Saudi Arabia

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 legal definition of terrorism, according to the 2017 counterterrorism law, 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 counterterrorism 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, the monarchy, the governing system, or the 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, from communicating with foreign diplomats and international human rights organizations, and from traveling outside the country, according to human rights organizations.

The government charged a number of individuals with crimes related to their exercise of free speech during the year.

In January authorities detained computer engineer Essam Koshak on charges of “inciting public opinion” for statements he reportedly made on Twitter. Koshak was being tried in the Specialized Criminal Court under the country’s 2017 counterterrorism law (applied retroactively) and the 2008 cybercrimes law. Trial proceedings were ongoing at year’s end.

Press and Media Freedom: 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 Culture and Information. 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 decree.

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 ($13,333) 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 Culture and Information has formal responsibility for implementing the law, the Ministry of Interior, the CPVPV, and sharia court judges considered these issues regularly and exercised wide discretion in interpreting the law. It was unclear which process accords with the law.

Although 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 Culture and Information 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.

Violence and Harassment: Authorities subjected journalists, writers, and bloggers to arrest, imprisonment, and harassment during the year.

In September well-known Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi said he moved to the United States in “self-exile” and “could face arrest upon returning home” due to his writing. He claimed his column in Saudi newspaper al-Hayat had been cancelled under political pressure. In 2016 authorities purportedly banned him from writing, appearing on television, and attending conferences as the result of remarks he made that were interpreted as criticizing the president of the United States, according to multiple media sources. Earlier, in July, authorities reportedly lifted the writing ban against him.

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 Culture and Information 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. On June 26 the PPO stated that producing and promoting “rumors that affect the public order” is a crime under the anticybercrimes law and punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of 3 million riyals ($800,000).

In some cases, however, individuals criticized specific government bodies or actions publicly without repercussions. The Consultative Council (Majlis as-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 anticybercrimes 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.” In 2014 the law was amended to include social media and social networks.

In April the SCC sentenced an unnamed poet to two months in prison for writing and publishing a poem “insulting security personnel” on Twitter and YouTube, as well as producing, storing, and disseminating material that “aims to undermine public order.” The SCC also ordered his accounts on social media sites closed, according to local media reports.

National Security: Authorities used the anticybercrimes 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 Culture and Information 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, and nearly 75 percent of the population used the internet during the year, while 79 percent had mobile broadband subscriptions, according to first-quarter 2017 data from the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology.

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. Laws, including the anticybercrimes law, criminalize defamation on the internet, 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. Activists complained of monitoring or attempted monitoring of their communications on web-based communications 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).

The CITC claimed that Facebook removed materials that the CITC deemed offensive but that Twitter ignored all CITC requests. In September 2016 the CITC announced that it had not blocked any free voice, video, or messaging services after criticisms on social media that these services had been blocked. During the year authorities announced they unblocked calling features for private messenger apps like Facebook Messenger and Whatsapp. In July 2016 users of FaceTime and other video-calling apps reported such services were blocked.

On May 25, the government blocked Qatari websites such as al-Jazeera due to a dispute between Qatar and a group of countries that included Saudi Arabia. Al-Jazeera remained blocked at year’s end.

On June 20, Ministry of Culture and Information spokesperson Hani al-Ghofaily stated that writing for blocked websites, providing them with materials to publish, or promoting alternative addresses to access them is a crime under the anticybercrimes law.

The government reportedly collected information concerning the identity of persons peacefully expressing political, religious, or ideological opinions or beliefs online.


The government restricted some public artistic expression. 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. In 2016 King Salman issued royal decrees creating the General Authority for Entertainment (GEA) and the General Authority for Culture, with a mandate to expand the kingdom’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. On December 11, the Saudi Ministry of Culture and Information announced that commercial cinemas would be allowed to operate in the kingdom as of early 2018.

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 have allowed a small number of unauthorized demonstrations throughout the country.

CPVPV and other security officers also restricted mixed gender gatherings of unrelated men and women in public and private spaces (see section 1.f.).


The law does not provide for freedom of association, and the government strictly limited this right. The government 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. In March 2016 a new law came into effect known as the Law on Associations and Foundations (Civil Society Organizations Law), which for the first time provided a comprehensive legal framework to govern the establishment, operation, and supervision of associations and foundations. By November 2016 the ministry licensed 153 associations and 11 foundations, mostly charitable, under the new law, according to the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law. The government previously provided licenses only to philanthropic and charitable societies; organizations that have social or research mandates required royal backing to avoid government interference or prosecution.

In 2013 and 2014, the few local NGOs that had operated without a license ceased operating after authorities ordered them disbanded. While ACPRA maintained a presence on social media networks such as Twitter, the government severely curtailed its operations and closed down its website. On August 21, the SCC began new trial proceedings against ACPRA member Issa al-Nukheifi on charges related to “inciting public opinion,” according to local activists. Nukheifi was released from prison in April 2016 after serving a previous three-year sentence from a 2013 SCC ruling, along with a four-year travel ban for violating Article 6 of the anticybercrimes law. Trial proceedings against him continued at year’s end.

Government-chartered associations limited membership only to citizens.

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

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

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

In-country Movement: The government generally did not restrict the free movement of male citizens within the country, but it severely restricted the movement of female citizens. While 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, courts 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.

Women’s rights activist Mariyam al-Otaiby was reportedly detained in April after she left the family house without her male guardian’s permission, and was held 104 days without trial until her release on July 30. Some human rights organizations characterized her release as constituting a legal precedent in the kingdom for freedom of movement without the presence of a male guardian.

On April 18, King Salman issued a royal decree ordering all government agencies to review their guardianship laws and to provide their understanding of the legal basis for withholding services to women. The stated goal was to avoid denying government services to women who do not present a male guardian’s consent except when law or regulations explicitly require it. At year’s end, the government’s review of its guardianship laws had not been completed.

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. In September 2016 local media reported more than three million girls and women over the age of 15 still did not possess a NIC. The population during the year of girls and women who were 15 or older was approximately seven million, according to the General Authority for Statistics.

The government prohibited women from driving motor vehicles by refusing to issue licenses to them. In September, King Salman issued a decree ending this longstanding policy that will allow women to drive beginning in June 2018.

Foreign Travel: There are severe restrictions on foreign travel, including for women and members of minority groups. No one may leave the country without an exit visa and a passport. Females of any age, males younger than 21, and other dependents or foreign citizen workers under sponsorship require a male guardian’s consent to travel abroad. According to Ministry of Interior regulations, a male guardian must apply for and collect a passport for women and minors. 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. If a wife’s guardian is deceased, a court may grant the permission. Government entities can ban the travel of citizens and noncitizens without trial, and male family members can “blacklist” women and minor children, prohibiting their travel.

In April, Dina Ali Lasloom was reportedly returned to Saudi Arabia against her will from the Philippines while in transit to Australia to claim political asylum in order to escape a forced marriage. On April 12, the Saudi Embassy in the Philippines issued a statement describing Lasloom’s return as a “family matter.” At year’s end, her whereabouts were unknown, according to HRW.

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 continued to impose international travel bans for individuals deemed at risk of flight during ongoing legal proceedings and investigations, as well as for criminal sentences. The government reportedly confiscated passports on occasion 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, labor, financial, and real estate disputes.


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. The government permitted UNHCR-recognized refugees to stay in the country temporarily pending identification of a durable outcome, 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 nationals, and a royal decree allowed pro forma extensions of these visas. There was a nondeportation policy for Syrians and Yemenis. The King Salman Center for Humanitarian Aid and Relief reported in September that there were more than 291,000 Syrian and 603,000 Yemeni nationals, considered visitors and not officially recognized refugees, living in Saudi Arabia.

The government did not recognize the right of Saudi citizens to petition for access to asylum or refugee status in third countries. In several cases the government prosecuted and penalized Saudi citizens who sought asylum in third countries, according to multiple sources (see section 1.e., Trial Procedures).

Employment: Refugees and asylum seekers were generally unable to work legally, although Syrian and Yemeni nationals who possessed a temporary visa could obtain a visitor card (“za’ir”) from the Ministry of Interior, which reportedly allows these nationals to work. The renewable permits were 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.

Access to Basic Services: The government reserves access to education, health care, public housing, courts and judicial procedures, legal services, and other social services to citizens only. A royal decree issued in 2012 permits all Syrians in Saudi Arabia free access to the educational system, and a separate decree issued in 2015 gives Yemenis in Saudi Arabia free access to schools. In 2015-16 the government enrolled and funded 141,406 Syrian students and 285,644 Yemeni students in local schools and provided college scholarships to 7,950 Syrians and 3,880 Yemenis. 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. Since 2015 the government provided free health care to 47,000 Yemenis and paid for treatment of more than 3,426 injured Yemenis located in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Sudan.


The country had a significant 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 nationals 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 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 are entitled to permanent residency in the country without needing a sponsor, and they receive free government education and medical benefits. These spouses are also included in the quota of Saudis employed in private companies under the “nitaqaat,” or labor quota system, which improves their employment prospects. Female citizens must also be between the ages of 30 and 55 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, and 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.

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]). 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 identity 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.

There were also some Baloch, West Africans, and Rohingya Muslims from Burma, but only a portion of these communities was stateless. Many Rohingya had expired passports that their home government refused to renew. UNHCR estimated there were between 250,000 and 500,000 Rohingya in the country. During the year some of these individuals benefited from a program to correct their residency status; the government issued approximately 200,000 four-year residency permits by year’s end. 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 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution provides for freedom of expression but imposes official restrictions on these rights.

Freedom of Expression: The government significantly restricted any public statements that it contended would undermine social or religious harmony, or that did not safeguard national or public interest. Government pressure to conform resulted in self-censorship among some journalists. Nevertheless, there was an increase in open debate regarding government policies. The government did not restrict or penalize online criticism of the government’s management of the presidential election process.

In October the Administration of Justice (Protection) Act 2016 took effect. The Act identifies actions that constitute contempt of court to include publishing material that prejudges pending proceedings or interferes with proceedings in progress, and making allegations of bias against judges.

In August the Attorney General’s Chambers initiated contempt of court proceedings against Li Shengwu, a nephew of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, for private Facebook comments in July that criticized the “litigious” nature of the government and the “pliant court system.” After implementation of the new legislation on contempt of court, media coverage of the case was cautious and factual.

The government-sanctioned Speakers’ Corner was the only outdoor venue where citizens could give public speeches without a Public Entertainment License. Speakers’ Corner may be used for exhibitions, performances, assemblies and processions, and citizens do not need a police permit to hold these events. All event organizers must, however, preregister online with the National Parks Board and must provide the topic of their event. Regulations state that the event should not be religious in nature or cause feelings of enmity, ill will, or hostility between different racial or religious groups. The commissioner of parks and recreation reserves the right to cancel or disallow any event or activity that he or she believes may endanger, cause discomfort to, or inconvenience other park users, and/or the general public.

Citizens need a permit to speak at indoor public gatherings outside of the hearing or view of nonparticipants only if the topic refers to race or religion. Indoor, private events are not subject to the same restrictions. Organizers of private events, however, must prevent inadvertent access by uninvited guests, or they could be cited for noncompliance with the rules regarding public gatherings.

Press and Media Freedom: According to the ISA, the government may restrict or place conditions on publications that incite violence, counsel disobedience to the law, have the potential to arouse tensions in the country’s diverse population, or threaten national interests, national security, or public order.

Government leaders urged news media to support its goals and help maintain social and religious harmony. In addition to enforcing strict defamation and press laws, the government’s vigorous response to what it considered personal attacks on officials led journalists and editors to moderate or limit what was published. In some instances, the government sued journalists or online bloggers for defamation or for stories that authorities believed undermined racial and religious harmony. In March the Info-communications Media Development Authority (see below) fined Singapore Press Holdings Radio Singapore dollars S$7,000 ($5,200) for breaching the free-to-air radio program code after its deejays made racially insensitive comments about Malays.

Government managerial and financial control strongly influenced all print and some of the electronic media. Two companies, Singapore Press Holdings Limited (SPH) and MediaCorp, owned all general circulation newspapers in the four official languages of English, Chinese, Malay, and Tamil. SPH is a publicly listed company with close ties to the government, which must approve (and may remove) the holders of management shares, who appoint or dismiss SPH management. The government investment company Temasek Holdings wholly owned MediaCorp. As a result, coverage of domestic events, and reporting of sensitive foreign relations topics usually closely reflected official government policies and views.

Government-linked companies and organizations operated all domestic broadcast television channels and almost all radio stations. Only one radio station, the British Broadcasting Corporation’s World Service, was completely independent of the government. Residents could receive some Malaysian and Indonesian television and radio programming, but with few exceptions authorities prohibited satellite dishes. Cable subscribers had access to numerous foreign television shows and a wide array of international news channels and many entertainment channels. The government did not censor international news channels but did censor entertainment programs to remove or edit coarse language, representations of intimate gay and lesbian relationships, and explicit sexual content. Residents routinely accessed uncensored international radio and television content via the internet.

The government may limit broadcasts or the circulation of publications by “gazetting” them under the Broadcasting Act and may ban the circulation of domestic and foreign publications under provisions of the ISA and Undesirable Publications Act (UPA). The law empowers the minister for communications and information to gazette or place formal restrictions on any foreign broadcaster deemed to be engaging in domestic politics.

The government may require a gazetted broadcaster to obtain express permission from the minister to continue broadcasting in the country. The government may impose restrictions on the number of households receiving a broadcaster’s programming and may fine a broadcaster up to S$100,000 ($74,000) for failing to comply.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA) is the statutory board under the Ministry of Communications and Information that regulates broadcast, print, and other media, including movies, video materials, computer games, and music. Banned publications consisted primarily of sexually oriented materials but also included some religious and political publications. The IMDA develops censorship standards including age-appropriate classification of media content with the help of various citizen advisory panels. The ISA, UPA, and Films Act allow the banning, seizure, censorship, or restriction of written, visual, or musical materials if authorities determine that such materials threaten the stability of the state, contravene moral norms, are pornographic, show excessive or gratuitous sex and violence, glamorize or promote drug use, or incite racial, religious, or linguistic animosities. The IMDA has the power to sanction broadcasters for transmitting what it believed to be inappropriate content. All content shown between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. must be suitable for viewers of all ages.

Authorities edited a March episode of The Ellen DeGeneres Show to remove one guest who showed sexual paraphernalia and another who discussed her nonbinary gender identity, although the segments were available for viewing on blogs.

Libel/Slander Laws: Critics charged that government leaders used defamation lawsuits or threats of such actions to discourage public criticism, coerce the press, and intimidate opposition politicians. Conviction on criminal defamation charges may result in a prison sentence of up to two years, a fine, or both. In March the Attorney General’s Chambers warned activist Han Hui Hui that she would be charged with contempt of court unless she formally apologized for stating on social media that she was mistreated while she was in temporary custody at the state courts.


Although online end users generally had unrestricted access to the internet, the government subjected all internet content to similar rules and standards as traditional media, as defined by the IMDA’s Internet Code of Practice. Individuals and groups could engage in the expression of views via the internet, including by email. Internet service providers are required to ensure that content complies with the code. The IMDA also regulates internet material by licensing the internet service providers through which local users are required to route their internet connections. The IMDA investigates content that is potentially in breach of the code when it receives complaints from members of the public. In June a take-down notice was issued to the Online Citizen, a website dedicated to “cyberactivism,” for posting a false article regarding how money raised from the issuance of Singapore Savings Bonds would be used.

The law permits government monitoring of internet use, and the government closely monitored internet activities, such as social media posts, blogs, and podcasts. The IMDA was empowered to direct service providers to block access to websites that, in the government’s view, undermined public security, national defense, racial and religious harmony, or public morals. Political and religious websites must register with the IMDA.

The internet was widely available and used.

The Online News Licensing Scheme requires more heavily visited internet news sites to obtain a license. The license requires these sites to submit a bond of S$50,000 ($37,000) and to adhere to additional requirements to remove prohibited content within 24 hours of notification from the IMDA. Many citizens viewed this regulation as a way to censor online critics of the government. The IMDA stated there was a need to regulate commercial news sites and promote conformity with other forms of media such as print and television. As of November 2016, all 11 major news sites had obtained IMDA licenses.

Smaller news sites that cover political issues are required to register under the Broadcasting Act Class License to ensure that registrants do not receive foreign funding.

Citizens were encouraged not to post information online that could undermine racial or religious harmony. In April police issued “stern” warnings to two men who posted Facebook comments about an offensive remark by an Indian imam concerning Jews and Christians. The imam was convicted, fined, and deported.


Public institutions of higher education and political research had limited autonomy. Although faculty members were not technically government employees, they were potentially subject to government influence. Academics spoke, published widely, and engaged in debate on social and political problems, although public comment outside the classroom or in academic publications that ventured into prohibited areas could result in sanctions. Publications by local academics and members of research institutions rarely deviated substantially from government views.

The law authorizes the minister of communications and information to ban any film, whether political or not, that in his opinion is “contrary to the public interest.” The law does not apply to any film sponsored by the government and allows the minister to exempt any film from the act.

Certain films barred from general release may be allowed limited showings, either censored or uncensored.


Although the constitution provides citizens the right to peaceful assembly, parliament imposed restrictions in the interest of security, public order, or morality. Public assemblies, including political meetings and rallies, require police permission. By law a public assembly may include events staged by a single person. Citizens do not need permits for indoor speaking events, unless they touch on “sensitive topics” such as race or religion, or for qualifying events held at Speakers’ Corner. Police also have the authority to order a person to “move on” from a certain area and not return to the designated spot for 24 hours.

In November, Jolovan Wham was charged with organizing three public assemblies without a police permit and charged with vandalism for taping two sheets of paper to a post on a train during a protest. If convicted, Wham may be fined up to S$10,000 ($7,400), imprisoned for up to six months, or both for his role in organizing a 17-person vigil outside a prison in July, a silent protest inside a train carriage with eight others in June, and an indoor assembly with a foreign speaker who participated via Skype in November 2016.

An April amendment to the Public Order Act allows the police and a government minister to decline to authorize any public meeting that could be used for a political purpose and be attended, organized, or funded in any way by foreign nationals. It was widely believed that the amendment was a response to the 2016 lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex persons (LGBTI) “Freedom to Love” rally, after which the Ministry of Home Affairs issued a press statement saying “foreign entities should not interfere in our domestic issues, especially political issues or controversial social issues with political overtones.”

Because of the legislative change, the LGBTI rally held in July was funded entirely by domestic entities, and rally organizers set up barricades and identification check points to prevent foreigners from observing the event.

The government closely monitored political gatherings regardless of the number of persons present.

Spontaneous public gatherings or demonstrations were virtually unknown.


Most associations, societies, clubs, religious groups, and other organizations with more than 10 members are required to register with the government under the Societies Act. The government could deny registration to groups that it believed were formed for unlawful purposes or for purposes prejudicial to public peace, welfare, or public order. The majority of applications in recent years were approved. The government has absolute discretion in applying criteria to register or dissolve societies.

The government prohibits organized political activities except by groups registered as political parties or political associations. These may not receive foreign donations but may receive funds from citizens and locally controlled entities. The ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) was able to use nonpolitical organizations, such as residential committees and neighborhood groups, for political purposes far more extensively than could opposition parties. Due to laws regulating the formation of publicly active organizations, there were few NGOs apart from nonpolitical organizations, such as religious or environmental groups.

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at

The constitution and the law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights, although it limited them in certain circumstances. Government cooperation with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations with respect to asylum seekers and other refugees was limited.

In-country Movement: The ISA permits authorities to restrict a person’s movement, and they did so in the case of some former ISA detainees. Several dozen suspected terrorists were subject to such restrictions.

Foreign Travel: The government may refuse to issue a passport; in practice this was done primarily on security grounds.

Men are required to undertake 24 months of uniformed national service upon reaching age 18. They also are required to participate in reserve training up to age 40 (for enlisted men) or 50 (for officers). Male citizens and permanent residents with national service reserve obligations are required to advise the Ministry of Defense of plans to travel abroad. Men and boys age 13 and older who have not completed national service obligations are required to obtain exit permits for international travel if they intend to be away for three months or more.

The law allows the government to deprive naturalized citizens of citizenship if they have resided outside of the country for more than five consecutive years. Naturalized citizens may also lose their citizenship if they have engaged in activities deemed harmful to public safety and order. In December the government revoked the citizenship of naturalized citizen Gaye Alassane on these grounds, marking the first time it had invoked the measure since 1987.

Former Singaporean members of the Communist Party of Malaya residing outside the country may not repatriate unless they renounce communism, sever all links with the party, and agree to an interview by the Internal Security Department about their past activities. In the past, some former party members accepted these conditions and returned, but observers estimated that approximately 30 alleged party members had not.


Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status. The government may, on a case-by-case basis, cooperate with organizations such as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to repatriate or send refugees to a third country.


As of January 2016, there were 1,411 legally stateless persons living in the country. Many were reportedly born in the country before independence, but did not or could not meet requirements for citizenship then in force. Others are permanent residents who have lost their foreign citizenship, or are children born to foreign nationals who are not recognized in their home countries. Stateless persons may apply for citizenship.

Approximately 80 percent of stateless persons have obtained permanent residency, but those who have not may not buy or rent real estate, are not entitled to government health or education subsidies, and may have difficulty securing employment.


Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The provisional federal constitution provides for freedom of speech, including for the press, but neither federal nor regional authorities respected this right. The government, government-aligned militias, authorities in Somaliland and Puntland, ISWA, IGA, IJA, ASWJ, al-Shabaab, and unknown assailants killed, abused, and harassed journalists with impunity (see sections 1.a. and 1.g.).

The Somaliland constitution prohibits publication or circulation of exaggerated or tendentious news capable of disturbing public order, and officials used the provision to charge and arrest journalists.

The Puntland constitution limits freedom of opinion and expression through broadly worded limitations–including conformity with moral dignity, national stability, and personal rights of others–and allows for exceptions from the right to freedom of expression in times of war or other public emergency.

Freedom of Expression: Individuals in government-controlled areas risked reprisal for criticizing government officials, particularly for alleged official corruption or suggestions that officials were unable to manage security matters. Such interference diminished at the national level once President Farmaajo was elected in February. It remained common outside the capital, particularly in Puntland and Somaliland.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views, although self-censorship was common due to a history of arbitrary arrest of journalists and search and closure of media outlets that criticized the government. While there were no such reports of interference in Mogadishu since President Farmaajo’s election, it remained common outside the capital, particularly in Puntland and Somaliland.

Somaliland authorities continued to fine and arbitrarily arrest journalists for defamation and other alleged crimes, including meeting with colleagues. Prison terms ranged from a few days to several months, and fines could be as high as 573,000 shillings ($1,000). On November 13, Somaliland’s National Electoral Commission requested the region’s internet providers block social media sites during ballot counting for the presidential election, allegedly to prevent the spread of destabilizing misinformation and hate speech.

Violence and Harassment: From January to May, five journalists and media workers were arrested or detained in south-central Somalia. During the same period, 17 were arrested or detained in Somaliland. Sixteen were released and one sentenced. During the same time period in 2016, by comparison, five journalists were killed, 18 injured, and 65 arrested. Fourteen of the arrests were in Somaliland. Closure of media outlets, citing defamation or security reasons, occurred regularly during the 2016-17 electoral period but largely diminished under President Farmaajo across the country. Between January and May, local authorities closed one media outlet each in Puntland and Hirshabelle. During the same period in 2016, seven media outlets were suspended or closed.

On July 2, Ahmed Ali Kilwe was arrested in Puntland for posting articles “impertinent to the Puntland president.” Kilwe was released after 14 days.

According to the Somaliland Journalists Association, local authorities continued to harass and arbitrarily detain journalists systematically.

Somaliland journalist Mohamed Adan Dirir was arrested May 24 after asking a question to the health minister and was held without charge for one month. On September 16, he was rearrested on allegations of incitement and publishing false news. On October 8, he was sentenced to 18 months in jail and fined one million Somaliland shillings ($1,740) after a one-day trial that was held without his lawyer present, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Journalists based in the Lower Juba Region continued to report that local security authorities harassed them.

Journalists reported al-Shabaab threatened to kill them if they did not report positively on antigovernment attacks. From January through May, nine journalists were injured in Banadir Region by al-Shabaab and two in Puntland, according to UNSOM.

On April 2, television journalist Hanad Ali Guled was abducted from his home in Mogadishu. According to local press reports, Guled was found in a field the next day bearing marks of torture and unable to talk. Guled had received threats in connection with a program he had cofounded providing information to rural residents affected by the drought. No charges had been filed at year’s end.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists engaged in rigorous self-censorship to avoid reprisals.

Al-Shabaab banned journalists from reporting news that undermined Islamic law as interpreted by al-Shabaab and forbade persons in areas under its control from listening to international media outlets.

Libel/Slander Laws: Puntland and Somaliland authorities prosecuted journalists for libel. For example, on April 8, journalist Abdimalik Muse Oldon was sentenced to a two-year jail term for “violating the sovereignty of Somaliland and offending the prestige of Somaliland leaders,” upon his return from Mogadishu, where he attended the election of President Farmaajo. On May 25, Somaliland President Silanyo pardoned him.

On July 2, Puntland security forces detained journalist Ahmed Ali Kilwe for posting an allegedly defamatory report concerning Puntland President Abdiweli Gaas. He was released two weeks later.

National Security: Federal and regional authorities cited national security concerns to suppress criticism and prevent press coverage of opposition political figures, although this subsided at the national level under President Farmaajo.


Authorities restricted access to the internet, but there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

Al-Shabaab prohibited companies from providing access to the internet and forced telecommunication companies to shut data services in al-Shabaab-controlled areas.

On July 12, the Hargeisa Regional Court ordered the companies providing internet services to suspend five news websites in Somaliland after the Hargeisa regional prosecutor’s office requested suspension of the websites for disseminating false news and propaganda that endangered national security and the peaceful coexistence of Somaliland clans. The managers and editors of the websites were not informed or represented before the court. On January 2, Somcable, an internet service provider, blocked access to the prominent Hadhwanaagnews website after it published an article alleging the owner of Somcable was providing financial support to the ruling Kulmiye party of Somaliland. Access was restored on January 7.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, less than 2 percent of the population used the internet in 2016.


Academics practiced self-censorship.

The Puntland administration required individuals to obtain government permits to conduct academic research.

Except in al-Shabaab-controlled areas, there were no official restrictions on attending cultural events, playing music, or going to the cinema. The security situation, however, effectively restricted access to and organization of cultural events in the southern and central regions.


The federal provisional constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, but the government limited this right. A general lack of security effectively limited this right as well. The federal Ministry of Internal Security continued to require its approval for all public gatherings, citing security concerns, such as the risk of attack by al-Shabaab suicide bombers. Suppression of opposition meetings and gatherings increased during the 2016-17 election cycle, but national authorities reduced their suppression following President Farmaajo’s election in February.

On January 15, the Galmudug state minister of the interior issued an order banning journalists and local media from reporting on political meetings in Adaado without prior permission from the Galmudug presidential office. The order also prohibited hotel owners from hosting political meetings without permission.

In March ISWA President Sharif Hassan set up a security committee to prevent meetings or other gatherings of opposition groups in Baidoa after opposition state assembly members signed a petition calling for his impeachment.

The Somaliland government banned opposition political rallies outside the official campaign period, which typically began 45 days ahead of a scheduled national election. Authorities did not enforce such restrictions on progovernment rallies.

On January 24, Somaliland authorities deployed riot police to break up an antigovernment protest. Police arrested several citizens protesting inflation and the rising cost of basic goods.

Al-Shabaab did not allow any gatherings without its prior consent.


The provisional federal constitution provides for freedom of association, but government officials harassed NGO workers. There were also reports that regional authorities restricted freedom of association. Al-Shabaab did not allow most international NGOs to operate.

Persons in the southern and central regions outside of al-Shabaab-controlled areas could freely join civil society organizations focusing on a wide range of problems. Citizens generally respected civil society organizations for their ability to deliver social services in the absence of functioning government ministries.

Regional administrations took steps to control or gain benefit from humanitarian organizations, including by imposing duplicative registration requirements at different levels of government; attempting to control humanitarian organization contracting, procurement, and staffing; and opaque and vague taxation.

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at

The provisional federal constitution states that all persons lawfully residing in the country have the right to freedom of movement, to choose their residence, and to leave the country. Freedom of movement, however, was restricted in some areas.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Refugees lacked access to protection through law enforcement and the justice system. Refugees reported incidents of extortion, robbery, and sexual violence to UNHCR.

The government and Somaliland authorities cooperated with UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration to assist IDPs, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

During the year dialogue continued between humanitarian agencies, the FGS, and regional authorities to remove checkpoints and facilitate movement of humanitarian assistance, food aid, and essential commodities.

In-country Movement: Checkpoints operated by government forces, allied groups, armed militias, clan factions, and al-Shabaab inhibited movement and exposed citizens to looting, extortion, harassment, and violence. Roadblocks manned by armed actors and attacks on humanitarian personnel severely restricted movement and the delivery of aid in southern and central sectors of the country.

Al-Shabaab and other nonstate armed actors continued to hinder commercial activities in the areas they controlled in the Bakool, Bay, Gedo, and Hiraan Regions and impeded the delivery of humanitarian assistance. For example, on April 14, armed actors presumed to be al-Shabaab seized and burned food supplies. Six of the attackers fled, and three suspects were arrested.

Attacks against humanitarian workers and assets impeded the delivery of aid to vulnerable populations.

Somaliland prohibited federal officials, including those of Somaliland origin who purported to represent Hargeisa’s interests in Mogadishu, from entering Somaliland. It also prevented its citizens from traveling to Mogadishu to participate in FGS processes or in cultural activities.

IGA officials denied entry to Puntland residents and continued to arrest drivers with Puntland license plates. The practice began in 2015, when the former Galmudug traffic supervisor announced that drivers of vehicles with Puntland plates would be fined, arrested, and detained for 24 hours.

Puntland authorities continued to ban the transport of goods by road from the port of Berbera in Somaliland to towns in Puntland, including Garowe and Galkayo. The ban limited the ability of aid workers to deliver humanitarian supplies, such as food, livestock vaccination equipment, nutritional supplements, and education materials, to vulnerable populations in Puntland.

Foreign Travel: Few citizens had the means to obtain passports. In view of widespread passport fraud, many foreign governments did not recognize Somali passports as valid travel documents.


Worsening drought and continuing conflict during the year led to a sharp increase in internal displacement. Somalia was home to more than 1.1 million IDPs prior to 2017, and internal displacement increased by 916,000 persons between January and July, according to UNHCR.

Somalis and citizens from other countries fleeing the conflict in Yemen sought refuge in Somalia. While flows from Yemen declined since August 2015, approximately 38,200 individuals fled to Somalia from Yemen since March 2015. This included more than 32,300 Somali nationals, approximately 5,500 Yemeni refugees, and more than 300 migrants of other nationalities. UNHCR protected IDPs and provided them with temporary lodging and financial assistance.

While government and regional authorities were more involved in the recent famine prevention and drought response than in prior years, their capacity to respond remained extremely limited. Violence broke out during several government-sponsored aid distributions during the year, leading to 34 deaths and 42 injuries. In addition, forceful evictions of IDPs continued in Somalia, including more than 5,000 evictions from IDP settlements in Baidoa, with government providing negligible protection and assistance to IDPs and sometimes actively participating in their displacement. Private persons with claims to land and government authorities, for example, regularly pursued the forceful eviction of IDPs in Mogadishu. Increased reports of sexual and gender-based violence accompanied increased displacement, including reports of incidents committed by various armed groups and security personnel.

Women and children living in IDP settlements were particularly vulnerable to rape by armed men, including government soldiers and militia members. Gatekeepers in control of some IDP camps reportedly forced girls and women to provide sex in exchange for food and services within the camps.


Refoulement: The provisional federal constitution states that every person who seeks refuge in the country has the right not to be returned or taken to any country in which that person has a well-founded fear of persecution. There was no official system for providing such protection to refugees.

Access to Asylum: The provisional constitution recognizes the right to asylum in accordance with international treaties; however, the FGS has yet to establish a legal framework and system to provide protection to refugees. Authorities, however, granted Prima Facie status to most refugees, most of whom are Yemeni. By September there were more than 27,400 refugees and asylum seekers.

Employment: Employment opportunities were limited for refugees, Somali returnees, and other vulnerable populations. Refugee returnees from Kenya reported limited employment opportunities in the southern and central sections of the country.

Access to Basic Services: The FGS continued to work with the international community to improve access to basic services, employment, and durable solutions for displaced populations.

Since 2014 more than 73,000 Somali refugees in Kenya voluntarily returned to Somalia, according to UNHCR.

Refugees and Somali returnees had limited access to basic services.

South Sudan

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The transitional constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press. The government and its agents frequently violated this right, however, and the downward trend in respect for these freedoms since 2011 continued.

Freedom of Expression: Civil society organizations must register with the government under the 2013 NGO Act (and the subsequent 2016 Act). The government regularly attempted to impede criticism by monitoring, intimidating, harassing, arresting, or detaining members of civil society who publicly criticized the government.

Press and Media Freedom: The government maintained strict control of media, both print and electronic. The government suppressed dissenting voices, forcing some civil society organizations and media houses to shut down or flee the country. Most organizations practiced self-censorship to ensure their safety.

During the year the government adopted a new censorship tactic of directly reprimanding publishers and removing articles deemed critical of the government. Many print media outlets reported NSS officers forced the removal of articles, including Juba MonitorThis Day (May 17 edition) and The Dawn (September 14 edition). NSS allegedly removed more than 20 articles from newspapers since late 2016, according to a report by the Association for Media Development in South Sudan.

Many newspapers remained closed throughout the year: al-Rai (closed since 2014), al-Masir (closed since 2014), The Citizen (closed since 2015), The National Mirror (closed since 2016), and al-Tabeer (closed since 2016).

On May 1, the Media Authority banned al-Jazeera (English) bureau staff from covering “anything to do with South Sudan.” This ban followed a series of al-Jazeera reports on fighting and the displacement of civilians in Kajo-Keji County near the border with Uganda. In June the Media Authority banned 20 foreign journalists from operating in the country because they reported “unsubstantiated and unrealistic stories that have the potential to incite hate and violence.”

Since the outbreak of conflict in 2013, the government tried to dictate media coverage of the conflict and threatened those who tried to publish or broadcast the opposition’s views. NSS regularly harassed, intimidated, and summoned journalists for questioning. The environment for media workers remained precarious throughout the year.

Government officials or individuals close to the government regularly interfered in the publication of articles and broadcasting of programs, and high-level government officials stated press freedom should not extend to criticism of the government or soliciting views of opposition leaders.

Violence and Harassment: Security forces commonly intimidated or detained journalists whose reporting they perceived as unfavorable to the military or government. Security forces confiscated or damaged journalists’ equipment and restricted their movements. During the year journalists were interrogated, harassed, detained, and imprisoned, and there were instances of severe violence and suspicious death. NSS representatives frequently harassed journalists by detaining them at NSS headquarters or local police stations without formal charges. Government harassment was so pronounced that several journalists fled the country. Journalists and media agencies that reported on news of the opposition could expect questioning and possibly closure. Journalists in Juba experienced threats and intimidation and routinely practiced self-censorship. On several occasions high-level officials publicly used intimidating language directed toward media outlets and representatives.

There were numerous reports of such abuses similar to the following example: On July 10, NSS officers arrested and detained Adil Faris Mayat, director of the South Sudan Broadcasting Corporation, allegedly for failing to broadcast live President Kiir’s July 9 Independence Day speech.

Between January and May, the Union of Journalists documented 14 incidents of infringement on the rights of journalists, including three journalists arrested, four journalists threatened, and seven journalists denied access to information.

Freelance journalist Christopher Allen was killed in heavy fighting between government and rebel forces around Kaya near the Ugandan border on August 26. He was embedded with opposition forces at that time.

The government released two journalists after years-long detention. On May 25, UN Radio journalist George Livio Bahara was released after nearly three years in detention without charges. In April, John Pantheer, a local journalist, was also released after years in detention.


The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The government, however, targeted and intimidated individuals who were critical of the government in open online forums. The government also blocked access and restricted content of sites deemed unfavorable. On July 17, the government closed two popular websites: Tamazuj and Sudan Tribune. Information Minister Michael Makuei accused the sites of disseminating hostile messages. The internet was unavailable in most parts of the country due to lack of electricity and communications infrastructure.


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

The government on occasion limited/restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and/or association.


The transitional constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, and the government generally respected this right, but many citizens did not gather due to fear of targeted violence. Security officials lacked nonviolent crowd control capabilities and at times fired live ammunition into the air to disperse crowds.


The transitional constitution provides for freedom of association, but the government did not respect this right for those suspected of associating with or having sympathies for opposition figures (see section 1.g.). Some civil society leaders interpreted the 2012 Political Parties Act as an attempt to suppress opposition to the SPLM (see section 3).

A law passed in February 2016 strictly regulating the activity and operations of civil society was widely enforced throughout the year. The law focused particularly on NGOs working in the governance, anticorruption, and human rights fields, and it imposed a range of legal barriers including limitations on the types of activities that organizations can engage, onerous registration requirements, and heavy fines for noncompliance. Human rights groups and civil society representatives reported NSS officials continued surveillance and threats against civil society organizations.

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at

The transitional constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, and repatriation. The government, however, often restricted these rights, and routinely blocked travel of political figures within the country and outside the country. The transitional constitution does not address emigration.

The 2012 Cooperation Agreements signed by the governments of Sudan and South Sudan cover security, economic, and other matters, including an agreement to protect freedoms of residence, movement, economic activity, and property ownership for citizens of both countries residing in Sudan or South Sudan. Although negotiating parties made progress in 2015 in Addis Ababa on border issues, the governments failed to make substantial progress on aspects of the agreement relating to each other’s citizens.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Refugees sometimes suffered abuse, such as armed attacks, killings, gender-based violence, forced recruitment, including of children, and forced labor, according to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

In-country Movement: IDPs remained on UNMISS PoC sites due to fear of retaliatory or ethnically targeted violence by armed groups, both government- and opposition-affiliated. The government often obstructed humanitarian organizations seeking to provide protection and assistance to IDPs and refugees. Continuing conflict between government and opposition forces restricted the movement of UN personnel and the delivery of humanitarian aid (see section 1.g.).


Throughout the year conflict in the country intensified and spread to areas previously less affected by fighting. The result was mass population displacement, both within the country and into neighboring countries, and high levels of humanitarian and protection needs, which strained the ability of UN and international humanitarian personnel to provide protection and assistance. According to OCHA, conflict and food insecurity had displaced more than two million persons. Approximately 234,000 persons were sheltering in UNMISS PoC sites. The increased violence and food insecurity forced relief actors to delay plans for the safe return and relocation of some IDP populations.

Violence severely affected areas such as the Greater Equatoria and Upper Nile regions and Western Bahr el Ghazal, with dire humanitarian consequences, including significant displacement and serious and systematic reported human rights violations and abuses, including the killing of civilians, arbitrary arrests, detentions, looting and destruction of civilian property, torture and sexually based violence, according to UNHCR. As the conflict moved eastward, violence decreased in Western Equatoria, but up to 75 percent of Eastern Equatoria’s population was estimated by UNHCR to have been displaced as of March.

Madi, Acholi, and indigenous groups based in Nimule town were increasingly targeted by government troops suspecting them of supporting opposition forces. SPLA and unknown groups reportedly committed violations of looting, destruction of civilian property, rape, and killing, causing mass displacement. Unknown groups conducted cattle raids in Western Equatoria that ended in seven civilian deaths in Rumbek East and almost 30,000 IDPs. Clashes between armed youth and the SPLA displaced an estimated 18,000 persons from Kediba. The town of Kajo-Keji experienced large-scale displacement, to the point the town was nearly emptied. In April an estimated 50,000 were displaced from Pajok. Intercommunal violence flared in Lakes State, leading to an unknown level of displacement. Up to 30,000 Shilluk, mostly women and children, fled their homes in the Upper Nile region and were living in the open near the town of Aburoc. According to the UN Panel of Experts, the vast majority of Shilluk had been forced to flee, and this depopulation occurred with the full knowledge of the president, cabinet ministers, and senior military officers and was a fully foreseeable consequence of the government’s military operations. Both sides of the conflict continued to recruit child soldiers from the IDP population. In the town of Malakal, state boundaries were redrawn to depopulate the town of its Shilluk and Nuer inhabitants. In Kodok town the Shilluk population was under threat of being displaced. In Wau town the Fertit and Luo populations fled to escape government-caused ethnic violence targeting them. As of September 30, more than two million citizens had sought refuge in neighboring countries, including nearly 880,000 who had fled to Uganda since July 2016.


Access to Asylum: The South Sudan Refugee Act provides for protection of refugees as well as the granting of asylum and refugee status. The government allowed refugees from a variety of countries to settle and generally did not treat refugees differently from other foreigners.

Access to Basic Services: While refugees sometimes lacked basic services, this generally reflected a lack of capacity in the country to manage refugee problems rather than government practices that discriminated against refugees. Refugee children had access to elementary education in refugee camps through programs managed by international NGOs and the United Nations. Some schools were shared with children from the host community. Refugees had access to judiciary services in principle, although a lack of infrastructure and staff meant these resources were often unavailable.

Due to continuing conflict and scarcity of resources, tension existed between refugees and host communities in some areas over access to resources.

Durable Solutions: The government accepted refugees and returnees for reintegration, although it did not publish a national strategy for facilitating integration or reintegration into local communities. No national procedures were in place to facilitate the provision of identity documents for returnees or the naturalization of refugees beyond procedures that were in place for all citizens and other applicants.


Citizenship is derived through birth if a person has a South Sudanese parent, grandparent, or great-grandparent on either the mother’s or the father’s side, or if a person is a member of one of the country’s indigenous ethnic communities. Individuals also may derive citizenship through naturalization. Birth in the country is not sufficient to claim citizenship.


Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The Interim National Constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press “as regulated by law,” but the government heavily restricted this right.

Freedom of Expression: Individuals who criticized the government publicly or privately were subject to reprisal, including arrest. The government attempted to impede such criticism and monitored political meetings and the press.

NISS and police forces regularly arrested Darfuri students at various universities for publicly addressing civilians (see section 6).

Members of the political opposition and civil society were arrested and held by NISS for several days following efforts to raise public awareness about the spread of cholera in the country during summer months. The government termed the disease that caused hundreds of deaths “acute watery diarrhea” and informed all newspaper editors in chief that they were not to make any reference to “cholera” in their publications. Medical observers said both hospitals and government officials in the Ministry of Health confirmed there were in fact incidents of cholera. It was not possible, however, for the international community to confirm the number of cholera cases because only the ministry conducted testing and did not share its results. Reportedly the government’s reticence was due to fear that admitting an epidemic of cholera would negatively affect the volume of agricultural exports, as well as inhibit countries from taking refugees leaving or transiting through the country.

The government also curtailed public discussion of a religious nature if proselytization was suspected and monitored religious sermons and teachings (see the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at

Press and Media Freedom: The Interim National Constitution provides for freedom of the press, but authorities prevented newspapers from reporting on problems deemed sensitive. Measures taken by the government included regular and direct prepublication censorship, confiscation of publications, legal proceedings, and denial of state advertising. Confiscation in particular inflicted financial damage on newspapers already under financial strain due to low circulation. Throughout the year the government verbally warned newspapers of “red line” topics on which the press could not report. Such topics included corruption, university protests, the national dialogue, political negotiations in Addis Ababa, the conflict in South Sudan, the weak economy and declining value of the Sudanese pound, cholera outbreaks, government security services, and government action in conflict areas.

The government influenced radio and television reporting through the granting or denial of permits, as well as by offering or withholding government payments for advertisements, based on how closely affiliated they were with the government.

The government controlled media through the National Council for Press and Publications, which administered mandatory professional examinations for journalists and oversaw the selection of editors. The council had authority to ban journalists temporarily or indefinitely. The registration of journalists was handled primarily by the Sudanese Journalists Union, which estimated there were 7,000 registered journalists in the country, although fewer than 200 of them were believed to be actively employed as journalists. The remainder were members of the government and security forces working on media issues, who received automatic licenses.

At year’s end four journalists remained banned from writing. Two of them fled the country due to continuing NISS harassment.

Violence and Harassment: The government continued to arrest, harass, intimidate, and abuse journalists and vocal critics of the government. NISS required journalists to provide personal information, such as details on their tribe, political affiliation, and family.

As of July, two printing press workers were being held incommunicado; there were no updates on their whereabouts by year’s end. Abu Taleb Salaheldin was detained from a private printing office at the El Soug El Arabi in downtown Khartoum in December 2016; Mutaz El Ejeili was detained in a printing office in Khartoum the same month.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government continued to practice direct prepublication and prebroadcast censorship of all forms of media. Confiscations of print runs was the censorship method most frequently used by NISS, having utility in terms of censoring material, incentivizing future self-censorship, and causing high financial losses to the publisher that could lead to the newspaper’s eventual closure. On September 14, the Press and Publications Council ordered suspension of four newspapers: Ilafal-Mostagilal-Watan, and Awal al-Nahar. Authorities used the Press and Publications Court, specializing in media issues and “newspaper irregularities” and established under the existing Press and Publications Act, to prosecute “information crimes.”

On October 24, a court sentenced a prominent newspaper editor, Osman Mirgani, to a fine of 10,000 SDG ($1,250) or six months in prison should he fail to pay for publishing an article in al-Tayar accusing President Bashir’s family of corruption. The court also handed down a three-year suspended jail term against the writer of the piece, which was published in 2012. Mirghani refused to pay the fine and spent two nights in prison before the journalists’ union collected donations and paid on his behalf. Over the years NISS agents repeatedly targeted Mirgani and his newspaper, allegedly for their corruption coverage. NISS agents repeatedly confiscated the entire print runs of editions of al-Tayar for articles they deemed inappropriate, and Mirgani was beaten up by armed men who stormed his office in central Khartoum in 2014.

National Security: The Press and Publications Act allows for restrictions on the press in the interest of national security and public order. It contains loosely defined provisions for bans for encouraging ethnic and religious disturbances and incitement of violence. The act holds editors in chief criminally liable for all content published in their newspapers. The criminal code, National Security Act, and emergency laws were regularly used to bring charges against the press. At year’s end amendments to the Press and Publications Act were undergoing a parliamentary review.

NISS initiated and continued legal action against journalists for stories critical of the government and security services.


The government regulated licensing of telecommunications companies through the National Telecommunications Corporation. The agency blocked some websites and most proxy servers judged offensive to public morality, such as those purveying pornography. There were few restrictions on access to information websites, but authorities sporadically blocked access to YouTube and “negative” media sites. According to the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 28 percent of individuals used the internet in 2016.

Freedom House continued to rank the country as “not free” in its annual internet freedom report. According to the report, arrests and prosecutions under the Cybercrime Act grew during the year, reflecting a tactical shift in the government’s strategy to limit internet freedom. The report noted that many journalists writing for online platforms published anonymously to avoid prosecution, while ordinary internet users in the country had become more inclined to self-censor to avoid government surveillance and arbitrary legal consequences.


The government restricted academic freedom at cultural and academic institutions. It determined the curriculums and appointed the vice chancellors responsible for administration. It continued to arrest student activists and cancel or deny permits for some student events. Youth activists reported some universities discouraged students from participating in antigovernment rallies and showed favorable treatment towards NCP students. Some professors exercised self-censorship. Security forces used tear gas and other heavy-handed tactics against largely peaceful protests at universities or involving university students. The Public Order Police continued to monitor public gatherings and cultural events, often intimidating women and girls, who feared police would arrest them for “indecent” dress or actions.

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


Although the Interim National Constitution and law provide for freedom of peaceful assembly, the government severely restricted this right. The criminal code considers gatherings of more than five persons without a permit to be illegal. Organizers must notify the government 36 hours prior to assemblies and rallies.

Following the death of Fatima Ahmed Ibrahim on August 12, a women’s rights activist and the first female parliamentarian, civil society organizations planned a public event to commemorate the political leader’s life. The organizers were denied permits to hold the event at numerous government-owned public locations. The event was then held at the Umma Party headquarters, which was controversial given that Ibrahim was not a member of the Umma Party. Security forces allowed the event to occur peacefully on November 4.

The government continued to deny permission to Islamic orders associated with opposition political parties, particularly the Ansar (Umma Party), Khatmiya (Democratic Unionist Party) and the Sudanese Congress Party, to hold large gatherings in public spaces, but parties regularly held opposition rallies on private property. Government security agents occasionally attended opposition meetings, disrupted opposition rallies, or summoned participants to security headquarters for questioning after meetings.


The Interim National Constitution and law provide for freedom of association, but the government severely restricted this right. The law prohibits political parties linked to armed opposition groups. The government closed civil society organizations or refused to register them on several occasions. In June the HAC suspended the activities of Sharie al-Hawadith, an NGO in Kassala that provided medical treatment. According to independent reports, the organization received a letter from local authorities in eastern Sudan notifying them they were suspended. No reason was provided.

Government and security forces continued arbitrarily to enforce provisions, specifically Articles 7 to 14, of the Sudan Voluntary and Humanitarian Works Act of 2006, frequently referred to as the NGO law, including measures that strictly regulate an organization’s ability to receive foreign financing and register public activities.

The government maintained its policy of “Sudanization” of international NGOs. Many organizations reported they faced administrative difficulties if they refused to have progovernment groups implement their programs at the state level.

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at

The Interim National Constitution and law provide for freedom of movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government restricted these rights for foreigners, including humanitarian workers.

The government impeded the work of UN agencies and delayed full approval of their activities throughout the country, particularly in the Two Areas; however, such restrictions were fewer than in prior years. NGOs also alleged the government impeded humanitarian assistance in the Two Areas.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Asylum seekers and refugees were vulnerable to arbitrary arrest and harassment outside of camps because they did not receive identification cards while awaiting government determination of refugee or asylum status. Refugees and asylum seekers in urban areas were also subject to arrest because the government’s encampment policy makes it illegal to move from assigned camps without authorization. On average 150-200 refugees and asylum seekers were detained in Khartoum each month and assisted with legal aid by the joint UNHCR and commissioner for refugees legal team. Although the Asylum Act makes naturalization possible for refugees, it was not fully implemented.

There were some reported abuses, including gender-based violence in refugee camps. The government worked closely with UNHCR to provide greater protection to refugees, and UNHCR access in conflict zones improved considerably during the year (see section 1.g.).

Refugees often relied on human trafficking and smuggling networks to leave camps. Smugglers turned traffickers routinely abused refugees if ransoms were not paid.

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at

In-country Movement: The government and rebels restricted the movement of citizens as well as UN and humanitarian organization personnel in conflict areas (see section 1.g.). While the government claimed refugees had freedom of movement within the country, it required they formally register and be granted travel permits before leaving refugee camps. According to authorities, registration of refugees helped provide their personal security. Refugees faced administrative fines once they returned to their camp, if they left camps without permission and were intercepted by authorities.

Internal movement was generally unhindered for citizens outside conflict areas. Foreigners needed travel permits for domestic travel outside Khartoum, which were often difficult to obtain. Foreigners were required to register with the Ministry of Interior’s Alien Control Division within three days of arrival and were limited to a 15.5-mile radius from Khartoum. Once registered, foreigners were allowed to move beyond this radius, but travel outside of Khartoum State required official approval.

The country maintained a reservation on Article 26 of the UN Convention on Refugees of 1951 regarding refugees’ right to move freely and choose their place of residence within a country. The government’s encampment policy requires asylum seekers and refugees to stay in designated camps; however, 64 percent of South Sudanese refugees lived with the local community in urban and rural areas. Early in the year, the government threatened to relocate forcibly South Sudanese refugees living outside of camps in Khartoum and White Nile States to refugee camps. UNHCR refused to allocate resources to support the relocations. By year’s end the government had yet to relocate South Sudanese refugees to camps. The government allowed the establishment of two refugee camps in East Darfur and eight refugee camps in White Nile for South Sudanese refugees.

Foreign Travel: The government requires citizens to obtain an exit visa if they wish to depart the country. Issuance was usually without complication, but the government continued to use the visa requirement to restrict some citizens’ travel, especially persons of political or security interest. To obtain an exit visa, children must receive the permission of both parents.

Exile: The government observed the law prohibiting forced exile. It warned political opponents of their potential arrest, however, if they returned from self-imposed exile. Opposition leaders and NGO activists remained in self-imposed exile in northern Africa and Europe; other activists fled the country during the year. On January 27, opposition leader Sadiq al-Mahdi returned to Khartoum, more than two years after he had fled to Cairo following government allegations he collaborated with rebels. The authorities did not arrest him upon arrival in Khartoum, and he did not report harassment. As of year’s end, other prominent opposition members had not returned to the country under the 2015 general amnesty for leaders and members of the armed movements taking part in the national dialogue; some expressed concern about their civic and political rights even with the amnesty.


Large-scale displacement continued to be a severe problem in Darfur and the Two Areas, but there was a significant decline in conflict-related displacement owing to ceasefires observed by the government and most armed groups. Government restrictions and security constraints, however, continued to limit access to affected populations and impeded the delivery of humanitarian services, although to a lesser extent than in prior years (see section 1.g.).

According to the United Nations and partners, an estimated 8,200 persons were reported as newly displaced across Darfur as of October 1. This was a substantial decrease from 2016’s estimated 152,600 newly displaced persons. The UNOCHA reported the vast majority of the displacement during the year was triggered by intercommunal conflict. Many IDPs faced chronic food shortages and inadequate medical care. Significant numbers of farmers were prevented from planting their fields due to insecurity, leading to near-famine conditions in parts of Southern Kordofan. The government and the SPLM-N continued to deny access to humanitarian actors and UN agencies in areas controlled by the SPLM-N. Information about the number of displaced in these areas was difficult to verify. Armed groups estimated the areas contained 545,000 of the IDPs and severely affected persons during the year, while the government estimated the number as closer to 200,000. UN agencies could not provide estimates, citing lack of access as a hindrance. Children accounted for approximately 60 percent of persons displaced in camps.

Government restrictions, harassment, and the threat of expulsion resulted in continued interruption of gender-based violence programming. Reporting and outreach were limited (see section 5). Some UN agencies were able to work with the Darfur governor’s advisers on women and children to raise awareness of gender-based violence and response efforts.

There were numerous reports of abuse committed by government security forces, rebels, and armed groups against IDPs in Darfur, including rapes and beatings (see section 1.g.).

Outside IDP camps and towns, insecurity restricted freedom of movement, and women and girls who left the towns and camps risked sexual violence. Insecurity within IDP camps also was a problem. The government provided little assistance or protection to IDPs in Darfur. Most IDP camps had no functioning police force. International observers noted criminal gangs aligned with rebel groups operated openly in several IDP camps.

As in previous years, the government did not establish formal IDP or refugee camps in Khartoum or the Two Areas.

The United Nations did not have a presence in SPLM-N-controlled areas and was unable to assess the scope of civilian displacement in the area.


UNHCR reported more than 793,700 refugees and asylum seekers in the country. The Commission for Refugees estimated the total refugee population could be as high as 1.3 million persons, because a large number of potential refugees and asylum seekers remained unregistered. UNHCR reported there were countless South Sudanese in the country who were unregistered and at risk of statelessness.

Approximately 8,500 refugees from Chad and 1,450 refugees from the Central African Republic lived in Darfur. New Eritrean refugees entering eastern Sudan often stayed in camps for two to three months before moving to Khartoum, other parts of the country, or on to Libya in an effort to reach Europe. In eastern Sudan, UNHCR estimated there were 135,000 new arrivals from Eritrea and Ethiopia. The government continued to restrict access in eastern Sudan for international humanitarian NGOs, as it did throughout the country.

As of November, UNHCR estimated that a total of 853,258 South Sudanese refugees were in Sudan, including the 350,000 persons of South Sudanese origin who remained in the country following South Sudan’s independence in 2011. UNOCHA reported that an estimated 84,000 South Sudanese arrived in East, North, and South Darfur prior to September 15, resulting in a total of 150,000 South Sudanese in Darfur. Approximately 250,000 of the South Sudanese refugees lived in Khartoum, many integrated into the urban population. An estimated 40,000 lived in shantytowns, informal settlements known as “open areas” until August. UNHCR and implementing partners received access to the open areas. Many open areas lacked basic services such as water, electricity, and sewage systems.

UNHCR noted a trend of forced demolitions and relocations in Khartoum’s open areas, home to an estimated 35,000 South Sudanese refugees. The government did not grant UNHCR or its NGO partners access to these areas, with the exception of one visit to Bantiu granted following the UN high commissioner for refugees’ visit in August. UNHCR noted urgent humanitarian concerns on the visit.

The governments of Sudan and South Sudan signed a framework agreement (known as the “four freedoms” agreement) as part of a broader bilateral agreement in 2012 that provides for citizens of both states to enjoy freedom of residence, movement, economic activity, and property ownership, but it was not fully implemented during the year. The agreement was also implemented unevenly depending on the state. South Sudanese in East Darfur had more flexibility to move around (so long as they were far away from the nearest village) than refugees in White Nile State.

Recently arrived South Sudanese were officially recognized as refugees by the government and were therefore allowed to receive more services from UNHCR. At the state level, however, the government still referred to them as “brothers and sisters.” Following recognition as refugees, the government stated South Sudanese rights were governed by the Asylum Act of 2014, justifying a lack of implementation of the four freedoms.

Refoulement: The country is a signatory to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and generally respected the international principle of nonrefoulement with a few notable exceptions. With UNHCR’s assistance authorities were trained on referral procedures to prevent refoulement, including of refugees who previously registered in other countries.

In August, 66 Eritrean citizens were rescued from human smugglers by security forces in Gergef near the Eritrean border. The group included 37 women and girls and 29 men and boys, of whom 30 were unaccompanied and separated children. The Commission for Refugees screened the group on two separate occasions but determined they were not refugees, after which state courts convicted the victims of smuggling and ordered their deportation. UNHCR was not permitted to access the victims. The 30 children were summarily deported to Eritrea on August 30; the adults were sentenced to two-month jail terms and were deported after serving their sentences. This was a reversal in recent government practice, since Eritreans historically received refugee status.

Access to Asylum: The government generally provided first asylum/temporary protection to individuals who might not qualify as refugees. The law requires asylum applications to be nominally submitted within 30 days of arrival in the country. This time stipulation was not strictly enforced. The government granted asylum to many asylum seekers, particularly from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, and Syria, but it sometimes considered individuals registered as asylum seekers or refugees in another country, mostly in Ethiopia, to be irregular movers or migrants. Government officials routinely took up to three months to approve individual refugee and asylum status, but they worked with UNHCR to implement status determination procedures in eastern Sudan and Darfur and attempted to reduce the case backlog. The law requires asylum seekers to register both as refugees with the Commission for Refugees and as foreigners with the Civil Registry (to obtain a “foreign” number).

Since the beginning of the Syrian conflict in 2011, more than 40,000 Syrians had arrived in Sudan, according to government sources, of whom 10,224 registered with UNHCR.

The government waives regular entry visa requirements for Yemenis. As of September more than 1,600 Yemeni refugees had registered in Sudan.

Employment: The government in principle allows refugees to work informally but rarely granted work permits (even to refugees who obtained degrees in the country). In 2015 and 2016, UNHCR signed a project partnership agreement with the Commission for Refugees to issue more than 1,000 work permits to selected refugees for a livelihood graduation program implemented in Kassala and Gadaref. Due to the involvement of NISS in suspending the granting of permits, only 27 work permits were issued during the year, compared with 25 issued in 2016.

Some refugees in eastern states were able to find informal work as agricultural workers or laborers in towns. Many women in camps reportedly resorted to illegal production of alcohol and were subjected to arrest and harassment by police. In urban centers the majority of refugees worked in the informal sector (for example, as tea sellers, house cleaners, and drivers), leaving them at heightened risk of arrest, exploitation, and abuse.

Temporary Protection: The government generally maintained an open border with South Sudan. The government position on the status of South Sudanese in the country, however, changed on multiple occasions based on improvements or contentious points in the Sudan-South Sudan relationship. As of August, UNHCR estimated 454,660 individuals had crossed into the country from South Sudan since December 2013.

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