Iraq

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution provides for the right of free expression, including for the press, that does not violate public order and morality, express support for the banned Baath Party, or advocate altering the country’s borders through violent means. The primary limitation on the exercise of this right was self-censorship due to credible fear of reprisals by the government, political parties, ethnic and sectarian forces, terrorist and extremist groups, or criminal gangs.

Freedom of Expression: Despite the constitutional protection for freedom of expression, central government and KRG oversight and censorship sometimes interfered with media operations, at times resulting in the closure of media outlets, restrictions on reporting, denying access to public information, and interference with internet service. Individuals were able to criticize the government publicly or privately but not without fear of reprisal.

Central government and KRG forces arrested and detained protesters and activists critical of the central government and of the KRG, respectively, according to statements by government officials, NGO contacts, and press reporting.

In May residents of al-Nasiriya, Dhi Qar Governorate, protested the reported May 8 disappearance of a civil society activist who had written articles highlighting alleged corruption and criticizing political parties. Protesters called on the local government and security forces to investigate and publish their findings.

In July the Iraqi Media Network (IMN) fired the editor secretary of the IMN Magazine after he criticized the government on his personal social media account and expressed support for protesters in Basrah. In September al-Hurra television station received threats of violence after broadcasting stories perceived to convey anti-Iranian perspectives. Some online critics of the government operated under aliases to avoid persecution from the government and armed groups affiliated with elected officials. For example, on March 26 and 27, KRG forces prevented news crews from several IKR TV news outlets from covering demonstrations by teachers and public employees over salary delays in various locations in Erbil and Duhok Governorates. On May 26, Duhok Governorate security forces detained freelance journalist Mustafa Salih Bamarnee for 10 days for criticizing the KRG on social media.

Press and Media Freedom: Media were active and expressed a variety of views, largely reflecting the owners’ political viewpoints. Media also self-censored to comply with government restrictions against “violating public order” and because of a fear of reprisal by political parties, militias, terrorist groups, criminal organizations, and private individuals, including political figures. Those media outlets unable to cover operating costs through advertising revenue frequently relied upon funding from political entities, leading to biased reporting. Political parties strongly influenced, or controlled outright, most of the several hundred daily and weekly print publications, as well as dozens of radio and television stations.

Local NGOs reported that independent media outlets in the IKR decreased due to their inability to compete with the large media outlets founded and funded by political parties and officials. Party-affiliated outlets recruited and attracted journalists away from independent media, further weakening them, according to local media experts. On June 5, independent Kurdish news outlet Awene ceased printing its newspaper due to financial shortfalls.

The KDP and PUK, the IKR’s main political parties, gave prioritized access to the outlets they owned. In KDP strongholds, Kurdistan Television, Rudaw, and K24 had access to all public places and information, while in PUK-dominated Sulaimaniya Governorate, Kurdsat News, and GK TV enjoyed the same privilege. Conversely, outlets belonging to opposition parties or lacking party affiliation had limited access to public information in the IKR.

On March 27, Erbil Airport security reportedly prevented Nalia Radio and Television and Payam TV crews from covering a press conference with the Erbil Airport director. On July 5, the KRG prime minister’s office reportedly prevented Kurdish News Network Television from covering the prime minister’s press conference in Erbil.

Government forces sometimes prevented journalists from reporting, citing security reasons. Some media organizations reported arrests and harassment of journalists, as well as government efforts to prevent them from covering politically sensitive topics, including security issues, corruption, and government failure to provide adequate services.

In June police arrested a reporter in Fallujah, Anbar Governorate, who was investigating the involvement of Fallujah city hall leaders in a real estate scandal. According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), police did not inform the journalist of the reason for his arrest and released him without charge three days later.

Multiple press freedom advocacy groups reported numerous violations of press freedom by the KRG, including physically blocking journalists’ access to story locations and press conferences. In March, IKR authorities shut down news outlets and detained journalists for reporting on local demonstrations calling for basic government services. On March 26 and 27, security forces reportedly detained a Payam TV crew and Speda reporter Akar Fars for several hours, allegedly for covering demonstrations. Kurdish police shut down Khakbeer TV and seized broadcasting equipment of NRT from television crews.

Violence and Harassment: According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), as of October no journalists were killed in the country.

Reporting from areas liberated from ISIS control remained dangerous and difficult. Journalists covering armed clashes involving government forces, militias, and ISIS remnants faced serious threats to their safety. Military officials, citing safety considerations, sometimes restricted journalists’ access to areas of active fighting.

Media workers often reported that politicians, government officials, security services, tribal elements, and business leaders pressured them not to publish articles critical of them. Journalists reported accounts of government or partisan violence, intimidation, death threats, and harassment.

In July police reportedly used electroshock weapons against, threatened, and detained for three hours three journalists covering protests at the airport in Najaf Governorate. According to RSF, all three were clearly identifiable as journalists when the police attacked them. The CPJ reported that between July 14 and September 6 at least seven journalists were assaulted or detained by police and PMF while covering protests over government corruption and the lack of basic services in several cities across the country, and the offices of two local media outlets were set afire by protesters.

Throughout the IKR, there were reports of beatings, detentions, and death threats against media workers. In some cases, the aggressors wore KRG military or police uniforms. Press freedom CSOs accused IKR authorities of unlawful detention of news outlet employees, intimidation by physical violence, and torture in connection with March arrests of journalists reporting on local protests. According to a local NGO, on March 27, security forces attacked and beat a Kurdsat TV crew in Akre, Duhok Governorate, injuring reporter Dilbrin Ghazi, and detaining him for two hours. On May 24, Sarkawt Kuba, a senior official in the KRG political party Gorran, and his guards reportedly beat journalist Sabah Ali Qaraman for criticizing Gorran officials.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law prohibits producing, importing, publishing, or possessing written material, drawings, photographs, or films that violate public integrity or decency. The penalties for conviction include fines and imprisonment. Fear of violent retaliation for publishing facts or opinions critical of political factions inhibited free expression. The Ministry of Culture must approve all books published in or imported into the country, thereby subjecting authors to censorship.

Public officials reportedly influenced content by rewarding positive reporting with bribes, providing money, land, access to venues, and other benefits to journalists, particularly to members of the progovernment Journalists’ Syndicate. These restrictions extended to privately owned television stations operating outside of the country.

During national parliamentary elections in May, the government restricted media access at polling stations and held news conferences only for state-owned media and a pan-Arab news outlet. The NGO Journalist Freedoms Observatory (JFO) criticized the Independent Higher Electoral Commission (IHEC) for its lack of transparency during the democratic process.

The KRG placed additional scrutiny on texts containing what it perceived to be religious extremism. A KRG-appointed committee that screens books for publication and printing licenses rejected several books for this reason. While in 2017 the KRG reportedly banned 200 books from around the world from sale at the Erbil International Book Fair, the KRG banned fewer than 40 books–all from the IKR–during this year’s book fair.

Libel/Slander Laws: Criminal and civil law prohibits defamation. Many in media asserted that defamation laws prevented them from freely practicing their profession by creating a strong fear of prosecution, although widespread self-censorship and financial reliance on political patronage impeded journalistic performance as well. Public officials occasionally filed libel charges that sometimes resulted in punitive fines on individual media outlets and editors, often for publishing articles containing allegations of corruption. When cases went to court, judges usually found in favor of the journalists, according to local media freedom organizations. Libel is a criminal offense under KRG law, and courts may issue arrest warrants for journalists on this basis.

Nongovernmental Impact: Nongovernmental and quasi-governmental actors, including militias outside of state control, terrorist groups, and criminal organizations reportedly threatened journalists with violence for reporting on sensitive subjects. Specifically, Iran-aligned PMF groups reportedly sent death threats and other threats of violence to journalists and civil society members covering protests in Basrah Governorate in September.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government restricted or disrupted access to the internet and censored online content, and there were reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Government restrictions on access to the internet were overt, but the government denied that it monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Despite restrictions, political figures and activists used the internet to criticize politicians, mobilize protesters for demonstrations, and campaign for candidates through social media platforms.

The government acknowledged it interfered with internet access in some areas of the country, reportedly due to the security situation and ISIS’ disruptive use of social media platforms. There were reports government officials attempted unsuccessfully to have pages critical of the government removed from Facebook and Twitter as “hate speech.”

On July 16, the JFO issued a press release criticizing the government for cutting internet services and blocking social media sites throughout the country in what JFO considered an attempt to limit protests over the lack of adequate public services that erupted in southern and central Iraq. The government denied blocking internet services during the unrest and blamed the interruption on infrastructure issues, even though virtual private networks (VPNs) continued to work properly.

In a July report, Amnesty described how government forces assaulted peaceful protesters after purposefully disabling internet access in Baghdad and the southern portion of the country. Witnesses told the NGO that the government shut off internet access at strategic times to mask the government forces’ displays of excessive and unnecessary force against civilians, including the use of live ammunition, which resulted in the death of eight individuals in July (see section 2.b.).

The government sporadically instructed internet service providers to shut down the internet for two to three hours a day during school exams, reportedly to prevent cheating on standardized national exams. In September the NGO AccessNow reported that the Ministry of Communications cut online communications for 10 days for two hours per day for this reason.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 49 percent of individuals used the internet and 59 percent of households had internet access at home in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were government restrictions on academic freedom and cultural events. Social, religious, and political pressures significantly restricted the exercise of freedom of choice in academic and cultural matters. In all regions, various groups reportedly sought to control the pursuit of formal education and the granting of academic positions.

Academic freedoms remained restricted in areas of active conflict with ISIS.

NGOs in the IKR reported that senior professorships were easier to obtain for those with links to the traditional KDP and PUK ruling parties.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government sometimes limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides for freedom of assembly and peaceful demonstration “regulated by law.” Regulations require protest organizers to request permission seven days in advance of a demonstration and submit detailed information regarding the applicants, the reason for the protest, and participants. The regulations prohibit all “slogans, signs, printed materials, or drawings” involving “sectarianism, racism, or segregation” of citizens. The regulations also prohibit anything that would violate the constitution or law; encourage violence, hatred, or killing; or prove insulting to Islam, “honor, morals, religion, holy groups, or Iraqi entities in general.” Provincial councils traditionally maintained authority to issue permits. Authorities generally issued permits in accordance with the regulations.

The government largely respected the right of its citizens to freedom of peaceful assembly. In July and August in Baghdad, demonstrators staged peaceful protests to demand better services, jobs, and an end to government corruption.

In some cases the government used force against protesters. During protests in Basrah Governorate and other areas of southern Iraq over corruption and poor public services related to water and electricity between July and September, at least 15 persons died in clashes with government forces, according to media reports. Local human rights organizations reported that government forces in some cases prevented the injured from receiving treatment at hospitals and detained members of civil society investigating the government’s response to the protests.

On March 28, KRG forces arrested more than 80 protesters demonstrating against poor public services and government salaries in the IKR.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for the right to form and join associations and political parties, with some exceptions. The government generally respected this right, except for the legal prohibitions against groups expressing support for the Baath Party or Zionist principles. The penal code stipulates that any person convicted of promoting Zionist principles, association with Zionist organizations, assisting such organizations through material or moral support, or working in any way to realize Zionist objectives, be subject to punishment by death. There were no known cases of individuals charged with violating this law during the year.

The government reported it took approximately one month to process NGO registration applications. NGOs must register and periodically reregister in Baghdad. The NGO Directorate in the Council of Ministers Secretariat reported approximately 3,500 registered NGOs as of September. International organizations such as the ICRC and the International Commission on Missing Persons continued to operate in a legal gray area, given a gap in government registration regulations.

The IKR requires separate registration in Erbil. The first half of the year witnessed continuing fallout from the September 2017 KRG independence referendum in that the KRG and central government did not mutually recognize NGO registration. As a result, many NGOs that were registered only in Baghdad could not operate in the IKR for the first half of the year, while NGOs registered only in Erbil could not operate outside the IKR and KRG-controlled disputed territories until the issue was resolved.

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

The constitution and law provides for the freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government did not consistently respect these rights. In some instances authorities restricted movements of displaced persons, and authorities did not allow some IDP camp residents to depart without specific permission, thereby limiting access to livelihoods, education, and services. Many parts of the country liberated from ISIS control suffered from movement restrictions due to checkpoints of PMF units and other government forces. In other instances local authorities did not always recognize security permits of returnees nor comply with the central government’s orders to facilitate, but not force, returns.

The government generally cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration (IOM), and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to IDPs, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern. The government did not have effective systems to assist all of these individuals, largely due to funding shortfalls and lack of capacity. Successful efforts by the government to regain control of areas previously held by ISIS allowed many returns to take place. Returnees, however, grappled with the destruction of homes, lack of services and livelihoods, and continued concerns for security due to the prevalence of PMF groups that, in some cases, led to secondary displacement.

Security considerations, unexploded ordnance, destruction of infrastructure, and official and unofficial restrictions sometimes limited humanitarian access to IDP communities. Insecurity caused by the presence of ISIS and PMF groups hindered the movement of international staff of humanitarian organizations, restricting their ability to monitor programs for a portion of the year.

In-country Movement: The law permits security forces to restrict in-country movement pursuant to a warrant, impose curfews, cordon off and search areas, and take other necessary security and military measures in response to security threats and attacks. There were numerous reports that government forces, including the ISF, Peshmerga, and the PMF, selectively enforced regulations, including for ethnosectarian reasons, requiring residency permits to limit entry of persons into areas under their control.

During the year the ISF decreased the number of checkpoints in many parts of the country.

Humanitarian agencies frequently reported evictions of IDPs from camps and informal displacement sites due to closures and consolidations, which reportedly were often not coordinated with humanitarian actors and which caused some sudden, involuntary displacements. Some political actors promoted camp closures in advance of May parliamentary elections, and authorities reportedly used coercive measures during eviction notifications. IDP camp managers reported government officials did not always give IDPs at closed camps the choice of returning to their areas of origin or displacement to another site. Some families in camps near Baghdad expressed a desire to integrate locally, having found informal employment, but local government authorities reportedly denied requests.

There were numerous reports that IDPs, particularly those suspected of ISIS affiliation, faced hostility from local government officials and populations, as well as expulsion. In liberated areas of Anbar, Duhok, Kirkuk, Ninewa, and Salah al-Din Governorates, humanitarian agencies reported movement restrictions for families with relatives suspected of ISIS affiliation. In June, HRW reported government forces blocked the return of IDPs with suspected ISIS affiliation in Anbar, even though they had obtained permission from camp security forces and were returning to areas of origin with government transportation. Tribal leaders and humanitarian actors reported that fabricated accusations of ISIS affiliation led to stigmatization of IDPs and de facto restrictions on in-country movement. They also expressed concerns of collective punishment against certain communities for their perceived ties to ISIS. For example, according to UNHCR, 150 returnee families faced discrimination in Rutba, Anbar Governorate, based on their perceived ISIS affiliation. Tribal pacts called for punishing false accusations of ISIS affiliation, but they also prohibited legal defense for those affiliated with ISIS. IDPs were also often the targets of stigmatization or discrimination because of familial rivalries or economic reasons, rather than affiliation with ISIS. Anbar authorities reportedly made efforts to stop these practices and to work toward post-ISIS reconciliation.

Multiple international NGOs reported that PMF units and Peshmerga prevented civilians, including Sunni Arabs and ethnic and religious minorities, from returning to their homes after government forces ousted ISIS (see section 6, National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities and Other Societal Violence or Discrimination). For example, UNHCR reported that local armed groups barred returns to certain areas of Baiji, Salah al-Din Governorate. Similarly, Christian CSOs reported that certain PMF groups, including the 30th Shabak Brigade, prevented Christian IDP returns and harassed Christian returnees in several towns in the Ninewa Plain, including Bartalla and Qaraqosh.

There were reports some PMF groups harassed or threatened civilians fleeing conflict zones or returning to liberated areas and targeted civilians with threats, intimidation, physical violence, abduction, destruction or confiscation of property, and killing.

Syrian refugees continued to have restrictions on residence and movement outside the IKR.

KRG and central government forces closed roads and restricted movement in disputed territories between the central government and the IKR. For example, Peshmerga, ISF, and PMF checkpoints closed many roads from KRG-controlled territory to central government-controlled areas, including the roads from Erbil to Kirkuk, Duhok to Sinjar, Badria to Mosul, al-Qosh to Tal Kayf, Sheikhan to Mosul, and Hawler to Mosul. The closure of these roads hampered the return home of IDPs, slowed economic recovery in areas affected by ISIS, and separated populations from access to schools, medical facilities, and markets. By November all but the Duhok-Sinjar road had been opened for civilian traffic.

The KRG restricted movement across the areas it administered. Authorities required nonresidents to obtain permits that authorized limited stays in the IKR. These permits were generally renewable. Citizens who sought to obtain residency permits for KRG-controlled areas required sponsorship from a resident in the region. Humanitarian actors described the sponsorship program as effective in enabling the return of thousands of IDPs. Citizens of all ethnosectarian backgrounds, including Kurds, crossing into the IKR from central or southern regions were obligated to cross through checkpoints and undergo personal and vehicle inspection. The government imposed similar restrictions on IDPs from Ninewa Governorate and the disputed territories.

KRG authorities applied restrictions more stringently in some areas than in others. The United Nations and international humanitarian organizations stated that restrictiveness of entry for IDPs and refugees seeking to return depended upon the ethnosectarian background of the displaced individuals and the area to which they intended to return. There were also reports that authorities sometimes closed checkpoints into the region for extended periods, forcing IDPs to wait. Officials prevented individuals whom they deemed security threats from entering the region. KRG officials generally admitted minority IDPs into the IKR, although security checks reportedly were lengthy on occasion. Entry reportedly was often more difficult for men, particularly Arab men traveling without family.

Foreign Travel: The government required exit permits for citizens leaving the country, but the requirement was not routinely enforced.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

According to the IOM Displacement Tracking Matrix, fewer than 1.9 million persons remained internally displaced in the country as of October, predominantly in Erbil, Duhok, and Ninewa Governorates. Almost 4.1 million persons had returned to areas of origin across the country since those areas were liberated from ISIS. In August the IOM reported 12 percent of IDPs lived in shelter arrangements that did not meet minimal safety or security standards, 29 percent lived in IDP camps and settlements, and 48 percent resided in private accommodations, including host family residences, hotels, motels, and rental housing.

The constitution and national policy on displacement address IDP rights, but few laws specifically do so. The government and international organizations, including UN agencies and local and international NGOs, provided protection and other assistance to IDPs. Humanitarian actors provided support for formal IDP camps and implemented community-based services for IDPs residing outside of camps to limit strain on host community resources. In December 2017 the United Nations lowered the designation of the country’s humanitarian crisis from a level three to a level two emergency.

In March the government and the United Nations jointly announced the Government’s Plan for Relief, Shelter and Stabilization of Displaced People and the Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP). The government’s plan strengthened the provision of legal protection to IDPs, provided relief items and services in camps, and supported safe returns. The HRP outlined the projects and funding required to meet the needs of 3.4 million of the most vulnerable persons in Iraq and included provisions for protection. It also strengthened mechanisms with government authorities to support voluntary, safe, and sustainable returns of IDPs.

In some areas violence, insecurity, and long-standing political, tribal and ethnosectarian tensions hampered progress on national reconciliation and political reform, complicating the protection environment for IDPs. The government forced large numbers of IDPs to return to their places of origin to vote in parliamentary elections in May. Thousands of families faced secondary displacement due to economic and security concerns. Forced displacements, combined with unresolved problems caused by the uprooting of millions of Iraqis in past decades, strained the capacity of local authorities.

Some government forces, including PMF, reportedly forcibly displaced individuals due to perceived ISIS affiliation or for ethnosectarian reasons. For example, HRW reported that in January government forces, including the PMF, forcibly displaced at least 235 families of people with alleged ties to ISIS and sent them to IDP camps in Kirkuk Governorate. In a report published in February, individuals interviewed by HRW said local police working in the camp confiscated their identity papers and prevented them from leaving.

Government assistance focused on financial grants, but payments were sporadic. Faced with large movements of IDPs across the country, the government provided food, water, and financial assistance to many, but not all IDPs, including in the IKR. Many IDPs lived in informal settlements without access to adequate water, sanitation, or other essential services. The UN Education Cluster reported that out-of-camp IDP populations had the poorest school attendance and highest dropout rates amongst IDPs, refugees, and host communities. The UN Education Cluster also found displaced children in out-of-camp settings lacked civil documents at higher rates than those in camps.

All citizens were eligible to receive food under the Public Distribution System (PDS), but authorities implemented the PDS sporadically and irregularly, with limited access in recently liberated areas. Authorities did not distribute all commodities each month, and not all IDPs could access the PDS in each governorate. Low oil prices reduced government revenues and further limited funds available for the PDS. There were reports of IDPs losing access and entitlement to PDS distributions and other services due to requirements that citizens could only redeem PDS rations or other services at their registered place of residence.

Throughout the year UNICEF criticized Ministry of Education decisions in January and April to close some IDP schools in the IKR. In August the IHCHR called on the central government’s Ministry of Heath to resume deliveries of food and medicine to the IDP camps in the IKR.

Local authorities often determined whether IDPs would have access to local services. Through the provision of legal aid, the United Nations and other humanitarian organizations assisted IDPs in obtaining documentation and registering with authorities to improve access to services and entitlements. Humanitarian agencies reported some IDPs faced difficulty with registration due to lack of required civil documentation and administrative delays. Many citizens who previously lived in ISIS-controlled areas did not have civil documents, increasing the difficulty of obtaining identification and other personal documents.

Households with perceived ties to ISIS faced stigma and were at increased risk of being deprived of their basic rights, as reported by Amnesty in April. Government officials frequently denied security clearances for displaced households with a perceived ISIS affiliation to return to areas of origin. Because of this perceived affiliation, these households faced challenges in obtaining civil documentation and had limited freedom of movement, including to seek medical treatment, due to the risk of arrest or inability to reenter the camp. Humanitarian organizations reported that female heads of household in multiple IDP camps struggled to obtain permission to move and were subject to verbal and physical harassment, including rape and sexual assault and exploitation, by government forces and camp residents.

IKR-based NGOs documented numerous cases of women forced by ISIS to marry fighters who became widows with children, but lacked marriage and birth certificates required to obtain legal documentation for their children. These women and children were stigmatized because of their association with ISIS, leaving them at heightened risk of suicide, retaliation, and sexual exploitation. Honor killings remained a risk, although some communities issued edicts and took steps to absolve women of any perceived guilt associated with their sexual exploitation by ISIS fighters. Communities generally did not accept children born to ISIS fighters, however, and they were frequently abandoned or placed in orphanages, as reported by Yezidi NGOs and media.

Central government authorities and governors took steps to close or consolidate camps, sometimes in an effort to force IDPs to return to their areas of origin. In many cases forced returns from camps resulted in secondary or tertiary displacement, often to out-of-camp settings. Reuters reported that between November 2017 and January ISF forcibly returned between 2,400 and 5,000 IDPs from camps in Amriyat al-Falluja, Anbar Governorate. Aid workers told media that military trucks arrived at camps unannounced and commanders read out lists of people, who had one hour to pack their belongings and go. Reuters reported in January that five camp residents said they were forced to leave by ISF but had to turn back because checkpoints manned by Iranian-aligned PMF units demanded bribes of up to approximately 500,000 Iraqi dinars ($419) to let people through, a sum none could afford.

Humanitarian organizations regularly criticized the government for returning IDPs to unsafe areas. In January, Reuters detailed the experiences of Saleh Ahmed, whose family ISF evicted from a camp in Amriyat al-Falluja, Anbar Governorate, in November 2017 and forced to return to their home town of Betaya. Ahmed reportedly refused because contacts at home told them the area was filled with booby traps left by ISIS and that their houses had been destroyed, but a local commander assured them the area was safe. Upon return an explosive went off, killing Ahmed’s wife, burning his daughter over much of her body, and injuring Ahmed.

IDPs returning to towns and areas in the Ninewa Plain reported that ISIS had destroyed temples, houses of worship, cemeteries, and schools. Local authorities reported that, as of September 18, more than 7,400 Christian families from a pre-ISIS population of 19,000 families had returned to the Ninewa Plain, compared with only 200 as of September 2017. Christian IDPs and returnees in villages and towns in the Ninewa Plain under PMF control reported the PMF imposed arbitrary checkpoints and detained civilians without legal authority to do so. West Mosul, Ninewa Governorate, along with the historically Christian town of Batnaya north of Mosul, remained in ruins and almost completely uninhabited. Most Christian IDPs refused to return to the nearby town of Tal Kayf, citing fear of the PMF 50th Babylon Brigade that occupied it. According to a June report by the Yezidi NGO Nadia’s Initiative, more than 64,000 persons out of a precrisis population of more than 126,000 had returned to the eight collectives in north Sinjar, Ninewa Governorate. Southern Sinjar remained in ruins and almost uninhabited.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. Syrians made up the vast majority of the refugee population, and almost all refugees resided in the IKR. The government generally cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations to provide protection and assistance to refugees in the country.

Employment: Refugees and asylum seekers are legally entitled to work in the private sector. Palestinian refugees, however, faced job insecurity in the public sector due to their ambiguous legal status; the government did not recognize their refugee status nor allow them to obtain citizenship. Syrian refugees were able to obtain and renew residency and work permits both in refugee camps and in the IKR, although not in the rest of the country. Authorities arrested refugees with IKR residence permits who sought work outside of the region and returned them to the IKR. A UNHCR survey of Syrian refugees in the IKR between April and June showed that 83 percent of the refugee families had at least one family member regularly employed in some form of livelihood activity.

Durable Solutions: There was no large-scale resettlement or integration of refugees in central and southern Iraq. Ethnic Kurdish refugees from Syria, Turkey, and Iran generally integrated well in the IKR, although economic hardship reportedly plagued families and prevented some children, especially Syrians, from enrolling in formal school. For the 2018/19 school year, the KRG Ministry of Education began teaching all first- and second-grade classes for Syrian refugees outside refugee camps in Sorani Kurdish in Erbil and Sulaimaniya Governorates and Badini Kurdish in Duhok Governorate instead of the dialects of Kurmanji Kurdish spoken by Syrian Kurds, while offering optional instruction in Sorani and Badini to those inside refugee camps.

STATELESS PERSONS

UNHCR estimated there were more than 47,000 stateless individuals in the country as of August.

Absent a countrywide, consistent plan to document children of Iraqi mothers and ISIS fathers, some of those children are at risk of statelessness. The government enforced a law requiring any non-Muslim women who bore children of Muslim men to register children as Muslim, no matter the circumstances of the child’s conception or the mother’s religion. The Yezidi community frequently welcomed back Yezidi women but not Muslim children fathered by ISIS fighters. The Yezidi community frequently forced women to give up such babies and minor children to orphanages under threat of expulsion from the community. The ICRC provided shelter referrals to some Yezidi women and, in some cases, assisted mothers in finding forcibly abandoned children. As a result, some such children are without parents, identification, clear country of birth, or settled nationality.

As of 2006, the latest year for which data was available, an estimated 54,500 “Bidoun” (stateless) individuals, living as nomads in the desert in or near the southern governorates of Basrah, Dhi Qar, and Qadisiyah, remained undocumented and stateless descendants of individuals who never received Iraqi citizenship upon the state’s founding. Prolonged drought in the south of the country forced many individuals from these communities to migrate to city centers, where most obtained identification documents and gained access to food rations and other social benefits. Other communities similarly at risk of statelessness included the country’s Romani (Dom) population; the Ahwazi, who are Shia Arabs of Iranian descent; the Baha’i religious minority; inhabitants of the southern marshlands; members of the Goyan and Omariya Turkish Kurdish tribes near Mosul; and nationals of South Sudan.

Stateless persons faced discrimination in employment and access to education. Many stateless persons were not able to register for identity cards, which prevented them from enrolling in public school, registering marriages, and gaining access to some government services. Stateless individuals also faced difficulty obtaining public-sector employment and lacked job security.

Ireland

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits words or behaviors likely to generate hatred against persons because of their race, nationality, religion, national origins, or sexual orientation. The law prohibits blasphemy, defined as publishing or uttering “matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion.” The law permits defendants to argue “genuine literary, artistic, political, scientific, or academic value” as a defense.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. The same prohibitions against language likely to generate hatred and blasphemy that affected freedom of expression also applied to the press. The government can prohibit the state-owned radio and television network from broadcasting any material “likely to promote or incite to crime or which would tend to undermine the authority of the state.” Authorities did not invoke these prohibitions during the year.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Consistent with an EU directive, the government requires telecommunication companies to retain information on all telephone and internet contacts (not content) for two years. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 85 percent of the population used the internet during 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

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

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration, and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of refugee or subsidiary protection status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. Asylum seekers whose initial applications are rejected can appeal the decision. Asylum seekers have access to legal advice.

NGOs and the UN Human Rights Committee expressed concern over the length and complexity of the application and appeal processes. In 2017 the average length of stay in “direct provision,” a system that includes housing, meals, a weekly cash allowance, and access to health care for asylum seekers, was 23 months.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country generally follows the EU’s Dublin III Regulation, which permits the return of asylum applicants to the EU member state of original entry for adjudication of asylum claims. In 2015 the government agreed to participate in an EU decision to distribute asylum seekers to various countries from Greece and Italy within the EU without regard to the Dublin III provisions.

Employment: In July the EU’s recast Reception Conditions Directive was transposed into domestic law. The directive allows access to the labor market for a broader range of persons seeking international protection than those receiving “direct provision” and removed previous limitations to employment, such as salary restrictions and ineligible sectors for employment.

Access to Basic Services: The country employs a system called “direct provision” that includes housing, meals, a weekly cash allowance, and access to health care for asylum seekers. Children have access to education. As of December 2017, 72 percent of asylum seekers remained in the government-run support system for less than three years, compared with 71 percent in December 2016 and 36 percent in December 2015. NGOs, including the Irish Refugee Council as well as the national ombudsman, and the UN Human Rights Committee expressed concern about the effects of the direct provision system, specifically noting that the prolonged accommodation of asylum seekers (an average of five years and more than seven years for 20 percent of residents) had detrimental effects.

Durable Solutions: The government operated a resettlement program to accommodate up to 200 persons referred by UNHCR or identified through selection missions to UNHCR refugee operations. Under the Irish Refugee Protection Program, the government committed to accepting 4,000 refugees, including 2,622 via the EU relocation program, although it only relocated 1,022 of the latter number since 2016. The government provides a post-arrival cultural orientation program and civic and language courses.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary protection (subsidiary protection) to individuals who may not qualify as refugees and, according to Eurostat, granted such protection to 50 persons in 2017. In the same year, it also granted humanitarian protection to 70 other persons. Such individuals were entitled to temporary residence permits, travel documents, access to employment, health care, and housing. The government did not make determinations on subsidiary protection status at the same time as determining asylum status. This caused delays, as a separate determination on subsidiary protection could take from several months to more than a year to complete.

Israel, Golan Heights, West Bank, and Gaza

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

The law imposes tort liability on any person who knowingly issues a public call for an economic, cultural, or academic boycott of the State of Israel or of institutions or entities in areas under its control in the West Bank. Plaintiffs must prove direct economic harm to claim damages under the “antiboycott” legislation. The law also permits the finance minister to impose administrative sanctions on those calling for such a boycott, including restrictions on participating in tenders for contracts with the government and denial of government benefits. According to an August 28 report in Ha’aretz, however, the Ministry of Finance’s legal advisor declined 14 requests to apply such sanctions over the prior 12 months.

In March 2017 the Knesset passed an amendment barring entry to the country to visitors who called for such a boycott. Criteria published in July 2017 by the Population and Immigration Authority restricted enforcement of this law to prominent activists promoting a boycott individually or as a leader of an organization. Following its passage, in January the Ministry of Strategic Affairs published a list of 20 organizations whose members would be refused entry to Israel. Based on the law, authorities denied entry to 10 visitors throughout the year, according to the government. In an October 18 court ruling in the case of a foreign student denied entry, the Supreme Court reversed the denial and restricted application of the law to visitors who are “currently” involved in “actively, consistently, and persistently calling publicly for a boycott,” as stated in the July 2017 regulations.

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits hate speech and content liable to incite to violence or discrimination on grounds of race, origin, religion, nationality, and gender.

The maximum penalty for desecrating the Israeli flag is three years in prison and a fine of 58,400 shekels ($16,200).

In cases of speech that are defined as incitement to violence or hate speech, the law empowers police to limit freedom of expression.

On July 16, the Knesset passed a law defining service in the IDF or national service alternative as an objective of the public education system and banning from schools any NGO whose activity “gravely and significantly contradicts the objectives of state education” or “actively initiates legal or political proceedings outside Israel against IDF soldiers for an action carried out in the course of their military duty or against the State of Israel.” The goal of the law was to “prohibit individuals or organizations that are not part of the education system from engaging in activities within an educational institution when the nature of the activity undermines the goals of state education,” according to its explanatory note. Both supporters and opponents of the bill said it targeted the NGO Breaking the Silence, which described the organization’s activities as collecting and publishing “the testimonies of soldiers who served in the occupied territories in order to generate public discourse on the reality of the occupation, with the aim of bringing it to an end.” Breaking the Silence criticized the new law as a violation of freedom of political expression. The Ministry of Education had not issued regulations necessary to implement the law as of the end of the year.

Israeli security officials prohibited Palestine Liberation Organization- or Palestinian Authority (PA)-affiliated groups from meeting in Jerusalem based on a 1995 law banning the PA from engaging in political, diplomatic, security or security-related activities in Israel, including Jerusalem. For example, on October 3, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan ordered the cancelation of a PA-sponsored event commemorating a Palestinian resident of Jordan who worked to place schools for Palestinians under the authority of the Jordanian Waqf after the 1967 war.

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

In August 2017 the Israeli Journalists Association filed a lawsuit against the minister of public security, police, and the Office of the Attorney General demanding that they stop harming journalists and freedom of the press, refrain from irrelevant restrictions on coverage, and set a transparent policy on maintaining press freedom and journalists’ rights. Police prevented photojournalist Debbie Hill from documenting a strike by Arab citizens of Israel in Jerusalem on October 1, according to media watchdog The Seventh Eye. Following a Supreme Court order, the police submitted to the court on October 18 a new procedure to regulate the work of journalists in areas experiencing clashes, which authorities claimed balanced freedom of press and the security requirements of policy. On November 1, the Supreme Court dismissed the lawsuit, stating that it was too early to judge the new regulations, but urged police and journalists to maintain a dialogue.

Violence and Harassment: Palestinian journalists who were able to obtain entry permits, as well as Jerusalem-based Palestinian journalists, reported incidents of harassment, racism, and occasional violence when they sought to cover news in Jerusalem, especially in the Old City and its vicinity. This included reports of alleged harassment by Israeli soldiers and acts of violence against Palestinian and Arab-Israeli journalists that prevented them from covering news stories. For example, on April 18, Israeli authorities closed the East Jerusalem offices of the Palestinian Elia Youth Media Foundation after then defense minister Avigdor Lieberman claimed the organization recruited young Palestinians to create videos that encouraged violence. The Committee to Protect Journalists rejected the accusation and noted that Lieberman provided no evidence of his claim. The government stated that it allowed Palestinian journalists interested in visiting Israel to request an entry permit and instructed IDF soldiers to allow journalists as much freedom to carry out their work as operational circumstances permit, and that it investigated thoroughly any allegations of mistreatment by Israeli security forces.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: All media organizations must submit to military censors any material relating to specific military issues or strategic infrastructure problems, such as oil and water supplies. Organizations may appeal the censor’s decisions to the Supreme Court, and the censor may not appeal a court judgment. In July 2017 the Israel Democracy Institute stated that power to prohibit publication of news should be transferred from the military censor to the judicial system.

News printed or broadcast abroad is subject to security censorship. The government regularly enacted restrictive orders on sensitive security information and continuing investigations, and required foreign correspondents, as well as local media, to abide by these orders. According to data provided by the armed forces to the news outlet Mekomit and the NGO Movement for Freedom of Information, in 2017 the censor intervened in more than 2,350 articles of 11,000 submitted to it and banned 271 articles.

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

National Security: The law criminalizes as “terrorist acts” speech supporting terrorism, including public praise of a terrorist organization, display of symbols, expression of slogans, and “incitement.” On March 7, the Knesset amended the law to authorize restrictions on the release of bodies of terrorists and their funerals to prevent “incitement to terror or identification with a terrorist organization or an act of terror.” The government issued 59 indictments and courts convicted 12 persons under the law as of December 25, including the May 3 conviction by the Nazareth Magistrate’s Court of Dareen Tatour, an Arab citizen, as a result of the poems, pictures, and other media she posted online in 2015.

On July 6, police released to house arrest Sheikh Raed Salah, head of the Northern Islamic Movement, which the government outlawed in 2015. Authorities indicted Salah for incitement to terrorism and supporting an illegal association after arresting him in August 2017.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government monitored electronic communications for security purposes. Based on a 2017 law authorizing district court judges to restrict access to internet sites to prevent the commission of crimes, district court judges approved requests from the state attorney’s cyber unit to remove 15 websites. The state attorney’s cyber unit’s end-of-year report for 2017 stated that requests to social media outlets to remove content based on its assessment that the content is illegal under the law led to the removal of almost 10,500 online postings, up from 1,554 in 2016. According to the report, 73 percent of the requests were due to offenses related to a terror organization, and 26 percent were due to incitement offenses. Adalah wrote a letter to the attorney general on November 21 stating that the cyber unit should cease submitting requests to social media providers to remove content because only the judicial branch has the authority to determine whether any particular content constitutes a crime.

In August authorities arrested East Jerusalem resident Suzanne Abu Ghanem on suspicion of incitement to violence and terrorism, based on Facebook posts about the death of her son during the 2017 demonstrations on the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif.

Internet access was widely available. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 82 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The law prohibits institutions that receive government funding from engaging in commemoration of the Nakba, or “catastrophe,” the term used by Palestinians to refer to the displacement of Palestinians during Israel’s 1948 War of Independence. According to an August 28 report in Ha’aretz, the Ministry of Finance rejected 98 requests to enforce the Nakba Law over the prior 12 months, including 60 requests from a political activist and 17 from Culture Minister Miri Regev.

In May, Education Minister and Chairman of the Council for Higher Education (CHE) Naftali Bennett agreed with the council of university heads regarding a new draft code of ethics to prevent academics from engaging in “political activity,” defined as supporting or opposing a party, political figure, or position on a topic under debate in the Knesset. According to the agreement, the CHE will not compel universities to adopt a unified ethics code, and the government will not advance legislation regarding an ethics code. Instead, academic institutions agreed to adopt five principles to their regulations, including nondiscrimination on the basis of political opinion and a regulation prohibiting faculty from presenting a personal political view as the view of the university.

Palestinian sources reported that Israeli authorities continued to provide an edited version of the Palestinian Authority curriculum that deleted information on Palestinian history and culture to schools in Palestinian-majority neighborhoods in East Jerusalem and sought to tie funding for those schools to the use of Israeli curriculum (see the West Bank and Gaza report for concerns regarding incitement and anti-Semitism in Palestinian Authority textbooks).

Israel maintained prohibitions on some prominent Jerusalem-based Palestinian institutions, such as the Jerusalem Chamber of Commerce and Orient House, which had been the de facto Palestine Liberation Organization office. The government renewed a military closure order for these and other institutions on the grounds they violated the Oslo Accords by conducting political activities or otherwise operating on behalf of the Palestinian Authority in Jerusalem. The government likewise shut down several Palestinian academic and cultural events taking place in Jerusalem due to Palestinian Authority participation or support. For example, on July 14, authorities disrupted an al-Quds University conference in East Jerusalem on “Islamic Endowment Properties in Jerusalem” due to alleged Palestinian Authority sponsorship, and they temporarily detained a member of the university’s board of trustees before releasing him.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

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

There were reports that police used excessive force in response to protests by certain groups, including ultra-Orthodox men and boys, Arab citizens and residents, and persons with disabilities. For example, on April 4 in Jerusalem, two police officers reportedly hit on the head an ultra-Orthodox man with a mental disability after he briefly stopped in the road and waved his hands while walking with a group of ultra-Orthodox protesters toward a demonstration, according to PCATI. Multiple NGOs reported that on some occasions, police used excessive force to break up permitted demonstrations after protesters waved a Palestinian flag.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

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

The law prohibits registration of an association or a party if its goals include denial of the existence of the State of Israel or the democratic character of the state. A political party will not be registered if its goals include incitement to racism or support of an armed struggle, enemy state, or terror organization against Israel.

The 2016 NGO law, which came into effect after NGOs filed their 2017 annual statements in the first half of the year, requires NGOs receiving more than one-half of their funding from foreign governments to state this fact in all of their official publications, applications to attend Knesset meetings, websites, public campaigns, and any communication with the public. The law allows a fine of 29,200 shekels ($8,000) for NGOs that violated these rules. As of December 15, the government had not taken legal action against any NGO for failing to comply with the law.

In March 2017 the Knesset passed a law mandating additional scrutiny on requests for National Service volunteers from NGOs that received more than one-half of their funding from foreign governments.

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

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

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

The government cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern, except as noted below.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Communities with a large concentration of African migrants were occasionally targets of violence. Additionally, the nature of government policies on the legality of work forced many refugees to work in “unofficial” positions, making them more susceptible to poor treatment and questionable work practices by their employers.

On February 22, a court convicted Dennis Barshivatz of manslaughter and a minor of inflicting grievous bodily harm for the death of Sudanese asylum seeker Babikar Ali Adham, whom the defendants beat to death in the city of Petah Tikva in 2016. Adham died from brain-stem bleeding four days after being beaten.

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

Foreign Travel: Citizens generally were free to travel abroad provided they had no outstanding military obligations and no administrative restrictions. The government may bar citizens from leaving the country based on security considerations, due to unpaid debts, or in cases in which a Jewish man refuses to grant his wife a Jewish legal writ of divorce. Authorities do not permit any citizen to travel to any state officially at war with Israel without government permission. This restriction includes travel to Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Yemen.

The government requires all citizens to have a special permit to enter “Area A” in the West Bank (the area, according to the Interim Agreement, in which the Palestinian Authority exercises civil and security responsibility), but the government allowed Arab citizens of Israel access to Area A without permits. Israel continued to revoke Palestinians’ Jerusalem identity cards. This meant Palestinian residents of Jerusalem could not return to reside in Jerusalem. Reasons for revocation included holding residency or citizenship of another country; living in another country, the West Bank, or Gaza for more than seven years; or, most commonly, being unable to prove a “center of life” (interpreted as full-time residency) in Jerusalem. Some Palestinians who were born in Jerusalem but studied abroad reported losing their Jerusalem residency status, but the government denied revoking residency status of anyone who left for the sole purpose of studying abroad. The government stated that during the year it revoked the Jerusalem residency status of six persons for “breach of trust” relating to terrorism, four persons for “breach of trust” relating to membership in the Palestinian Legislative Council, which has been defunct since 2007, and 13 persons whose residency status “expired.” The government added that the residency of individuals who maintain an “affinity to Israel” will not be revoked and former residents who wish to return to Israel may receive renewed residency status under certain conditions. On October 29, an immigration appeals tribunal granted permanent residence to a woman who had received temporary residency in 2009 based on marriage to a permanent resident but left the man in 2011 after suffering domestic abuse.

Palestinians possessing Jerusalem identity cards issued by the Israeli government needed special documents to travel abroad.

Exile: Following a September 2017 Supreme Court decision striking down the revocation of four Palestinians’ permanent residency for “breach of trust” because no law granted the Minister of the Interior that authority, on March 7, the Knesset passed an amendment to the Entry Into Israel Law granting the minister that authority. NGOs such as the Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Center criticized the amendment. Human rights organizations appealed against the law, and the case continued at year’s end. In 2017 Human Rights Watch (HRW) said continued Israeli revocation of Jerusalem identity cards amounted to forced exile of Palestinian residents of Jerusalem to the West Bank, Gaza, or abroad.

Citizenship: The law allows revocation of citizenship from a person on grounds of “breach of trust to the State of Israel” or following a conviction for an act of terror. In 2016 Minister of the Interior Aryeh Deri filed a motion with the Haifa District Court to revoke the citizenship of Alaa Zayoud, whom the courts convicted of four counts of attempted murder in a 2015 car-ramming attack. In August 2017 the Haifa District Court ruled to revoke Zayoud’s citizenship, but the Supreme Court issued a temporary injunction preventing revocation of his citizenship in October 2017. As of September 18, the case was continuing.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

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

The government maintained three policies to induce departure of irregular migrants and asylum seekers who entered the country without permission and whom the government could not deport to their home countries due to Israel’s temporary protection policy prohibiting deportation to those countries. As of September there were 34,370 irregular migrants and asylum seekers in this category, nearly all of whom were from Eritrea or Sudan, according to the Population and Immigration Authority (PIBA).

The first policy, announced in 2015, allowed deportation or indefinite detention of migrants and asylum seekers who refuse to depart the country “voluntarily.” On April 24, following three years of legal challenges, the government informed the Supreme Court that this policy had collapsed and it had no plan to deport migrants to a third country forcibly.

The second policy is to offer irregular migrants incentives to “depart” the country to one of two unspecified third countries in Africa, sometimes including a $3,500 stipend (paid in U.S. dollars). The government claimed the third-country governments provided for full rights under secret agreements with Israel. The government provided most returnees with paid tickets to either Uganda or Rwanda, but NGOs and UNHCR confirmed that migrants who arrived in Uganda and Rwanda did not receive residency or employment rights. In July media reported that the government had stopped offering voluntary departure to Rwanda. During the year, 2,667 irregular migrants departed the country, compared with 3,375 in 2017. Approximately 1,000 of those who departed during the year were resettled to Canada after the Canadian government accepted their refugee claims. NGO advocates for irregular migrants claimed many of those who departed to other countries faced abuses in those countries and that this transfer could amount to refoulement. UNHCR and NGOs reported that many individuals who departed to other countries quickly left or returned to their country of origin because the foreign countries in which they arrived did not accord them protection, residency, and employment rights. The government affirmed it maintained a series of mechanisms to monitor the conditions of those who departed under this program. Authorities stated they had successfully contacted by telephone more than 85 percent of those who departed during the year.

The third policy was detaining irregular migrants without a legal conviction in the Holot facility; however, this policy ended when Holot closed on March 12 (see section 1.d.).

On April 2, Prime Minister Netanyahu announced an agreement with UNHCR to relocate 16,000 Eritrean and Sudanese migrants to Western countries over the next five years while settling a similar number in Israel. Netanyahu canceled the agreement less than 24 hours later, following criticism from his coalition partners and public supporters.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting of asylum or refugee status. The government has established a system for providing protection to refugees, but it has rarely done so. In 2008 authorities began giving the majority of asylum seekers a “conditional release visa” that requires renewal every one to six months. Only two Ministry of the Interior offices in the country, located in Bnei Brak and Eilat, renew these visas. The government provided these individuals with a limited form of group protection regarding freedom of movement, protection against refoulement, and informal access to the labor market. Advocacy groups argued that the policies and legislation adopted in 2011 were aimed at deterring future asylum seekers by making life difficult for those already in the country, and that these actions further curtailed the rights of the population and encouraged its departure.

Refugee status determination (RSD) recognition rates were extremely low. Since 2009 the government approved only 52 of 55,433 asylum requests, according to a report in May from the State Comptroller’s Office. The government approved six asylum requests during the year, including five from Eritreans and one from a Nigerian.

On February 15, an administrative appeals tribunal ruled that an Eritrean asylum seeker had a well founded fear of persecution after he fled military conscription, and PIBA should not have rejected his asylum application peremptorily. The Ministry of Interior appealed the ruling to a district court, where the case was pending as of the end of the year. As a result of the ruling, however, authorities released from detention 12 Eritreans with similar asylum claims that the government had previously rejected.

In February the government announced it would issue humanitarian visas, which allow migrants to work legally and to reenter Israel after a short departure, to 300 Sudanese migrants from Darfur, and in August the government announced it would issue another 300 to Sudanese migrants from Darfur, the Blue Nile, and Nuba Mountains. While this represented an improvement over previous “conditional release” status, NGOs cautioned that these migrants would continue to lack the full protections of refugee status. On October 28, the government announced a decision to cease issuance of the visas to Sudanese citizens and to begin examining their asylum claims individually.

Migrants from countries eligible for deportation under government policy and those who were unable to prove their citizenship, including those claiming to be Eritrean or Sudanese, were subjected to indefinite detention if they refused to depart after receiving a deportation order. There were 165 migrants with undetermined or disputed citizenship in detention at year’s end.

Despite a stated nondeportation policy preventing refoulement of irregular migrants and asylum seekers to Eritrea and Sudan, government officials and media outlets continued to refer to asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan as “infiltrators.” The term comes from the 1954 Prevention of Infiltration Law that applies to persons who entered Israel illegally.

A report in May from the state comptroller criticized PIBA regarding excessively long processing time for asylum applications, poor service at RSD facilities, and the exclusion of UNHCR from the PIBA advisory committee that adjudicates asylum claims.

Palestinian residents of the West Bank who claimed to be in a life-threatening situation due to their sexual orientation or other reasons, such as domestic violence, did not have access to the asylum system in Israel. NGOs stated this left persons who claimed they could not return to the West Bank due to fear of persecution vulnerable to human traffickers, violence, and exploitation. The government stated that the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories examines each case individually, with a preference for solutions that allow such individuals to remain under Palestinian administration, but can grant a residence permit in Israel in acute cases.

The government did not accept initial asylum claims at its airports. In October the immigration authority denied entry to 13 Sri Lankan citizens who sought to claim asylum, according to media and NGO reports. The NGO Hotline for Refugees and Migrants appealed for their release and to prevent their deportation. The 13 asylum seekers remained in detention as of December 4.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: In 2017 PIBA announced a fast-track procedure to reject asylum applications from applicants whose country of citizenship the Ministry of the Interior determined was safe for return and began applying it to Georgian and Ukrainian applicants.

On October 7, PIBA announced the government ended the temporary protection policy for Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) citizens and those without a visa must leave Israel by January 5, 2019. Following a petition by human rights organizations, the Jerusalem District Court issued an injunction on December 31, suspending the order to depart. According to NGOs, as of October approximately 200 asylum claims from DRC citizens remained pending for more than 10 years. There were 314 DRC citizens in Israel at year’s end, according to media reports.

Freedom of Movement: Authorities prohibited asylum seekers released from the Holot facility from residing in Eilat and Tel Aviv. Additionally, following the closure of Holot, authorities prohibited asylum seekers from residing in Jerusalem, Petah Tikva, Netanya, Ashdod, and Bnei Brak.

Employment: The few recognized refugees received renewable work visas. Most asylum seekers held a 2A5 visa, which explicitly reads, “This is not a work visa.” The government allowed asylum seekers to work in the informal sector but not to open their own businesses or register to pay value-added tax, although the law does not prohibit these activities. Despite the lack of a legal right to employment, the government’s published policy was not to indict asylum seekers or their employers for their employment. In September 2017, however, the Supreme Court ruled that asylum seekers are included as “foreign workers,” a category prohibited by Finance Ministry regulations from working on government contracts, including local government contracts for cleaning and maintenance, which often employed irregular migrants.

The law requires employers to deduct 20 percent of irregular migrants’ salaries for deposit in a special fund and adds another 16 percent from the employer’s funds. The employee can access the funds only upon departure from the country, and the government may deduct a penalty for each day that the employee is in the country without a visa. NGOs such as Kav LaOved and Hotline for Refugees and Migrants criticized the law for pushing vulnerable workers’ already low incomes below minimum wage, leading employers and employees to judge it to be more profitable to work on the black market, increasing migrants’ vulnerability to trafficking and prostitution. According to government officials and NGOs, some Eritrean women entered prostitution or survival sex arrangements in which a woman lives with several men and receives shelter in exchange for sex. The NGO ASSAF Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel reported significant increases in homelessness, mental health concerns, and requests for food assistance following implementation of the law. In contrast to 2017, when technical problems prevented those who departed the country from receiving the accumulated funds, the government stated that 722 departing migrants withdrew their funds during the year. Kav LaOved reported there was no way for migrants to monitor their deposit balance, and approximately half of the funds were never deposited in the account by employers, despite withholding the funds from their employees. At least 30 migrants left the country without receiving any money that was deducted from their wages, according to Kav LaOved. A coalition of NGOs petitioned the Supreme Court against the deposit law in March 2017, leading the Knesset’s committee on Labor, Welfare, and Health to pass a regulation on June 27, reducing the deduction to 6 percent for vulnerable populations, including recognized trafficking victims. PIBA did not accept a letter from the police that confers official recognition as a trafficking victim for the purpose of reducing the deduction or refunding the deposit, according to Kav LaOved.

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

Access to Basic Services: Access to health care and shelter was available on an inconsistent basis. The few recognized refugees received social services, including access to the national health-care system, but the government did not provide asylum seekers with public social benefits such as public housing, income assistance, or free health insurance to the most vulnerable individuals, including children, single parents, persons with chronic illnesses, and persons with disabilities. For example, Physicians for Human Rights Israel reported on the difficulties faced by five cancer patients who needed treatment during the year. The Ministry of Health offered medical insurance for minor children of asylum seekers for 120 shekels ($33) per month. The government sponsored a mobile clinic, and mother and infant health-care stations in south Tel Aviv, which were accessible to migrants and asylum seekers. Hospitals provided emergency care to migrants but often denied follow-up treatment to those who failed to pay for their emergency care, according to NGOs. The Ministry of Health funded one provider of mental health services to irregular migrants, which NGOs praised as very effective but overburdened.

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

STATELESS PERSONS

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

In August 2017 media reported the Ministry of the Interior had retroactively canceled the citizenship of 2,600 Bedouin citizens since 2010, alleging that a “registration error” had mistakenly granted citizenship to their ancestors between 1948 and 1951. Cancellation of their citizenship left these individuals stateless. The government stated at the end of the year that anyone in this group whose citizenship was a result of a clerical error would have the opportunity to regain citizenship, barring any criminal or other impediment.

Italy

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

Freedom of Expression: Speech inciting violence based on racial, ethnic, national, or religious discrimination is a crime punishable by up to 18 months in prison. Holocaust denial is an aggravating circumstance in judicial proceedings against such speech. No convictions were reported during the year.

The law considers insults against any divinity to be blasphemy, a crime punishable by a fine ranging from 51 to 309 euros ($59 to $355). There were no reports regarding enforcement of this law during the year.

Press and Media Freedom: The independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction.

Violence and Harassment: The NGO Reporters without Borders (RSF) characterized the level of violence against reporters as “alarming,” particularly in Campania, Calabria, and Sicily (including verbal and physical intimidation and threats). On April 10, police arrested three persons suspected of planning a violent attack against a journalist, Paolo Borrometi for publishing articles and photos on his brother, who had been convicted for mafia-related crimes in Syracuse.

The RSF reported that journalists felt pressured by politicians and organized crime and increasingly opted to censor themselves. Because of threats from organized crime, in 2017, 10 journalists received around-the-clock police protection, while 200 others received occasional protection in 2017, according to the 2018 RSF report. Although authorities generally did not participate in or condone violence or harassment of journalists, the RSF condemned Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Matteo Salvini’s threat in June on social media to remove police protection from celebrated journalist Roberto Saviano, who has received death threats for his coverage of organized crime. Saviano criticized Salvini’s efforts to reduce migration flows and engaged in a lengthy public debate with the minister. Salvini did not act on his threat.

On September 12, according to the National Federation of the Italian Press, the European Federation of Journalists, and the International Federation of Journalists, Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio, head of the populist Five Star Movement, threatened to cut government advertising to newspapers that “were polluting the public debate.”

On September 13, on the orders of prosecutors in the Sicilian city of Catania as part of an investigation into a suspected leak violating the confidentiality of a judicial investigation, police searched the home and examined the contents of the mobile phone and computer of investigative reporter Salvo Palazzolo. Palazzolo, who specialized in covering the Sicilian mafia and other criminal networks for the Rome-based newspaper La Repubblica, revealed, in an article in March, law enforcement information about the investigation into the 1992 “Via d’Amelio bombing” in the Sicilian city of Palermo.

Libel/Slander Laws: Journalists face prison sentences of up to six years if convicted of libel. Public officials continued to bring cases against journalists under libel laws. For example, on June 20, Minister Salvini sued Saviano for defamation after Saviano called Salvini “a buffoon” and “minister of the underworld” on Twitter.

Nongovernmental Impact: The RSF noted that many journalists, especially in Rome and the south of the country, claimed they were subjected to pressure from mafia groups and local criminal gangs, and the National Federation of the Italian Press reported some instances of threats against journalists by members of criminal organizations. Marilu Mastrogiovanni, a Puglia-based investigative reporter and editor of Il Tacco d’Italia, a regional news website, has been under police protection for years.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The National Center for the Fight against Child Pornography, a special unit of the postal and communications division of the National Police, monitored websites for crimes involving child pornography. According to International Telecommunication Union statistics, 61 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

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

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

The government cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern. The continued unpredictability of migrant flows and uncertainty over whether other EU member states would take a share of migrant arrivals taxed the ability of authorities to protect migrants and asylum seekers brought to the country by rescue vessels.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Mixed populations of refugees and migrants often remained in reception centers longer than the 35-day limit set by law. Representatives of international humanitarian organizations accused the government of endangering migrants by encouraging Libyan authorities to rescue migrants at sea and return them to reception centers in Libya where aid groups and international organizations deemed living conditions inhuman.

Media reported some cases of violence against refugees. On February 3, a right-wing militant, Luca Traini, drove through the city of Macerata shooting at and wounding six migrants. Traini was arrested and charged with attempted murder.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM), UNHCR, and NGOs reported instances of labor exploitation of asylum seekers, especially in agriculture and the service sector (see section 7.b.), and sexual exploitation of unaccompanied minors (see section 6, Children).

Corruption and organized crime diverted some resources away from asylum seekers and refugees. On June 26, police arrested six managers of an association responsible for the management of some migration centers in the province of Latina, on charges of fraud and mistreatment of asylum seekers.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: Some NGOs, including Amnesty International, accused the government of encouraging refoulement by pressuring NGOs to limit rescues of migrants in the Mediterranean Sea and encouraging the Libyan coast guard to take rescued migrants back to Libya, which UNHCR did not consider a “safe port” and which has not signed the applicable UN refugee conventions. UNHCR did not indicate that this constitutes a case of refoulement, but stated that it was looking into the legality of the country’s actions.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. NGOs and independent observers identified difficulties in asylum procedures, including inconsistency of standards applied in reception centers and insufficient rates of referral of trafficking victims and unaccompanied minors to adequate services. Interior Minister Salvini announced his intent to increase the number of asylum adjudicators but also issued a circular urging them to be more restrictive in granting humanitarian protection, claiming that many economic migrants were being erroneously granted legal status.

Regional adjudication committees took up to nine months to process asylum claims, depending on the region. When legal appeals were taken into account, the process could last up to two years. Interior Minister Salvini pledged to cut funding for migrant reception, protection, and integration, and devote more resources to expulsion of illegal migrants. He contended that the existing migrant reception system did little to integrate migrants and was a source of corruption.

Large numbers of migrants and refugees who arrived in the country since 2014, mostly across the central Mediterranean Sea from Libya, strained the asylum system. Between January and August, the government received approximately 38,000 asylum requests. Between January and September authorities granted asylum or other forms of legal protection to 23,700 persons.

Between January 1 and November 5, a total of 3,368 unaccompanied minors arrived in the country (see section 6, Children and section 7.c.).

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country is party to the EU’s Dublin III Regulation and its subsequent revisions, whereby members generally transferred asylum applications to the first EU member country in which the applicant arrived or returned applicants to safe countries of origin.

Freedom of Movement: The law permits authorities to detain migrants and asylum seekers in centers for identification and expulsion for up to 90 days if authorities decide they pose a threat to public order or may try to flee an expulsion order or pre-expulsion jail sentence. Government efforts to reduce the flow of migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea to the country on smuggler vessels were accompanied by restrictions in freedom of movement for up to 72 hours once rescued migrants arrived in reception centers. As of December 2017, 417 foreigners were held in five centers. The Council of Europe’s Committee on the Prevention of Torture (CPT) noted “several categories of foreign nationals may be prevented from leaving the “hotspots” [temporary centers], without a clear legal basis.”

Employment: Asylum seekers may work legally two months after submitting an asylum request. According to labor unions, including the Federation of Agroindustrial Workers, an affiliate of the Italian General Labor Confederation (CGIL), employers continued to discriminate against noncitizens in the labor market, taking advantage of insufficient enforcement of legal protection for noncitizens against exploitation. In addition, high unemployment in the country limited the possibility of legal employment for large numbers of refugees.

Access to Basic Services: Authorities set up temporary centers to house mixed-migrant populations, including refugees and asylum seekers, but could not keep pace with the high rate of arrivals and the increased number of asylum claims. On July 31, there were 160,458 persons housed in sites throughout the country. Some were housed in centers run directly by local authorities, generally considered of high quality, while the rest were in centers whose quality varied greatly and included many repurposed facilities, such as old schools, military barracks, and apartments in residential buildings. On April 10, the CPT reported that all the temporary centers it visited in June 2017 “regularly exceeded the official capacity” with concomitant degradation of living conditions. It found living conditions at the Caltanissetta Closed Removal Center overcrowded and the facilities in poor state of repair and under furnished. The sanitation facilities were in need of extensive repair. The CPT also reported services provided to migrants in the Lampedusa transit center were inadequate, and that insufficient places were made available in shelters for unaccompanied minors, resulting in prolonged stays at temporary transit centers. Representatives of UNHCR, the IOM, and other humanitarian organizations and NGOs reported thousands of legal and irregular foreigners, including migrants and refugees, living in abandoned buildings and in inadequate and overcrowded facilities in Rome and other major cities, and having limited access to health care, legal counseling, basic education, and other public services.

In some cases, refugees and asylum seekers who worked in the informal economy were not able to rent apartments, especially in large cities. They often squatted in buildings where they lived in substandard conditions with their children. On March 21, police forcibly evicted 100 migrants and refugees who had squatted in a building in the outskirts of Rome. NGOs and advocacy groups alleged that the Rome municipal government failed to provide alternative public housing for those evicted migrants who qualified for it, including refugees with legal status.

On August 10, 34 asylum seekers in Toscolano Maderno protested the lack of medical assistance, language classes, and vocational training in the migration center where they lived.

Durable Solutions: The government made limited attempts to integrate refugees into the country’s society with mixed results. The government distributed asylum seekers throughout the country and provided shelter and services while their requests were processed as well as some resettlement services after granting asylum. In cooperation with the IOM, the government assisted migrants and refugees who opted to return to their home countries.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. Between January and September, the government provided humanitarian protection to 16,761 persons and subsidiary protection to 2,614 persons.

Jamaica

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, generally effective judicial protection, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press. Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction.

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 49 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom.

The Broadcasting Commission of Jamaica barred certain lyrics and music videos, including songs referring to violent sex or violence against women, children, and other vulnerable persons, and expunged lyrics deemed inappropriate to broadcast.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

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

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

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

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. The government handles each potential asylum seeker administratively on an individual basis. The government can grant a form of limited status to those with citizenship in a commonwealth country.

Japan

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The independent press and a functioning democratic political system sustained freedom of expression in the reporting year, although an international group of journalists, Reporters Without Borders, commented, “journalists find it hard put to fully play their role as democracy’s watchdog because of the influence of tradition and business interests.” The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, and the government respected these freedoms.

Freedom of Expression: According to media and NGO reports, incidents of hate speech against minorities and their defenders, in particular, on the internet, grew. The national law on hate speech applies only to discriminatory speech and behavior directed at those who are not of Japanese heritage and is limited to educating and raising public awareness among the general public against hate speech; it does not carry penalties. Prosecutors have instead used another law on libel to prosecute an extremist group for hate speech, as discussed below. Additionally, on the local-government level, Osaka City and Kyoto Prefecture, where nationalist groups have frequently staged public anti-Korea events near “Korea Town” neighborhoods, as well as Kawasaki City and Tokyo Prefecture, have passed their own ordinances or guidelines to regulate hate speech.

In April the Kyoto Prefectural Prosecutors’ Office indicted a former Zaitokukai (an ultranationalist organization) senior official, Hitoshi Nishimura, on libel charges for making derogatory online and public statements about the North Korea-affiliated Chosen School in Kyoto. Attorneys for the school’s owner welcomed the prosecutors’ decision to pursue a defamation charge under the Penal Code, which carries a heavier sentence than civil charges levied against other Zaitokukai members following similar incidents in 2009.

Press and Media Freedom: While no such cases have ever been pursued, the law enables the government to prosecute those who publish or disclose government information that is a specially designated secret. Those convicted face up to five years’ imprisonment with work and a fine of not more than five million yen ($44,000).

NGOs reported nationalist groups used social media to harass journalists deemed antigovernment or unpatriotic. In June 2017 the UN special rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression reported “significant worrying signals” that government pressure on media outlets caused journalists to self-censor their reporting. The government vigorously contested the UN report, with a senior official telling the media, “freedom of expression and the right to know are fully protected under the Constitution of Japan. The government has never illegally applied pressure on the media. This [allegation] is completely untrue.”

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Media expressed a wide variety of views without overt restriction; reporters broke a number of stories that were strongly critical of members of the government. Reporters Without Borders’ 2018 World Press Freedom Indexcommented that the system of “kisha” (reporter) clubs may encourage self-censorship. These clubs are established in a variety of organizations, including ministries, and may block nonmembers, including freelance and foreign reporters, from covering the organization.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel is a criminal as well as civil offense. The law does not accept the truthfulness of a statement in itself as a defense. There is no evidence the government abused these laws to restrict public discussion during the year.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The internet was widely accessible and used.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

In March, at the request of national legislators from the Liberal Democratic Party, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology (MEXT) sent queries to the Nagoya Municipal Education Board about the content and background of a February speech to a junior high school class. The speaker, a former MEXT vice minister, characterized the ministry’s intervention as exceedingly rare and likely constituting improper control of education prohibited by the education basic law. MEXT denied the assertion, saying the inquiry was made under a different law pertaining to local education administration and did not constitute improper control of education.

The Ministry of Education’s approval process for history textbooks, particularly its treatment of the country’s 20th century colonial and military history, was a subject of controversy.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The government 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, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

The government generally provided adequate shelter and other protective services in the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear power plant disaster in Fukushima Prefecture and sought to provide permanent relocation or reconstruction options.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The Ministry of Justice introduced revised screening procedures for refugee applications on January 15 to promote granting refugee status to genuine applicants promptly while also curbing abuse of the application process. As a result, the number of approved applications from January through June, including the approval of two previously denied applications, exceeded the number of approvals granted during all of 2017. In 2017 there were 19,629 applications, 20 of which were approved (0.1 percent). From January through June 2018, the government received 5,586 applications, 22 of which were approved (0.4 percent).

Refugee and asylum applicants who are minors or applicants with disabilities may ask lawyers to participate in their first round of hearings before refugee examiners. UNHCR said there were no such cases during the year. As government-funded legal support was not available for most refugee and asylum seekers requesting it, the Federation of Bar Associations continued to fund a program that provided free legal assistance to those applicants who could not afford it.

The Ministry of Justice, the Federation of Bar Associations, and the NGO Forum for Refugees Japan continued to cooperate to implement the Alternatives to Detention project (ATD) to provide accommodation, casework, and legal services for individuals who arrived at Narita, Haneda, Chubu, and Kansai airports, received temporary landing or provisional stay permission, and sought refugee status. Government-subsidized civil organizations and donations fund the ATD.

The government accepted 22 Burmese from five families on October 4 under its third-country resettlement program for Burmese people, which the government has continued since 2010 as the first Asian country to become a resettlement country.

Freedom of Movement: Civil society groups said the indefinite detention of asylum seekers remained a problem. UNHCR said refugee applicants should not be detained without due process and that children should not be detained.

Employment: Applicants for refugee status normally may not work unless they have valid short-term visas. They must apply for permission to engage in income-earning activities before the visas expire. In the interim before approval, the Refugee Assistance Headquarters, a section of the government-funded Foundation for the Welfare and Education of the Asian People, provided small stipends to some applicants who faced financial difficulties.

Access to Basic Services: Refugees continued to face the same discrimination patterns sometimes seen by other foreigners: reduced access to housing, education, and employment. Except for those who met right-to-work conditions, individuals whose refugee applications were pending or on appeal did not have the right to receive social welfare. This status rendered them completely dependent on overcrowded government shelters, illegal employment, or NGO assistance.

In 2017, in coordination with UNHCR, the government established a scholarship program allowing 100 Syrian refugees to begin postgraduate studies in Japan over the next five years. The government guaranteed the students protection until employment or further study opportunities become available, either in Japan or elsewhere. Immediate family may accompany the students, and tuition and living expenses will be covered by Japanese International Cooperation Agency.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to 45 individuals in 2017 and 21 individuals from January through June who may not qualify as refugees after introducing the revised screening procedures.

Jordan

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

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

In January 2017, authorities arrested retired major general Mohammed Otoum and seven other activists protesting against expected price increases and alleged government corruption on social media. The SSC prosecutor charged them with undermining the regime and engaging in acts to incite public opinion in breach of the law. Otoum and the other activists were acquitted during the year.

During economic protests in the spring, authorities arrested two prominent activists from Karak and Dhiban and charged them with treason for speaking against the king at a rally. Authorities released one on bail a month later. The second was released after 15 days. Authorities referred both cases to the SSC, and they remained pending.

The August 2017 case against local journalist Mohammad Qaddah for slander, incitement, and defamation for reportedly posting a video on Facebook, which authorities described as “insulting” and “derogatory” to women in the country, continued.

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

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

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

In February, the Media Commission proposed broadcast licensing changes that would reduce fees for community radio stations, which typically struggled to pay standard annual costs; many rural areas of the country had no local radio reception. Annual radio broadcasting fees were approximately 25,000 JD ($35,236) for Greater Amman, 15,000 JD ($21,142) for Zarqa and Irbid, and 10,000 JD ($14,094) for other areas. The commission stated that fee exemptions for community radio stations would enhance decentralization and community development efforts outside the capital.

The Al-Jazeera Jordan office remained closed following the government’s decision in 2017 to close it and withdraw its license in connection with the Qatar/Gulf dispute.

In December 2017 authorities detained Ro’ya TV correspondent Ziad Nseirat after he interviewed protestors criticizing transport and infrastructure degradation in the Bani Kinana area of Irbid. Police seized his phone and prevented him from making calls. Nseirat faced charges under the Cybercrimes Law and was released on bail two days later. Charges remained pending.

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

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

By law, any book can be published and distributed freely. However, if the Media Commission deems that passages violate public norms and values, are religiously offensive, or are “insulting” to the king, it can request a court order to prohibit the distribution of the book. The Media Commission banned distribution of 47 books from October 2017 through August 2018 for insulting religion, having pornographic images, and promoting homosexuality. It approved the importation of over 300,000 books.

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

In its annual report, The Status of Media Freedoms in Jordan in 2017, the Center for Defending the Freedom of Journalists (CDFJ) documented numerous violations of freedoms against journalists and media organizations.

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

Al-Rai journalist Hussein al-Sharaa was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment (the highest sentence for such offense) following a complaint filed against him by the PSD for a post he wrote on Facebook, which the PSD considered offensive. The Jordan Press Association appealed the verdict for issuing it without the presence of the defendant’s lawyer. The appeals court released al-Sharaa on bail until the judicial procedures are completed.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government directly and indirectly censored the media. The CDFJ report noted increased incidents of authorities restricting journalists’ coverage and recorded self-censorship among journalists in 2017 as the highest since 2014. Journalists claimed that the government used informants in newsrooms, exercised influence over reporting, and GID officials censored reporting. Editors reportedly received telephone calls from security officials instructing them how to cover events or to refrain from covering certain topics or events, especially criticism of political reform. Bribery of journalists took place and undermined independent reporting. Occasionally, government officials provided texts for journalists to publish under their bylines. An opinion poll conducted among 1,232 media figures found 94.1 percent of journalists self-censored. Journalists cited the declining financial conditions of media outlets, the threat of detention and imprisonment for defamation for a variety of offenses, and court-ordered compensation of as much as 150,000 Jordanian dinars (JD) ($210,000). At times editors in chief censored articles to prevent lawsuits. The government’s use of “soft containment” of journalists, including withholding financial support, scholarships for relatives, and special invitations, led to significant control of media content.

During the year, the Media Commission did not circulate any official gag orders restricting discussion in all forms of media, including social media. For grand felony cases or cases of domestic violence, the public prosecutor may issue a gag order to protect the victims or witnesses involved. For example, the West Amman public prosecutor issued a gag order concerning a tribal dispute, when a group of men attacked a person on May 7, resulting in riots in the city of Madaba.

The Media Commission continued to ban the distribution of selected books for religious and moral reasons.

Libel/Slander Laws: Government prosecutors relied on privately initiated libel, slander, and defamation lawsuits to suppress criticism of public figures and policies. Dozens of journalists, as well as members of parliament, faced libel and slander accusations filed by private citizens.

In January, authorities arrested a journalist and social media activist for defamation after publishing allegations the minister of finance at the time evaded paying taxes. They were released on bail two days later.

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

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

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

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

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

In November 2017, according to lawyers, an Amman civil court denied bail for the 10th time to two individuals allegedly detained for social media posts accusing a royal court official of corruption. A number of activists and journalists protested at the royal court demanding the detainees’ release. As of November 16, there was no further information on release of the detainees.

According to the World Bank, internet penetration was 87.8 percent during the year, up 12.8 percent from last year.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

In March, the GID detained the president of the Polytechnic College Student Union, Ayman Ajawi, after he led protests in late February calling for basic services and campus infrastructure improvements. Authorities released him on bail two weeks later. Another 33 students at the Polytechnic College awaited disciplinary action for protesting his detention.

In April, the Polytechnic College referred 13 students to the judiciary for allegedly inciting hatred and provoking riots on campus. The case remained with the prosecutor.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

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

The law requires a 48-hour notification to the governor for any meeting or event hosted by any local or international group. While not required by law, several local and international NGOs reported that hotels, allegedly at the request of security officials, required them to present letters of approval from the governor prior to holding training, private meetings, or public conferences. There were 42 reported cases of governor denials without explanation this year. Without letters of approval from the government, hotels cancelled the events. In some cases, NGOs relocated the events to private offices. In one case the Amman governor’s office informed a human rights organization it would not be allowed to proceed with hosting antitorture training at a hotel. The organization claimed that it was eventually permitted to host the training after threatening legal action against the governor.

Protests regarding economic policies, corruption, and government ineffectiveness occurred across several governorates throughout the spring and summer. A few hundred local tribal activists organized daily sit-ins lasting up to 70 days in the main town squares of Salt and Karak from February to May. Protestors generally spoke favorably about the government response.

In late May, labor unions joined the protest movement, leading to larger demonstrations across the country. According to government officials, protests were generally peaceful with 42 injuries to security personnel and 60 arrests for vandalism or assault. The Justice Center for Legal Aid, a civil society organization, operated a detention hotline during the protests where citizens could report violations of the government’s pledge not to detain protestors for more than six hours. They reported one incident when a governor allegedly detained a group of 10 protestors for a prolonged period.

The government tabled the proposed tax reform law in response to the protests, leading to the resignation of then Prime Minister Hani Al-Mulki and his government. Police subsequently allegedly dispersed peaceful anticorruption protests under the new government headed by Prime Minister Razzaz.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

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

In 2015, the Ministry of Social Development introduced an application form for the approval process for associations that receive foreign funding. Associations criticized the procedure, which incorporated additional ministries into the decision process and removed the deadline for review of funding requests. NGOs stated the registration process and foreign funding procedures were neither clear, transparent, nor consistently applied. Groups attempting to register experienced months of delays, and those for whom authorities denied their applications complained that they received inadequate explanations.

During the year, the Ministry of Social Development introduced an automated system for associations to apply for foreign funding and track their applications. As of August 30, the ministry received 5,735 applications for foreign funding and approved 190 of them. NGO’s reported that unexplained, months-long delays in the decision process continued.

The law authorizes the Ministry of Social Development to intervene in NGO activities. Warned NGOs are given a two-month probationary period to address violations.

In June Amman’s first instance court sentenced the chief executive officer of the Center for Defending Freedom of Journalists (CDFJ) to one year in prison for inaccuracies in the CDFJ’s budget and operating under an incorrect legal status. The court also fined CDFJ 200 JD ($282) for irregularities in its budget and organizational documents. In October, a Court of Appeal acquitted the CDFJ’s chief executive officer of these charges. The Ministry of Industry, Trade, and Supply alleged in 2017 that CDFJ violated foreign funding restrictions and ordered it to halt receipt of any foreign funding.

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

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

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

The United Nations reported that 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 (IDPs), refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

In-country Movement: The government placed some restrictions on the free internal movement of registered Syrian refugees and asylum seekers. The country’s land border with Syria has been closed to new refugee arrivals since June 2016. During the June southwest offensive in Syria, the government maintained a closed border policy, preventing new asylum seekers from entering the country. Some of these newly displaced persons, however, received emergency humanitarian assistance from inside the Free Trade Zone between Jordan and Syria. There was no legal framework for refugees residing in the Jordanian refugee camps to leave permanently to settle in host communities for family reunification; long-term medical treatment was unavailable in the camps.

The government registered and facilitated access to civil documentation for Syrian refugees. The Urban Verification Exercise for refugees has steadily expanded, and the government increased access to birth and marriage certificates by simplifying and reducing the costs. While on several occasions, the government allowed the regularization of certain refugees who left the camps to settle in host communities, there was generally no option for camp residents to move permanently into rural and urban areas and only limited options to move in and out of camps.

Conversely, reports of forced relocations to Azraq camp, including many to Azraq’s restricted Village 5 (V5), increased as an alternative to deportation, for offenses by Syrian refugees that encompassed “irregular status” (for example, no updated registration, working without a work permit); criminal activities; and potential security risks, without the latter being clearly defined. As of June, Azraq camp hosted over 36,000 individuals, including over 9,000 adults and children, in the fenced-off area V5. Residents of V5 had access to basic humanitarian assistance inside the village but access to the broader camp facilities, including the camp hospital, required a security escort. The screening process allowing V5 residents to relocate to the larger camp was irregular and very slow. Reportedly, since entering Jordan from Syria, two thirds of the residents have remained in V5 for more than two years. It remained unclear whether individuals in Azraq V5 will be permitted to move to less restrictive, unfenced areas in the camp or to host communities.

Authorities required all residents of King Abdullah Park refugee camp, to obtain a leave permit, which was not systematically granted, to visit their relatives in Jordan or for other purposes. Authorities made some exceptions for the sick and elderly to allow twice-monthly visits. Palestinian Refugees from Syria (PRS) accounted for 354 of the 509 refugees in the camp as of June, including “PRS Families” (families including at least one family member, which subjected them to specific treatment and limitation related to PRS).

Foreign Travel: Activists alleged authorities imposed travel bans against citizens.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: There were few reports of the government forcibly returning Syrian refugees and PRS, including women, children, war-injured persons, and persons with disabilities, to Syria. International organizations continued to report that the government forcibly returned to Syria some refugees residing in the country’s host communities and camps for alleged security concerns and relocated others to various locations including Azraq camp V5. Some relocated individuals were held pending security vetting to ensure they did not pose a security risk. There was no established time period for security vetting.

Some reasons for returns and relocations were allegations of communicating with and sending money to relatives who are in ISIS-controlled territories in Syria and other activities that could create security concerns.

From October 2017 through July 2018, the UN Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) was aware of three cases of refoulement of 15 PRS. The vulnerability of PRS to deportation increased their risk of other abuses. For those who entered the country irregularly (for example, without required documentation, or using Syrian identity documents), refoulement was a constant risk, and access to basic civil services–including renewal of identity documents, the registration of marriages, deaths, and births–was highly complex. UNRWA reported that such activities could result in forced return to Syria, as well as detention and denaturalization. These vulnerabilities put refugees at additional risk of abuse by third parties such as employers and landlords.

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

The government declared it would not accept additional Syrian refugees after a 2016 suicide attack along the northeast border with Syria, declaring the surrounding area a “closed military zone.” The government restricted humanitarian access to the area. International organizations reported that between 45,000 and 50,000 internally displaced Syrians remained at the northeast desert Jordan-Syria border throughout the year. The government’s 2013 announcement that it would not allow entry of PRS remained in effect.

Employment: In 2016, the government announced it would allow Syrian refugees access to the formal labor market and committed to providing 200,000 job opportunities for Syrians in the coming years. The Ministry of Labor issued more than 120,000 work permits to Syrians. More than 36,000 Syrian refugees received new or renewed work permits in 2018. The government took several steps to expand and facilitate the issuance of work permits, including waiving fees. The government also revised work permit practices to allow Syrian workers in the agricultural and construction sectors to switch employers under the supervision of agricultural cooperatives and a trade union, rather than requiring new work permits for each job transfer.

There continued to be delays in implementing procedures at Ministry of Labor offices in governorates outside Amman. There remained uncertainty among the refugee population and employers regarding how to apply for the work permits. Tens of thousands of Syrian refugees continued to work in the informal economy. A government-commissioned study on migrant workers, published in 2016, estimated that 26 percent of Syrian refugees were economically active in the labor market. Very few non-Syrian refugees had access to the formal labor market, and, due to the difficulties and expenses involved in seeking work authorization, many worked in the unofficial labor market.

The United Nations reported that in general Syrian refugees working informally were no longer deported or sent to the refugee camps when caught working without authorization. During the year, the Ministries of Interior and Labor, in coordination with the United Nations, permitted refugees living in the camps to apply for work permits. The agreement allows camp-based refugees to use their work permits as a 30-day leave pass to work outside the camp. Camp-based refugees receiving work permits must report to the camp at least one day per month.

Some longstanding Palestinian refugees with Jordanian citizenship were integrated into the workforce. Almost 160,000 Palestinian refugees originally from Gaza, however, were not eligible for Jordanian citizenship, and authorities restricted their access to public services and employment. Additionally, according to UNRWA, authorities did not allow PRS to work, and a significant percentage remained without Jordanian documents.

Access to Basic Services: The government allowed Syrian and other UNHCR-registered refugees to access public health and education facilities. From 2014 until March, authorities charged Syrian refugees for health care at the same rates as uninsured Jordanians, who pay a nominal fee for most basic health services. Iraqi and other refugees must pay the foreigner’s rate for health care. As of March authorities required Syrian refugees to pay 80 percent of the foreign resident rate for all medical costs.

The government continued to provide free primary and secondary education to Syrian refugee children and to permit all school-age Syrian refugees access to education. As of the end of the academic year 2017-18, authorities had not fully completed this objective, and an estimated 73,000 Syrians were still without formal or informal education. There were reports that some Syrian refugee children may not enroll in school if they do not have Ministry of Interior cards. Non-Syrian refugees must pay to attend government schools. Public schools, particularly in the north of the country, were overcrowded and operated on a double-shift schedule to accommodate Syrian students. The government increased the number of double-shift schools in an action designed to allow an additional 50,000 Syrian refugee students to obtain formal education as well as 126,000 refugee students enrolled in 2016-17.

For those not eligible to access formal education because they have been out of school for three or more years, the Ministry of Education developed a catch-up program that reached over 4,000 students between the ages of nine and 12 since 2016 and enrolled them at catch-up centers across the country in 2017-18. Children 13 years old and above, who were not eligible to enroll in formal education, could also participate in nonformal education drop-out programs implemented by NGO partners, in close coordination with the Ministry of Education.

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

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

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. The government tolerated the prolonged stay of many Iraqis and other refugees beyond the expiration of the visit permits under which they had entered the country.

STATELESS PERSONS

Only fathers can transmit citizenship. Women do not have the legal right to transmit citizenship to their children. Children of female citizens married to noncitizens receive the nationality of the father and rely on a special identification card to enroll in school, access services, and obtain a driver’s license. Since 2016, the Ministry of Education has formally allowed all children, regardless of nationality or status, to enroll in formal education, although in practice lacking proper paperwork did sometimes lead to delays or issues enrolling children in school. In guidelines announced by the government in 2014, if children of Jordanian mothers and noncitizen fathers apply and meet certain criteria, they may gain access to certain services enjoyed by citizens, including subsidized health care; the ability to own property, invest, and obtain a Jordanian driver’s license; and have employment priority over other foreigners. This ruling affects tens of thousands of families, including hundreds of thousands of children, in which the father lacked Jordanian citizenship. An estimated 55,000 of these fathers were Palestinians. To access these services, children must obtain a special identification card through the Civil Status Bureau. Under the 2014 law, applicants must prove the maternal relationship, that the Jordanian mother has been resident in the country for five years, and that the children currently reside in the country. In 2016, the Civil Status Bureau began issuing identification cards to replace the initial certificates. In September, the cabinet removed the five-year residency requirement for Jordanian mothers. By law, the cabinet may approve citizenship for children of Jordanian mothers and foreign fathers under certain conditions, but this mechanism was not widely known, and approval rarely occurred.

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

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

Kazakhstan

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

While the constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press, the government limited freedom of expression and exerted influence on media through a variety of means, including laws, harassment, licensing regulations, internet restrictions, and criminal and administrative charges. Journalists and media outlets exercised self-censorship to avoid pressure by the government. The law provides for additional measures and restrictions during “social emergencies,” defined as “an emergency on a certain territory caused by contradictions and conflicts in social relations that may cause or have caused loss of life, personal injury, significant property damage, or violation of conditions of the population.” In these situations, the government may censor media sources by requiring them to provide their print, audio, and video information to authorities 24 hours before issuance or broadcasting for approval. Political parties and public associations may be suspended or closed should they obstruct the efforts of security forces. Regulations also allow the government to restrict or ban copying equipment, broadcasting equipment, and audio and video recording devices and to seize temporarily sound-enhancing equipment.

On May 28, a court suspended the license of independent online newspaper Ratel.kz and banned its chief editor, Marat Asipov, from the publishing world. On March 30, Almaty police opened a criminal investigation against the newspaper, which had reported on the alleged corruption of a former minister. Local and international human rights observers criticized the shutdown of Ratel.kz as an infringement on media freedom.

Freedom of Expression: The government limited individual ability to criticize the country’s leadership, and regional leaders attempted to limit criticism of their actions in local media. The law prohibits insulting the president or the president’s family, and penalizes “intentionally spreading false information” with fines of up to 12.96 million tenge ($40,000) and imprisonment for up to 10 years.

On March 15, police in Shymkent launched a criminal investigation against popular blogger Ardak Ashim, known for her critical posts concerning social issues. Police charged her with incitement of social discord. On March 27, the court held a meeting in the absence of Ashim, her lawyer, or any of her representatives and issued a ruling that she should be placed in a mental hospital for coercive treatment. Local and international human rights defenders demanded immediate release of the blogger, condemned her repression, and named her a prisoner of conscience and victim of punitive psychiatry. On May 5, she was released.

Press and Media Freedom: Many privately owned newspapers and television stations received government subsidies. The lack of transparency in media ownership and the dependence of many outlets on government contracts for media coverage are significant problems. On January 25, the Legal Media Center nongovernmental organization (NGO) lost a lawsuit against the Ministry of Information and Communication challenging the ministry’s refusal to publicize information regarding media outlets that receive government subsidies. The court supported the ministry, determining that such information should be protected as a commercial secret.

Companies allegedly controlled by members of the president’s family or associates owned many of the broadcast media outlets that the government did not control outright. According to media observers, the government wholly or partly owned most of the nationwide television broadcasters. Regional governments owned several frequencies, and the Ministry of Information and Communication distributed those frequencies to independent broadcasters via a tender system.

All media are required to register with the Ministry of Information and Communication, although websites are exempt from this requirement. The law limits the simultaneous broadcast of foreign-produced programming to 20 percent of a locally based station’s weekly broadcast time. This provision burdened smaller, less-developed regional television stations that lacked resources to create programs, although the government did not sanction any media outlet under this provision. Foreign media broadcasting does not have to meet this requirement.

Under amendments to the media law, which entered into force in January, all foreign television and radio channels had to register as legal entities or register a branch office in the country by July 9. The Ministry of Information and Communication cancelled 88 registration certificates because they did not meet registration requirements.

Violence and Harassment: Independent journalists and those working in opposition media or covering stories related to corruption reported harassment and intimidation by government officials and private actors. On June 19, the chief editor and several journalists of independent newspaper Uralskaya Nedelya were summoned by police for interrogation concerning a comment on the newspaper’s YouTube page. An unidentified commenter called on readers to join a protest rally planned for June 23 by the banned Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan movement. The office of the newspaper and the chief editor’s house were searched. At the end of the interrogation, police warned the journalists against participation in the illegal rally.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law enables the government to restrict media content through amendments that prohibit undermining state security or advocating class, social, race, national, or religious discord. Owners, editors, distributors, and journalists may be held civilly and criminally responsible for content unless it came from an official source. The government used this provision to restrict media freedom.

The law allows the prosecutor general to suspend access to the internet and other means of communication without a court order. The prosecutor general may suspend communication services in cases where communication networks are used “for criminal purposes to harm the interests of an individual, society, or the state, or to disseminate information violating the Election Law…or containing calls for extremist or terrorist activities, riots, or participation in large-scale (public) activities carried out in violation of the established order.”

By law internet resources, including social media, are classified as forms of mass media and governed by the same rules and regulations. Authorities continued to charge bloggers and social media users with inciting social discord through their online posts.

On September 20, Ablovas Jumayev received a three-year prison sentence on conviction of charges of inciting social discord because he posted messages critical of the government to a 10,000-member Telegram messenger group and allegedly distributed antigovernment leaflets. Jumayev denied the leafleting charges, stating that the leaflets were planted in his car. On Telegram, he had criticized the president’s appointment of a regional police chief. The trial of his wife Aigul Akberdi on similar charges was ongoing.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law provides enhanced penalties for libel and slander against senior government officials. Private parties may initiate criminal libel suits without independent action by the government, and an individual filing such a suit may also file a civil suit based on the same allegations. Officials used the law’s libel and defamation provisions to restrict media outlets from publishing unflattering information. Both the criminal and civil codes contain articles establishing broad liability for libel and slander, with no statute of limitation or maximum amount of compensation. The requirement that owners, editors, distributors, publishing houses, and journalists prove the veracity of published information, regardless of its source, encouraged self-censorship at each level.

The law includes penalties for conviction of defamatory remarks made in mass media or “information-communication networks,” including heavy fines and prison terms. Journalists and human rights activists feared these provisions would strengthen the government’s ability to restrict investigative journalism.

National Security: The law criminalizes the release of information regarding the health, finances, or private life of the president, as well as economic information, such as data on mineral reserves or government debts to foreign creditors. To avoid possible legal problems, media outlets often practiced self-censorship regarding the president and his family.

The law prohibits “influencing public and individual consciousness to the detriment of national security through deliberate distortion and spreading of unreliable information.” Legal experts noted the term “unreliable information” is overly broad. The law also requires owners of communication networks and service providers to obey the orders of authorities in case of terrorist attacks or to suppress mass riots.

The law prohibits publication of any statement that promotes or glorifies “extremism” or “incites social discord,” terms that international legal experts noted the government did not clearly define. The government subjected to intimidation media outlets that criticized the president; such intimidation included law enforcement actions and civil suits. Although these actions continued to have a chilling effect on media outlets, some criticism of government policies continued. Incidents of local government pressure on media continued.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government exercised comprehensive control over online content. Observers reported the government blocked or slowed access to opposition websites. Many observers believed the government added progovernment postings and opinions in internet chat rooms. The government regulated the country’s internet providers, including majority state-owned Kazakhtelecom. Nevertheless, websites carried a wide variety of views, including viewpoints critical of the government. Official statistics reported that 73 percent of the population had internet access in 2018.

In January, amendments to the media law entered into force. The amended law prohibits citizens from leaving anonymous comments on media outlet websites, which must register all online commenters and make the registration information available to law enforcement agencies on request. As a result most online media outlets chose to shut down public comment platforms.

The Ministry of Defense and Aerospace Industry controlled the registration of “.kz” internet domains. Authorities may suspend or revoke registration for locating servers outside the country. Observers criticized the registration process as unduly restrictive and vulnerable to abuse.

The government implemented regulations on internet access that mandated surveillance cameras in all internet cafes, required visitors to present identification to use the internet, demanded internet cafes keep a log of visited websites, and authorized law enforcement officials to access the names and internet histories of users.

In several cases the government denied it was behind the blocking of websites. Bloggers reported anecdotally their sites were periodically blocked, as did the publishers of independent news sites.

On March 13, a court in Astana banned the Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan movement led by fugitive banker Mukhtar Ablyazov. The same day Minister of Information and Communication Dauren Abayev announced that access to Ablyazov’s social media posts would be restricted. Internet users reported that access to Facebook, Instagram and YouTube were occasionally blocked in the evening at a time coinciding with Ablyazov’s livestream broadcasts. The government denied responsibility and stated that technical difficulties were to blame.

In July the Ministry of Defense and Aerospace Industry reported that it notified the Center of Network Information of violation of the law by 288 websites that hosted harmful software. There were 124 websites blocked for failure to rectify registration data.

Government surveillance was also prevalent. According to Freedom House’s Freedom on the Net 2018 report, where the country is listed as “not free,” “the government centralizes internet infrastructure in a way that facilitates control of content and surveillance.” Authorities, both national and local, monitored internet traffic and online communications. The report stated that “activists using social media were occasionally intercepted or punished, sometimes preemptively, by authorities who had prior knowledge of their planned activities.”

Freedom on the Net reported during the year that the country maintained a system of operative investigative measures that allowed the government to use surveillance methods called Deep Packet Inspection (DPI). While Kazakhtelecom maintained that it used its DPI system for traffic management, there were reports that Check Point Software Technologies installed the system on its backbone infrastructure in 2010. The report added that a regulator adopted an internet monitoring technology, the Automated System of Monitoring the National Information Space.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government generally did not restrict academic freedom, although general restrictions, such as the prohibition on infringing on the dignity and honor of the president and his family, also applied to academics. Many academics practiced self-censorship. In January a group of scientists cosigned a letter appealing to the president to resolve corruption in the distribution of grants for scientific work. The scientists criticized the National Science Grants Council for unfair distribution of grants. In response the Science Committee of the Ministry of Education and society filed a complaint with police, which opened a case against a scholar of the Almaty Astrophysics Institute for allegedly fabricating signatures in the letter to the president. No further action was reported.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The law provides for limited freedom of assembly, but there were significant restrictions on this right. The law defines unsanctioned gatherings, public meetings, demonstrations, marches, picketing, and strikes that upset social and political stability as national security threats.

The law includes penalties for organizing or participating in illegal gatherings and for providing organizational support in the form of property, means of communication, equipment, and transportation, if the enumerated actions cause significant damage to the rights and legal interests of citizens, entities, or legally protected interests of the society or the government.

By law organizations must apply to local authorities at least 10 days in advance for a permit to hold a demonstration or public meeting. Opposition figures and human rights monitors complained that complicated and vague procedures and the 10-day notification period made it difficult for groups to organize public meetings and demonstrations and noted local authorities turned down many applications for demonstrations or only allowed them to take place outside the city center.

Activists in Almaty applied to hold a public gathering on August 4 to demand police reform following the death of Olympic medalist Denis Ten. The mayor’s office refused the request, stating that the only place designated for public events in Almaty had already been reserved for another event. The Astana mayor’s office similarly declined a demonstration request. The Almaty activists subsequently submitted 31 petitions requesting a gathering to be held any day in the next month; the mayor’s office denied them all.

On May 10, several dozen individuals staged a protest initiated by fugitive banker and leader of the banned opposition group Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DCK) Mukhtar Ablyazov to demand the release of political prisoners and an end to torture. The protest had not received government approval. Police dispersed the protestors and detained several, among them random passers-by and minors, according to activists. Some of those detained were punished by court fines or short administrative detentions. The government did not release any official data on the number of detained or punished protestors.

On June 23, the DCK called another unapproved rally. Police preemptively arrested a number of individuals thought to be involved in the protests. Human rights advocacy organizations reported that those detained included passersby, senior citizens, pregnant women, and children. In several cities reporters who came to cover the event were briefly detained. All detainees were taken to police stations and held there for several hours without food or water. Human rights observers criticized police for unjustified detention and numerous procedural violations in holding the detainees in custody. There were no official reports on the number of those detained. Human rights advocates stated that more than a hundred individuals were detained in Almaty, 30 in Astana, and at least a dozen in Shymkent. In some cities protestors dispersed without police involvement.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The law provides for limited freedom of association, but there were significant restrictions on this right. Any public organization set up by citizens, including religious groups, must be registered with the Ministry of Justice, as well as with the local departments of justice in every region in which the organization conducts activities. The law requires public or religious associations to define their specific activities, and any association that acts outside the scope of its charter may be warned, fined, suspended, or ultimately banned. Participation in unregistered public organizations may result in administrative or criminal penalties, such as fines, imprisonment, the closure of an organization, or suspension of its activities.

NGOs reported some difficulty in registering public associations. According to government information, these difficulties were due to discrepancies in the submitted documents.

Membership organizations other than religious groups, which are covered under separate legislation, must have at least 10 members to register at the local level and must have branches in more than one-half the country’s regions for national registration. The government considered political parties and labor unions to be membership organizations but required political parties to have 40,000 signatures for registration. If authorities challenge the application by alleging irregular signatures, the registration process may continue only if the total number of eligible signatures exceeds the minimum number required. The law prohibits parties established on an ethnic, gender, or religious basis. The law also prohibits members of the armed forces, employees of law enforcement and other national security organizations, and judges from participating in trade unions or political parties.

According to Maina Kiai, the UN special rapporteur who visited Kazakhstan in 2015, the law regulating the establishment of political parties is problematic as it imposes onerous obligations prior to registration, including high initial membership requirements that prevent small parties from forming and extensive documentation that requires time and significant expense to collect. He also expressed concern regarding the broad discretion granted to officials in charge of registering proposed parties, noting that the process lacked transparency and the law allows for perpetual extensions of time for the government to review a party’s application.

Under the 2015 NGO financing law, all “nongovernment organizations, subsidiaries, and representative offices of foreign and international noncommercial organizations” are required to provide information on “their activities, including information regarding the founders, assets, sources of their funds and what they are spent on….” An “authorized body” may initiate a “verification” of the information submitted based on information received in mass media reports, complaints from individuals and entities, or other subjective sources. Untimely or inaccurate information contained in the report, discovered during verification, is an administrative offense and may carry fines up to 53,025 tenge ($159) or suspension for three months if the violation is not rectified or is repeated within one year. In extreme cases criminal penalties are possible, which may lead to a large fine, suspension, or closure of the organization.

The law prohibits illegal interference by members of public associations in the activities of the government, with a fine of up to 636,300 tenge ($1,910) or imprisonment for up to 75 days. If committed by the leader of the organization, the fine may be up to 1.06 million tenge ($3,180) or imprisonment for no more than 90 days. The law does not clearly define “illegal interference.”

By law a public association, along with its leaders and members, may face fines for performing activities outside its charter. The law is not clear regarding the delineation between actions an NGO member may take in his or her private capacity versus as part of an organization.

The law establishes broad reporting requirements concerning the receipt and expenditure of foreign funds or assets; it also requires labeling all publications produced with support from foreign funds. The law also sets out administrative and criminal penalties for noncompliance with these requirements and potential restrictions on the conduct of meetings, protests, and similar activities organized with foreign funds.

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. Despite some regulatory restrictions, the government generally respected these rights. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations to provide protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Human rights activists noted numerous violations of labor migrants’ rights, particularly those of unregulated migrants. The UN International Organization for Migration (IOM) noted a growing number of migrants who were banned re-entry to Russia and chose to stay in Kazakhstan. The government does not have a mechanism for integration of migrants, with the exception of ethnic Kazakh repatriates (oralman). Labor migrants from neighboring Central Asian countries are often low-skilled and seek manual labor. They were exposed to dangerous work and often faced abusive practices. The migrants are in vulnerable positions because of their unregulated legal status; the laborers do not know their rights, national labor and migration legislation, local culture, or the language.

Among major violations of these migrants’ rights, activists mentioned the lack of employment contracts, poor working conditions, long working hours, low salaries, nonpayment or delayed payment of salaries, and lack of adequate housing. Migrant workers faced the risk of falling victim to human trafficking and forced labor, and the International Labor Organization indicated migrants had very limited or no access to the justice system, social support, or basic health services. In its 2018 report the International Federation for Human Rights stated violations of labor migrants’ rights additionally included corruption of police forces’ migration officers and in other government offices. The report noted increased discrimination against migrants in society, exacerbated by their lack of information, education, and language difficulties.

In-country Movement: The government required foreigners who remained in the country for more than five days to register with migration police. Foreigners entering the country had to register at certain border posts or airports where they entered. Some foreigners experienced problems traveling in regions outside their registration area. The government’s Concept on Improving Migration Policyreport covers internal migration, repatriation of ethnic Kazakh returnees (oralman), and external labor migration. In 2017 the government amended the rules for migrants entering the country so that migrants from Eurasian Economic Union countries may stay up to 90 days. There is a registration exemption for families of legal migrant workers for a 30-day period after the worker starts employment. The government has broad authority to deport those who violate the regulations.

Since 2011 the government has not reported the number of foreigners deported for gross violation of visitor rules. Individuals facing deportation may request asylum if they fear persecution in their home country. The government required persons who were suspects in criminal investigations to sign statements they would not leave their city of residence.

Authorities required foreigners to obtain prior permission to travel to certain border areas adjoining China and cities in close proximity to military installations. The government continued to declare particular areas closed to foreigners due to their proximity to military bases and the space launch center at Baikonur.

Foreign Travel: The government did not require exit visas for temporary travel of citizens, yet there were certain instances in which the government could deny exit from the country, including in the case of travelers subject to pending criminal or civil proceedings or having unfulfilled prison sentences, unpaid taxes, fines, alimony or utility bills, or compulsory military duty. Travelers who present false documentation during the exit process could be denied the right to exit, and authorities controlled travel by active-duty military personnel. The law requires persons who had access to state secrets to obtain permission from their employing government agency for temporary exit from the country.

Exile: The law does not prohibit forced exile if authorized by an appropriate government agency or through a court ruling.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

The government cooperated with UNHCR and other organizations to provide protection and assistance to refugees from countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. There are approximately 600 recognized refugees in the country, and the government recognized six persons as refugees during the first nine months of the year. Both the number of refugee applications and the approval rate by the government declined considerably during the year compared with prior years.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. UNHCR legally may appeal to the government and intervene on behalf of individuals facing deportation. The law and several implementing regulations and bylaws regulate the granting of asylum and refugee status.

The Refugee Status Determination outlines procedures and access to government services, including the right to be legally registered and issued official documents. The Department of Migration Police in the Ministry of Internal Affairs conducts status determination procedures. Any individual seeking asylum in the country has access to the asylum procedure. According to UNHCR, the refugee system suffers from two major issues. First, access to the territory of Kazakhstan is limited. A person who crosses the border illegally may be prosecuted in criminal court, and may be viewed as a person with criminal potential. Second, access to asylum procedures falls short of the international standard. Authorities remain reluctant to accept asylum applications at the border from persons who lack valid identity documents, citing security concerns.

A legislative framework does not exist to manage the movement of asylum seekers between the country’s borders and authorities in other areas. There are no reception facilities for asylum seekers. The government does not provide accommodation, allowances, or any social benefits to asylum seekers. The law does not provide for differentiated procedures for persons with specific needs, such as separated children and persons with disabilities. Asylum seekers and refugees with specific needs are not entitled to financial or medical assistance. There are no guidelines for handling sensitive cases, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) cases.

Employment: Refugees faced difficulties in gaining employment and social assistance from the government. By law refugees have the right to work, with the exception of engaging in individual entrepreneurship. Refugees faced difficulties in accessing the labor market due to local employers’ lack of awareness of refugee rights.

Access to Basic Services: All refugees recognized by the government receive a refugee certificate that allows them to stay in the country legally. The majority of refugees have been residing in the country for many years. Their status as “temporarily residing aliens” hinders their access to the full range of rights stipulated in the 1951 convention and the law. Refugee status lasts for one year and is subject to annual renewal. This year, it became possible for refugees to apply for permanent residency provided that they have a valid passport. Some refugees have already received permanent residency this year, and they are to be eligible to become Kazakhstani citizens after five years. The law also lacks provisions on treatment of asylum seekers and refugees with specific needs. Refugees have access to education and health care on the same basis as citizens, but have no access to social benefits or allowances.

UNHCR reported cordial relations with the government in assisting refugees and asylum seekers. The government usually allowed UNHCR access to detained foreigners to provide for proper treatment and fair determination of status.

The government was generally tolerant in its treatment of local refugee populations.

Consistent with the Minsk Convention on Migration within the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), the government did not recognize Chechens as refugees. Chechens are eligible for temporary legal resident status for up to 180 days, as are any other CIS citizens. This temporary registration is renewable, but local migration officials may exercise discretion over the renewal process.

The government has an agreement with China not to tolerate the presence of ethnic separatists from one country on the territory of the other. UNHCR reported three Uighurs received refugee status during the first nine months of the year.

STATELESS PERSONS

The constitution and law provide avenues to deal with those considered stateless, and the government generally took seriously its obligation to ease the burden of statelessness within the country. As of September approximately 6,900 persons were officially registered by the government as stateless. The majority of individuals residing in the country with undetermined nationality, with de facto statelessness, or at heightened risk of statelessness are primarily those who have no identity documents, have invalid identity documents from a neighboring CIS country, or are holders of Soviet-era passports. These individuals typically resided in remote areas without obtaining official documentation.

In July 2017 the president signed a law that allows the government to deprive Kazakhstani citizenship to individuals convicted of a range of grave terrorism and extremism-related crimes, including for “harming the interest of the state.” According to UNHCR, no one has yet been deprived of citizenship under this law.

According to UNHCR the law provides a range of rights to persons recognized by the government as stateless. The legal status of officially registered stateless persons is documented and considered as having permanent residency, which is granted for 10 years in the form of a stateless person certificate. According to the law, after five years of residence in the country, stateless persons are eligible to apply for citizenship. Children born in the country to officially recognized stateless persons who have a permanent place of residence are recognized as nationals. A legal procedure exists for ethnic Kazakhs; those with immediate relatives in the country; and citizens of Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, and Kyrgyzstan, with which the country has agreements. The law gives the government six months to consider an application for citizenship. Some applicants complained that, due to the lengthy bureaucratic process, obtaining citizenship often took years. In summary the law does not provide a simplified naturalization procedure for stateless persons. Existing legislation prevents children of parents without identity documents from obtaining birth certificates, which hindered their access to education, free health care, and freedom of movement.

Persons rejected or whose status of stateless persons has been revoked may appeal the decision, but such appeals involved a lengthy process.

Officially recognized stateless persons have access to free medical assistance on the level provided to other foreigners, but it is limited to emergency medical care and to treatment of 21 contagious diseases on a list approved by the Ministry of Health Care and Social Development. Officially recognized stateless persons have a right to employment, with the exception of government positions. They may face challenges when concluding labor contracts, since potential employers may not understand or be aware of this legal right.

UNHCR reported that stateless persons without identity documents may not legally work, which led to the growth of illegal labor migration, corruption, and abuse of authority among employers. Children accompanying stateless parents were also considered stateless.

Kenya

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but the government sometimes restricted this right.

Freedom of Expression: In 2017 a branch of the High Court declared unconstitutional Section 132 of the Penal Code, which criminalized “undermining the authority of a public officer,” ruling the provision violated the fundamental right of freedom of expression. Other provisions of the constitution and the National Cohesion and Integration Act prohibiting hate speech and incitement to violence remained in force. Authorities arrested numerous members of parliament (MPs) on incitement or hate speech charges. In September 2017 authorities arrested MP Paul Ongili (aka Babu Owino) on charges of subversion and incitement and later charged him with causing grievous harm to a voter. These charges remained pending. In March the Nairobi High Court nullified Ongili’s election as an MP on charges of electoral malpractice and related violence. In June the Appeals Court overturned the High Court decision, reinstating Ongili’s election.

Press and Media Freedom: The government occasionally interpreted laws to restrict press freedom, and officials occasionally accused the international media of publishing stories and engaging in activities that could incite violence. Two laws give the government oversight of media by creating a complaints tribunal with expansive authority, including the power to revoke journalists’ credentials and levy debilitating fines. The government was the media’s largest source of advertising revenue, and regularly used this as a lever to influence media owners.

Sixteen other laws restrict media operations and place restrictions on freedom of the press. In 2016 the president signed into law the Access to Information bill, which media freedom advocates lauded as progress in government transparency.

In March eight prominent columnists collectively resigned from the National Media Group, the country’s largest media group, via a joint statement citing a “loss in editorial independence,” including as an example the firing of managing editor Denis Galaya over an editorial critical of President Kenyatta.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists alleged security forces or supporters of politicians at the national and county levels sometimes harassed and physically intimidated them. The government at times failed to investigate allegations of harassment, threats, and physical attacks on members of the media.

In March, according to multiple reports, police physically assaulted television and print journalists at Nairobi’s international airport covering the return of opposition lawyer Miguna Miguna from abroad. Reporters from KTN, NTV and Citizen TV alleged injuries from the altercation.

Numerous news outlets and NGOs reported that intimidation of journalists following the 2017 elections continued into the year. On September 9, police in Nyeri County arrested Irene Mugo of Daily Nation and Lydia Nyawira of Standard media for interviewing relatives of a man arrested for wearing a T-shirt carrying a message presumed to be against Deputy President William Ruto. Authorities released the journalists without charges the next day.

Most news media continued to cover a wide variety of political and social issues, and most newspapers published opinion pieces criticizing the government.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The mainstream media were generally independent, but there were reports by journalists that government officials pressured them to avoid certain topics and stories and intimidated them if officials judged they had already published or broadcast stories too critical of the government. There were also reports journalists avoided covering issues or writing stories they believed their editors would reject due to direct or indirect government pressure. On January 30, the government blocked KTN, NTV, and Citizen TV over plans to broadcast a public ceremony held by elements of the opposition coalition to symbolically swear in Raila Odinga as “the people’s president.” On January 31, the High Court ordered the ban suspended for 14 days while the court examined the case. The government refused to comply with the court order, calling the matter a security issue. On February 5, the government permitted NTV and KTN to resume broadcasting, and Citizen TV returned to the air on February 8.

Journalists practiced self-censorship to avoid conflict with the government on sensitive subjects, such as the first family.

Libel/Slander Laws: In 2017 a branch of the High Court declared unconstitutional Section 194 of the Penal Code, which defined the offense of criminal defamation. Libel and slander remain civil offenses.

National Security: The government cited national or public security as grounds to suppress views that it considered politically embarrassing. The government cited security grounds for preventing media houses from covering the January 30 symbolic swearing in of Raila Odinga.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Authorities, however, monitored websites for violations of hate speech laws. On May 16, President Kenyatta signed into law the Computer Misuse and Cybercrime Act, which was to come into force on May 30. On May 29, the High Court suspended enforcement of 25 sections of the new law pending further hearings. The court based the suspension on complaints that the law was overly vague and subject to misuse, that it criminalized defamation, and that it failed to include intent requirements in key provisions and exceptions for public use and whistleblowers. The hearings remained pending as of the year’s end.

By law, mobile telephone service providers may block mass messages they judge would incite violence. The National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) tracked bloggers and social media users accused of spreading hate speech. Leading up to the 2017 election season, hate speech, disinformation, and surveillance were reported, and the Communications Authority of Kenya issued regulations that could limit disinformation online.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 17.8 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events. In 2016 the president signed into law the Protection of Traditional Knowledge and Cultural Expressions Bill.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly, the government sometimes restricted this right. Police routinely denied requests for meetings filed by human rights activists, and authorities dispersed persons attending meetings that had not been prohibited beforehand. Organizers must notify local police in advance of public meetings, which may proceed unless police notify organizers otherwise. By law authorities may prohibit gatherings only if there is another previously scheduled meeting at the same time and venue or if there is a perceived specific security threat.

Police used excessive force at times to disperse demonstrators. The local press reported on multiple occasions that police used tear gas to disperse demonstrators or crowds of various types, including looters at the demolition of a shopping mall in September. On August 6, police tear-gassed Kenyatta National Hospital staff staging a peaceful protest over nonpayment of their health service allowances. IPOA’s investigation of resulting complaints continued as of year’s end.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right, but there were reports that authorities arbitrarily denied this right in some cases. A statement by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights dated July 11 noted reprisals faced by numerous human rights defenders and communities that raised human rights concerns. Reprisals reportedly took the form of intimidation, termination of employment, beatings, and arrests and threats of malicious prosecution. There were reports of restrictions on workers’ freedom of association, including in the agribusiness and public sectors. Trade unionists reported workers dismissed for joining trade unions or for demanding respect for their labor rights.

The Societies Act requires that every public association be either registered or exempted from registration by the Registrar of Societies. The NGO Coordination Act requires that NGOs dedicated to advocacy, public benefit, or the promotion of charity or research register with the NGO Coordination Board. In February the High Court ordered the NGO Coordination Board to pay the Kenya Human Rights Commission KSH two million ($20,000) compensation for illegally freezing its accounts and attempting to deregister it in 2017. The NGO Coordination Board had also attempted to deregister the Africa Centre for Open Governance, but a court overturned that decision in December 2017.

The NGO Coordination Act of 1990 requires organizations employing foreign staff to seek authorization from the NGO Coordination Board before applying for a work permit.

In 2016 the Ministry of Devolution and Planning announced its intention to implement immediately the 2013 Public Benefits Organization (PBO) Act, an important step in providing a transparent legal framework for NGO activities. Despite two court rulings ordering the government to operationalize the PBO Act. In September the interior cabinet secretary pledged to operationalize the PBO Act by the end of the year but the government failed to do so.

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

The constitution and legal framework provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation for citizens. Refugees and asylum seekers require registration with the National Registration Bureau, and the Security Law Act of 2014 reiterates strict implementation of the encampment policy.

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 (IDPs), refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern. In October 2017 the country pledged to apply the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework to enhance refugee self-reliance, increase access to solutions, and improve conditions in countries of origin for safe and voluntary returns.

In 2017 the High Court blocked the government’s plan to close the Dadaab refugee complex, ruling the plan violated the principle of nonrefoulement and refugees’ constitutional rights to fair administrative action. The court’s decision eased pressure on Somalis who feared the camp would close by the government-imposed deadline. As of the end of the year, the government had taken no new steps to close Dadaab, but reportedly planned to close it in 2019.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Police abuse, including detention of asylum seekers and refugees, continued, often due to a lack of awareness and understanding of the rights afforded to refugee registration cardholders. Most were released after a court appearance and/or intervention by organizations such as the Refugee Consortium of Kenya.

In April the Interior Ministry issued a 60-day ultimatum calling on foreign workers to regularize their work permits. Following the announcement, authorities reportedly arrested 375 refugees and asylum seekers, and 16 remained in detention as of the end of the year. UNHCR and some NGOs advocated that refugees and asylum seekers not be affected by the directive.

Exploitation of refugees with promises of assistance in the resettlement process or to secure movement passes remained a concern.

The security situation in Dadaab improved during the year, but remained precarious. There were no attacks on humanitarian workers and no detonations of improvised explosive devices within 15 miles of the refugee complex during the year. The security partnership between UNHCR and the local police remained strong and led to improvements in camp security through community policing and neighborhood watch initiatives. In January members of the host community held protests in response to UNHCR’s planned closure of the IFO 2 camp in Dadaab, which closed in March.

Sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) against refugees and asylum seekers remained a problem, particularly for vulnerable populations including women, children, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) refugees. Reported incidents included domestic violence, rape, sexual assault, physical assault, psychological abuse, FGM/C, early and forced marriage, particularly of young Sudanese, South Sudanese, and Somali girls. Despite strong awareness programs in the camps, under-reporting persisted due to community preference for “maslaha,” a traditional form of jurisprudence prevalent in the region, as an alternative dispute resolution mechanisms; shortages of female law-enforcement officers; limited knowledge of SGBV, and the medical forensic requirements for trying alleged rape cases.

Refugees generally dealt with criminality in accordance with customary law and traditional practices rather than through the country’s justice system. Other security problems in refugee camps included petty theft, banditry, ethnic violence, and the harassment of Muslim converts to Christianity, according to UNHCR.

In-country Movement: The country hosts an estimated 469,700 refugees and asylum seekers. Prolonged insecurity and conflict in the region forced the country to play a leading role in coping with refugee flows, especially from Somalia, South Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The government actively enforced an encampment policy for refugees. Refugees needing to move outside the designated areas (Kakuma camp, Kalobeyei settlement, and the Dadaab refugee complex) must obtain a temporary movement pass issued by the Refugee Affairs Secretariat (RAS). Stringent vetting requirements and long processing times have delayed the issuance of temporary movement passes in the camps.

The Kenyan Refugee Act of 2006 allows exemption categories for specific groups to live outside designated camp areas, including in protection and medical cases. The government granted limited travel permission to refugees to receive specialized medical care outside the camps, to refugees enrolled in public schools, and to refugees in the resettlement pipeline. It made exceptions to the encampment policy for extremely vulnerable groups in need of protection. The government continued to provide in-country movement and exit permits for refugee interviews and departures for third-country resettlement. Between January and September, RAS issued 4,393 temporary movement passes.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

The National Consultative Coordination Committee on IDPs (the committee) operates under the Ministry of Interior and Coordination of National Government. According to the committee, in 2016 it compensated 44,577 IDPs who remained in camps after the 2007-08 postelection violence with approximately $500 to aid their reintegration into society. The committee planned to compensate the remaining 39,314 by the end of the year.

Violence in Mandera County in 2014 between the communities of Mandera North District and Banisa District, and on the border between Mandera and Wajir counties, resulted in displacement of an estimated 32,000 households. According to the Ministry of Devolution and Planning, the committee provided Mandera County with financial assistance for 6,890 IDP households that had not been able to return home, and assistance to the IDPs continued.

Water scarcity exacerbated communal conflict and left an unknown number of citizens internally displaced. IDPs from all locations generally congregated in informal settlements and camps. Living conditions in such settlements and camps remained poor, with rudimentary housing and little public infrastructure or services. Grievances and violence between IDPs and host communities were generally resource based and occurred when IDPs attempted to graze livestock or gather food and fuel locally. In the north, IDP settlements primarily consisted of displaced ethnic Ethiopians and Somalis and were targets of clan violence or involved in clashes over resources.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: There were no confirmed cases of refoulement.

During the year, UNHCR assisted 7,130 persons to return voluntarily to their places of origin, of whom 6,939 returned to Somalia and 191 returned to Burundi. UNHCR organized “go and see” visits to Somalia for Somali refugees as well as visits from Somali government officials to Dadaab refugee complex to provide information to refugees about current conditions in Somalia. UNHCR reported that fewer Somali refugees opt to repatriate voluntarily as compared with previous years due to: concerns of forced recruitment by terrorist and militia organizations in Somalia, general insecurity, and lack of access to education and livelihoods.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has a system for providing protection to camp-based refugees. While the government generally coordinated with UNHCR to provide assistance and protection to refugees in the Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps, cooperation was limited in urban areas. The government had yet to register nearly 10,119 refugees and asylum seekers in Dadaab, the majority of whom are Somali. Pressure from UNHCR and the international community has resulted in the government’s registration of a number of extremely vulnerable individuals. South Sudanese refugees maintain prima facie refugee status.

According to UNHCR, as of September the country hosted 469,769 registered refugees and asylum seekers, including 208,891 in the Dadaab refugee complex, 186,205 in Kakuma camp, and 74,673 in the Nairobi area. The majority of refugees and asylum seekers were from Somalia (256,326), with others coming from South Sudan (114,765), the DRC (39,757), Ethiopia (29,509), Burundi (13,161), and other countries (16,245). Most refugees arriving in Kakuma were from South Sudan and the refugee population in Dadaab was primarily Somali. New arrivals also included individuals from Burundi, the DRC, Ethiopia, and Uganda. The Somali refugee influx was lower than in previous years. An agreement on voluntary repatriation between Kenya, Somalia, and UNHCR expired in November, although is still de facto in place. Since 2014, 82,339 Somali refugees have voluntarily returned to Somalia from Kenya under the agreement.

In May 2016 the government disbanded the Department of Refugee Affairs and replaced it with a Refugee Affairs Secretariat to carry out the department’s previous work. The Refugee Affairs Secretariat, within the Interior Ministry, maintained a cooperative working relationship with UNHCR.

Employment: Refugees are generally not permitted to work in the country.

STATELESS PERSONS

The constitution and the 2011 Citizen and Immigration Act provide for the protection of stateless persons and for legal avenues for eligible stateless persons to apply for citizenship. UNHCR estimated that 18,500 stateless persons were registered in the country; the actual number, however, was unknown.

Communities known to UNHCR as stateless include the Pemba in Kwale (approximately 5,000) and the Shona (an estimated 4,000). The 9,500 remaining include: persons of Rwandan, Burundian, or Congolese descent; some descendants of slaves from Zambia and Malawi; the Galjeel, who were stripped of their nationality in 1989; and smaller groups at risk of statelessness due to their proximity to Kenya’s border with Somali and Ethiopia, including the Daasanach and returnees’ from Somalia residing in Isiolo. Children born in Kenya to British oversees citizens are stateless due to conflicting nationality laws in Kenya and the United Kingdom.

Many stateless persons did not qualify for protection under the local refugee determination apparatus. Among these were Somali refugees born in Kenyan refugee camps and Sudanese and South Sudanese refugees.

In collaboration with the Department of Immigration Services and the Kenya Human Rights Commission, UNHCR was collecting data on the Shona in the country. The Kwale County government was in dialogue with the Pemba community to petition the president to grant nationality to them, according to UNHCR.

Although legal safeguards and pathways to citizenship for stateless persons exist, the government lacked a strategy to identify and register them, significantly limiting their ability to acquire legal residence or citizenship. Stateless persons had limited legal protection and encountered travel restrictions, social exclusion, and heightened vulnerability to trafficking, sexual and gender-based violence, exploitation, forced displacement, and other abuses. UNHCR reported that stateless persons faced restrictions on internal movement and limited access to basic services, property ownership, and registration of births, marriages, and deaths. Inadequate documentation sometimes resulted in targeted harassment and extortion by law enforcement officials and exploitation in the informal labor sector.

National registration policies require citizens age 18 and older to obtain national identification documents from the National Registration Bureau. Failure to do so is a crime. Groups with historical or ethnic ties to other countries faced higher burdens of proof in the registration process.

Kiribati

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right.

Press and Media Freedom: Although there were no government restrictions, there were some concerns about the lack of local independent media and lack of transparency of the registration process for media organizations. Either the government’s Broadcasting and Publications Authority or a media company owned by a member of parliament operated most locally based news media. The regional SKY Pacific paid-television channel provided news coverage in the capital, South Tarawa.

The law requires registration of newspapers and permits the government to cancel registrations or fine newspapers for certain offenses.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. While generally available on South Tarawa, public access to the internet elsewhere in the country was limited by lack of infrastructure.

According to the World Bank, approximately 14 percent of the population used the internet in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

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

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

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law does not specifically provide for granting asylum or refugee status, but the principal immigration officer has wide discretionary authority to permit foreigners to stay in the country. The government has not established a formal system for protecting refugees. During the year there were no reported applications for asylum or refugee status.

Kosovo

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press. While the government generally respected this right, credible reports persisted that some public officials, politicians, businesses, and radical religious groups sought to intimidate media representatives. The media also encountered difficulties in obtaining information from the government and public institutions as provided by law. An Independent Media Commission regulates broadcast frequencies, issues licenses to public and private broadcasters, and establishes broadcasting policies.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views, generally without restriction, although reports persisted that government officials, some political parties, businesses connected to the government, religious groups, and disgruntled individuals exerted pressure on media owners, individual editors, and reporters not to publish certain stories or materials.

Financial difficulties of media outlets put the editorial independence of all media at risk. While some self-sufficient media outlets adopted editorial and broadcast policies independent of political and business interests, those with fewer resources sometimes accepted financial support in exchange for positive coverage or for refraining from publishing negative stories harmful to funders’ interests.

Violence and Harassment: The Association of Journalists of Kosovo and media outlets reported 16 instances during the year in which government officials, business interests, community groups, or radical religious groups abused press freedom, including by physical assaults and verbal threats directed at journalists and pressure on outlets not to publish certain materials.

In March, ethnic Serbs in Mitrovica/e North attacked ethnic Albanian photojournalist Blerim Uka with sticks during his coverage of a controversial police raid following an allegedly illegal visit by a Serbian official, inflicting minor injuries. Ethnic Serb journalists covering the same gathering claimed KP teargassed them, pushed them to the ground, and destroyed their equipment. An investigation into the police raid was underway, but it was not clear whether investigators were examining attacks on journalists.

In October, journalists who exposed a high-profile pension fraud case reported receiving threats from high-level politicians and anonymous callers. Also in October, Member of parliament Milaim Zeka advocated publicly criminalizing any speech impugning Kosovo Liberation Army veterans.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: There were no reports of direct censorship of print or broadcast media, although journalists claimed that pressure from politicians and organized criminal groups frequently resulted in self-censorship. Some journalists refrained from critical investigative reporting due to fear for their physical or job security. Journalists occasionally received offers of financial benefits in exchange for positive reporting or for abandoning an investigation. According to the Association of Journalists of Kosovo, government officials, as well as suspected criminals, verbally threatened journalists for perceived negative reporting. According to some editors, government agencies and corporations withdrew advertising from newspapers that published material critical of them.

Journalists complained that media owners and managers prevented them from publishing or broadcasting stories critical of the government, political parties, or particular officials. In some cases owners reportedly threatened to dismiss journalists if they produced critical reports. Journalists also complained that owners prevented them from reporting on high-level government corruption.

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

As of August, the Regulatory Authority of Electronic and Postal Communications reported that approximately 85.4 percent of households had broadband internet connections.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government, EULEX, and KFOR generally respected these rights.

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

The law provides for freedom of movement within the country, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. Nevertheless, roadblocks placed as a result of interethnic tensions and real and perceived security concerns sometimes restricted freedom of movement. Security concerns also limited the number of displaced Kosovo Serbs seeking to return.

The government cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, persons at risk of statelessness, and vulnerable minority communities.

In-country Movement: The Austerlitz Bridge connecting Mitrovica/e North and South remained closed for vehicular traffic but was fully open to pedestrians. Other bridges connecting the two cities were fully open.

The government did not consider Serbian-issued personal documents bearing Kosovo town names to be valid travel documents, making it difficult for many members of the Kosovo Serb community to travel freely to and from Kosovo, unless using the two border crossings with Serbia located in the Kosovo-Serb majority municipalities in the north. The Turkish government refused to renew the passports of some Turkish legal residents of Kosovo; these individuals were unable to travel outside of Kosovo.

Exile: The return to the country by Ashkali, Balkan Egyptian, and Roma refugees from the war remained a problem. Their institutional representatives believed that social prejudice prevented the return of nearly 400 Ashkalis, Balkan Egyptians, and Roma who were formerly resident in the country and have informed UNHCR that they were ready to return from Serbia, Macedonia, and Montenegro.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

According to UNHCR, approximately 90,000 persons formerly resident in the country remained displaced by the war and its aftermath in neighboring states. In all, 8,367 displaced persons (2,104 families), primarily Kosovo Serbs, registered their interest in returning to the country with UNHCR. The Communities and Returns Ministry reported 370 individuals returned to their places of origin as of August.

The government allocated 1.8 million euros ($2.1 million) for housing construction of non-Serb minority communities in May and committed to funding 23 temporary care shelters for 432 displaced persons through 2020. Obstacles persisted in terms of the allocation of land for housing reconstruction, lack of economic prospects, and societal discrimination. According to UNHCR, the lack of a detailed census and adequate profiling data left displaced persons excluded from human rights protections and development plans.

In January the government adopted a regulation on return of displaced persons and durable solutions, establishing minimum living conditions for displaced persons. The regulation also defined institutional responsibilities, procedures, and criteria for assistance to the displaced. As of August, returnee representatives claimed the government had not implemented the regulation.

The return process in some areas of the country continued to be marked by security incidents or local communities’ reluctance to accept minority returnees. UNHCR observed limited interaction between returnees and receiving communities as well as the returnees’ lack of trust in law enforcement. In addition, minority returnees were beset with security difficulties, and officials in multiple locations often discouraged their return.

On August 7, the SPRK indicted ethnic-Serb returnee Milorad Zajic for allegedly burning the homes of ethnic Albanians in 1999. Ethnic Serb leaders and other observers saw this and other similar indictments as attempts to discourage potential ethnic-Serb returnees to majority Albanian areas.

Despite official calls for the return of displaced persons, the government did not take steps to eliminate obstacles to housing repossession or assistance. Such obstacles included land allocation for housing construction, security problems in some areas, and overall lack of socioeconomic prospects for returnees. UNHCR claimed that government reintegration programs for displaced persons remained largely unsuccessful due to a lack of proper needs assessment and failure to select and prioritize beneficiaries based on vulnerabilities.

UNHCR reported that the KP maintained an increased presence in areas with returnees to prevent interethnic violence. As of May, UNHCR had recorded 23 incidents of violence against ethnic Serbs and one incident involving Roma returnees. In May protestors threw stones at ethnic Serb IDPs visiting a church in Kline/Klina to mark a religious holiday; the KP arrested an individual accused of orchestrating the attack.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: On March 29, under an order from the Kosovo Intelligence Agency, a KP Special Intervention Unit arrested six Turkish citizens legally resident in Kosovo alleged by Turkish authorities to be followers of Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen. The agency has legal authority to recommend deportation when “national security circumstances” warrant it. Later the same morning, the Ministry of Interior’s Department for Citizenship, Asylum, and Migration deported the six detainees to Turkey, where they were held on vague charges by Turkish authorities. NGOs and the Ombudsperson Institution asserted the government denied the detainees their right to claim asylum or appeal the deportation decision before a court. NGOs and opposition politicians claimed the expedited deportation was politically motivated. The prime minister dismissed the interior minister and Kosovo Intelligence Agency director as a result of the incident. A parliamentary investigation and a case in Pristina’s Basic Court brought by families of the deportees were underway at year’s end.

Access to Asylum: The Assembly passed a new Law on Asylum in May. In addition to existing provisions granting asylum or refugee status, the new law provides for temporary admission of asylum seekers while their cases are adjudicated, and grants refugee status that includes subsidiary protection for those granted asylum protection in Kosovo.

According to the Ministry of Interior, there were 116 asylum applications through July, 15 of which were approved. Six individuals were granted refugee status during the year. As of July, there were 21 pending asylum applications.

Reception facilities at the asylum center can host children, but the facility lacked standard operating procedures for the treatment of unaccompanied children seeking asylum and for determination of their eligibility for asylum.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The law recognizes the safe country of origin concept under international law but had yet to apply it. According to UNHCR, the country’s definition of safe country of origin complies with EU standards.

Access to Basic Services: UNHCR reported that asylum seekers received accommodation, regular meals, and clothing, while UNHCR partner organizations provided psychological assessments, counseling services, and legal aid. The lack of interpretation services for a number of languages remained a problem. UNHCR claimed healthcare and psychological treatment were still inadequate.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary protection, called subsidiary protection, to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. From independence in 2008 through June, the government provided subsidiary protection to 14 persons.

STATELESS PERSONS

Official figures on stateless persons were not available. The law contains no discriminatory provisions that might cause groups or individuals to be deprived of or denied citizenship. Children acquire citizenship from their parents or by virtue of birth in the country in cases of children born to parents of certain minority communities whose citizenship was not documented. Government procedures provide for access to naturalization for those granted stateless or refugee status five years after the determination.

Laws relating to civil status permit stateless persons to register life events such as birth, marriage, and death; implementation varied among municipalities. The government’s capacity to identify stateless persons and those with undetermined nationality remained inadequate.

During the year, UNHCR assisted 217 stateless ethnic Ashkalis, Balkan Egyptians, and Roma. Unregistered family members did not receive social assistance benefits and pension rights and could not register property titles or retain rights to inherited or transferred property. Children who were born of parents displaced outside the country and who entered with their readmitted parents often lacked documentation, including birth certificates, from their place of birth. Authorities acknowledged the problem but did not develop a systematic solution. In 2015 the Civil Registration Agency of the Ministry of Internal Affairs promoted free birth registration and late registration by removing the expiration date that would have triggered fees or penalties for many registration services for ethnic Roma, Ashkalis, and Balkan Egyptians.

UNHCR reported that around 600 Ashkalis, Balkan Egyptians, and Roma were “legally invisible” due to their inability to provide evidence of their birth in the country. During the year the ministry’s Civil Registration Agency provided birth certificates, identification, and/or passports to 50 displaced persons from the country who were living in Montenegro.

Kuwait

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

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

Local activists reported they were regularly contacted by state security services and Ministry of Information officials if they published opinions deemed contrary to the government view. Activists also reported being contacted through the Kuwaiti Embassy when they were residing abroad. In October the foreign minister stated he had directed “Kuwait’s diplomatic missions [abroad] to firmly pursue people offending Kuwait or its leaders.” Government authorities did not always take immediate action in the cases of social media posts to which they objected made by citizens while overseas, but under the law the government may take action once the author returns to the country. Under existing law there is broad latitude in the interpretation of what constitutes a crime when voicing dissent against the emir or the government, and activists can face up to seven years in prison for each count of the offense.

In July the Court of Cassation upheld the Court of Appeals’ verdict sentencing 13 citizens to jail for two years for publicly repeating an antigovernment speech (which was deemed offensive to the emir) by parliamentary opposition leader Musallam al-Barrak. In April the Court of Appeals sentenced another 17 citizens to two years in prison for repeating the same speech. In both cases the sentences were suspended, but the defendants were placed on probation for three years.

In contrast to previous years, the courts sentenced political activists to harsher prison sentences for charges of speaking out against the emir, government, religion, or neighboring states. In one case a citizen was sentenced to 70 years in prison for voicing his antigovernment opinion on social media, and in another case a citizen received 30 years. Both citizens fled the country before the verdict was handed down.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. All print media were privately owned, although the media’s independence was limited. The government did not permit non-Islamic religious publishing companies, although several churches published religious materials solely for their congregations’ use. The law allows for large fines and up to 10 years in prison for persons who use any means (including media) to subvert the emirate. The Ministry of Commerce and Industry may ban any media organization at the request of the Ministry of Information. Media organizations can challenge media bans in the administrative courts. Newspaper publishers must obtain an operating license from the Ministry of Information. Broadcast media, made up of both government and privately owned stations, are subject to the same laws as print media.

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

Throughout the year publishers reportedly received pressure from the Ministry of Information, resulting in the publishers often restricting which books are available in the country. The Ministry of Information received approximately 3,400 books for review and banned more than 700 due to content violating religious, political, and public morality guidelines. One author appealed to lift the ban on his book; the appeal was pending at year’s end. According to the Ministry of Information, the Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs reviewed books of a religious nature.

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

National Security: The law forbids publication or transmission of any information deemed subversive to the constitutional system on national security grounds. The government prosecuted online bloggers and social media outlets under the cybercrime law, the Printing and Publishing Law, and the National Security Law.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The cybercrime law criminalizes certain online activity, to include illegal access to information technology systems; unauthorized access to confidential information; blackmail; use of the internet for terrorist activity; money laundering; and utilizing the internet for human trafficking. Newspaper reports indicated that nearly 2,000 cybersecurity cases were filed under this law.

The government’s E-Licensing program requires bloggers and websites that provide news in the country to register with the Ministry of Information and apply for a license or be fined. The ministry has issued approximately 500 licenses to individuals and organizations this since the implementation of the law in 2016. No fines were issued during the year.

The government continued to monitor internet communications, such as blogs and discussion groups, for defamation and generalized security reasons. The Ministry of Communications blocked websites considered to “incite terrorism and instability” and required internet service providers to block websites that “violate [the country’s] customs and traditions.” The government prosecuted and punished individuals for the expression of political or religious views via the internet, including by email and social media, based on existing laws related to libel, national unity, and national security. The government prosecuted some online bloggers under the Printing and Publishing Law and the National Security Law.

The government filtered the internet primarily to block pornography and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) material, and sites critical of Islam.

The Internet World Statistics site reported an internet access rate of 99.8 percent in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

The Ministry of Interior reserved the right to approve or reject public events and those it considered politically or morally inappropriate.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides for freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but the government restricted the right of noncitizens to demonstrate.

Officials sometimes also restricted the location of planned protests to designated public spaces, citing public safety and traffic concerns. In September a group of activists peacefully assembled and protested the censorship of books in front of the Ministry of Information. Activists reported that they had applied in advance, notifying the authorities of their planned protest, but had not received a response. The initial rally dispersed peacefully when members of police requested activists to move to a different venue. A second protest was organized and the authorities gave permission for the rally away from the Ministry of Information. In the past courts have tried and sentenced participants in unlicensed demonstrations to prison terms and deported noncitizens for participating in rallies.

The Bidoon are stateless Arabs who are recognized by the authorities but not granted citizenship. Bidoon activists have reported that if they try to assemble peacefully or organize campaigns to gain equal rights, authorities regularly harass them. Some Bidoon activists indicated they were detained for questioning by authorities each time they planned campaigns or protests.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

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

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

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

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

The government generally cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other individuals of concern.

Because there is no path to citizenship, all workers are considered foreign residents and not labelled as migrants.

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

The law also permits travel bans on citizens and nonnationals accused or suspected of violating the law, including nonpayment of debts, and it allows other citizens to petition authorities to impose one. This provision resulted in delays and difficulties for citizens and foreigners leaving the country.

Citizenship: By law the government is prohibited from revoking the citizenship of an individual who was born a citizen unless that individual has obtained a second nationality, which is against the law. Additionally, the law permits the government to revoke the citizenship of naturalized citizens for cause, including a felony conviction and, subsequently, deport them. The government has justified the revocation of citizenship by citing a 1959 nationality law that permits withdrawal of citizenship from naturalized Kuwaitis who acquired citizenship dishonestly or threatened to “undermine the economic or social structure of the country.” Additionally, if a person loses citizenship, all family members whose status derives from that person also lose their citizenship and all associated rights. Children born of citizen mothers and noncitizen fathers are not granted citizenship. Children born of noncitizen mothers and Kuwaiti fathers are granted citizenship.

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

Persons who had their citizenship revoked, and any family members dependent on that individual for their citizenship status, became stateless individuals. Authorities can seize the passports and civil identification cards of persons who lose their citizenship and enter a “block” on their names in government databases. This “block” prevented former citizens from traveling or accessing free health care and other government services reserved for citizens. A Council of Ministers committee created in 2017 to review citizenship revocations since 1991, received 200 appeals and sent their recommendations for 70 of those to the Council of Ministers. Seven families had their citizenship restored, while the other 63 were rejected. There were no known revocations of citizenship during the year.

The law prohibits the granting of citizenship to non-Muslims, but it allows non-Muslim male citizens to transmit citizenship to their descendants. According to the law, children derive citizenship solely from the father; children born to citizen mothers and nonnational fathers do not inherit citizenship. Female citizens may sponsor their nonnational children (regardless of age) and husbands for residency permits, and they may petition for naturalization for their children if the mother becomes divorced or widowed from a noncitizen husband.

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

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status. There is no system for providing protection to refugees, and the government did not grant refugee status or asylum during the year. UNHCR recognized approximately 1,650 registered asylum seekers and refugees in the country.

During the year the country suspended an agreement allowing refugees to be resettled in Turkey, Jordan, and Sudan, among others. The decision followed protests, notably in Sudan, over this policy.

Freedom of Movement: During the year UNHCR reported that hundreds of Syrian refugees remained at the deportation center since, according to UNHCR, they could not be sent back to Syria without the refugees’ approval. Holding refugees at the deportation center for long periods has exacerbated an already difficult situation at the overcrowded facility.

Employment: Most asylum seekers and refugees were from Iraq, Somalia, and Syria, and many were either employed or supported by human rights groups pending resolution of their UNHCR asylum requests and resettlement. Many reported being increasingly fearful of losing their job, residency status, or both.

Access to Basic Services: Due to populist antiexpatriate sentiments in the country, the government enacted policies making healthcare and education more expensive for foreign workers than for citizens. Human rights organizations reported the immediate effect of this policy was that many foreign workers and their families receiving medical treatment chose to be discharged from hospitals rather than receive treatment they could no longer afford. Compounded by stagnant wages, an increasing cost of living, and a lack of job security, more persons–even legally employed workers, especially from conflict zones–began seeking asylum and resettlement in Europe, America, and Australia.

Stateless Persons

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

The naturalization process for Bidoon is not transparent, and decisions appeared arbitrary. The Central Agency for Illegal Residents, tasked with monitoring Bidoon affairs, had more than 88,000 registered Bidoon under review. Although Bidoon are entitled to government benefits including five-year renewable residency, free healthcare and education, and ration cards, community members have alleged it was difficult for them to avail of those services due to bureaucratic red tape.

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

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

According to UNHCR some Bidoon underwent DNA testing to “prove” their Kuwaiti nationality by virtue of blood relation to a Kuwaiti citizen. Bidoon are required to submit DNA samples confirming paternity to become naturalized, a practice critics said leaves them vulnerable to denial of citizenship based on DNA testing.

The government discriminated against Bidoon in some areas. Some Bidoon and international NGOs reported that the government did not uniformly grant some government services and subsidies to Bidoon, including education, employment, medical care, and the issuance of civil documents, such as birth, marriage, and death certificates. Since the government treats them as illegal immigrants, Bidoon do not have property rights.

Bidoon advocates reported that many Bidoon families were unable to obtain birth certificates for their children due to extensive administrative requirements, which restricted the children’s ability to obtain government-issued identification cards, access adequate medical care, attend school, and be counted in official statistics.

Many adult Bidoon lacked identification cards due to the many administrative hurdles they face, preventing them from engaging in lawful employment or obtaining travel documents. This restriction resulted in some Bidoon children not receiving an education and working as street vendors to help support their families. Many Bidoon children who attended school enrolled in substandard private institutions as citizens were given priority to attend public school.

The government amended the existing law on military service to allow the sons of soldiers who served in the military for 30 years and the sons of soldiers killed or missing in action to be eligible to join the military. According to the head of the Interior and Defense Parliamentary Committee, more than 25,000 Bidoons are awaiting enlistment.

Kyrgyz Republic

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and citizens generally were free to exercise these rights. NGO leaders and media rights advocates acknowledged a more relaxed press environment under the Jeenbekov administration, noting a clear drop in libel lawsuits against independent media outlets and the withdrawal of existing cases launched under the previous administration. Self-censorship continued to be prevalent, and pressure reportedly existed from editors and political figures to bias reporting.

Freedom of Expression: As in earlier years, some journalists reported intimidation related to coverage of sensitive topics, such as interethnic relations, “religious extremism,” or the rise of nationalism. The trend was particularly salient against Uzbek-language media outlets. Some journalists were prosecuted or felt threatened for reporting critically on public figures.

Multiple civil society groups noted an increase in the application of Article 299 of the criminal code on the “incitement of interethnic, racial, religious, and interregional hatred.” Observers stated that in some cases authorities broadly interpreted Article 299 to sanction speech, which tended to affect ethnic minorities and human rights defenders. HRW reported that the majority of prosecutions under Article 299 occurred in the south and targeted ethnic Uzbeks. According to NGOs, 98 percent of arrests under Article 299 resulted in convictions. Civil society organizations called the process to confirm violations of Article 299 arbitrary, politicized, and unprofessional. In November 2017 former opposition presidential candidate Omurbek Babanov faced charges for allegedly violating Article 299 during one of his campaign rally speeches (see section 3, Elections and Political Participation).

Press and Media Freedom: In recent years there were attempts to proscribe independent media from operating freely in the country. Tight government controls over news content on state television were widely acknowledged. Media rights advocates noted increasing pressure on media outlets in advance of the October 2017 presidential elections. Such pressure included civil and criminal lawsuits filed against independent media and journalists in connection with their reporting.

While there was a small degree of foreign ownership of media through local partners, in June 2017 the president signed amendments to the law on mass media that prohibit a foreign entity from forming a media outlet and limit foreign ownership of television stations. Nonetheless, through local partners Russian-language television stations dominated coverage and local ratings. A number of Russia-based media outlets operated freely in the country, and the government treated them as domestic media.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: As in previous years, journalists and NGO leaders alleged some news outlets instructed their reporters not to report critically on certain politicians or government officials. The sources also reported some news outlets received requests from offices of the government to report in a particular way or to ignore specific news stories.

The government continued to block internet users from accessing Fergananews.com in connection to a June 2017 decision by a Bishkek court. NGO leaders and media sources reported that state-owned broadcasters continued under pressure to transmit stories promoting government policies and initiatives and develop narratives critical of NGOs, opposition figures, and civil society activists.

Libel/Slander Laws: While libel is not a criminal offense except in narrowly prescribed instances, NGO leaders described the False Accusations Amendments, passed in 2014, as a practical “recriminalizing of libel.” Journalists noted the law exposed media to libel suits in civil courts that could bankrupt the outlets or journalists in their defense attempts. In 2015 the Constitutional Chamber narrowed the reach of the law, holding that henceforth it would apply only in cases of knowingly making false statements in a police report but not to statements in media, although subsequent decisions appear to contradict that ruling. While slander and libel are not criminal offenses, civil lawsuits can result in defendants paying compensation for moral harm, which the law does not limit in size. Observers stated that courts arbitrarily ruled on the amount of compensation and that failure to pay compensation could serve as a basis for criminal prosecution.

From March through April 2017, the PGO filed five civil lawsuits against individuals and media entities for “offending the honor and dignity” of the president. In March a defendant in one of the suits, journalist Naryn Ayip, published retractions of three articles.

Outstanding defamation cases from the previous year were largely resolved by the former and current presidents. In May former president Almazbek Atambaev voluntarily withdrew material claims awarded in defamation cases against former member of parliament Cholpon Jakupova, and Zanoza Media (now called Kaktus.Media) cofounders, Dina Maslova and Naryn Aiyp. Prior to Atambaev’s decision, some of those defendants had already complied with the 2017 Supreme Court ruling that required the payment of approximately 29.5 million som ($430,000) in fines to former president Atambaev for “moral compensation.”

In February President Jeenbekov cancelled a five million som ($73,000) judgment against online news outlet 24.kg for “moral damages.” In January, 24.kg published a retraction and an apology to Jeenbekov on its news site. In September 2017 then presidential candidate Jeenbekov had sued 24.kg and codefendant and former deputy Kabay Karabekov for the publication of an article that alleged the Jeenbekov brothers had close ties with radical Arab organizations. A Bishkek court in October 2017 ruled in Jeenbekov’s favor and awarded him a 10 million som ($146,000) judgment, assessed equally against the defendants. In April President Jeenbekov withdrew his claim after Karabekov issued a formal apology.

The Adilet Legal Clinic reported that the organization defended journalists and media outlets charged with libel and slander, and members of media regularly feared the threat of lawsuits.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government generally allowed access to the internet, including social media sites, and there were no public credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. There were no reports during the year that the government blocked websites spreading “extremist” and terrorist materials without a court order. Media reported that in August, courts blocked five social media accounts and eight online media channels, due to extremist content.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 38 percent of the population used the internet penetration rate in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom. Institutions providing advanced religious education must follow strict reporting policies, but they reported no restrictions on academic freedom.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides for this right, and the government generally respected it. Organizers and participants are responsible for notifying authorities of planned assemblies, but the constitution prohibits authorities from banning or restricting peaceful assemblies, even in the absence of prior notification. Local authorities, however, have the right to demand an end to a public action and, in the event of noncompliance, are empowered to take measures to end assemblies.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The law provides for freedom of association, and the government generally respected it. NGOs, labor unions, political parties, and cultural associations must register with the Ministry of Justice. NGOs are required to have at least three members and all other organizations at least 10 members. The Ministry of Justice did not refuse to register any domestic NGOs. The law prohibits foreign-funded political parties and NGOs, including their representative offices and branches, from pursuing political goals.

The government continued to maintain bans on 21 “religiously oriented” groups it considered to be extremist, including al-Qaida, the Taliban, the Islamic Movement of Eastern Turkistan, the Kurdish People’s Congress, the Organization for the Liberation of Eastern Turkistan, Hizb ut-Tahrir, the Union of Islamic Jihad, the Islamic Party of Turkistan, the Unification (Mun San Men) Church, Takfir Jihadist, Jaysh al-Mahdi, Jund al-Khilafah, Ansarullah At-Takfir Val Hidjra, Akromiya, ISIS, Djabhat An Nusra, Katibat al-Imam al-Buhari, Jannat Oshiqlari, Jamaat al-Tawhid wal-Jihad, and Yakyn Incar. Authorities also continued the ban on all materials or activities connected to A. A. Tihomirov, also known as Said Buryatsky.

As in recent years, numerous human rights activists reported continued arrests and prosecution of persons accused of possessing and distributing Hizb ut-Tahrir literature (see section 1.d.). Most arrests of alleged Hizb ut-Tahrir members occurred in the southern part of the country and involved ethnic Uzbeks. The government charged the majority of those arrested with possession of illegal religious material. In some cases NGOs alleged police planted Hizb ut-Tahrir literature as evidence against those arrested.

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The law on internal migration provides for freedom of movement. The government generally respected this right, and citizens usually were able to move within the country with ease. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other organizations to provide some protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

A 2016 amendment to the law on combating terrorism and extremism revokes citizenship of anyone convicted of terrorist and extremist activities. The law was not used during the year.

Foreign Travel: The law on migration prohibits travel abroad by citizens who have or had access to information classified as state secrets until the information is declassified.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The law on refugees includes nondiscrimination provisions covering persons who were not refugees when they left their country of origin and extends the validity of documents until a final decision on status is determined by a court.

Employment: UN-mandated refugees who lacked official status in the country do not have legal permission to work, access to medical services, or the right to receive identity documents. They were therefore susceptible to exploitation by employers paying substandard wages, not providing benefits, and not complying with labor regulations. They could not file grievances with authorities. Refugees with official status in the country have legal permission to work.

Access to Basic Services: UN-mandated refugees and asylum seekers who lacked official status were ineligible to receive state-sponsored social benefits. Refugees with official status in the country have access to basic services.

STATELESS PERSONS

UNHCR officials stated the country’s stateless persons fell into several categories. As of July, 1,189 individuals were listed as stateless, a significant decrease from the approximately 13,431 stateless individuals identified in the country since 2014. Of this number, 11,636 stateless individuals either confirmed or acquired citizenship or obtained status of a stateless person due in large part to a countrywide registration and documentation campaign conducted jointly by UNHCR, the government, and nongovernmental partners. As of July there were an estimated 1,600 Uzbek women who married Kyrgyz citizens but never received Kyrgyz citizenship (many such women allowed their Uzbek passports to expire, and regulations obstructed their efforts to gain Kyrgyz citizenship). Other categories included Roma, individuals with expired Soviet documents, children born to one or both parents who were stateless, and children of migrant workers who renounced their Kyrgyz citizenship in the hope of becoming Russian citizens. The government denied access to social benefits and official work documents to stateless persons, who lacked sufficient legal standing to challenge exploitative labor conditions in court. The State Registration Service maintained its database of stateless persons based only on those who contacted it.

Laos

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but the government severely restricted political speech and writing and prohibited most public criticism it deemed harmful to its reputation.

Freedom of Expression: The law provides citizens the right to criticize the government but forbids slandering the state, distorting party or state policies, inciting disorder, or propagating information or opinions that weaken the state.

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) generally exercised self-censorship, particularly after the 2012 disappearance of an internationally respected civil society advocate. NGOs reported that citizens are taught at an early age not to criticize the government.

Press and Media Freedom: The state owned and controlled most domestic print and electronic media. Local news reflected government policy. The government permitted publication of several privately owned periodicals of a nonpolitical nature, including ones specializing in business, society, and trade. By law foreign media must submit articles to the government before publication; however, authorities did not enforce these controls. The government did not allow foreign news organizations to set up bureaus in the country, except those from neighboring communist states China and Vietnam.

Although the government closely controlled domestic television and radio broadcasts, it did not interfere with broadcasts from abroad. Citizens had 24-hour access to international stations via satellite and cable television. The government required owners of satellite receivers to register them and pay a one-time licensing fee, largely as a revenue-generating measure, but otherwise made no effort to restrict their use.

The government restricted the activities of foreign journalists. Authorities denied journalists free access to information sources and at times required them to travel with official escorts.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Officials reviewed all articles in privately owned periodicals after publication and could penalize those whose articles did not meet government approval. Publishers and journalists were generally aware of what content the government would approve for publication and practiced self-censorship. The Ministry of Information and Culture’s Mass Media Department did not confirm whether the government disapproved any publication during the year.

Authorities prohibited dissemination of materials deemed indecent, subversive of national culture, or politically sensitive. Any person found guilty of importing a publication considered offensive to national culture was subject to a fine of one to three times the value of the item or a maximum imprisonment of one year.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government controlled domestic internet servers and sporadically monitored internet usage but did not block access to websites. The government maintained infrastructure to route all internet traffic through a single gateway, thereby enabling it to monitor and restrict content, although the government’s technical ability to monitor internet usage was limited. The National Internet Committee under the Prime Minister’s Office administers the internet system. The office requires internet service providers to submit quarterly reports and link their gateways to facilitate monitoring.

The cybercrime law criminalizes dissent and puts user privacy at risk; it requires individuals to register on social media sites with their full names, making it difficult to share news articles or other information anonymously. Authorities detained at least one person for posting online mild criticism of the government’s response to a dam collapse that displaced thousands.

Authorities told social media bloggers to stop posting stories that they perceived to be critical of government policies, including posts on the government’s response to flooding and corruption. In 2017 the government convicted several activists based on their use of Facebook to criticize the government while living in Thailand (see section 1.e.).

The law prohibits certain types of content on the internet, including deceptive statements, and statements against the government and the LPRP. The Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications has authority to direct internet service providers to terminate internet services of users found violating the decree.

Many poor and rural citizens lacked access to the internet. According to the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 25 percent of the population had access to the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The law provides for academic freedom, but the government imposed restrictions. The Ministry of Education tightly controlled curricula, including in private schools and colleges.

Both citizen and noncitizen academic professionals conducting research in the country may be subject to restrictions on travel, access to information, and publication. The government required exit stamps and other mechanisms for state-employed academic professionals to travel for research or to obtain study grants.

The government requires producers to submit films and music recordings produced in government studios for official review. The Ministry of Information and Culture attempted to limit the influence of Thai culture on local music and entertainment, but these attempts had little effect.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law places restrictions on the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government continued to restrict these rights.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The law prohibits participation in demonstrations, protest marches, or other acts that cause turmoil or social instability. Participation in such activities is punishable by a maximum five years’ imprisonment; however, this was not strictly enforced. For example, in October 2017 a crowd of almost 2,000 persons gathered to protest outside the office of a financial company that had allegedly defrauded investors; police intervened by detaining the company’s executives but did not detain any protesters.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The government used laws that restrict citizens’ right to organize and join associations. For example, political groups other than mass organizations approved by the LPRP are prohibited. Moreover, the government occasionally influenced board membership of civil society organizations and forced some organizations to change their names to remove words it deemed sensitive, such as “rights.”

The registration process was generally burdensome, and authorities restricted NGOs’ ability to disseminate information and conduct activities without interference. By law the government regulates the registration of nonprofit civil society organizations, including economic, social welfare, professional, technical, and creative associations at the district, provincial, or national level, depending on their scope of work and membership. The government did not approve registration of any new nonprofit at the national level during the year, and there was no change in the number of registered associations since 2015: 147 national-level associations were fully registered, 22 had temporary registration, and 32 others had pending applications. Taxation of civil society organizations varied from organization to organization. Taxation requirements for international and local nonprofit organizations that receive foreign funding could be cumbersome and lacked uniformity, relying heavily on prenegotiated memorandums of understanding.

Some NGOs said the August 2017 decree covering NGOs further lengthened the registration process and government officials were either uncertain or unaware of the decree, leading to further delays. The decree also states that NGOs must seek approval from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to receive funding greater than $60,000. It also mandates the government to provide “advice and assistance” to NGOs to ensure their operations are in line with party policy, the law, and government regulations.

Some ministries appeared more open to engagement with civil society organizations, illustrated by an increase in invitations to attend meetings at ministries. The government also invited NGOs to the National Assembly’s intersession and plenary. Despite some positive steps, civil society organizations still faced many challenges for effective civil engagement and participation.

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

The government used the law to restrict freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government cooperated in some cases with the Office of the United Nations 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: Citizens traveling for religious purposes including to minister, give advice, or visit other churches, with the exception of animist groups, are required to seek permission from central and provincial authorities. This process can take several weeks.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

The absence of comprehensive and timely monitoring by international organizations and independent observers made it difficult to verify the number and condition of IDPs; their situation, protection, and reintegration; government restrictions on them; and their access to basic services and assistance. The collapse of a dam under construction in Attapeu Province in July resulted in the displacement of an estimated 6,000 persons.

The government continued to relocate some villagers to accommodate land concessions given to development projects and relocated highland farmers, mostly from ethnic minority groups, to lowland areas under its plan to provide better access to roads and health and education services, and to end opium production and slash-and-burn agriculture. Families frequently reported the government displaced them for government projects, for example a railroad linking Vientiane with China.

Although resettlement plans called for compensating farmers for lost land and providing resettlement assistance, in many cases villagers considered the assistance insufficient. Moreover, in some areas farmland allotted to relocated villagers was poor and unsuited for intensive rice farming. The government relied on assistance from NGOs, bilateral donors, and international organizations to cover the needs of those it resettled, but such aid was not available in all areas.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, but the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. The government did not routinely grant refugee or asylum status, but it dealt with individuals on a case-by-case basis.

Authorities reportedly detained refugees recognized by UNHCR, such as Kha Yang after his deportation from Thailand in 2011. Authorities did not acknowledge UNHCR requests for access to him at that time. Kha Yang’s whereabouts remained unknown.

The government’s policy both for Hmong surrendering internally and for those returned from Thailand was to return them to their community of origin whenever possible.

Latvia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution and the law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press. There were legal restrictions on racial and ethnic incitement and denial or glorification of crimes against humanity and certain war crimes.

Freedom of Expression: Although the law generally provides for freedom of speech, incitement to racial or ethnic hatred and the spreading of false information about the financial system are crimes. The law forbids glorifying or denying genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes against the country perpetrated by the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany. Violation of these provisions can lead to a sentence of five years in prison, community service, or a fine. There are also restrictions on speech deemed a threat to the country’s national security. The law criminalizes nonviolent acts committed against the state or that challenge its “independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity, or authority.”

Authorities charged several individuals with inciting national, ethnic, or racial hatred.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views with few restrictions. The law requires that 65 percent of all television broadcast time in national and regional electronic media be in Latvian or be dubbed or subtitled. Extensive Russian-language programming was also available. The restrictions on speech that incites racial hatred, spreads false information about the financial system, or glorifies or denies genocide, crimes against humanity, or crimes against the country by the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany also apply to the print and broadcast media, the publication of books, and online newspapers and journals.

The Latvian Journalists Association continued to express concerns regarding the independence and viability of local newspapers. Some municipalities provided funding to local newspapers in exchange for editorial control or even published their own newspapers, driving many independent competitors out of business. NGOs also expressed concern that opaque ownership of many of the largest media outlets posed a threat to media independence and transparency.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Internet speech was subject to the same restrictions as other forms of speech and the media. According to the International Telecommunication Union data from 2017, 81 percent of the population used the internet.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution and the law provide for freedom of peaceful assembly. The government generally respected this right, but there are some restrictions. Organizers of demonstrations typically must notify authorities 10 days in advance, although this requirement can be reduced to 24 hours if the longer advance notice is “reasonably impossible” to meet. Officials may deny or modify permits to prevent public disorder.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution and the law provide for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. The law prohibits the registration of communist, Nazi, or other organizations that contravene the constitution or advocate the violent overthrow of the government.

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

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system to provide protection to refugees.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country adheres to the EU’s Dublin III Regulation, which permits authorities to return asylum seekers to their country of first entry into the EU if they arrive from other EU member states, except in cases involving family reunification or other humanitarian considerations.

Durable Solutions: Some observers expressed concern that the government did not take sufficient steps to integrate asylum seekers who had been granted refugee status in the country. Refugee benefits fell well below the country’s poverty line.

Temporary Protection: In the first six months of the year, the government also provided subsidiary protection status to approximately 22 individuals who may not qualify as refugees.

STATELESS PERSONS

According to UNHCR, 233,571 stateless persons were in the country at the end of 2017. As of the beginning of the year, the Central Statistical Bureau (CSB) listed 214,206 persons as “noncitizen residents,” and the Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs listed 176 persons as stateless. Noncitizen residents accounted for approximately 11 percent of the population. Although UNHCR included most of the country’s noncitizen population in the stateless category, the government preferred to designate this population as noncitizen residents, since they were eligible to naturalize under the law. The government recognized as stateless only those persons with no claim to foreign citizenship or noncitizen resident status.

Persons categorized by authorities as stateless may pursue citizenship through naturalization after obtaining a permanent residence permit and lawfully residing in the country for five years. According to the law, a child born to noncitizen residents in the country is automatically granted citizenship if requested by at least one parent.

Noncitizen residents, mostly persons of Slavic origin who moved to the country during the Soviet occupation and their descendants, did not automatically become citizens when the country regained independence in 1991. They have permanent residence status, equal protection in the country and consular protection abroad, the right to leave and return to the country, and the right to all government social benefits. They also have employment rights, except in some government and private-sector positions related to the legal system, law enforcement, and national security. Noncitizens may not vote in local or national elections and may not organize a political party without the participation of at least an equal number of citizens.

The law also establishes conditions whereby members of the noncitizen resident population can obtain citizenship, although the rate of application for citizenship by noncitizen residents remained low. Through July, authorities received 589 naturalization applications. In public surveys of noncitizen residents, the majority of respondents who did not seek naturalization reported that, in addition to language barriers, their reasons for not doing so included political objections to the requirement and their understanding that Latvian citizenship was not necessary for them to travel to Russia and EU-member states.

Lebanon

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

Freedom of Expression: Individuals were generally free to criticize the government and discuss matters of public interest; however, several legal restrictions limited this right. The law prohibits discussing the dignity of the president or insulting him or the president of a foreign country. The military code of justice prohibits insulting the armed forces, and the Military Court prosecuted civilians under this statute. For example, in January the Military Court sentenced journalist and researcher Hanin Ghaddar in her absence to four months in prison for allegedly insulting the armed forces in remarks she gave at a 2014 conference in Washington, D. C. The court dismissed the charges on appeal in April. Authorities heard these cases in both civil and military courts; they generally carried sentences of between one and three years in prison, although typically they resulted in fines.

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

There was uncertainty regarding which legal framework is applicable to online news sites in the country. There are no specific laws regulating online speech. The penal code, however, contains a number of speech offenses. Several articles in the penal code criminalize defamation of public officials, public entities, and individuals. Moreover, the military justice code prohibits defamation of the army. Accordingly, authorities may prosecute individuals, journalists, and bloggers for what they express online.

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

Violence and Harassment: Broadcast journalists continued to suffer from intimidation and harassment. Political friction and tension led some outlets to fear entering certain “politically classified” areas to report without removing brandings and logos that referenced the outlets. During the parliamentary elections, journalists could travel freely. Outlets that sought to report in areas under control of Hizballah must obtain special permission from Hizballah’s media arm.

Authorities increased prosecutions of online, print, and television journalists for violations of the country’s publications law; NGOs and media watchdogs claimed it was an effort to intimidate critics. Prosecutors referred these cases to criminal courts based on both private complaints and their own discretion. On January 25, the Public Prosecutor filed charges against the host of a popular satire program for featuring a joke about the Saudi Crown Prince. The case was pending in the Publications Court as of October. Cases typically remain open for long periods in the Publications Court, often for a year or more.

On July 16-17, a journalist received death threats for commentary in defense of activist Charbel Khoury, who police interrogated over a Facebook post allegedly insulting a popular Maronite Christian saint, following a complaint from lawyers affiliated with the Lebanese Forces party (Maronite). There was no evidence that authorities investigated these threats.

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

The law includes guidelines regarding materials deemed unsuitable for publication in a book, newspaper, or magazine. Any violation of the guidelines could result in the author’s imprisonment or a fine.

Authors could publish books without prior permission from the DGS, but if the book contained material that violated the law, the DGS could legally confiscate the book and put the author on trial. In some cases authorities might deem the offending material a threat to national security. Authorities did not take such offenses to trial based on the publication law, but rather based on criminal law or other statutes. Publishing a book without prior approval that contained unauthorized material could put the author at risk of a prison sentence, fine, and confiscation of the published materials.

Authorities from any of the recognized religious groups could request the DGS to ban a book. The government could prosecute offending journalists and publications in the publications court. According to one NGO, as of December 2017 the government opened more than 30 cases in the publications court during the year, mainly from libel suits filed by politicians, political parties, and private citizens. Authorities also referred such cases to criminal courts, which according to NGOs and media watchdogs, is counter to Lebanese law. These include an August 8 libel case filed by Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri against a deputy news editor and journalist at al-Jadeed television station over its August 5 reporting on corruption allegations within Berri’s Amal movement.

Libel/Slander Laws: On July 24, protestors gathered in Samir Kassir Square in Beirut to protest the perceived abuse of libel and slander laws by authorities and political figures to silence critics. In most cases criminal courts heard libel and defamation complaints, which can carry sentences of one to three years, but typically resulted in fines or a promise to remove offending material from the internet. NGOs and activists reported increased prosecutions under such laws, and representatives of the foreign minister and president, among others, filed several complaints against critics throughout the year. On June 20, a judge issued a four-month prison sentence in his absence against blogger and journalist Fidaa Itani for defaming government officials. The charges related to blog and Facebook posts Itani published between June and July 2017, which criticized the foreign minister, prime minister, and president.

Nongovernmental Impact: Radical Islamist groups sometimes sought to inhibit freedom of expression and the press through coercion and threats of violence.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The law does not restrict access to the internet. There was a general public perception, however, that the government monitored email and social media activity. The government reportedly censored some websites to block online gambling, pornography, religiously provocative material, extremist forums, and Israeli websites, but there were no verified reports the government systematically attempted to collect personally identifiable information via the internet.

Restrictions on freedom of speech concerning government officials applied to social media communications, which authorities considered a form of publication rather than private correspondence. Political activists and NGOs reported that political parties and their supporters engaged in intimidating individuals online and in person in response to online posts deemed critical of political leaders or religious figures.

The ISF’s Cybercrime Unit and other state security agencies summoned journalists, bloggers, and activists to question them about social media and blog posts, especially when they criticized political figures or religious sects. According to an August 17 open letter from 15 local NGOs to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, since 2016 security services have questioned, and in some cases detained, 39 individuals–including a 15-year-old boy–over online posts criticizing the government or other officials. NGOs also noted that the number of summonses might be higher since many individuals chose not to discuss or report their cases. Authorities charged the majority of those summoned under libel and slander laws. NGOs and media watchdogs reported that the willingness of the government to prosecute such cases increased over the past year, particularly during the May elections, focusing heavily on those who criticized the foreign minister or president.

On July 19, the Cybercrime Unit interrogated online activist Charbel Khoury when one of his Facebook posts raised public controversy for allegedly mocking a popular Maronite Christian saint. The judge in the case ordered Khoury to pledge to abstain from his Facebook account for one month and not to criticize religions.

Internet access was available and widely used by the public. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 76 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

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

During the year the government censored and barred the screening of at least one film. The DGS reviewed all films and plays, and there were complaints the DGS’s decision-making process lacked transparency and the opinions of religious institutions and political groups influenced it. Cultural figures and those involved in the arts practiced self-censorship to avoid being detained or denied freedom of movement.

Following the 2017 ban on the film Wonder Woman, the group Campaign to Boycott Supporters of Israel successfully lobbied for the DGS to ban the release of the film The Post due to the film director’s alleged financial support to Israel. The ban was issued on January 15. On January 17, the government overturned the ban following widespread public attention.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

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

Security forces occasionally intervened to disperse demonstrations, usually when clashes broke out between opposing protesters.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

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

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

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

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

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights for citizens but placed extensive limitations on the rights of Palestinian refugees and Syrian, Iraqi, and other refugee populations. Within families, men sometimes exercised considerable control over female relatives, restricting their activities outside the home or their contact with friends and relatives.

As of October the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) registered more than 976,000 Syrian refugees, almost 16,400 Iraqis, more than 1,700 Sudanese refugees, and refugees of other nationalities in the country. UNHCR estimated that another 300,000 Syrians were unregistered, a result of government policy banning new registrations. While the government has allowed no new UNHCR registrations of refugees, UN agencies reported that working relationships with government ministries were generally productive. Some elements of the government, most notably the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, have attacked UNHCR, other UN agencies, and some donor governments for purportedly discouraging refugee returns to Syria, including threatening to eject some of those countries’ officials from Lebanon. The foreign minister for several months blocked renewal of legal residency for UNHCR staff, affecting the organization’s ability to deliver humanitarian assistance.

The UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) assisted Palestinian refugees registered in the country. Approximately 470,000 Palestinians were registered as refugees with UNRWA in Lebanon as of December 2017. As of October, UNRWA estimated the number of Palestinians residing in the country was between 260,000 and 280,000. UNRWA also provided services to Palestinian refugees from Syria (PRS). As of October, UNRWA reconfirmed more than 29,000 PRS individuals residing in the country.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The government lacked the capacity to provide adequate protection for refugees. Multiple NGOs and UN agencies shared reports of sexual harassment and exploitation of refugees by employers and landlords, including paying workers below the minimum wage, working excessive hours, debt bondage, and pressuring families into early marriage for their daughters. There were multiple reports of foreign migrant domestic workers (mainly from East Africa and Southeast Asia), tied to their employers through legal sponsorship, who faced physical and mental abuse, unsafe working conditions, and nonpayment of wages. According to NGOs who assisted migrant workers in reporting these abuses to authorities, security forces and judges did not always adequately investigate these crimes, particularly as many victims later refused to file complaints or retracted testimony due to fear of reprisals or deportation.

In one highly publicized example, a domestic worker advocacy group reported that an Ethiopian domestic worker badly injured herself after leaping from a balcony to escape a physically abusive sponsoring family. The worker alleged the family abused and beat her, but later retracted her statements in televised interviews with the family. Advocacy groups suspected the well connected family coerced her to recant. The family reportedly sought to suppress media reporting on the incident through Lebanon’s libel and defamation laws.

In-country Movement: The government maintained security checkpoints, primarily in military and other restricted areas. Hizballah also maintained checkpoints in certain Shia-majority areas. Government forces were usually unable to enforce the law in the predominantly Hizballah-controlled southern suburbs of Beirut and did not typically enter Palestinian refugee camps. According to UNRWA Palestinian refugees registered with the Interior Ministry’s Directorate of Political and Refugee Affairs could travel from one area of the country to another. The DGS, however, had to approve the transfer of registration of residence for refugees who resided in camps. UNRWA stated the DGS generally approved such transfers.

In an effort to address the low number of refugees obtaining and renewing legal residency, the government waived renewal fees for refugees registered with UNHCR, a change to be implemented by the DGS. While the government intended these policies to improve the ability of Syrian refugees to obtain and maintain legal residency, there has been little improvement in the percentage of refugees with legal status. According to the United Nations, only 27 percent of the refugee population held legal residency as of October.

Due to the slow implementation of a February 2017 residency fee waiver by the DGS and, in many cases, failure to obtain or keep a Lebanese sponsor, the majority of Syrian refugees were unable to renew their legal documents, which significantly affected their freedom of movement owing to the possibility of regular arrests at checkpoints, particularly for adult men. While authorities released most detainees within a few days, some of the refugees met by foreign diplomats said authorities required them to pay fines before releasing them. Obtaining and maintaining legal residency was also a challenge for Iraqi refugees and refugees of other nationalities. UNHCR reports that only 20 percent of Syrian refugees were legal residents. There is no official limitation of movement for PRS in the country; however, PRS without valid legal status faced limitations to their freedom of movement, mainly due to the fear and risk of arrest at checkpoints. UNRWA reported anecdotal accounts of authorities detaining PRS without legal residency documents as well as issuing “departure orders” for those with expired visas.

Since 2014 authorities granted entry visas at the border for PRS only to persons with either a verified embassy appointment in the country or a flight ticket and visa to a third country. Authorities issue most of these individuals a 24-hour transit visa. Additionally, limited numbers of PRS secured a visa for Lebanon by obtaining prior approval from the DGS, which required a sponsor in the country and could not be processed at border posts. UNRWA estimated that only 12 percent of the PRS in the country arrived after 2016.

Compared to the policy applied to Syrian nationals, authorities applied tighter conditions to PRS (notwithstanding restrictions on Syrians announced in January 2015). For example, Syrian nationals, in principle, could enter with humanitarian visas, while this opportunity was not available to PRS. Consequently, some PRS sought to enter the country through irregular border crossings, placing them at additional risk of exploitation and abuse and creating an obstacle to later regularizing their legal status.

In July 2017 DGS issued a circular allowing the free, unlimited renewal of PRS residency for six months, with no fees for delays. It applied to PRS who entered the country legally or who regularized their status before September 2016, and granted temporary residency documents to PRS who turned 15 years old in the country, allowing them to use available documents more easily, for cases of children without passports or national identity cards. The circular, issued for residency renewal and not regularization, did not apply to PRS who entered the country through unofficial border crossings; authorities issued a departure order to PRS who entered the country through official border crossings, but who overstayed their temporary transit visa or failed to renew their visa.

In October 2017 the government waived the condition of valid residency for birth and marriage registration for PRS, expanding the application of a previous circular issued in September 2017 applicable to Syrians.

In principle, asylum seekers and refugees of nationalities other than Syrian, if arrested because of irregular entry or stay, were sentenced to one to three month’s imprisonment and ordered to pay a fine. Some also received a deportation order, due to illegal entry.

According to UNHCR most non-Syrian asylum seekers arrested due to irregular entry or residency faced administrative detention without being sentenced by a court. The DGS held these individuals in a migrant retention facility where officials processed their immigration files before making administrative deportation decisions. Most cases resulted in deportation of the detainee, except for some instances where UNHCR secured their resettlement to a third country.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

Fighting in 2007 destroyed the Nahr el-Bared Palestinian refugee camp, displacing approximately 30,000 residents, of whom approximately 27,000 were registered Palestine refugees. Many of the displaced resided in areas adjacent to the camp or in other areas of the country where UNRWA services were available. As of July approximately 55 percent of displaced families returned to newly reconstructed apartments in Nahr el-Bared camp.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: The government consistently reaffirmed its commitment to the principle of nonrefoulement with respect to Syrians. The DGS coordinated with Syrian regime officials to facilitate the voluntary return of 4,800 refugees, as of October 1. UNHCR did not organize these returns but was present at departure points and, in interviews with refugees, found no evidence that returns were involuntary or coerced. Between July 2017 and June, DGS deported seven Iraqi refugees.

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status. Nonetheless, the country hosted an estimated 1.5 million refugees.

Palestinian refugees were prohibited from accessing public health and education services or owning land; they were barred from employment in many fields, making refugees dependent upon UNRWA as the sole provider of education, health care, and social services. A 2010 law expanding employment rights and removing some restrictions on Palestinian refugees was not fully implemented, and Palestinians remained barred from working in most skilled professions, including almost all those that require membership in a professional association.

In 2017 the Ministry of Labor issued an administrative decree that allowed Syrian refugees with valid legal residency to work in construction, agriculture, and cleaning. The decree does not apply to PRS, and many, therefore, worked unofficially, exposing them to discrimination and increased risk of abuse and exploitation. Large number of PRS families in the country relied heavily on UNRWA financial assistance.

As of June 30, there were more than 975,000 Syrian refugees registered with UNHCR. Since the government instructed UNHCR to stop registering Syrian refugees in early 2015, this total did not include Syrian refugees who arrived in the country after early 2015. There were no formal refugee camps in the country for Syrians. Most Syrian refugees resided in urban areas, many in unfinished, substandard, or nonresidential buildings. Approximately 19 percent lived in informal tented settlements, often adjacent to agricultural land, according to an October UN assessment. According to a UN study, the refugees borrowed to cover even their most basic needs, including rent, food, and health care, putting nearly 90 percent of them in debt.

In 2015 the government banned the entry of all Syrian refugees unless they qualified for undefined “humanitarian exceptions.” During the year the government accepted Syrians seeking asylum only if they qualified under the “humanitarian exceptions” that the Ministry of Social Affairs reviewed on a case-by-case basis. These exceptions included unaccompanied and separated children, persons with disabilities, medical cases, and resettlement cases under extreme humanitarian criteria.

Legal status in Lebanon was critical for protection, as it allowed refugees to pass through checkpoints, including to and from camps, complete civil registration processes, and access and remain within the educational system.

In addition to more than 16,000 UNHCR-registered Iraqi refugees residing in the country, a limited number of additional Iraqis entered during the year to escape violence. As of June 30, UNHCR also registered more than 3,500 refugees or asylum seekers from Sudan and other countries.

Freedom of Movement: Authorities imposed curfews in a number of municipalities across the country, allegedly to improve security of all communities. Some international observers raised concerns that these measures may be discriminatory and excessive, since authorities usually enforced them only on Syrian refugees.

Municipalities and neighborhoods hosting Syrian refugee populations continued to impose movement restrictions through curfews, evictions, and threats of evictions. As of July UNHCR confirmed the evictions of 336 households, comprising more than 1,500 refugees across the country. UNHCR only tracks “mass evictions” of five or more households; the overall number of refugees affected by eviction is higher. Furthermore, UN agencies reported that local municipal officials frequently used the threat of evictions to exert control over refugees or to appease host communities competing with refugees for jobs and other resources.

Police checkpoints and curfews imposed by municipalities restricted refugees’ movement. For example, in Metn refugees were under curfew from 7:00 p.m. until 7:00 a.m. Cases of identity document confiscation and fines for breaking curfews continued, although observers reported no violent incidents. UNHCR staff reported these restrictions on movement increasingly forced families to send children and young women, who authorities are less likely to stop, to perform family errands.

Employment: Authorities continued requiring Syrian refugees who wished to obtain residency permits to pledge to abide by the country’s laws, under which Syrians may work only in agriculture, construction, and cleaning.

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

Palestinian refugees received partial access to the benefits of the National Social Security Fund. They may not, however, work in at least 36 professions including medicine, law, and engineering and face informal restrictions on work in other industries. According to UN agencies, government officials, and Palestinian advocacy groups, Palestinian refugees consistently reported discrimination in hiring due to bureaucracy and stigma. Lack of written contracts, lack of employment benefits, and insecure job tenure contributed to unstable working conditions.

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

The law considers UNRWA-registered Palestinian refugees to be foreigners. UNRWA has the sole mandate to provide health, education, social services, and emergency assistance to registered Palestinian refugees residing in the country. The amount of land allocated to the 12 official Palestinian refugee camps in the country had changed only marginally since 1948, despite a fourfold increase in the population. Consequently, most Palestinian refugees lived in overpopulated camps, some of which past conflicts heavily damaged. In accordance with agreements with the government, Palestine Liberation Organization security committees provided security for refugees in the camps, with the exception of the Nahr el-Bared camp.

A comprehensive, multi-year plan to rebuild the Nahr el-Bared camp in eight stages began in 2008 and was in process at year’s end. In April UNRWA revised the overall estimated cost of the completing Nahr el Bared camp from LL 521 billion ($345 million) to LL 497 billion ($329 million). Remaining reconstruction was not fully funded, and a shortfall of LL 135 billion ($90 million) remained. On April 25, the prime minister appealed to the international community at the Brussels II Syria Conference to fund shortfall for reconstructing the camp, reconfirming this project as a priority for the country. Of the 27,000 Palestinians originally displaced following the camp’s destruction, UNRWA expected that approximately 21,000 would return.

A 2001 amendment to a 1969 decree barring persons explicitly excluded from resettling in the country from owning land and property was designed to exclude Palestinians from purchasing or inheriting property. Palestinians who owned and registered property prior to the 2001 law entering into force could bequeath it to their heirs, but individuals who were in the process of purchasing property in installments were unable to register the property.

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

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

The Ministry of Education and Higher Education facilitated the enrollment of more than 213,000 non-Lebanese students, predominantly Syrian refugees, in public schools (basic education from kindergarten to grade nine) in the 2017-18 academic year. Authorities estimated that there were almost 338,000 registered Syrians of school age (three to 14 years old) in the country. Donor funding to UN agencies covered school-related expenses, such as school fees, books, and uniforms. Syrian refugees had access to many government and private health centers and local clinics for primary care services, and UN agencies and NGOs funded the majority of associated costs with international donor support. Syrian refugees had access to a limited number of UNHCR-contracted hospitals for lifesaving and obstetric care.

Iraqi refugees had access to both the public and private education systems. UNHCR verification exercises confirmed that authorities enrolled more than 600 Iraqi children in formal public schools for the 2017-18 school year. Iraqi refugees also had access to the primary health-care system. UNHCR, through NGOs, provided secondary health care with donor support.

STATELESS PERSONS

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

Approximately 3-5,000 Palestinians were not registered with UNRWA or the government. These persons are Palestinians who began to arrive in the country during the 1960s and do not hold any formal valid identification documentation. The government does not recognize them as they do not hold valid legal status in the country. Without documentation and legal status, nonregistered Palestinians faced restrictions on movement, risked arrest or detention, and encountered obstacles completing civil registration procedures; all of which limited access to public services and formal employment.

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

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

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

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

Lesotho

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech, but the constitution does not explicitly mention freedom of the press. Media freedom deteriorated, marked by several incidents of censorship, intimidation of journalists, and radio stations taken off the air.

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits expressions of hatred or contempt for any person because of the person’s race, ethnic affiliation, gender, disability, or color. The government did not arrest or convict anyone for violating the law. The NSS reportedly monitored political meetings.

Press and Media Freedom: The law provides for the right to obtain and impart information freely but only as long as it does not interfere with “defense, public safety, public order, public morality, or public health.” Nevertheless, censorship, intimidation of journalists, and suspension of radio broadcasting rights occurred.

Violence and Harassment: In May an unidentified individual threatened People’s Choice FM radio journalist Malehlohonolo Ramathe following a program on the internal dynamics of the ABC political party. Ramathe reported the threats to police who continued to investigate the matter at year’s end.

By year’s end no trial date was set for the five LDF suspects arrested in November 2017 for involvement in the 2016 shooting of Lesotho Times editor Lloyd Muntungamiri, a Zimbabwean national. In May, Muntungamiri briefly returned to the country to make a formal statement to police. The case encountered several delays in assigning a magistrate.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Media relied heavily on government advertising and technical resources, leading to some level of self-censorship. The government restricted antigovernment broadcaster MoAfrika FM (the country’s second-largest broadcaster) by limiting its access to transmission lines. In August and again in September, the Ministry of Communication filed charges against MoAfrika FM for broadcasting programs that incited violence. The ministry sought suspension of the station’s license. Although the ministry’s charges were dismissed, MoAfrika FM reported that interruption of its broadcasts in northern parts of the country continued. The government issued a public service announcement that technical work to achieve digital migration caused broadcasting disruptions.

Actions to Expand Freedom of Expression, Including for the Media: In December 2017 the Lesotho Communications Authority resumed issuance of radio broadcasting licenses, which had been suspended since early 2015. Although a number of stations submitted applications, no licenses had been issued by year’s end.

The Media Institute of Southern Africa with support from the Open Society Initiative Southern Africa engaged an independent consultant to review the country’s laws and make recommendations for a constitution that enhances a free press environment. The report concluded that freedom of the press was not provided for adequately due to outdated laws and the lack of an independent regulatory framework. It noted the Ministry of Communications controlled both the Lesotho Communications Authority and the Lesotho National Broadcasting Service.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The internet was not widely available and almost nonexistent in rural areas due to lack of communications infrastructure and high cost of access. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 29.8 percent of the population had access to the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but the law requires organizers to obtain permits seven days in advance for public meetings and processions. The government generally respected these rights when timely applications for permits were submitted.

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

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

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

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The system was active and accessible.

Liberia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, and the government generally respected these rights, although with some unofficial limits.

Freedom of Expression: Individuals could generally criticize the government publicly or privately, but criminal libel and slander laws and national security laws placed limits on freedom of speech.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views, but due to a lack of funding, they were often overshadowed by privately owned media outlets with partisan leanings. Some media outlets and journalists allegedly charged fees to publish some articles. According to the Press Union of Liberia (PUL), laws prohibiting criminal libel against the president, sedition, and criminal malevolence as well as high fines associated with civil suits were sometimes used to curtail freedom of expression and intimidate the press. Self-censorship was widespread, and some media outlets avoided addressing subjects like government corruption both due to fear of legal sanction and in order to retain government advertising revenue. Court decisions against journalists often involved exorbitant fines, and authorities jailed journalists who did not pay the fines.

Violence and Harassment: Law enforcement officers occasionally harassed newspaper and radio station owners because of their political opinions and reporting, especially those that criticized government officials. Government officials also harassed and sometimes threatened media members for political or personal reasons. In February the legislative press pool stated that Sergeant-at-Arms of the Senate Toe C. Toe bit Austin Kawah of Prime FM during a disagreement regarding entering Senate chambers, and that Representative Munah Pelham-Youngblood assaulted FrontPage Africa journalist Henry Karmo during an open session at the Capitol. According to the press pool, Youngblood attacked Karmo for reporting a story that was critical of the lawmaker. On November 21, the Daily Observer reported that Representative Solomon George allegedly threatened to order the beating of two journalists from the legislative press pool for “insulting” the legislature.

During a joint press conference marking the conclusion of the UN Peacekeeping Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) with UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed on March 22, President Weah rebuked BBC and Associated Press journalist Jonathan Paye-Layleh for being “against him.” President Weah’s response followed a question from Paye-Layleh regarding whether he would support establishing a war crimes court. Days later the president’s press secretary released a statement to clarify that Weah’s remarks were a reminder that while Weah was advocating for human rights, Paye-Layleh and other journalists “were bent on undermining his [Weah’s] efforts by depicting a positive image of the carnage” during the country’s civil wars. PUL suggested that the president’s comments directed at Paye-Layleh could endanger journalists and promote self-censorship.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Although generally able to express a wide variety of views, some journalists practiced self-censorship to avoid possible criminal charges. Journalists and media directors also practiced self-censorship to maintain advertising revenue from the government, the largest advertiser in the country. There were several reports that politicians and government agencies offered “transportation fees” to journalists to secure coverage of events.

In June the government announced the suspension and review of all media licenses issued between January 1 and June 18. According to a press release from the Ministry of Information, Cultural Affairs, and Tourism, the reason for the suspension was to investigate irregularities such as the duplication of transmission frequencies to radio and television broadcasters. PUL stated that the move was meant to intimidate media and halt the opening of a radio station by a critic of the government.

Libel/Slander Laws: There were several reports that libel, slander, and defamation laws constrained the work of journalists and media outlets reporting on high-profile government or other public figures. On April 9, the Civil Law Court ordered staff from FrontPage Africato appear in court. The government then briefly detained at least seven journalists and forced the newspaper’s office to close temporarily. The court’s decision resulted from a $1.8 million civil defamation lawsuit filed against the newspaper for publishing a paid advertisement concerning the administrators of a deceased politician’s estate that it retracted before the suit.

PUL advocated for decriminalizing libel and slander and eliminating prison terms for persons unable to pay large fines. PUL also continued efforts to self-regulate the media and ensure adherence to standards including investigation and settlement of complaints against or by the press. PUL’s National Media Council, launched in 2017 to address court cases against the media, mediated six cases during the year.

On May 31, President Weah submitted a bill repealing sections of the penal law on criminal libel against the president and other government officials, sedition, and criminal malevolence. In July the House of Representatives unanimously approved the bill. As of November the bill was awaiting Senate review. This bill, if passed, would help bring the country into compliance with the Table Mountain Declaration, which calls for the repeal of criminal defamation and “insult” laws across the African continent.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content and there were no reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 8 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

There were reports of government officials threatening legal action and filing civil lawsuits to censor protected internet-based speech and intimidate senders.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for the freedoms of assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights. The Ministry of Justice required permits for public gatherings and obtaining a permit was relatively easy.

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

According to Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the country was host to 9,149 refugees from Cote d’Ivoire and 71 others of diverse nationalities. July flooding in Montserrado, Margibi, and Grand Bassa counties affected more than 52,000 persons, but most internally displaced persons (IDPs) have since returned to their homes. The Liberia Refugee Repatriation and Resettlement Commission (LRRRC) and the National Disaster Commission in the Ministry of Internal Affairs are responsible for responding to natural disasters and supporting affected persons.

The law forbids the forced return of refugees, their families, or other persons who may be subjected to persecution based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group, and the government generally respected those rights for refugees. The government provides a prima facie mode of recognition for Ivoirian refugees, meaning Ivoirian refugees arriving in Liberia because of the 2011 postelectoral violence in Cote d’Ivoire do not have to appear before the asylum committee to gain refugee status; the status is granted automatically.

Those denied asylum may submit their case to the appeals committee of the LRRRC. Asylum seekers unsatisfied with the appeals committee ruling can seek judicial review at the Supreme Court. The Alien and Nationality Law of 1974, however, specifically denies many of the safeguards for those wishing to seek asylum in the country under the Refugee Convention.

The government cooperated with UNHCR, other humanitarian organizations, and donor countries in providing protection and assistance to IDPs, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Unlike in previous years, officials did not receive reports of traditional practitioners targeting and discriminating against refugees. UNHCR reported improved relationships between refugees and the local population.

In-country Movement: Unlike previous years, there were no reports of LNP and Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization officers subjecting refugees to arbitrary searches and petty extortion at official and unofficial checkpoints.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: The LRRRC and UNHCR reported that seven Ivoirian refugees were still in custody, pursuant to a request for extradition from the government of Cote d’Ivoire that alleged their involvement in “mercenary activities.” The case has continued since 2013, and bail requests have failed. The refugees’ lawyers were given access to only limited information on the case. Three of the seven refugees were brothers, the youngest only 16 years old at the time of arrest. UNHCR provides subsistence allowances, legal support, and medical and psychosocial support to refugees in custody.

Freedom of Movement: Refugees enjoyed freedom of movement, since the country did not have a mandatory encampment policy. Government policy stated refugees wishing to receive material assistance should move to one of the three refugee camp locations in Bahn Town, Nimba County; Zwedru, Grand Gedeh; and Harper, Maryland County.

Employment: The law prohibits non-Liberian citizens from obtaining work permits when Liberian citizens are available to perform the labor but this law was generally not enforced. Refugees seeking employment in the formal sector need a work permit from the Ministry of Labor. UNHCR paid the requisite fee.

Durable Solutions: During the year the government resettled, offered naturalization, and assisted in the voluntary return of refugees. Voluntary repatriation of Ivoirian refugees, which resumed in 2015 following a 16-month suspension due to Ebola concerns, continued. According to UNHCR, as of September approximately 7,638 Ivoirian refugees had voluntarily returned to Cote d’Ivoire; 849 were repatriated during the year. UNHCR and the LRRRC assisted those returning and supported 840 Ivoirian refugees who opted for local integration. In July the government naturalized 371 former Sierra Leonean refugees.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. The government, with UNHCR and other implementing partners, continued to provide protection to Ivoirian refugees who entered the country after November 2010. According to UNHCR, as of September 9,202 Ivoirian refugees remained in the country.

Libya

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The Constitutional Declaration provides for freedom of opinion, expression, and press, but various armed groups, including those aligned with the GNA, exerted significant control over media content, and censorship was pervasive. Unidentified assailants targeted journalists and reporters for political views.

Freedom of Expression: Freedom of speech was limited in law and practice. The law criminalizes acts that “harm the February 17 revolution of 2011.” The HoR, since its election in 2014, and the GNA, since taking its seat in Tripoli in 2016, did little to change restrictions on freedom of speech. Observers noted civil society practiced self-censorship because Salafist-leaning armed groups, among others, threatened and killed activists. Widespread conflict in major urban areas deepened the climate of fear and provided cover for armed groups to target vocal opponents with impunity.

International and local human rights organizations claimed that human rights defenders and activists faced continuing threats–including physical attacks, detention, threats, harassment, and disappearances–by armed groups, both those aligned with and opposed to the GNA.

Observers reported that individuals censored themselves in everyday speech, particularly in locations such as Tripoli.

Press and Media Freedom: Press freedoms, in all forms of media, were limited. Additional restrictions on press freedom were promulgated during the year. Beginning in January the GNA’s Foreign Media Department (FMD) of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs directed its staff to monitor and track the movements of foreign journalists and severely restricted approvals of journalist visas. On April 2, the GNA issued a decree imposing additional licensing restrictions on foreign press organizations. Authorities associated with the FMD revoked valid foreign press credentials and required foreign media organizations to apply for authorization from the Libyan Embassy in the country where the organization was headquartered. The FMD also required foreign media organizations to provide the names of the agency’s foreign and local staff. Journalists said the regulations were designed to increase the costs of operating in the country, as well as to provide a legal justification for shutting organizations that did not meet the requirements.

Violence and Harassment: The international NGO Reporters Without Borders reported that all sides used threats and violence to intimidate journalists to prevent publication of information. Harassment, threats, abductions, violence, and killings made it nearly impossible for media to operate in any meaningful capacity in areas of conflict.

Impunity for attacks on media exacerbated the problem, with no monitoring organizations, security forces, or a functioning judicial system to constrain or record these attacks. In some exceptional cases, however, GNA authorities such as the Attorney General’s Office were able to intervene to see journalists released.

On March 20, armed men from the GNA-aligned TRB abducted and arbitrarily detained Juma al-Asi, director of the Al-Asima Television Channel, from his home in the Andalusia neighborhood of Tripoli. The TRB gave no reason for his arrest, nor the legal basis for his detention. On March 27, the Attorney General’s Office intervened and referred al-Asi’s case to the Public Prosecutor’s Office. In the absence of any legal case against him, he was released. None of the TRB members involved in his kidnapping was charged in connection with his illegal detention.

On July 30, forces in Abu Sitta Abusetta Naval Base, which falls under the control of the GNA-aligned al-Nawasi Brigade, detained four journalists during a rescue operation for migrants in Tripoli. The Reuters and Agence-France Presse journalists were released after 10 hours of interrogations.

In March 2017 Annabaa TV stopped broadcasting after its Tripoli headquarters were set on fire by an unidentified Tripoli-based militia. This crime remained unsolved as of year’s end.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists practiced self-censorship due to the lack of security and intimidation. The unstable security situation created hostility towards civilians and journalists associated with opposing armed groups or political factions.

According to social media reports, the LNA confiscated books it claimed promoted Shi’ism, secularism, or moral perversion.

Libel/Slander Laws: The penal code criminalized a variety of political speech, including speech considered to “insult constitutional and popular authorities” and “publicly insulting the Libyan Arab people.” It, and other laws, also provides criminal penalties for conviction of defamation and insults to religion. Most reports attributed infringement of free speech to intimidation, harassment, and violence.

National Security: The penal code criminalized speech considered to “tarnish the [country’s] reputation or undermine confidence in it abroad,” but the GNA did not enforce this provision of the code during the year.

Nongovernmental Impact: Armed groups, terrorist groups, and individual civilians regularly harassed, intimidated, or assaulted journalists. While media coverage focused on the actions of Salafist or Islamist-affiliated armed groups, other armed groups also limited freedom of expression.

On July 31, the body of Musa Abdulkareem, a journalist and photographer working for Fasanea, a Sabha-based newspaper, was found in the al-Thanawia neighborhood of Sabha. Abdulkareem’s body showed signs of torture, including burns, and 13 gunshot wounds. His murder remained unsolved.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The GNA generally did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or widely censor online content. Selective filtering or blocking of access did exist, despite the fact that no reliable public information identified those responsible for censorship. There were no credible reports that the GNA restricted or disrupted internet access or monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority during the year.

Facebook pages were regularly hacked by unknown actors or closed due to mass reporting and complaints.

Social media, such as YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, played a critical role in official and unofficial government and nongovernmental communications. Facebook remained the main platform government officials, ministries, and armed groups used to transmit information to the public. In September unknown entities blocked access to Facebook for several days in Tripoli during clashes between rival armed groups in the capital, hampering the ability of government officials to transmit information. A large number of bloggers, online journalists, and citizens reported practicing self-censorship due to instability, intimidation by armed groups, and the uncertain political situation.

Internet penetration outside urban centers remained low and frequent electrical outages resulted in limited internet availability in the capital and elsewhere.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 21.8 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were no reported government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events. Security conditions in the country, however, restricted the ability to practice academic freedom and made cultural events rare; of the 20 universities active in 2011, only 12 were still operational in during the year.

In 2017 Al-Fanar Media reported the case of a professor, Ahmed bin Suwaid of Tripoli University Medical School, who resigned his position and left the country after students affiliated with armed groups beat him; they attacked bin Suwaid after he refused to provide the students questions for a qualifying examination in advance of the test.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The Constitutional Declaration provides for a general right to peaceful assembly, and the GNA generally respected this right. The law on guidelines for peaceful demonstrations, however, fails to include relevant assurances and severely restricts the exercise of the right of assembly. The law mandates protesters must inform the government of any planned protest at least 48 hours in advance and provides that the government may notify the organizers that a protest is banned as little as 12 hours before the event.

Throughout the year the Libyan Movement for the Voice of the People, led by Mohammed al-Boa, held several protests in Tripoli opposing the role militia groups played in the capital (see section 1.g.). Police authorities generally cooperated with the group’s requests, coordinating with the group to issue permits and provide security at protest sites.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The Constitutional Declaration includes freedom of association for political and civil society groups. The government lacked capacity, however, to protect freedom of association, and targeted attacks on journalists, activists, and religious figures severely undermined freedom of association. Civil society organizations also complained about a lack of a legal framework for organizing and implementing their activities. The FMD (see FMDs section 2.a.) and the Ministry of Culture Civil Society Commission took steps to regulate the activity of civil society organizations. Other organizations, including the NCHRL and the AOHRL, were able to register and to interact freely with GNA officials.

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

The Constitutional Declaration recognizes freedom of movement, including foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, although the government has the ability to restrict freedom of movement. The law provides the government with the power to restrict a person’s movement if it views that person as a “threat to public security or stability,” based on the person’s “previous actions or affiliation with an official or unofficial apparatus or tool of the former regime.”

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: According to UNHCR migrants were subjected to unlawful killings, arbitrary detention, including in nongovernmental detention centers (see section 1.d.), torture, sexual exploitation, and other abuses. Conditions in detention included severe overcrowding, insufficient access to toilets and washing facilities, malnourishment, and lack of potable water.

Women migrants faced especially difficult conditions, and international organizations received consistent reports of rape and other sexual violence.

Instability in the country and lack of government oversight made human trafficking profitable. Armed groups, criminal gangs, and terrorist organizations were involved in human smuggling activities.

Numerous media reports during the year suggested that traffickers had caused the death of migrants. In July Al-Jazeera reported that eight migrants, including six children, were found dead after suffocating from gas exhaust while packed into a truck container on the western coast near Zuwara. Another 90 migrants were injured and taken to a hospital for treatment.

Migrants were also exploited for forced labor and suffered extortion at the hands of smugglers, traffickers, and the personnel of GNA institutions and GNA-aligned armed groups running GNA facilities. International organizations reported many cases of migrants’ disappearance due in part to the practice of selling migrants to human traffickers.

In November 2017 the government set up an ad hoc investigative committee, under the auspices of the Anti-Illegal Immigration Authority, to investigate reports of migrants sold into slavery; however, as of year’s end, the committee had made no indictments.

In June the UN Security Council and a western government imposed international and domestic sanctions against six persons, four Libyans and two Eritreans; Fitiwi Abdelrazak, Ahmad Oumar al-Dabbashi, Ermias Ghermay, Mohammed Kachlaf, Abd al-Rahman al-Milad, and Mus’ab Abu Qarin, for involvement in the trafficking and smuggling of migrants in Libya. The GNA was supportive of the sanctions and took independent action in response to the levying of these sanctions during the year, including public statements of condemnation against the trafficking and smuggling of migrants and in support of human rights.

In January the GNA launched an investigation into trafficking in persons and the abuse of migrants and refugees and vowed to bring the perpetrators to justice. During the year the GNA authorized UNHCR, the IOM, and other international agencies to open offices in the country, assist refugees and migrants, repatriate those who wished to return to their home countries, and access detention centers in areas controlled by the GNA. These international organizations encouraged the GNA to adopt a system for registering the arrivals of migrants in Libya; of the hundreds of thousands of illegal migrants in Libya, only a few thousand have been registered.

There were approximately 20 official detention centers operational during the year. At year’s end 6-8,000 refugees and migrants were housed in centers under the auspices of the GNA Ministry of Interior’s Department for Combatting Irregular Migration.

According to IOM the number of migrants who arrived in Europe via Libya during the first half of the year decreased significantly from the equivalent period in 2017, from approximately 85,000 to 16,700 individuals. Over 1,000 migrants died attempting to make the crossing via the central Mediterranean route during this period. Conditions on vessels departing for Europe were poor, and human smugglers abandoned many migrants in international waters with insufficient food and water. Boats were heavily over-loaded, and there was a high risk of sinking. The number of migrants rescued or intercepted by the Libyan Coast Guard, while still in the country’s territorial waters, greatly increased during the year. There were reports of physical abuse of refugees by the Coast Guard, including beatings with whips and chains.

In-country Movement: The GNA did not exercise control over internal movement in western Libya, although GNA-aligned armed groups set up some checkpoints. The LNA established checkpoints around Benghazi and Derna and in the south to intercept members of extremist organizations. These checkpoints were occasional targets of attacks by terrorist organizations. There were reports that armed groups controlling airports within the country conducted checks on citizens wanting to travel to other areas within the country or abroad since Libya lacked a unified customs and immigration system.

Armed groups controlled movement within their territories through checkpoints. These checkpoints and those imposed by ISIS, AQIM, and other terrorist organizations impeded internal movement and, in some areas, prohibited women from moving freely without a male escort.

There were multiple reports of women who could not depart from the country’s western airports controlled by GNA-aligned militias because they did not have “male guardians,” which is not a legal requirement in the country.

Citizenship: The Qadhafi regime revoked the citizenship of some inhabitants of the Saharan interior of the country, including many Tebu and some Tuareg minorities, after the regime returned the Aouzou strip to Chad. As a result many nomadic and settled stateless persons lived in the country. Additionally, due to a lack of state control of the southern borders, a large number of irregular migrants of Tebu background entered the country, some of whom reportedly applied for and obtained documents attesting to nationality, including national identification numbers.

The Nationality Law states that citizens may lose citizenship if they obtain a foreign citizenship without receiving permission beforehand from authorities. Authorities have not established processes for obtaining permission, however. Authorities may revoke citizenship if obtained based on false information, forged documents, and withheld relevant information concerning one’s nationality. The state lacked the capacity, however, to investigate the authenticity of citizenship applications.

If a father’s citizenship is revoked, the citizenship of his children is also revoked. The law does not specify if only minor children are susceptible to losing their nationality in this way or if loss of nationality would apply to adult children as well.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

Limited access for local and international assistance organizations into areas affected by fighting between rival armed groups and to official and unofficial detention centers within the country hampered efforts to account for and assist the displaced.

In September IOM and UNHCR estimated there were 192,000 IDPs in the country. Most of the citizens displaced were from Sirte or Benghazi; however, due to tribal violence in the south, displacement in Sabha and neighboring southern towns increased during the year. More than 30,000 members of the Tawerghan community remained displaced, the largest single IDP population; however, in August the GNA provided support that allowed several hundred Tawerghan families to return to their hometown. These efforts followed a reconciliation agreement between representatives of Tawergha and the city of Misrata that aimed to end ongoing violence between the two communities dating to 2011; however, delays in implementation of the agreement, which provided for safe return for all Tawerghan IDPs to the town of Tawergha, have prevented some members of the community from returning.

IOM identified more than 19,000 persons who were internally displaced during clashes in Tripoli in late August and early September.

IDPs were vulnerable to abuses. The government struggled to facilitate the safe, voluntary return of IDPs to their place of origin. Due to the lack of adequate laws, policies, or government programs, international organizations and NGOs assisted IDPs to the extent possible in the form of cash payments and provision of health services to IDPs, including to those with disabilities.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The country is not party to the 1951 Refugee Convention or its 1967 protocol, although the Constitutional Declaration recognizes the right of asylum and forbids forcible repatriation of asylum seekers. The GNA did not establish a system for protecting refugees or asylum seekers. Absent an asylum system, authorities could detain and deport asylum seekers without their having the opportunity to request asylum. UNHCR, IOM, and other international agencies operated within the country and were allowed to assist refugees and immigrants and repatriate those who wish to return to their countries. UNHCR monitored and publicly reported on the situation of refugees and migrants in the country, including those detained in GNA detention centers. On December 4, UNHCR, in coordination with Libyan authorities, evacuated 133 refugees from Libya to Niger. The GNA allowed only seven nationalities to register as refugees with UNHCR: Syrians, Palestinians, Iraqis, Somalis, Sudanese (Darfuris), Ethiopians (Oromo), Eritreans, Yemenis, and South Sudanese. The GNA did not legally recognize asylum seekers without documentation as a class distinct from migrants without residency permits. The GNA cooperated with the refugee task force formed by the African Union, EU, and the United Nations.

In July 2017 Libyan authorities proposed that UNHCR rehabilitate an abandoned facility in the Tarek Al Sika area in Tripoli to accommodate persons of concern temporarily. UNHCR completed rehabilitation on July 19, and the center has a capacity of 1,000 persons. Although UNHCR planned to begin receiving refugees at this Gathering and Departure Facility in August, armed clashes in Tripoli postponed its opening until December.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: IOM estimated that the overall number of migrants in Libya grew 70 percent from an estimated 400,000 in August 2017 to approximately 680,000 by September. The majority of migrants came from Niger, Egypt, Chad, Ghana, and Sudan. UNHCR has registered approximately 55,600 refugees and asylum seekers in the country since 2011.

During the year UNHCR, ICRC, and IOM provided basic services directly and through local implementing partners to refugees and asylum seekers. Despite security challenges humanitarian organizations enjoyed relatively good access, with the exception of the coastal city of Derna and the Fezzan region in the south.

Sub-Saharan Africans reportedly entered the country illegally through unguarded southern borders. Treatment of detained migrants depended upon their country of origin and the offense for which authorities held them. Migrants and refugees faced abduction, extortion, violent crime, and other abuses, exacerbated by entrenched racism and xenophobia. GNA-aligned and nonstate armed groups held refugees and asylum seekers in detention centers alongside criminals or in separate detention centers under conditions that did not meet international standards.

Access to Basic Services: Refugees registered with UNHCR may access basic protection and assistance from UNHCR and its partners; however, during the year the GNA did not provide refugees universal access to healthcare, education, or other services given the limitations of its health and education infrastructure.

STATELESS PERSONS

By law children derive citizenship only from a citizen father. Children born to a citizen father and a noncitizen mother are automatically considered citizens even if they were born abroad. Citizen mothers alone were unable to transmit citizenship to their children, but there are naturalization provisions for noncitizens. The law permits female nationals to confer nationality to their children in certain circumstances, such as when fathers are unknown, stateless, of unknown nationality, or do not establish paternity. In instances where the father is a noncitizen, the children produced from that union are effectively stateless and banned from travel abroad and certain educational opportunities. Without citizenship stateless persons are unable to obtain legal employment.

Due to the lack of international monitoring and governmental capacity, there was no credible data on the number of stateless persons.

Liechtenstein

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits public insults, including via electronic means, directed against a race, people, or ethnic group, with a possible prison sentence of up to two years for violations. Authorities did not file any charges for public insults through October.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to data from the International Telecommunication Union, almost all of the country’s residents used the internet as of 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

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

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

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

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status. The government has established a system for providing protection to refugees, but persons entering the country from another safe country are not eligible for asylum. The law allows asylum seekers under deportation orders to be granted an appeal hearing if requested within five days after the decision. The law permits persons from safe countries of origin who are ruled to be ineligible to be processed for denial of asylum within a maximum of seven days.

The nongovernmental organization (NGO) Liechtenstein Refugee Aid reported that asylum seekers’ access to appropriate legal representation was inadequate, as asylum proceedings were only partially covered by legal aid. According to the NGO, the government provided legal assistance largely to asylum seekers whose applications were likely to be approved.

In some cases authorities detained unsuccessful applicants for asylum pending their deportation. Conditions of detention were generally satisfactory.

Lithuania

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

Freedom of Expression: The constitutional definition of freedom of expression does not permit slander; disinformation; or incitement to violence, discrimination, or national, racial, religious, or social hatred. Inciting hatred against a group of persons is punishable by imprisonment for up to two years. Inciting violence against a group of persons is punishable by imprisonment for up to three years.

It is a crime to deny or “grossly to trivialize” Soviet or Nazi German crimes against the country or its citizens, or to deny genocide, crimes against humanity, or war crimes.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. They are subject to the same laws that prohibit hate speech and criminalize speech that grossly trivializes international and war crimes.

It is illegal to publish material that is “detrimental to minors’ bodies or thought processes” or that promotes the sexual abuse and harassment of minors, sexual relations among minors, or “sexual relations.” Human rights observers continued to criticize this law. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) groups claimed that it served as a rationale for limiting LGBTI awareness-raising efforts and that agencies overseeing publishing and broadcast media took prejudicial action against the coverage of stories with LGBTI themes.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: On February 14, the Radio and Television Commission of Lithuania imposed a one-year suspension on the Russian-language channel RTR Planeta for inciting violence and hatred.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law makes insulting or defaming the president of the country in mass media a crime punishable by a fine. Authorities did not invoke it during the year.

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 78 percent of the country’s households used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government generally respected the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, with the exception of some organizations associated with the Soviet period.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly and the government generally respected this right.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

Although the law provides for this freedom and the government generally respected it, the government continued to ban the Communist Party and other organizations associated with the Soviet period.

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

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

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

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: In compliance with the EU’s Dublin III Regulation, authorities barred asylum seekers arriving from safe countries of origin or transit and returned them to such countries without reviewing the substantive merits of their applications. The government’s participation in the EU’s efforts to address high levels of migration into Europe was an exception to this policy.

Durable Solutions: Since 2015, 468 refugees entered the country under the EU’s relocation program, of whom 338 subsequently left the country for other EU states.

Temporary Protection: The government may grant “temporary protection” to groups of persons. Authorities may also grant “subsidiary protection” to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. During the first half of the year, the government provided “temporary protection” to six persons.

STATELESS PERSONS

According to UNHCR as of May, 3,320 stateless persons lived in the country. The law permits persons born on the territory or legally residing there for 10 years and who are not citizens of any other country to apply for citizenship. Applicants must possess an unlimited residence permit, knowledge of the Lithuanian language and constitution, and the ability to support themselves.

Luxembourg

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits “hate speech” in any medium, including online, and provides for prison sentences of between eight days and two years and fines between 251 and 25,000 euros ($290 and $2,000) for violations.

The public prosecutor’s office and the courts respond firmly to hate speech. Victims of hate speech on the internet as well as third-party observers can access a website to report hateful remarks and seek help and advice.

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

According to statistics compiled by the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 97 percent of the country’s population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

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

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

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

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. Applicants for asylum continued to experience prolonged waiting periods for adjudication of their claims in some individual cases.

A small number of Iraqi nationals held a peaceful sit-in in Luxembourg City during the year. According to several news outlets, they were primarily persons whose requests for asylum status were rejected by the Directorate of Immigration and who were demanding protection and the authorization to work in the country. The government denied exerting pressure on the refugees to return to their country of origin and claimed that it granted the Iraqi nationals a six-month, renewable suspension of deportation instead. The government issued temporary working permits to those Iraqi nationals who had requested them and qualified, as follows: the employee and the employer jointly submit a request for a temporary working permit for a position which the Employment Development Agency has already declared vacant and for which EU nationals have already been given priority. The six months renewable temporary work permit is only valid for one profession and one employer.

Authorities determined the granting or denying of protection on a case-by-case basis through individual interviews and background checks. The Directorate of Immigration employed an accelerated procedure for nationals of safe countries of origin as determined by the 2006 Asylum Law and updated annually by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. As part of the procedure, following the submission of the application, the directorate interviews applicants. Following the interview, the directorate considers whether the applicant falls under the normal procedure. In the event that the accelerated procedure applies, the directorate notifies the applicant. The accelerated procedure can last up to two months, with a possibility to reduce waiting time to six days for nationals of safe countries of origin. The applicant may file an appeal within 15 days after receiving the directorate’s decision.

Employment: Once granted asylum, there are no legal restrictions on a refugee’s ability to work. Most jobs, however, have language requirements that may present a barrier. According to the country’s Refugee Council (a collection of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) assisting refugees), application procedures are lengthy and not adapted to the needs of the labor market. Asylum seekers can apply for a temporary work permit six months after applying for asylum. Job positions are published at the national employment agency but are open to foreign nationals only if no qualified citizen applies within three weeks. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs must approve requests for temporary work permits.

Durable Solutions: Through the EU, the country accepted refugees for resettlement, offered naturalization to refugees residing in the country, and assisted in voluntary return to their homelands.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection (known as “subsidiary protection”) to individuals who may not qualify as refugees and provided it to approximately 54 persons during 2017.