself (see section 6, Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination).

The Justice and Charity Organization, a Sunni Islamist movement that rejects the king’s spiritual authority, remained banned but largely tolerated, although authorities continued to monitor its activities.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights, although it limited movement to areas experiencing widespread unrest. The government denied entry to individuals it believed threatened the stability of the country. The government continued to make travel documents available to Sahrawis to travel and encouraged the return of Sahrawi refugees from Algeria and elsewhere if they acknowledged the government’s sovereignty over Western Sahara. Refugees wishing to return are required to obtain the appropriate travel or identity documents at a Moroccan consulate abroad, often in Mauritania. There were a few reported cases, however, of authorities preventing Sahrawis from traveling.

In-country Movement: There were several reports of government authorities denying local and international organizations and press access to the Rif and Eastern regions. The government, however, maintained that no international organizations or press were denied access to the Rif region.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The country is a constitutional monarchy under which ultimate authority rests with King Mohammed VI, who presides over the Council of Ministers. The king shares executive authority with a prime minister who is the head of government. According to the constitution, the king appoints the head of government from the political party with the most seats in parliament and approves members of the government nominated by the head of government.

The law provides for, and citizens participated in, free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage for parliament’s Chamber of Representatives and municipal and regional councils. Regional and professional bodies indirectly elected members of parliament’s less powerful Chamber of Counselors.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: On September 8, the country held local, regional, and parliamentary elections for the Chamber of Representatives (the lower house of parliament). Although there were allegations of vote buying and candidate intimidation, domestic and international observers considered the elections generally free, fair, and transparent. As stipulated by the constitution, the king tasked the National Rally of Independents, which won the most seats in the newly elected chamber, to form a governing coalition and nominate new ministers.

Political Parties and Political Participation: A political party may not legally challenge Islam as the state religion, the institution of the monarchy, or the country’s territorial integrity. The law prohibits basing a party on a religious, ethnic, or regional identity. The Ministerial Council, held on February 11, approved legislation that included a number of requirements to increase women’s political representation at national and local levels.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Voters elected a record number of women in this year’s elections. In the new government, led by Head of Government Aziz Akhannouch, seven women were appointed ministers, the highest number to date. One female minister – who was simultaneously elected as mayor of Casablanca – resigned from her ministerial position one week after her appointment to focus on her mayoralty position.

Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups investigated and published findings on human rights cases; however, the government’s responsiveness to, cooperation with, and restrictions on domestic and international human rights organizations varied, depending on its evaluation of the political orientation of the organization and the sensitivity of the issues.

The government did not approve the AMDH appeals during the year to register multiple regional branches. The organization regularly faced difficulties renewing the registration of its offices.

During the year activists and NGOs reported continuing restrictions on their activities in the country (see section 2.b, Freedom of Association). According to the government, registered organizations were authorized to meet within their established headquarters, but any meetings outside that space, including privately owned establishments and homes, were in public spaces and require authorization from the Ministry of Interior. Organizations stated that government officials told them their events were canceled for failing to follow required procedures for public meetings, although the organizations claimed to have submitted the necessary paperwork or believed the law did not require it.

Some unrecognized NGOs that did not cooperate officially with the government still shared information informally with both the government and government-affiliated organizations.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government cooperated with the United Nations and permitted requested visits.

Nonetheless, an October 1 report regarding the situation in Western Sahara, submitted by the UN secretary-general pursuant to the MINURSO mandate, noted that OHCHR was unable to conduct any visits to the region for the sixth consecutive year and urged the state and other parties to address outstanding human rights problems and enhance cooperation with OHCHR. The report noted that the human rights situation in Western Sahara has been adversely affected by COVID-19, especially about economic and social rights.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The CNDH is a national human rights institution established by the constitution that operates independently from the elected government. It is publicly funded and operates in conformity with the Principles of Paris, according to the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions. The council filled the role of a national human rights monitoring mechanism for preventing torture. The CNDH oversees the National Human Rights Training Institute, which collaborated with international organizations to provide training to civil society, media, law enforcement, medical personnel, educators, and legal practitioners.

Via its regional offices in Dakhla and Laayoune, the CNDH continued a range of activities, including monitoring demonstrations, visiting prisons and medical centers, and organizing capacity-building activities for various stakeholders. It also maintained contact with unregistered NGOs. The CNDH also occasionally investigated cases raised by unregistered NGOs, especially those that drew internet or international media attention.

The Institution of the Mediator acted as a general ombudsman. It considered allegations of governmental injustices and has the power to carry out inquiries and investigations, propose disciplinary action, and refer cases to the public prosecutor.

The mission of the Interministerial Delegation for Human Rights (DIDH), which reports to the minister of state in charge of human rights, is to promote the protection of human rights across all ministries, serve as a government interlocutor with domestic and international NGOs, and interact with relevant UN bodies regarding international human rights obligations. The DIDH coordinated government responses to UN bodies on adherence to treaty obligations and served as the principal advisory body to the king and government on human rights.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law punishes individuals convicted of rape with prison terms of five to 10 years; when the conviction involves a minor, the prison sentence ranges from 10 to 20 years. Spousal rape is not a crime. A 2018 law provides a stronger legal framework to protect women from violence, sexual harassment, and abuse. Under the law a sexual assault conviction may result in a prison sentence of six months to five years and a fine. For insults and defamation based on gender, an individual may be fined up to 60,000 Moroccan dirhams for insults and up to 120,000 Moroccan dirhams for defamation ($6,300 to $12,600). General insult and defamation charges remain in the penal code. The law requires the DGSN, Prosecutor General’s Office, Supreme Judicial Court, and Ministries of Health, Youth, and Women to have specialized units that coordinate with one another on cases involving violence against women. These specialized units receive and process cases of gender-based violence and provide psychological support and other services to victims. In 440 precincts where gender-based violence response units have not been established, a regular police officer was designated to process the cases.

The COVID-19 pandemic saw a spike in domestic abuse because of isolation measures. The government and NGOs expanded programming and outreach that provided shelter, assistance, and guidance for survivors of domestic abuse. According to the Public Prosecutor’s Office, the government adopted protective measures, such as shelters, for survivors of domestic violence in the first half of the year. On May 28, the government adopted a bill to create a national registry for social support programs for women and children. Several NGOs adapted services provided to survivors of domestic violence, providing hotlines, shelter, resources, guidance, and legal support.

There were reports, however, that these shelters were not accessible to persons with disabilities. Courts maintained “victims of abuse cells” that brought together prosecutors, lawyers, judges, women’s NGO representatives, and hospital personnel to review domestic and child abuse cases to provide for the best interests of women or children.

According to local NGOs, survivors did not report the vast majority of sexual assaults to police due to social pressure and the concern that society would most likely hold the survivors responsible. Some sexual assault survivors also reported police officers at times turned them away from filing a police report or coerced them to pay a bribe to file the report by threatening to charge them with consensual sex outside of marriage, a crime punishable with up to one year in prison. Police selectively investigated cases; among the minority brought to trial, successful prosecutions remained rare.

The law does not specifically define domestic violence against women and minors, but the general prohibitions of the criminal code address such violence. Legally, high-level misdemeanors occur when a survivor’s injuries result in 20 days of disability leave from work. Low-level misdemeanors occur when a survivor’s disability lasts for less than 20 days. According to NGOs, the courts rarely prosecuted perpetrators of low-level misdemeanors. Police were slow to act in domestic violence cases, and the government generally did not enforce the law and sometimes returned women against their will to abusive homes. Police generally treated domestic violence as a social rather than a criminal matter. Physical abuse was legal grounds for divorce, although few women reported such abuse to authorities.

In January 2020 media reported that 20 suspects kidnapped “Oumaima,” a 17-year-old girl, in the Moulay Rachid district (in Casablanca) and then gang raped and abused her for 25 days before she convinced a friend of the perpetrators to assist in her escape. According to the victim’s mother, during confinement, the perpetrators forced the girl to ingest toxic substances to try to kill her. The girl was hospitalized after her escape. The investigation continued.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is a crime punishable by up to six months in prison and a fine up to 10,000 Moroccan dirhams ($1,000) if the offense takes place in a public space or by insinuations through texts, audio recording, or pictures. In cases where the harasser is a coworker, supervisor, or security official, the sentence is doubled. Prison sentences and fines are also doubled in cases where a spouse, former spouse, fiance, or a family member commits harassment, physical violence, abuse, or mistreatment, or breaks a restraining order, or if the victim is a minor. Civil society leaders stated they did not observe efforts by the government to enforce the law or provide training on the new law for judicial or law enforcement officials.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Individuals and couples have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. Authorities generally did not discriminate against women in accessing sexual and reproductive health care, including for sexually transmitted infections. Contraception is legal, and most forms were widely available. According to the Population Reference Bureau, the country has invested in increasing the availability of voluntary family planning services, expanding and improving maternal health care, and providing for access to obstetric care by eliminating fees.

The contraceptive pill was available over the counter, without a prescription. Skilled health attendance at delivery and postpartum care were available for women who could afford it, with approximately 75 percent of overall births attended by skilled health personnel.

The country’s maternal mortality rate between 1997 and 2018 declined by 68 percent according to the UN Population Fund. The most recent World Health Organization statistics showed there were approximately 70 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births in the country in 2017 and that 37 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 49 used a modern method of contraception in 2019. The major factors influencing maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence rates were female illiteracy, lack of knowledge about availability of services, cost of services, social pressure against contraceptive use, and limited availability of transportation to health centers and hospitals for those in rural areas. While a 2018 law strengthened penalties for violence against women (see Section 6, Women) and required certain government agencies establish units to provide psychological support and other services to victims of gender-based violence, Human Rights Watch assessed at the time of the law’s passage that it did not sufficiently define the government’s role in providing services to victims. The government responded that it provides services to survivors of sexual assault via the UN Population Fund.

Discrimination: While the constitution provides women equal rights with men in civil, political, economic, cultural, and environmental affairs, laws favor men in property and inheritance. Numerous problems related to discrimination against women remained, including inadequate enforcement of equal rights provided for by the laws and constitution.

According to the law, women are entitled to a share of inherited property, but a woman’s share of inheritance is less than that of a man. Women are generally entitled to receive one-half the inheritance a man would receive in the same circumstances. A sole male heir would receive the entire estate, while a sole female heir would receive one-half the estate with the rest going to other relatives.

Since 2019 the law allows female heirs to inherit, and be titled as owners of, those lands.

The family code places the family under the joint responsibility of both spouses, makes divorce available by mutual consent, and places legal limits on polygamy. Implementation of family law reforms remained a problem. The judiciary lacked willingness to enforce them, as many judges did not agree with their provisions. Corruption among working-level court clerks and lack of knowledge about the law’s provisions among lawyers were also obstacles to enforcing the law.

The law requires equal pay for equal work, although in practice this did not occur.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The majority of the population, including some members of the royal family, claimed some Amazigh heritage. Many of the poorest regions in the country, particularly the rural Middle Atlas region, were predominantly Amazigh and had illiteracy rates higher than the national average. Basic governmental services in this mountainous and underdeveloped region were lacking.

On May 31, media reported that local authorities in Kenitra had refused to register the birth of his daughter with an Amazigh name. On August 25, after review by the Ministry of the Interior, the name was permitted and evaluated according to national standards.

Amazigh cultural groups contended they were rapidly losing their traditions and language to Arabization. Amazigh materials were available in news media and, to a much lesser extent, educational institutions. The government provided television programs in the three national Amazigh dialects of Tarifit, Tashelhit, and Tamazight. According to regulations, public media are required to dedicate 30 percent of broadcast time to Amazigh language and cultural programming. According to Amazigh organizations, however, only 5 percent of broadcast time was given to Amazigh language and culture.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities in employment, education, and access to health care. The law also provides for regulations and building codes that provide for access for persons with disabilities. In general, the government did not effectively enforce or implement these laws and regulations. While building codes enacted in 2003 require accessibility for all persons, the codes exempt most pre-2003 structures, and authorities rarely enforced them for new construction. Most public transportation was inaccessible to persons with disabilities, although the national rail system offered wheelchair ramps, accessible bathrooms, and special seating areas. Government policy provides that persons with disabilities should have equal access to information and communications. Special communication devices for persons with visual or audio disabilities were not widely available.

The Ministry of Family, Solidarity, Equality, and Social Development has responsibility for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities and attempted to integrate persons with disabilities into society by implementing a quota of 7 percent for persons with disabilities in vocational training in the public sector and 5 percent in the private sector. Both sectors were far from achieving the quotas. The government maintained more than 400 integrated classes for children with learning disabilities, but private charities and civil society organizations were primarily responsible for integration.

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

The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual activity, with a maximum sentence of three years in prison for violations. According to a report by the Prosecutor General’s Office released in 2020, the state prosecuted individuals in 2020 for same-sex sexual activity. Media and the public addressed questions of sexuality, sexual orientation, and gender identity more openly than in previous years. According to some human rights organizations, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) victims of violence in high-profile cases from previous years continued to be harassed when recognized in public.

In November 2020 an artist was arrested while filing a complaint against an individual for harassment and homophobia. According to the government, his detention did not have to do with his sexual identity, but rather related to violating COVID-19 restrictions. His next hearing was scheduled for September. Antidiscrimination laws do not apply to LGBTQI+ persons, and the penal code does not criminalize hate crimes. There was a stigma against LGBTQI+ persons, including some reports of overt discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing, and health care.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The constitution provides for the right of workers to form and join unions, strike, and bargain collectively, with some restrictions. The law prohibits certain categories of government employees, including members of the armed forces, police, and some members of the judiciary, from forming and joining unions and from conducting strikes. The law excludes migrant workers from assuming leadership positions in unions.

The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and prohibits companies from dismissing workers for participating in legitimate union-organizing activities. Courts have the authority to reinstate workers dismissed arbitrarily and may enforce rulings that compel employers to pay damages and back pay. Trade unions complained that the government at times used the penal code to prosecute workers for striking and to suppress strikes.

The government generally respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Employers limited the scope of collective bargaining, frequently setting wages unilaterally for most unionized and nonunionized workers. The law allows independent unions to exist but requires 35 percent of the employee base to be associated with a union to permit the union to be represented and engage in collective bargaining. Unions can legally negotiate with the government on national-level labor issues. At the sectoral level, trade unions negotiated with private employers concerning minimum wage, compensation, and other concerns. Labor disputes were common and, in some cases, resulted from employers failing to implement collective bargaining agreements and withholding wages. It was unclear whether penalties were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination.

The law concerning strikes requires compulsory arbitration of disputes, prohibits sit-ins, and calls for a 10-day notice of a strike. The government may intervene in strikes. A strike may not occur over matters covered in a collective contract for one year after the contract commences. The government has the authority to disperse strikers in public areas not authorized for demonstrations and to prevent the unauthorized occupancy of private space. Unions may neither engage in sabotage nor prevent those individuals who were not on strike from working.

Most union federations are affiliated with political parties, but unions were generally free from government interference.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits and criminalizes all forms of forced or compulsory labor and establishes a fine for the first offense and a jail term of up to three months for subsequent offenses. Penalties were not commensurate with those prescribed for analogous serious crimes such as kidnapping. The domestic workers law provides some protections to domestic workers. Reports indicated that forced labor, especially of children, occurred (see section 7.c.).

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law does not prohibit all the worst forms of child labor, and child labor occurred, including in its worst forms. The law prohibits employment of children younger than age 16 in dangerous labor. The law prohibits children younger than age 16 from working as domestic servants. The law does not specifically prohibit the use, procuring, or offering of a child for illicit activities, in particular for the production and trafficking of drugs. In some cases employers subjected children to commercial sexual exploitation (see section 6, Children), forced domestic work, and forced labor in the production of artisan products and construction.

The law prohibits persons younger than age 18 from hazardous work in 33 areas, including working in mines, handling dangerous materials, transporting explosives, and operating heavy machinery. The labor code does not apply to children who work in the traditional artisan or handicraft sectors for businesses with fewer than five employees or to those who work on private farms or in residences. Some children became apprentices before they were 12, particularly in small, family-run workshops in the handicraft industry and in the construction industry and mechanic shops. Children also worked in hazardous occupations as designated by law. These included fishing and, in the informal sector, in textiles, light manufacturing, and traditional handicrafts. Children’s safety, health conditions, and wages were often substandard.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. The overwhelming majority of child laborers worked in rural areas, according to the government’s statistical agency, the High Planning Commission. Punishments for violations of the child labor laws include criminal penalties, civil fines, and withdrawal or suspension of one or more civil, national, or family rights, including denial of legal residence in the country for five to 10 years. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. The Ministry of Labor and Vocational Integration only conducted child labor inspections in the formal economy across the country, but acknowledged child labor violations in the informal sector, including potential forced child labor crimes. The government reported that, overall, labor inspections suffered from insufficient personnel and resources to address child labor violations, including potential child trafficking crimes, throughout the country. The government adopted Law 51.17, which requires the government to enact compulsory education for children between the ages of four and 16 by 2025. It significantly increased the number of prosecutions related to the worst forms of child labor, from five cases in 2018 to 170 cases in 2019; however, in 2020 the number dramatically dropped to just 22 cases. For more information see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings/ .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The labor code prohibits discrimination against persons in employment and occupation based on race, religion, national origin, color, sex, ethnicity, or disability, including physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disability. The law does not address age or pregnancy.

Discrimination occurred in all categories prohibited by law. Penalties were not commensurate to laws related to civil rights, such as election interference. Women are prohibited from working in occupations that present a risk of excessive danger, exceeds their capacity or is likely to undermine their morality, such as jobs in quarries and underground in mines, or engaging in work that exposes them to the risk of falling or slipping as well as work in a constant squatting or leaning position, work or activities using asbestos and benzene and any other activity exposing them to dangerous chemical agents.

Migrant worker organizations reported that some migrants, particularly those from sub-Saharan African countries, experienced discrimination in hiring, wages, or conditions of employment. These workers often reported employer noncompliance with low or unpaid wages, excessive hours of work, restricted movement, dangerous and difficult work conditions. Even after obtaining a residence card, their vulnerability was reinforced by lack of access to the formal economy, pushing them to the margins of society. Most lived in crowded rooms in dilapidated neighborhoods, while others slept on the streets, in cemeteries, and forests.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The minimum wage was above the poverty line. The law provides for a 44- to 48-hour maximum workweek with no more than 10 hours work in a single day, premium pay for overtime, paid public and annual holidays, and minimum conditions for health and safety, including limitations on night work for women and minors. The law prohibits excessive overtime. A 2019 tripartite agreement among the government, employers, and unions stipulated that the monthly minimum wage be increased by 10 percent, phased in through two 5 percent increases. The first occurred in 2019 and the second in July 2020. The current, hourly minimum salary was raised based on the tripartite agreement; however, many employers did not observe the legal provisions regulating conditions of work. The government did not effectively enforce basic provisions of the labor code, such as payment of the minimum wage and other basic benefits under the National Social Security Fund. Penalties for violations were not commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud.

Occupational Safety and Health: The Ministry of Employment and Vocational Integration sets and enforces rudimentary occupational health and safety standards. Occupational safety and health (OSH) standards were not appropriate for the main industries in the country, and the government did not effectively enforce them. It was unclear whether responsibility for identifying unsafe situations remained with OSH experts and not the worker. In the formal sector, workers can remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities effectively protected employees in such situations. The government has not ratified article 13 of Convention 155, and there are no provisions in the labor code that refer directly to this right. Penalties for violations of occupational, safety, and health laws were not commensurate with those for similar crimes like negligence. The government did not adequately enforce labor laws, particularly inspections. The country’s labor inspectors reported that although they attempted to monitor working conditions and investigate accidents, they lacked adequate resources, preventing effective enforcement of labor laws. Inspectors reported that their role as mediators of labor conflicts significantly limited time spent proactively inspecting work sites and remediating and uncovering violations. Inspectors do not have punitive power and cannot independently levy fines or other punishments. Only action by the public prosecutor that results in a judicial decree can force an employer to take remedial actions. Enforcement procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals.

Major workplace accidents were reported during the year. Most notably, in February a flood in a textile factory in Tangier killed 28 garment workers. They were electrocuted when the basement flooded and water came into contact with exposed wiring. The factory was unregistered, and it reportedly did not meet safety standards. In December the factory owner was sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment.

Informal Sector: The domestic worker law provides protections for domestic workers, including limits on working hours and a minimum wage. Penalties for violating the law start with a fine and, in cases of repeated offenses, can include one to three months of imprisonment. Labor inspectors did not inspect small workshops with fewer than five employees and private homes where many such violations occurred, as the law requires a warrant or permission of the owner to search a private residence. The law establishes a conciliation process for labor inspectors to handle disputes between domestic workers and their employers, but the law lacks time limits for a resolution. Labor inspectors reported their small numbers, scarce resources at their disposal, and the broad geographic dispersion of sites limited their ability to enforce the law effectively.

Tunisia

Executive Summary

According to the 2014 constitution, Tunisia is a constitutional republic with a multiparty, unicameral parliamentary system and a president with powers specified in the constitution. In 2019 the country held free and fair parliamentary elections that gave the Nahda Party a plurality of the votes and the opportunity to form a new government in the first transition of power since its first democratic elections in 2014. President Kais Saied, an independent candidate, came to office in 2019 after winning the country’s second democratic presidential elections.

The Ministry of Interior holds legal authority and responsibility for law enforcement. The ministry oversees the National Police, which has primary responsibility for law enforcement in the major cities, and the National Guard (gendarmerie), which oversees border security and patrols smaller towns and rural areas. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Military courts, with judges nominated by the president and approved by the Military Judicial Council, have authority to try cases involving military personnel and civilians accused of national security crimes or crimes involving members of the security or armed forces. Security forces committed periodic abuses.

On July 25, citing widespread protests and political paralysis, President Saied took “exceptional measures” under Article 80 of the constitution to dismiss Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi, freeze parliament’s activities for 30 days, and lift the immunity of members of parliament. On August 23, Saied announced an indefinite extension of the “exceptional measures” period and on September 22, he issued a decree granting the president certain executive, legislative, and judiciary powers and authority to rule by decree, but allowed continued implementation of the preamble and chapters one and two, which guarantee rights and freedoms. Civil society organizations and multiple political parties raised concern that through these decrees President Saied granted himself unprecedented decision-making powers, without checks and balances and for an unlimited period. On September 29, Saied named Najla Bouden Romdhane as prime minister, and on October 11, she formed a government. On December 13, Saied announced a timeline for constitutional reforms including public consultations and the establishment of a committee to revise the constitution and electoral laws, leading to a national referendum in July 2022. Parliamentary elections would follow in December 2022.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: torture by government agents; arbitrary arrests or detentions; the use of military courts to investigate civilian cases; serious restrictions on freedom of expression and media, including the closure of media outlets, as well as prosecution of social media users based on criminal libel laws; serious government corruption; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex persons; criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults; and the worst forms of child labor.

The government took steps to investigate officials who allegedly committed abuses, but investigations into police, security force, and detention center abuses lacked transparency and frequently encountered long delays and procedural obstacles. High-profile investigations into several members of parliament and businesspeople on corruption charges also lacked transparency.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

Two individuals reportedly died in security force custody during the year. On March 23, parliament formed a committee to investigate the death of Abdesaalam Zayen, who died on March 2 while in detention in Sfax. Zayen was reportedly arrested along with his brother for violating the COVID-19 curfew and was accused of insulting a police officer. Zayen was reportedly diabetic and required insulin, but authorities allegedly refused him access to medication even after his health began deteriorating. A forensic report from September 25 stated Zayen was deprived of insulin. On July 12, parliament’s investigative committee held a press conference to announce the investigation remained ongoing, but there were no updates by year’s end.

The independent Tunisian Organization Against Torture (OCTT) reported that Moez Amri died on July 2 in a hospital in Tunis under suspicious circumstances. Amri was arrested on June 29 and detained in Mornaguia Prison following a physical altercation with a National Police officer in downtown Tunis. On July 1, the General Committee for Prisons and Rehabilitation (CGPR) contacted Amri’s wife to request her authorization to provide medical treatment. The following day prison personnel informed her that Amri had been transferred to the hospital in critical condition. Later that day prison officials notified the family of Amri’s death. The family reported that Amri had been in good health prior to his arrest. The OCTT received photographs and video of the corpse showing traces of bruises, including on the wrists and elsewhere. The OCTT informed the National Antitorture Authority (INPT) regarding the case and called for a forensic report to determine the cause of death. The government made no public statements concerning this case.

In March the Indictment Chamber referred the case of Omar Laabidi, who drowned in 2018 allegedly due to police negligence, to the Ben Arous First Instance Court. A group of police officials faced manslaughter and negligence charges but remained free pending trial. On December 5, the court announced it would schedule the hearing for March 2022.

As of September an investigation continued into the 2019 death in National Police custody of Ayoub Ben Fradj, allegedly due to excessive use of pepper spray, after he was detained for involvement in a fight. One member of the security forces remained in pretrial detention facing charges; two other suspects remained free.

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

Although the law prohibits such practices, the National Police reportedly subjected detainees to harsh physical treatment, according to firsthand accounts provided to national and international organizations. Several prominent local human rights activists decried the practice of torture in police stations and detention centers.

The press reported that on January 27, an individual named Gam was arrested on allegations of looting and held at the detention center in Monastir. Police allegedly tied his feet to the legs of a table and beat his groin with sticks for several hours. One officer reportedly burned Gam’s testicles with a lighter. According to the press report, police tortured Gam for more than seven hours and denied him medical treatment for two days before transferring him to a hospital in Sousse, where one of his testicles was removed due to severe injury. According to the World Organization Against Torture (OMCT), the First Instance Court’s public prosecutor in Monastir opened an investigation into the allegations on February 2 based on the crime of torture resulting in organ amputation. According to press reports, the court summoned three suspects for questioning on February 15. There were no updates by year’s end.

On May 4, a video appeared on social media allegedly showing security agents assaulting a young man in Tunis with a baton, following a soccer match. There were no public updates on this case.

A video appearing to show police stripping naked a young man in Sidi Hassine and beating him during a June 8 protest drew significant attention and condemnation online. On June 10, the Ministry of Interior issued a statement alleging the individual was intoxicated and voluntarily removed his clothes to provoke police. The following day, however, the ministry condemned the police’s actions, suspended those responsible for the apparent abuses, and announced an investigation. On June 29, the Tunis First Instance Court issued an arrest warrant against one police officer. On December 14, the First Instance Court of Tunis dismissed the case against police officers suspected of involvement in the assault.

On October 19, arrest warrants against two police officers were issued for attempted premeditated murder. The two officers violently assaulted a young man inside a police car as they were taking him to the police station after arresting him for filming a car accident he witnessed in which the officers were involved; the young man’s injuries required his hospitalization. Forensic investigations led to the arrest of the two officers and ongoing investigations into two additional policemen.

The INPT, an independent body, was established in 2013 to respond to allegations of torture and mistreatment. The INPT issued a report in 2020 covering 2016-20 but had not issued a 2021 report as of year’s end.

The Ministry of Interior has three inspector general offices (one for the National Police, one for the National Guard, and a central inspectorate general reporting directly to the minister) that conduct administrative investigations into the different ministry structures; these offices play a role in both onsite inspections and investigations in response to complaints received from the public. The inspector general offices can hold agents accountable and issue administrative reprimands even before the courts announce a final verdict.

Human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) criticized the government for what they saw as reluctance to investigate torture allegations and the appearance of impunity for abusers. On June 23, INPT president Fathi Jarray contended that the judiciary had never announced a final verdict in cases of torture or mistreatment and that such cases were generally treated instead as “excessive use of force.”

The United Nations announced in late 2020 that an investigation into an August 2020 report of sexual exploitation and abuse by Tunisian peacekeepers deployed to the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali, allegedly involving transactional sex with an adult, found the allegation to be unsubstantiated.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions were below international standards, principally due to overcrowding and poor infrastructure.

Physical Conditions: Prisons were grossly overcrowded. The law requires pretrial detainees to be held separately from convicted prisoners, but the Ministry of Justice reported that overcrowding forced it to hold pretrial detainees together with convicts.

Of the country’s 27 prisons, one – the women’s prison in Mandouba – is designated solely for women, and seven contain separate wings for women (Sfax, Jendouba, Sousse, Kasserine, Harboub, Gafsa, and El Kef). Only Gafsa, Sfax, and Sousse prisons have a dedicated section for female inmates with children younger than two.

The Ministry of Justice operated five juvenile centers in El Mghira, Mdjez El Bab, Sidi El Henj, Souk Jedid, and El Mourouj. Juvenile prisoners were strictly separated from adults; most minors (those younger than age 18) were detained in separate correctional facilities or in rehabilitation programs.

Most prisons were originally constructed for industrial use and then converted into detention facilities; as a result, they suffered from poor infrastructure, including substandard lighting, ventilation, and heating. Health services available to inmates were inadequate. Very few prisons had an ambulance or medically equipped vehicle.

Administration: According to prison officials, lengthy criminal prosecution procedures led to extended periods of pretrial detention, understaffing at prisons and detention centers, and difficult work conditions for prison staff, who struggled with low pay and long commutes to remote prison locations.

Family visits were limited to one per week, through a window or a fence. Inmates with children were entitled to a family visit in a private room every three months. Prisons provided certain prisoners with access to educational and vocational training programs as allowed by capacity, eligible jobs, and appropriate levels of prisoner classification.

As part of the Ministry of Justice’s rehabilitation program for countering violent extremism, the CGPR has a memorandum of understanding with the Ministry of Religious Affairs to permit vetted and trained imams to lead religious sessions with prisoners identified as extremists. The ministry prohibited organized, communal prayers, but prisons permitted individual detainees to have religious materials and to pray in their cells.

The Ministry of Justice’s internal investigations into prisoner abuse sometimes lacked transparency and often lasted several months, in some cases more than a year. The ministry frequently did not make public its internal investigations.

INPT members have the authority to visit any prison or detention center without prior notice and to document torture and mistreatment, request criminal and administrative investigations, and issue recommendations for measures to eradicate torture and mistreatment. The INPT reported continued cooperation by government authorities and access to prisons and detention centers during the year.

The INPT conducted a number of visits to civilians arrested and detained under the military and civilian courts’ purview.

Independent Monitoring: The government granted access to prisons for independent nongovernmental observers, including local and international human rights groups, NGOs, local media, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the OCTT. The nongovernmental Tunisian League for Human Rights (LTDH) could conduct unannounced prison visits and issue reports on conditions inside prisons. Other organizations were issued permits on a case-by-case basis.

Improvements: In June the INPT announced the release of a prison guidebook for both detainees and prison staff on their legal rights and obligations, covering all aspects of daily life in prison. The guidebook, developed in collaboration with the Ministry of Justice and the CGPR, was made available in all prisons.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, although security forces did not always observe these provisions. The law provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. Human rights organizations expressed concern that the government used its powers under the 1973 decree law on the state of emergency to place citizens under house arrest with limited evidence or foundation for suspicion, and often without offering these individuals access to the court orders that led to their arrest. (The country has been under a state of emergency since 2015.)

On March 20, political activist and former member of parliament Ayman Aloui was arrested, along with other members of the al-Watad Party, and accused of insulting a public servant (on-duty security officers). The detainees refused to give statements without the presence of their lawyers. The OCTT reported that their lawyers were prevented from entering the Bardo police station or attending their clients’ interrogation. The case was referred to the public prosecutor, who dropped the charges and released the detainees.

On December 31, the Ministry of Interior detained Nahda party vice president Noureddine Bhiri and former Ministry of Interior official Fathi Baldi without announcing formal charges against them.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law requires police to have a warrant to arrest an alleged suspect unless a crime is in progress or the arrest is for a felony offense. Arresting officers must inform detainees of their rights, immediately notify detainees’ families of the arrest, and make a complete record of the times and dates of such notifications. The maximum time of detention without charges for felonies is 48 hours, renewable once by a prosecutor’s order, for a maximum of four days. For misdemeanor offenses the time limit is 24 hours, renewable once by the prosecutor’s order. All extensions must be justified in writing.

Detainees have the right to representation by counsel and to request medical assistance immediately upon detention. The Judicial Police must inform the lawyer of all interrogations and interactions between the accused and witnesses or victims of the alleged offense and allow the lawyer to be present unless the accused explicitly waives the right to a lawyer or the lawyer does not arrive at the prearranged time of questioning. The only exception is for terrorism suspects, who may be held without access to counsel for 48 hours. The counterterrorism law provides a suspect may be held without charges for 15 days, with a judicial review after each five-day period.

Media and civil society reported that police failed at times to follow these regulations and, on occasion, detained persons arbitrarily.

By law the prosecutor represents the government in criminal proceedings, including those involving underage offenders. A lawyer may be assigned in a criminal case even if the accused did not ask for one during the investigation. For those who cannot afford a lawyer, judicial aid is provided at government expense if certain conditions are met. In civil cases both parties may request judicial aid. In criminal cases, however, legal aid is provided to citizens only if the minimum possible sentence is at least three years and the person on trial is not a recidivist; noncitizens have access to legal aid under conditions outlined by law. Judicial aid is also extended to administrative matters once the police investigation has been completed and the case goes to court. The military code of justice gives detainees in military court the same right to legal counsel as described in the penal code. It was unclear whether the government consistently provided this service.

The law permits authorities to release accused persons on monetary or nonmonetary bail, and the bail system functioned. At arraignment the examining magistrate may decide to release the accused or remand the detainee to pretrial detention.

Arbitrary Arrest: On July 24, President Saied extended the state of emergency (SOE) until January 19, 2022. The SOE allows the president to prohibit strikes or demonstrations deemed to threaten public order, place under house arrest anyone whose “activities are deemed to endanger security,” and suspend associations on suspicion of participation in harmful acts. The presidency has renewed the SOE for periods of one to six months continuously since 2015.

The CGPR reported in late February that 617 of 968 individuals arrested during protests between January 14 and February 17 had been released, 304 remained in pretrial detention, and 47 were tried and convicted of crimes ranging from damaging public property and disturbing the peace to violating COVID-19 protection measures. The CGPR’s numbers included 141 minors, of whom three were convicted, 29 were held in pretrial detention, and 109 were released by February. Civil society organizations alleged nearly 1,700 total arrests in January and February, including 500 minors, but did not released figures on the number of persons remaining in detention. Civil society organizations also alleged some of the arrests were violent and that security officials interrogated detainees without a lawyer present.

Domestic and international organizations alleged that since July 25, at least 50 individuals have been placed under arbitrary house arrests, travel bans, or both, including former officials, a judge, and three lawmakers. On October 10, local media reported that all house arrests and travel bans, except for those with pending legal charges, had been lifted.

Pretrial Detention: The length of pretrial detention remained unpredictable and could last from one month to several years, principally due to judicial inefficiency and lack of capacity.

In cases involving crimes for which the sentence may exceed five years or that involve national security, pretrial detention may last six months and may be extended by court order for two additional four-month periods. Detainees may be held longer than this 14-month period if a hearing date is scheduled beyond it. In cases involving crimes for which the sentence may not exceed five years, the court may extend the initial six-month pretrial detention only by three months. During this stage the court investigates, hears arguments, and accepts evidence and motions from both parties.

The first official remote hearing for pretrial detainees, under a 2020 Ministry of Justice pilot program that installed remote connections between 49 courts and 27 prisons, took place on March 5 in the First Instance Court of Sousse.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right, although defendants complained authorities did not consistently follow the law on trial procedures. In civilian courts defendants have the right to a presumption of innocence. They also have the right to consult with an attorney or to have one provided at public expense, to confront witnesses against them, to present witnesses and evidence, and to appeal verdicts against them. The law stipulates defendants must be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them, with free interpretation if necessary. They must also be given adequate time and facilities to prepare their defense and not be compelled to testify or confess guilt.

The counterterrorism law states that in cases involving terrorism, judges may close hearings to the public. Judges may also keep information on witnesses, victims, and any other relevant persons confidential, including from the accused and his or her legal counsel. Human rights organizations objected to the law for its vague definition of terrorism and the broad leeway it gives judges to admit testimony by anonymous witnesses.

Military courts fall under the Ministry of Defense, with military and civilian judges nominated by the president and approved by the Military Judicial Council, which is chaired by the minister of defense. The Military Judicial Council controls the assignments, pay and promotion of military judges; the Ministry of Justice controls the assignment and promotion of civilian judges assigned to military courts. Military courts have authority to try cases involving military personnel and those of civilians accused of national security crimes, crimes involving members of the security or armed forces, and offenses such as insulting the president (as commander in chief of the armed forces) or other members of the military. Appeals of decisions made by the military courts involving civilians are heard by the Court of Cassation – the country’s highest court of appeal, and part of the civilian judiciary system. Human rights advocates argued that national security crimes for which civilians may be tried in military courts were too broadly defined but acknowledged that, following the 2011 reform of military courts, defendants in military courts have the same rights as those in civilian courts, including the right to choose legal representation, access case files and evidence, conduct cross-examinations, call witnesses, and appeal court judgments.

There are three permanent military courts of first instance (in Tunis, Sfax, and El Kef), a military court of appeals, and a military chamber at the Court of Cassation.

Following President Saied’s July 25 decision to declare exceptional measures and lift parliamentary immunity, the government arrested 13 members of parliament on charges of alleged corruption, sexual harassment, and assault of security officials. Of these, civil society organizations reported that two other cases involving members of parliament included charges related to freedom of expression. Six members of parliament remained in detention, four were released pending trial, two were released after charges were dropped, and one received a suspended prison sentence. Of these 13 cases, eight were adjudicated within the military court system. In addition to the foregoing 13 cases, two members of parliament remained subject to pending arrest warrants since August, a third was sentenced to prison in absentia, and a fourth remained under active investigation.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

Civil society groups criticized the government for investigating, detaining, and prosecuting individuals, including members of parliament and a journalist, who publicly criticized President Saied after July 25.

On November 5, a military court opened an investigation into Nahda Party member of parliament and lawyer Bechir Chebbi under the Code of Military Justice for “harming the dignity of the army.” According to news sources, investigations into Chebbi’s prosecution reportedly stemmed from declarations he made during a political rally opposing President Saied’s July 25 “exceptional measures.” No other updates on the investigation have been announced.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Citizens and organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights abuses through domestic courts. Civilian courts heard cases involving alleged abuse by security forces during the year. Some cases did not move forward because security force officials, and occasionally civilian judges, reportedly failed to cooperate in the investigations. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), the lack of legal provisions holding senior officers liable for crimes committed by subordinates with explicit or tacit approval contributed to military courts’ light sentences for security force members.

Civil society activists continued to cite the failure to establish the Constitutional Court, which left the country without an independent arbiter of the constitutionality of laws and draft laws, as hindering efforts to conform existing legislation with the 2014 constitution and with international human rights norms, particularly regarding individual freedoms and fundamental rights (see section 3).

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

The constitution prohibits such actions, and there were no reports that the government failed to respect these prohibitions. The country’s counterterrorism law establishes the legal framework for law enforcement to use internationally recognized special investigative techniques, including surveillance and undercover investigations. The law allows interception of communications, including recording of telephone conversations, with advance judicial approval for a period not to exceed four months. Government agents are subject to a one-year prison sentence if they conduct surveillance without judicial authorization.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press and other media, and the government mainly respected this right, although there were constraints, especially after President Saied’s July 25 imposition of exceptional measures. An independent press and robust civil society contributed to an environment generally conducive to this freedom.

Freedom of Expression: Public speech considered offensive to “public morals” or “public decency,” terms undefined in the law, continued to be treated as criminal acts. Provisions of the penal and telecommunications codes, for example, criminalize speech that causes “harm to the public order or public morals” or intentionally disturbs persons “in a way that offends the sense of public decency.”

Human rights groups expressed concern regarding arrests and prosecution for social media posts. On January 17, police arrested Ahmed Ghram, a human rights defender and LTDH member, for allegedly defaming and insulting a public servant on Facebook. He criticized an unspecified individual for calling poor persons criminals when they are hungry but calling those who steal people’s money successful businessmen. On January 28, the Ben Arous Misdemeanor Court acquitted and released Ghram.

On June 9, the Military Court of El Kef sentenced blogger Slim Jebali to three months in prison under Article 91 of the Military Justice Code for violating the dignity of the military and under Article 86 of the telecommunications code for using public communication networks to “insult” others. On July 2, the Military Appeals Court of El Kef reduced Jebali’s sentence to one month and subsequently released him. Separately on October 13, the military court sentenced Jebali to one year in prison based on social media postings critical of President Saied. On November 13, an appeals court reduced Jebali’s sentence to six months.

Blogger Amina Mansour appeared before a military court for interrogation on June 28 following a lawsuit filed by the military prosecutor concerning a Facebook post insulting the commander in chief of the armed forces, President Saied. Mansour remained free pending updates on the charges.

Independent member of parliament Yassine Ayari was arrested on July 30 to serve a two-month sentence based on a 2018 military court conviction for “defaming the military” that resulted from Facebook posts criticizing the military. The INPT visited Ayari while in detention. On September 22, Ayari was released from prison after completing this sentence. Additionally, Ayari faced separate charges under Article 91 of the Military Justice Code related to Facebook posts criticizing President Saied after July 25. His next hearing before the military court was scheduled for February 14, 2022.

On December 24, the First Instance Court of Tunis sentenced former member of parliament and human rights activist Bochra Belhaj Hmida in absentia to six months in prison for disseminating false information in a 2012 case. At that time Hmida had accused former minister of sports and youth Tarek Dhiab of corruption, prompting him to file a complaint. At year’s end there was no movement on this case.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Activists expressed concern regarding government interference in media and the concentration of media ownership in the hands of a few political parties or families. NGOs stated the penal code and military justice codes were used to target journalists, lawyers, and civil society activists. The codes criminalize defamation, false allegations against members of an administrative or judicial authority, and attacks against the “dignity, reputation, or morale of the army.”

The prime minister’s office announced on April 19 the resignations of the recently appointed CEO of government-run news agency Tunis Afrique Presse (TAP), Kamel Ben Younes, and the director general of Shems FM radio, Hanen Ftouhi. The appointments of Ben Younes and Ftouhi had resulted in protests by journalists who claimed the choices were politically motivated and inappropriate. The National Syndicate of Journalists (SNJT) and the Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT) called on former prime minister and acting Interior Minister Hichem Mechichi to apologize after security forces allegedly assaulted journalists in TAP headquarters on April 13, according to some accounts by SNJT and TAP representatives, while escorting Ben Younes. Other TAP employees publicly refuted these claims.

On July 26, the SNJT published a statement calling on President Saied to protect press freedom following reports that security agents had entered al-Jazeera headquarters in Tunis earlier that day and demanded that the office’s seven-person staff leave the premises. As of December al-Jazeera’s offices remained closed and their journalism licenses have not been renewed, but its journalists continued to work from the SNJT’s headquarters.

In October the private Hannibal TV channel announced it was temporarily and voluntarily suspending broadcasting following a determination by the Independent High Authority for Audiovisual Communication (HAICA) that it was one of four media outlets that had been operating illegally without a license: Hannibal TV since 2013; Nessma TV and Zitouna TV since 2014; and Radio Quran since 2015. On October 6, HAICA and the Ministry of Interior closed Zitouna TV, and on October 27, they closed Nessma TV and Radio Quran, confiscating broadcasting equipment. On November 12, HAICA reached an agreement with Hannibal TV allowing it to resume broadcasts temporarily. As part of the agreement, the station must provide requested documents – including administrative records and financial statements – to HAICA by June 2022. On November 18, a court overturned HAICA’s decision to confiscate Zitouna TV and Radio Quran broadcasting equipment but upheld HAICA’s decision to confiscate Nessma TV’s equipment. HAICA announced plans to appeal the court’s decision to ensure all media outlets were treated equally under the authority’s regulatory mandate.

Violence and Harassment: Violence and harassment against journalists continued, according to human rights organizations.

From January through June, the SNJT reported 118 instances of physical assault and verbal harassment against journalists and photojournalists by security and police officers, civilians, political party supporters, and members of parliament. Among these cases were three involving sexual harassment against female journalists. The SNJT announced on March 12 the suspension of its work with the Ministry of Interior after security forces allegedly assaulted several journalists and impeded their access to a confrontation between political parties. The SNJT called on the Ministry of Justice and the speaker of parliament to investigate all the alleged assaults.

According to Minority Rights Group International, police insulted and violently assaulted journalist Arroi Baraket while arresting her on September 17 for violating a COVID-19 curfew. The officer who assaulted her reportedly said she could do nothing against him because as a trade unionist he was “protected.” Baraket tried to file a complaint but was instead taken into custody and charged with contempt for a public official. She was due to appear in court in early December, but the date was postponed to January. There were no charges against the officer.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Unlike in previous years, the government did not seek criminal penalties against members of media who published items counter to government guidelines or who published items deemed to defame government officials.

Libel/Slander Laws: Various civil society organizations expressed concern regarding the use of criminal libel laws to stifle freedom of expression. The 2017 adoption of decree laws, which maintained the separation between protection of freedom of expression and regulation of the communications and media sector, rolled back the prerevolution regime of censorship and secrecy. Many media actors and activists asserted these decree laws did not go far enough to protect freedom of expression and of the press and did not comply with the country’s international obligations.

On October 3, police arrested Ameur Ayed, the host of a show on Zaytouna TV, and a member of parliament, Aloui Abdellatif, on allegations that they had harmed state security by insulting and criticizing President Saied during an episode of Ayed’s Hassad 24 program. Aloui was released pending further investigation. On November 25, Ayed was released pending trial in military court, scheduled for January 20, 2022.

National Security: On November 4, the judiciary issued an arrest warrant for former president Mohamed Moncef Marzouki regarding accusations that he undermined the country’s security. Marzouki had publicly called President Saied’s July 25 measures a “coup.” In early October he called on Tunisians to protest Saied and Tunisia’s “dictatorial” regime. Marzouki also publicly claimed he encouraged organizers of the Summit of Francophonie, scheduled for November, not to proceed with hosting the event in Tunisia. On December 22, the First Instance Court of Tunis sentenced Marzouki in absentia to four years in prison for “undermining the external security of the State.”

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without legal authority. There was no censorship of websites, including those with pornographic content, except for websites linked to terrorist organizations.

On September 13, the Court of First Instance in Sousse stated that the prosecution had ordered an investigation of individuals implicated in the case of the digital content production company Istalingo. Six employees were detained, one was detained and then released, and three escaped arrest. The charges included attempting to change the form of government, incitement to disorder, calls for murder and looting, and attempting to harm the president. On October 5, the court sentenced four of the individuals on charges of spying and harming state security through social media pages. The defense team filed an appeal.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were no reports of government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events. Due to the COVID-19 crisis, the government ordered the suspension of all cultural festivities, including the International Carthage Festival 2021.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government at times restricted freedom of peaceful assembly based on public health, public order, or bureaucratic delay in issuing permits.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

According to the Tunisian Forum for Social and Economic Rights (FTDES), more than 7,000 protests took place from January to July, largely in response to worsening social and economic conditions including electricity and drinking water outages, high inflation, poor government performance, and the deterioration of health-care services during COVID-19. On July 25, President Saied invoked Article 80 of the constitution and issued a decree prohibiting public gatherings of more than three persons. Despite the decree, the government permitted peaceful protests.

During a September 1 demonstration in Tunis calling for an investigation into the 2013 killings of politicians Mohamed Brahmi and Chokri Belaid, there were reported confrontations between security forces and protesters. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemned the police’s use of violence, seen in videos posted online. On September 3, the Ministry of Interior removed the Tunis regional director of the National Police, Lotfi Belaid, from his position. Minister of Interior Taoufik Charfeddine, appointed in October, stated the ministry would make the protection of civil liberties, particularly the right to protest, a priority and directed law enforcement to use restraint when responding to protests.

In March the government published the implementation plan of the El Kamour agreement signed in November 2020 with protesters who had blocked oil and gas production in the south of the country for several weeks. The government pledged to hire 1,000 unemployed youth through the Tataouine Environment and Gardening Company, provide a 78.3 million-dinar ($29 million) development fund for Tataouine Governorate for projects benefitting unemployed youth or related needs, grant 1,000 loans to young entrepreneurs, and hire 300 youth in oil companies in the region. Implementation of the agreement was disjointed, however, and on November 8, unemployed youth in Tataouine protested against its slow pace.

Freedom of Association

The law provides for the right of freedom of association, but the government did not always respect it. Several NGOs asserted the government delayed registration of associations through unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles, at times for political reasons, a practice counter to the law.

Free Constitutional Party (PDL) members allegedly attempted to break into the religiously conservative International Union for Muslim Scholars (IUMS) headquarters in Tunis on March 9 and 10, resulting in counterprotests by IUMS, the Karama Coalition, and Nahda Party supporters that ended after Ministry of Interior security forces dispersed the crowds. Referring to IUMS as a Muslim Brotherhood-sponsored terrorist organization, PDL president Abir Moussi called on the governor of Tunis, Chedly Boualleague, to shut down the organization for illegal activity. Karama Coalition leader Seifeddine Makhlouf condemned the PDL’s position and organized a counterprotest outside IUMS headquarters. Tunis governor Boualleague authorized security forces on March 10 to disassemble sit-in tents erected by PDL, IUMS, and Karama Coalition supporters. The government has maintained the IUMS’ right to assembly and has not shuttered the association.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. After July 25, President Saied reportedly authorized the use of travel bans for individuals with pending legal cases against them. The government temporarily closed its border with Libya during the year due to COVID-19 concerns.

In-country Movement: Civil society groups reported that the Ministry of Interior continued to restrict some individuals’ internal travel, using the Ministry of Interior’s informal travel ban list known as the “S17” watch list, although the list was established to inform border agents of individuals’ potential travel outside the country and require extra screening at border checkpoints. While there were no official statistics on the number of persons covered, a local NGO estimated the list could contain more than 100,000 names. The government has not acted on 2018 and 2020 rulings by the Administrative Court of Tunis that the list has no legal basis and that the government should issue a law authorizing it to restrict an individual’s travel rather than relying on an internal ministry directive.

Foreign Travel: The law requires that authorities promptly inform those affected by travel restrictions or who have had their passports seized of the reasons for these decisions. In addition, the law provides that the affected individuals have the right to challenge the decision and sets a maximum of 14 months during which their travel can be restricted before requiring another court order. Human rights groups noted authorities did not consistently apply the law and that security forces did not always respect court decisions to reverse travel restrictions.

After a woman was denied permission to board a flight to Turkey in March, allegedly because her name was on the “S17” watch list, civil society groups expressed concern with the list and the lack of transparency around its implementation.

Civil society organizations and the business community alleged that several members of parliament, former ministers, and businesspersons were arbitrarily prohibited from traveling following President Saied’s invocation of “exceptional measures” on July 25. Amnesty International reported on August 26 that at least 50 individuals were barred from traveling abroad over the prior month without justification or timeline for the ban. The president publicly instructed the acting minister of interior on September 17 not to prevent any individual from traveling unless the person was the subject of an arrest warrant, search warrant, or a guilty verdict and sentence of imprisonment.

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. On July 25, citing widespread protests and political paralysis, President Saied invoked Article 80 of the constitution and took “exceptional measures” to dismiss Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi, freeze parliament’s activities for 30 days, and lift immunity for members of parliament. On August 23, President Saied announced an indefinite extension of the “exceptional measures” period, and on September 22, issued a decree granting himself certain executive, legislative, and judicial powers, and the authority to rule by decree, subject to rights guaranteed in the constitution. Civil society organizations criticized the president for granting himself unprecedented decision-making powers, without institutional checks and balances and for an unlimited period. On September 29, President Saied named Najla Bouden Romdhane as prime minister, and on October 11 she formed a government composed of 24 ministers and one secretary of state. On December 13, President Saied announced a timeline including public consultations and the establishment of a committee to revise the constitution and electoral laws, leading to a national referendum in July 2022. Parliamentary elections would follow in December 2022. According to local polling, the measures were broadly popular, although some civil society groups and political parties expressed concern regarding the lack of transparency and inclusivity of Saied’s actions.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Citizens exercised their ability to vote in legislative and presidential elections in 2019 that observers characterized as generally open, competitive, and well run. Officials reported that approximately 3.9 million persons voted in the second round of presidential elections in 2019, placing the turnout at 55 percent. Official election observers generally agreed these elections were free and fair with no widespread fraud, violence, or attempts to undermine the credibility of the results. Observers assessed overall that the process for both elections was satisfactory, transparent, and valid, despite detailing faults with certain technical aspects of the electoral process and some electoral law violations. International observers expressed concern that the arrest and detention of one of the presidential candidates, Nabil Karoui, had denied him an equal opportunity to campaign for both the presidential and parliamentary elections, a right guaranteed by the electoral law. Authorities arrested Karoui after a court ordered his detention in a 2016 case involving money laundering and tax evasion charges. Without a conviction and court order to restrict his candidacy, Karoui remained on the ballot for the 2019 presidential elections. Ranking second in the elections with 15.6 percent of the votes, Karoui proceeded to the runoff election.

Karoui and his political party, Qalb Tounes (Heart of Tunisia), argued his continued detention was politically motivated to limit his party’s success and to exclude his participation in the presidential elections.

In December 2020 the Judiciary’s Economic and Financial Division issued a summons and arrest warrant against Karoui for allegations of money laundering and tax evasion. Karoui remained in pretrial detention until the Court of Cassation ordered his release on June 15 pending further investigation. As of year’s end, no trial date had been announced. On August 29, Karoui was arrested in Algeria for entering the country illegally. On October 26, he was reportedly released from prison, but his whereabouts were unknown.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority communities in the political process, and they did participate, including two women who ran for president during the first round of presidential elections in 2019. Women’s representation decreased from 35 percent to 23 percent in the parliament elected in 2019. On October 11, Najla Bouden Romdhane became the country’s first female prime minister, leading a 25-person cabinet that included nine other women.

Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

A wide variety of domestic and international human rights groups investigated and published without government restriction their findings on human rights cases. Government officials generally were cooperative and responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The government’s primary agency to investigate human rights abuses and combat threats to human rights is the Ministry of Justice. Human rights organizations contended, however, that the ministry failed to pursue or adequately investigate alleged human rights abuses. Within the office of the president, the High Committee for Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms is charged with monitoring human rights and advising the president on related topics.

The government established the INPT in 2013 to respond to allegations of torture and mistreatment (see section 1.c.).

The government formally published the final report of the Truth and Dignity Commission (IVD) report in June 2020 but as of November had not issued its action plan, which by law should be published within one year of the report’s release. The report’s recommendations, which focused on how to avoid a recurrence of gross abuses of human rights committed by the government or those who acted in its name from 1955 to 2013, included “preservation of memory,” reconciliation, and institutional reforms.

On August 10, civil society organizations and trade unions called on President Saied to prioritize transitional justice in the government’s next steps, including by investigating the lack of follow-up to the IVD report. There was no official response to a 2020 statement by the civil society coalition for transitional justice urging the government and the Supreme Judicial Council to address challenges facing the Specialized Criminal Courts (SCCs), established to adjudicate cases referred by the IVD of human rights abuses and financial crimes. Among these challenges were the refusal of police unions to cooperate with the SCCs to deliver subpoenas and other requests, the regular rotation of SCC judges, and the judges’ part-time status. By year’s end none of the 204 cases referred, representing more than 1,100 victims of abuses committed between 1955 and 2013, had been resolved.

The National Human Rights Authority published a list of martyrs and wounded of the revolution in the official gazette on March 19. The list, prepared by a special committee within the Commission for Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, contained the names of 129 martyrs and 634 injured who by their inclusion became eligible for compensation and access to medical care. The government, however, reportedly did not provide compensation or medical care to those on the list. The “Release the List” campaign, composed of civil society representatives, rejected the published list as incomplete. According to a statement by a victims’ association, those who wished to appeal omissions from the list could do so before the administrative court.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law broadly defines violence against women as “any restriction denying women equality in the civil, political, economic, social, or cultural domains.” The law criminalizes rape (including of men), incest, sexual harassment of women in public places, and gender discrimination. A rapist cannot avoid prosecution by marrying the survivor.

Rape remained a taboo subject, and cultural pressures often dissuaded survivors from reporting sexual assault. There were no government public education programs on domestic violence, including rape. Survivors received services at two dozen social centers throughout the country, in addition to five centers – one managed by the government and four by civil society organizations – dedicated to survivors of gender-based violence.

The Ministry of Justice tracked gender-based violence cases, gathering information on cases in each court but not making such information public. The government did not, however, systematically track the number of rape cases. Civil society representatives reported anecdotally that few rape cases resulted in a conviction.

Laws prohibiting domestic violence provide penalties for assault committed by a spouse or family member that are double those of an unrelated individual for the same crime, but enforcement was rare, and domestic violence remained a serious problem. The law allows women to seek restraining orders against their abusers without filing a criminal case or filing for divorce. The Ministry of Women, Family, and Senior Citizens monitored complaints of domestic violence and worked with civil society to increase awareness of the law and help them connect women with available support services. The ministry operated a national hotline for survivors of family violence.

On February 8, Minister of Women, Family and Senior Citizens Imen Zahouani Houimel announced the creation of a national committee to monitor implementation of the anti-gender-based violence law. The committee included representatives from government institutions, national organizations, and civil society. Houimel stated that despite passage of the law, the rate of violence against women remained high. The emergence of political and economic violence, “now practiced not only in traditional closed spaces but also in public spaces,” necessitated the committee’s creation, according to Houimel.

Human rights organizations, including local NGO Aswaat Nissaa and Avocats Sans Frontieres (Lawyers without Borders), issued a May 10 joint press release condemning impunity and calling for implementation of the law against gender-based violence following the May 9 death of an El Kef woman, allegedly killed by her husband, a National Guard officer. According to the Women and Citizenship Association in El Kef, the victim had filed a domestic violence complaint against her husband a few days before her death. Women’s rights groups accused the El Kef deputy prosecutor on duty during the incident of not arresting the defendant because he was a security officer. A campaign in solidarity with the victim spread online. As of July 15, Aswaat Nissaa reported the defendant was in detention pending trial; there were no further developments as of December.

Sexual Harassment: The gender-based violence law allows up to a two-year sentence for the harasser and a 5,000-dinar ($1,840) fine. Sexual harassment can include any act, gesture, or words with sexual connotation, including harassment in the street. The punishment is doubled if the victim is a child or the perpetrator has authority over the victim.

On August 2, independent member of parliament Faycal Tebbini was arrested on charges of online harassment of two female members of parliament in October 2020. On September 22, Tebbini received an eight-month suspended prison sentence for defamation and was released the same day.

On August 16, independent member of parliament Zouheir Makhlouf was placed under house arrest in response to sexual harassment allegations made in 2019 that he allegedly followed and exposed himself to a female student. On November 12, the court sentenced him to one year in prison on sexual harassment and public indecency charges.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence through the Ministry of Justice, although services were often delayed. Emergency contraception was available without a prescription.

Discrimination: The constitution and law explicitly prohibit discrimination based on race, gender, disability, language, or social status, and the government generally enforced these prohibitions. Women faced societal rather than statutory barriers to their economic and political participation. Codified civil law is based on the Napoleonic code, although on occasion judges drew upon interpretations of sharia as a basis for family and inheritance disputes.

Newly married couples must state explicitly in the marriage contract whether they elect to combine their possessions or to keep them separate. Sharia inheritance law in some instances provides men with a larger share of an inheritance. Some families avoided the application of sharia by executing sales contracts between parents and children to ensure that daughters received shares of property equal to that given to sons. Non-Muslim women and their Muslim husbands may not inherit from each other unless they seek a legal judgment based on the rights enshrined in the constitution. The government considers all children of those marriages to be Muslim and forbids those children from inheriting from their mothers. Spouses may, however, freely give up to one-third of their estate to whomever they designate in their will.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The law prohibits all forms of racial discrimination, including “all distinction, exclusion, restriction, or preference based on race, color, origin, heritage, or all other forms of racial obstruction, obstacle, or deprivation of rights and liberties or their exercise.” The law penalizes acts of racial discrimination with up to three years in prison and a substantial fine for an individual and a larger fine for a legal entity. The government did not effectively enforce the law, and there were no reports of prosecution based on antidiscrimination laws.

Persons with Disabilities

Since 1991 the law requires all new public buildings to be accessible to persons with physical disabilities, and the government generally enforced the law. Persons with physical disabilities did not have access to most buildings built before 1991. The government did not ensure information and communications were accessible for persons with disabilities.

The Ministry of Social Affairs is charged with protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. The government issued cards to persons with disabilities for benefits such as unrestricted parking, free and priority medical services, free and preferential seating on public transportation, and consumer discounts. In general, public buses and trains were ill-suited and not easily accessible to persons with disabilities. The government provided tax incentives to companies to encourage the hiring of persons with physical disabilities. The government administered approximately 310 schools for children with disabilities, at least five schools for blind pupils, one higher-education school, and one vocational training institution. These special education centers served individuals ages six to 30. The Ministry of Social Affairs managed centers that provided short- and long-term accommodation and medical services to persons with disabilities who lacked other means of support.

The Ministry of Social Affairs provided 180 dinars ($66) per month to families that included persons with disabilities and an additional 20 dinars ($7) per school-aged child with disabilities.

One of the greatest problems for persons with disabilities, according to the Ibsar Association, an NGO promoting rights for persons with disabilities, was a lack of access to information through education, media, or government agencies. For children with physical disabilities, inaccessible infrastructure remained a major hurdle to their social inclusion, as few buildings or cities were easily accessible to persons with physical disabilities or reduced mobility.

There were very limited education options or public-sector accommodations for persons with hearing or vision disabilities. There were no schools for children with hearing disabilities, and Ibsar estimated that more than 90 percent of persons with hearing disabilities were illiterate. The government provided hearing aids to persons with hearing disabilities.

The HAICA ordered a one-week suspension of Radio Mosaique FM’s daily show “Ahla Sbeh” on March 3 for mocking persons with vision disabilities. The HAICA board called the show’s mockery “a serious violation of human dignity” and ordered the radio station to remove the episode, which had aired on February 23, from its website and social media pages.

For the 2019 national elections, the Independent High Authority for Elections worked with civil society organizations to prepare electoral handbooks in braille and to develop elections-related materials in sign language, including a mobile application that standardizes signed vocabulary and phrases related to elections. Civil society observer groups noted the election authority increased its efforts to ensure accessibility to persons with disabilities but that there continued to be a need for effective, timely voter education programs targeting persons with disabilities and their families.

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

The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults. Whereas the French version of the law uses only the word “sodomy,” the Arabic version, which takes precedence, specifically mentions homosexual acts between men and between women. Convictions carry up to a three-year prison sentence. According to NGOs authorities occasionally used the law to detain and question persons concerning their sexual activities and sexual orientation, reportedly at times based on appearance alone. NGOs reported that in some instances lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) individuals were targeted under a penal code article criminalizing “infringement of morality or public morals,” which carries a penalty of six months in prison and a fine of 1,000 dinars ($370).

LGBTQI+ individuals continued to face discrimination and violence, including death and rape threats and societal stigma, and fear of prosecution discouraged individuals from reporting discriminatory violence and threats.

Human rights groups reported an increase in arrests of LGBTQI+ individuals by police, as well as cases of societal harassment. Allegations included reports that some police unions targeted LGBTQI+ participants in January and February protests by posting their home addresses or pictures online and engaging in online hate speech. According to the Damj Association, an LGBTQI+ rights NGO, during the year authorities sentenced 28 LGBTQI+ persons under provisions of the criminal code criminalizing “sodomy,” “infringement of morality or public morals,” and “insulting a public official.”

On January 8, police arrested Zizi, a transgender woman, and four other transgender individuals on charges of public indecency and disturbing public morality. The Damj Association issued a statement on January 12 condemning the arrests and calling for the release of Zizi and other LGBTQI+ individuals in detention. The organization noted police officers denied Zizi access to a lawyer despite her request. On January 23, the First Instance Court of Sousse released all five individuals and dropped all charges against them.

After self-described queer activist Rania Amdouni participated in antigovernment protests in January and February, some police unions posted photographs of her on Facebook groups and called for her arrest. On February 27, Amdouni went to a police station in downtown Tunis to press charges against members of the security forces she claimed harassed and followed her. Police arrested her after she reportedly had a verbal altercation with a police officer at the station. On March 4, a Tunis court sentenced her to six months in prison for insulting a public servant. Amdouni’s supporters held a small protest outside of the Tunis court, and civil society organizations denounced her arrest and called for her release. On March 17, the Appeals Court of Tunis fined Amdouni 200 dinars ($75) and ordered her release. On June 24, she announced her departure from the country to seek asylum in France.

On March 22, Damj Association president Badr Baabou reported that four unidentified individuals physically assaulted him on March 10, targeting him for his LGBTQI+ rights advocacy. According to Damj, police officers in a vehicle approximately 65 feet away failed to respond to the physical assault or verbal harassment. Baabou filed a complaint with the public prosecutor’s office against his assailants and the security officials who allegedly did not intervene.

According to the Damj Association, Baabou was assaulted again, this time by two police officers in downtown Tunis, on October 21. According to public reports, the officers struck Baabou with multiple blows to his body and face. The government did not publicly comment on the case. On December 1, the National Police general inspector opened an investigation into the case and requested Damj’s assistance in collecting documents and statements related to reports of police abuse.

On October 26, the First Instance Court of Tunis sentenced the president of LGBTQI+-rights group Shams Association, Mounir Baatour, in absentia to one year in prison for a 2019 Facebook post that allegedly expressed “contempt of the Prophet.” Baatour has been residing outside Tunisia since 2019 after reportedly receiving death threats.

There continued to be no information on official discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing, access to education, or health care.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to organize, form, and join unions, and to bargain collectively. The law allows workers to protest or strike, provided they give 10 days’ advance notice to their federations and receive Ministry of Interior approval. Union leadership normally approves the decision to hold a strike; however, wildcat strikes (those not authorized by union leadership) increased in frequency during the year.

The right to strike extends to civil servants, except for workers in essential services “whose interruption would endanger the lives, safety, or health of all or a section of the population.” The government did not explicitly define which services were essential. Authorities largely respected the right to strike in public enterprises and services. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination by employers and retribution against strikers. The government enforced applicable laws through arrests, fines, and business closures. Penalties were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination. After President Saied suspended parliament on July 25, there were no reports of police aggression towards labor protesters, including during a large labor protest in Sfax on October 29.

Conciliation panels with equal labor and management representation settled many labor disputes. In the absence of conciliation panels, representatives from the Ministry of Social Affairs, the UGTT, and the Tunisian Union for Industry, Commerce, and Handicrafts formed tripartite regional commissions to arbitrate disputes. Observers generally considered the tripartite commissions effective. Representatives from UGTT’s smaller rival labor unions, the General Confederation of Tunisian Labor and the Union of Tunisian Workers, complained their organizations were ignored and excluded from the tripartite commissions because a previous minister of social affairs, also a former UGTT leader, drafted a decree law explicitly aimed at excluding the smaller unions from social dialogue. The smaller unions accused UGTT of denying the rights of laborers to freely choose the union best representing their interests.

UGTT representatives alleged that some private-sector businesses targeted union leaders and fired them once they led strikes or made demands on behalf of the labor force. UGTT made allegations of other antiunion practices by private-sector employers, including the firing of union activists and employing temporary workers to deter unionization. In certain industries, including textiles, hotels, and construction, temporary workers accounted for a majority of the workforce, a practice reportedly aimed at minimizing the risk of union-related disruptions of business.

UGTT expressed concern regarding the exclusion of factions of the union confederation that oppose actions taken by Secretary General Tabboubi, specifically his decision to change UGTT electoral bylaws to allow himself to run for a third term in February 2022. The factions opposing this action were reportedly targeted by UGTT leadership and received threats, had their membership frozen, and faced other disciplinary measures.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits and criminalizes all forms of forced or compulsory labor and provides for penalties of up to 10 years’ imprisonment and fines. The labor code allows workers to change jobs after giving notice as specified in their contract. Penalties for violations were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits and criminalizes all the worst forms of child labor and provides for a minimum age of employment. On June 30, parliament passed a domestic workers’ law prohibiting employing children in domestic work. The law provides for the protection of children from exploitation in the workplace, including limitations on working hours, occupational safety, and health restrictions. The law generally prohibits the employment of children younger than age 16. Persons younger than 18 are prohibited from working in jobs that present serious threats to their health, security, or morals. The minimum age for light work in the nonindustrial and agricultural sectors during nonschool hours is 13. Children between the ages of 14 and 16 may work no more than two hours per day. The total time that children spend at school and work may not exceed seven hours per day. Workers between the ages of 14 and 18 must have 12 hours of rest per day, which must include the hours between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. Labor inspectors from the Ministry of Social Affairs monitored compliance with the minimum age law by examining employee records. Penalties for violations were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

Nevertheless, the worst forms of child labor reportedly did occur in the informal economy, including forced labor and domestic work in third-party households, seasonal agricultural work, street vending, and begging. Children at times worked up to 10 hours per day, without benefits or written contracts, and faced health problems from dangerous and arduous work environments. They were also subjected to commercial sexual exploitation and used in illicit activities, including drug trafficking, sometimes because of human trafficking (see section 6).

The Ministries of Employment and Vocational Training, Social Affairs, Education, and Women, Family, and Senior Citizens all have programs directed to both children and parents to discourage children from entering the informal labor market. These efforts included programs to provide vocational training and to encourage youth to stay in school through the secondary level. Dropouts remained high, however, especially among low-income families.

On September 10, a member of the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights, Mounir Hassine, stated that more than one million students have dropped out of school since 2010. Also, see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings/ .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits employment discrimination regarding race, sex, gender, disability, language, sexual orientation and gender identity, HIV-positive status or presence of other communicable diseases, or social status. The government did not always effectively enforce those laws and regulations (see section 6). Penalties were commensurate with laws related to civil rights, such as election interference.

Temporary contract laborers complained they were not afforded the same protections as permanent employees.

Societal, legal, and cultural barriers significantly reduced women’s participation in the formal labor force, particularly in managerial positions. The gender-based violence law contains provisions aimed at eliminating the gender-based wage gap. The law explicitly requires equal pay for equal work, and the government generally enforced it through fines as laid out in 2017 amendments to the Labor Code. The law allows female employees in the public sector to receive two-thirds of their full-time salary for half-time work, provided they have at least one child younger than age 16 or a child with special needs, regardless of age. Qualifying women may apply for the benefit for a three-year period, renewable twice for a maximum of nine years. Women can apply for early retirement at the age of 55 if they have at least three children.

The domestic workers’ law passed June 30 regulates the conditions of domestic work, defines the obligations of workers and employers, establishes oversight mechanisms, and sets penalties for infractions. It mandates a guaranteed minimum wage, a workweek not to exceed 48 hours, and a weekly rest day. The law also requires that domestic workers be recruited through accredited employment offices under fixed-term or open-ended contracts. Violators may be punished with one to three months’ imprisonment and a fine. Despite the absence of an asylum law, an internal government circular from the Ministry of Social Affairs allows refugees registered with UNHCR who hold regular employment with a contract validated by the Ministry of Vocational Training and Employment, or who are self-employed, to enroll in the social security system (CNSS), thereby formalizing their employment. According to UNHCR, refugees who fulfill the requirements may apply through their employer for CNSS coverage, and their applications are assessed on a case-by-case basis.

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical or mental disabilities. It mandates that at least 2 percent of public- and private-sector jobs be reserved for persons with disabilities. NGOs reported authorities did not widely enforce this law, and many employers were not aware of it.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The law sets a maximum standard 48-hour workweek for manual work in the industrial and agricultural sectors and requires one 24-hour rest period per week. For administrative jobs in the private and public sectors, the workweek is 40 hours with 125 percent premium pay for overtime. The law prohibits excessive compulsory overtime. Depending on years of service, employees are statutorily awarded 18 to 23 days of paid vacation annually. The labor code provides for a range of administratively determined minimum wages; the minimum wages were above the poverty income level.

Although there was no standard practice for reporting labor-code abuses, workers have the right to report them to regional labor inspectors. The government did not adequately enforce the minimum-wage law, particularly in nonunionized sectors of the economy. The prohibition against excessive compulsory overtime was not always enforced. Penalties were not commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud.

UGTT advocated for three key labor matters during the year. First, on February 6, UGTT signed an agreement with the government for 47 sectoral wage increases in 27 public sectors, to be phased in over two years. As a result of President Saied’s suspension of parliament on July 25, an increase due in September did not go into effect. Second, on April 30, the UGTT Electricity and Gas Federation denounced the government’s decision to increase the salaries of engineers working for ministries because the raises excluded those working for state-owned enterprises (SOEs). Third, on June 8, UGTT announced an agreement with the government to increase the guaranteed minimum wage by 6.5 percent for the public and private sectors. Most public-sector employees were paid well above minimum wage, so this largely targeted the private sector. The agreement was not implemented by year’s end.

Occupational Safety and Health: Occupational safety and health (OSH) standards were appropriate for key industries in the country, including energy, agriculture and food processing, car parts, electronics, and chemicals, but the government generally did not enforce them. Responsibility for identifying unsafe situations remained with OSH experts and not the worker.

Special government regulations control employment in hazardous occupations, such as mining, petroleum engineering, and construction. Workers were free to remove themselves from dangerous situations without jeopardizing their employment, and they could take legal action against employers who retaliated against them for exercising this right. The Ministry of Social Affairs is responsible for enforcing health and safety standards in the workplace. Under the law all workers, including those in the informal sector, are afforded the same occupational safety and health protections. Regional labor inspectors were also responsible for enforcing standards related to hourly wage regulations. The number of inspectors was insufficient to enforce compliance. Penalties for violations of occupational, safety, and health laws were commensurate with those for crimes like negligence. Credible data on workplace accidents, injuries, and fatalities were not available.

Working conditions and standards generally were better in export-oriented firms, which were mostly foreign owned, than in those firms producing exclusively for the domestic market.

Informal Sector: According to the government and NGOs, labor laws did not adequately cover the informal sector, where labor violations were reportedly more prevalent. According to the labor ministry, the inspectorate did not have adequate resources to fully monitor the informal economy, officially estimated to constitute 38 percent of the gross domestic product. According to the latest figures from the National Institute of Statistics, 46.4 percent of the total labor force, amounting to 1.6 million individuals, worked in the informal sector by the third quarter of 2020. Occasionally, labor inspectors coordinated spot checks with UGTT and the Ministry of Education.

Civil society worked with the government to support the most vulnerable among the country’s migrant populations, especially day laborers, those working in the informal sector, or those living in shelters who were adversely impacted by COVID-19 prevention measures. The government announced measures to support the largely sub-Saharan migrant community during the COVID-19 crisis. These included commitments by the Ministry of Interior not to arrest migrants during the remainder of the health crisis, to finalize a national migration strategy, to regularize the legal status of migrants, to release some migrants at the Ouardia Center, and to improve the conditions for those who remained. The ministry also suspended fines for visa overstays during the COVID-19 pandemic and appealed to landlords to forgive migrants’ rent. Some municipalities covered the rent of sub-Saharan African migrants in need.