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Jordan

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

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

Freedom of Expression: The law permits punishment of up to three years’ imprisonment for insulting the king, slandering the government or foreign leaders, offending religious beliefs, or fomenting sectarian strife and sedition. The government restricted the ability of individuals to criticize the government by arresting several 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.

Convicted lawyer Firas al-Rousan began a hunger strike in Qafqafa prison on February 17 to demand a retrial. A court convicted al-Rousan of “offensive speech against the king and defaming a government body” in 2020. He refused to take his prescribed medication and said he would strike until “either death or release” from prison. Dozens of protesters gathered in front of the prison on March 7 in solidarity after his son reported to human rights organizations that al-Rousan’s health had deteriorated. On March 10, the minister of justice approved al-Rousan’s request to appeal his sentence before the Court of Cassation. The appeal remained pending at year’s end.

In late April the judiciary rejected the appeals of Layla Hadidoun, Mohammad Seriwa, and Bakr al-Qatawneh for alternative sentencing. The three were charged in connection with posts they published on social media in solidarity with the Teachers’ Union (TU), which the government shut down in July 2020.

On August 31, police officers arrested activist Moaz Wahsha after Minister of Agriculture Khaled Hanifat filed charges against him for social media posts criticizing the agriculture ministry’s failure to provide sufficient help to farmers. Wahsha was administratively detained by the governor of Ajloun and was released on September 12.

Authorities arrested Ahmad Tabanja al-Kinani, an activist in the tribal movement known as hirak, in August 2020 on several charges, including “incitement,” under the antiterrorism and cybercrimes laws. Al-Kinani’s charges stemmed from comments he made in support of the TU and his documentation of police use of force during TU protests. Al-Kinani spent almost one year in solitary confinement, six months of which were prior to his being officially charged. The NCHR visited al-Kinani in prison multiple times and was unable to ascertain why his treatment had been disproportionally harsh compared with others arrested under the cybercrimes law. Authorities also refused the NCHR’s request to end al-Kinani’s solitary confinement. Al-Kinani was released on bail on July 4 after his attorney told the media that 13 prior bail requests had been denied.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: All publications must obtain licenses from the government to operate. There were many daily newspapers. Observers considered several to be independent of the government, including al-Sabeel, regarded as close to the Islamic Action Front (the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood’s legally registered political party).

Observers also judged several daily newspapers to be close to the government.

The independent print and broadcast media largely operated with limited restrictions. Media observers reported government pressure on media, including the threat of large fines and prison sentences, to refrain from criticizing the royal family, discussing the GID, covering ongoing security operations, or slandering government officials. The government influenced news reporting and commentary through political pressure on editors and control over important editorial positions in government-affiliated media. Journalists of government-affiliated and independent media reported that security officials used bribes, threats, and political pressure to force editors to place articles favorable to the government in online and print newspapers. Defense orders mandated to combat the spread of the pandemic required previously independent journalists to register with the Press Syndicate for permits to cover events in person. The Press Syndicate is legally independent from the government; however, some members alleged government interference in its activities.

Local and foreign journalists operating in the country continued to experience increased restrictions on their reporting in the form of gag orders, harassment by security forces, and withholding of permits to report. On January 11, authorities deported Salim Akash, a Bangladeshi freelance journalist residing in Jordan. Akash’s residency permit for a nonjournalism-related job in Jordan expired in April 2020, the same month he was taken into custody. According to Reporters Without Borders, Akash was arrested following the publication of an article critical of conditions for Bangladeshi workers in Jordan and was informed only that he had “broken an important law.”

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

By law any book can be published and distributed freely. Nonetheless, if the Media Commission deems that passages violate public norms and values, are religiously offensive, or are “insulting” to the king, it can request a court order to prohibit the distribution of the book. The commission banned the distribution of 39 books for religious and moral reasons, including sexual content or promotion of violence and extremism, as of October.

The government has a majority of seats on the board of the leading semiofficial daily newspaper, al-Rai, and a share of board seats for the 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.

The Ministry of Trade and Industry licenses all public-opinion polls and survey research centers.

Violence and Harassment: The government subjected journalists to harassment and intimidation. A high-level press official said media professionals were less likely to cover sensitive topics due to fear of arrest, which significantly reduced the quality of journalism. The Center for Defending the Freedoms of Journalists (CDFJ), a local NGO, documented 111 violations against journalists and reported a decline in media freedom attributed primarily to the application of the defense law and associated defense orders. In May an alGhad journalist was forcibly expelled from the airport after attempting to livestream the arrival of Jordanian students who had been stranded abroad during the pandemic.

According to the CDFJ, abuses against journalists were generally characterized as minor, with few exceptions. Grave abuses (physical attacks) tended to occur when journalists attempt to cover protests. Some political commentators attributed this phenomenon to the lack of policies regulating law enforcement’s interactions with civilians during crises. The CDFJ attributed the decline in specific cases of violations to the government’s denial of access to journalists, as well as self-censorship.

Authorities arrested or temporarily detained some journalists, and government officials or private individuals threatened some journalists. In 2020, authorities arrested Roya TV’s general manager, Fares Sayegh, and news director Mohammad Alkhalidi following a news report on Roya News’ website and social media pages highlighting workers’ complaints concerning the economic impact of the COVID-19 curfew. Prosecutors charged Sayegh and Alkhalidi under the anti-terrorism law. Both were released on bail three days later. As of October, one of their three cases remained pending with the SSC.

Censorship or Content Restrictions:  The government directly and indirectly censored the media and online activists, reducing the variety of information available on the internet.  The government’s efforts to influence journalists, including withholding financial support, scholarships for relatives, and special invitations, led to significant control of media content.

The CDFJ report and journalists noted widespread self-censorship among journalists. Fearing arrest and prosecution, journalists avoided reporting on certain topics, including political opposition based abroad and the LGBTQI+ community. NCHR representative Nahla al-Momani said in 2020 that the defense orders increased self-censorship by journalists and made it nearly impossible for journalists to cover major events since the start of the pandemic.

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. At times editors in chief censored articles to prevent lawsuits. Bribery of journalists took place and undermined independent reporting. Journalists cited the weak financial condition of media outlets, the threat of detention and imprisonment for defamation for a variety of offenses, and court-ordered fines of as much as 150,000 Jordanian dinars (JD) ($210,000) as factors influencing media content.

During the year the Media Commission circulated official gag orders restricting discussion in all media, including social media. Gag orders are often used in politically or socially sensitive cases that have caught public attention. Public prosecutors can issue these orders under the pretext of not “affecting the course of justice” or disclosing investigation information. One gag order covered the closure of the TU and detention of its leadership in July 2020, which continued throughout the year. A second gag order involved the Prince Hamzah-related sedition case in April, and a third was issued in November on news publications regarding the prime minister’s family (see libel/slander section below). For grand felony cases or cases of domestic violence, the public prosecutor may issue a gag order to protect the victims or witnesses involved. The prosecutor handling the case of a 16-year-old boy whose hands were cut off and eyes were gouged out (see section 6) issued a gag order restricting the publication of any news related to the attack and court procedures, although television networks nevertheless interviewed the victim. The Media Commission also bans publication of any reports concerning the armed forces outside of statements made by the armed forces’ spokesperson.

On April 8, the state-owned Jordan Radio and Television Corporation (JRTC) cancelled a Jordan TV comedy series, Um al-Darahem (Mother of Dirhams), reportedly due to its inclusion of politically sensitive topics. The show, which had been scheduled for broadcast during Ramadan, portrayed a corrupt village head who manipulated villagers to seize their money and lands. The show’s lead actor and crew criticized JRTC’s decision as censorship. Separately, member of parliament Mohammad al-Fayez filed a criminal complaint against the Watan Ala Watar (Homeland on a Tendon) series on privately owned Roya TV, claiming an episode broadcast by the station mocked Bedouin appearance and hospitality customs.

Libel/Slander Laws: The cybercrimes law allows public prosecutors to detain individuals suspected of violating libel and slander laws. Internet users face at least three months in jail and a maximum fine of JD 2,000 ($2,800) if they are found guilty of defamation on social or online media. 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. The law places the burden of proof for defamation on the complainant. Defamation is also a criminal offense. The law forbids any insult of the royal family, state institutions, national symbols, or foreign states, as well as “any writing or speech that aims at or results in causing sectarian or racial strife.”

In April a court sentenced Athar al-Dabbas to one year in prison for saying her father was better than the king. Dabbas’s sentencing sparked backlash on social media and stimulated public debate on freedom of expression. Authorities withdrew the prison sentence after the king personally called Dabbas to pardon her.

After activist Kamil al-Zoubi posted claims in late October that the wife of Prime Minister Bisher Khasawneh received a large salary from the government, police officers arrested al-Zoubi, and prosecutors charged him with defaming a state entity and spreading false news. Al-Zoubi supporters held demonstrations and vigils to call for his release. In November officials announced a media gag order. Khasawneh dropped the complaint on November 18.

National Security: The government used laws protecting national security in addition to counterterrorism laws to restrict criticism of government policies and officials. Human Rights Watch argued activists were often charged with terrorism-related crimes that had definitions so vague they could be applied to nearly any political speech or behavior the government dislikes.

In December 2020 a State Security Court (SSC) prosecutor ordered alwakaai news site editor Jamal Haddad detained for 15 days. Prosecutors charged Haddad with publishing false information and causing public disorder under the terrorism prevention law by suggesting government officials secretly received COVID-19 vaccinations ahead of the public. The Jordan Press Association called for Haddad’s immediate release, objected to the case’s referral to the SSC, and demanded the case be sent to the civilian judiciary under the press and publications law. Haddad was released on bail in December 2020. At year’s end his case was still pending.

Prosecutors dropped in January a 2020 case against political cartoonist Emad Hajjaj, whom authorities detained for publishing in a United Kingdom periodical a caricature critical of United Arab Emirates (UAE) Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed and the Abraham Accords the UAE signed with Israel.

Actions to Expand Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Media: In mid-November the royal court issued a decree approving a special pardon for 155 individuals convicted of lese-majeste between December 2018 and November 2021. The law does not allow special pardons for cases pending a final verdict.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association. In addition the defense orders enacted in 2020 to curb the spread of COVID-19 provided the prime minister with temporarily expanded civil powers that were used to curtail the rights of activists and journalists.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

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

The law requires a 48-hour notification to the local governor for any meeting or event hosted by any local or international group. 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 courses, private meetings, or public conferences. There were some reported cases of the governor denying approval requests without explanation, according to local and international human rights NGOs. Without letters of approval from the government, hotels cancelled the events. In some cases NGOs relocated the events to private offices or residences, and the activities were held without interruption. NGOs were able to conduct their activities more freely when using videoconferencing software due to authorities’ inability to censor these online platforms.

Protests regarding economic policies; corruption; Israeli actions in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza; and government ineffectiveness occurred across the country throughout the year. Protests by activists were few and quickly shut down by security forces, following the imposition of public health-related government emergency defense orders and restrictions on gatherings of more than 20 persons to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

Small-scale, peaceful demonstrations took place on March 24 in Amman, Madaba, Irbid, Ramtha, and Mafraq to mark the 10th anniversary of the Arab Awakening and to protest corruption and the defense law. Although protests ended prior to the 7 p.m. curfew, authorities used tear gas to disperse protesters in some areas. A press freedom advocate noted security personnel turned away journalists attempting to cover some of the protests. Several detained activists announced an open-ended hunger strike to highlight the arrests and the clamping down on freedom of expression. Authorities released some detainees on March 25 and more in small groups through the month’s end. On August 18, the Madaba First Instance Court sentenced 16 detained activists to three months each in prison on charges of illegal assembly. Their appeal remained pending as of the end of October.

In May protesters demonstrated in solidarity with Palestinians at the al-Kalouti Mosque for several consecutive days during a period of Israeli-Palestinian clashes. During at least one evening protest, security forces clashed with and arrested protesters, including a Jordan Today press official. A PSD spokesperson said security forces responded to protesters bypassing the security cordon and heading towards the Israeli embassy. Activist Hiba Abu Taha was arrested during the demonstrations while filming the arrests (see section 2.a.). A PSD spokesperson stated an investigation was opened into police misconduct during the demonstration. After a Gaza ceasefire was reached on May 21, thousands of Jordanians rallied in the streets in celebration. Despite regulations mandating masks, social distancing, and groups of fewer than 20 persons, protesters were allowed to gather without interference from security services. Activists commented on the perceived double standards employed by the government when implementing the defense orders, allowing individuals to gather and protest when it suited their interests and dispersing demonstrations when it did not.

On June 21, authorities administratively arrested teacher Ramez al-Batran for his activism on behalf of the Irbid TU branch. The deputy governor of Irbid, Qabalan al-Sharif, released al-Batran from Bab al-Hawa prison without charges or bail on June 24. Prior to his release from administrative detention, authorities ordered al-Batran to sign a pledge not to participate in any future TU demonstrations (see section 7.a.).

On August 8, authorities arrested approximately 30 teachers, including former TU head Nasser Nawasrah and other former TU board members, as they were traveling to the town of Karak to participate in a sit-in. Sit-in participants claimed security forces closed roads and pressured teachers to sign pledges not to join the sit-in. All detained teachers were released without charges the same day they were detained. Nawasrah and other council members were arrested and released several times throughout the year.

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

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, Ministry of Political and Parliamentary Affairs, 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 these ministries 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 from the Interior Ministry for board members. The law includes penalties, including fines, for violation of the regulations. The Ministry of Social Development is legally empowered to intervene in NGO activities and issue warnings for violation of the law. NGOs that receive a warning are given a two-month probationary period to address violations.

Although the Ministry of Social Development instituted an automated system in 2020 for reviewing foreign fund transfers to local NGOs, it continued to accept paper applications. Some local NGOs reported applications were processed in under 30 days as required by law, while other NGOs continued to claim officials reviewing the foreign fund transfers applied arbitrary criteria to delay or reject their fund transfer applications, effectively shutting down several NGOs. Some NGOs reported that unexplained, monthslong delays in the decision process continued and that there was no formal process to appeal nontransparent decisions. On February 21, the local office of Journalists for Human Rights closed. Country Director Mohammad Shamma said restrictions on foreign funding led to the local office’s inability to remain operational. Another NGO reported being forced to lay off staff due to continued government intervention and foreign funding application rejections and monthslong delays. NGOs reported the drawn-out approval process for even uncontentious projects and foreign funding was stifling civil society.

In April a local NGO released the results of a survey of local NGOs’ experiences with official registration and foreign funding procedures. Despite the rollout of a new foreign funding mechanism in early 2020, more than two-thirds of NGOs receiving foreign funding reported the government had rejected their applications for receipt of foreign funds, and only one-fifth reported being informed of the reasons for rejection. Nearly all surveyed NGOs called for further reform to the foreign funding regulations.

To avoid the registration and foreign funding processes, civil society organizations sought alternative solutions, including registering as for-profit companies or international NGOs.

Citizens widely suspected that the government infiltrated civil society organizations, political parties, and human rights organizations, and that security services monitored political and civil society conferences and meetings.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, although there were some restrictions. Restrictions on freedom of movement due to public health measures designed to mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic included temporary restrictions on travel between governorates.

In-country Movement: The government placed some restrictions on the free internal movement of registered Syrian refugees and asylum seekers. Residents of refugee camps were required to apply for permission to relocate from or temporarily depart the camp for family visits or work, limiting their freedom of movement. The pandemic significantly reduced the likelihood of obtaining such permission.

There were continued reports of forced refugee relocations to Azraq refugee camp, including many to Azraq’s restricted Village 5, as an alternative to deportation for offenses by Syrian refugees. Such offenses included “irregular status” (expired registration documents or working without a work permit), criminal activities, and potential security risks, which were not clearly defined.

As of September Azraq camp hosted 43,493 individuals, including 9,711 adults and children in the fenced-off Village 5 area. NGOs estimated that the government forcibly relocated 790 refugees to Azraq camp during the year, including 469 to Village 5 for security reasons. The refugees who were forcibly relocated to Village 5 were not officially informed of the reasons for their relocation or given the opportunity to access legal remedies or assistance prior to their relocation. Residents of Village 5 had access to basic humanitarian assistance, to a clinic providing comprehensive health services inside the Village, and to the hospital within Azraq camp if escorted by police. To access the broader camp facilities, Village 5 residents were required to submit a request to security officials.

Although some refugees were permitted to leave Village 5 each month, the process for Village 5 residents to relocate to the larger camp remained irregular and slow, with the pandemic slowing the process even further. NGOs reported only 93 individuals left Village 5 during the year, compared with 1,185 in 2019, leading to a growing resident population lacking freedom of movement within and outside the camp. NGOs reported nearly half of Village 5 residents had been there for more than three years. Residents of Village 5 were subject to additional nontransparent criteria that restricted approval of requests to depart the camp.

Civil documents of Palestinian refugees from Syria (PRS) and other refugees were held by authorities during their stay in the camp, and residents were required to apply for leave in order to go outside the camp, severely limiting their freedom of movement.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees in most cases.

In 2019 the government effectively halted UNHCR’s registrations of any person arriving in Jordan on a medical, tourism, study, or work visa. As of September the halt in registrations affected more than 5,500 individuals, primarily from Sudan, Somalia, Iraq, Egypt, and Yemen. According to UNHCR, there was no backlog of registration for Syrian refugees, and it was possible for Syrians to register with UNHCR. With the COVID-19 pandemic and temporary closures of the centers, the government decided it would accept expired documentation in support of refugee and asylum seeker requests for access to services, including health care, until the end of the year.

Hundreds of PRS and other refugees resided in King Abdullah Park, an unused fenced public space in Irbid Governorate repurposed since 2016 to house PRS, mixed Syrian-PRS families, and some individuals of other nationalities who arrived from Syria. Refugees in the park were exposed to a wide range of vulnerabilities, including but not limited to overcrowding and lack of space. The camp did not meet international standards, lacked several essential facilities, and had only one small shop to obtain daily necessities. PRS residing there were not able to pay residency fees to the Ministry of Interior to obtain legal status, without which they lacked access to formal livelihood opportunities.

PRS illegally residing outside of camps usually limited their movements to avoid coming into contact with authorities. In addition some PRS with legal documentation reported delays of up to four years for renewal of their documentation.

For PRS with Jordanian citizenship, potential revocation of that citizenship remained a concern. The UN Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) was aware of at least 50 cases of citizenship revocation since the beginning of the Syrian conflict in 2011. In most cases authorities did not provide information concerning the reasons for the revocation.

Access to Asylum: The law does 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. Authorities require all Syrians in the country to register with the Ministry of Interior and obtain a ministry-issued identification card.

The country’s border crossings with Syria remained closed to new refugee arrivals. Syrians may not enter Jordan without prior approval from the Ministry of Interior or a valid residency permit in a third country. Syrians staying in Jordan as refugees may visit Syria for a short period without losing their status in Jordan if they obtain permission in advance from the Ministry of Interior to reenter Jordan.

The Rukban border crossing between Jordan and Syria remained closed, and the government continued to restrict humanitarian access to the area, which it considers a “closed military zone.” The Jaber-Nassib border crossing with Syria was periodically closed and reopened throughout the year as a preventive measure related to the COVID-19 pandemic. In October it reopened for passenger movements; commercial traffic was sporadic.

Employment: Since 2016 the government issued more than 239,000 work permits to UNHCR-registered Syrian refugees, with 94.5 percent of these work permits issued to men. Most of these work permits, which grant access to sectors “open” to foreign labor, were no longer valid. Work permit issuance continued to fall during the year, in part due to COVID-19 mitigation measures that shut key areas of the economy for prolonged periods and kept camp employment offices closed.

Formal work for UNHCR-registered non-Syrian refugees was not permitted. Non-Syrian refugees seeking work permits were required to renounce their registration with UNHCR. Although this renunciation resulted in a number of deportation orders, with some individuals, primarily Yemenis, placed in detention, there were no known reports of deportation for labor-law infractions.

The Ministries of Interior and Labor, in coordination with the United Nations, permitted Syrian refugees living in the camps to apply for work permits. The agreement allows camp-based refugees to use their work permits as a 30-day leave pass to work outside the camp. Camp-based refugees receiving work permits must report to the camp at least one day per month. The pandemic-related suspension of work permits in both Azraq and Zaatari refugee camps for the first six months of the year resulted in job losses among camp residents previously employed outside the camp but unable to return to work despite businesses reopening across the country. Problems with leave permit validity reportedly limited the ability of some refugees to accept potential opportunities once work permit issuance resumed. UNHCR and local NGOs reported unemployment for women and youth remained at concerning levels.

Some Jordan residents of Palestinian descent, such as those referred to as “ex-Gazans” for short, do not hold Jordanian citizenship. To accommodate this population of 174,000 individuals, authorities issued registration cards, which provided permanent residency and served as personal identity documents, and temporary Jordanian passports without national identity numbers. Without a national identity number, however, Palestinian refugees from Gaza were unable to access national support programs and were excluded from key aspects of health and social service support, although they were able to access UNRWA services.

Access to Basic Services: The government continued to provide access to free primary and secondary education to Syrian refugee children. As of the end of the 2020-21 academic year, however, an estimated 50,650 Syrians and 21,540 non-Syrians remained out of school due to financial challenges, transportation costs, child labor, early marriage, bullying by fellow students and teachers, and administrative challenges. Non-Syrian refugees must pay to attend government schools, and some nationalities faced documentary requirements as barriers to entry.

Access to basic civil services, including renewal of identity documents and the registration of marriages, deaths, and births, remained highly complex for PRS. These vulnerabilities put undocumented refugees at additional risk of abuse by third parties such as employers and landlords.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to individuals without official refugee status and tolerated the prolonged stay of many Iraqis and other refugees beyond the expiration of the visit permits under which they had entered the country. Iraqi and other non-Syrian refugees accrue fines for overstaying their visit permits and must pay or settle the fines and penalties prior to receiving an exit visa. They then face a five-year ban from reentry into Jordan.

g. Stateless Persons

Only fathers can transmit citizenship. Women do not have the legal right to transmit citizenship to their children, which can lead to statelessness. Children of female citizens married to noncitizens receive the nationality of the father. Women may not petition for citizenship for noncitizen husbands, who may apply for citizenship only after maintaining continuous Jordanian residency for 15 years. Once a husband has obtained citizenship, he may apply to transmit citizenship to his children. Approval of such an application could take years, and the government can deny the application.

Many Syrian marriages reportedly took place in Jordan without registration due to refugees’ lack of identity documents, which were sometimes lost or destroyed when the bearers fled Syria or were confiscated by government authorities when they entered the country. 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. The government has 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 Zaatari and Azraq camps helped Syrian refugees register births.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law does not provide citizens the ability to choose their executive branch of government. The king appoints and dismisses the prime minister, cabinet, and upper house of parliament; can dissolve parliament; and directs major public policy initiatives. Citizens have the ability to choose the lower house of parliament in generally credible periodic elections based on universal and equal suffrage and conducted by secret ballot. Citizens also elect 97 of the 100 mayors, some members of governorate councils, and all members of municipal councils. While voting processes were well run, official obstacles to political party activity and campaigning limited participation.

The Royal Committee to Modernize the Political System released a draft elections law, draft political parties law, and recommendations to amend the constitution and other laws on October 4, spurring national debate. If enacted, these proposals would use a party-based proportional representation electoral system to select 30 percent of the next lower house of parliament, while preserving geographic electoral districts for other members of parliament. The proposals would expand the party-based proportional representation electoral system to 50 percent and then 65 percent of the seats in the lower house in subsequent elections. Additionally, the committee proposed legal changes that would transfer responsibility for regulating political parties from the Ministry of Political and Parliamentary Affairs to the Independent Election Commission and incentivize participation of women and youth in political parties.

Parliament approved a new Municipalities and Decentralization Law on September 14. The law restores the direct election of mayors and municipal council members, with the exception of Amman, Wadi Musa (Petra), and Aqaba. The law allows the cabinet to appoint 40 percent of the governorate councils’ members (from 15 percent in the 2015 law).

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The government held parliamentary elections in November 2020. Local monitors reported the election was technically well administered.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The law prohibits parties formed on the basis of religion, sect, race, gender, or origin, as well as membership in unlicensed parties. The law also prohibits members of non-Jordanian political organizations, judges, and security service personnel from joining parties. There were 49 registered political parties, but most had few members and only two ran party-based lists in the 2020 election. International organizations continued to have concerns regarding the gerrymandering of electoral districts. Many politicians believed the GID would harass them if they attempted to form or join a political party with a policy platform, despite political parties being legal since 1992. Local civil society organizations were able to monitor and comment on the election process in 2020.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process. The electoral law limits parliamentary representation of certain ethnic or religious minorities to designated quota seats. Human rights activists cited cultural bias against women as an impediment to women participating in political life on the same scale as men. Women elected competitively or appointed through quota systems held a small minority of positions in national and local legislative bodies and executive-branch leadership roles.

The 29-member cabinet included two female ministers as of November: the minister of culture and the minister of state for legal affairs. Sixteen women served as members of parliament, 15 selected by quota and one through open competition. The new Municipalities and Decentralization Law raises the quota for women on governorate councils from 10 percent to 25 percent of elected members and provides for a 20 percent female quota on municipal councils. No women won mayorships in the 2017 election.

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, although the government did not implement the law effectively. There were isolated reports of government corruption during the year. Authorities began showing an increased willingness to open public corruption investigations in recent years. Courts convicted a former minister of public works and housing, customs director general, and several local elected officials in separate trials during the year. The use of family, business, and other personal connections to advance personal economic interests was widespread.

In February the king sent an open letter to the GID director stating that because civilian oversight institutions and the judicial system had “stepped up to their constitutional and legal responsibilities,” the GID should focus solely on national security.

Activists and journalists found it difficult to access government reporting and statistics. They attributed the lack of access to ineffective record keeping and the government’s withholding information from the public. In September the NCHR stated freedom to access information was pivotal to promoting human rights and called for penalties for individuals who impede the public from obtaining information or who intentionally destroy it.

Corruption: On September 29, the SSC issued verdicts in a case related to the illegal production and smuggling of tobacco. A three-judge panel convicted 23 defendants and sentenced the chief suspect to 20 years’ imprisonment. The judges also acquitted four defendants and dismissed charges on two defendants who died during the trial. The verdict was subject to appeal at the Court of Cassation. The SSC also imposed fines of JD 179 million ($252 million) on multiple defendants in the case, requiring additional hearings.

Morocco

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Internet Freedom

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

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

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

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Freedom of Association

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

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

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

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

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

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

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

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

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern. The government also provided funding to humanitarian organizations to provide social services to migrants, including refugees.

The government has historically deferred to UNHCR as the sole agency in the country entitled to perform refugee status determinations and verify asylum cases. UNHCR referred cases that meet the criteria for refugee recognition to the government’s interministerial Commission in Charge of Hearings for Asylum Seekers within the Bureau of Refugees and Stateless Persons.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of refugee status. The government recognizes asylum status for refugees designated according to the UNHCR statute. The government continued to grant status to UNHCR-recognized refugees and temporary status to registered Syrians. During the year UNHCR reported it registered 5,560 new asylum applications.

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: Refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants were particularly vulnerable to abuse. Authorities continued cooperation with Spanish and EU authorities to thwart trafficking networks and arrest smugglers.

Local and international organizations reported receiving several complaints regarding the rights of migrants. There were reports of government authorities arresting or detaining migrants, particularly around the Spanish enclave cities of Melilla and Ceuta, and relocating them to other parts of the country to deter attempts to cross illegally into Spanish territory. NGOs reported that authorities relocated some migrants from Tangier to cities further south. NGOs alleged that irregular migrants caught begging in Rabat were sent to other cities to keep the capital pristine; however, government authorities denied this allegation. Farther south, several NGOs reported that on May 7, authorities detained dozens of migrants, including pregnant women and children, arriving from sub-Saharan Africa to Laayoune and transferred them to the city of Tan-Tan.

On May 17, an estimated 8,000 individuals – the vast majority of whom were Moroccan – attempted to cross into the Spanish enclave of Ceuta, located at the country’s northern tip. NGOs and media speculated the government encouraged the influx of migrants to Ceuta. Approximately 6,000 migrants were returned to Morocco.

The government maintained the return of third-country nationals to their country of origin was coordinated with diplomatic legations who endorsed these departures and issued the appropriate papers (see section 2.f., Durable Solutions).

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

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

Elections and Political Participation

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

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

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government generally did not implement the law effectively. Officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were reports of government corruption in the executive, judicial, and legislative branches during the year.

Corruption: Observers generally considered corruption a persistent problem, with insufficient governmental checks and balances to reduce its occurrence. There were reports of petty government corruption.

The National Authority for Probity, Prevention, and Fighting Corruption (INPPLC) is responsible for combating corruption. In addition to the INPPLC, the Ministry of Justice and the High Audit Institution (government accountability court) had jurisdiction over corruption issues, and the latter has authority to conduct investigations.

The Ministry of Justice ran a hotline for the public to report instances of corruption. As of August the government reported there were 9,550 calls to the hotline alleging corruption that resulted in 39 cases in court during the year. The government also reported 90 percent of the calls were inquiries regarding corruption cases in trial, rather than new reports of alleged corruption. The Prosecutor General’s Office in the Ministry of Justice reported it registered 950 calls to its anticorruption hotline from private citizens during the year; the office stated there were convictions against the officials involved in 16 cases.

In February 2020 a court in Marrakesh sentenced Khalid Ouaya, the former Urban Agency director in Marrakech, to 10 years in prison and one million Moroccan dirhams ($104,000) for receiving kickbacks from land deals. On June 24, he was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment and fined 360,000 Moroccan dirhams ($38,000). On August 2, Ouaya appealed the verdict; the appeal was pending at year’s end.

On March 5, media reported a collusion scheme among judges, prosecutors, clerks, and bailiffs of the Casablanca Court of First Instance, legal representatives of public and private creditors, and service providers that involved thousands of suits being filed against citizens without their knowledge. The Prosecutor General’s Office reportedly opened an investigation into the case.

The government claimed to investigate corruption and other instances of police malfeasance through an internal mechanism. Nevertheless, international and domestic human rights organizations claimed that authorities dismissed many complaints of abuse and relied only on police statements.

The judicial police investigated allegations, including those against security forces, and advised the court of their findings. Cases at times languished in the investigatory or trial phases.

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