Jordan

Executive Summary

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is a constitutional monarchy ruled by King Abdullah II bin Hussein. The constitution grants the king ultimate executive and legislative authority. The multiparty parliament consists of the 65-member Senate (Majlis al-Ayan) appointed by the king and a 130-member popularly elected House of Representatives (Majlis al-Nuwwab). Elections for the House of Representatives occur approximately every four years and last took place in 2016. International observers deemed the elections organized, inclusive, credible, and technically well run.

The Public Security Directorate (PSD) has responsibility for law enforcement and reports to the Ministry of Interior. The PSD, General Intelligence Directorate (GID), gendarmerie, and Civil Defense Directorate share responsibility for maintaining internal security. The gendarmerie and Civil Defense Directorate report to the Ministry of Interior, while the GID reports directly to the king. The armed forces report to the Ministry of Defense and are responsible for external security, although they also have a support role for internal security. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included: allegations of torture by security officials; arbitrary arrest and detention, including of activists and journalists; infringements on citizens’ privacy rights; restrictions on free expression and the press, including criminalization of libel, censorship, and internet site blocking; restrictions on freedom of association and assembly; incidents of official corruption; “honor” killings of women; violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons; and conditions amounting to forced labor in some sectors.

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

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

During the year Human Rights Watch alleged that the government increasingly targeted activists on charges ranging from insulting the king to undermining the political regime to online slander, which they say violated activists’ right to free expression. On May 20, a group of activists called Jordan Hirak-Karameh (English translation: The Jordanian Movement for Dignity) started an online petition that gathered several hundred signatures protesting the detention of 19 activists who were arrested for their participation in protests and for chanting slogans critical of the king.

In December 2018 the attorney general ordered the detention of media personality Mohammad al-Wakeel, founder of al-Wakeel Media Group, along with an editor working at his website, for posting a caricature deemed offensive to Christians and Muslims. The two men were charged with sectarian incitement and causing religious strife under Article 15 of the Cybercrimes Law and Article 38 of the Press and Publications Law. Authorities released al-Wakeel and the editor after two days at the Juweideh detention center.

In November 2018 authorities arrested the secretary general of the organization Mouminoun (Believers) without Borders, Younis Qandil, and charged him with slander, sectarian incitement, and broadcasting false information for staging his own kidnapping. Earlier in the year, the Ministry of Interior cancelled an academic workshop organized by Qandil’s group, which some considered an attack and insult on Islam. Younis was sentenced to detention at the Juweideh correctional center. As of September he remained in detention. During the year the public prosecutor dropped charges in the 2017 case against local journalist Mohamma Qaddah for slander, incitement, and defamation for his posting of a video on Facebook that authorities described as “insulting” and “derogatory” to women in the country.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: All publications must obtain licenses from the government to operate. Multiple daily newspapers operated; observers considered several as independent of the government, including one regarded as close to the Islamic Action Front (the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood’s legally registered political party). Observers also judged several daily newpapers to be close to the government. The independent print and broadcast media largely operated with limited restrictions, and media observers reported government pressure, including the threat of large fines and prison sentences, to refrain from criticizing the royal family, discussing the GID, covering ongoing security operations, using language deemed offensive to Islam, or slandering government officials. The government influenced news reporting and commentary through political pressure on editors and control over important editorial positions in government-affiliated media. Journalists of government-affiliated and independent media reported that security officials used bribes, threats, and political pressure to force editors to place articles favorable to the government in online and print newspapers.

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

During the year the government rejected broadcast licensing fee exemptions for community radio stations proposed by the Media Commission in February 2018 for financial reasons, according to the media commissioner.

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

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

By law any book can be published and distributed freely. Nonetheless, if the Media Commission deems that passages violate public norms and values, are religiously offensive, or are “insulting” to the king, it can request a court order to prohibit the distribution of the book. During the year the Media Commission banned distribution of 55 books for insulting religion, displaying pornographic images, and promoting homosexuality. The commission approved the importation of approximately 800,000 books. The Media Commission continued to ban the distribution of selected books for religious and moral reasons.

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

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

In its annual report, The Status of Media Freedoms in Jordan in 2018, the Center for Defending the Freedom of Journalists (CDFJ) documented 68 specific cases of violations of freedoms against journalists and media organizations. The CDFJ reported a decline in media freedom violations from 2017 but attributed it primarily to self-censorship and the government’s denial of access to journalists in covering sit-ins and protests during the year.

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

AlRai journalist Hussein al-Sharaa was sentenced in 2018 to six months of imprisonment (the highest sentence for such offense) following a complaint filed against him by the PSD for a post he wrote on Facebook, which the PSD considered offensive. The Jordan Press Association appealed the verdict for its issuance without the presence of the defendant’s lawyer. The appeals court released al-Sharaa on bail until completion of the judicial procedures, and the case remained pending.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government directly and indirectly censored the media. The CDFJ report noted continuing widespread self-censorship among journalists in 2018. Journalists claimed that the government used informants in newsrooms and exercised influence over reporting and that GID officials censored reporting. Editors reportedly received telephone calls from security officials instructing them how to cover events or to refrain from covering certain topics or events, especially criticism of political reform. Bribery of journalists took place and undermined independent reporting. Occasionally, government officials provided texts for journalists to publish under their bylines. An opinion poll conducted by the CDFJ found 92 percent of journalists self-censored their reporting in 2018. Journalists cited the declining financial conditions of media outlets, the threat of detention and imprisonment for defamation for a variety of offenses, and court-ordered compensation of as much as 150,000 Jordanian dinars (JD) ($210,000). At times editors in chief censored articles to prevent lawsuits. The government’s use of “soft containment” of journalists, including withholding financial support, scholarships for relatives, and special invitations, led to significant control of media content.

During the year the Media Commission did not circulate any official gag orders restricting discussion in all forms of media, including social media. For grand felony cases or cases of domestic violence, the public prosecutor may issue a gag order to protect the victims or witnesses involved.

Libel/Slander Laws: Article 11 of the Cybercrimes Law allows public prosecutors to detain individuals suspected of violating libel and slander laws. Government prosecutors relied on privately initiated libel, slander, and defamation lawsuits to suppress criticism of public figures and policies. Dozens of journalists, as well as members of parliament, faced libel and slander accusations filed by private citizens. Amendments to the law place the burden of proof for defamation on the complainant.

In January, Amman’s attorney general charged retired civil defense brigadier general Khaled al-Dabbas with slander and defamation, disclosure of secrets without a legitimate reason, and broadcasting false news, for a comment al-Dabbas published on Facebook. After riots broke out in the retired general’s hometown, police intervened to end the protests, and authorities released al-Dabbas the next day. The case was later dismissed for insufficient evidence.

Also in January the attorney general detained activist Mustafa Shoman on charges of slander after he posted a Facebook video implying criticism of the king and crown prince after they invited a municipal worker to join them in watching the national soccer team’s game, calling the interaction staged. Shoman was released from detention on bail in February, and the case continued.

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

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

A human rights organization reported that on May 6 a detained teacher and activist from Dhiban, 31-year-old Sabri al-Masha’leh, went on hunger strike. The NGO reported that al-Masha’leh’s family told them the Ministry of Interior’s Electronic Crimes Unit summoned him on March 28 for questioning related to Facebook posts he wrote in February, one of which referred to the king by name. According to the same report, authorities charged and convicted al-Masha’leh with insulting the king and sentenced him to two years in prison in April. The court later reduced his sentence to one year, which al-Masha’leh served in Sawaqa Prison.

In March, NGOs reported that authorities blocked access to a news website created by Jordanian expatriates to document political affairs and arrests of activists. Authorities continued to block the website of an online lifestyle magazine with an LGBTI target audience on the grounds that it was an unlicensed publication.

According to the Media Commission, there is no registration fee for a website. News websites must employ editors in chief with at least four years’ membership in the Jordan Press Association. The owner and editor in chief can be fined between 3,000 JD ($4,200) and 5,000 JD ($7,000), in addition to criminal penalties, for website content that “includes humiliation, defamation, or disparagement of individuals in a manner that violates their personal freedoms or spreads false rumors about them.”

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

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

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

In July the Jordanian Artists Association encouraged nonparticipation in the American film Jaber, claiming the movie had a “Zionist agenda” for propagating Israelis’ rights over Petra and south Jordan, according to a press release. Jordanian director and actor Ali Alyan subsequently withdrew his participation in the film. Media reports indicated that the government forced a stop to production of the film following this controversy, and in August filmmakers announced the film’s cancellation.

In June the American media company Netflix released its first international original series from the Middle East, Jinn. Filmed in Jordan with Jordanian actors, the five-episode series sparked public controversy due to scenes depicting teenage drinking, smoking, romance, and vulgar language. Despite criticism from the public, members of parliament, and the Grand Mufti, the government did not take any adverse action towards Netflix, nor did it make efforts to censor the show.

The government limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

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

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

Protests regarding economic policies, corruption, and government ineffectiveness occurred across the country throughout the year. Activists, ranging from as few as two dozen to as many as 200, organized a weekly gathering in a parking lot near the prime minister’s office most Thursdays. In March hundreds of unemployed citizens walked to the royal court in Amman from locations throughout the country to demand job opportunities. Authorities authorized the parking lot location as an alternative to the protesters’ initial preference of a large traffic circle closer to the prime minister’s office. Occasionally these gatherings shrank to only a dozen or so participants.

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

Security services detained political activists for shouting slogans critical of authorities during protests. Some were held without charge, others were charged with insulting the king, undermining the political regime, or slander. Most detentions lasted for days, but some lasted several months. Six detainees held a hunger strike from May through June to protest their arrest and detention. As of October more than 30 individuals remained in detention for reasons connected to freedom of expression, according to media reports and local NGOs.

The Jordan Open Source Association released a report documenting technical evidence that Facebook’s live-streaming function was sometimes deliberately blocked during large protests. The report did not identify where such interference might have originated.

In September the teachers’ syndicate went on strike to demand a 50 percent salary increase. On the first day of the strike, September 5, the syndicate organized demonstrations in several governorates to emphasize their demands, with the largest in Amman. More than 10,000 persons participated across the country. Authorities denied the syndicate permission to gather at a traffic circle near the prime minister’s office, a location usually preferred by antigovernment protesters, instead authorizing them to gather near the parliament. When teachers refused the alternate location and attempted to reach the traffic circle, police responded with tear gas.

On June 9, dozens of demonstrators gathered in front of the NCHR to demand the release of detained activists. Authorities arrested approximately 20 protesters and journalists for disrupting traffic along a major thoroughfare and participating in an unauthorized gathering and released them later that day. NCHR officials criticized the arrests, and on June 10, they held a press conference condemning attempts to prevent citizens from peacefully assembling in public.

In May protesters closed roads in the Hashimiyeh area of Zarqa Governorate, burned tires, and demanded the release of a detained activist. Gendarmerie forces fired tear gas at the protesters.

The constitution provides for the right of association, but the government limited this freedom. The law authorizes the Ministry of Social Development and Ministry of Trade, Industry, and Supply to approve or reject applications to register organizations and to prohibit organizations from receiving foreign funding for any reason. It prohibits the use of associations for the benefit of any political organization. The law also gives the ministry significant control over the internal management of associations, including the ability to dissolve associations, approve boards of directors, send government representatives to any board meeting, prevent associations from merging their operations, and appoint an auditor to examine an association’s finances for any reason. The law requires associations to inform the Ministry of Social Development of board meetings, submit all board decisions for approval, disclose members’ names, and obtain security clearances for board members from the Interior Ministry. The law includes penalties, including fines up to 10,000 JD ($14,000), for violations of the regulations. The Ministry of Social Development is legally empowered to intervene in NGO activities and issue warnings for violations of the law. Notified NGOs are given a two-month probationary period to address violations.

As of September 24, the ministry received 149 applications for foreign funding and approved 75. NGOs reported that unexplained, months-long delays in the decision process continued.

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

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

d. Freedom of Movement

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, although there were some restrictions.

Not applicable.

With the support of the humanitarian community, the government registered and facilitated access to civil documentation for Syrian refugees through the urban verification exercise for refugees, which concluded in March. Through this exercise, the Ministry of Interior issued 478,129 identification cards, allowing refugees to regularize their status living outside of camps, giving them freedom of movement and access to public services and assistance. Additionally, the government returned 205,072 confiscated-upon-arrival documents to Syrian refugees. According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there was no backlog of registration for Syrian refugees, and it was possible for Syrians to register with UNHCR upon arrival in the country at centers in Amman and Irbid.

There were reports of forced relocations to Azraq refugee camp, including many to Azraq’s restricted Village 5, as an alternative to deportation for offenses by Syrian refugees; such offenses encompassed “irregular status” (expired registration documents or working without a work permit); criminal activities; and potential security risks, without the latter being clearly defined. As of September, Azraq camp hosted more than 39,900 individuals, including more than 10,000 adults and children in the fenced-off Village 5 area. In 2018 NGOs estimated that the government forcibly relocated more than 7,200 refugees to Azraq camp, including more than 4,000 to Village 5 for security reasons. The vast majority of these refugees were not informed of the reasons for their detention and did not receive legal assistance. Residents of Village 5 had access to basic humanitarian assistance inside the village but had limited access to the broader camp facilities, including the camp hospital, which required a security escort. Although several hundred refugees were screened out of Village 5 each month, the screening process allowing Village 5 residents to relocate to the larger camp remained irregular and slow. Reportedly, many Village 5 residents had remained in this location for more than three years.

A number of Palestinian refugees from Syria (PRS) and other refugees resided in King Abdullah Park (KAP), an unused fenced public space repurposed since 2016 to house PRS, mixed Syrian-PRS families, and some individuals of other nationalities who arrived from Syria. As of August, 479 individuals were held in KAP, of whom 330 were PRS, 135 Syrians, and 14 of other nationalities. Civil documents of PRS and other refugees were held by authorities during their stay in the camp, and residents were required to apply for leave in order to go outside the camp, severely limiting their freedom of movement. Many PRS who lacked legal status in Jordan limited their movements to avoid coming into contact with authorities. Access to basic civil services–including renewal of identity documents, the registration of marriages, deaths, and births–remained highly complex for this group. These vulnerabilities put undocumented refugees at additional risk of abuse by third parties such as employers and landlords.

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

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

Several of the country’s border crossings with Syria were closed to new refugee arrivals. The Nassib border crossing with Syria reopened in October 2018 after remaining closed to all traffic for three years, although the Rukban border crossing remained closed. The government determined it would not accept additional Syrian refugees after a 2016 suicide attack along the northeast border with Syria, declaring the surrounding area a “closed military zone.” The government restricted humanitarian access to the area on the Jordanian side of the border. The government’s 2013 announcement that it would not allow entry of PRS remained in effect.

In January the government halted all UNHCR registrations of new non-Syrian refugee asylum seekers. Citing misuse of medical, business, and other visas, the cabinet prohibited registration of non-Syrian refugees pending a government review of registration processes and procedures. As of September the halt in registrations affected more than 4,500 pending refugee cases, primarily from Sudan, Somalia, Egypt, and Yemen.

Employment: Since 2016, the government had issued more than 153,000 work permits to Syrians, 21 percent of which were issued to refugees residing in refugee camps. More than 30,000 of these work permits remained active.

Tens of thousands of Syrian refugees continued to work in the informal economy. Very few non-Syrian refugees had access to the formal labor market, and due to the difficulty in obtaining documentation and work permits and expenses involved in seeking work authorization, many worked in the unofficial labor market.

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

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

Access to Basic Services: The government allowed Syrian and other UNHCR-registered refugees to access public health and education facilities. In March the government reduced the fees for Syrian refugees to the same rate as uninsured Jordanians for access to primary and secondary medical care, and exempted them from paying fees for maternity and childhood care. Other non-Syrian refugees, however, continued to pay the foreigner’s rate for health care, a cost unaffordable to most refugees.

The government continued to provide free primary and secondary education to Syrian refugee children and to permit all school-age Syrian refugees access to education. As of the end of the 2018-19 academic year, authorities had not fully completed this objective, and an estimated 83,900 Syrians were still not receiving formal or informal education. Non-Syrian refugees must pay to attend government schools. Public schools, particularly in the north of the country, were overcrowded, and some schools operated on a double-shift schedule to accommodate Syrian students. The government increased the number of double-shift schools to allow additional Syrian refugee students to obtain formal education. Through September more than 134,000 refugee students were enrolled for the 2018-19 school year.

For those not eligible to access formal education because they have been out of school for three or more years, the Ministry of Education developed a catch-up program for refugee students between the ages of nine and 12. Children age 13 and older who were not eligible to enroll in formal education could also participate in nonformal education drop-out programs implemented by NGO partners, in close coordination with the Ministry of Education. A total of 17,575 children benefitted from certified nonformal education in 2018.

Some refugee children continued to face barriers to attending public schools, including lack of transportation, long distances to schools, bullying by fellow students and teachers, or child labor.

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

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

Only fathers can transmit Jordanian citizenship. Women do not have the legal right to transmit Jordanian citizenship to their children. Children of female citizens married to noncitizens receive the nationality of the father. All children, regardless of nationality or status, can enroll in formal education, although in practice the lack of proper documentation sometimes led to delays or obstacles enrolling children in school. If children of Jordanian mothers and noncitizen fathers apply and meet certain criteria, they may gain access to certain services enjoyed by citizens, including subsidized health care; the ability to own property, invest, and obtain a Jordanian driver’s license; and employment priority over other foreigners. To access these services, children must obtain a special identification card through the Civil Status Bureau. Under the law children of Jordanian mothers and noncitizen fathers who apply for social services must reside in the country and prove the maternal relationship. By law the cabinet may approve citizenship for children of Jordanian mothers and foreign fathers under certain conditions, but this mechanism was not widely known, and approval rarely occurred.

Women may not petition for citizenship for noncitizen husbands, who may apply for citizenship only after fulfilling a requirement that they maintain continuous Jordanian residency for 15 years. Once a husband has obtained citizenship, he may apply to transmit citizenship to his children. Such an application could take years, and the government can deny the application.

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law does not provide citizens the ability to choose their executive branch of government. The king appoints and dismisses the prime minister, cabinet, and upper house of parliament; can dissolve parliament; and directs major public policy initiatives. Citizens have the ability to choose the lower house of parliament in generally credible periodic elections based on universal and equal suffrage and conducted by secret ballot. Citizens also elect 97 of the 100 mayors, most members of governorate councils, and all members of municipal and local councils. While the voting process was well run, official obstacles to political party activity and campaigning limited participation. International organizations continued to have concerns about the gerrymandering of electoral districts. The cabinet, based on the prime minister’s recommendations, appoints the mayors of Amman, Wadi Musa (Petra), and Aqaba, a special economic zone. Elections for the lower house of parliament took place in 2016. Elections for mayors, governorate councils, and municipal councils took place in 2017.

Recent Elections: The government held parliamentary elections in 2016. Prior to the 2016 election, the government instituted reforms that introduced a proportional representation system and restored block voting. The Independent Election Commission (IEC), an autonomous legal entity, administered the polls. It supervises and administers all phases of parliamentary elections, regional and municipal elections, as well as other elections called by the cabinet. Local and foreign monitors noted the 2016 election was technically well administered. Politicians and activists reported most government interference occurred prior to the election, in the form of channeling support to preferred candidates and pressuring others not to run.

The 2016 election exhibited important technical competence in administration, but observers cited allegations of vote buying, ballot box tampering in one region, and other abuses. Despite the reforms that preceded the 2016 election, some international and domestic observers of the election process expressed reservations about inadequacies in the electoral legal framework and stressed the need to allocate seats to districts proportionally based on population size. However, the 2016 electoral reforms prompted several Islamist parties to end a six-year election boycott. The Islamic Action Front won 15 seats, including 10 for party members.

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

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

In October the cabinet approved a new bylaw that increases the benchmarks parties must meet to receive funding in an effort to encourage actual political activity. Previously, all political parties who met certain membership levels received equal government funding whether or not they participated in elections or conducted any other activities. Some of the benchmarks in the new bylaw include the number of candidates fielded in elections, the percentage of votes won, the number of seats attained, and the number of female and youth candidates who win seats.

The Committee on Political Party Affairs oversees the activities of political parties. The secretary general of the Ministry of Political and Parliamentary Affairs chairs the committee, which includes a representative from the Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Culture, National Center for Human Rights, and civil society. The law grants the committee the authority to approve or reject applications to establish or dissolve parties. It allows party founders to appeal a rejection to the judiciary within 60 days of the decision. According to the law, approved parties can only be dissolved subject to the party’s own bylaws or by a judicial decision for affiliation with a foreign entity, accepting funding from a foreign entity, violating provisions of the law, or violating provisions of the constitution. The law prohibits membership in unlicensed political parties. There were approximately 50 registered political parties, but they were weak, generally had vague platforms, and were personality centered. The strongest and most organized political party was the Islamic Action Front.

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

The 27-member cabinet included four female ministers: the minister for institutional performance development, minister of tourism and antiquities, minister of energy and mineral resources, and minister of social development. Of the 376 governate seats, 53 were held by women. At the municipal council level, women won 28 indirectly elected seats and 57 by quota, of 1,783 total municipal council seats. At the local council (village and neighborhood) level, women won 231 seats in free competition and 324 through the quota system of 1,179 seats. No women won mayorships.

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

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

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law stipulates a sentence of at least 10 years of imprisonment with hard labor for the rape of a girl or woman 15 years old or older. Spousal rape is not illegal. The law makes prosecution mandatory for felony offenses, including rape. Nonfelony offenses, such as certain cases of domestic violence, are first subjected to mediation by the Family Protection Department (FPD) of the PSD. The law provides options for alternative sentencing in domestic violence cases with consent of the victim; during the year the National Council for Family Affairs noted that three cases were referred to alternative sentencing. The government did not effectively enforce the law against rape, and violence against women was widespread. While the reported number of “honor” crimes decreased, deaths resulting from domestic violence increased, according to local NGOs. In August a human rights NGO reported that 17 death cases were recorded since the beginning of the year against women, all of which were a result of domestic violence.

Women may file complaints of rape or physical abuse with certain NGOs or directly with judicial authorities. Due to social taboos and degrading treatment at police stations, however, gender-based crimes often went unreported. As of October the FPD treated and investigated 6,741 cases of domestic violence. The FPD actively investigated cases but gave preference to mediation, referring almost all cases to the social service office. Some NGOs and lawyers reported pressure against taking physical abuse cases to court. Spousal abuse is technically grounds for divorce, but husbands sometimes claimed cultural authority to strike their wives. Observers noted while judges generally supported a woman’s claim of abuse in court, due to societal and familial pressure and fear of violence such as “honor” killings, few women sought legal remedies.

Governors used the Crime Prevention Law to detain women administratively for their protection. The Ministry of Social Development operated a shelter for women at risk of violence and “honor” crimes. In its first year of operation since opening in 2018, the shelter served 72 women and had room to house up to 40, including administrative detainees from the Juweideh correctional and rehabilitation center, women referred to the shelter by the Family Protection Department (FPD), and women who were directly referred to the shelter by governors. Children younger than age six were allowed to accompany their mothers, including for the first time two newborns who were reunited with their mothers who had previously been detained under protective custody, following advocacy by civil society activists.

The FPD continued to operate a domestic violence hotline and received inquiries and complaints via the internet and email. The Ministry of Social Development maintained a second shelter for female victims of domestic violence in Irbid.

In April the ministry launched a national initiative aimed at preventing and responding to gender-based violence. A manual was also created for providing health care and treating sexual assault victims. NGOs reported that health-care providers and teachers were still hesitant to report abuse of victims due to the absence of witness protection guarantees. Specialized judges continued expediting and classifying domestic violence cases; misdemeanor cases took approximately three months to resolve, according to legal aid NGOs.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Through August, 17 women were killed in the country. All cases were pending investigation, with none being identified as an “honor” crime as of November. Civil society organizations stated that many such crimes went unreported, especially in nonurban areas.

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

In August 2018 governors began referring potential victims of “honor” crimes to the Ministry of Social Development shelter instead of involuntary “protective” custody in a detention facility. During the year governors directly referred 36 women to the shelter.

In April parliament raised the age of marriage in exceptional cases from 15 to 16 and authorized the use of DNA tests and scientific means to identify biological paternal relation of a newborn associated with “rape, deception, and deceit.”

Sexual Harassment: The law strictly prohibits sexual harassment and does not distinguish between sexual assault and sexual harassment. Both carry a minimum prison sentence of four years of hard labor. The law also sets penalties for indecent touching and verbal harassment but does not define protections against sexual harassment. Sexual harassment of women and girls in public was widely reported. In September 2018 the organizers of an outdoor festival were arrested, and the venue was closed after allegations of sexual harassment spread on social media. The ensuing investigation led to criminal charges for the unauthorized sale of alcohol. NGOs reported refugees from Syria and foreign workers, particularly garment workers and domestic workers, were especially vulnerable to gender-based violence, including sexual harassment and sexual assault, in the workplace.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

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

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

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

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

The government provided men with more generous social security benefits than women. Civil servants follow the social security law, which contains provisions for family members to inherit the pension payments of deceased civil servants, which are inherited in differing amounts according to the gender of the heir. Laws and regulations governing health insurance for civil servants under the Civil Service Bureau permit women to extend their health insurance coverage to dependents or spouses, even if they are not Jordanians. Men must be citizens to extend full insurance benefits to spouses and dependents.

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

Birth Registration: Only fathers can transmit citizenship. The government did not issue birth certificates to all children born in the country during the year. The government deemed some children–including orphans, children of unmarried women, or interfaith marriages involving a Muslim woman and converts from Islam to another religion–”illegitimate” and denied them standard registration. Instead, the government issued these children special national identification numbers that differed from the standard national identification numbers given to most Jordanians, which made it difficult for these children to attend school, access health services, or receive other documentation. Authorities separated children born out of wedlock from their mothers and placed them in orphanages, regardless of the mother’s desire for custody. Nonetheless, NGOs reported two cases of newborns allowed to reunite with their mothers who were residing at the Ministry of Social Development shelter.

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

Children with disabilities experienced extreme difficulty in accessing constitutionally protected early and primary education.

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

In January 2018 the public prosecutor detained a woman for abuse related to the death of her three-year-old daughter. Forensic reports on her daughter noted widespread traces of torture and abuse and burns on 25 percent of her body. The case remained pending, while the accused woman was held at the Juweideh detention center.

Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum age for marriage is 18. With the consent of both a judge and a guardian, a child as young as 16 years old may be married. Judges have the authority to decide if marriage of girls between 16 and 18 years old would be “in their best interest” and to adjudicate the marriage contract. Early and forced marriage among Syrian refugee populations remained higher than among the general population in Jordan. As of 2018, 36 percent of Syrian marriages in the country involved an underage bride, according to an international NGO. According to local and international organizations, many early marriages were initiated as a negative coping mechanism to mitigate the stresses of poverty experienced by many Syrian refugee families.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The law requires private companies to hire workers with disabilities, forbids employers from firing employees solely because of their disability, and directs employers to make their workplaces accessible to persons with disabilities.

In July the mayor of Amman announced the launch of the new “Amman bus” project as the first transport system in the country designed for access by persons with disabilities. Media and social media influencers who toured the buses commented that improved public transport system would help make the workplace more accessible for persons with disabilities. During the year the Jordan Free Zones Investment Commission also amended its vehicles bylaw to exempt persons with disabilities from vehicle taxes.

In March, NGOs conducted public debates to raise awareness on inclusive work spaces, including the development of a manual with 40 questions and answers and instructions and guidelines for public and private sector employers to encourage employment of persons with disabilities. An NGO created an e-platform to spread awareness further, in addition to advocacy sessions to engage government institutions and the private sector.

Activists noted the law lacked implementing regulations and funding, and authorities rarely enforced it. Authorities exempted from the quota employers who stated the nature of the work was not suitable for persons with disabilities.

The electoral law directs the government to verify that voting facilities are accessible to persons with disabilities and allows such persons to bring a personal assistant to the polling station.

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

In the health sector, the Ministry of Health renovated four maternal and child health units to increase accessibility for persons with disabilities. The University of Jordan installed a tactile walkway specifically designed for visually impaired, enabling greater orientation and mobility on the campus.

The PSD national 9-1-1 emergency call center provided emergency services for citizens with hearing and speech impediments by using sign language over a video call. These PSD interpreters were also available for citizens to use when discussing issues with government offices where a representative who can communicate via sign language was not present.

NGOs reported on the implementation of donor-supported programs targeted at building and refurbishing approximately 25 new public schools throughout the country to create inclusive student-centered learning spaces. These schools, serving more than 20,000 students, incorporated accessible infrastructure, furniture, and learning equipment. An NCHR report from October noted school classrooms were not fully accessible and that there were no qualified teachers for children with disabilities. Families of children with disabilities reported teachers and principals often refused to include children with disabilities in mainstream classrooms.

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

The Higher Council for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities did not receive any complaints of abuses against persons with disabilities during the year.

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

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

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

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

HIV/AIDS was a largely taboo subject. Lack of public awareness remained a problem, because many citizens believed the disease exclusively affected foreigners and members of the LGBTI community. Society stigmatized HIV/AIDS-positive individuals, and they largely concealed their medical status. The government continued its efforts to inform the public about the disease and eliminate negative attitudes about persons with HIV/AIDS, but it also continued to test all foreigners annually for HIV/AIDS, as well as for hepatitis B, syphilis, malaria, and tuberculosis. The government deported migrant workers who tested HIV-positive.

Kuwait

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Kuwait is a constitutional, hereditary emirate ruled by the Al-Sabah family. While there is also a democratically elected parliament, the amir holds ultimate authority over most government decisions. The last parliamentary general election was held in 2016 and was generally free and fair with members of the opposition winning seats. By-elections were held in March for two seats vacated by opposition members of parliament who had left the country after being sentenced to prison.

Police have sole responsibility for the enforcement of laws not related to national security, and the Kuwait State Security (KSS) oversees national security matters; both report to the Ministry of Interior, as does the Kuwait Coast Guard. The armed forces are responsible for external security and report to the Ministry of Defense. The Kuwait National Guard is a separate entity responsible for critical infrastructure protection, support for the Ministries of Interior and Defense, and the maintenance of national readiness. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included: reports of torture; arbitrary detention; political prisoners; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including criminalization of libel, censorship, and internet site blocking; interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; restrictions on freedom of movement; trafficking in persons; criminalization of consensual adult male same-sex sexual conduct; and reports of forced labor, principally among foreign workers.

The government took steps in some cases to prosecute and punish officials who committed abuses, whether in the security services or elsewhere in the government. Impunity was a problem in corruption cases.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, although these rights were violated. The courts convicted more than one dozen individuals for expressing their opinions, particularly on social media. The law also imposes penalties on persons who create or send “immoral” messages and gives unspecified authorities the power to suspend communication services to individuals on national security grounds.

Freedom of Expression: The Press and Publications Law establishes topics that are off limits for publication and discussion, and builds on the precedent set by the penalty law. Topics banned for publication include insulting religion, in particular Islam; criticizing the amir; insulting members of the judiciary or displaying disdain for the constitution; compromising classified information; insulting an individual or his or her religion, sorcery, and publishing information that could lead to devaluing of the currency or creating false worries about the economy. The government generally restricted freedom of speech in instances purportedly related to national security, including the glorification of Saddam Hussein, and referring to the “Arabian Gulf” as the “Persian Gulf.”

Local activists reported they were regularly contacted by state security services and Ministry of Information officials after they published opinions deemed contrary to the government view. Activists also reported being contacted for the same reason by the Kuwaiti Embassy when they were residing abroad. In October the foreign minister stated he had directed “Kuwait’s diplomatic missions [abroad] to firmly pursue people offending Kuwait or its leaders.” As of November the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had received 52 such complaints from various embassies in Kuwait: 43 against bloggers and social media users, and the remainder against local newspapers and TV networks, according to press reports. The same reports indicated that Kuwaiti embassies overseas had reportedly filed 25 cases against bloggers and TV networks in host countries, accusing them of offending Kuwait, according to the ministry. Government authorities did not always take immediate action in the cases of social media posts to which they objected made by citizens while overseas, but under the law the government may take action once the author returns to the country. Under existing law there is broad latitude in the interpretation of what constitutes a crime when voicing dissent against the amir or the government, and activists can face up to seven years in prison for each count of the offense.

In May the Court of Appeals upheld a verdict sentencing 22 citizens, including media figures and political activists, to three years’ imprisonment for repeating the “anti-Amir” speech made by former opposition leader Musallam al-Barrak in 2012. The court also ordered each defendant to pay a bail of 3,000 KD ($10,000).

The courts continued to sentence political activists to harsh prison sentences for charges of speaking out against the amir, government, religion, or neighboring states. In one case a citizen was sentenced to 86 years in prison for voicing his antigovernment opinion on social media, and in another case a citizen received 75 years. Both citizens fled the country before the verdicts were handed down.

Political activist Sagar al-Hashash, who was out of the country in self-imposed exile, has been convicted multiple times (including twice during the year) on various charges that included defaming the amir, speaking out against the judiciary, or insulting neighboring countries such as Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. Most recently, al-Hashash was sentenced to five additional years imprisonment for defaming the amir, bringing his total sentence to 92 years.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. All print media were privately owned, although the media’s independence was limited. The government did not permit non-Islamic religious publishing companies, although several churches published religious materials solely for their congregations’ use. The law allows for large fines and up to 10 years in prison for persons who use any means (including media) to subvert the state. The Ministry of Commerce and Industry may ban any media organization at the request of the Ministry of Information. Media organizations can challenge media bans in the administrative courts. Newspaper publishers must obtain an operating license from the Ministry of Information. Broadcast media, made up of both government and privately owned stations, are subject to the same laws as print media. In November a governmental committee tasked to investigate allegations of missing public funds ordered that their investigation remain confidential and prohibited the publication of any news about the investigation in all print, audio, and video media.

In October a civil court ruled that the Ministry of Interior must pay 60,000 KD ($200,000) to a journalist as compensation for assault by police while covering protests in 2010.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The Ministry of Information censored all imported books, commercial films, periodicals, videotapes, CDs, DVDs, and other materials per the guidelines enumerated for speech and media. In May statistics issued by the Ministry of Information showed 3,766 books were banned from being imported between 2016 until 2018. Media outlets exhibited a range of opinions on topics relating to social problems, but all apparently self-censored, avoiding critical discussion on topics such as the amir, foreign policy, and religion, to avoid criminal charges or fines or to keep their licenses. Discussions of certain sensitive topics, such as the role of women in society and sex, were also self-censored. Authorities censored most English-language educational materials that mentioned the Holocaust and required educational material either to refer to Israel as “Occupied Palestine” or to remove such references entirely, although authorities did not censor these topics in news media. Widely available satellite dishes and virtual private networks allowed unfiltered media access.

Throughout the year publishers reportedly received pressure from the Ministry of Information, resulting in the publishers often restricting which books were available in the country. One author appealed to lift the ban on his book; the appeal was pending at year’s end. According to the Ministry of Information, the Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs reviewed books of a religious nature.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law mandates jail terms for anyone who “defames religion,” and any Muslim citizen or resident may file criminal charges against a person the complainant believes has defamed Islam. Any citizen may file a complaint with the authorities against anyone the citizen believes defamed the ruling family or harmed public morals.

National Security: The law forbids publication or transmission of any information deemed subversive to the constitutional system on national security grounds. The government prosecuted online bloggers, political activists, and social media outlets under the Cybercrime Law, the Printing and Publishing Law, and the National Security Law. On January 2, security forces arrested journalist and writer Aisha al-Rasheed under the Cybercrime Law following online posts about corruption of government officials. On January 6, the Public Prosecutor’s Office ordered her release on bail.

The cybercrime law criminalizes certain online activities, to include illegal access to information technology systems; unauthorized access to confidential information; blackmail; use of the internet for terrorist activity; money laundering; and utilizing the internet for human trafficking. As of December the Cybersecurity Department at the Ministry of Interior had received 4,000 complaints and the government had 288 pending cases under the cybercrime law.

The government’s E-Licensing program, processed under the government’s e-media law and not the aforementioned cybercrime law, requires bloggers and websites that provide news in the country to register with the Ministry of Information and apply for a license or face a fine. No such fines were issued during the year.

The government continued to monitor internet communications, such as blogs and discussion groups, for defamation and generalized security reasons. The Ministry of Communications blocked websites considered to “incite terrorism and instability” and required internet service providers to block websites that “violate [the country’s] customs and traditions.” The government prosecuted and punished individuals for the expression of political or religious views via the internet, including by email and social media, based on existing laws related to libel, national unity, and national security. The government prosecuted some online bloggers under the Printing and Publishing Law and the National Security Law. In March journalist Abdallah al-Hadlaq was sentenced to three years in prison for offending Shia and “fanning” sectarianism. In April the criminal court sentenced blogger Abdullah al-Saleh to five years in prison in absentia for insulting Saudi Arabia on social media and “spreading false news.”

The government filtered the internet primarily to block pornography and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) material, and sites critical of Islam. Kuwait’s Communication and Information Technology Regulatory Authority was reported to have blocked 342 websites during the year.

In August, Kuwait and Egypt signed a memorandum of understanding for the arrest and extradition of social media users who commit “cybercrimes” that affect Egyptian and Kuwaiti national security.

The law provides for the freedoms of opinion and research, but self-censorship limited academic freedom, and the law prohibits academics from criticizing the amir or Islam.

The Ministry of Interior reserved the right to approve or reject public events and those it considered politically or morally inappropriate. In March the Ministry of Interior summoned owners of three venues that were scheduled to host week-long Bidoon cultural events. Ministry officials required the venue owners to sign statements promising they would not host any Bidoon cultural week events. The events were subsequently canceled.

The constitution provides for freedoms of peaceful assembly and association for citizens, but noncitizens and Bidoon are prohibited from demonstrating.

In July the Ministry of Interior announced that police were permitted to shoot at protesters’ legs if their safety is threatened, or if a fugitive was running away from authorities (the order explicitly said police could not shoot to kill under these circumstances).

Bidoon activists have reported that if they try to assemble peacefully or organize campaigns to gain equal rights, authorities regularly harass them. Some Bidoon activists indicated they were detained for questioning by authorities each time they planned campaigns or protests. In July the KSS arrested 15 Bidoon activists for organizing a peaceful sit-in at al-Hurriya Square in al-Jahra town near Kuwait City.

The constitution provides for freedom of association, but the government placed restrictions on this right. The law prohibits officially registered groups from engaging in political activities.

In July, Kuwait extradited eight Egyptian nationals at the request of the Egyptian government. Kuwaiti authorities announced the dissidents were being sought by the Egyptian government for their membership in the Muslim Brotherhood. NGO reports indicated that the eight Egyptians had been legally residing in Kuwait at the time of their extradition and did not commit any crimes in Kuwait. NGOs suggested the eight faced serious risks of torture and persecution in Egypt.

The government used its power to register associations as a means of political influence. The Ministry of Social Affairs can reject an NGO’s application if it deems the NGO does not provide a public service. Most charity closings resulted from improper reporting of fundraising activities, which included not getting permission from the ministry or failing to submit annual financial reports. Dozens of unlicensed civic groups, clubs, and unofficial NGOs had no legal status, and many of those chose not to register due to bureaucratic inconvenience, including inability to meet the minimum 50-member threshold. The Ministry of Social Affairs continued to reject some new license requests, contending established NGOs already provided services similar to those the petitioners proposed. Members of licensed NGOs must obtain permission from the ministry to attend international conferences as official representatives of their organization.

In May following the submission of a large number of applications from inactive NGOs to take part in activities abroad, the Ministry of Social Affairs’ NGOs Department set new regulations for NGO members to take part in conferences, lectures and seminars held outside the country, including limiting the maximum number of participants to two per NGO; ensuring the conference theme is part of the goals of the concerned organization’s establishment; and notifying the ministry at least one month in advance.

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

d. Freedom of Movement

The constitution generally provides for freedom of internal movement, but numerous laws constrain foreign travel.

Because there is no path to citizenship, all legal noncitizen workers are considered foreign residents rather than migrants.

Foreign Travel: Bidoon and foreign workers faced problems with, or restrictions on, foreign travel. The government restricted the ability of some Bidoon to travel abroad by not issuing travel documents, although it permitted some Bidoon to travel overseas for medical treatment and education, and to visit Saudi Arabia for the annual Hajj. The Ministry of Interior has not issued “Article 17” passports (temporary travel documents that do not confer nationality) to Bidoon except on humanitarian grounds since 2014. In August the Ministry of Interior said it would indefinitely suspend the issuance of “Article 17” passports.

The law also permits travel bans on citizens and noncitizens accused or suspected of violating the law, including nonpayment of debts, and it allows other citizens to petition authorities to impose one. This provision was sometimes imposed arbitrarily and resulted in delays and difficulties for citizens and foreigners leaving the country. The Ministry of Justice announced in July that it would not impose travel bans on those who owed “small amounts” (defined as 300 KD or $1,000). In December the Ministry of Justice announced that 65,888 travel bans were placed on Kuwaitis and foreigners during the year.

Citizenship: By law the government is prohibited from revoking the citizenship of an individual who was born a citizen unless that individual has taken a second nationality. Additionally, the government can revoke the citizenship of naturalized citizens for cause and can subsequently deport them. The justifications for such revocations include: felony conviction for “honor-related and honesty-related crimes,” obtaining citizenship dishonestly, and threatening to “undermine the economic or social structure of the country.” In March the cabinet approved the regranting of citizenship to former opposition figure Saad al-Ajmi. Al-Ajmi’s citizenship had been revoked by the government under Article 11 of the 1959 Kuwaiti Nationality Law and was restored only after he renounced other nationalities and submitted a written apology to the amir. According to the government, 376 individuals were granted citizenship during the year, and 106 had their citizenship revoked.

In May 2018 the Court of Cassation affirmed that it is not permissible to withdraw citizenship from any citizen without a legitimate reason, stressing that a final court ruling must justify any withdrawal of citizenship. There were, however, cases in which natural born citizens had their citizenship revoked, even when courts found it illegal.

Persons who had their citizenship revoked, and any family members dependent on that individual for their citizenship status, became stateless individuals. Authorities can seize the passports and civil identification cards of persons who lose their citizenship and enter a “block” on their names in government databases. This “block” prevented former citizens from traveling or accessing free health care and other government services reserved for citizens.

The law prohibits the granting of citizenship to non-Muslims, but it allows non-Muslim male citizens to transmit citizenship to their descendants.

The government may deny a citizenship application by a Bidoon resident based on security or criminal violations committed by the individual’s family members. Additionally, if a person loses citizenship, all family members whose status was derived from that person also lose their citizenship and all associated rights.

Not applicable.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The government generally cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to persons of concern.

Access to Basic Services: The government enacted policies making healthcare and education more expensive for foreign workers than for citizens. Human rights organizations reported the immediate effect of this policy was that many foreign workers and their families receiving medical treatment chose to be discharged from hospitals rather than receive treatment they could no longer afford.

According to the latest government figures, there were approximately 88,000 Bidoon in the country, while Human Rights Watch estimated the Bidoon population at more than 100,000. The law does not provide stateless persons, including the Bidoon, a clear path to acquire citizenship. According to the government, however, 813 Bidoon were granted citizenship between 2018 and 2019. The judicial system’s lack of authority to rule on the status of stateless persons further complicated the process for obtaining citizenship, leaving Bidoon with no access to the judiciary to present evidence and plead their case for citizenship.

In 2018 the Central Agency for Illegal Residents, tasked with overseeing Bidoon affairs, had tens of thousands of citizenship requests by Bidoon under review. Although Bidoon are by law entitled to government benefits including five-year renewable residency, free healthcare and education, and ration cards, community members have alleged it was often difficult for them to avail of those services due to bureaucratic red tape.

According to Bidoon advocates and government officials, many Bidoon were unable to provide documentation proving ties to the country sufficient to qualify for citizenship. The government alleged that the vast majority of Bidoon concealed their “true” nationalities and were not actually stateless. Agency officials have extended incentive benefits to Bidoon who disclose an alternate nationality, including priority employment after citizens, and the ability to obtain a driver’s license. As of March 2018 approximately 12,700 Bidoon had admitted having a claim on another nationality.

Bidoon leaders alleged that when some members of the Bidoon community attempted to obtain government services from the Central Agency, officials would routinely deceive them by promising to provide the necessary paperwork only if the Bidoon agreed to sign a blank piece of paper. Later, Bidoon reported, the agency would write a letter on the signed paper purportedly “confessing” the Bidoon’s “true” nationality, which rendered them ineligible for recognition or benefits as Bidoon.

According to contacts some Bidoon underwent DNA testing purportedly to “prove” their Kuwaiti nationality by virtue of blood relation to a Kuwaiti citizen. Bidoon are required to submit DNA samples confirming paternity to become naturalized, a practice critics said leaves them vulnerable to denial of citizenship based on DNA testing. Children of Bidoon fathers and Kuwaiti mothers are frequently rendered stateless, as the law does not allow women to transmit nationality.

Some Bidoon and international NGOs reported that the government did not uniformly grant some government services and benefits to Bidoon, including education, employment, medical care, and the issuance of civil documents, such as birth, marriage, and death certificates. Since the government treats them as illegal residents, Bidoon do not have property rights. In February press reports indicated that the Interior Ministry would not hire Bidoon in its uniform services until the National Assembly passed legislation on the Bidoon’s civil and social rights.

Bidoon advocates reported that many Bidoon families were unable to obtain birth certificates for their children due to extensive administrative requirements, which restricted the children’s ability to obtain government-issued identification cards, access adequate medical care, attend school, and be counted in official statistics. In April, Bidoon activists arranged a protest over tuition increases for all private schools in the town of al-Jahra, which is home to a large number of Bidoon residents. In June the Ministry of Education said it would refuse to pay the salaries of Bidoon teachers with expired civil identification documents (IDs) until they received new identification cards. Reports also indicated that the Central Agency for Illegal Residents asked some banks to close the accounts of Bidoon who did not provide the necessary documentation to renew their identification cards. In August the Ministry of Education suspended admission of Bidoon students, alleging lack of space in schools and advised Bidoon parents to consider enrolling their children in private school instead.

Many adult Bidoon lacked identification cards due to the many administrative hurdles they face, preventing them from engaging in legal employment or obtaining travel documents.

The restriction on identification cards also resulted in some Bidoon children not being able to register for public school and instead working as street vendors to help support their families. Since citizen children were given priority to attend public school, many Bidoon children whose families could afford it enrolled in substandard private schools.

The government previously amended the existing law on military service to allow the sons of soldiers who served in the military for 30 years and the sons of soldiers killed or missing in action to be eligible to join the military. According to the head of the Interior and Defense Parliamentary Committee, more than 27,000 Bidoons were awaiting enlistment.

Ayed Hamad Medath committed suicide on July 7, which human rights advocates pointed out occurred after the government denied him civil documentation needed to access employment, education, and other public services. During protests that occurred after Medath’s death, the State Security agency arrested at least 15 Bidoon activists between July 11 and 14. Those arrested included prominent human rights defender Abdulhakim al-Fadhli during a raid on his home in which authorities confiscated al-Fadhli’s and his family’s cellphones and computers. Authorities had arrested al-Fadhli several times in previous years for his peaceful activities advocating for the rights of the Bidoon community.

Some of the detained Bidoon activists engaged in a 12-day hunger strike beginning August 22 to protest the plight of their community. The hunger strike was called off because of deteriorating health of the activists. On September 10, the Criminal Court held its first hearing on the case against the Bidoon for organizing unlicensed protests and sit-ins. The court postponed the trial until September 17 and subsequently released five defendants on bail. Two additional public hearings were held on November 12 and November 26. On November 4, two separate Bidoon men committed suicide.

The detainees faced numerous charges, including joining a banned organization aimed at undermining basic systems and overthrowing the regime of the country; spreading false news; insulting friendly countries; misusing a phone; organizing and participating in gatherings and rallies without a license; and incitement to murder. All the defendants denied all charges.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution stipulates the country is a hereditary emirate. The 50 elected members of the National Assembly (plus government-appointed ministers) must, by majority vote conducted by secret ballot, approve the amir’s choice of crown prince. According to the Succession Law, the crown prince must be a male descendant of Sheikh Mubarak Al-Sabah and meet three additional requirements: have attained the age of 30, possess a sound mind, and be a legitimate son of Muslim parents. The National Assembly may remove the amir from power by a two-thirds majority vote if it finds that any of these three conditions is or was not met.

Recent Elections: Observers generally considered the 2016 parliamentary election free and fair and reported no serious procedural problems. The election followed the amir’s order to dissolve the National Assembly because of “mounting security challenges and volatile regional developments.” Most opposition politicians and their supporters who boycotted the 2013 election returned and participated without incident. Official turnout for the 2016 elections was approximately 70 percent. A parliamentary by-election was held in March for two seats declared vacant in January, and turnout was 25 percent. There were no allegations of irregularities.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The government did not recognize any political parties or allow their formation, although no formal law bans political parties. National Assembly candidates must nominate themselves as individuals. Well organized, unofficial blocs operated as political groupings inside the National Assembly, and MPs formed loose alliances. Those convicted of insulting the amir and Islam are banned from running for elected office. In March the Court of Cassation issued a verdict that banned citizens convicted of calling for or participating in unregistered demonstrations and protest rallies or resisting security operatives from voting or running in public elections. Voters register to vote every February upon reaching the voting age of 21. Prosecutors and judges from the Ministry of Justice supervise election stations. Women prosecutors served as supervisors for the first time during the 2016 elections.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate in political life. Although women gained the right to vote in 2005, they still faced cultural and social barriers to political participation. For example, some tribal leaders have successfully excluded women from running for office or choosing preliminary candidates by banning them from being considered or attending unofficial tribal primaries. In the 2016 elections, 15 women filed candidate applications with one woman successfully winning a seat. In the 2019 by-elections, five of the 47 candidates for two seats were women. Women registered to vote at a higher rate than men. Three appointed women cabinet members can vote with the country’s 50-seat parliament. In the 2016 parliamentary elections, male candidates from the Shia community, which comprised approximately one-third of the citizen population, won six seats in parliament.

Thirty female prosecutors were recruited during the year. While no legal provisions prohibit women from appointment as judges, none has been appointed, and no women have yet met the threshold of five years of service as a prosecutor required to be considered. The Supreme Judicial Council accepted a third group of 30 female prosecutors in July. As more female candidates are regularly hired by the Public Prosecutor’s Office, a larger pool of female candidates will become eligible to serve as judges after 2020.

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

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape carries a maximum penalty of death, which the courts occasionally imposed for the crime; spousal rape is not a crime under the law, and there is no specific domestic violence law. Authorities did not effectively enforce laws against rape. Violence against women continued to be a problem. The penal code allows a rapist to avoid punishment on the condition that he marry his victim and that her guardian consents that the perpetrator not be punished. There were reports alleging that some police stations did not take seriously reports by both citizens and noncitizens of rape and domestic violence.

Although the government does not regularly publish statistics on violence against women, domestic violence cases against women were regularly reported by local NGOs. While there is no specific domestic violence law, punishments ranged between six months in jail to the death penalty, based on other sections of the criminal code. Service providers observed that domestic violence was significantly underreported to authorities. Women’s rights activists documented numerous stories of citizen and migrant women seeking help to leave an abusive situation who faced obstacles because no shelters for victims of domestic violence existed. The authorities claimed to have opened a shelter for victims of domestic abuse, but activists familiar with the facility have said it was only an empty building. Advocates reported that women who reach out to police rarely get help because officers were not adequately trained to deal with domestic violence cases. Victims were generally sent back to their male guardians, who in some instances were also their abusers.

The government did not publish statistics on violence against women. A November survey by the Kuwait Society for Human Rights found that 54 percent of women in Kuwait of all nationalities had experienced violence in their life. In October the Court of Cassation upheld a lower court death sentence for an Egyptian man found guilty of murdering his Lebanese wife. A woman may petition for divorce based on injury from spousal abuse, but the law does not provide a clear legal standard regarding what constitutes injury. In domestic violence cases, a woman must produce a report from a government hospital to document her injuries in addition to having at least two male witnesses (or a male witness and two female witnesses) who can attest to the abuse.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Officials did not report any so-called “honor killings” during the year. The penal code treats some honor crimes as misdemeanors or provides for very light penalties. The law states that a man who sees his wife, daughter, mother, or sister in the “act of adultery” and immediately kills her or the man with whom she is committing adultery faces a maximum punishment of three years’ imprisonment and a fine of 225 dinars ($743).

Sexual Harassment: Human rights groups characterized sexual harassment in the workplace as a pervasive and unreported problem. No specific law addresses sexual harassment. The law criminalizes “encroachment on honor,” which encompasses everything from touching a woman against her will to rape, but police inconsistently enforced this law. The government deployed female police officers specifically to combat sexual harassment in shopping malls and other public spaces. Perpetrators of sexual harassment and sexual assault faced fines and imprisonment.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: The law does not provide women the same legal status, rights, and inheritance provisions as men. Women experienced discrimination in a number of areas, including divorce, child custody, citizenship, the workplace, and in certain circumstances, the value of their testimony in a sharia court. Sharia (Islamic law) courts have jurisdiction over personal status and family law cases for Sunni and Shia Muslims. As implemented in the country, sharia discriminates against women in judicial proceedings, marriage, child custody, and inheritance. There were no known, publicly reported cases of official or private sector discrimination in accessing credit, owning or managing a business, or securing housing. In June the cabinet amended regulations pertaining to housing loans for women, increasing the amount Kuwaiti divorced women and widows may receive from 30,000 KD ($100,000) to 35,000 KD ($115,000). In December the Constitutional Court rejected a petition demanding equality between male and female citizens in access to marriage loans, arguing that husbands bear greater financial burdens in marriage. Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to both citizen and noncitizen women (see section 7.d.). Secular courts allow any person to testify and consider male and female testimony equally, but in sharia courts the testimony of a women equals half that of a man.

Inheritance is also governed by sharia, which varies according to the specific school of Islamic jurisprudence. In the absence of a direct male heir, a Shia woman may inherit all property, while a Sunni woman inherits only a portion, with the balance divided among brothers, uncles, and male cousins of the deceased.

Female citizens face legal discrimination, since they are unable to transmit citizenship to their noncitizen husbands or to children born from a marriage to a noncitizen or stateless person. In exceptional cases some children of widowed or divorced female citizens were granted Kuwaiti citizenship. Male citizens married to female noncitizens do not face such discrimination.

The law requires segregation by gender of classes at all public universities and secondary schools, although it was not always enforced. In May the Legal Affairs Department at Kuwait University rejected a request by the Engineering College to reinstate a gender quota system after an increase in the number of female faculty at the college.

Birth Registration: Citizenship is transmitted exclusively by the father; children born to citizen mothers and noncitizen fathers do not inherit citizenship unless the mother is divorced or widowed from the noncitizen father. The government designates religion of the father on birth certificates. The government often granted citizenship to orphaned or abandoned infants, including Bidoon infants. Bidoon parents were sometimes unable to obtain birth certificates for their children because of extensive administrative requirements. The lack of a birth certificate prevented Bidoon children from obtaining identification papers and accessing public services such as education and health care.

Education: Education for citizens is free through the university level and compulsory through the secondary level. Education is neither free nor compulsory for noncitizens. The 2011 Council of Ministers decree which extended education benefits to Bidoon has not been implemented fully. Lack of identification papers documents sometimes prevented Bidoon access to education even at private schools.

Medical Care: Lack of identification papers sometimes restricted Bidoon access to public medical care.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: There are no laws specific to child pornography, because all pornography is illegal. There is no statutory rape law or minimum age for consensual sexual relations; premarital sexual relations are illegal.

In April the Child Protection Office of the Ministry of Health reported 60 cases of sexual assault on children, of approximately 600 child abuse cases that occurred in 2017. Most abuses occurred within the family. The agency reported an increase in the rate of reported cases of child abuse following the establishment of the office, which has made significant efforts in monitoring and following cases of child abuse since it was established in 2014. In January the Legal and Legislative Affairs Committee of the National Assembly approved several amendments to the Children’s Rights Law, including capital punishment for those found guilty of sexually abusing a child.

A new policy aimed at protecting children from dangers posed by social media platforms and exploitation by parents and other adults had been put in place by the Child Protection Office in the Juvenile Protection Department. The policy holds families of children 13 years old or younger responsible for the use of social media applications that might be unsuitable for young children or can expose them to sexual predators.

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

There were no known Jewish Kuwaiti citizens and an estimated few dozen Jewish foreign resident workers. Anti-Semitic rhetoric often originated from self-proclaimed Islamists or conservative opinion writers. There were reported cases of clerics and others making statements that perpetuate negative stereotypes of Jews. Columnists often conflated Israeli government actions or views with those of Jews more broadly. Reflecting the government’s nonrecognition of Israel, there are longstanding official instructions to teachers to expunge any references to Israel or the Holocaust from English-language textbooks. The law prohibits local companies from conducting business with Israeli citizens. This included transporting Israeli citizens on the country’s national airline.

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

https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with permanent physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, air travel and other transportation, access to health care, or the provision of other government services. It imposes penalties on employers who refrain without reasonable cause from hiring persons with disabilities. The law also mandates access to buildings for persons with disabilities. The government generally enforced these provisions. Noncitizens with disabilities neither had access to government-operated facilities nor received stipends paid to citizens with disabilities that covered transportation, housing, and social welfare costs. The government has not fully implemented social and workplace programs to assist persons with physical and, in particular, vision disabilities. In June a court ruled that those with vision disabilities are eligible to be registered with the Public Authority for the Disabled and must receive all necessary aids and benefits.

During the year the government reserved a small number of admissions to Kuwait University for citizens with disabilities, and there was regular media coverage of students with disabilities attending university classes. In June the Public Authority for the Disabled announced it would start providing university scholarships for students with disabilities. Nonetheless, authorities did not provide noncitizens with disabilities the same educational opportunities, and noncitizen students with disabilities experienced a lack of accessible materials and lack of reasonable accommodations in schools.

Children with disabilities attended public school. The government supervised and contributed to schools and job training programs oriented to persons with disabilities.

Approximately 70 percent of residents were noncitizens, many originating from other parts of the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent, and South and Southeast Asia. Societal discrimination against noncitizens and Bidoon was prevalent and occurred in most areas of daily life, including employment (see section 7.d.), education, housing, social interaction, and health care. The Ministry of Interior uses administrative deportation, which is not subject to judicial review, to deport noncitizens for minor offenses, such as operating a taxi without a license.

Consensual same-sex sexual conduct between men and crossdressing are illegal. The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual activity between men older than age 21 with imprisonment of up of to seven years; those engaging in consensual same-sex sexual activity with men younger than age 21 may be imprisoned for up to 10 years. No laws criminalize same-sex sexual activity between women. The law imposes a fine of approximately 1,060 dinars ($3,500) and imprisonment for one-to-three years for persons imitating the appearance of the opposite sex in public. Transgender persons reported harassment, detention, and abuse by security forces.

In July, MP Mohammed al-Mutair called on the Ministry of Commerce and Industry to remove rainbow “gay pride” flags and colors from shop displays, while his colleague MP Thamer al-Suwait praised the ministry for taking down some of these displays.

Societal discrimination and harassment based on sexual orientation and gender identity occurred; to a lesser extent, officials also practiced such discrimination, usually upon discovering that a person stopped for a traffic violation did not appear to be the gender indicated on the identification card. In May a joint committee comprising members from the Public Authority for Manpower, Ministry of Interior and the Kuwait Municipality organized a raid in Kuwait City targeting “vice houses,” allegedly operating as massage parlors, and arrested several clients/workers that authorities claimed were “cross-dressers.”

No registered NGOs focused on LGBTI matters, although unregistered ones existed. Due to social convention and potential repression, LGBTI organizations neither operated openly nor held LGBTI human rights advocacy events or Pride marches.

Local human rights NGOs reported limited accounts of societal violence or discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS, but persons with HIV/AIDS did not generally disclose their status due to social stigma associated with the disease. In March a Kuwaiti citizen with AIDS sustained injuries when he was beaten in a local hospital. Consular officers who have reviewed medical visa applications to countries with strong HIV/AIDS treatment report that local doctors and hospitals will not diagnose a patient with HIV/AIDS on their medical reports so that the patient is not subject to social stigma. Since 2016 authorities deported hundreds of foreign residents with HIV/AIDS.

Unmarried persons, particularly foreign residents, continued to face housing discrimination and eviction based solely on marital status. For example, police frequently raided apartment blocks housing “bachelors,” and have reportedly shut off water and electricity to force workers out of accommodations. These efforts were amplified by the “Be Assured” billboard campaign, which encouraged Kuwaitis to use a dedicated hotline to report “bachelors” in residential areas between July and August. Single noncitizens faced eviction due to a decision by the municipality to enforce this prohibition and remove them from residences allocated for citizens’ families, citing the presence of single men as the reason for increased crime, a burden on services, and worsening traffic. According to the Kuwait Municipality, authorities evicted “bachelors” from 119 houses and cut off electricity from 120 homes in July. In August “bachelors” living in 175 homes were evicted and electricity was cut off in 144 properties.

Lebanon

Executive Summary

Lebanon is a parliamentary republic based on the 1943 National Pact, which apportions governmental authority among a Maronite Christian president, a Shia speaker of the Chamber of Deputies (parliament), and a Sunni prime minister. Lebanese law officially recognizes 18 religious sects or confessions. In 2016 parliament elected Michel Aoun to the presidency, ending more than two years of political deadlock. Following the 2017 passage of the country’s new electoral law, the government held parliamentary elections in May 2018, after parliament had extended its legal term three times between 2013 and 2017. The elections were peaceful and considered generally free and fair. President Michel Aoun accepted Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s resignation on October 29 following almost two weeks of protests starting October 17. As of the end of the year, no new government had been formed.

The Internal Security Forces (ISF), under the Ministry of Interior, are responsible for law enforcement, while the Directorate of General Security (DGS), also under the Ministry of Interior, is responsible for border control but also exercises some domestic security responsibilities. The Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), under the Ministry of Defense, are responsible for external security but authorized to arrest and detain suspects on national security grounds; they also arrested alleged drug traffickers, managed protests, enforced building codes related to refugee shelters, and intervened to prevent violence between rival political factions. The General Directorate of State Security (GDSS), reporting to the prime minister through the Higher Defense Council, is responsible for investigating espionage and other national security issues. Civilian authorities maintained control over the government’s armed forces and other security forces, although Palestinian security and militia forces, the designated foreign terrorist organization (FTO) Hizballah, and other extremist elements operated outside the direction or control of government officials.

The Syrian conflict affected the country economically and socially. Over the past several years, the Syrian conflict has generated an influx of more than one million refugees and strained the country’s already weak infrastructure and ability to deliver social services.

Significant human rights issues included: arbitrary or unlawful killings by nonstate actors; allegations of torture by security forces; excessive periods of pretrial detention by security forces; undue and increasing restrictions on freedoms of speech and press, including laws criminalizing libel and a number of forms of expression; high-level and widespread official corruption; criminalization of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) status or conduct; and forced or compulsory child labor.

Although the legal structure provides for prosecution and punishment of officials who committed human rights abuses, enforcement remained a problem, and government officials enjoyed a measure of impunity for human rights abuses, including evading or influencing judicial processes.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and stipulates that restrictions may be imposed only under exceptional circumstances. The government generally respected this right, but there were some restrictions, particularly regarding political and social issues.

Freedom of Expression: Individuals were generally free to criticize the government and discuss matters of public interest; however, several legal restrictions limited this right. The law prohibits discussing the dignity of the president or insulting him or the president of a foreign country. The military code of justice prohibits insulting the security forces, and the Military Court prosecuted civilians under this statute.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: The 1962 Publications Law regulates print media. The law holds journalists responsible for erroneous or false news; threats or blackmail; insult, defamation, and contempt; causing prejudice to the president’s dignity; insulting the president or the president of a foreign country; instigation to commit a crime through a publication; and sectarian provocation. The law further contains detailed rules governing the activities of printing houses, press media, libraries, publishing houses, and distribution companies. This law provides rules and conditions for becoming a journalist and for obtaining licenses for new publications. It also prohibits the press from publishing blasphemous content regarding the country’s officially recognized religions or content that may provoke sectarian feuds.

There was uncertainty regarding which legal framework is applicable to online news sites in the country. No specific laws regulate online speech. The penal code, however, contains a number of speech offenses, such as defamation of public officials, public entities, and individuals. Accordingly, authorities are able to prosecute individuals, journalists, and bloggers for what they express online.

On March 11, the Military Court sentenced al-Jadeed TV correspondent Adam Chamseddine in absentia to three months in prison for criticizing the GDSS in a Facebook post. On April 12, a military judge ruled that, because Chamseddine is a journalist, the Military Court did not have jurisdiction over the case and returned the file to the military prosecutor who subsequently dropped all charges. Authorities heard these cases in both civil and military courts; they generally carried sentences of between one and three years in prison, although typically they resulted in fines.

The law governing audiovisual media bans live broadcasts of unauthorized political gatherings and certain religious events, as well as any broadcast of “any matter of commentary seeking to affect directly or indirectly the well-being of the nation’s economy and finances, material that is propagandistic and promotional, or promotes a relationship with Israel.” Media outlets must receive a license from the Council of Ministers to broadcast any type of political news or programs. The law prohibits broadcasting programs that harm the state or its relations with foreign countries or have an effect on the well-being of such states. The law also prohibits the broadcast of programs that seek to harm public morals, ignite sectarian strife, or insult religious beliefs.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists continued to face intimidation and harassment. Political friction and tension led some outlets to fear entering certain “politically affiliated” areas to report without removing brandings and logos identifying the outlets. For example, MTV reporters have been known to remove their outlet’s logo when entering Hizballah-affiliated areas. Outlets that sought to report in areas under control of Hizballah were required to obtain special permission from Hizballah’s media arm.

Authorities continued to prosecute online, print, and television journalists for violations of the country’s publications law. NGOs and media watchdogs claimed such prosecutions were efforts to intimidate critics. Prosecutors sometimes referred these cases to criminal courts based on both private complaints and their own discretion, but more often they referred such cases to the Publications Court. Publications Court cases typically remained open for a year or more and typically ended with fines or dismissal.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Authorities selectively applied elements of the law that permit censorship of pornographic material, political opinion, and religious material considered a threat to national security or offensive to the dignity of the head of state or foreign leaders. The DGS may review and censor all foreign newspapers, magazines, and books to determine admissibility into the country, but these reviews are mostly for explicit, pornographic content. Some journalists reported that political violence and extralegal intimidation led to self-censorship.

On September 18, the president of the Lebanese University, Fouad Ayoub, had the judiciary request on his behalf that at least 20 media outlets remove all news and media reports related to him from their websites in an apparent attempt to edit his appearance on search engines. Media outlets were still determining their responses as of December 19.

The law includes guidelines regarding materials deemed unsuitable for publication in a book, newspaper, or magazine. Any violation of the guidelines could result in the author’s imprisonment or a fine. Authors could publish books without prior permission from the DGS, but if the book contained material that violated the law, including material considered a threat to national security, the DGS could legally confiscate the book and put the author on trial. Publishing without prior approval a book that contained unauthorized material could put the author at risk of a prison sentence, fine, and confiscation of the published materials.

Authorities from any of the recognized religious groups could request that the DGS ban a book. The government could prosecute offending journalists and publications in the publications court. According to NGOs, as of September each of the 30 book-banning cases the government registered in the publications court in 2017–mainly from libel suits filed by politicians, political parties, and private citizens–was in the process of being resolved. Authorities occasionally also referred such cases to criminal courts, a process not established in law.

Libel/Slander Laws: In most cases criminal courts heard libel and defamation complaints, which can carry sentences of one to three years but typically resulted in fines or a promise to remove offending material from the internet. NGOs and activists reported increased prosecutions under such laws, and political figures or their representatives filed several complaints against critics throughout the year. Human rights NGO ALEF (Association Libanaise pour l’Education et la Formation) reported that in several dozen cases this year, criminal defamation suits were filed against journalists, bloggers, political activists, and private citizens, including for posting their opinions in WhatsApp groups or on Facebook. While these cases rarely, if ever, resulted in prolonged detentions or jail sentences, interrogations by police and lengthy, expensive trials created a chilling effect on political speech.

Following publication of intentionally provocative articles on September 12 that criticized President Aoun and sarcastically suggested that Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is the true leader of Lebanon, editors of the newspaper Nidaa al-Watan were summoned to appear before the Office of the Prosecutor General for the State on charges of defamation of the president. On September 20, the case was referred to the Publications Court. On November 21, the editor was found not guilty.

Private citizens may file criminal complaints, which the law requires an investigating judge to consider, and many defamation cases were initiated via the allegations of private citizens. Politicians at times responded to allegations of wrongdoing leveled at them by filing criminal complaints alleging defamation. The military justice code also prohibits defamation of the army.

The ISF Cybercrimes Bureau reported that, as of May 15, they had received referrals of 432 defamation cases for investigation. The Cybercrimes Bureau reportedly investigated 1,451 defamation cases in 2018, an increase of 81 percent from 2017. In November Human Rights Watch reported a 325 percent increase in the number defamation cases investigated by authorities and noted prison sentences against at least three individuals in defamation cases between 2015 and 2019. On October 5, four lawyers filed a complaint against the Economist, accusing the magazine of damaging the country’s reputation and insulting the Lebanese flag in its article reporting on the country’s dollar shortage that was published the same day.

On May 13, the GDSS arrested social media activist Rasheed Jumblatt and detained him for four days over a Facebook video post that allegedly included provocative and sectarian comments and insults against Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil. Jumblatt was subsequently released after charges were dropped.

Nongovernmental Impact: Political and religious figures sometimes sought to rally public outcry aimed at inhibiting freedom of expression and the press, including through coercion and threats of violence. This included public statements by some political and religious figures calling for the cancellation of a concert by local indie rock band Mashrou’ Leila due to threats of violence or content of the band’s music they perceived as offensive (see Academic Freedom and Cultural Events).

The law does not restrict access to the internet. The government reportedly censored some websites to block online gambling, pornography, religiously provocative material, extremist forums, and Israeli websites, but there were no verified reports the government systematically attempted to collect personally identifiable information via the internet. On May 24, the Ministry of Telecommunications requested that its internet service provider block Grindr, a networking app used primarily by LGBTI communities, based on a judicial order.

Restrictions on freedom of speech concerning government officials applied to social media communications, which authorities considered a form of publication rather than private correspondence. Human rights groups reported that political parties and their supporters intimidated individuals online and in person in response to online posts deemed critical of political leaders or religious figures, such as in the Mashrou’ Leila case (see Academic Freedom and Cultural Events).

The ISF’s Cybercrime Bureau and other state security agencies summoned journalists, bloggers, and activists to question them about social media and blog posts, especially when they criticized political figures or religious sects. On July 15, Riad el-Assaad was summoned by the ISF Cybercrime Bureau in response to a post on his Facebook page referencing suspicion of corruption within the Syndicate of Lebanese Contractors. El-Assaad removed the post under threat of detention.

NGOs noted the number of known summonses might not be accurate since many individuals chose not to discuss or report their cases.

There were no government restrictions specific to academic freedom, but libel and slander laws apply.

The majority of private universities enjoyed freedom of expression, and students were free to hold student elections and organize cultural, social, and political activities.

On July 30, organizers of the Byblos International Festival canceled the performance of indie rock band Mashrou’ Leila, citing the need “to avoid bloodshed” after the band faced criticism from some political and religious figures, as well as some private citizens, for a four-year-old post on Facebook of an image that transposed the face of pop diva Madonna onto an image of the Virgin Mary. According to Human Rights Watch and other NGOs, on July 24, security officers interrogated two band members for six hours. The band removed two songs from its playlist and the offending image from Facebook, and it issued a July 31 statement expressing regret that some had been offended. Despite these steps, the concert was canceled by organizers who cited threats of violence as the official reason for the cancellation.

On July 19, the DGS Censorship Bureau requested the ban of two films, Hard Paint (2018) and Damascus Cover (2017), on the premise that they promoted homosexuality and the Israeli intelligence service, respectively. As of September 5, the Ministry of Interior had not issued final judgement. The DGS reviewed all films and plays, and there were complaints among the public that the DGS’s decision-making process lacked transparency and was influenced by the opinions of religious institutions and political groups.

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

The constitution provides for the freedom of peaceful assembly with some conditions established by law. Organizers are required to obtain a permit from the Interior Ministry three days prior to any demonstration.

Security forces occasionally intervened to disperse demonstrations, usually when protesters caused property damage or clashes broke out between opposing protesters. Security forces generally allowed demonstrators to protest peacefully during large, widespread protests that began October 17. Security forces predominantly demonstrated restraint and professionalism in interactions with protesters. The ISF occasionally used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse protesters who authorities alleged were engaging in violence or vandalism, and the LAF in some instances used nonlethal force to disperse protesters who resisted LAF efforts to clear key thoroughfares. Human Rights Watch reported security forces used excessive force against protesters as well as intimidating and, in some cases, beating those attempting to film abuses. On November 1, ISF officers arrested and allegedly beat Salim Ghadban, a protester who had objected to the officers arresting four protesters occupying the Banks Association building in downtown Beirut. Ghadban was taken into temporary custody overnight at el-Helou police station where he was reportedly unable to contact an attorney, his family, or a physician.

Amnesty International reported that on October 26 the LAF used live ammunition fired in the air to disperse protesters blocking a main road in the northern area of Beddawi, which resulted in the alleged wounding of two protesters. During the same incident, five officers were injured. As of November a military court was investigating the incident. Following Prime Minister Hariri’s October 29 resignation, security forces, under increasing pressure from political leaders and the public, began to clear main roads but otherwise allowed demonstrators to peacefully assemble. Some protesters were detained after altercations with security forces, and as of November 19, at least five protesters who had previously been involved in unrelated criminal activity were referred to the judiciary for investigation. On November 12, a LAF bodyguard opened fire from inside a military vehicle attempting to pass through protesters blocking a road in Khaldeh, killing one protester. The LAF arrested the shooter and an investigation into the incident continued as of December 19. Altercations between protesters and supporters of nonstate actor Hizballah occurred sporadically during the protests, and security forces attempted to separate the conflicting groups with varying levels of success. Confrontations escalated into violence the night of November 25, when Hizballah and Amal supporters on motorcycles threw rocks and intimidated protesters in Beirut and opened fire on protesters and destroyed tents in Tyre. Human Rights Watch reported on November 8 that more than three dozen protesters asserted they had seen or were victims of violent attacks, including in Beirut, Bint Jbeil, Nabatieh and Sour, and that security forces failed to intervene to protect them.

Protesters clashed with ISF riot police on the evenings of December 14 and 15 in Beirut, producing the largest numbers of protest-related injuries to both protesters and security forces recorded during the year. Amnesty International on December 19 reported the Lebanese Civil Defense said it had treated 72 individuals for injuries at the scene and that 20 ISF members were taken to the hospital on December 14. Amnesty International denounced the presence of masked men in civilian clothing who allegedly attacked protesters. A Lebanese lawyer filed a formal complaint with the UN Human Rights Council.

The constitution provides for freedom of association, with some conditions established by law, and the government generally respected the law.

No prior authorization is required to form an association, but organizers must notify the Ministry of Interior for it to obtain legal recognition, and the ministry must verify that the organization respects “public order, public morals, and state security.” In some cases the ministry sent an NGO’s notification papers to the security forces to initiate inquiries about an organization’s founding members. Organizations must invite ministry representatives to any general assembly where members vote on bylaws, amendments, or seats on the board of directors. The ministry must then validate the vote or election. Failure to do so can result in the dissolution of the organization by a decree issued by the Council of Ministers.

The cabinet must license all political parties (see section 3).

In areas under Hizballah’s sway, independent NGOs faced harassment and intimidation, including social, political, and financial pressures. Hizballah reportedly paid youth who worked in “unacceptable” NGOs to leave the groups.

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

d. Freedom of Movement

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government generally respected these rights for citizens but placed extensive limitations on the rights of refugee populations and asylum seekers, most of whom were from Palestine, Syria, and Iraq (see section 2.f. Protection of Refugees).

In-country Movement: Armed nonstate actors hindered or prevented movement in areas they controlled. Armed Hizballah members controlled access to some areas under Hizballah’s control, and the Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine prevented access to a border area under its control, according to the security services. Armed supporters of Druze leader Walid Jumblatt sought to block the motorcades of the foreign minister and of a rival Druze minister on June 30, the latter blockade resulting in a shootout and two deaths. Within families, men sometimes exercised considerable control over female relatives, restricting their activities outside the home or their contact with friends and relatives.

Citizenship: Citizenship is derived exclusively from the father. A citizen mother married to a noncitizen father cannot transmit Lebanese citizenship to her children (see section 2.g. Stateless Persons).

Fighting in 2007 destroyed the Nahr el-Bared Palestinian refugee camp, displacing approximately 30,000 residents, of whom some 27,000 were registered Palestinian refugees. Many of the displaced resided in areas adjacent to the camp or in other areas of the country where United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) services were available. As of September approximately 75 percent of the displaced families had returned to newly reconstructed apartments in the camp.

As of October there were nearly 920,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon registered with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Since the government instructed UNHCR to stop registering Syrian refugees in early 2015, this total did not include Syrian refugees who arrived after that time. There were no formal refugee camps in the country for Syrians. Most Syrian refugees resided in urban areas, many in unfinished, substandard, or nonresidential buildings. Approximately 20 percent lived in informal tented settlements, often adjacent to agricultural land, according to an October UN assessment. According to a UN study, refugees often took loans to cover even their most basic needs, including rent, food, and health care, putting nearly 90 percent of them in debt and leaving them food insecure.

In early 2015 the government banned the entry of all Syrian refugees except for undefined “humanitarian exceptions.” During the year the Ministry of Social Affairs approved a limited number of Syrian asylum cases, including unaccompanied and separated children, persons with disabilities, medical cases, and resettlement cases under extreme humanitarian criteria.

In addition to nearly 14,000 UNHCR-registered Iraqi refugees residing in the country, a limited number of additional Iraqis entered during the year to escape violence. As of June 30, UNHCR also registered more than 4,200 refugees or asylum seekers from Sudan and other countries.

During the year the government launched campaigns which limited refugees’ ability to reside or work in the country. These included forced compliance with building codes limiting the use of concrete and hardened materials in refugee shelters, increased arrests for residency-related offenses, and stepped-up enforcement of labor laws that targeted businesses employing refugees–which affected more than 6,600 refugees.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: In April the Higher Defense Council (HDC), a body chaired by the president that includes cabinet ministers and security service heads, issued guidance to the security services to increase enforcement of building codes. This resulted in the destruction of thousands of refugee shelters. Security services forced refugees to destroy and replace hardened walls and roofs; alternatively security services did so themselves or entirely demolished noncompliant shelters. Although authorities generally cited violations of building, environmental codes, or both, there was insufficient judicial review or opportunity to legally challenge eviction or demolition actions.

On June 5, residents of an informal refugee settlement in Deir El Ahmar in Northwest Baalbek claimed that a Civil Defense member, responding to a fire in the camp, recklessly drove into the camp putting children’s lives at risk, which resulted in an altercation between camp residents and the driver, who ended up in the hospital. Following the incident, a group of approximately 50 local men, who had previously posted threats against refugees on social media, purportedly to protect the local population, returned to the camp and verbally threatened residents. Later that night the same group entered the camp and set fire to multiple refugee shelters, prompting local authorities to evacuate all 88 refugee families for their safety.

Labor laws were also enforced more strictly to fine employers who employed Syrians or Palestinians and to close illegal refugee-run businesses. Environmental regulations were cited more frequently in the eviction of refugees and bulldozing of dwellings in some locations. Refugee arrests and detentions also increased, and some NGOs funded by international donors to provide water and sanitation services to refugee settlements were sued by the government and fined for allegedly contributing to the pollution of the Litani River.

Multiple NGOs and UN agencies shared reports of sexual harassment and exploitation of refugees by employers and landlords, including paying workers below the minimum wage, working excessive hours, debt bondage, and pressuring families into early marriage for their daughters to relieve economic hardship. There were multiple reports of foreign migrant domestic workers (mainly from East Africa and Southeast Asia) tied to their employers through legal sponsorship, known as the kafala system, who faced physical, mental, and sexual abuse, unsafe working conditions, and nonpayment of wages. According to NGOs who assisted migrant workers in reporting these abuses to authorities, security forces and judges did not always adequately investigate these crimes; victims sometimes refused to file complaints or retracted testimony due to threats and fear of reprisals or deportation.

Refoulement: The government reaffirmed its commitment to the principle of nonrefoulement with respect to Syrians. Some political party representatives, however, employed antirefugee rhetoric, stating assistance to Syrian refugees in particular placed additional burden on the state already facing an economic crisis. The DGS coordinated with Syrian government officials to facilitate the voluntary return of approximately 16,000 refugees from 2017 to September 1, 2019. UNHCR did not organize these group returns but was present at departure points and found no evidence that returns were involuntary or coerced in the cases of those refugees whom they interviewed. Human rights groups including Amnesty International questioned government claims that refugee returns were entirely voluntary, calling the environment “coercive” and citing credible risk of persecution or other human rights abuses upon return to areas controlled by the Syrian regime.

An HDC decision in April required the deportation of anyone arrested and found to have entered the country illegally after April 24. As of September the DGS reported it had deported 2,731 individuals under this order. UN officials considered the government’s new deportation policy as creating a high risk of refoulement given the lack of a formal review process to assess credible fear of persecution or torture. Specifically, the HDC decision requiring the deportation of anyone arrested and found to have entered the country illegally after April 24 elevated the risk of refoulement. Human rights groups and the international community all raised concerns about the risk of turning over refugees to Syrian authorities. There were several anecdotal reports of Syrian refugees who were subsequently abused in detention after being turned over to Syrian authorities by Lebanese officials. Government officials maintained their policy only applied to illegal migrants, not refugees, although it did not appear there was sufficient due process to make such a determination. UNHCR and international donors urged the government to provide for a judicial or independent administrative review before carrying out deportations. The government maintained that while the law requires a court hearing on all deportation cases, it did not have the bandwidth to process the existing caseload.

Non-Syrian asylum seekers arrested due to irregular entry or residency faced administrative detention without being sentenced by a court. The DGS held these individuals in a migrant retention facility where officials processed their immigration files before making administrative deportation decisions. Most cases resulted in deportation of the detainee, except for some instances where UNHCR secured their resettlement to a third country. During the year two Sudanese asylum seekers and four Iraqis (three refugees and one asylum seeker) were deported. In addition, one Iraqi refugee and her two children were not allowed re-entry into Lebanon after they briefly returned to Iraq to obtain an official document.

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status. Nonetheless, the country hosted an estimated 1.5 million refugees, the vast majority of them Syrian. In an effort to address the low number of refugees obtaining and renewing legal residency, since 2017 residency fees have been waived for refugees who had registered with UNHCR prior to 2015. This ruling excluded unregistered refugees or those who had renewed on the basis of Lebanese sponsorship. DGS implementation of the waiver continued to be inconsistent, and there was minimal improvement in the percentage of refugees with legal status. According to the United Nations, only 20 percent of the refugee population held legal residency as of September.

Due to the slow pace of implementation of residency determinations, the majority of Syrian refugees were unable to renew their legal documents, which significantly affected their freedom of movement owing to the possibility of arrests at checkpoints, particularly for adult men. While authorities released most detainees within a few days, some of the refugees said authorities required them to pay fines before releasing them or confiscated their identification documents (IDs). Syrian refugees faced barriers to obtaining Syrian ID documentation required to renew their residency permits in Lebanon because of the hostility of the Syrian government to the refugee population and because Syrian government embassies and consulates charge exorbitant fees. Obtaining and maintaining legal residency was also a challenge for refugees of other nationalities, particularly Iraqis, due to high renewal fees and sponsorship requirements. There is no official limitation of movement for Palestinian refugees from Syria (PRS) in the country; however, PRS without legal status faced limitations on their freedom of movement, mainly due to the threat of arrest at checkpoints.

Since 2014 authorities granted entry visas at the border only to PRS with either a verified embassy appointment in the country or a flight ticket and visa to a third country. Additionally, limited numbers of PRS secured visas to Lebanon by obtaining prior approval from the DGS, which required a sponsor in the country and could not be processed at border posts. UNRWA estimated that only 12 percent of the PRS in the country had arrived after 2016.

In 2017 the DGS issued a circular allowing the free, unlimited renewal of PRS residency for six months, with no fees for delayed submission. This circular has been consistently used since its issuance and applies to PRS who entered the country legally or who regularized their status before September 2016. The circular also granted temporary residency documents to PRS who turned 15 years old in the country, allowing them to use available documents such as an individual civil status card, instead of passports or national identity cards. Previously children were required to have an ID or valid travel document to be able to renew their residency. If they did not have one of these two documents, their legal status was revoked, and they became at risk of arrest and detention if they were stopped at any checkpoint. The circular, issued for residency renewal and not regularization, did not apply to PRS who entered the country through unofficial border crossings. Authorities issued a departure order to PRS who entered the country through official border crossings but who overstayed their temporary transit visa or failed to renew their visa.

Since 2017 the government waived the condition of valid residency for birth and marriage registration for PRS, expanding the application of a previous circular issued in September 2017 applicable to Syrians. Since March 2018 the Ministry of Interior waived the costly court proceedings to obtain birth registration of PRS and Syrian refugee children older than one year who were born in Lebanon between January 2011 and February 2018. The proof of marriage requirement remained in effect during the year.

Freedom of Movement: Authorities imposed curfews in a number of municipalities across the country, allegedly to improve security of all communities. Some international observers raised concerns that these measures may be discriminatory and excessive, since authorities typically enforced them for Syrian refugees, who mostly lack legal residency status and could face greater consequences if detained for a curfew violation. Municipalities and neighborhoods hosting Syrian refugee populations continued to impose movement restrictions through curfews, evictions, and threats of evictions. UN agencies reported that local municipal officials frequently used the threat of evictions to exert control over refugees or to appease host communities competing with refugees for jobs and other resources.

Police checkpoints and curfews imposed by municipalities restricted refugees’ movement. Cases of identity document confiscation and fines for breaking curfews continued, and a few violent incidents against refugees occurred. UNHCR staff reported restrictions on movement increasingly forced families to send children and young women, whom authorities are less likely to stop yet who are more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse, to perform family errands.

Employment: Authorities continued requiring Syrian refugees who wished to obtain residency permits to pledge to abide by the country’s laws, under which Syrians may work only in agriculture, construction, and cleaning. In July the Ministry of Labor stepped up enforcement and fined employers who hired refugees outside these sectors.

The law allows a special account to provide end-of-service indemnities or severance pay to Palestinian refugees who retire or resign. These benefits were available only to Palestinians working in the legal labor market. Palestinians did not benefit from national sickness and maternity funds or the family allowances fund. UNRWA continued to bear the cost of any medical, maternity, or family health-care expenses (excluding worker’s compensation).

Palestinian refugees received partial access to the benefits of the National Social Security Fund. They may not, however, work in at least 33 professions including medicine, law, and engineering and face informal restrictions on work in other industries. According to UN agencies, government officials, and Palestinian advocacy groups, Palestinian refugees consistently reported discrimination in hiring due to excessive bureaucracy and societal stigma. Lack of written contracts, lack of employment benefits, and insecure job tenure contributed to unstable working conditions.

Palestinian refugees were barred from employment in many fields, making refugees dependent upon UNRWA as the sole provider of education, health care, and social services. A 2010 law expanding employment rights and removing some restrictions on Palestinian refugees was not fully implemented, and Palestinians remained barred from working in most skilled professions, including almost all those that require membership in a professional association. A Ministry of Labor effort to restrict Syrian refugee access to employment led to closure of several businesses employing or owned by Palestinians, triggering three weeks of protests in July and August.

Access to Basic Services: The government did not consider local integration of any refugees a viable solution.

The law considers UNRWA-registered Palestinian refugees to be foreigners. UNRWA provides health, education, social services, and emergency assistance to registered Palestinian refugees residing in the country. The amount of land allocated to the 12 official Palestinian refugee camps in the country has changed only marginally since 1948, despite a fourfold increase in the population. Consequently, most Palestinian refugees lived in overpopulated camps, some of which suffered heavy damage in past conflicts. By agreement with the government, Palestinian security committees provided security for refugees in the camps.

A comprehensive, multi-year plan to rebuild the Nahr el-Bared Camp in eight stages began in 2008; the project continued at year’s end and was approximately 75 percent completed. Remaining reconstruction was not fully funded, with a 99 billion LBP ($66 million) shortfall remaining. Of the 27,000 Palestinians originally displaced following the camp’s destruction, UNRWA expected that approximately 21,000 would return. Many moved into completed apartments this year, and the temporary settlements that housed them near Nahr el-Bared Camp were decommissioned. The government did not permit UNRWA to install individual electricity meters in apartments, preferring that UNRWA pay a single bill rather than collecting from thousands of households, which limited access to electricity for residents.

Palestinian refugees typically could not access public health and education services or own land. A 2001 amendment to the law was designed to exclude Palestinians from purchasing or inheriting property. Palestinians who owned and registered property prior to the 2001 law entering into force could bequeath it to their heirs.

Palestinian refugees residing in the country could not obtain citizenship and were not considered citizens of any other country. Palestinian refugee women married to Lebanese citizens were able to obtain citizenship after one year of marriage. According to the country’s nationality law, the father transmits citizenship to children. Palestinian refugees, including children, had limited social and civil rights and no access to government-provided health, education, or other social services. Children of Palestinian refugees faced discrimination in birth registration, and many had to leave school at an early age to earn an income.

Palestinian refugees who fled Syria for Lebanon since 2011 received limited basic support from UNRWA, including food aid, cash assistance, and winter assistance, such as cash to purchase fuel for heating. Authorities permitted children of PRS to enroll in UNRWA schools and access UNRWA health clinics.

The Ministry of Education and Higher Education facilitated the enrollment of more than 200,000 non-Lebanese students, predominantly Syrian refugees, in public schools (basic education from kindergarten to grade nine) in the 2018-19 academic year. Authorities estimated there were almost 338,000 registered Syrians of school age (three to 14 years old) in the country. Donor funding to UN agencies covered school-related expenses, such as school fees, books, and uniforms. Syrian refugees had access to many nonprofit and private health centers and local clinics for primary care services, and UN agencies and NGOs funded the majority of associated costs with international donor support. Syrian refugees had access to a limited number of UNHCR-contracted hospitals for lifesaving and obstetric care.

Iraqi refugees had access to both the public and private education systems. Iraqi refugees also had access to the primary health-care system. UNHCR, through NGOs, provided secondary health care with donor support.

Citizenship is derived exclusively from the father, resulting in statelessness for children of a citizen mother and a noncitizen father when registration under the father’s nationality is not possible. This discrimination in the nationality law particularly affected Palestinians and increasingly Syrians from female-headed households. Additionally, some children born to Lebanese fathers did not have their births registered due to administrative obstacles or a lack of understanding of the regulations. There were no official statistics on the size of the stateless population.

Approximately 3,000-5,000 Palestinians were not registered with UNRWA or the government. These Palestinians began to arrive in the country during the 1960s and do not hold any formal valid identification documentation. The government does not recognize their legal status in the country. Without documentation and legal status, nonregistered Palestinians faced restrictions on movement, risked arrest or detention, and encountered obstacles completing civil registration procedures.

Undocumented Palestinians, not registered in other countries where UNRWA operates such as Syria or Jordan, were not necessarily eligible for the full range of services provided by UNRWA. Nonetheless, in most cases UNRWA provided primary health care, education, and vocational training services to undocumented Palestinians. The majority of these were men, many of them married to UNRWA-registered refugees or Lebanese citizen women, who could not transmit refugee status or citizenship to their husbands or children.

The Directorate of Political and Refugee Affairs is responsible for late registration of children of Palestinian refugees. According to the law, birth registration of children older than one year previously required a court procedure, proof of marriage, an investigation by the DGS, and a DNA test. A March 2 decree issued by the Ministry of Interior facilitated the required documentation for birth registration of PRS and Syrian children more than one year old and born in the country since 2011. In such cases authorities no longer required the court procedure and DNA tests to register these children; however, proof of marriage is still mandatory. This decree does not apply to the registration of Palestinian refugee children more than one year old.

Approximately 1,500 of an estimated 100,000 Kurds living in the country lacked citizenship, despite decades of family presence in the country. Most were descendants of migrants and refugees who left Turkey and Syria during World War I, but authorities continued to deny them citizenship to preserve the country’s sectarian balance. The government issued a naturalization decree in 1994, but high costs and administrative obstacles prevented many individuals from acquiring official status. Some individuals who had previously received official status had their citizenship revoked in 2011 under a presidential decree. Others held an “ID under consideration” document without a date or place of birth.

Stateless persons lacked official identity documents that would permit them to travel abroad and could face difficulties traveling internally, including detention for not carrying identity documents. They had limited access to the regular employment market and no access to many professions. Additionally, they could not access public schools or public health-care facilities, register marriages or births, or own or inherit property.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

Although the law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections conducted by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage, lack of government control over parts of the country, defects in the electoral process, previous prolonged extensions of parliament’s mandate, and corruption in public office restricted this ability.

Recent Elections: Michel Aoun was elected president in 2016, ending two and one-half years of political stalemate. Following the passage of a new electoral law, parliamentary elections were held in May 2018 for the first time in nine years. Observers concluded that the elections were generally free and fair. On July 31, President Michel Aoun signed a decree calling for the parliamentary by-election to fill Hizballah MP Nawwaf Moussawi’s seat in Tyre following his resignation. The by-election was scheduled to be held on September 15, but a Hizballah-affiliated candidate ran unopposed after other candidates withdrew their candidacies.

Political Parties and Political Participation: All major political parties and numerous smaller ones were almost exclusively based on confessional affiliation, and parliamentary seats were allotted on a sectarian basis.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. There were, however, significant cultural barriers to women’s participation in politics. Prior to 2004, no woman held a cabinet position, and there have been only seven female ministers subsequently, including current ministers. Four women served in the 30-member cabinet formed in January, one of whom became the Arab world’s first female interior minister. Only six of 128 members of parliament were women, and several of the female members of parliament were close relatives of prominent male politicians. Female leadership of political parties was limited, although three parties introduced voluntary quotas for their membership. Since 2017 women have been able to run in municipal elections in their native towns instead of the municipality of their spouses.

Minorities participated in politics. Regardless of the number of its adherents, authorities allocated every government-recognized religion, except Coptic Christianity, Ismaili Islam, and Judaism, at least one seat in parliament. Voters elected three parliamentarians representing minorities (one Syriac Orthodox Christian and two Alawites) in the 2018 elections. None of the minority parliamentarians were women. Members of these groups also held high positions in government and the LAF.

Since refugees are not Lebanese citizens, they have no Lebanese political rights.

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

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape and the use of threats or violence to claim a “marital right to intercourse,” although it does not explicitly outlaw spousal rape. While the government effectively enforced the law, its interpretation by religious courts in cases brought before them, not to civil courts, precluded full implementation of civil law in all provinces, such as in the case of an abused wife compelled to return to her husband under personal status laws, despite battery being outlawed in the penal code. The minimum prison sentence for a person convicted of rape is five years, or seven years for raping a minor. In 2017 parliament repealed the article of the penal code that freed rapists from prosecution and nullified their convictions if they married their victims.

The law criminalizes domestic violence, calls for provision of shelters, gives women the ability to file a restraining order against the abuser, and assigns special units within the ISF to receive domestic violence complaints. NGOs alleged that the definition of domestic violence was narrow and did not provide adequate protection from all forms of abuse. Although the penal code provides for a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison for battery, religious courts could cite personal status laws to require a battered wife to return to her home despite physical abuse. Some police, especially in rural areas, treated domestic violence as a social, rather than criminal, matter.

NGOs and activists criticized the domestic violence law, claiming that it does not sufficiently protect victims or punish abusers, who they alleged often received disproportionately light sentences. On July 30, the Mount Lebanon Criminal Court closed the case of a man who shot and killed his wife outside their home in Aramoun in 2015 following a dispute. The final verdict sentenced the husband to 25 years of hard labor and required him to pay LBP 150 million ($100,000) to the victim’s heirs.

Police and judicial officials worked to improve their management of domestic violence cases, but they noted that social and religious pressures–especially in more conservative communities–led to underreporting of cases, while some victims sought arbitration through religious courts or between families rather than through the justice system. There were reports and cases of foreign domestic workers, usually women, suffering from mistreatment, abuse, and in some cases rape or conditions akin to slavery.

According to women’s rights NGO KAFA, victims reported that police response to complaints submitted by battered or abused women improved. During the year ISF and judicial officials received training on best practices for handling cases involving female detainees, including victims of domestic violence and sexual exploitation. NGOs that provided services to such victims reported increased access to potential victims in ISF and DGS custody. The ISF continued its practice begun in 2018 of alerting its human rights unit to all cases involving victims of domestic violence and other vulnerable groups, so officers could track the cases and provide appropriate support to victims.

The Women’s Affairs Division in the Ministry of Social Affairs and several NGOs continued projects to address sexual or gender-based violence, such as providing counseling and shelter for victims and training ISF personnel to combat violence in prisons.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: On March 2, hundreds of protesters, including some lawmakers, marched on parliament to demand raising the minimum age of marriage to 18. Marriage is governed by 18 different sect-based personal status laws, and all sects allow girls to be married before age 18.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, but authorities did not enforce the law effectively, and it remained a widespread problem.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: Women suffered discrimination under the law and in practice, including under the penal and personal status codes. The constitution does not explicitly prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex. In matters of marriage, child custody, inheritance, and divorce, personal status laws provide unequal treatment across the various confessional court systems but generally discriminate against women. All 18 recognized religious groups have their own personal status courts responsible for handling these issues, and laws vary depending on the religious group. For example, Sunni religious courts applied an inheritance law that provides a daughter one-half the inheritance of a son. Religious law on child custody matters favors the father in most instances, regardless of religion. Sharia courts weigh the testimony of one man as equal to that of two women. Nationality law also discriminates against women, who may not confer citizenship to their spouses and children, although widows may confer citizenship to their minor children born of a citizen father. Since August 2018 divorced women have been allowed to include the names of their children on their civil records.

By law women may own property, but they often ceded control of it to male relatives due to cultural norms and family pressure.

The law does not distinguish between women and men in employment and provides for equal pay for men and women, although workplace gender discrimination, including wage discrimination, exists in practice.

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived exclusively from the father, which may result in statelessness for children of a citizen mother and noncitizen father who may not transmit his own citizenship (see section 2.d.). If a child’s birth is not registered within the first year, the process for legitimizing the birth is long and costly, often deterring families from registration. Syrian refugees no longer need legal residency to register the birth of their child. Authorities also waived several requirements for late birth registration by Syrian refugees. Birth registration still remained inaccessible to some, because the government required proof of legal residence and legal marriage, documentation which was often unavailable to refugees.

Some refugee children and the children of foreign domestic workers also faced obstacles to equal treatment under the law. NGOs reported discrimination against them including bullying linked to race, skin color, religion, and nationality, although some could attend public school. Syrian refugee children are not legally entitled to enroll in public schools at regular hours, although they may attend schools’ second shifts.

Religious courts ruled on civil cases involving family matters such as child custody in the case of divorce.

Education: Education for citizens is free and compulsory through the primary phase. Noncitizen and stateless children, including those born of noncitizen fathers and citizen mothers and refugees, lacked this right. The Ministry of Education and Higher Education directed that non-Lebanese students could not outnumber Lebanese in any given classroom during the regular school shift, which sometimes limited enrollment.

Child Abuse: The country lacked a comprehensive child protection law; however, the law on the Protection of at-Risk Children or Children Violating the Law, provided some protection to children who were victims of violence.

As of August 27, the child protection NGO Himaya reported assisting with more than 914 cases of psychological, physical, and sexual abuse as well as exploitation and neglect. The Ministry of Social Affairs had a hotline to report cases of child abuse. In a typical example, representatives of a local shelter for abused women and children described a case of a father who sexually and physically abused a child in the shelter’s care. According to the organization, the father escaped punishment through religious courts, as many families chose to handle such cases through these courts rather than the national justice system.

Early and Forced Marriage: There is no legal minimum age for marriage, and the government does not perform civil marriages, although Minister of Interior Raya al-Hassan in February publicly voiced her support for reintroducing the debate on whether or not to allow civil marriage in Lebanon. Most religious leaders opposed civil marriage, despite the fact that Lebanon recognizes civil marriages conducted outside the country. The various sects each have their own religious courts governing issues of personal status, such as marriage, divorce, child custody and inheritance. The minimum age of marriage varies from age 14 to age 18 depending on the sect. UN agencies, NGOs, and government officials noted high rates of early marriage among the Syrian refugee population. They partially attributed this circumstance to social and economic pressure on families with limited resources.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The penal code prohibits and punishes commercial sexual exploitation, child pornography, and forced prostitution. The minimum age for consensual sex is 18 for both men and women, and statutory rape penalties include hard labor for a minimum of five years and a minimum of seven years’ imprisonment if the victim is younger than 15 years old. The government generally enforced the law.

The ISF, DGS, and judicial officials improved enforcement of the country’s antitrafficking law, which prohibits the sexual exploitation of children. NGOs provided training throughout the year to increase police and judicial officials’ sensitivity to the issue and reported increased numbers of potential victims that authorities referred to NGO-run shelters and victim protection programs. This included a training for DGS officers focused on behavioral psychology and effective communication skills with victims with trainees selected from departments that specialize in direct communication with citizens, migrants, refugees, travelers, and those at the airport and at the administrative retention center. Separately, four trainings were conducted for DGS officers on countertrafficking and identification of victims of human trafficking.

Displaced Children: Some refugee children lived and worked on the street. Given the poor economic environment, limited freedom of movement, and little opportunity for livelihoods for adults, many Syrian refugee families often relied on children to earn money for the family, including by begging or selling small items in the streets. Refugee children were at greater risk than Lebanese children for exploitation, gender-based violence, and child labor, since they had greater freedom of movement compared to their parents, who often lacked residency permits.

The Ministry of Education and Higher Education facilitated enrollment of almost 200,000 non-Lebanese children in the 2018-19 academic year. More than one-half of refugee children ages three to 18 were out of school, according to UNHCR. The government and some NGOs offered a number of informal education programs to eligible students.

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

In a May interview with al-Joumhouria, Speaker of the Parliament Nabih Berri used an anti-Semitic slur when explaining Israel’s position on its maritime border with Lebanon.

At year’s end there were an estimated 70 Jews living in the country and 5,500 registered Jewish voters who lived abroad but had the right to vote in parliamentary elections.

The Jewish Community Council reported that throughout the year a construction site adjacent to the Jewish cemetery in Beirut regularly dumped trash and rubble into the cemetery. Council members said municipal authorities agreed to speak with the construction company but that dumping continued as of September 11. On September 18, the ISF called in for questioning a member of the Jewish Community Council who manages the cemetery, questioning him about the number and type of visitors to the cemetery and local synagogues over the summer. The council member was not detained, but his phone was temporarily confiscated.

Rooms, shops, and a gas station were built on the land of the Jewish cemetery in Tripoli, and a lawsuit was filed in 2011. While the suit was still pending, authorities had taken no action by year’s end.

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

According to the law, persons with disabilities have the right to employment, education, health services, accessibility, and the right to vote; however, there was no evidence the government effectively enforced the law. Although prohibited by law, discrimination against persons with disabilities continued. On February 11, the minister of foreign affairs appointed Joe Rahhal, who himself has a physical disability, as his advisor of persons with special disabilities.

The Ministry of Social Affairs and the National Council of Disabled are responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. According to the president of the Arab Organization of Disabled People, little progress had occurred since parliament passed the law on disabilities in 2000. Resource limitations restricted the ability of the government to investigate adequately abuses against persons with disabilities.

The Ministry of Education and Higher Education stipulated that for new school building construction “schools should include all necessary facilities in order to receive the physically challenged.” Nonetheless, the public-school system was ill-equipped to accommodate students with disabilities.

Depending on the type and nature of the disability, children with a disability may attend mainstream school. Due to a lack of awareness or knowledge, school staff often did not identify a specific disability in children and could not adequately advise parents. In such cases children often repeated classes or dropped out of school. According to a 2018 Human Rights Watch report, children with disabilities lacked access to education, as both public and private schools often improperly refused to admit them or charged additional fees, citing a lack of appropriate facilities or staff.

The law mandates access to buildings for persons with disabilities, but the government failed to amend building codes to implement these provisions. The law does not mandate access to information or accommodations for communication for persons with disabilities.

Lebanese of African descent attributed discrimination to the color of their skin and claimed harassment by police, who periodically demanded to see their papers. Foreign Arab, African, and Asian students, professionals, and tourists reported being denied access to bars, clubs, restaurants, and private beaches at the direction and discretion of venue owners or managers.

Syrian workers, usually employed as manual laborers and construction workers, continued to suffer discrimination. Many municipalities enforced a curfew on Syrians’ movements in their neighborhoods in an effort to control security.

Article 534 of the Lebanese Penal Code prohibits sexual relations “contradicting the laws of nature” and effectively criminalizes consensual, same-sex sexual conduct among adults. The law was occasionally enforced in civilian and military courts, and it carries a penalty of up to one year in prison. On April 1, a civilian court in Saida ruled on a 2017 case, convicting two men accused of homosexual activity under Article 534. The initial sentence of jail time was replaced with a fine of LBP 500,000 ($333). On March 30, a military prosecutor in Beirut acquitted four military personnel accused of “sodomy.” The judge cleared the group of charges of committing sexual acts “contrary to nature” and declined to issue warrants for their arrest, commenting that the penal code does not specify what kind of relationship can be considered “contrary to nature.” The ruling was the first of its kind by a military prosecutor. Some government and judicial officials, along with NGOs and legal experts, questioned whether the law actually criminalizes same-sex sexual conduct.

No provisions of law provide antidiscrimination protections to LGBTI persons based on their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics. NGOs continued to report employment discrimination faced by transgender women due to the inconsistency between official documentation and gender self-presentation.

NGOs stated that official and societal discrimination against LGBTI persons persisted. Observers received reports from LGBTI refugees of physical abuse by local gangs, which the victims did not report to the ISF. Observers referred victims to UNHCR-sponsored protective services.

During the year government agents interfered with or restricted events focused on LGBTI rights. On January 31, prominent LGBTI rights NGO Arab Foundation for Freedoms and Equality (AFE) confirmed that it would move regional programs outside the country beginning in 2019. The decision followed a DGS attempt to shut down the September 2018 Networking, Exchange, Development, Wellness, and Achievement (NEDWA) sexual-health conference through intimidation of AFE’s executive director and the threat of DGS or other agencies exposing attendees from LGBTI-hostile countries to their governments. (Ultimately the conference continued at a different Beirut venue.) The DGS implemented a continuing travel ban on foreign attendees of NEDWA, including Human Rights Watch’s regional LGBTI researcher and other nationals of Canada, Egypt, and Iraq.

The government did not collect information on official or private discrimination in employment, occupation, housing, statelessness, or lack of access to education or health care based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Individuals who faced problems were reluctant to report incidents due to fear of additional discrimination or reprisal. There were no government efforts to address potential discrimination.

HIV/AIDS is stigmatized due to sensitivities about extramarital relations and LGBTI identities. NGOs reported that resources to direct patients to clinics where they can receive tests without stigma or discrimination were limited. In addition to stigma and discrimination, many persons with HIV/AIDS were unable to pay for routine tests that the Ministry of Public Health does not cover, including the blood test that must be completed and submitted to the Ministry of Public Health before any treatment can begin. The law requires the government to provide treatment to all HIV-positive citizens and to Palestinian and Syrian refugees living in Lebanon. Nonetheless, treatment was only available at one hospital in Beirut, making it difficult for patients outside of Beirut to receive treatment easily.

Morocco

Executive Summary

Morocco is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary national legislative system under which ultimate authority rests with King Mohammed VI, who presides over the Council of Ministers. The king shares executive authority with Head of Government (prime minister) Saadeddine El Othmani. According to the constitution, the king appoints the head of government from the political party with the most seats in parliament and approves members of the government nominated by the head of government. International and domestic observers judged the 2016 parliamentary elections credible and relatively free from irregularities.

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

Significant human rights issues included: allegations of torture by some members of the security forces, although the government condemned the practice and made efforts to investigate and address any reports; allegations that there were political prisoners; undue limits on freedom of expression, including criminalization of libel and certain content that criticized Islam, the monarchy, and the government’s position regarding territorial integrity; limits on freedom of assembly and association; corruption; and criminalization of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex (LGBTI) conduct.

There were few examples of investigations or prosecutions of human rights abuses by officials, whether in the security services or elsewhere in the government, which contributed to the widespread perception of impunity.

(For additional information on Western Sahara, see the Department of State’s annual Country Reports on Human Rights for Western Sahara.)

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution and law generally provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, although they criminalize and restrict some freedom of expression in the press and social media–specifically criticism of Islam, the institution of the monarchy, or the government’s positions regarding territorial integrity and Western Sahara. Such criticism can result in prosecution under the penal code, with punishments ranging from fines to prison time, despite the freedom of expression provided for in the 2016 press code. The press code applies only to journalists accredited by the Ministry of Communication 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 2019 Freedom in the World report, the press in Morocco enjoys a significant degree of freedom when reporting on economic and social policies, but authorities used an array of financial and legal mechanisms to punish critical journalists. International and domestic human rights groups criticized criminal prosecutions of journalists and publishers as well as libel suits, claiming that the government principally used these laws to restrict independent human rights groups, the press, and social media.

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. HRW reported during the year that the government demonstrated increasing intolerance of public dissent, particularly pf persons who were critical of the monarchy, state authorities, or Islam. According to government figures, 22 individuals were specifically charged for criminal speech, including defamation, slander, and insult (see Libel/Slander Laws and National Security).

On April 19, the al-Hoceima Court of Appeals increased the sentence for defense lawyer for Hirak protesters Abdessadek El Bouchtaoui from 20 to 24 months in prison and sustained a 500 dirhams ($50) fine for insulting officials and representatives of authority while on duty, undermining the authority of justice, incitement to commit crimes, public incitement via Facebook to participate in unauthorized protests and crimes, and participation in unauthorized protests. According to Amnesty International, the government’s charges were based on 114 posts on El Bouchtaoui’s Facebook account and comments he made on national media criticizing the security forces’ use of force against Hirak protesters. El Bouchtaoui fled Morocco prior to the Appeals Court sentence in February 2018, and after more than a year in exile on February 13, France issued political asylum to Bouchtaoui, his wife, and three children. In April the Tetouan Court of Appeals also suspended El Bouchtaoui’s legal license for two years.

On March 27, a court of first instance convicted four individuals to a six-month suspended prison sentence and fine of 10,000 dirhams ($1,000) for publishing information from a parliamentary committee under the new access to information law that came into force during the year. The individuals reported publishing the information because of concerns over corruption by elected officials.

On November 25, the Sale Court of First Instance sentenced Moroccan rapper Mohamed Mounir to one year in prison and a fine of 1,000 dirhams ($100) for insulting police via a live social media feed posted in late October. The rapper confessed to the crime, stating his post came after two police officers assaulted him during a stop in mid-October to check his identity papers. Although Mounir was convicted for those online comments, his defense team, AMDH, and Amnesty International attributed his arrest and prosecution instead to a controversial rap video, titled “Long Live the People,” released on YouTube three days prior to the arrest. The defense planned to appeal the sentence at year’s end.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media, as well as partisan media, were active and expressed a variety of views within the restrictions of the law. The press code limits punishments for accredited journalists to fines. As of July 30, no journalists were prosecuted under the press code during the year, compared with two in 2018. According to the Ministry of Justice, Hajar Raissouni, Taoufiq Bouachrine (see section 1.d.), and Hamid al-Mahdaoui (see section 1.c.) are accredited journalists who were in prison during the year for criminal acts the government claimed were outside of their role as journalists. According to authorities, 22 individuals faced charges during the year for defamation, slander, or blasphemy.

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 Communication before meeting with political activists.

The trial for seven members of the Moroccan Association for Investigative Journalism, including Hicham Mansouri, Maati Monjib, and Hisham Almiraat, has been repeatedly postponed since 2015; the individuals had not been sentenced at year’s end. According to the Ministry of Justice, Mansouri, Monjib, and Almiraat were suspected of accepting foreign funds intended for acts threatening the internal security and territorial integrity of the country. The seven individuals were charged for posing a threat to the internal security of the country, fraud, managing an association exercising unauthorized acts, and accepting unauthorized foreign funds. The seven remained free but reported hardships due to the open case.

Violence and Harassment: Authorities subjected some journalists to harassment and intimidation, including attempts to discredit them through harmful rumors about their personal lives. Journalists reported that selective prosecutions served as a mechanism for intimidation. According to Reporters without Borders, the government intimidated activists and journalists, often putting them on trial for matters seemingly unrelated to journalism or political activities.

On September 30, the Rabat Court of First Instance sentenced journalist Hajar Raissouni to a 500 dirham ($50) fine and one year in prison for a presumed illegal abortion and premarital sex, charges the defense and Amnesty International denounced as lacking medical evidence. Police arrested Raissouni at a doctor’s clinic in Rabat, along with her fiance, gynecologist, anesthesiologist, and nurse. Raissouni claims that while she was held in custody, police forced her to undergo a physical examination against her will and questioned her about her family ties and journalism, particularly her writing on the Hirak movement. Raissouni told reporters she believes she was targeted because of her critical reporting and family connections to the Justice and Development Party. Reporters without Borders called the case an example of “profoundly unjust” persecution of a journalist. Raissouni and codefendants received a royal pardon on October 16 before the case moved to an appellate court.

According to media reports, authorities expelled multiple international journalists during the year because they lacked valid permits. The government stated that foreign media representatives who comply with local laws are allowed to perform their duties without interference and that allegations that authorities expelled foreign journalists were unsubstantiated.

In July and October, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported that several local journalists believed they were under surveillance. For example, some journalists stated at times their private conversations were publicized without their consent in an apparent attempt by the state to discredit their reporting. The CPJ also reported that some journalists jailed during the Rif protests in 2016 to 2017 reported authorities had referenced private WhatsApp messages while questioning them under detention.

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. The press code lists threats to public order as one of the criteria for censorship. 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. The government denied restricting content on media outlets.

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

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 government did not disrupt access to the internet, but it did apply laws governing and restricting public speech and the press on the internet. The press code stipulates that online journalism is equivalent to print journalism. Laws on combatting terrorism permit the government to filter websites. According to Freedom House’s 2019 Freedom on the Net report, the government did not block or filter any political, social, or religious websites during the year. The same report indicated that there have been cases in Morocco where bloggers were arrested or imprisoned for content the government deemed politically sensitive. Social media and communication services, including YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, were available in the country, as were international blog-hosting services. Freedom House claimed, however, that unfair disbursement of advertising money, strict self-censorship, and ongoing trials of journalists have prevented the emergence of a vibrant online media environment. According to the government, funds for advertisements derive from the private sector, not from the public sector. The government also repeatedly reminded online journalists to obey the law. The government also prosecuted individuals for expressing certain ideological views online, particularly related to protests in the northern Rif region.

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.

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 approved appointments of university rectors.

The government limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

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. Security forces intervened on occasion to disband both authorized and unauthorized protests when officials deemed the demonstration a threat to public security.

Some NGOs complained that authorities did not apply the approval process consistently and used administrative delays and other methods to suppress or discourage unwanted peaceful assembly. According to HRW’s World Report 2019, police allowed many protests demanding political reform and protesting government actions, but often forcibly dispersed peaceful protests, arrested protestors and protest leaders, or prevented demonstrations from occurring. According to the government, there were an average of 20,000 demonstrations per year. While most protests proceeded peacefully, on several occasions, violence erupted between protestors 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 protestors to leave the area, using riot shields to push standing protestors into a designated area or carrying seated protestors to the designated area. If such lower-level tactics failed, security forces may escalate to the use of batons, water cannons, or tear gas to clear the area and restore order.

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 ongoing training on human rights-based methods to manage crowds throughout the year.

In 2017, after two brothers who had been mining illegally were found dead inside a coal pit in the northeast province of Jerada, it sparked more than 300 protests over social disparities, economic grievances, and unemployment. According to the government, 67 individuals arrested were sentenced to prison for terms ranging from one to five years for destruction of public goods, incitement to commit crimes, or involvement in unauthorized protests. According to authorities, on the occasion of Eid al-Fitr in June, the king pardoned all prisoners associated with the Jerada protests.

In April the Casablanca Court of Appeals sustained a court of first instance ruling against protest leader Nasser Zefzafi and 41 other members of the Hirak protest movement in the Rif. Four detainees, including Zefzafi, were sentenced during the year to 20 years’ imprisonment on charges including threatening national security. At least one of the convicted individuals appealed the sentence to the Court of Cassation. Other sentences varied from 15 years’ imprisonment to suspended sentences and fines. According to the government, authorities implicated 578 persons in crimes related to the Hirak protests, of whom 39 were acquitted of all charges in 2018. With the exception of one remaining pretrial detainee, the rest were prosecuted and sentenced by the al-Hoceima’s Court of First Instance as of October. During the year the king pardoned 68 of the prisoners; Zefzafi was not included in the pardons.

Amnesty International reported public authorities interrupted a sit-in organized to take place on April 10 in Rabat. The NGO submitted the required notice of the event to authorities. Amnesty International reported the incident to the CNDH and the Ministry of Human Rights via written correspondence. According to an initial response from the ministry, Amnesty International’s complaint was forwarded to the Ministry of Interior on April 25. The NGO had not received a response from the Ministry of Interior by year’s end.

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 that 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).

The Ministry of Interior required NGOs to register before being recognized as legal entities, but there was no comprehensive national registry publicly available. A prospective organization must submit its objectives, bylaws, address, and photocopies of members’ identification cards to local officials of the ministry. The local officials of the ministry issue a receipt to the organization that signifies formal approval. Organizations without receipts are not formally registered. According to the law, however, any association not denied registration that did not receive a receipt within 60 days of submitting the required documentation has the right to engage in activities. There were several reports during the year that some organizations faced administrative issues because the ministry did not issue a registration receipt. 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 National Federation of Amazigh Associations, an organization supporting the inclusion of the Amazigh (Berber) population in public life, reported that, as of October, the nine Amazigh organizations denied registration in 2017 continued to be denied registration during the year, including the federation itself (see section 6, National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities).

The Justice and Charity Organization (JCO), a Sunni Islamist movement that rejects the king’s spiritual authority, remained banned but largely tolerated, although authorities continued to monitor its activities. On February 6, media reported that authorities closed unlicensed mosques run out of homes of JCO members in Casablanca, Kenitra, and Inezgane.

On April 16, the Casablanca Court of Appeals sustained a court of first instance ruling to dissolve Racines, a cultural rights NGO. The courts determined the NGO engaged in activities beyond the scope of its bylaws as a cultural rights NGO by hosting an episode of the online show 1 Dinner, 2 Idiots, where guests of the show engaged in political discussions on freedom of association, corruption in the public sector, the monarchy, and the Rif Hirak protest movement. The leadership of the organization appealed to the Court of Cassation but ceased operations in June, as required by the court of appeals ruling.

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

d. Freedom of Movement

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights, although it limited movement to areas experiencing widespread unrest. The government denied entry to individuals it believed threatened the stability of the country. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern. The government also provided funding to humanitarian organizations to provide social services to migrants, including refugees.

There were several reports of government authorities denying local and international organizations and press access to the Rif and Eastern regions. In January, Amnesty International announced two of its researchers were denied entry to conduct a human rights investigation.

In February authorities expelled a Dutch journalist from the north for failing to present the appropriate accreditation. The journalist visited the region to cover a story on migration issues. He also reported that security forces followed him for several days before deporting him from the country.

The government continued to make travel documents available to Sahrawis. There were a few reported cases, however, of authorities preventing Sahrawis from traveling. The government encouraged the return of Sahrawi refugees from Algeria and elsewhere if they acknowledged the government’s authority over Western Sahara.

In-country Movement: Local and international media reported that authorities forcibly relocated more than 200 sub-Saharan migrants from Nador to the Atlas region. NGOs reported Moroccan authorities forcibly relocated dozens of destitute sub-Saharan migrants every few weeks from areas neighboring the Spanish enclaves of Melilla and Ceuta to Tiznit and Agadir in the south of the country.

Not applicable.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Refugees and asylum seekers, as well as migrants, were particularly vulnerable to abuse. Europe-bound human smuggling and human trafficking decreased after January following a government of Morocco and EU agreement. Moroccan authorities cooperated with Spanish and EU authorities to thwart trafficking networks and arrest smugglers. Parliament passed legislation in 2016 to improve protections for victims. CNDH regional branches reported receiving several complaints regarding the rights of migrants. There were reports of government authorities arresting or detaining migrants, particularly around the Spanish enclave cities of Melilla and Ceuta, and forcibly relocating them to other parts of the country to deter attempts to cross illegally into Spanish territory.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of refugee status. The government has historically deferred to UNHCR as the sole agency in the country entitled to perform refugee status determinations and verify asylum cases. UNHCR referred cases that meet the criteria for refugee recognition to the government’s interministerial Commission in Charge of Hearings for Asylum Seekers within the Bureau of Refugees and Stateless Persons. The government recognizes asylum status for refugees designated according to the UNHCR statute. The government continued to grant status to UNHCR-recognized refugees and temporary status to registered Syrians. There were 802 refugees registered in the country. From December 2018 to July 2019, the commission held 33 hearings and granted legal status as refugees to 257 asylum seekers referred by UNHCR, of whom 80 percent were Syrian nationals.

Access to Basic Services: Recognized refugees and migrants were generally able to work and access health care and education services, including publicly funded professional and vocational training. Requests on behalf of women and children receive automatic approval, with immediate access to education and healthcare. Asylum seekers were, however, sometimes unable to access the national health care system and continued to have little access to the judicial system until recognized as refugees.

Durable Solutions: The government facilitated voluntary returns in cooperation with UNHCR and, when necessary, the resettlement of recognized refugees to third countries. Since 2004 the government and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) have cofunded the voluntary return of migrants to their countries of origin. According to the government, it assisted with the voluntary return to the country of origin of an average of 2,000 to 3,000 migrants per year.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. Syrians and Yemenis benefited from “exceptional regularization” outside of the more permanent migrant regularization program.

Not applicable.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

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

Recent Elections: In 2016 the country held direct elections for the Chamber of Representatives (the more powerful lower house of parliament). The major political parties and domestic observers considered the elections free, fair, and transparent. International observers considered the elections credible, noting voters were able to choose freely and the process was free of systemic irregularities. As stipulated by the constitution, the king tasked the Party of Justice and Development, which won the most seats in the newly elected chamber, to form a governing coalition and nominate new ministers.

Political Parties and Political Participation: A political party may not legally challenge Islam as the state religion, the institution of the monarchy, or the country’s territorial integrity. The law prohibits basing a party on a religious, ethnic, or regional identity.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Voters elected a record number of women in the 2016 elections, although very few subsequently won leadership positions as ministers or parliamentary committee presidents.

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

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law punishes individuals convicted of rape with prison terms of five to 10 years; when the conviction involves a minor, the prison sentence ranges from 10 to 20 years. Spousal rape is not a crime. Numerous articles of the penal code pertaining to rape perpetuate unequal treatment for women and provide insufficient protection. A 2018 law provides a stronger legal framework to protect women from violence, sexual harassment, and abuse. Under the law, a sexual assault conviction may result in a prison sentence of six months to five years and a fine of 2,000 to 10,000 dirhams ($210 to $1,050). For insults and defamation based on gender, an individual may be fined up to 60,000 dirhams for insults and up to 120,000 dirhams for defamation ($6,300 to $12,600). General insult and defamation charges remain in the penal code. In March the law was reformed to require 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. While the DGSN announced on September 26 that such specialized units were designated in 136 police precincts, the units were not active as of December. Some women’s rights NGOs criticized the lack of clarity in procedures and protections for reporting abuse under the new law. In the past, authorities did not effectively enforce laws against sexual harassment; the impact of the law was not clear by year’s end.

Then minister of family, solidarity, equality, and social development Bassima Hakkaoui announced on July 9 that, based on a national survey conducted by the ministry, 93.4 percent of women who were victims of violence did not press charges against the aggressor. According to local NGOs, survivors did not report the vast majority of sexual assaults to police due to social pressure and the concern that society would most likely hold the victims responsible. Some sexual assault victims also reported police officers at times turned them away from filing a police report or coerced them to pay a bribe to file the report by threatening to charge them with consensual sex outside of marriage, a crime punishable with up to one year in prison. Police selectively investigated cases; among the minority brought to trial, successful prosecutions remained rare.

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

The Prosecutor General’s Office launched an investigation into the rape of a 34-year-old woman in Rabat on June 9. The victim died two days later at a hospital from severe injuries inflicted during the rape. Authorities detained eight suspects, including the accused perpetrator and an accomplice who filmed the incident. Authorities reported the suspects were facing charges of premediated murder, complicity in torture and other barbaric acts, and failure to seek assistance for a person in peril. The sentences were pending at year’s end.

In 2018 Khadija Okkarou, 18, reported to the authorities that she was kidnapped in Oulad Ayad in June and held for two months by a group of men who raped her repeatedly and forced her to consume drugs and alcohol. Police arrested 12 suspects on charges for abduction, rape, and torture. The Beni Mellal Court of Appeals subjected Okkarou to a virginity exam by a judicial medical examiner, who determined the results were inconclusive. The Beni Mellal Appeals Court held a brief hearing on October 15 to announce it would hear the testimonies of the 12 defendants on November 12. The hearing was postponed again to December 3 because of the absence of the defendants’ defense and again to December 24 at the request of the plaintiff’s defense. The sentences were pending at year’s end.

The government funded a number of women’s counseling centers under the Ministry of Family, Solidarity, Equality, and Social Development. A few NGOs provided shelter, assistance, and guidance for survivors of domestic abuse. There were reports, however, that these shelters were not accessible to persons with disabilities. Courts had “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.

Sexual Harassment: Before the law on violence against women was passed in 2018, sexual harassment was only a crime if it was committed by a supervisor in the workplace. Under the 2018 law, sexual harassment is a crime punishable by up to six months in prison and a fine up to 10,000 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 perpetrates the harassment act, physical violence, or abuse or mistreatment or breaks a restraining order or if the crime is perpetrated against a minor. In the past, authorities did not effectively enforce laws against sexual harassment. As of year’s end, NGOs did not observe an impact of the new law, with civil society leaders stating 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.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

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

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

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

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

The government led some efforts to improve the status of women in the workplace, most notably the constitutional mandate, established by parliament in 2017, for the creation of an Authority for Gender Parity and Fighting All Forms of Discrimination. The Gender Parity Authority, however, has yet to become functional.

Birth Registration: The law permits both parents to pass nationality to their children. The law establishes that all children have civil status regardless of their family status. There were, nonetheless, cases in which authorities denied identification papers to children because they were born to unmarried parents, particularly in rural areas or in the cases of poorly educated mothers unaware of their legal rights. The Ministry of State for Human Rights and Relations with the Parliament estimated that over 83,000 Moroccan children remain unregistered. In October the Ministry of Interior administered a national communique that local authorities now have a simplified registration procedure as an effort to improve on birth registration. According to Amazigh NGOs, during the year representatives of the Ministry of Interior refused to register the births of at least two children whose parents sought to give them Amazigh names.

Child Abuse: NGOs, human rights groups, media outlets, and UNICEF claimed child abuse was widespread. According to the government, in 2018, 7,263 individuals were investigated for criminal offenses associated with 6,702 reported cases of child abuse. Prosecutions for child abuse were extremely rare. Some children rights NGOs expressed concerns over the lack of legislation to prosecute cases involving incest.

In August local authorities arrested a religious studies teacher for physically abusing a four-year-old child with a baton. The authorities opened an investigation into the alleged crime, which was recorded on video. The authorities submitted a “judicial informational report” after the father of the victim refused to press charges against the educator.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal age for marriage is 18, but parents, with the informed consent of the minor, may secure a waiver from a judge for underage marriage. According to a statement released by the Prosecutor General’s Office in July, the judiciary in 2018 approved 18,422 out of 33,686 of such requests, despite a notice sent that year that called on attorneys and judges to “not hesitate to oppose any marriage request that does not take into account the interests of the minor.” Othmane Abid, director of the Family Law Department at the Ministry of Justice, stated in March that 75 percent of applications approved involved cases of girls who were 17 years old. Under the framework of the PANDDH, the CNDH launched a national awareness-raising campaign against the marriage of minors.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The age of consent is 18. The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation, sale, offering or procuring for prostitution, and practices related to child pornography. Penalties for sexual exploitation of children under the criminal code range from two years’ to life imprisonment and fines from 9,550 dirhams ($1,000) to 344,000 dirhams ($36,100).

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

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

The constitution recognizes the Jewish community as part the country’s population and guarantees to each individual the freedom to “practice his religious affairs.” Community leaders estimated the size of the Jewish population at 3,000 to 3,500. Overall there appeared to be little overt anti-Semitism, and Jews generally lived in safety.

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

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

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.

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

Article 5 of the constitution identifies Arabic and Tamazight as the official languages of the state, although Arabic predominates. Tamazight is one of three national Amazigh dialects. On July 25, parliament unanimously approved legislation mandating the standardization of the teaching of Tamazight in the public and private education systems for citizens. The law adopts Tifinagh (Amazigh script) as the script for Tamazight. Amazigh activists were disappointed that parliament did not incorporate some recommendations into the bill’s language, such as integrating Tamazight into other institutions beyond the Moroccan educational system. Activists also found the bill remains too vague in defining how government will ensure schools and the media apply the law. The legislation was pending review by the Constitutional Court because it is an organic law that implements provisions in the 2011 constitution. On August 2, parliament approved an education bill that encourages instruction in Tifinagh and foreign languages in schools.

Amazigh cultural groups contended they were rapidly losing their traditions and language to Arabization. The government offered Tamazigh language classes in some schools. Although the palace-funded Royal Institute of Amazigh Culture created a university-level teacher-training program to address the shortage of qualified teachers, Amazigh NGOs contended that the number of qualified teachers of regional dialects of Amazigh languages continued to decrease. The government reported, however, that the number of teachers employed to teach the official national Amazigh language has increased. Instruction in the Amazigh language is mandatory for students at the Ministry of Interior’s School for Administrators.

Amazigh materials were available in the 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.

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 June, the state prosecuted 170 individuals in 2018 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, LGBTI victims of violence in high-profile cases from previous years continue to be harassed when recognized in public.

There were several attacks against individuals based on their sexual orientation or gender identity during the year, including on May 12, when media reported four individuals in Tiznit forcibly stripped and physically assaulted a man because of his sexual orientation. The seriously injured individual pressed charges against the alleged perpetrators of the attack. Local authorities arrested three of the four individuals and opened an investigation. One of the three individuals was over the age of 18 and was sentenced to six months in prison and a fine of 500 dirhams ($50) by a court of first instance; the charges on which he was prosecuted were unknown. The two others had their cases referred to a judge for crimes involving minors; these cases were pending in court at year’s end.

Antidiscrimination laws do not apply to LGBTI persons, and the penal code does not criminalize hate crimes. There was a stigma against LGBTI persons, including some reports of overt discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing, and health care.

Persons with HIV/AIDS faced discrimination and had limited treatment options. The Joint UN Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) reported that some health-care providers were reluctant to treat persons with HIV/AIDS due to fear of infection. According to UNAIDS, treatment coverage increased from 16 percent in 2010 to 48 percent in 2016, and the National Strategic Plan 20172021 commits the country to reduce new infections among key and vulnerable populations, eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV, reduce AIDS-related deaths, confront discrimination, and strengthen governance for an efficient response.

Oman

Executive Summary

The Sultanate of Oman is a hereditary monarchy ruled by Sultan Qaboos al-Said since 1970. The sultan has sole authority to enact laws through royal decree, although ministries and the bicameral Majlis Oman (parliament) can draft laws on nonsecurity-related matters, and citizens may provide input through their elected representatives. The Majlis Oman is composed of the Majlis al-Dawla (upper house or State Council), whose 85 members are appointed by the sultan, and the elected 86-member Majlis al-Shura (lower house or Consultative Assembly). In October nearly 350,000 citizens participated in the Majlis al-Shura elections for the Consultative Assembly; there were no notable claims of improper government interference.

The Royal Office controls internal and external security and coordinates all intelligence and security policies. Under the Royal Office, the Internal Security Service investigates all matters related to domestic security. The Royal Oman Police (ROP), including the ROP Coast Guard, is also subordinate to the Royal Office and performs regular police duties. The Royal Office and Royal Diwan–the sultan’s personal offices–maintained effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included: allegations of torture of prisoners and detainees in government custody; restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including censorship, site blocking, and criminal libel; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; required exit permits for foreign workers; restrictions on political participation; and criminalization of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) conduct.

Authorities generally held security personnel and other government officials accountable for their actions. The government acted against corruption during the year, with cases proceeding through the court system.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The law provides for limited freedom of speech and press, but authorities did not always respect these rights. Journalists and writers exercised self-censorship.

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits criticism of the sultan in any form or medium, as well as any “provocative propaganda to undermine the prestige of the state,” electronic communication that “might prejudice the public order or religious values,” and “defamation of character.” Therefore, it is illegal to insult any public official or private citizen. Authorities have prosecuted individuals for writing about the sultan in a way the government perceived to be negative. In January 2018 the government issued a new penal code that generally increased maximum penalties for crimes related to “undermining the state.” International human rights organizations expressed concern that the 2018 penal code contains vaguely defined articles that the security services could use to target activists and further restrict freedom of expression, including online.

In September the ROP arrested an expatriate for posting a video on social media in which he threw his Omani residency card on the ground and allegedly used “abusive language” about the police. In November human rights organizations reported that authorities arrested Musallam Al-Ma’ashani at the Sarfait border crossing upon his return to Oman from Yemen. These groups and social media users claimed authorities arrested Al-Ma’ashani for printing a book documenting tribal activities in Dhofar, which he intended to submit to the Ministry of Information for display at the 2020 Muscat International Book Fair. According to social media posts, authorities released Al-Ma’ashani on November 25 on bail after approximately two weeks in detention.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Media did not operate freely. Authorities tolerated limited criticism in privately owned newspapers and magazines; however, editorials generally were consistent with the government’s views. Although mainstream social debate occurred in traditional and social media (especially on Twitter), the government and privately owned radio and television stations did not generally broadcast political material criticizing the government.

In January human rights observers reported that police briefly detained two journalists from the Hala FM radio station while they covered a protest in Muscat over unemployment. The journalists were reportedly released the same day. Some social media users who photographed and recorded the same protest claimed the ROP forced them to delete their photos and videos.

According to human rights organizations, authorities arrested at least two individuals in February for criticizing on social media the government’s contacts with Israel.

In 2017 the Supreme Court upheld previous court rulings and permanently shut down al-Zaman, an independent newspaper. A journalist and an editor of the paper served prison sentences and were released in 2017. A second journalist was convicted and sentenced, but later acquitted. Human rights organizations claimed the closure of al-Zaman had a chilling effect upon freedom of expression in the country.

Authorities required journalists to obtain a license to work; freelance journalists were ineligible for a license.

Violence and Harassment: Some journalists reported harassment by high-level government officials for printing stories perceived as critical of their particular ministries.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Headlines in both public and private media print outlets were subject to an official nontransparent review and approval process before publication. Journalists and writers exercised self-censorship. The law permits the Ministry of Information to review all media products including books produced within or imported into the country. The ministry occasionally prohibited or censored material from domestic and imported publications viewed as politically, culturally, or sexually offensive. The OHRC reported that four publications violated the printing law and were therefore not permitted in the country. There is only one major publishing house in the country, and publication of books remained limited. The government required religious groups to notify the Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs before importing any religious materials.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel is a criminal offense, which allows for up to one year’s imprisonment and a fine of up to 1,000 rials ($2,600).

National Security: The government prohibited publication of any material that “undermines the prestige of the state.”

The law restricts free speech exercised via the internet, and the government enforces the restrictions. The law allows authorities to prosecute individuals for any message sent via any medium that “violates public order and morals.” The law details crimes that take place on the internet that “might prejudice public order or religious values” and specifies a penalty of between one month and a year in prison and a minimum fine of 1,000 rials ($2,600). Authorities also applied the law against bloggers and social media users who insult the sultan.

The government’s national telecommunications company and private service providers make internet access available for a fee to citizens and foreign residents. Internet access is available via schools, workplaces, wireless networks at coffee shops, and other venues, especially in urban areas.

Authorities monitored the activities of telecommunications service providers and obliged them to block access to numerous websites considered pornographic, or culturally or politically sensitive. The criteria for blocking access to internet sites were neither transparent nor consistent. Authorities sometimes blocked blogs as well as most VoIP technologies, such as Skype.

Website administrators or moderators monitored content and were reportedly quick to delete potentially offensive material in chat rooms, on social networking fora, and on blog postings. Some website administrators posted warnings exhorting users to follow local laws and regulations.

The government restricted academic freedom and cultural events. Academics largely practiced self-censorship. Colleges and universities were required to have permission from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Higher Education before meeting with foreign diplomatic missions or accepting money for programs or speakers.

The government censored publicly shown films, primarily for sexual content and nudity, and placed restrictions on performances in public venues. The law also forbids dancing in restaurants and entertainment venues without a permit.

The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association. Human rights organizations expressed concern that overly broad provisions in the penal code could further restrict the work of human rights activists and limit freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

The law provides for limited freedom of assembly, but the government restricted this right. Under the penal code, gatherings of 10 or more persons in a public place are unlawful if they “endangered the public security or order” or “influenced the function of authorities.”

In January human rights observers reported that police in Salalah detained as many as 20 individuals for protesting unemployment. Several social media users who claimed to know some of the protestors asserted that they remained in detention for at least two days.

Private sector employees in the energy and industrial manufacturing sectors threatened strikes in isolated cases; however, company leadership used incentives like promises of job security and other material benefits to persuade organizers to call off strikes (see section 7.a.).

The law provides for freedom of association for undefined “legitimate objectives and in a proper manner.” Examples of such associations include registered labor unions and social groups for foreign nationalities.

The government limited freedom of association in practice by prohibiting associations whose activities it deemed “inimical to the social order” or otherwise inappropriate. A royal decree stipulates citizens joining groups deemed harmful to national interests could be subject to revocation of citizenship.

Associations must register with their corresponding ministries, which approve all associations’ bylaws and determine whether a group serves the interest of the country. The time required to register an association ranged from two months to two years. Approval time varied based on the level of preparedness of the applying organization, the subject matter of the organization, its leadership, and the organization’s mission. The law limits formal registration of nationality-based associations to one association for each nationality and restricts activities of such associations. The government sometimes denied permission for associations to form.

The penal code forbids associations from conducting any kind of fundraising without government approval, including for charitable causes. Individuals convicted of accepting unlawful funding for an association may receive up to one year in jail and a fine of 2,000 rials ($5,200). Foreign diplomatic missions are required to request meetings with nongovernmental associations through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs by diplomatic note. Associations may not meet with foreign diplomatic missions and foreign organizations without prior approval from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The government enforced this law, and all foreign-funded educational and public diplomacy programs required prior government review.

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

d. Freedom of Movement

The law provides for freedom of internal movement and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. Citizens could generally travel freely outside the country, although that right is not codified. Citizens related to citizens living abroad who criticized the government reportedly were told not to leave the country. Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees personnel occasionally visited the country but did not maintain an office or personnel locally.

In-country Movement: There are no official government restrictions on internal travel for any citizen. The government must approve on a case-by-case basis official travel by foreign diplomats to the Dhofar and Musandam regions. There were reports many foreign domestic employees had their passports confiscated by employers, who sponsor the foreign workers, even though the law prohibited this practice. In February an Egyptian foreign worker posted a video online in which she alleged that her sponsor was holding her passport, rendering her unable to travel to Egypt to visit her dying mother.

Employers have a great amount of control over these workers, particularly domestic workers who are not covered by existing labor laws. The country’s visa-sponsorship system (kafala) ties migrant workers to their employers and prevents them from changing jobs without their sponsor’s consent. Migrant workers generally cannot work for a new employer in the country within a two-year period without the permission of their current employer, even if they complete their contract. Employers can have a worker’s visa canceled arbitrarily. Workers who leave their jobs without the consent of their employer can be punished with fines, deportation, or reentry bans.

Foreign Travel: Foreign workers must obtain exit permits from their employer to leave the country legally. Exit permits may be denied when there is a dispute over payment or work remaining, leaving the foreign citizen in country with recourse only through local courts. In theory, courts provided recourse to workers denied exit permits, but the process was opaque with domestic workers consistently alleging that existing dispute resolution mechanisms were inadequate to protect them. In the past, travel bans–through confiscation of passports–were imposed on citizens involved in political activism. No new cases were reported during the year.

Not applicable.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The country has a large number of female migrant workers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, and the Philippines, many of whom are employed as domestic workers. Nongovernmental organizations based outside the country and embassies of labor-sending countries alleged that domestic workers faced discrimination, to include physical, sexual, and psychological abuse. The country criminalizes slavery and trafficking, but enforcement was weak. Although forced labor is punished under the labor law, domestic workers are excluded from that law’s protections. In 2018 courts convicted 15 individuals for human trafficking crimes.

The government generally did not allow refugees to remain in the country. The most recently available UNHCR data from February 2018 indicated that there were 51,000 individuals in the country who had fled conflict, including an estimated 5,000 Yemenis. The status of these individuals was precarious, as Oman does not have a national framework regulating issues related to asylum.

Refoulement: The government did not provide comprehensive protection to refugees from involuntary returns to countries where their lives or freedom could be threatened, subjecting refugees to the possibility of refoulement. Tight control over the entry of foreigners effectively limited access to protection for refugees and asylum seekers.

Access to Asylum: The laws provide for the granting of asylum or refuge for internally displaced persons, and the government has established a system for providing protection. The ROP’s system for granting asylum and resettlement is not transparent, and the law does not specify a timeframe in which the ROP must adjudicate an asylum application. It is current policy not to recognize refugees from conflict zones, such as Yemen, although the government provided temporary medical care to certain Yemeni citizens. In practice, there are no substantive legal protections for asylum seekers in the country.

Durable Solutions: When third-country nationals presented themselves on the Oman-Yemen border, the government worked with local embassies to facilitate a return to these individuals’ home countries. In cases where individuals could not return to their home country, like Syrians, the government would facilitate travel to a third country of their choice.

Temporary Protection: The government provided emergency medical care to certain Yemeni citizens who demonstrated they could not receive adequate care in Yemen. These Yemenis and one accompanying family member per patient were offered status in Oman during the treatment period.

Under the law citizenship is passed only through the father. Therefore, children born to foreign fathers and Omani citizen mothers in Oman risk statelessness.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law does not provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections based on universal and equal suffrage. The sultan retains ultimate authority on all foreign and domestic issues. With the exception of the military and other security forces, all citizens who have reached 21 years of age have the right to vote for candidates for the Majlis al-Shura and the provincial councils.

Recent Elections: In October nearly 350,000 citizens participated in the Majlis al-Shura elections for the consultative assembly, or lower house of parliament. Electoral commissions reviewed potential candidates against a set of objective educational and character criteria (at least a high school education and no criminal history or mental illness) before they allowed candidates’ names on the ballot. The Ministry of Interior administered and closely monitored campaign materials and events. There were no notable or widespread allegations of fraud or improper government interference in the voting process. The government did not allow independent monitoring of the elections, but it invited some international journalists to the country to report on election day events.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The law does not allow political parties, and citizens did not attempt to form them.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women in the political process, and they did participate. During the Majlis al-Shura elections in October, voters elected two women as representatives. The sultan appointed 15 women to the Majlis al-Dawla in November and appointed two new female ministers in October, increasing the number of women who hold the rank of minister from three to five. The government does not recognize a right for minority groups to participate in political life and have roles in government.

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

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape with penalties of up to 15 years in prison. The law does not criminalize spousal rape explicitly, but it does criminalize all “sex without consent.” The government generally enforced the law when individuals reported cases. Foreign nationals working as domestic employees occasionally reported that their sponsors or employees of labor recruitment agencies had sexually assaulted them. According to diplomatic observers, police investigations resulted in few rape convictions.

The law does not specifically address domestic violence, and judicial protection orders prohibiting domestic violence do not exist. Charges could be brought, however, under existing statutes outlawing assault, battery, and aggravated assault, which can carry a maximum sentence of three years in prison. Allegations of spousal abuse in civil courts handling family law cases reportedly were common. Victims of domestic violence may file a complaint with police, and reports suggested that police responded promptly and professionally. The government operated a shelter for victims of domestic violence.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law does not explicitly ban FGM/C. There were no reliable statistics on the prevalence of FGM/C. Some reports suggested the procedure was practiced.

The government held outreach events at mosques, hospitals, and schools and aired television programs about the harm “traditional practices” may have on children.

Sexual Harassment: Although there is no law against sexual harassment, it has been effectively prosecuted using statutes prohibiting offensive language and behavior. In September 2018 a man was sentenced to six months in prison and fined 10,000 rials ($26,000) for “public insults” after a woman accused him of sexual harassment.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: The law prohibits gender-based discrimination against citizens, but the government did not appear to enforce the law effectively. Local interpretations of Islamic law and practice of cultural traditions in social and legal institutions discriminated against women. In some personal status cases, such as divorce, a woman’s testimony is equal to half that of a man. The law favors male heirs in adjudicating inheritance.

The Ministry of Interior requires both male and female citizens to obtain permission to marry foreigners, except nationals of Gulf Cooperation Council countries, whom citizens may marry without restriction; authorities do not automatically grant permission, which is particularly difficult for Omani women to obtain. Citizen marriage to a foreigner abroad without ministry approval may result in denial of entry for the foreign spouse at the border and preclude children from claiming citizenship and residency rights. It also may result in a bar from government employment and a fine of 2,000 rials ($5,200).

Despite legal protections for women from forced marriage, deeply embedded tribal practices ultimately compel most citizen women towards or away from a choice of spouse.

The law provides for transmission of citizenship at birth if the father is a citizen, if the mother is a citizen and the father is unknown, or if a child of unknown parents is found in the country. Women married to noncitizens may not transmit citizenship to their children and cannot sponsor their noncitizen husband’s or children’s presence in the country. Children from a marriage between an Omani woman and a non-Omani man are not eligible for citizenship and are vulnerable to being stateless.

The law provides that an adult may become a citizen by applying for citizenship and subsequently residing legally in the country for 20 years or 10 years if married to a male citizen.

Government policy provided women with equal opportunities for education, and this policy effectively eliminated the previous gender gap in educational attainment. Although some educated women held positions of authority in government, business, and media, many women faced job discrimination based on cultural norms. The law entitles women to paid maternity leave and equal pay for equal work. The government, the largest employer of women, observed such regulations, as did many private sector employers.

The Ministry of Social Development is the umbrella organization for women’s issues. The ministry provided support for women’s economic development through the Oman Women’s Association and local community development centers.

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from the father. Women married to noncitizens may not transmit citizenship to their children, and there were a few reported cases of stateless children based on this law. Children of unknown parents are automatically eligible for citizenship. Government employees raised abandoned children in an orphanage. Such children receive free education through the university level and a job following graduation. Citizen marriage to a foreigner abroad without ministry approval may preclude children from claiming citizenship rights (see section 1.f.).

Child Abuse: The Ministry of Health noted that sexual abuse most commonly involved children of both sexes between the ages of six and 12 and was committed by close relatives or friends of the family. According to the law, any concerned citizen must report child abuse, and each governorate had an interagency committee that would meet to discuss the allegations and possibly take the child out of the parent’s custody until the allegations were investigated. The government operated a child abuse hotline, which reported 721 calls in 2018 (more than double the number received in 2017). The government reported that the main complaint was negligence.

Early and Forced Marriage: The age of legal marriage for men and women is 18, although a judge may permit a person to marry younger when the judge or family deemed the marriage was in the minor’s interest. Child marriage occurred in rural communities as a traditional practice.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Commercial sexual exploitation of children and child pornography are punishable by no fewer than five years’ imprisonment. The penal code increased the punishment for rape of a child younger than 15 to life imprisonment. The minimum age of consensual sex is 18. Marriages performed in the country require both parties to be at least 18, but there were reports of Omani men traveling abroad to marry underage girls. Local authorities sometimes accepted these marriages, and it was unclear if statutory rape would be prosecuted if the parties were married. All sex outside of marriage is illegal, but sex with a minor younger than 15 carries a heavier penalty (up to 15 years’ imprisonment). Authorities do not charge minors. There were no known reports of child prostitution; soliciting a child for prostitution is prohibited.

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

There was no indigenous Jewish population. Several Arabic-language Omani newspapers, particularly Al-Watan, featured cartoons depicting anti-Semitic imagery when criticizing the Israeli government.

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

The law provides persons with disabilities the same rights as other citizens in employment, education, access to health care, and the provision of other state services. Persons with disabilities, however, continued to face discrimination. The law mandates access to buildings for persons with disabilities, but many older buildings, including government buildings and schools, did not conform to the law.

The government provided alternative education opportunities for citizen children with disabilities, including overseas schooling when appropriate.

Additionally, the Ministry of Education collaborated with the International Council for Educational Reform and Development to create a curriculum for students with intellectual disabilities within the standard school system, which was in place throughout the year. The ministers of education and of health crafted a broad-based, prioritized strategy for various ministries to coordinate on the issue of child autism in the sultanate, including early autism diagnosis and intervention in children. The Ministry of Education also coordinated with UNICEF to improve its alternative education systems.

The Ministry of Social Development is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. The Directorate General of Disabled Affairs within the Ministry of Social Development creates programs for persons with disabilities and implements these programs in coordination with relevant authorities. The directorate was authorized further to supervise all of the ministry’s rehabilitation and treatment centers for persons with disabilities.

The penal code criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual conduct with a jail term of six months to three years, but it requires a spouse or guardian complaint to initiate prosecution. The government did not actively enforce this law.

The 2018 penal code introduced “crossdressing” (defined as males dressing in female clothing) as a criminal act punishable by up to one year’s imprisonment and a 300-rial ($780) fine. In February 2018 two men dressed as women posted a video on Snapchat. In October 2018 the court sentenced each of them to four years’ imprisonment and a fine of 3,000 rials ($7,800), representing maximum penalties for crossdressing and using technology to “prejudice the moral order.”

Public discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity remained a social taboo. There were no known LGBTI organizations active in the country; however, regional human rights organizations focused on the human rights of LGBTI citizens. Authorities took steps to block LGBTI-related internet content. There were no Pride marches or LGBTI human rights advocacy events.

Information was not available on official or private discrimination in employment, occupation, housing, statelessness, or access to education or health care based on sexual orientation and gender identity. There were no government efforts to address discrimination.

Foreigners seeking residency in the country are tested for HIV/AIDS. If tested positive, the residency permission is denied, and foreigners must leave the country, but there were no known occurrences of this.

Saudi Arabia

Executive Summary

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a monarchy ruled by King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, who is both head of state and head of government. The 1992 Basic Law sets out the system of governance, rights of citizens, and powers and duties of the government, and it provides that the Quran and Sunna (the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad) serve as the country’s constitution. It specifies that the rulers of the country shall be male descendants of the founder, King Abdulaziz (Ibn Saud). In 2015 the country held its most recent municipal elections on a nonparty basis for two-thirds of the 3,159 seats in the 284 municipal councils around the country. Independent polling station observers did not identify significant irregularities with the elections.

The State Security Presidency (SSP), the National Guard, and the Ministries of Defense and Interior, all of which report to the king, are responsible for law enforcement and maintenance of order. The SSP includes the General Directorate of Investigation (Mabahith), Special Security Forces, and Special Emergency Forces; police are under the Ministry of Interior. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces.

Through royal decrees the government instituted significant reforms to male guardianship provisions that had long required women to obtain permission from a close male relative for a range of activities, including applying for passports and traveling abroad, registering the birth of a child, registering a marriage or divorce, obtaining status as a “head of household,” and seeking legal guardianship of children. Other new regulations expanded women’s economic empowerment by banning gender discrimination in the workplace and opening new employment opportunities for women.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful killings; executions for nonviolent offenses; forced disappearances; torture of prisoners and detainees by government agents; arbitrary arrest and detention; political prisoners; arbitrary interference with privacy; criminalization of libel, censorship, and site blocking; restrictions on freedoms of peaceful assembly, association, and movement; severe restrictions of religious freedom; citizens’ lack of ability and legal means to choose their government through free and fair elections; trafficking in persons; violence and official discrimination against women, although new women’s rights initiatives were implemented; criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual activity; and prohibition of trade unions.

In several cases the government did not punish officials accused of committing human rights abuses, contributing to an environment of impunity. Following the high-profile October 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey, a court sentenced five officials to death and three officials to prison on December 23. The court ruled that guilt could not be established in the case of three other defendants.

In September state-owned oil processing facilities in Abqaiq and Khurais were attacked by drones and missiles. Houthi militants in Yemen claimed responsibility, but the Saudi government concluded Iran was responsible for the attack. Houthi militants were also responsible for numerous other attacks on civilian infrastructure inside Saudi Arabia, including airports, schools, hospitals, and oil facilities. Saudi Arabia continued air operations in Yemen throughout the year as leader of a coalition formed in 2015 to counter the 2014 Houthi takeover of government institutions and facilities. Saudi-led coalition airstrikes in Yemen reportedly resulted in civilian casualties and damage to infrastructure on multiple occasions. The pace of airstrikes declined in the fall, as the warring parties pursued a negotiated settlement to the conflict. The coalition’s Joint Incident Assessment Team (JIAT) investigated allegations of civilian casualties, but the Saudi government did not prosecute any cases based on JIAT findings.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The law does not provide for freedom of expression, including for the press. The Basic Law specifies, “Mass media and all other vehicles of expression shall employ civil and polite language, contribute towards the education of the nation, and strengthen unity. The media are prohibited from committing acts that lead to disorder and division, affect the security of the state or its public relations, or undermine human dignity and rights.” Authorities are responsible for regulating and determining which speech or expression undermines internal security. The government can ban or suspend media outlets if it concludes they violated the press and publications law, and it monitored and blocked hundreds of thousands of internet sites. There were frequent reports of restrictions on free speech.

The counterterrorism law’s definition of terrorism includes “any conduct…intended to disturb public order…or destabilize the state or endanger its national unity.” The law also penalizes “anyone who challenges, either directly or indirectly, the religion or justice of the king or crown prince…or anyone who establishes or uses a website or computer program…to commit any of the offenses set out in the law.” Local human rights activists, international human rights organizations, and the UN special rapporteur on human rights and counterterrorism criticized the law for its overly broad and vague definitions of terrorism and complained the government used it to prosecute peaceful expression and dissent.

Freedom of Expression: The government monitored public expressions of opinion and took advantage of legal controls to impede the free expression of opinion and restrict individuals from engaging in public criticism of the political sphere. The law forbids apostasy and blasphemy, which can carry the death penalty, although there were no recent instances of death sentences being carried out for these crimes (see section 1.a.). Statements that authorities construed as constituting defamation of the king, monarchy, governing system, or Al Saud family resulted in criminal charges for citizens advocating government reform. The government prohibits public employees from directly or indirectly engaging in dialogue with local or foreign media or participating in any meetings intended to oppose state policies.

Some human rights activists were detained and then released on the condition that they refrain from using social media for activism, communicating with foreign diplomats and international human rights organizations, and traveling outside the country, according to human rights organizations.

The government detained a number of individuals for crimes related to their exercise of free speech during the year. From September to November, human rights groups and foreign media reported that authorities detained at least six persons, including an academic, poet, and tribal chief, for allegedly criticizing the General Entertainment Authority (GEA).

On October 10, Omar al-Muqbil, an academic at Qassim University, was allegedly arrested over a video criticizing the GEA’s recent policy of hosting concerts by international artists. In the video he accused the GEA of “erasing society’s original identity.” On October 21, poet Safar al-Dughilbi was summoned for questioning regarding a poem he wrote that referred to the “ill-practices” of the GEA. On October 22, the Prisoners of Conscience Twitter account announced a chief of the Otaiba tribe, Faisal Sultan Jahjah bin Humaid, was detained and questioned following a tweet criticizing the GEA and calling for “reasonable forms of entertainment.”

On November 12, the chairman of the GEA, Turki Al al-Sheikh, warned on Twitter the government would “take legal steps against anyone who criticizes or complains about the authority’s work.”

Between November 16 and November 20, authorities detained at least 11 persons, mostly journalists, writers, and entrepreneurs, according to the ALQST. A few days later, authorities released at least eight of those detained.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: The Press and Publications Law governs printed materials; printing presses; bookstores; the import, rental, and sale of films; television and radio; foreign media offices and their correspondents; and online newspapers and journals. Media fall under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Media. The ministry may permanently close “whenever necessary” any means of communication–defined as any means of expressing a viewpoint that is meant for circulation–that it deems is engaged in a prohibited activity, as set forth in the law.

Media policy statements urged journalists to uphold Islam, oppose atheism, promote Arab interests, and preserve cultural heritage. In 2011 a royal decree amended the press law to strengthen penalties, create a special commission to judge violations, and require all online newspapers and bloggers to obtain a license from the ministry. The decree bans publishing anything “contradicting sharia, inciting disruption, serving foreign interests that contradict national interests, and damaging the reputation of the grand mufti, members of the Council of Senior Religious Scholars, or senior government officials.”

The law states that violators can face fines up to 50,000 riyals ($13,300) for each violation of the law, which doubles if the violation is repeated. Other penalties include banning individuals from writing. While the Violations Considerations Committee in the Ministry of Media has formal responsibility for implementing the law, the Ministry of Interior, the CPVPV, and judges considered these issues regularly and exercised wide discretion in interpreting the law. It was unclear which of these institutional processes accords with the law.

Although unlicensed satellite dishes were illegal, the government did not enforce restrictions on them, and their use was widespread. Many foreign satellite stations broadcast a wide range of programs into the country in Arabic and other languages, including foreign news channels. Access to foreign sources of information, including via satellite dishes and the internet, was common. Foreign media were subject to licensing requirements from the Ministry of Media and could not operate freely. Privately owned satellite television networks, headquartered outside the country, maintained local offices and operated under a system of self-censorship.

On March 3, local media reported that authorities temporarily suspended a talk show hosted by journalist and Saudi Broadcasting Corporation president Dawood al-Shirian after it showed episodes on the guardianship system, the shortage of driving schools for women, and Saudi women seeking asylum abroad. The show returned a week later on March 10, according to Okaz daily newspaper.

On June 11, local media reported the GEA banned Kuwaiti artist Mona Shadad from appearing on local radio and television channels after Shadad appeared in a video praising Qatar.

Violence and Harassment: Authorities subjected journalists, writers, and bloggers to arrest, imprisonment, and harassment during the year (see sections 1.c., Prison and Detention Center Conditions and 1.e., Political Prisoners and Detainees).

Throughout the year NGOs, academics, and the press reported on the government’s targeting of dissidents using automated social media accounts to ensure that progovernment messages dominated social media trend lists and effectively silenced dissenting voices. Automated account activity was reportedly accompanied by online harassment by progovernment accounts in some instances. Dissidents with large social media followings were targeted for offline harassment and surveillance as well.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government reportedly penalized those who published items counter to government guidelines and directly or indirectly censored the media by licensing domestic media and by controlling importation of foreign printed material.

All newspapers, blogs, and websites in the country must be government licensed. The Ministry of Media must approve the appointment of all senior editors and has authority to remove them. The government provided guidelines to newspapers regarding controversial issues. The Saudi Press Agency reported official government news. The government owned most print and broadcast media and book publication facilities in the country, and members of the royal family owned or influenced privately owned and nominally independent operations, including various media outlets and widely circulated pan-Arab newspapers published outside the country. Authorities prevented or delayed the distribution of foreign print media covering issues considered sensitive, effectively censoring these publications.

The government censored published material it considered blasphemous, extremist, racist, or offensive or as inciting chaos, violence, sectarianism, or harm to the public order. In 2017 the PPO stated that producing and promoting “rumors that affect the public order” was a crime under the cybercrimes law and punishable by up to five years in prison, a fine of three million riyals ($800,000), or both. In June 2018 the PPO warned against sending, producing, or storing any material that stirs up tribalism and fanaticism or harms public order, which is also punishable by the above penalties. On July 10, the Shura Council called on the General Commission for Audiovisual Media to intensify efforts to prevent the broadcast of content that contravenes the country’s laws, customs, traditions, and public decorum or harms the reputation of the kingdom and its people. According to the Saudi Press Agency, the council underlined the need to enhance control of the electronic games market through surveillance of stores, markets, and websites in accordance with local and international regulations.

In some cases, however, individuals criticized specific government bodies or actions publicly without repercussions. The Consultative Council (Majlis ash-Shura), an advisory body, frequently allowed print and broadcast media to observe its proceedings and meetings, but the council closed some high-profile or controversial sessions to the media.

Libel/Slander Laws: There were numerous reports during the year of the government using libel laws to suppress publication of material that criticized policies or public officials.

The cybercrimes law provides for a maximum penalty of one year’s imprisonment for “defamation and infliction of damage upon others through the use of various information technology devices,” including social media and social networks.

National Security: Authorities used the cybercrimes law and the counterterrorism law to restrict freedom of expression, including by prosecuting numerous individuals under these laws on charges related to statements made on social media.

The Ministry of Media or its agencies must authorize all websites registered and hosted in the country. The General Commission for Audiovisual Media has responsibility for regulating all audio and video content in the country, including satellite channels, film, music, internet, and mobile applications, independent from the Ministry of Commerce and Industry. Internet access was widely available.

The press and publications law implicitly covers electronic media, since it extends to any means of expression of a viewpoint meant for circulation, ranging from words to cartoons, photographs, and sounds. In 2011 the government issued implementing regulations for electronic publishing that set rules for internet-based and other electronic media, including chat rooms, personal blogs, and text messages. In May 2018 then information minister Awwad bin Saleh al-Awwad approved the executive regulations for types and forms of electronic publishing activities. The list consists of 17 items defining the mechanisms of dealing with electronic publishing activities, classifications, and ways of obtaining the appropriate regulatory licenses to carry out the required activities. Laws, including the cybercrimes law, criminalize a number of internet-related activities, including defamation, hacking, unauthorized access to government websites, and stealing information related to national security as well as the creation or dissemination of a website for a terrorist organization. Security authorities actively monitored internet activity, both to enforce laws, regulations, and societal norms and to monitor recruitment efforts by extremist organizations such as ISIS.

The government reportedly collected information concerning the identity of persons peacefully expressing political, religious, or ideological opinions or beliefs online. According to Freedom House, authorities regularly monitored nonviolent political, social, and religious activists and journalists in the name of national security and maintaining social order. The NGO Citizen Lab reported that NSO Group, an Israeli cybersecurity firm, provided spyware to the government to monitor activists’ communications on web-based applications.

Access to the internet is legally available only through government-authorized internet service providers. The government required internet service providers to monitor customers and required internet cafes to install hidden cameras and provide identity records of customers. Although authorities blocked websites offering proxies, persistent internet users accessed the unfiltered internet via other means.

On a number of occasions, government officials and senior clerics publicly warned against inaccurate reports on the internet and reminded the public that criticism of the government and its officials should be done through available private channels. The government charged those using the internet to express dissent against officials or religious authorities with terrorism, blasphemy, and apostasy.

The press and publications law criminalizes the publication or downloading of offensive sites, and authorities routinely blocked sites containing material perceived as harmful, illegal, offensive, or anti-Islamic. The governmental Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC) filtered and blocked access to websites it deemed offensive, including adult content, as well as pages calling for domestic political, social, or economic reforms or supporting human rights, including websites of expatriate Saudi dissidents.

The CITC coordinated decisions with the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency on blocking phishing sites seeking to obtain confidential personal or financial information. Authorities submitted all other requests to block sites to an interagency committee, chaired by the Ministry of Interior, for decision. Under the Telecommunication Act, failure by service providers to block banned sites can result in a fine of five million riyals ($1.33 million).

In 2016 the CITC announced it was no longer blocking any free voice, video, or messaging services after criticisms on social media that these services had been blocked. In 2017 the CITC announced the unblocking of calling features for private messenger apps that met regulatory requirements in the country, such as Facebook Messenger, FaceTime, Snapchat, Skype, Line, Telegram, and Tango. On March 12, WhatsApp users reported the unblocking of its calling feature, but the service was reblocked hours later. Other video-calling apps, including Viber, reported services were still blocked.

The government has blocked Qatari websites such as alJazeera since 2017, due to a dispute between Qatar and a group of countries that included Saudi Arabia.

In 2017 a government official stated that writing for blocked websites, providing them with materials to publish, or promoting alternative addresses to access them is a crime under the cybercrimes law.

The government restricted some public artistic expression but opened up cultural expression in a number of areas. Academics reportedly practiced self-censorship, and authorities prohibited professors and administrators at public universities from hosting meetings at their universities with foreign academics or diplomats without prior government permission (see section 2.b., Freedom of Association).

During the year there was an increase in the number of concerts, sports competitions, and cultural performances available to the public. In 2016 King Salman issued royal decrees creating the GEA and the General Authority for Culture with a mandate to expand the country’s entertainment and cultural offerings in line with its social and economic reform plan, known as Vision 2030. During the year the GEA sponsored events dedicated to film, comics, music, and dance. In June 2018 King Salman issued a royal order creating the Ministry of Culture, separating it from the Information Ministry and appointed Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Farhan Al Saud as its minister. The country’s first cinema in more than 35 years opened in April 2018, and additional cinemas opened across the country during the year.

The law does not provide for freedom of assembly and association, which the government severely limited.

The law requires a government permit for an organized public assembly of any type. The government categorically forbids participation in political protests or unauthorized public assemblies, and security forces reportedly arrested demonstrators and detained them for brief periods. Security forces at times allowed a small number of unauthorized demonstrations throughout the country.

The law provided for limited freedom of association; however, the government strictly limited this right. The law provides a comprehensive legal framework to govern the establishment, operation, and supervision of associations and foundations. The government, however, prohibited the establishment of political parties or any group it considered as opposing or challenging the regime. All associations must be licensed by the Ministry of Labor and Social Development and comply with its regulations. Some groups that advocated changing elements of the social or political order reported their licensing requests went unanswered for years, despite repeated inquiries. The ministry reportedly used arbitrary means, such as requiring unreasonable types and quantities of information, to delay and effectively deny licenses to associations.

On August 20, local media reported the issuance of new government regulations that obligate members of the Shura Council and university professors to disclose membership in foreign institutions and associations. These individuals must obtain approval from the relevant authorities before joining any foreign organization.

In 2013 and 2014, the few local NGOs that had operated without a license ceased operating after authorities ordered them disbanded. In the years since banning the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA) in 2013, the government pursued criminal charges against ACPRA affiliates. In February 2018 the SCC sentenced lawyer and ACPRA-member Issa al-Nukheifi to six years in prison, based on charges of “infringing on the public order and religious values,” “opposing Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen,” and related charges. Prisoners of Conscience reported in August that al-Nukheifi was facing additional charges and a new trial.

Government-chartered associations limited membership only to citizens.

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

d. Freedom of Movement

The law does not contain provisions for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation.

In-country Movement: The government generally did not restrict the free movement of male citizens within the country. The guardianship system does not require a woman to have the permission of her male guardian (normally a father, husband, son, brother, grandfather, uncle, or other male relative) to move freely within the country (see section 6, Women). Courts, however, sometimes ruled that women should abide by a male guardian’s request to stay at home by “occasionally upholding a guardian’s right to obedience from his female dependents,” according to an HRW report.

Authorities respected the right of citizens to change residence or workplace, provided they held a national identification card (NIC). The law requires all male citizens who are 15 or older to possess a NIC. In 2012 the Ministry of Interior announced it would start issuing NICs to all female citizens at the age of 15, phasing in the requirement over a seven-year period. There was minimal information available regarding whether this initiative was successfully implemented.

In June 2018 the country lifted its longstanding ban on women driving. The process of issuing licenses, however, was slowed by the small number of training schools available to women, which resulted in waiting lists for driving classes, since a driving school certificate is a requirement to obtain a license. Another obstacle was the high cost of driver’s education for women, which international media reported was four to five times as expensive as men’s fees, reportedly because women’s schools had better technology and facilities.

Foreign Travel: There are restrictions on foreign travel. Many foreign workers require an exit visa and a valid passport to depart the country. Saudi citizens of both genders younger than 21, other dependents, or foreign citizen workers under sponsorship require a guardian’s consent to travel abroad. On June 20, Okaz reported that married Saudi men younger than 21 no longer require guardian consent to travel abroad. According to Ministry of Interior regulations, a noncitizen wife needs permission from her husband to travel, unless both partners sign a prenuptial agreement permitting the noncitizen wife to travel without the husband’s permission. Government entities can ban the travel of citizens and noncitizens without trial, and male family members can “blacklist” women and minor children by reporting them as “disobedient,” prohibiting their travel.

On August 1, the government published Royal Decree 134/M, which stipulates that citizens of either gender older than 21 can obtain and renew a passport and travel abroad without guardian permission. The travel regulations entered into effect on August 20. On October 14, local media reported that as many as 14,000 adult women had obtained their passports since August without seeking the consent of their legal guardian.

Employers or sponsors controlled the departure of foreign workers and residents from the country; employers or sponsors were responsible for processing residence permits and exit visas on their behalf. Sponsors frequently held their employees’ passports against the desires of the employees, despite a law specifically prohibiting this practice. Foreign workers typically provided sponsors with their residence permit before traveling in exchange for their passport to ensure the worker’s return to their employer after their travel.

The government reportedly confiscated passports for political reasons and revoked the rights of some citizens to travel, often without providing them notification or opportunity to contest the restriction. Most travel bans reportedly involved individuals in court cases relating to corruption, state security concerns, or labor, financial, and real estate disputes. Many relatives of citizens detained in relation to the government’s anticorruption campaign as well as relatives of detained clerics and human rights activists were also reportedly under travel bans.

The government seized the U.S. passports of the wife and children of dual U.S.-Saudi citizen Walid Fitaihi, barring them from leaving the kingdom and freezing their assets following Fitaihi’s detention in 2017. While the international travel ban for family members had been lifted at times during Fitaihi’s detention, it was reinstated following Fitaihi’s release on bond and subsequent charging in July.

Not applicable.

Access to Asylum: The law provides that the “state will grant political asylum if public interest so dictates.” There are no regulations implementing this provision. Generally, there is not a codified asylum system for those fleeing persecution, and the country is not a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention. The government permitted refugees recognized by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to stay in the country temporarily, pending identification of a durable solution, including third-country resettlement or voluntary repatriation. The government generally did not grant asylum or accept refugees for resettlement from third countries. Government policy is to refuse refugee status to persons in the country illegally, including those who have overstayed a pilgrimage visa. The government strongly encouraged persons without residency to leave, and it threatened or imposed deportation. Access to naturalization was difficult for refugees.

The government granted six-month visas to Syrian and Yemeni citizens, and a royal decree allowed pro forma extensions of these visas. On January 8 and July 11, the General Directorate of Passports announced renewal of visitor identification cards for Yemeni citizens in accordance with royal directives. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported, however, that during the year more than 30,000 Yemenis were deported due to their immigration status (see section 7.e., Acceptable Conditions of Work). In April 2018 then foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir stated that, since the start of the Syrian conflict, the country had taken in approximately two and one-half million Syrians and treated them as its own citizens, providing them with free health care, work, and education. He added that the country’s universities and schools had more than 140,000 Syrian students.

The IOM reported that as of August an estimated 300,000 Ethiopians had returned to Ethiopia since the government launched a campaign titled “A Nation without Violations” in 2017. HRW reported that a number of these migrants came to Saudi Arabia after experiencing persecution by the Ethiopian government and that deportations may have returned individuals to potentially harmful circumstances. HRW also noted migrants had faced abusive prison conditions in Saudi Arabia.

The government did not recognize the right of Saudi citizens to petition for access to asylum or refugee status in foreign countries. In several cases the government prosecuted and penalized Saudi citizens who sought asylum in foreign countries, according to multiple sources (see section 2.b., Freedom of Association). In January an 18-year-old Saudi citizen, citing fear for her life, was granted refugee status in Canada after fleeing from her family to Bangkok. Rahaf Mohammed claimed the Saudi embassy in Bangkok tried to force her to return to Saudi Arabia.

Employment: Refugees and asylum seekers were generally unable to work legally, although Syrian and Yemeni citizens who possessed a temporary visa could obtain a visitor card from the Ministry of Interior, which reportedly allows these persons to work. The renewable permits are valid for up to six months and tied to the validity period of their temporary visas; men between the ages of 18 and 60 were eligible to apply. In 2017 the General Directorate of Passports allowed Yemeni men to convert their visitor identification card to a residency permit if their Yemeni passport and visitor identification card were valid.

Access to Basic Services: The government provides preferential access to education, health care, public housing, and other social services to citizens and certain legal residents. A royal decree issued in 2012 permitted all Syrians in Saudi Arabia free access to the educational system and a separate decree issued in 2015 gave Yemenis in Saudi Arabia free access to schools. The Ministry of Education modified these decisions in February 2018, announcing that Syrian and Yemeni students holding visitor identification cards were no longer allowed to enroll in public schools and universities and would have to enroll in private ones at their own expense. The UNHCR office in Riyadh provided a subsistence allowance covering basic services to a limited number of vulnerable families, based on a needs assessment. Authorities worked with UNHCR to provide medical treatment, also following a needs assessment.

The country had a number of habitual residents who were legally stateless, but data on the stateless population were incomplete and scarce.

Citizenship is legally derived only from the father. Children born to an unmarried citizen mother who is not legally affiliated with the citizen father may be considered stateless, even if the father recognized the child as his, or if the government did not authorize the marriage of a citizen father and a noncitizen mother prior to birth of the children. The nationality laws do not allow Saudi women married to foreign citizens to pass their nationality to their children, except in certain circumstances, such as fathers who are unknown, stateless, of unknown nationality, or do not establish filiation. Sons of citizen mothers and noncitizen fathers may apply for citizenship once they turn 18 (if not already granted citizenship at birth under certain circumstances); daughters in such cases can obtain citizenship only through marriage to a Saudi man. A child may lose legal identification and accompanying rights if authorities withdraw identification documents from a parent (possible when a naturalized parent denaturalizes voluntarily or loses citizenship through other acts). Since there is no codified personal status law, judges make decisions regarding family matters based on their own interpretations of Islamic law.

Foreign male spouses of female citizens can obtain permanent residency in the country without needing a sponsor, and they can receive free government education and medical benefits, although in general they cannot apply for citizenship on the basis of their marriage and residence. These spouses are also included in the quota of Saudis employed in private companies under the labor quota system, which improves their employment prospects. Female citizens must be between the ages of 30 and 50 in order to marry a non-Saudi man. Non-Saudi wives of Saudi men receive more rights if they have children resulting from their marriage with a Saudi man. Male citizens must be between the ages of 40 and 65 in order to marry a non-Saudi woman. The extent to which those strictures were enforced was unclear; there was anecdotal evidence that they were not uniformly enforced. Children of Saudi women who are married to foreign spouses receive permanent residency, but their residency status is revocable in the event of the death of the Saudi mother.

In past years UNHCR unofficially estimated there were 70,000 stateless persons in the country, almost all of whom were native-born residents known locally as Bidoon (an Arabic word that means “without” [citizenship]). Updated information on stateless persons was not available. Bidoon are persons whose ancestors failed to obtain nationality, such as descendants of nomadic tribes not counted among the native tribes during the reign of the country’s founder, King Abdulaziz; descendants of foreign-born fathers who arrived before there were laws regulating citizenship; and rural migrants whose parents failed to register their births. As noncitizens, Bidoon are unable to obtain passports. The government sometimes denied them employment and educational opportunities, and their marginalized status made them among the poorest residents of the country. In recent years the Ministry of Education encouraged them to attend school. The government issues Bidoon five-year residency permits to facilitate their social integration in government-provided health care and other services, putting them on similar footing with sponsored foreign workers. The General Directorate of Passports issued special identification cards to Bidoon similar to residency permits issued to foreigners in the country, but with features entitling their holders to additional government services similar to those available to citizens.

Very small numbers of Baloch, West African, and Rohingya Muslims from Burma resident in Saudi Arabia were stateless. Some Rohingya had expired passports that their home government had refused to renew, or they had entered the country with fraudulent travel documents. Many of them had been held in detention for years following their entry into the country under fake passports. UNHCR estimated there were between 250,000 and 500,000 Rohingya in the country. Some of these individuals benefited from a prior program to correct their residency status; in 2014 the government issued nearly 200,000 four-year residency permits to Rohingya who entered the country prior to 2008. Rohingya who arrived in the country after 2008 were not eligible for residency permits, although NGOs reported that Rohingya, including those without legal residency, were generally not subject to deportation prior to 2018. Upon the expiration of Rohingya residency permits in 2018, media reported more than 100 Rohingya faced deportation to Bangladesh at year’s end, and hundreds more were in detention at Shumaisi Detention Center near Mecca. In January the activist group Free Rohingya Coalition said Saudi Arabia continued to deport dozens of Rohingya to Bangladesh and was planning to deport 250 more. On January 26, the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, criticized Saudi Arabia for mistreatment of the Rohingya. In April a report indicated that nearly 650 Rohingya refugees at Shumaisi detention center in Jeddah went on a hunger strike, resulting in a number of deaths. Only an estimated 2,000 individuals of Rohingya origin had Saudi citizenship.

There also were between 300,000 and 400,000 Palestinian residents not registered as refugees.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law does not provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage; it establishes an absolute monarchy led by the Al Saud family as the political system. The Allegiance Council, composed of up to 34 senior princes appointed by the king, is formally responsible for selecting a king and crown prince upon the death or incapacitation of either. Only select members of the ruling family have a voice in the choice of leaders, the composition of the government, or changes to the political system.

The law provides citizens the right to communicate with public authorities on any matter and establishes the government on the principle of consultation (shura). The king and senior officials, including ministers and regional governors, are required to be available through majlis, open-door meetings where in theory any male citizen or noncitizen may express an opinion or a grievance without an appointment.

Most government ministries and agencies had women’s sections to interact with female citizens and noncitizens, and at least two regional governorates hired female employees to receive women’s petitions and arrange meetings for women with complaints for, or requests of, the governor.

Recent Elections: In 2015 elections were held for two-thirds of the 3,159 seats on 284 municipal councils; the government appointed the remaining third. Council members serve until an intervening election–nominally for four-year terms–but there was no active discussion of holding municipal elections during the year. Women were allowed to vote and run as candidates for the first time in 2015. The voting age was also lowered universally to 18 years. The Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs actively encouraged women’s participation in the municipal elections. Election regulations prohibited candidates from contesting under party affiliation. Twenty-one women won seats and 17 were appointed to seats, totaling approximately 1 percent of all available seats.

The NSHR observed the elections, and select international journalists were also permitted to observe. Independent polling station observers identified no irregularities with the election. Prior to the election, several candidates reported they were disqualified for “violating the rules and regulations” without further explanation. They had the right to appeal, and some were reinstated in time for the elections. Uniformed members of the security forces, including the military and police, were ineligible to vote.

Political Parties and Political Participation: There were no political parties or similar associations. The law does not protect the right of individuals to organize politically and specifically bans a number of organizations with political wings, including the Muslim Brotherhood, as regional and local terrorist groups. The government continued to regard human rights organizations, such as ACPRA, as illegal political movements and treated them accordingly.

Participation of Women and Minorities: The government changed laws and regulations to open new social and economic opportunities for women, but societal and institutional gender discrimination continued to exclude women from some aspects of public life. Political participation remained restricted, and authorities arrested and abused women’s rights activists perceived as critical or independent of the government. Nevertheless, women served in senior advisory positions within government ministries.

On March 8, the Presidency of the Two Holy Mosques appointed a female official to a leadership position for the first time, naming Dr. Munira bint Awad al-Jamihi as head the General Directorate for Women’s Affairs. On April 1, Minister of Civil Services Sulaiman al-Hamdan appointed Hind al-Zahid as undersecretary for women’s empowerment. In June the Ministry of Education appointed five women to leadership positions as undersecretaries and directors general. On August 19, Minister of Education Hamad Al al-Sheikh appointed Ibtisam al-Shehri as the first spokeswoman for public education in the country.

Thirty women were members of the Consultative Council, the 150-person royally appointed body that advises the king and may propose but not pass laws.

Women’s ability to practice law was limited; there were no women on the High Court or Supreme Judicial Council and no female judges or public prosecutors. On August 26, however, the PPO announced the appointment of 50 women as public prosecution investigators, marking the first time that women had held this position.

The country had an increasing number of female diplomats. On February 23, a royal decree appointed the first female Saudi ambassador, naming H.R.H. Princess Reema bint Bandar Al Saud to be ambassador to the United States. In May local media reported that approximately 30 percent of Ministry of Foreign Affairs employees were women.

Bureaucratic procedures largely restricted women working in the security services to employment in women’s prisons, at women’s universities, and in clerical positions in police stations, where they were responsible for visually identifying other women, for example wearing niqabs, for law enforcement purposes. In June the Ministry of Interior employed women as security guards at the women’s offices of the Civil Affairs Departments throughout the kingdom.

No laws prevent male citizens from minority groups from participating in political life on the same basis as other male citizens. Societal discrimination, however, marginalized the Shia Saudi population, and tribal factors and longstanding traditions continued to dictate many individual appointments to positions. Unofficially, government authorities will not appoint a Bedouin tribesman to a high-ranking cabinet-level position, and Bedouins can reach only the rank of major general in the armed forces. All cabinet members from tribal communities were members of urbanized “Hamael” tribes, rather than Bedouin tribes. While the religious affiliation of Consultative Council members was not known publicly, the council included an estimated seven or eight Shia members. The cabinet contained one religious minority member, Mohammad bin Faisal Abu Saq, a Shia Ismaili, who had held the position of Minister of State for Shura Affairs since 2014. Multiple municipal councils in the Eastern Province, where most Shia Saudis resided, had large proportions of Shia Saudis as members to reflect the local population, including a majority in Qatif and 50 percent in al-Ahsa. Eastern Province Shia judges dealing with intra-Shia personal status and family laws operated specialized courts.

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

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is a criminal offense under sharia with a wide range of penalties, from flogging to execution. The law does not recognize spousal rape as a crime. The government enforced the law based on its interpretation of sharia, and courts often punished victims as well as perpetrators for illegal “mixing of genders,” even when there was no conviction for rape. Victims also had to prove that the rape was committed, and a woman’s testimony in court was not always accepted.

Due to these legal and social obstacles, authorities brought few cases to trial. Statistics on incidents of, and prosecutions, convictions, or punishments for rape were not available, but press reports and observers indicated rape was a serious problem. Moreover, most rape cases were likely unreported because victims faced societal and familial reprisal, including diminished marriage opportunities, criminal sanction up to imprisonment, or accusations of adultery or sexual relations outside of marriage, which are punishable under sharia.

The law against domestic violence provides a framework for the government to prevent and protect victims of violence in the home. The law defines domestic abuse broadly and criminalizes domestic abuse with penalties of one month to one year of imprisonment or a fine of 5,000 to 50,000 riyals ($1,330 to $13,300), unless a court provides a harsher sentence.

Researchers stated it was difficult to gauge the magnitude of the problem, which they believed to be widespread. The National Family Safety Program, a quasi-governmental organization under the Ministry of National Guard, is charged with spreading awareness of and combatting domestic violence, including child abuse, and continued to report abuse cases.

Officials stated the government did not clearly define domestic violence and procedures concerning cases, including thresholds for investigation or prosecution, and thus enforcement varied from one government body to another. Some women’s rights advocates were critical of investigations of domestic violence, claiming investigators were hesitant to enter a home without permission from the male head of household, who may also be the perpetrator of violence. Some activists also claimed that authorities often did not investigate or prosecute cases involving domestic violence, instead encouraging victims and perpetrators to reconcile in order to keep families intact, regardless of reported abuse. There were reports of police or judges returning women directly to their abusers, most of whom were the women’s legal guardians.

On January 15, the PPO ordered an investigation into a video posted on social media in which a young woman alleged abuse by her father and described her escape from her family’s home. No updates were available by year’s end.

The government made efforts to combat domestic violence. On November 24, the HRC held a symposium on ending violence against women that had participation from government ministries as well as from academia, media, and foreign missions. During the year the King Abdulaziz Center for National Dialogue held workshops and distributed educational materials on peaceful conflict resolution between spouses and within families. The Ministry of Labor and Social Development administered government-supported family-protection shelters. Women reported that remaining in the shelters was not always voluntary.

The HRC received complaints of domestic abuse and referred them to other government offices. The HRC advised complainants and offered legal assistance to some female litigants. The organization provided services for children of female complainants and litigants and distributed publications supporting women’s rights in education, health care, development, and the workplace.

Women reported that domestic abuse in the form of incest was common but seldom reported to authorities due to fears over societal repercussions, according to local sources.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): FGM/C was not a common practice in the country. The official government interpretation of sharia prohibits the practice.

Sexual Harassment: The extent of sexual harassment was difficult to measure, with little media reporting and no official government data. On August 28, local media reported a 4 percent drop in harassment cases during the year but did not specify the number of harassment cases or cite sources for the data. Otherwise, no statistics were available on the incidence of sexual harassment due to past reluctance to report violations.

In May 2018 the Council of Ministers passed the sexual harassment law, which carries a maximum penalty of up to five years in prison and a fine of up to 300,000 riyals ($80,000).

On May 11, the public prosecution issued a statement on its Twitter page explaining the legal definition of harassment, noting that the law provides for penalties of up to two years in prison and fines of up to 100,000 riyals ($26,700).

Local media reported at least five incidents of harassment in the first half of the year. On June 7, the PPO filed an objection to the preliminary sentence issued against a man arrested in May for sexually harassing a female driver. The PPO requested that the initial sentence of 10 months’ imprisonment and 5,000-riyal fine ($1,330) be increased to the maximum penalty under the sexual harassment law.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: Women continued to face discrimination under law and custom. New regulations issued during the year, however, granted women many of the same rights enjoyed by men pertaining to travel abroad, civil status, and employment.

The restrictions under the guardianship system, which require women to have permission from close male relatives to conduct certain actions, were loosened during the year.

The new amendments to the Civil Status Regulation, which entered into effect on September 4, grant women older than 18 the right to perform several actions pertaining to civil status that were previously limited to men. These include registering the birth of a child; registering the death of a spouse or close relative; registering a marriage or divorce (whether initiated by the husband or wife); and being designated “head of household,” thereby allowing women to serve as the guardian of their minor children. Women can also obtain from the Civil Status Administration a “family registry,” which is official documentation of a family’s vital records that verifies the relationship between parents and children. This move allows mothers to perform administrative transactions for their children, such as registering them for school or obtaining services at a hospital.

Women may legally own property and are entitled to financial support from their guardian. They can make their own determinations concerning hospital care. Women can work without their guardian’s permission, but some employers required women to have such permission, even though the law prohibits the practice. In February 2018 the Ministry of Commerce and Investment announced women no longer need their male guardian’s permission to start a business. Women still require a guardian’s permission to exit prisons after completing their terms.

In July 2018 two men were arrested in Mecca for setting fire to a female motorist’s car. The motorist, Salma al-Sherif, subsequently posted a widely circulated video on social media documenting the incident, claiming that her car was deliberately set alight by men “opposed to women drivers,” and that she had been repeatedly threatened and harassed by young men from her village of Samad in Mecca Province. In October 2018 the Mecca Criminal Court acquitted the two defendants for lack of sufficient evidence. During the year al-Sherif successfully appealed the verdict; on July 21, the Mecca Criminal Court sentenced the defendants to 11 months’ imprisonment and 240 lashes. The court awarded al-Sherif 50,000 riyals ($13,300) in restitution.

The law prohibits women from directly transmitting citizenship to their children, particularly if the children’s father is a noncitizen (see section 2.d. and section 6, Children). The country’s interpretation of sharia prohibits women from marrying non-Muslims, but men may marry Christians and Jews. Women require government permission to marry noncitizens; men must obtain government permission if they intend to marry citizens from countries other than Gulf Cooperation Council-member states (Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates). Regulations prohibit men from marrying women from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Chad, and Burma. The government additionally requires Saudi men wishing to marry a second wife who is a foreigner to submit documentation attesting to the fact that his first wife was disabled, had a chronic disease, or was sterile.

Societal pressures restricted women from using some public facilities. Some but not all businesses still required or pressured women to sit in separate, specially designated family sections in public places. In a June 2 press conference, Jeddah Mayor Saleh al-Turki gave his support for ending gender segregation in Jeddah’s restaurants and markets. Turki’s comments prompted at least several Jeddah restaurants and coffee shops to dismantle barriers separating family and male-only seating areas. In December the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs ended the requirement for restaurants throughout the country to provide separate sections for males and families.

Cultural norms selectively enforced by state institutions require women to wear an abaya (a loose-fitting, full-length cloak) in public. In September the chairman of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage, Ahmed al-Khateeb, stated abayas would not be mandatory for foreign tourists but modest dress covering shoulders and knees was mandatory.

In June a Saudi woman was barred by male security guards from entering an upscale shopping mall in Riyadh because she was not wearing an abaya. In a video posted to social media, the woman said the guards told her she was not dressed modestly.

Women also faced discrimination in courts, where in some cases, the testimony of a woman equals half that of a man. All judges are male, and women faced restrictions on their practice of law (see section 3, Participation of Women and Minorities, regarding the appointment of women as public prosecution investigators). In divorce proceedings women must demonstrate legally specified grounds for divorce, but men may divorce without giving cause, citing “irreconcilable differences.” In doing so, men must pay immediately an amount of money agreed at the time of the marriage that serves as a one-time alimony payment. Men may be forced, however, to make subsequent alimony payments by court order. The Ministry of Justice reported that it compelled 7,883 fathers to pay alimony in 2018. The government began implementing an identification system based on fingerprints, designed to provide women more access to courts, even if they chose to cover their faces with the niqab covering.

Women faced discrimination under family law. For example, a woman needs a guardian’s permission to marry or must seek a court order in the case of adhl (male guardians refusing to approve the marriage of women under their charge). In such adhl cases, the judge assumes the role of the guardian and may approve the marriage. During the year courts executed marriage contracts for women whose male custodians refused to approve their marriage, according to informed judicial sources quoted by local media. Courts considered as many as 321 adhl cases between September 2018 and February 5.

Courts routinely award custody of children when they attain a specified age (seven years for boys and nine years for girls) to the divorced husband or the deceased husband’s family. In numerous cases former husbands prevented divorced noncitizen women from visiting their children. In March 2018 Justice Minister Sheikh Walid Al-Samaani directed all courts to drop the requirement for divorced women to file a lawsuit in order to gain custody of their children. Provided there were no disputes between the parents, mothers may simply submit a request to the relevant court, without the need for legal action.

Inheritance laws also discriminate against women, since daughters receive half the inheritance awarded to their brothers.

According to recent surveys, women constituted 52 percent of public education and higher education students. Segregated education through university level was standard. The only exceptions to segregation in higher education were medical schools at the undergraduate level and the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, a graduate-level research university, where women worked jointly with men, were not required to wear an abaya, and drove cars on campus. Other universities, such as al-Faisal University in Riyadh, offered partially segregated classes with students receiving instruction from the same teacher and able to participate together in class discussion, but with the women and men physically separated by dividers. In August Minister of Education Hamad Al al-Sheikh announced the assignment of female teachers to educate boys in public elementary schools for the first time.

Birth Registration: Citizenship derives from the father, and both the father and mother may register a birth. There were cases of authorities denying public services to children of citizen parents, including education and health care, because the government failed to register the birth entirely or had not registered it immediately, sometimes because the father failed to report the birth or did not receive authorization to marry a foreigner. Children of women who were married to foreign spouses receive permanent residency, but their residency status is revocable in the event of the death of the Saudi mother (see section 2.d., Stateless Persons).

Child Abuse: Abuse of children occurred. The National Family Safety Program operated a Child Helpline dedicated to assisting children in matters ranging from bullying to abuse, providing counseling, tracking, and referrals to social services. The Ministry of Labor and Social Development had 17 Social Protection Units across the country providing social protection to children younger than 18 as well as other vulnerable populations suffering domestic violence and abuse.

Early and Forced Marriage: The law does not specify a minimum age for marriage, although Ministry of Justice guidelines referred marriage applications to sharia courts to determine the validity of a marriage when the bride was younger than 16. Families sometimes arranged such marriages to settle family debts without the consent of the child. The HRC and NSHR monitored cases of child marriages, which they reported were rare or at least rarely reported, and took steps to prevent consummation of the marriage. Media reports quoted judges as saying the majority of child marriage cases in the country involved Syrian girls, followed by smaller numbers of Egyptians and Yemenis. There were media reports that some men who traveled abroad to find brides sought to marry minors. The application for a marriage license must record the bride’s age, and registration of the marriage is a legal prerequisite for consummation. The government reportedly instructed marriage registrars not to register marriages involving children.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The cybercrimes law stipulates that punishment for such crimes, including the preparation, publication, and promotion of material for pornographic sites, may be no less than two and one-half years’ imprisonment or a fine of 1.5 million riyals ($400,000) if the crime includes the exploitation of minors. The law does not define a minimum age for consensual sex.

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

There was no known data on Jewish citizens and no statistics available concerning the religious denominations of foreigners.

Cases of government-employed imams using anti-Jewish language in their sermons were rare and occurred without authorization by government authorities. The law requires government-employed imams to deliver all sermons in mosques in the country. Sermons are vetted and cleared by the Ministry of Islamic Affairs. During the year the ministry issued periodic circulars to clerics and imams in mosques directing them to include messages on the principles of justice, equality, and tolerance and to encourage rejection of bigotry and all forms of racial discrimination in their sermons.

Some NGOs reported that anti-Semitic material remained in school textbooks and online in private web postings and that some journalists, academics, and clerics made anti-Israel comments that sometimes strayed into anti-Semitism. Saudi Council of Senior Scholars member and Muslim World League secretary-general Mohammed al-Issa condemned anti-Semitism and intolerant speech.

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

The law does not prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, air travel and other transportation, access to health care, the judicial system, or the provision of other state services or other areas. The law does not require public accessibility to buildings, information, and communications. Newer commercial buildings often included such access, as did some newer government buildings. Children with disabilities could attend government-supported schools.

Persons with disabilities could generally participate in civic affairs, and there were no legal restrictions preventing persons with disabilities from voting in municipal council elections. The Ministry of Labor and Social Development is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. Vocational rehabilitation projects and social care programs increasingly brought persons with disabilities into the mainstream. Persons with disabilities were elected and appointed to municipal councils in 2015, and two individuals with disabilities served on the consultative Shura Council, which was reconstituted in 2016.

Although racial discrimination is illegal, societal discrimination against members of national, racial, and ethnic minorities was a problem. There was also discrimination based on tribal or nontribal lineage. Descendants of former slaves in the country, who have African lineage, faced discrimination in both employment and society. There was formal and informal discrimination, especially racial discrimination, against foreign workers from Africa and Asia. In August an advertisement on social media seeking female participants for a military parade requested that applicants be of “white” or “medium white” skin tone. Event organizers said they had already recruited a similar number of women of darker skin tones. A tolerance campaign by the King Abdulaziz Center for National Dialogue sought to address discrimination, and it provided training during the year to combat discrimination against national, racial, or ethnic groups.

The government’s multi-year Tatweer project to revise textbooks, curricula, and teaching methods to promote tolerance and remove content disparaging religions other than Islam began in 2007. In November 2018 the Anti-Defamation League issued a report asserting that Saudi textbooks still contained anti-Semitic language and hate speech against other minority religions.

Under sharia as interpreted in the country, consensual same-sex sexual conduct is punishable by death or flogging, depending on the perceived seriousness of the case. It is illegal for men “to behave like women” or to wear women’s clothes, and vice versa. Due to social conventions and potential persecution, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) organizations did not operate openly, nor were there LGBTI rights advocacy events of any kind. There were reports of official and societal discrimination, physical violence, and harassment based on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing, access to education, and health care. Stigma or intimidation acted to limit reports of incidents of abuse.

There were no government efforts to address discrimination. In 2016 newspapers quoted PPO officials as stating the bureau would seek death sentences for anyone using social media to solicit homosexual acts. There were no reports, however, that the PPO sought death sentences in LGBTI cases during the year (see section 1.a.).

During the year local newspapers featured opinion pieces condemning homosexuality and calling on authorities to harshly punish individuals engaging in same-sex relations.

In September, two Saudi male journalists fled the country, claiming authorities revealed their romantic relationship to relatives in retaliation for contacts they had with foreign media. The journalists sought asylum in Australia.

There were no reports of societal violence or discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS. By law the government deported foreign workers who tested positive for HIV/AIDS upon arrival or who tested positive when hospitalized for other reasons. There was no indication that HIV-positive foreigners failed to receive antiretroviral treatment or that authorities isolated them during the year. The Ministry of Health’s HIV/AIDS program worked to counter stigma and discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS.

Social, legal, economic, and political discrimination against the country’s Shia minority continued. HRW claimed that some state clerics and institutions “incited hatred and discrimination against religious minorities, including the country’s Shia Muslim minority.”

To address the problem, the Ministries of Defense and Interior and the National Guard included antidiscrimination training in courses offered by the King Abdulaziz Center for National Dialogue for police and other law enforcement officers (see section 6, Other Societal Violence and Discrimination).

Tunisia

Executive Summary

Tunisia is a constitutional republic with a multiparty, unicameral parliamentary system and a president with powers specified in the constitution. During the year the country held parliamentary and presidential elections in the first transition of power since its first democratic elections in 2014. On October 6, the country held open and competitive parliamentary elections that resulted in the Nahda Party winning a plurality of the votes, granting the party the opportunity to form a new government. President Kais Saied, an independent candidate without a political party, came to office on October 23 after winning the country’s second democratic presidential elections. On July 25, President Caid Essebsi died of natural causes and power transferred to Speaker of Parliament Mohamed Ennaceur as acting president for the three months prior to the election of President Saied on October 13.

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.

Significant human rights issues included reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings, primarily by terrorist groups; allegations of torture by government agents, which reportedly decreased during the year; arbitrary arrests and detentions of suspects under antiterrorism or emergency laws; undue restrictions on freedom of expression and the press, including criminalization of libel; corruption, although the government took steps to combat it; societal violence and threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons; and criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual conduct that resulted in arrests and abuse by security forces.

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.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Although government officials acknowledged a Ministry of Justice effort to review and revise the 1968 code of criminal procedures (CPP) and the 1913 Penal Code to comply with the 2014 constitution, activists and members of civil society expressed concern with the slow pace of reforms. Apart from a few discrete modifications to sections governing rape and pretrial detention, no changes have been made to the penal code since the country became a democracy, leading authorities to enforce provisions of the penal code that appear to contradict with the rights and freedoms protected in the constitution. For the CPP, however, the government has introduced notable changes, including the introduction of alternatives to incarceration and probation, reorganization of Judicial Police and moving the Office of the Judicial Police under the authority of the Ministry of Justice and a more refined definition of flagrante delicto, obvious offense. As of October the independent committee of experts in charge of amending these two criminal codes submitted revisions to the CCP to the Justice Ministry, enabling the ministry to prepare the draft law to parliament for review and adoption. The penal code project remained under review.

Civil society activists continue to cite the lack of a constitutional court as hindering efforts to align existing legislation with the 2014 constitution and international human rights norms, particularly legislation pertaining to individual freedoms and fundamental rights.

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government mainly respected this right, although there were constraints. An independent press and a functioning democratic political system contributed to an environment generally conducive to this freedom. Some media outlets and civil society expressed concerns about occasional government interference in media and the concentration of media ownership in the hands of a few political parties or families.

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.”

HRW issued a statement on October 15 asserting, “Tunisian authorities are using laws on criminal defamation, ‘spreading false information,’ and ‘harming others via public telecommunications networks’ to prosecute people for their online commentary.” HRW cited the example of Yacine Hamdouni, a civil servant who was sentenced to six months in prison for having accused a senior security official of corruption in several social media posts. The Tunis First Instance Court that heard Hamdouni’s case convicted him on June 6 for having disseminated “false information,” accusing officials of wrongdoing without providing proof, and “harming others via public telecommunication networks.” The court sentenced him originally to one year in prison, but this sentence was reduced to six months on appeal. According to HRW, Hamdouni remained detained in the Mourneguia prison as of October.

In another example, in December 2018, the First Instance Court of Kairouan sentenced a civil society activist to three months in prison for insulting the president. The activist allegedly wrote an insulting message on a public wall in Kairouan.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Activists expressed concern about government interference in media and the concentration of media ownership. 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.”

On March 14, the investigative judge for the First Instance Court of Tunis prevented the dissemination of two television shows investigating a public-health scandal. The judge ruled these shows would impede an ongoing investigation, but critics characterized the injunction as a violation of free speech.

Violence and Harassment: Violence and harassment against journalists continued, according to human rights organizations. In its annual 2019 report, the Tunisian Union of Journalists (SNJT) warned of an increase in incitement and threats against journalists from citizens who hold media responsible for the deteriorating economic and social situation. Between February 2018 and April 2019, the SNJT reported 139 incidents of verbal, physical assaults, and intimidation against journalists. The SNJT cited public-service employees as primarily responsible for these incidents, followed by security forces and government officials. The SNJT reported an additional 39 instances of physical aggression against journalists between July and September, with the majority of these instances taking place during the September 15 elections with heads of polling stations forcibly removing media from polling stations or otherwise limiting their access to report on the electoral process.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government penalized individuals 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 about the use of criminal libel laws to stifle freedom of expression. The 2017 adoption of decree laws maintaining 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; however, many media actors and activists expressed concern that these decree laws did not go far enough to protect press freedoms and freedom of expression and did not comply with the country’s international obligations.

In August 2018 authorities charged blogger Amina Mansour with violating Article 128 of the penal code and Article 86 of the telecommunications code. The former refers to accusing public officials of crimes without providing proof of their guilt, while the latter covers “willfully and knowingly harming others or disturbing them via public telecommunications networks.” Mansour had posted a message on her Facebook page accusing Prime Minister Youssef Chahed of promoting “criminals in the customs agency.” The court sentenced Mansour to a suspended sentence of two months in prison. She appealed the ruling, and as of September her appeals case continued.

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, with the exception of websites linked to terrorist organizations.

There were no reports of government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.

The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but the government did not always respect the right of association. The state of emergency law grants the government the right to limit the right of assembly, although the government rarely applied this law during the year.

A 2018 law mandated the establishment of a more comprehensive business registration system, including the creation of a National Center for Business Registry (CNRE), with the aim to combat terrorism finance and money laundering that also included requirements for nonprofit associations to submit financial data to a newly created registry. Formally established on February 5, the CNRE is responsible for collecting and maintaining the financial and administrative data of all “economic actors,” including nonprofit associations. The center also ensures implementation of the new law and reinforces intelligence tools to eliminate economic crimes. There are CNRE offices in Tunis, Sousse, Sfax, and Nabeul that serve as independent institutions under the Prime Minister’s Office. Since February the CNRE has trained professional associations that support companies and civil society organizations to comply with the new business registration system requirements. The deadline for economic actors to register with this new system was September 10.

The law provides for the right of freedom of association, but the government did not always respect it. A 2011 law on associations eliminated penalties in the previous law, as well as the prohibition on belonging to, or serving in, an unrecognized or dissolved association. The law eased the registration procedure, reducing opportunities for government entities to hinder or delay registration. According to the 2011 law, only the judiciary has the authority to suspend or dissolve an association. Several independent monitoring organizations asserted, however, that the government delayed registration of associations through unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles, at times for political reasons, a practice counter to the law.

On June 24, UN Special Rapporteur on Rights to Freedom of Association and Peaceful Assembly Clement Nyaletsossi Voule presented the findings from an official visit to the country in September 2018, noting his concern that the inclusion of civil society organizations in the National Enterprise Registry created an unfavorable environment for civil society by imposing a new registration system on civil society organizations. The report noted there were more than 21,500 registered associations in the country.

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

d. Freedom of Movement

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. Following the April clashes in Tripoli, the government allowed the free movement of Libyans and other nationals crossing into Tunisia.

In-country Movement: In 2018 local NGO Observatory for Rights and Freedoms (ODL) estimated that more than 100,000 individuals were on a border-control order list known as “S17.” Originally created as an “advance consultation” watch list, the S17 procedure identifies individuals requiring additional screening at border checkpoints on security-related grounds. Although the list was established to inform border agents of these individuals’ potential travel outside of the country, civil society groups report that the Ministry of Interior continued to restrict some individuals’ internal travel as well.

Based on feedback from citizens and civil society organizations, the Ministry of Interior prepared new guidelines at the end of 2018 for the application of the S17 procedure to ensure it complies with the constitution and is not used to restrict internal travel. During a February 7 parliamentary hearing, the Director General of Human Rights for the Ministry of the Interior, Mohamed Ali Khaldi, stated the judiciary reviewed 800 cases related to the application of this border-control measure and that 51 individuals successfully appealed to remove their names from this list. Khaldi also noted the ministry adopted new procedures to address concerns by individuals who believe they were mistakenly included on the list.

Amnesty International reported the Ministry of Interior’s efforts to improve its S17 procedures led to improvements in in-country movement. According to the ODL, however, despite a court order to the contrary, the Ministry of Interior refused to grant individuals access to the orders that led them to be included on the S17 list. Even in the case of a court-mandated suspension or lifting of the travel restrictions, some individuals have remained on the list.

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 that authorities did not consistently apply the law and that security forces did not always respect court decisions to reverse travel restrictions. Amnesty International reported, however, that the Ministry of Interior’s efforts to improve its S17 procedures enabled some individuals on the S17 list to obtain their passports and travel internationally with a court order.

Not applicable.

Access to Asylum: The country does not have a law for granting asylum or refugee status. The Ministry of Interior noted it coordinated regularly with UNHCR in spite of the absence of this legal framework. Pending the creation of a legal framework, UNHCR is the sole entity conducting refugee status determination. UNHCR provided assistance to registered refugees for primary medical care and, in some cases, basic education. The government granted access to schooling and basic public-health facilities for registered refugees. UNHCR reported that as of September it registered 1,489 newly registered asylum seekers and refugees, bringing to 2,729 the total of persons of concern in the country.

Not applicable.

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. It prescribes the creation of a constitutional court whose authority includes overseeing the constitutionality of draft laws and acknowledging permanent or temporary vacancies in the office of the president. Parliament advanced the establishment of the court in March by nominating one of the nine court members but could not reach an agreement on the remaining candidates for the court. Legal scholars stress that there remains the potential for a constitutional crisis given differing legal interpretations of constitutional provisions that require the court’s action. In one example during the year, political leaders agreed to a solution to ensure a peaceful transition of power following the death of former president Beji Caid Essebsi in July but did not resolve the underlying ambiguity created by the lack of a constitutional court.

Recent Elections: Citizens exercised their ability to vote in legislative and presidential elections 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 on October 13, placing the turnout at 55 percent. Official elections observers generally agreed these elections were successful with no widespread fraud, violence, or attempts to undermine the credibility of the results. In addition observers’ overall assessment was 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, 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 specifically restrict his candidacy, Karoui remained on the ballot for the September 15 presidential elections. Ranking second in the elections with 15.6 percent of the votes, Karoui proceeded to the runoff election on October 13.

The courts denied Karoui’s bail request on four separate occasions: September 3, September 13, September 18, and October 1, citing lack of jurisdiction. Karoui and his political party, Qalb Tounes (Heart of Tunisia), argued that his continued detention was politically motivated to limit his party’s success and to exclude his participation in the presidential elections.

The Court of Cassation issued a judgement on October 9 ordering Karoui’s release and citing procedural errors in his original detention. Although Karoui was released prior to the October 13 elections and appeared in a televised debate with his opponent Kais Saied on October 11, international observers expressed concern that the timing of his detention and release appeared, on the surface, to be politically motivated, or at least influenced by the electoral calendar.

Judicial authorities stressed that Karoui’s arrest complied with established procedures and the timing of his arrest did not take into consideration political calculations or the electoral timeline.

Political Parties and Political Participation: As of September the country had 221 registered political parties. Political parties obtained the highest number of seats in the new parliament compared with independents and coalition lists. Authorities rejected parties that did not receive accreditation due to incomplete applications or because their programs were inconsistent with laws prohibiting discrimination and parties based on religion. Out of a total of 97 candidates for the presidential elections, the Independent High Authority for Elections (ISIE) accepted 26 candidates and rejected 71 for failing to meet the candidacy criteria.

During the presidential and legislative elections, the ISIE granted accreditations to more than 33,000 observers representing candidates, international observation missions, and local organizations. More than 18,000 local observers received accreditation. Local observer organization Mourakiboun reported that the majority of its observers were authorized access to polling stations without restriction, with access improving with each of the three elections. By the October 13 presidential election, 99 percent of Mourkiboun’s observers reported unrestricted access. Other local observer groups noted similar improvements to their access.

Participation of Women and Minorities: 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 on September 15. Women’s representation decreased from 35 percent to 23 percent in the newly elected parliament, with only 54 female Members of Parliament elected on October 6, down from 68 elected in 2014. In a first for Tunisia, one openly gay candidate submitted his candidacy for president, although he ultimately did not meet the endorsement requirements to qualify for the election.

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

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 2018 law criminalizing gender-based violence adds or updates articles in the penal code to meet international best practices. It criminalizes incest, sexual harassment of women in public places, and gender discrimination.

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 provides penalties for domestic violence and allows women to seek restraining orders against their abusers without filing a criminal case or filing for divorce. The Ministry of Women, Family, Childhood and Senior Citizens established a national hotline for victims of violence. There were five centers dedicated to providing assistance to female victims of violence, one managed by the ministry and four by civil society organizations.

On May 22, Minister of Women, Family, Childhood, and Senior Citizens (MWFCS) Neziha Laabidi said that authorities annually receive an average of 40,000 complaints of domestic violence brought by women against their husbands. Civil society representatives said many incidents go unreported.

Rape remained a taboo subject, and cultural pressures often dissuaded victims from reporting sexual assault. There were no government public education programs on domestic violence, including rape. Victims received services at two dozen social centers throughout the country, in addition to the five centers dedicated to victims of gender-based violence.

On June 10, the First Instance Court of Tunis sentenced five individuals to life in prison for raping a 27-year-old woman. During the trial the defendants confessed to their crime, which took place in 2017 in the governorate of Manouba.

Sexual Harassment: The 2018 gender-based violence law includes a revised article related to sexual harassment. It allows up to a two-year sentence for the harasser and a 5,000-dinar ($1,740) fine, instead of the previous one year in prison. The law further clarifies that sexual harassment can include any act, gesture, or words with sexual connotation. The punishment is doubled if the victim is a child or the perpetrator has authority over the victim.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

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 (Islamic law) as a basis for customary law in 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 those given sons. Non-Muslim women and their Muslim husbands may not inherit from each other, unless they seek a legal judgement 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.

The law explicitly requires equal pay for equal work, and the government generally enforced it. 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. Societal and cultural barriers significantly reduced women’s participation in the formal labor force, particularly in managerial positions. Women in the private sector earned on average one-quarter less than men for similar work. The 2018 law on gender-based violence contains provisions aimed at eliminating the gender-based wage gap.

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth from one’s parents, and the law provides for a period of 10 days to register a newborn. Thereafter, parents have 30 days to explain why they failed to register a newborn and complete the registration. Female citizens can transmit citizenship on an equal basis with male citizens, and there is no discrimination between a mother and father regarding passport application and authorization to leave the country.

Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum age for marriage for both sexes is 18, but the courts may, in certain situations, authorize the marriage of persons younger than 18 upon the request and approval of both parents.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Anyone who has sexual relations with a child younger than age 16 is subject to 20 years in prison with the possibility for a life sentence due aggravating circumstances, including incest or the use of violence. Under previous laws, intercourse with a girl younger than 15 without the use of violence was punishable by six years in prison; the 2018 law raised the age of consent to 16, and removed a clause in the legal code that allowed the court to drop the charges of sex with a minor if the perpetrator agreed to marry the victim, with the approval of her parents. The law prohibits child pornography. UNICEF reported that one in four children live in poverty and that 88 percent of children ages one to 14 are subjected to physical, verb, or psychological violence in their homes and at school. The MWFCS reported to media on October 17 that during the year it received approximately 17,000 notifications related to child abuse cases, which the ministry attributed to “growing awareness among citizens about the need to denounce perpetrators of violence.”

On January 31, authorities closed an unlicensed, privately run Quranic school in Regueb, Sidi Bouzid Governorate and arrested its director and administrators on charges of human trafficking, polygamy, and suspicion of belonging to a terrorist organization. Authorities reported many of the children were mistreated and were the victims of economic and sexual abuse. On the same day as the closure, the public prosecutor initiated an investigation into the allegations of child exploitation, and a family judge ordered the transfer of the children to a state-run center in Tunis specializing in caring for children who were victims of abuse. In July the court sentenced one adult male who was affiliated with the school to 20 years in prison on charges of child sexual abuse.

On March 12, the MWFCS reported that a teacher in Sfax was accused of sexually abusing 20 elementary school students. The ministry announced it would provide the children with psychological support. Subsequent to these allegations, the Ministry of Education indicated the initial investigation revealed that these crimes took place outside of the school and that, as a result, the ministry would suspend any teacher providing private classes outside of the educational framework. Media later reported that authorities issued an arrest warrant against the teacher, although as of September there were no updates to the investigation.

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

An estimated 1,400 Jews lived in the country. In September the Aleph Institute, an international Jewish organization that assists individuals in prisons, expressed concern about possible anti-Semitic treatment of two Jewish detainees. In one case, the Aleph Institute reported Ilane Racchah has been detained since July 2018 without a trial and that the investigative judge on his case posted to social media comments that appear anti-Semitic. Although prison officials allowed his family to bring him kosher meals, the normal visiting hours precluded the family from visiting Racchah on Sabbath or Jewish holidays and prevented the family from bringing him Jewish religious materials.

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

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 are ill suited and not easily accessible to persons with disabilities. As of July 1, for the first time, authorities permitted persons with disabilities to obtain a driver’s license from their area of residence rather than the capital.

The government provided tax incentives to companies to encourage the hiring of persons with physical disabilities. There were approximately 300 government-administered schools for children with disabilities, at least five schools for blind pupils, one higher-education school, and one vocational training institution. 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. On July 29, the ministry announced it would hire 226 persons with disabilities to work in the public sector.

The Ibsar Association, which works to promote rights for all persons with disabilities, estimated that fewer than one-third of persons with disabilities hold a government-issued disability card, which entitles the holder to a monthly government stipend of 120 dinars ($41.70).

One of the biggest challenges for persons with disabilities, according to Ibsar, was a lack of access to information through education, media, or government agencies. There were very limited education options or public-sector accommodations for persons with hearing or visual 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. For children with physical disabilities, infrastructure continued be a major hurdle to their social inclusion, as few buildings or cities are accessible to persons with physical disabilities or reduced mobility.

For the national elections, ISIE 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 ISIE increased its efforts to ensure accessibility to persons with disabilities but that there continued to be a need for effective, timely voter education programs targeted at persons with disabilities and their families.

In October 2018 parliament adopted a law against 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 1,000-to 3,000-dinar ($347 to $1,040) fine for an individual and a 5,000- to 15,000-dinar ($1,740 to $5,220) fine for a legal entity.

On February 5, a court in Sfax sentenced a woman to a three-month suspended prison sentence and a 300-dinar ($104) fine for using racial slurs to insult her daughter’s black teacher. The court added an additional two-month suspended prison sentence and a 100-dinar ($35) fine for insulting a public official exercising his official duties. This was the first court sentence issued under the law criminalizing racial discrimination.

In December 2018 Falikou Coulibaly, president of the Association of Ivoirians in Tunisia, was killed during a robbery in a suburb of Tunis. Hundreds of Ivorian nationals demonstrated in Tunis to protest Coulibaly’s murder in what they characterized as a racist attack. Then minister in charge of relations with constitutional bodies, civil society, and human rights Mohamed Fadhel Mahfoudh told media, “It is not clear yet if this is a racist criminal act, but an investigation is ongoing. We are against any act of racism.”

The law criminalizes sodomy. Convictions carry up to a three-year prison sentence. According to NGOs, authorities occasionally used the law against sodomy to detain and question persons about their sexual activities and sexual orientation, reportedly at times based on appearance alone. In some instances NGOs reported that LGBTI individuals were targeted under the article of the penal code that criminalizes “infringement of morality or public morals,” which carries a penalty of six months in prison and a fine of 1,000 dinars ($347).

LGBTI individuals continued to face discrimination and violence, including death and rape threats, although societal stigma and fear of prosecution under sodomy laws discouraged individuals from reporting problems. On July 18, the First Instance Court of Sousse sentenced two young men to 18 months in prison each under Article 230 of the 1913 Penal Code that criminalizes same-sex relations. According to Shams Association, one of the accused reported being the victim of sexual harassment while in detention due to his sexual orientation.

Human rights organizations and LGBTI-focused NGOs stated that judges continued to sentence individuals to jail under the sodomy law, and since judges often assumed guilt of individuals who refused to submit voluntarily to an exam, individuals felt coerced to submit to anal examinations. On May 17, a coalition of NGOs, the Civil Collective for Individual Liberties, called on the government to accelerate the establishment of the Constitutional Court as a guarantor of rights, decriminalize consensual same-sex conduct, end forced or coerced anal examinations, recognize the rights of transgender people, and end harassment of LGBTI-rights organizations. The collective noted, “despite the commitment by Tunisian authorities since 2017 not to resort to the use of anal examinations, courts continue to order this practice.”

No laws restrict freedom of expression, association, or peaceful assembly for those speaking out about LGBTI issues. Nevertheless, in February the government appealed a 2016 court ruling overturning the government’s complaint that the Shams Association’s charter did not allow it to explicitly advocate for gay rights. Adding to its 2016 case, the government stated, “the Tunisian society rejects homosexuality culturally and legally,” and that the Shams Association violated Article 3 of Decree Law 3 “by conducting activities that contradict Tunisia’s laws and culture.” On May 17, the Tunis Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the Shams Association, noting that Shams did not violate the law by advocating for LGBTI rights.

During the year a small number of politicians offered support for increased rights for members of the LGBTI community. In October 2018, 10 Members of Parliament submitted a draft bill proposing decriminalization of homosexuality, recognition of gender identity, and penalization of homophobia. In a February 11 media interview, Nahda Party leader Lotfi Zitoun condemned the continued use of anal examinations as a violation of human rights and individual dignity. On April 3, the president of the Machrou Tounes party, Mohsen Marzouk, met representatives from the Shams Association and publicly expressed his support for LGBTI rights.

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.