Area Administered by Turkish Cypriots

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The “law” provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and authorities generally respected this right. Individuals were usually able to criticize authorities publicly without reprisal, with some exceptions.

Freedom of Speech: It is a criminal offense to insult the “government,” the Turkish government, or “government” officials. This often led journalists and others to self-censor. According to a journalist association, authorities advised some journalists not to criticize the Turkish government. A journalist association reported that due to perceived pressure and potential reaction from Turkey, some journalists did not express their thoughts and preferred to remain silent.

In April then “prime minister” Ersin Tatar filed a criminal complaint with police after a well-known visual arts and communications lecturer, Senih Cavusoglu, posted on social media a photoshopped image of Tatar portraying him in a straitjacket with the caption, “boss went mad.” Police called Cavusoglu in for interrogation, but no criminal charges had been filed at year’s end.

In June former “president” Mustafa Akinci filed a complaint with the “attorney general’s office” to block access to a video posted online showing a man stuck at Istanbul airport. The person filming the video can be seen making derogatory comments towards Akinci. The “presidency” confirmed that “the government” banned access to the video in June for allegedly threatening liberal and democratic thought as well as to a second video that allegedly proposed to kill Akinci by stating, “There’s an easy way; send two people and make it seem like Akinci had an accident.” In July the “presidency” announced Akinci withdrew his complaint on the airport video after the person posting it allegedly apologized and erased the video on social media.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: While authorities usually respected press and media freedom, at times they obstructed journalists in their reporting.

In October the Turkish Cypriot Journalists Association criticized then “prime minister” Ersin Tatar for claiming that a local online news website Ozgur Gazete was allegedly “collaborating with foreign intelligence organizations to affect elections.” The association said Tatar’s statement threatened freedom of the press. Basin-Sen, another journalist union, said Tatar targeted journalists in an attempt to prevent reporting of such stories.

Violence and Harassment: There were reports defendants in some “court” cases allegedly threatened journalists, who also faced pressure for their reporting from companies that advertised in their publications.

A journalist association reported some journalists were verbally and physically attacked at “court” hearings by detainees or their families or friends. Journalists also reported they were at times prevented from doing their jobs, verbally and sexually assaulted, and their equipment damaged while reporting at “courts,” hospitals, and police stations.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists cannot interview or report on persons under control of the armed forces.

Journalists practiced self-censorship for fear of losing their jobs. A journalist reported some press representatives censored themselves when reporting on Turkey’s role in Cyprus and on the Turkish leadership.

Reporters without Borders (RSF) reported that Kibris, the largest Turkish Cypriot daily, censored a pre-election poll favoring the incumbent, who was at odds with the president of Turkey, in favor of his challenger who was reportedly closely aligned with the Turkish president. RSF also reported that the owner of the newspaper allegedly met with the Turkish president prior to the poll’s publication.

An activist reported that in May a local Turkish Cypriot television channel DIYALOG TV was removed from Turkey’s TURKSAT satellite network, allegedly due to criticism aired on the channel that targeted Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Turkish Cypriot television channels can only broadcast through TURKSAT. DIYALOG TV continued to broadcast only on social media.

Libel/Slander Laws: The “law” criminalizes libel and blasphemy, although in practice “courts” often declined to convict defendants on those charges, citing free speech precedents.

In July a cybercrime “law” was passed in “parliament” and approved by the “presidency.” According to the “law” any attacks (physical or verbal) made with deliberate intent to harm individuals, institutions, or organizations over the internet is considered a crime. Penalties range from six to 200 times the minimum monthly wage and from one to 10 years imprisonment.

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

There were some “government” restrictions on cultural events. There were no reports of blocked visits during the year, although for much of the year foreign tourists were not permitted to enter.

The “government” sometimes limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

According to local press reports, in July police prevented TC Secondary Education Teacher’s Union (KTOEOS) members from entering and conducting a sit-in protest inside the “public service commission’s” building. KTOEOS members continued their demonstration outside the building and protested the “commission” for hiring temporary teachers and delaying appointment exams for permanent teachers until after elections.

The “law” provides for the right of peaceful assembly, and the government usually respected this right, although some restrictions were reported. A labor union reported “police” interfered in demonstrations and at times used force against peaceful demonstrators.

Some union representatives reported “police” obstructed unions and civil society organizations from demonstrating and opening banners in front of the Turkish “embassy” during demonstrations and protests.

While the “law” provides for the freedom of association, and while the “government” usually respected this right, some organizations faced lengthy registration processes.

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

The “law” provides for freedom of movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. Authorities generally respected these rights.

In-country Movement: Authorities required individuals to show identification when crossing the “Green Line.” Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some border crossings on the island were closed during the year, at times causing altercations with authorities (see section 2.d. of the Republic of Cyprus report).

In March approximately 200 Turkish Cypriot demonstrators in the north gathered at Ledra Street checkpoint to protest the Greek Cypriot decision to close four checkpoint crossings as measures against COVID-19. Press reported Greek Cypriot police used pepper spray and clubs on peaceful Turkish Cypriot demonstrators calling for the opening of the closed checkpoint. Several Turkish Cypriot demonstrators and journalists were taken to hospital. Several were treated in ambulances onsite for pepper spray inhalation.

UNFICYP officials requested that Turkish Cypriots not go to the government checkpoint for their own safety and asked families and children to leave the demonstration site immediately. The Turkish Cypriot Foreign Press Association and Journalists Association condemned the use of pepper spray on demonstrators and claimed government police violated press freedom. Former “president” Akinci condemned the use of pepper spray by Greek Cypriot police and added that it was a disproportionate use of force.

The Turkish Cypriot Bar Association stated, “Tear gas and pepper spray are life threatening chemical weapons whose use is even prohibited in international warfare under both the 1925 Geneva Protocol and the Chemical Weapons Convention, and can only be used during domestic violent riots by the police.”

Foreign Travel: Only Turkey recognizes travel documents issued by the “TRNC.” Some Turkish Cypriots used Turkish travel documents, but many obtained travel documents issued by the Republic of Cyprus. Turkish Cypriots born after 1974 to parents who were both Republic of Cyprus citizens prior to 1974, obtained passports relatively easily compared to Turkish Cypriots born after 1974 to only one Cypriot parent.

Turkish Cypriots considered those displaced as a result of the island’s 1974 division to be refugees, although they fell under the UN definition of internally displaced persons (IDPs). At the time of the division, the number of IDPs in the north was approximately 60,000.

Turkish Cypriot authorities at times cooperated with Office of the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) NGO implementing partner, the Refugee Rights Association, and other humanitarian organizations with regard to asylum seekers and refugees. UNHCR reported cooperation was more frequent during the first half of the year, when authorities allowed Refugee Rights Association lawyers to interview Syrian asylum seekers seeking access to international protection in Cyprus. Following the introduction of a “visa” requirement for Syrian nationals in June, cooperation between Turkish Cypriot authorities and UNHCR was less frequent. With the involvement of these organizations, several asylum seekers gained access to asylum procedures in Turkey or in the government-controlled area.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: UNHCR reported asylum seekers generally were treated as illegal migrants because an official framework for asylum does not exist in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots. Most were either denied entry or deported, irrespective of the risk of refoulement.

In May some 100 Syrian asylum seekers who had been housed in a building in Iskele were deported to Turkey. The asylum seekers had arrived in the north on March 21 and were a part of a group of 175 asylum seekers who were denied entry by Republic of Cyprus officials. The Refugee Rights Association (RRA) reported sending their staff to monitor the housing in Iskele. Each family of asylum seekers were provided separate apartments. The RRA also reported that a nurse was on duty 24 hours a day and food and water was provided by the Iskele “municipality.” Each apartment had its own balcony, proper bedding, and a kitchen. Some apartments were crowded and leaving them was forbidden. Doors were locked at all times other than for food delivery.

On July 9, a boat carrying 30 Syrian asylum seekers who landed near Morphou were shot at by “TRNC” police, allegedly for not stopping despite warnings and for trying to flee. The boat’s captain and two of the asylum seekers were shot and injured by police after attempting to flee. The “president” requested a police investigation of the incident which had not yet concluded at year’s end. Several refugee rights groups, including the Turkish NGO Refugee Rights Center, issued a statement criticizing police for shooting at asylum seekers seeking safety.

Refoulement: Authorities did not provide protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom could be threatened. According to NGOs “authorities” at ports often denied entry to asylum seekers and extradited a number of persons designated by the Turkish government as alleged affiliates of Gulen. Some observers considered these deportations refoulement, as the individuals were denied the opportunity to seek refuge in the territory of Cyprus and were at substantial risk of mistreatment in Turkey or forcible return to Syria by Turkish authorities (also see section 2.f., Protection of Refugees in the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Turkey).

Access to Asylum: The “law” does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and authorities have not established a system for providing protection to refugees. An NGO reported approximately 100 persons of concern to UNHCR were able to stay in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots with UNHCR protection papers.

There were reports Turkish Cypriot authorities continued to deport numerous asylum seekers during the year before UNHCR’s implementing partner could interview them to obtain information necessary for assessing their asylum claims. Some potential asylum seekers who attempted to enter the area administered by Turkish Cypriot authorities illegally were arrested, taken to “court,” and deported after serving their prison sentences.

Freedom of Movement: Asylum seekers in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots could not travel abroad because they would be unable to return due to their lack of “legal” status.

Employment: According to immigration “law,” employers need official permission from the “department of labor” to register foreign workers. Persons holding UNHCR protection papers receive the same access to the labor market as third country nationals, although NGOs reported “authorities” refused to issue work permits to some individuals with UNHCR protection papers. An NGO reported that many refugees were unemployed during the COVID-19 mitigation lockdown and suffered economically. The NGO also reported asylum seekers were prohibited from receiving “state” social welfare benefits. UNHCR reported access to employment improved during the year after authorities lifted requirements that job seekers post a guarantee and hold a valid passport.

Access to Basic Services: Persons holding UNHCR protection papers could access basic services, including primary health care and education, but persons of concern to UNHCR lacked access to residence permits or welfare assistance, which rendered them at risk of exploitation and put vulnerable individuals at risk of destitution.

Austria

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

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 promote freedom of expression including for the press.

Freedom of Speech: The law prohibits incitement, insult, or contempt against a group because of its members’ race, nationality, religion, or ethnicity if the statement violates human dignity, and imposes criminal penalties for violations. The law prohibits public denial, belittlement, approval, or justification of the Nazi genocide or other Nazi crimes against humanity in print media, broadcast media, the publication of books, and online newspapers or journals and provides criminal penalties for violations. The law also prohibits disparagement of religious teachings in public. The government strictly enforced these laws (see the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel, slander, defamation, and denouncement of religious teachings (blasphemy) are criminal offenses and are enforced. NGOs reported that strict libel and slander laws created conditions that discouraged reporting of governmental abuse. For example, many observers believed the ability and willingness of police to sue for libel or slander discouraged individuals from reporting police abuses.

With limited exceptions, the government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content. There were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Authorities continued to restrict access to websites that violated the law, such as neo-Nazi sites. The law barring neo-Nazi activity provides for one- to 10-year prison sentences for public denial, belittlement, approval, or justification of National Socialist crimes. The criminal code provision on incitement provides for prison sentences of up to five years for violations. Authorities restricted access to prohibited websites by trying to shut them down and by forbidding the country’s internet service providers from carrying them.

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

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 https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

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

In-country Movement: Asylum seekers’ freedom of movement was restricted to the district of the reception center assigned by authorities for the duration of their initial application process until the country’s responsibility for examining the application was determined. By law, asylum seekers must be physically present in the centers of first reception for up to 120 hours during the initial application process. Authorities have 20 days in which to determine the country’s responsibility and jurisdiction for the case.

Not applicable.

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 for concern.

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.

Amnesty International reported that in the first nine months of 2019, the Ministry of Interior repatriated more than 200 Afghan nationals to Afghanistan, sending them back to areas that Amnesty deemed unsafe. According to Amnesty, authorities also decided to repatriate several Syrian nationals to Syria, although the decisions had not been implemented at the end of the year. Between January and June, the Ministry of Interior reported the deportation of 37 Afghan nationals. While opposition parties and human rights NGOs criticized this policy, the government’s position is that it is repatriating Afghan nationals only to areas in the country that independent experts considered safe.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: EU regulations provide that asylum seekers who transit an EU country determined to be “safe” on their way to Austria be returned to that country to apply for refugee status. Authorities considered signatories to the 1951 refugee convention and its 1967 protocol to be safe countries of transit.

Employment: While asylum seekers are legally restricted from seeking regular employment, they are eligible for seasonal work, low-paying community service jobs, or professional training in sectors that require additional apprentices. A work permit is required for seasonal employment but not for professional training. An employer must request the work permit for the prospective employee.

Durable Solutions: There are provisions for integration, resettlement, and returns, which the country was cooperating with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other organizations to improve. The integration section in the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Integration, together with the Integration Fund and provincial and local integration offices, coordinated measures for integration of refugees.

Temporary Protection: According to the Interior Ministry, in 2019 the government provided temporary protection to approximately 2,246 individuals who might not qualify as refugees but were unable to return to their home countries. According to the Interior Ministry, between January and July, the government provided temporary protection to approximately 1,275 individuals.

According to the government’s statistical office, in January there were approximately 17,025 persons in the country registered as stateless, that is, having undocumented or unclear citizenship. Stateless persons in the country were largely Austrian-born children of foreign nationals who were unable to acquire citizenship through their parents due to the laws in their parents’ country of origin. Authorities did not deport them because they lacked a home country.

The law allows some stateless persons to gain nationality. A stateless person born in the country may be granted citizenship within two years of reaching the age of 18 if he or she has lived in the country for a total of 10 years, including five years continuously before application, and is able to demonstrate sufficient income. Stateless persons can receive temporary residence and work permits that must be renewed annually.

Belgium

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

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 Speech: Holocaust denial, defamation, sexist remarks and attitudes that target a specific individual, and incitement to hatred are criminal offenses, punishable by a minimum of eight days (for Holocaust denial) or one month (incitement to hatred and sexist remarks or attitudes) and up to one year in prison and fines, plus a possible revocation of the right to vote or run for public office. If the incitement to hatred was based on racism or xenophobia, the case is tried in the regular courts. If, however, the incitement stemmed from other motives, including homophobia or religious bias, a longer and more costly trial by jury generally is required. The government prosecuted and courts convicted persons under these laws.

Restrictions to the right of freedom of expression were reported, as were several cases of arbitrary detentions or excessive use of force. In April, Amnesty International reported there were at least 10 cases in which police ordered the removal from homes of banners calling for “Justice for Adil” in connection with the death of a young man of Moroccan descent when his motor scooter collided with a police vehicle. The banners aimed to call attention to police brutality and the unfair targeting of persons of Moroccan heritage (see also section 1.a.).

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: The prohibition of Holocaust denial, defamation, sexist remarks, attitudes that target a specific individual, and incitement to hatred also applies to print and broadcast media, books, and online newspapers and journals.

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.

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

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 https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

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

Not applicable.

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, or other persons of concern.

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, including specific subsidiary protection that goes beyond asylum criteria established by the 1951 Convention relating to the Treatment of Refugees and its 1967 protocol. Refugee status and residence permits are limited to five years and become indefinite if extended.

On March 17, the registration of new asylum seekers was temporarily halted due to the COVID-19 crisis, and De Standaard reported that the detainee number fell from 603 to 304, with detainees being released and left homeless during that month. As of April 3, online registration was again available.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country denied asylum to asylum seekers who arrived from a safe country of origin or transit, pursuant to the EU’s Dublin III Regulation.

Durable Solutions: The country accepted refugees for resettlement through UNHCR, including persons located in Italy and Greece, under the EU Emergency Relocation Mechanism. The country also conducted a voluntary return program for migrants in cooperation with the International Organization for Migration.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary “subsidiary” protection to individuals who did not satisfy the legal criteria for refugee status but who could not return to their country of origin due to the risk of serious harm. Under EU guidelines, individuals granted “subsidiary protection” are entitled to temporary residence permits, travel documents, access to employment, and equal access to health care, education, and housing. As of August, authorities had granted subsidiary protection to 556 individuals.

According to UNHCR, at the end of 2019, there were 10,933 persons in the country who fell under UNHCR’s statelessness mandate. The country did not contribute to statelessness, as the legal framework for stripping an individual of his or her citizenship does not exist except in cases of dual citizenship with another country.

To be recognized as stateless, a requester must go through legal proceedings and obtain a court ruling on his or her stateless status. Since 2017 family courts have been tasked with handling these requests in hopes of decreasing wait times. The requester may appeal the court’s ruling. Recognition of statelessness does not automatically afford a stateless person resident status in the country. Stateless persons may apply for nationality after meeting the requirements for legal residency in the country.

Bulgaria

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. Concerns persisted, however, that corporate and political pressure, combined with the growing and nontransparent concentration of media ownership and distribution networks, as well as government regulation of resources–including EU funds–and support for media, gravely damaged media pluralism. In July a media pluralism report conducted by the Center for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom for the European Commission, identified a “particularly high risk” for public media independence, corporate influence over editorial content, and concentration of media ownership.

In August the NGO Ethical Journalism Network reported that press freedom in the country was “under attack” by progovernment tabloid journalism, which silenced critical voices “through financial and security threats,” often forcing ethical journalists to practice self-censorship to avoid harassment and intimidation. In October the representative of Reporters without Borders covering the EU and the Balkans stated the government had no will to change and improve the media environment. The representative also accused the government of reneging on its commitment to protect media freedom.

According to the BHC, freedom of expression was in a “state of free fall,” marked by “severe political pressure on journalists and media” and “taming” of public media. According to Transparency International Bulgaria, media ownership “is often unclear” and many media outlets “are financially dependent on state advertising, which may color their reporting and affect any criticism they may otherwise provide of government authorities.” On September 30, the European Commission’s 2020 Rule of Law Report stated, “Distribution of state advertising expenditure is not based on clear and nondiscriminatory criteria.”

Freedom of Speech: The law provides for one to four years’ imprisonment for use of and incitement to “hate speech.” The law defines hate speech as instigation of hatred, discrimination, or violence based on race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, marital status, social status, or disability. NGOs alleged that politically motivated hate speech, facilitated by the presence of nationalist parties in the government, increased over past years.

According to human rights lawyer Mihail Ekimdjiev, prosecutors used the penal code provision punishing the dissemination of false information to suppress free speech and target government critics. He cited as an example the charges in April against the president of the Bulgarian Pharmaceutical Union, Asena Serbezova, over her public warning of possible medicine shortage due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which, according to the prosecution, “evoked unnecessary alarm.” In July a prosecutor in Sofia indicted Serbezova and requested that the court impose a fine. In September the court rejected the case, stating that the indictment contained numerous procedural violations. At the end of October, the prosecution charged Serbezova again, and a trial was pending as of December.

Individuals generally criticized the government without official reprisal. In July, however, an employee of state-owned Sofia airport alleged that management fired him two days after he had demanded the prime minister’s resignation in a comment to the latter’s social media livestream video. The company’s human resources department justified the employee’s release with “choice of team members” by a newly appointed manager.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: The media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. Laws restricting “hate speech” also applied to print media. According to the 2020 annual report by the partner organizations to the Council of Europe Platform to Promote the Protection of Journalism and Safety of Journalists, “Media ownership is opaque and characterized by the capture of the media market by oligarchs who use their media power to exert political influence and attack and denigrate rivals and critics.” The EU Rule of Law Report noted that many media outlets do not comply with the law that requires public disclosure of ownership, and the public did not have easy access to the disclosed information. Domestic and international organizations criticized both print and electronic media for editorial bias, lack of transparency in their financing and ownership, and susceptibility to political influence and economic incentives.

The consolidation of media ownership by oligarchs made news outlets increasingly vulnerable to political influence over editorial policy. Independent media outlets were subject to open attacks from politicians at all levels and from administrative and judicial pressure. Publicly funded Bulgarian National Television and Bulgarian National Radio were subject to attempts to control their editorial policies through politicized influence on their leadership.

Businessman and National Assembly member Delyan Peevski, who officially owns five newspapers, repeatedly used his control over print media distribution channels and advertising revenues to ensure positive coverage of affiliated political actors and the prosecutor general. Media and telecommunications conglomerate United Group offered to purchase these five newspapers from Peevski, but at year’s end the antimonopoly commission had not yet approved the deal.

Violence and Harassment: A Council of Europe report stated that independent journalists and media outlets were regularly subjected to intimidation in person and online. It reported a worsening working environment for journalists due to “open hostility of elected politicians and sustained attacks on independent media through administrative and judicial harassment, as well as physical threats.”

In one example of an attack on journalists, on March 17, three masked men attacked the prominent investigative journalist and chief editor of the 168 Chassa weekly, Slavi Angelov, in front of his home, beating him and inflicting severe injuries. On April 23, the prosecutor general announced that police arrested the alleged attackers, brothers Georgi and Nikola Asenov and Biser Mitov. The prosecutor general further stated that “persons who seek to destabilize the government, are targets of a criminal investigation, and are hiding…outside the country” and had ordered the attack. As of December pretrial proceedings were ongoing; one defendant was released on bail.

On May 22, Reporters without Borders alleged the trial of Economedia publisher Ivo Prokopiev for privatization fraud was an instance of “increasing political pressure against the main independent media group” by “politically controlled bodies” in “response to journalistic investigations that revealed unpleasant truths of corruption cases.” They noted the judicial irregularities behind the case and that the prosecutor general was practicing selective prosecution, pressing charges against Prokopiev but not Delyan Peevski, for example, a controversial oligarch who controls a large segment of the media environment.

In September the Association of European Journalists condemned “the illegal arrest and police violence against journalist Dimitar Kenarov” while Kenarov covered an antigovernment protest. According to Kenarov’s post on social media and eyewitness statements, police grabbed him, threw him on the ground, and kicked his head before snatching his camera and leaving him handcuffed and on the ground for hours. Responding to a media query in December, the Ministry of Interior reported that despite Kenarov’s visible wounds and multiple witness statements, its internal investigation concluded there was no evidence police had used any force against Kenarov, and closed the investigation.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists reported editorial prohibitions on covering specific persons and topics, and the imposition of political points of view by corporate leaders, with the implied support of the government.

In early 2019 oligarch Kiril Domuschiev acquired the country’s largest private media operator, Nova Broadcasting Group. Several respected investigative journalists and employees were fired from its flagship Nova TV station in January and February, and others left due to pressure or disagreements with the new owners. They were replaced by executives and journalists from Kanal 3, a television station believed to be tied to oligarch and National Assembly member Delyan Peevski. Media analysts assessed that Nova Group-affiliated media outlets shifted editorial policy towards a more progovernment stance. Contacts at Nova TV stated the station continued to lose journalists and other professionals after the initial round of firings, discouraged by appointments of a co-CEO and news director from Kanal 3, who were close to Peevski. Nova TV journalists said their copy was being rewritten by the new executives, so they were not allowed any freedom in reporting the news. Other journalists were thought to have been sent on assignments with prepared copy for their reports. Journalists who left Nova TV stated they were looking for jobs in other sectors because they do not feel there is any hope for professional, good journalism in the country.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel is illegal and punishable by a fine and public censure. According to the Association of European Journalists’ October survey, 49 percent of journalists viewed slander as a major harassment tool against their work, including lawsuits against their publications.

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content. There were reports, however, that the government exceeded its legal authority in monitoring private online communications, and that security services routinely questioned individuals about their social media behavior.

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

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

There were numerous reports and video clips shared on social media of police violence during antigovernment protests in July, August, and September. The BHC and the ombudsman stated they had received numerous reports of “disproportionate use of force” against nonviolent protesters, including punching, kicking, dragging, and beating handcuffed persons. The ombudsman noted that some police officers used brass knuckles, which is illegal. A video shared online showed how on July 10, police grabbed and handcuffed protesting law student Evgeni Marchev and dragged him behind a column where four officers beat him. Marchev was hospitalized with head and chest injuries and bruises covering his body. On July 27, the Ministry of Interior announced that the four police officers involved would receive disciplinary sanctions for “violating basic rights of citizens by use of excessive physical force” but declined to share details of the sanctions.

Two business owners, Marian Kolev of the toy store Hippoland and Yordan Kostadinov of the winery Zagrey, complained that several government bodies conducted thorough inspections of their companies just two days after their employees participated in the September 2 protest in Sofia against the government and the prosecutor general. The Hippoland employees wore company-logo shirts and the Zagrey employees used a company vehicle for transportation to Sofia. The inspections failed to identify any wrongdoing, but the two businessmen expressed skepticism in the ability of so many government agencies to coordinate inspections, suspecting harassment. On November 12, the Commission for Protection of Competition fined Hippoland for unfair competition.

Authorities continued to deny registration of ethnic-Macedonian activist groups such as the United Macedonian Organization-Ilinden, the Society of Oppressed Macedonians, Victims of Communist Terror, and the Macedonian Ethnic Tolerance Club in Bulgaria, despite a May judgment and more than 10 prior decisions by the European Court of Human Rights that the denials violated the groups’ freedom of association. On October 1, the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture expressed in an interim resolution “deep concern” with regard to authorities’ “formalistic application of legal requirements” applied persistently to refuse registration to the United Macedonian Organization-Ilinden and similar associations since 2006. In November 2019 the prosecutor general acted on Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO) leader and defense minister Krasimir Karakachanov’s complaint about attempts by two associations, the Civil Association for Protection of Fundamental Individual Human Rights and Ancient Macedonians, to create a Macedonian minority. The prosecutor general petitioned the court to dissolve the associations, accusing them of a political agenda threatening the unity and security of the nation.

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. During the state of emergency from March to May due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government limited internal travel and established police checkpoints to enforce public health orders. Subsequent health emergency orders did not include travel restrictions or checkpoints.

Not applicable.

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, or other persons of concern.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Human rights organizations continued to report widespread “pushbacks,” violence, robbery, and humiliating practices against migrants and asylum seekers along the border with Turkey. As of December the Ministry of Interior reported 11,751 attempts to enter the country irregularly across the border during which border authorities detained 426 persons. According to the NGO Bordermonitoring, border authorities on February 28 pushed back 60 migrants on the border with Turkey, referring to a press release by the defense minister which stated, “border police stopped two groups of approximately 30 migrants each and prevented them from crossing the border.” The BHC alleged that the government had a strategy of “neglecting to detect and apprehend” a major portion of the asylum seekers entering the country in order to “evade the ensuing responsibilities under the Dublin regulation or a bilateral readmission treaty.”

Refoulement: The BHC alleged that the Migration Directorate deported asylum seekers before completion of their refugee status determination. In July, Radio Free Europe reported that the prime minister and the prosecutor general personally approved the 2016 deportation of businessman Abdullah Buyuk to Turkey on grounds that his identification papers had expired. Radio Free Europe alleged the deportation was in response to the Turkish Embassy’s unofficial request for Buyuk’s extradition for his alleged ties with Fethullah Gulen. In 2016 NGOs accused authorities of violating a court order prohibiting the extradition of Buyuk, who had filed for political asylum, thus breaching due process. On October 9, the minister of interior reported to the National Assembly that authorities had deported Buyuk under the EU-Turkey readmission agreement, in addition to 90 other Turkish citizens in 2016, 105 in 2017, 70 in 2018, 108 in 2019, and 58 in 2020.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for protecting refugees. The president may grant asylum to persons who are persecuted for their belief or activities advocating for internationally recognized rights and freedoms. Asylum seekers who cross the border irregularly are subject to detention. The BHC expressed concerns about the transparency and objectivity of the refugee status determination process, alleging that refugee center directors could alter the case officer’s determination to grant protection or not and even replace a case officer without proper justification.

Freedom of Movement: The law restricts asylum seekers’ movement to the administrative region in which the reception center accommodating them is located. The restriction is valid until the asylum process is completed.

Access to Basic Services: Asylum seekers had access to school education, health-care, and language instruction. The law authorizes mayors to sign integration agreements with persons who have refugee status, specifying the services they will receive–housing, education, language training, health services, professional qualification, and job search assistance–as well as the obligations of the responsible institutions. NGOs claimed the government made inconsistent efforts to integrate refugees. According to the Asylum Information Database report on the country published in February, “No integration activities are planned, funded, or made available to recognized refugees or subsidiary protection holders.”

A safety zone for unaccompanied children seeking asylum was available at two reception centers in Sofia to provide 24-hour care and specialized services in an environment adapted to their needs.

Durable Solutions: The government accepted refugees for resettlement, offered naturalization to refugees residing on its territory, and assisted in their voluntary return to their homes. In November authorities relocated 17 unaccompanied refugee children from Greece as part of the country’s commitment to accept 70 unaccompanied children, including 20 from Greece.

Temporary Protection: The Council of Ministers may provide temporary protection in case of mass influx of foreign nationals driven by an armed conflict, civil war, violence, or large-scale human rights violations in their country of origin, as determined by the Council of the European Union. The government also provided humanitarian protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees and provided it to 443 persons during the year, as of December.

Croatia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press and a functioning democratic political system combined in most cases to promote freedom of expression, including for the press, but judicial ineffectiveness at times delayed resolution of cases.

Freedom of Speech: The law sanctions individuals who act “with the goal of spreading racial, religious, sexual, national, ethnic hatred, or hatred based on the color of skin or sexual orientation or other characteristics.” A conviction for internet hate speech is punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment. The law provides for six months’ to five years’ imprisonment for those who organize or lead a group of three or more persons to commit hate speech. Although the laws and recent Constitutional Court decisions technically impose restrictions on symbolic speech considered “hate speech,” including the use of Nazi- and (the World War II regime) Ustasha-era symbols and slogans, NGOs and advocacy groups complained that enforcement of those provisions remained inadequate.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. Restrictions on material deemed hate speech apply to print and broadcast media.

Violence and Harassment: NGOs reported that intimidation and threats, especially online threats, against journalists had a chilling effect on media freedom and that the government insufficiently addressed this problem.

On January 23, in Ivanbegovina, four men attacked Slobodna Dalmacija journalist Andrea Topic while she was investigating the property of then health minister Milan Kujundzic. Topic said she was photographing the property from the road when the men threatened her and intimidated her for half an hour by shouting, filming her, and sitting on and shaking her car. On July 28, media reported that the Imotski Municipal State Attorney’s Office filed an indictment against the four men, charging them with unlawful deprivation of liberty. Kujundzic later resigned, and media attributed his resignation to press coverage of the unexplained large number of houses he owned.

The Croatian Journalists’ Association (CJA) strongly condemned “this disgusting attack on [our] colleague Andrea Topic, who was only doing her job in the public interest. The attack is a consequence of a hostile atmosphere in Croatia that points the finger of blame on journalists for everything.”

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Members of the press reported practicing self-censorship due to fear of online harassment, lawsuits, upsetting politically connected individuals, or losing their jobs for covering certain topics.

Libel/Slander Laws: According to results of an annual survey conducted by the CJA, 905 lawsuits were filed against journalists and the media, with claimed damages of almost 68 million kuna ($10.5 million). Of the 905 lawsuits, 859 were for civil alleged violations of honor and reputation against publishers, editors, and journalists, while 46 were criminal lawsuits. Of the 23 media outlets that responded to the CJA’s poll, 18 had a standing lawsuit alleging violations of honor and reputation. The CJA was defending itself against three active lawsuits. The country’s public broadcaster, Croatian Radio and Television (HRT), had an active criminal proceeding against CJA President Hrvoje Zovko, including a claim for damages of 250,000 kuna ($39,200), claims against the CJA in the amount of 200,000 kuna ($31,430), and within the same lawsuit, a claim for 50,000 kuna ($7,860) against Sanja Mikleusevic Pavic, president of the CJA’s branch at HRT.

Nongovernmental Impact: On April 12, several unidentified men attacked Zivana Susak Zivkovic, a reporter working for the news website Dalmatinskiportal, and Ivana Sivro, a camera operator for N1 TV. According to local news reports, the journalists were attacked while documenting an Easter mass held despite a ban on public gatherings due to COVID-19. The regional news website Balkan Insight reported that the rally by the masked, black-clad protesters was held to support a priest who called on worshippers to attend mass, breaching measures imposed to curb the spread of COVID-19 in the country, with two of the protesters displaying World War II Ustasha movement’s insignia and a banner with the slogan “Journalists are worms.” They were objecting to earlier media reports that the day of criticism of priest Josip Delas was held because he led a mass with 20 worshippers despite appeals from the archdiocese and the coronavirus crisis authorities in Split to avoid gatherings. Zivkovic suffered minor bruising from the attack, her employer reported. Another man hit Sivro in the arm and shoved her camera, as seen in a video published by N1 TV. Three men were under prosecution for the assault. In a statement, the Roman Catholic archdiocese of Split-Makarska apologized for the attack.

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.

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

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 https://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.

Not applicable.

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

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Domestic NGOs working on migrants’ rights issues documented 688 cases of pushbacks or abuse of irregular migrants. In May the British newspaper The Guardian accused border police of humiliating irregular migrants on religious grounds during the month of Ramadan. According to the report, police officers allegedly spray-painted crosses on the heads of migrants who attempted to enter the country illegally to mark, humiliate, and traumatize them. In the same article, The Guardian reported that on May 6-7, police pushed several mainly Afghan and Pakistani migrants and asylum-seekers back across the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). The NGO Danish Refugee Council stated the migrants and asylum seekers were forced to enter a van and driven to the BiH border, although some requested asylum in Croatia. At the border they were reportedly beaten and their personal belongings burned. The Ministry of the Interior disputed the allegations and claims in The Guardians article and stated the police respected migrants’ fundamental rights and dignity and allowed them access to the international protection system if they were in need of such protection, in accordance with general human rights documents, European Union regulations, and national legislation. The ministry also stated police took no action against migrants at the reported time in the area in question and had excellent relations with the Muslim community. On June 5, a human rights NGO, Centre for Peace Studies (CMS), filed a criminal complaint to the State Attorney’s Office against “unknown perpetrators” from the police for “degrading treatment and torture of 33 persons and their violent, illegal expulsion from the Croatian territory to Bosnia and Herzegovina,” based in part on the incident described in The Guardian. As their press release explained, “those were four separate cases [recorded in May] combined into one criminal complaint due to similarities in treatment.” On July 23, the CMS filed a second criminal complaint against unknown perpetrators for torturing, humiliating, and pushing back 16 migrants from Croatia to BiH in late May. The Ombudsperson’s Office said they had repeatedly made requests for investigations into allegations of violence against migrants.

On June 18, police arrested two Karlovac-based police officers for the beating of an Afghan asylum seeker who crossed the border from BiH. The officers were removed from service pending disciplinary proceedings and were detained for 30 days. One reportedly faced a charge of causing bodily harm, while the other faced charges for failing to report a crime. Interior Minister Davor Bozinovic condemned the beating incident and emphasized it was an isolated case. Karlovac police officials said there was zero tolerance for such violence.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of refugee status and subsidiary protection status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to asylum seekers. Despite restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ministry of the Interior reported that it continued work with asylum seekers and persons granted international protection, and it provided access to the asylum procedure in accordance with epidemiological measures and recommendations adopted by the European Commission on April 16.

Durable Solutions: In 2019 the government resettled 250 pledged Syrian refugees from Turkey according to the EU Resettlement Program from 2015. In August the Ministry of the Interior reported the government was unable to resettle 150 pledged refugees from 2019 due to operational and technical difficulties caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and an earthquake that struck the city of Zagreb on March 22. The government continued to participate in a joint regional housing program (RHP) with the governments of BiH, Montenegro, and Serbia. The RHP aimed to contribute to the resolution of the protracted displacement situation of the most vulnerable refugees and displaced persons following the 1991-95 conflict. As of August the RHP had provided housing to 314 families (748 individuals) in the country. In March the country offered to participate in the European Union’s scheme to relocate unaccompanied minors from overcrowded reception centers in Greece. Media reported that on September 11, following a fire that destroyed a migrant camp on the Greek island of Lesbos, the government would receive 12 unaccompanied minor female migrants under a European Commission plan to provide them permanent accommodation.

Temporary Protection: The Ministry of the Interior reported that from January to August 18, the government granted asylum to 27 refugees who had a well founded fear of persecution if they returned to their home country. The country also has a mechanism for subsidiary protection for those who do not qualify for asylum and granted protection to one person during the year.

According to the last census in 2011, there were 2,886 stateless persons or persons at risk of statelessness in the country. Many of these persons were Roma who lacked citizenship documents. The Ministry of the Interior is responsible for granting stateless individuals residency and eventual citizenship.

Cyprus

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

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 Speech: The law criminalizes incitement to hatred and violence based on race, color, religion, genealogical origin, national or ethnic origin, or sexual orientation. Such acts are punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment, a fine of up to 10,000 euros ($12,000), or both.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction.

The law penalizes the use of geographical names and toponyms in the country other than those included in the gazetteer the government presented at the 1987 Fifth UN Conference on the Standardization of Geographical Names. According to the law, anyone who publishes, imports, distributes, or sells maps, books, or any other documents in print or digital form that contain geographical names and toponyms on the island other than those permitted, commits an offense punishable by up to three years in prison, a fine of up to 50,000 euros ($60,000), or both.

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 law criminalizes the use of computer systems to incite and promote racism, xenophobia, prejudice, racial discrimination, hate speech, and violence. Such acts are punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment, a fine of up to 35,000 euros ($42,000), or both.

The government maintains a policy of preventing visiting foreign academics and artistic groups from attending conferences or performing in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots, in accordance with laws that provide them the right to deny entry to visitors who declare a hotel in the area under Turkish Cypriot administration not originally owned by Turkish Cypriots as the place of stay. There were no reports of blocked visits during the year, although for much of the year foreign tourists were not permitted to enter the country due to COVID-19.

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 https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

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

In-country Movement: The government imposed restrictions on some internal movements and movements through crossing points to the areas administered by Turkish Cypriots to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and these restrictions were applied equally to all. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government did not restrict Greek Cypriots from traveling to the area administered by Turkish Cypriots, but the Ministry of Foreign Affairs warned foreigners against spending the night at Greek Cypriot-owned properties occupied by Turkish Cypriots or Turks, gambling in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots, or buying or developing property there. Authorities at ports of entry denied admission to nonresidents who listed hotels in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots as their intended place of residence during their visit. NGOs reported the government prohibited recognized non-Cypriot refugees with temporary residence status and asylum seekers from crossing to the area administered by Turkish Cypriots, asserting it could not assure their safety in an area not under its control. Local media reported police officers at the crossing points occasionally harassed Greek Cypriots returning from the area under Turkish Cypriot administration.

On February 29, the government closed four of the nine buffer zone crossings as a temporary measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19. In mid-March, Turkish Cypriot authorities suspended the operation of the remaining crossings, effectively banning all travel across the buffer zone. Movement was partially restored in stages beginning June 8. The Ledra Street pedestrian crossing in Nicosia remained closed by the government as of December. Protests against the crossing point closures staged by Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots in late February and early March led to skirmishes with police and the arrest of three protesters. In March Turkish Cypriot press reported Greek Cypriot police used pepper spray and clubs against Turkish Cypriot demonstrators at the Ledra Street crossing. Several demonstrators and journalists were taken to the hospital. The Turkish Cypriot Foreign Press Association condemned the use of force and claimed Greek Cypriot police violated press freedom.

The government considers Greek Cypriots displaced as a result of the 1974 division of the island to be refugees, although they fell under the UN definition of internally displaced persons (IDPs). As of December 2019 there were 228,000 such individuals and their descendants. UNHCR provided assistance to Greek and Turkish Cypriot IDPs from 1974 to 1988, after which it transferred assistance programs to UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) and other UN agencies. Depending on their income, IDPs were eligible for financial assistance from the government. They were resettled, had access to humanitarian organizations, and were not subject to attack, targeting, or mandatory return under dangerous conditions.

The government generally cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees and asylum seekers. In 2019 the Asylum Service accepted the secondment of a UNHCR consultant and established a quality assurance unit to ensure the quality of the refugee status-determination procedures. The government did not accept UNHCR’s offer to second officers to Social Welfare Services to help ensure the mandatory vulnerability assessments of asylum applicants were conducted in a timely and comprehensive manner.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: NGOs reported that some Social Welfare Service officers and judges subjected asylum seekers to racist verbal abuse. On April 28, the NGO KISA reported that security personnel at the Social Welfare Services office in Lakatamia physically attacked two asylum seekers and an infant child who had visited the office to inquire about the delay in receiving their food coupons and rent subsidy. The Ministry of Labor reported the incident to the police and asked the private company providing security services to transfer the security guard involved from Social Welfare Services office. The security guard was charged and the case was pending trial at year’s end.

In June UNCHR reported three unaccompanied minors at Kokkinotrimithia reception center renewed their claim that they were sexually harassed by adult residents of the center. The minors reported they were touched inappropriately while waiting in line for food or medical examinations and that adults violated their privacy while showering. The commissioner for the protection of the child, the ombudsman, members of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Human Rights, and UNHCR criticized the government for keeping unaccompanied minors in the reception center until their age could be verified. The Asylum Service reported in September that according to its investigation the sexual harassment complaints were unfounded. It did, however, acknowledge it was a mistake and inappropriate to keep those who claimed they were unaccompanied minors with the general population. As a result the Asylum Service established a “safe zone” in the camp for persons claiming to be unaccompanied minors until their age could be verified. The Ministry of Labor reported that Social Welfare Services transferred two of the minors to a shelter for unaccompanied minors and the third to his sister’s house. Authorities referred the cases to the Children’s House, a multidisciplinary government center providing services to victims of child sexual abuse. According to the Ministry of Labor, two of the children interviewed by the center’s specialists did not report that they had been sexually harassed at the center. The third minor did not report sexual harassment and refused to be interviewed.

The government’s policy was not to hold irregular migrants in detention for long periods and to release them and provide them residency permits if they were not deported within 18 months. An NGO reported immigration authorities pressured migrant detainees to sign a voluntary return consent by threatening them with indefinite detention. The same NGO reported that some asylum seekers were detained for reasons of national security and remained in detention for several months without being informed of the evidence against them.

Refoulement: On March 20, marine police directed a boat carrying 115 Syrians to leave Republic of Cyprus territorial waters and return to Syria. Authorities cited COVID-related entry restrictions as the justification. The boat eventually capsized in waters under Turkish Cypriot administration, and Turkish Cypriot authorities deported the Syrians to Turkey. On June 4, a boat reportedly carrying 30 Syrians attempted to enter the country and was pushed back by marine police. The vessel eventually landed in the area under Turkish Cypriot administration. The Syrian passengers reportedly crossed irregularly into the government-controlled area. A third pushback of a boat reportedly carrying 10 Syrians was reported in late July. It also landed in the north and its passengers crossed irregularly into the government-controlled area. Between September 1 and 8, police pushed back six more boats arriving from Lebanon. According to UNHCR, government authorities kept two additional boats, reportedly carrying Syrian nationals, at sea for days. NGOs reported that passengers that came ashore on vessels from Lebanon were not given the opportunity to submit asylum claims. Instead they were immediately quarantined and quickly deported. NGOs claimed some asylum seekers were tricked into boarding buses they believed were going to a hospital, only to be taken to the port and deported on government-chartered vessels.

As of September 8, authorities reportedly deported a total of 115 persons who had arrived by boat from Lebanon. On September 9, a Ministry of Interior spokesperson stated that government officials had boarded the boats and verified the passengers were not asylum seekers but economic migrants. The ministry therefore decided to send them back to Lebanon. A UNHCR spokesperson responded on September 9 that UNCHR was not given access to the passengers of the boats that were pushed back and was therefore not in a position to verify that the passengers did not ask for asylum.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. On March 16, however, the government suspended asylum processing procedures as part of measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Registration of asylum applications resumed in late May. UNHCR and NGOs reported the suspension left many asylum seekers, including vulnerable populations, homeless and without benefits. The ombudsman received one official complaint from an asylum seeker who arrived on March 11 that authorities refused to accept the asylum seeker’s application, citing COVID-19 measures and that their passport had expired. The ombudsman’s investigation continued at year’s end.

Due to a significant increase in asylum claims in recent years and long delays in the examination of applications, more than 18,700 asylum claims were pending examination as of the end of September. The Asylum Service, the ombudsman, UNHCR, and NGOs reported some accelerated examination of asylum applications but the existing backlog remained and delays persisted in the appeals process. The government, UNHCR, and NGOs agreed that a significant proportion of registered asylum claims were not credible. In June 2019 the government established an International Protection Administrative Court (IPAC) to streamline the examination of asylum appeals. NGOs reported the establishment of IPAC was an improvement over the previous system, but there was not sufficient data to evaluate its effect on the duration of appeals.

Freedom of Movement: The government temporarily converted the two reception centers for asylum seekers in Kokkinotrimithia and Kofinou into closed centers with restricted entry and exit as part of the country-wide COVID-19 lockdown. The closure sparked a series of protests by camp residents in Kokkinotrimithia, a center designed to hold asylum seekers no more than 72 hours, who demanded to be allowed to freely exit. While movement restrictions were eased at Kofinou on May 21, entry and exit to Kokkinotrimithia remained restricted due to an outbreak of scabies. On May 27, UNHCR reported the decision effectively confined some 773 asylum seekers, including unaccompanied minors and other vulnerable persons, to the camp while only two residents were actually treated for scabies.

Media and NGOs reported unsanitary and harsh conditions for some asylum seekers, with insufficient food and lack of basic hygiene facilities, soap, and electricity. On April 23, after a visit to Kofinou and Kokkinotrimithia reception centers, the ombudsman reported that some of the newly installed tents at Kokkinotrimithia were placed on dirt that turned into mud after a heavy rainfall and some did not have electricity. She recommended opening of the centers as soon as pandemic conditions allowed, resumption of asylum procedures, and expediting the interviews of those who claimed to be minors to ensure no minors were left in temporary reception facilities.

There were several reports of arbitrary arrest and detentions of asylum seekers, including the May detention and confinement of 67 asylum seekers reported by the UNHCR (see section 1.d., Arbitrary Arrest or Detention).

Several NGOs reported concerns about deteriorating conditions at the Pournara Migrant Reception Center in Kokkinotrimithia in October and November. The pandemic’s effect on the economy impacted camp residents, and while asylum seekers were free to leave once processed during that time period, many chose not to because they could not find jobs or afford outside accommodation. Adding to the hardship, according to NGOs and government officials, the Social Welfare Service was not functioning effectively, leaving many without basic necessities such as access to food, rent subsidies, or healthcare. UNHCR reported some asylum seekers stay at the center for months.

In November the center reported operating near capacity with 549 total residents, including 52 children. A total of 37 migrants had tested positive for COVID, and 260 residents were confined to the quarantine section of the camp. New arrivals had slowed during the period of April to June when flights to the country were halted or reduced, but from September through early November, the center had processed an average of 20 arrivals per day.

The ombudsman made an unannounced visit on December 4 and issued a report on December 10 with a set of recommendations, including 1) the immediate release of 200 residents who meet the established conditions to leave; 2) the immediate transfer of 13 unaccompanied minors, being held on the basis of COVID mitigation protocols, to other appropriate facilities; 3) the creation of a safe zone for unaccompanied minors in quarantine; 4) an immediate vulnerability assessment of all individuals in the center and transfer of vulnerable persons to other facilities; 5) institution of a preliminary medical screening for all asylum seekers upon admission into the center; 6) speeding up efforts for the establishment of a second, specially designed accommodation facility outside the center to transfer any COVID-19 positive asylum seekers in the center; and 7) immediately transferring individuals who complete 14 days in the quarantine area and test negative for COVID-19 to the main area of the center.

Employment: Authorities allowed asylum seekers whose cases were awaiting adjudication to work after a one-month waiting period. In May 2019 the Ministry of Labor expanded the number of sectors in which asylum seekers could work to include employment in animal shelters and kennels, night shifts in bakeries and dairies, auto-body paint and repair, garden cleaning, and as kitchen assistants and cleaners in hotels and restaurants. The law previously restricted asylum seekers to employment in fisheries, the production of animal feed, waste management, gas stations and car washes, freight handling in the wholesale trade, building and outdoor cleaning, distribution of advertising and informational materials, and food delivery. NGOs and press reported refugees and asylum seekers lost jobs due to the long-term closure of many establishments in the tourism and hospitality sectors due to COVID-19 mitigation efforts. Prior to the pandemic, many were already dealing with tenuous financial situations and had difficulties finding and maintaining employment due to limited access to the labor market, lack of skills or education, and the lack of social capital and networks.

There were reports of racism by Labor Department officers who met with valid residency applicants seeking a contract of employment. During the year the Ministry of Labor and Social Insurance received 2,771 labor contracts applications for asylum seekers and by year’s end had approved 2,269 and rejected 54. NGOs reported the procedure for employing asylum seekers was slow and costly and discouraged employers from hiring asylum seekers.

Access to Basic Services: Recognized refugees have access to public services, such as education, health care, and the courts. The only permanent reception center for asylum seekers, located in Kofinou, remained full, and the majority of asylum seekers lacked proper housing. UNHCR and local NGOs noted a high number of asylum seekers faced homelessness and destitution. They reported that many asylum seekers slept in outdoor parks or temporarily stayed with friends, relatives, or strangers, often sleeping on floors without adequate access to hygiene facilities. The growing number of new arrivals, the limited supply of affordable accommodations, delays in the provision of government financial support, and the backlog in the examination of asylum applications increased the risk of homelessness, according to local NGOs.

Emergency measures introduced to contain the spread of COVID-19 included restrictions on freedom of movement, social distancing requirements, and limits on gatherings, as well as the closure of public spaces and certain businesses, government institutions, and facilities. NGOs and UNHCR reported that these actions had personal, public, economic, and social implications on the human rights and living conditions of refugees and asylum seekers. Primarily these included prolonged detention at overcrowded government reception facilities in poor conditions (see “Freedom of Movement” above); the loss of jobs and livelihoods (see “Employment” above); restrictions in access to healthcare; adverse mental health impacts; delays in social welfare payments; a lack of access to technology, education and personal development opportunities; delays in asylum and migration procedures; and limited access to the legal and judicial systems.

The ombudsman received several complaints concerning the delivery of welfare support and has requested the views of the Ministry of Labor on the matter. NGOs reported that during the lockdown to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, the government suspended housing subsidies provided to asylum seekers who were reportedly forcibly removed from their rented accommodations and transferred to the Kokkinotrimithia reception center. An unspecified number of asylum seekers accommodated by the government in hotels were also moved to Kokkinotrimithia, which the government temporarily turned into a closed reception center for the duration of the restrictions (April 8 to June 15).

UNHCR, NGOs, and asylum seekers reported delays and inconsistencies in the delivery of benefits. On March 18, the Council of Ministers abolished the coupon system for welfare support provided to asylum seekers and replaced it with direct payments. In previous years the ombudsman and NGOs reported that the system of providing welfare support to asylum seekers via coupons did not appropriately accommodate the special needs of vulnerable groups. The coupons could be redeemed only in specific shops that may lack some supplies, were usually more expensive than other grocery stores, and were often inconveniently located. The NGO KISA reported these shops exploited the vulnerable position of asylum seekers and charged up to 20 percent in fees to cash government checks. In October the Social Welfare Service began printing and mailing benefit checks to asylum seekers or paying welfare benefits directly into beneficiaries’ accounts, in accordance with the new system. NGOs complained that many asylum seekers lack reliable, stable mailing addresses and the ability to cash checks, and noted that banks are unwilling or reluctant to open accounts for asylum seekers. Homeless asylum seekers faced difficulties in opening a bank account without a valid address.

Asylum seekers who refused an available job could be denied state benefits. An NGO reported that mothers with young children and asylum seekers with medical conditions that prevented them from working in the permitted sectors of employment were sometimes refused state benefits. The Ministry of Labor reported that it examines the reasons an asylum seeker declined a job offer and if found valid, benefits remain in place.

In May 2019 the Council of Ministers introduced a series of changes to improve the housing condition of asylum seekers. It approved an increase, effective June 1, 2019, in the housing subsidy provided to asylum seekers by Social Welfare Services, established criteria for the number of persons who can reside in a rented establishment based on the number of rooms, and began providing the initial rent deposit directly to the asylum seekers instead of to the landlord. An NGO stated the increase was not sufficient to cover the steep rise in rent prices. The Council of Ministers also authorized continued financial support to asylum seeker families even if a member of the family finds employment, provided that the salary does not exceed the total assistance to which the family is entitled.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary protection, called subsidiary protection, to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. The government provides subsidiary protection status for citizens or residents of Syria who entered the country legally or illegally. All persons seeking such status were required to provide a Syrian passport or other identification. Authorities granted subsidiary protection to 1,209 persons during the first nine months of the year.

Czech Republic

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

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. The law provides for some limitations to this freedom, including in cases of hate speech, Holocaust denial, and denial of Communist-era crimes.

Freedom of Speech: The law prohibits speech that incites hatred based on race, religion, class, nationality, or other group affiliation. It also limits the denial of the Holocaust and Communist-era crimes. Individuals who are found guilty can serve up to three years in prison. The law is also applied to online, print, and broadcast media.

Appellate courts in two separate cases confirmed convictions of two men who posted online comments praising the 2019 fatal terrorist attack at a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand. One man received a 30-month suspended sentence with a four-year probationary period. The other man received a three-year suspended sentence with a five-year probationary period.

The ombudsperson conducted a survey of 2016-19 case law concerning hate speech. The results indicated an increase in online hate speech and resort to courts, with one-third of the country’s courts encountering hate speech cases. Some 60 percent of cases involved attacks on groups of individuals based on nationality, ethnicity, skin color, religion, or sexual orientation, and the remaining cases involved hate speech against a specific person or a group. Roma and Muslims were the victims in 49 percent and 23 percent of decisions, respectively. Men committed 94 percent of underlying incidents, and 83 percent took place on Facebook. More than 90 percent of perpetrators were convicted in trial court proceedings. The most frequent punishment was a suspended sentence averaging 10 months or a fine.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. President Zeman, his spokesperson, and parties on the far right and left publicly alleged bias in both public and private media outlets. The Freedom and Direct Democracy Party and the Communist Party openly sought to appoint politically polarizing figures to public media supervisory boards, raising concerns they were attempting to violate the political neutrality of these institutions. Parliament appointed six new members (out of 15) to the Czech Television Council. Observers raised concerns over the impartiality of some of the new members based on their public remarks skeptical of the need for independent media.

The law prohibits elected officials from controlling media properties while in office. Prime Minister Babis, who owned two prominent newspapers and other media outlets, placed the ownership of his media assets in a trust fund in 2017. Observers, however, maintained that this measure did not insulate media from the influence of the current government. In 2018 Transparency International (TI) lodged an administrative complaint arguing that Babis still controlled media assets. The regional government office reviewing the administrative complaint rejected TI’s argument. The supreme public prosecutor declined TI’s request to review the decision.

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

The law prohibits, among others, speech that denigrates a nation, race, ethnic, or other group of persons; incites hatred toward members of a group or advocates the restriction of their civil rights; and publicly denies, questions, endorses, or vindicates genocide.

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

In June the Supreme Administrative Court upheld a lower court’s rulings on the limits of President Zeman’s role in appointing professors to Charles University. By refusing to appoint two professors in 2015 and 2018, the court ruled that Zeman had overstepped his constitutional authority. Zeman has so far not complied with the ruling, which requires him to act on the nominations without further delay.

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 https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

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

From March to May, the government imposed a state of emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with restrictions on freedom of movement inside the country and travel abroad. The government lifted the restrictions on travel abroad at the end of April and incrementally eased restrictions on internal movement as the pandemic eased.

Foreign nationals who were physically present in the country during the spring state of emergency were exempt from enforcement related to their immigration or residency status and were allowed to remain in the country up to 60 days after the expiration of the state of emergency.

Not applicable.

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

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Acts of physical intimidation and vandalism remained serious concerns. NGOs focusing on migration issues reported continued telephone and email threats (see section 6, Other Societal Violence and Discrimination).

NGOs reported that some shelters in the country declined protections to migrants as a result of restrictions to address the pandemic. In one case a Syrian woman and her minor children were unable to gain access to a shelter for domestic violence survivors to escape an abusive husband or father due to COVID-19 restrictions. An NGO provided the woman and the children with housing and assistance.

The ombudsperson visited detention centers for asylum seekers in the second quarter of the year and reported “significant restrictions on rights.” Specifically, it noted that the measures imposed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 were excessive and “created an environment where individuals were treated as potential sources of infection rather than people.”

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has an established system for providing protection to refugees and other specifically endangered foreign nationals.

Under the law the Ministry of Interior should decide on asylum cases within six months if the applicant has submitted all required documents. According to the ministry, during the first eight months of the year the average length of asylum procedures was 79 days. The length of asylum procedures in 90 percent of cases met all legal requirements. In the remaining cases, asylum applicants received information about new deadlines for completing the asylum process in compliance with the law. Observers criticized the length and substance of some decisions.

The European Court of Justice ruled in April that the Czech Republic failed to fulfill obligations under the European Commission’s (EC’s) 2015 temporary mechanism for the relocation of applicants for international protection (EU Relocation Scheme). The government has maintained a strong stance against mandatory quotas.

In 2018 the Ministry of Interior granted asylum to eight Chinese Christians who applied for asylum in 2016 but rejected 70 applications by other Chinese Christians. According to ministry officials, the rejected applicants were not able to prove their claims of persecution or that their lives were in danger as practicing Christians. Most of the rejected applicants appealed the ministry’s decisions in court, and some cases were returned to the ministry for review. In November 2019, the Supreme Administrative Court stated that persecution does not have to be personal but may relate to a group and remanded the refused asylum applications to the ministry. In the meantime the ministry granted applications by two of the Chinese Christians for permanent residence and indicated it would accept similar applications for adjustment of status.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country generally adheres to the Dublin III Regulation, which calls for authorities to return asylum seekers to the first EU country they entered. The Ministry of Interior accepted asylum applications from individuals arriving from or through countries deemed to be safe, as defined by law. Authorities reviewed all cases individually, but usually did not grant international protection to these applicants. There are 24 countries on the list of safe countries.

Freedom of Movement: The length of detention for illegal migrants and rejected asylum seekers was shortened due to implementing a voluntary return system. By law, migrants facing deportation may be detained for up to 180 days. If there are children accompanying the adults, detention can last no more than 90 days with no possibility of further extension. Vulnerable persons, including families, cannot be detained if they apply for international protection.

As of September there were 150 migrants in detention facilities in the country. Fourteen migrants were in a detention facility specifically designed for vulnerable groups, single women without children, and families with children. There were no forced or voluntary returns of families with minors during the year. The Ministry of Interior reported there were no displaced unaccompanied children in the country during the year.

Durable Solutions: The government generally rejected requests within the EU Relocation Scheme to accept designated numbers of refugees and asylum seekers, including a request by the Greek government to accept 40 unaccompanied children younger than age 14 from Greek refugee camps. The Ministry of Interior based its decision on alleged security concerns.

A national integration program managed by the government in close cooperation with UNHCR and NGOs continued. Under the State Integration Program, beneficiaries of international protection are entitled to temporary accommodation, social services, Czech language training, and assistance with finding employment and permanent housing. Children are entitled to school education. As of July the government provided state funding for integration centers that were previously dependent on EU funding and introduced new integration measures, effective January 2021, to provide mandatory adaptation and integration courses for foreigners.

The Ministry of Interior started its own assisted voluntary return program in 2017 and effectively used it to help 1,574 individuals return to their country of origin. As of September 1, approximately 467 individuals had been voluntarily returned to their countries of origin.

The Ministry of Interior reported 519 stateless persons in the country at the end of 2019. UNHCR, however, estimated there were 1,394 persons that fell under its statelessness mandate at the end of 2019. The ministry reported five stateless persons applied for international protection and that four were granted asylum or subsidiary protection in 2019. The country did not have a legal definition of statelessness or a statelessness determination procedure. Stateless persons who do not possess a permanent residency permit were not entitled to receive an identity document. The law allows stateless persons to obtain citizenship after meeting certain criteria.

Denmark

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

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 Speech: The law prohibits any public speech or the dissemination of statements or other pronouncements that threaten, deride, or degrade a group because of gender, race, skin color, national or ethnic background, religion, or sexual orientation. Authorities may fine offenders or imprison them for up to two years. On June 2, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance reported that the police case file-processing system registers reported offenses of hate speech as well as their judicial outcomes. It is still not possible, however, to collect data of a more detailed character, such as category of offense, type of hate motivation, or target group, from the system.

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 online communications without appropriate legal authority.

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

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

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

Not applicable.

The government did not participate with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in its program to resettle refugees.

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The CPT reported a number of persons who were detained for the up to 72-hour period allowed by law complained that they were unable to consult a lawyer.

In September 2019 the government stated it would close the Sjaelsmark Departure Center, a facility run by the Danish Prison and Probation Service for rejected asylum seekers who cannot be returned to their country of origin. In November 2019 the government committed to remove all the children in the center and their parents from Sjaelsmark before April. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ministry of Immigration and Integration delayed this move until August 25, when 48 families with all 89 children in the center were moved to the Avnstrup Departure Center.

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 government limits the rights of persons with subsidiary or temporary protection to family reunification, restrictions not applied to persons recognized as refugees. For example, persons with subsidiary or temporary protection must wait at least three years before applying for family reunification for their spouse or cohabitating partner and minor children. In contrast, persons with refugee status can apply for family reunification at any time.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country employs the EU’s Dublin III regulation, which permits authorities to turn back or deport individuals who entered or attempted to enter the country through a “safe country of transit” or are registered in another Dublin regulation state.

Freedom of Movement: The law limits the initial period of immigration detention to six months, which can be extended to 18 months if special circumstances exist.

Access to Basic Services: The law allows municipalities to accommodate refugees only in temporary housing.

Durable Solutions: The government’s policy encourages repatriation of refugees rather than integration into society. The state provides financial assistance to refugees or asylum seekers who choose to return home. The state pays for their travel and provides a small sum of money to help them resettle in their homeland. The government provides similar financial incentives to nonrefugee or non-asylum-seeking residents who choose to return to their homelands. This policy decreases the likelihood of long-term residency permits for refugees and asylum seekers as it encourages repatriation over integration.

Temporary Protection: Through the end of September, the government provided temporary protection to 77 persons who did not qualify as refugees.

According to UNHCR, 8,672 stateless persons lived in the country at the end of 2019. Stateless persons can apply for citizenship if they have lived in the country for at least eight years.

Estonia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides 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 speech, including for the press.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction.

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.

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

The constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, and the government generally respected these freedoms. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government introduced several temporary restrictions on public assembly, which changed in proportion to the assessed risks throughout the year.

While the constitution provides for freedom of association, the law specifies that only citizens may join political parties. There were no restrictions on the ability of noncitizens to join other civil groups.

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

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

Not applicable.

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.

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 NGO Estonian Human Rights Center and other NGOs provided legal and social assistance to asylum seekers in cooperation with authorities. Government officials indicated that access to legal aid was available at every stage of the asylum procedure. The Estonian Human Rights Center continued to raise concerns about the prolonged detention of asylum seekers during adjudication of cases.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The government has a policy of denying asylum to applicants from a “safe” country of origin or transit. Authorities asserted that they granted interviews to all individual asylum seekers.

Durable Solutions: The government assisted in the safe, voluntary return of some refugees to their countries of origin under an International Organization for Migration program. The country worked with the EU and UNHCR to implement a refugee resettlement program. Naturalization is open to all permanent residents of the country after five years’ residence, provided they pass mandatory citizenship and language examinations.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. Temporary protection includes the right to work, access to education, and health care. In 2019 the government granted temporary protection via residence permits to 10 persons.

UNHCR categorized 76,639 persons residing in the country as stateless in 2019. As of July 1, according to government statistics, there were approximately 70,000 residents of undetermined citizenship, or 5.3 percent of the population. Nearly all were ethnic Russians, Ukrainians, or Belarusians. These persons are eligible to apply for naturalized citizenship, and some of them may hold Russian, Ukrainian, or Belarusian citizenship.

There are statutory procedures that offer persons older than 18 opportunities for obtaining citizenship by naturalization, but some human rights observers regarded them as inadequate, and their rate of naturalization remained low. To facilitate acquisition of citizenship, authorities funded civics and language courses and simplified naturalization for persons with disabilities. The government also simplified the Estonian language requirements so that applicants older than 65 are no longer required to take a written language examination, although they still must pass an oral one. The government also provides citizenship, without any special application by the parents, to persons younger than 15 who were born in the country and whose parents were not citizens of Estonia or of any other country and had lived in Estonia for five years at the time of the birth of the child.

Finland

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

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 Speech: Public speech intended to incite discrimination against any national, racial, religious, or ethnic group is a crime. Hate speech is not a separate criminal offense but may constitute grounds for an aggravated sentence for other offenses.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: The distribution of hate material intended to incite discrimination against any national, racial, religious, or ethnic group in print or broadcast media, books, or online newspapers or journals is a crime.

Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views with little restriction.

Nongovernmental Impact: Journalists who covered sensitive topics, including immigration, far-right organizations, and terrorism, reported harassment by private entities, including being targeted for defamation.

On January 10, the Helsinki District Court denied journalist Jessikka Aro’s application for a restraining order against Panu Huuhtanen and Tiina Keskimaki, whom she accused of harassment. Aro alleged that since 2018 the individuals harassed her online following her reporting on Russian disinformation activities, causing her fear and anxiety. The court acknowledged that the behavior of the individuals caused Aro fear but reasoned that the actual threat posed to Aro during speaking and other public engagements was not serious enough to warrant abridging the free speech rights of the two individuals. Previously Aro had been the target of a sustained, intense harassment campaign because of her work for which two other persons were convicted.

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

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

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 https://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 continued to accept returned asylum seekers who had first entered in the country but then moved on to other European countries according to the Dublin Regulation. Transfers were suspended between March and May during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Human Rights Center stated that the government communicated poorly during the COVID-19 pandemic by issuing strongly worded recommendations concerning internal and cross-border travel that were broadly interpreted as legally binding rules. Under existing law the government may only recommend travel limitations for Finnish citizens.

Between March 28 and April 15, the government closed the borders of the Uusimaa region and blocked exit and entry with police officers. The parliamentary ombudsman investigated border controls and found police issued 117 fines, 159 warnings, and turned away 4,383 persons. The report concluded that police issued several unjustified fines for attempts to cross the regional border since, according to the law, attempts to violate movement restrictions are not punishable.

Not applicable.

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.

Refoulement: In November 2019 the ECHR ruled that the government violated the European Convention on Human Rights when it deported an Iraqi man to his country of origin, where he was allegedly killed three weeks later. Based on information subsequently received from Iraqi authorities, police believe he faked his own death after returning to Iraq.

The number of Russian-origin members of Jehovah’s Witnesses applying for asylum based on alleged religious persecution declined significantly. The Finnish Immigration Service rejected most of the claims by members of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and unofficial reports indicated that asylum adjudicators did not consider membership in the church alone to be sufficient basis for an asylum claim. Over 50 cases of Jehovah’s Witnesses asylum applicants were pending before the Supreme Administrative Court. Some Jehovah’s Witnesses applicants whose appeals have been denied have already returned to Russia voluntarily.

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. Parliament sets an annual quota for refugee admissions, and the government decides its allocation. Asylum seekers have the right to free legal representation throughout their application procedure. According to civil society organizations, asylum seekers continued to lack adequate access to legal assistance during the initial stages of the asylum application process and during subsequent appeals. The Human Rights Center, a public institution affiliated with the parliamentary ombudsman, stated that minor improvements in legal assistance to asylum applicants were made during the year, including greater incentives for lawyers to represent applicants and quality controls instituted by the Finnish Immigration Service in the handling of asylum applications.

On July 8, 24 unaccompanied children arrived from Greece. They were being processed as unaccompanied asylum seekers.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The government adheres to the EU’s Dublin III Regulation that establishes which EU member state is responsible for examining an asylum application.

Durable Solutions: According to the Finnish Immigration Service, in addition to the parliamentary quota, the government accepted 750 refugees for resettlement in 2019 under the EU’s refugee relocation program. The government also assisted in the safe, voluntary return of migrants to their home countries.

Temporary Protection: From January to August, the government provided temporary protection to 289 individuals who did not qualify as refugees but who were deemed to qualify for subsidiary protection. During the same period, the government also offered protection to 125 individuals based on “other grounds,” including medical and compassionate grounds.

According to the UNHCR, 2,801 stateless persons resided in the country at the end of 2019. Involuntarily stateless persons and certain other special groups, such as refugees, have a shorter residency requirement–four years instead of six–than other persons before they are eligible to apply for citizenship. A child may obtain citizenship from either the mother or father regardless of the child’s place of birth and may also acquire citizenship if the child is born in the country and would otherwise be stateless.

France

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

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 Speech: While individuals could criticize the government publicly or privately without reprisal, there were some limitations on freedom of speech. Strict antidefamation laws prohibit racially or religiously motivated verbal and physical abuse. Written or oral speech that incites racial or ethnic hatred and denies the Holocaust or crimes against humanity is illegal. Authorities may deport a noncitizen for publicly using “hate speech” or speech constituting a threat of terrorism.

On June 18, the Constitutional Council invalidated core provisions of the new law against online hate speech, adopted by parliament on May 13. The so-called Avia Law required online platforms to remove within 24 hours the following: hateful content based on race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, and religion; language trivializing genocide or crimes against humanity; and content deemed sexual harassment. Content related to terrorism and child pornography had to be removed within one hour of being flagged by a user. Social media companies faced fines up to 1.25 million euros ($1.75 million) if they failed to remove the content within the required timeframes. The Constitutional Council ruled that these provisions of the law infringed on freedom of speech and were “not appropriate, necessary, and proportionate.”

On June 19, the Constitutional Court found unconstitutional the law against downloading and possessing files that condone or justify terrorism. The judges found it violated freedoms of expression and communication and stated it was duplicative of existing antiterrorist laws. Introduced following the 2015 wave of terrorist attacks, the law was intended to “prevent the indoctrination of individuals susceptible to commit such acts.”

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: While independent media were active and generally expressed a wide variety of views without restriction, print and broadcast media, books, and online newspapers and journals were subject to the same antidefamation and hate-speech laws that limited freedom of expression.

The law provides protection to journalists who may be compelled to reveal sources only in cases where serious crimes occurred and access to a journalist’s sources was required to complete an official investigation.

Violence and Harassment: In 2019 the NGO Reporters without Borders (RSF) noted growing hatred directed at reporters in the country and an “unprecedented” level of violence from both protesters and riot police directed at journalists during Yellow Vest protests between 2018 and May 2019. The RSF, which reported dozens of cases of police violence and excessive firing of flash-ball rounds at reporters, filed a complaint with the Paris public prosecutor’s office in December 2019. As of year’s end, the investigations were ongoing.

On September 17, Interior Minister Darmanin introduced a new national law-enforcement doctrine aimed at reducing injuries by law enforcement personnel during demonstrations. Certain provisions, including the designation of a referent officer responsible for engaging credentialed members of the press aroused concern from human rights and press organizations, who argued the rules could be used to restrict press access. On September 22, the RSF and 40 media companies requested clarification from Interior Minister Darmanin.

UNESCO’s September report, Safety of Journalists Covering ProtestsPreserving Freedom of the Press During Times of Civil Unrest, pointed to the use of flash ball ammunition by French law enforcement agencies as an example of disproportionate use of force. Several journalists were injured by flash balls in 2018, including Boris Kharlamoff, a journalist for the audio press agency A2PRL, who claimed he was hit in the side even though he presented a press badge, and Liberation reporter Nicolas Descottes, who was struck in the face.

Libel/Slander Laws: Defamation is a criminal offense, although it does not carry the possibility of imprisonment as punishment. The law distinguishes between defamation, which consists of the accusation of a particular fact, and insult, which does not.

National Security: The Committee to Protect Journalists raised concerns about police and prosecutors questioning reporters on national security grounds.

Nongovernmental impact: On September 2, to mark the start of the trial of the January 2015 attacks against the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, the magazine reprinted on its front page the controversial cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad that led terrorists to target its headquarters. The reprinted cover provoked condemnation from several Muslim countries and threats from al Qaeda. After receiving death threats, Charlie Hebdo senior staffer Marika Bret required police assistance to be exfiltrated from her home on September 14. On September 23, more than 100 news outlets signed an open letter calling for public support of Charlie Hebdo.

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.

Under the law intelligence services have the power to monitor suspected threats to public order and detect future terrorists. The law also provides a legal framework for the intelligence services’ activities. Laws against hate speech apply to the internet.

In a May 28 report, the Central Office on the Fight against Crimes Linked to Information and Communication Technology announced it had ordered the removal of 4,332 terrorist-related online contents from February to the end of December, 2019, a 57 percent decrease compared with the previous year. Of 30,883 URLs that internet users flagged to authorities, the report noted it assessed 14,327 (46 percent) of them to be illegal, including 656 URLs related to terrorism–a 63 percent decrease from 2018. The office attributed the drop in terrorist-related content to less online publication by terrorist organizations and to successful EUROPOL efforts in countering and preventing terrorist propaganda online. The majority of illegal content the office found related to child pornography.

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

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, subject to certain security conditions, and the government generally respected these rights.

The government enacted security legislation in 2019 that gave security forces greater powers at demonstrations, including the power to search bags and cars in and around demonstrations. It also approved making it a criminal offense for protesters to conceal their faces at demonstrations, punishable by one year in prison and 15,000 euros ($18,000) in fines.

In 2019, 210 persons were detained under a new ban on wearing face coverings to protests, which many did to protect themselves from police tear gas In a report released on September 29, Amnesty International accused authorities of using “vague laws” to crack down on antigovernment protesters and deter others from exercising their right to demonstrate. The report said many peaceful demonstrators had been fined, arrested, and prosecuted. According to Amnesty, more than 40,000 persons were convicted in 2018 and 2019 “on the basis of vague laws” for crimes including “contempt of public officials,” “participation in a group with a view to committing violent acts,” and “organizing a protest without complying with notification requirements.”

On January 27, then interior minister Christophe Castaner announced police would stop using GLI-F4 grenades, tear gas grenades containing 26 grams of TNT, that reportedly injured numerous protesters at demonstrations.

On September 17, the government enacted legislation establishing a new doctrine for maintaining order at demonstrations that was intended to be “more protective for the demonstrators” and “reduce the number of injured during demonstrations.” Among the changes are replacing the hand grenade model that is in service with a new model deemed less dangerous, putting in place stricter supervision of defense ball launchers, and implementing the widespread presence of a “supervisor” who assists the shooters to “assess the overall situation and the movements of the demonstrators.”

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

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://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 law permits the government to cancel and seize passports and identification cards of French nationals in some circumstances, such as when there are serious reasons to believe that they plan to travel abroad to join a terrorist group or engage in terrorist activities.

On March 16, President Macron announced nationwide lock-down measures aimed at curbing the COVID 19 pandemic outbreak. Residents were asked to stay at home except to buy groceries, travel to work, exercise, or seek medical care. Approximately 100,000 police and gendarmes were mobilized throughout the country to enforce the measures, including with the help of drones and helicopters in some regions. Violators faced fines of 135 euros ($162) for first-time offenders, increasing to 3,700 euros ($4,440) for multiple offenses with maximum punishment of up to six months in prison for more than four offenses in a single month.

The Ministry of the Interior announced that police executed 20.7 million interventions, resulting in 1.1 million fines and 570 trials. Several cities and municipalities, including Nice and Cannes, introduced curfews. The country never completely closed its borders, but travel became heavily restricted beginning in April. Persons travelling from within Europe were allowed in for essential reasons only and needed to present travel permits at the border. After eight weeks, the government lifted lockdown measures on May 11. On June 15, the government lifted coronavirus restrictions on movement at its European borders (land, air, and sea) for EU members and a few other countries.

On October 14, President Macron announced a 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew in areas most impacted by COVID-19, which included Paris and the Ile-de-France region, Grenoble, Lille, Lyon, Aix-Marseille, Montpellier, Rouen, Saint-Etienne, and Toulouse. On October 22, Prime Minister Castex announced the extension of the curfew to an additional 38 departments in France, bringing the total number of persons who must adhere to the restrictive measures to 46 million (two-thirds of population) in 54 departments.

On October 28, President Macron announced a second wave of nationwide lock-down measures aimed at curbing the COVID 19 pandemic outbreak. French citizens were required to stay at home except to buy groceries, go to school, travel to work, exercise, or seek medical care.

In-country Movement: The law requires persons engaged in itinerant activities with a fixed domicile to obtain a license that is renewable every four years. Itinerant persons without a fixed abode must possess travel documents.

Not applicable.

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, returning refugees, and other persons of concern.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Calais continued to be a gathering point for migrants from the Middle East and Africa trying to reach the United Kingdom. As of September authorities estimated that approximately 1,000 migrants and refugees lived around Calais, while support groups said the number was closer to 1,500.

On July 21, several human rights groups warned in a letter to Interior Minister Darmanin that hundreds of migrants in the Calais area “no longer had access to drinking water, showers, [and] food.” The regional prefect claimed that two meal distribution sites were functioning and had the capacity to distribute 1,000 meals per day. He stated, “We also have shuttles bringing people to showers, and demand has been consistent for several weeks with about 150 showers per day.” In a September 24 statement issued following a two-day visit to Calais, however, the defender of rights denounced the “degrading and inhumane” living conditions of migrants living in the city. On September 25, the Council of State refused to suspend the order issued by the region’s prefect banning feeding migrants in the center of Calais. On September 29, police dismantled a camp of an estimated 800 migrants and refugees there. According to the prefect, it was the largest dismantling of a Calais camp since the “Jungle” was cleared of approximately 9,000 migrants in 2015 and 2016. The Pas-de-Calais prefecture asserted that conditions in the 500 tents at the site posed “serious problems of security, health, and order,” particularly for staff and patients of a nearby health center. The evacuated migrants were brought to shelters in Pas-de-Calais, other departments in the north, and other regions of the country.

On July 7, the Aix-en-Provence Court of Appeals upheld the May 7 conviction of two police officers for the illegal arrest in April of a legally documented Afghan refugee. The officers drove the man 18 miles from the point of arrest and abandoned him; he also claimed they beat him. One officer received a three-year prison sentence (one year suspended), and the other 18 months (six months suspended), a reduction of their original sentences. The officers were prohibited from police work, one permanently and one for three years.

On July 2, the European Court of Human Rights convicted France for violating protections against inhuman and degrading conditions, prohibited by the European Convention on Human Rights, in the 2013 case of three adult male asylum seekers. The court awarded the victims a total of 32,000 euros ($38,400). The court noted the individuals had to wait between 90 and 131 days before being able to register their asylum claims, rather than the 15 days France required at the time. After registering, the men still could not access lodging and the temporary allowance for asylum seekers, forcing them to live on the streets for months.

Access to Asylum: The laws provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has a system for providing protection to refugees. The system was active and accessible to those seeking protection. The Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Refugees (OFPRA) provided asylum application forms in 24 languages, including English, Albanian, Russian, Serbo-Croatian, Turkish, Tamil, and Arabic. Applicants, however, must complete them in French, generally without government-funded language assistance. Applications for asylum must be made on French territory or at a French border-crossing point. Asylum seekers outside of the country may request from a French embassy or consulate a special visa for the purpose of seeking asylum. After arrival in France, the visa holder must follow the same procedure as other asylum seekers in France; however, the visa holder is authorized to work while his or her asylum application is processed and evaluated, unlike other applicants. Asylum seekers may appeal decisions of OFPRA to the National Court on Asylum Law.

In 2018 parliament adopted an asylum and immigration bill intended to reduce the average time for processing asylum applications to six months and shorten from 120 to 90 days the period asylum seekers have to make an application. It also includes measures to facilitate the removal of aliens in detention, extend from 45 to 90 days the maximum duration of administrative detention, and from 16 to 24 hours the duration of administrative detention to verify an individual’s right to stay. The law extends the duration of residence permits for persons granted subsidiary protection and for stateless refugees from one year to four years and enables foreigners who have not been able to register for asylum to access shelter. It includes measures to strengthen the protection of girls and young men exposed to the risk of sexual mutilation, states that a country persecuting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons cannot be considered “safe,” and adopts protective provisions on the right to remain for victims of domestic violence. By law unaccompanied migrant children are taken into the care of the child protection system.

OFPRA stated that priority attention was given to female victims of violence, persons persecuted on the basis of their sexual orientation, victims of human trafficking, unaccompanied minors, and victims of torture.

On September 29, the Anafe migrant assistance group alleged rights violations on the country’s borders, including officials preventing new arrivals from filing asylum claims. “France violates daily the international conventions it has ratified, European law, and its own internal legislation,” Anafe claimed. The report claimed authorities engaged in illegal practices, abuse of procedures, and violations of fundamental rights.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The government considered 16 countries to be “safe countries of origin” for purposes of asylum. A “safe country” is one that provides for compliance with the principles of liberty, democracy, rule of law, and fundamental human rights. This policy reduced the chances of an asylum seeker from one of these countries obtaining asylum but did not prevent it. While individuals originating in a safe country of origin may apply for asylum, they may receive only a special form of temporary protection that allows them to remain in the country. Authorities examined asylum requests through an emergency procedure that may not exceed 15 days. Countries considered “safe” included Albania, Armenia, Benin, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cabo Verde, Georgia, Ghana, India, Kosovo, Mauritius, Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Senegal, and Serbia.

Freedom of Movement: Authorities maintained administrative holding centers for foreigners pending deportation. Authorities could hold undocumented migrants in these facilities for a maximum of 90 days, except in cases related to terrorism. There were 23 holding centers on the mainland and three in the overseas territories, with a total capacity of 1,970 persons.

On September 22, six refugee and migrant assistance associations (Association Service Social Familial Migrants, Forum-Refugies-Cosi, France Terre d’Asile, the Inter-Movement Committee for Aid of Evacuees (Cimade), Ordre de Malte, and Solidarite Mayotte) released a joint annual report that estimated 54,000 undocumented migrants were placed in administrative holding centers in 2019, representing a 20 percent increase from 45,000 persons in such centers in 2018.

According to the associations’ annual report, the government detained 3,380 children, including 3,101 in Mayotte. The report noted, however, that in 80 percent of the cases, the duration of detentions did not exceed 24 hours. Since the law prohibits the separation of children from their parents, they were detained together. Civil society organizations continued to criticize the provision of the 2018 asylum and immigration bill that doubled the maximum detention time for foreigners subject to deportation to up to 90 days. In 2019 the government did not report uniformly screening migrants in Mayotte for trafficking indicators prior to their deportation. The government did not report taking steps to address the 3,000 to 4,000 unaccompanied Comorian minors at risk for sex and labor trafficking in the French department of Mayotte by offering protection services such as medical, shelter, or education.

Durable Solutions: The government has provisions to manage a range of solutions for integration, resettlement, and return of migrants and unsuccessful asylum seekers. The government accepted refugees for resettlement from other countries and facilitated local integration and naturalization, particularly of refugees in protracted situations. The government assisted in the safe, voluntary return of migrants and unsuccessful asylum seekers to their home countries. In 2018, the latest year for which statistics were available, the government voluntarily repatriated 10,678 undocumented migrants, including 2,709 minors, to their countries of origin. As of April the government offered an allowance of 650 euros ($780) per person (adults and children) for voluntary return for all asylum seekers coming from countries whose citizens need a visa for France and 300 euros ($360) per person (adults and children) coming from countries whose citizens do not need a visa for France and citizens coming from Kosovo.

A parliamentary report released on September 23 found that despite recognizing significant progress since 2018, progress remained to be made in the integration of refugees and asylum seekers in the country. The report stressed the need to improve access to French learning and employment. It recommended the creation of counselors specialized in accompanying refugees to facilitate access to employment.

Temporary Protection: Authorities may grant individuals a one-year renewable permit and may extend the permit for an additional two years. According to OFPRA, the government did not grant temporary protection in 2019, the most recent year for which information was available.

OFPRA reported there were 1,493 stateless persons in the country at the end of 2019. It attributed statelessness to various factors, including contradictions among differing national laws, government stripping of nationality, and lack of birth registration. As the agency responsible for the implementation of international conventions on refugees and stateless persons, OFPRA provided benefits to stateless persons. OFPRA’s annual report stated that it made 364 stateless status requests in 2019 and granted stateless status to 56 persons in 2019. The government provided a one-year residence permit marked “private and family life” to persons deemed stateless that allowed them to work. After two permit renewals, stateless persons could apply for and obtain a 10-year residence permit.

The law affords persons the opportunity to gain citizenship. A person may qualify to acquire citizenship if: either of the person’s parents is a citizen, the person was legally adopted by a citizen, the person was born in the country to stateless parents or to parents whose nationality does not transfer to the child, or the person marries a citizen. A person who has reached the legal age of majority (18) may apply for citizenship through naturalization after five years of habitual residence in the country. Applicants for citizenship must have good knowledge of both the French language and civics.

Germany

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press. While the government generally respected these rights, it imposed limits on groups it deemed extremist. The government arrested, tried, convicted, and imprisoned a number of individuals for speech that incited racial hatred, endorsed Nazism, or denied the Holocaust (see also section 6, Anti-Semitism). An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression.

Freedom of Speech: In July the city of Wiesbaden outlawed the wearing of symbols resembling the Jewish yellow badge with the inscription “unvaccinated.” Some protesters and antivaccination activists had been wearing such symbols during demonstrations against coronavirus regulations. Wiesbaden mayor Oliver Franz called the symbols an “unacceptable comparison” that would trivialize the Holocaust.

In February state governments in Baden-Wuerttemberg, Hamburg, Rhineland-Palatinate, Saarland, and Schleswig-Holstein announced they would ban school students from wearing full-face veils. Baden-Wuerttemberg implemented the ban in July.

In August the Federal Labor Court rejected an appeal by Berlin against a regional labor court’s 2018 judgment that a general ban on teachers wearing religious symbols in schools was discriminatory. The federal court found the Berlin ban violated teachers’ freedom of religion.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. The law bans Nazi propaganda, Holocaust denial, and fomenting racial hatred.

Violence and Harassment: On May 1, an estimated 20 to 25 men attacked a seven-member camera team in Berlin filming a demonstration against the COVID restrictions, hospitalizing six of the camera team. Berlin’s police chief Barbara Slowik announced the state security service was investigating the matter, but on May 2, six suspects were released from custody, and no arrest warrants were issued.

In August the German Union of Journalists and the German Federation of Journalists criticized Berlin police for failing to protect journalists covering COVID protests. The two unions reported police failed to intervene when protesters repeatedly insulted, threatened, and attacked photographers and film crews, forcing some of the journalists to stop covering the August 1 protests.

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, with one exception, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The exception is that the law permits the government to take down websites that belong to banned organizations or include speech that incites racial hatred, endorses Nazism, or denies the Holocaust. Authorities worked directly with internet service providers and online media companies to monitor and remove such content. Authorities monitored websites, social media accounts, messenger services, and streaming platforms associated with right-wing extremists. The state-level project Prosecution Rather Than Deletion in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) received 771 offense reports, primarily for incitement.

There were government restrictions on academic freedom and cultural events supporting extreme right-wing neo-Nazism.

While the constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, the government restricted these freedoms in some instances.

Groups seeking to hold open-air public rallies and marches must obtain permits, and state and local officials may deny permits when public safety concerns arise or when the applicant is from a prohibited organization, mainly right-wing extremist groups. Authorities allowed nonprohibited right-wing extremist or neo-Nazi groups to hold public rallies or marches when they did so in accordance with the law.

In an attempt to limit the COVID-19 outbreak in March, state governments temporarily banned political demonstrations. Some protests took place nonetheless, including protests against the COVID-related restrictions. Beginning in late April, restrictions on demonstrations were gradually relaxed as long as protesters observed social distancing rules to limit the spread of COVID-19. Police broke up demonstrations where they deemed protesters violated these rules.

It is illegal to block officially registered demonstrations. Many anti-Nazi activists refused to accept such restrictions and attempted to block neo-Nazi demonstrations or to hold counterdemonstrations, resulting in clashes between police and anti-Nazi demonstrators.

Police detained known or suspected activists when they believed such individuals intended to participate in illegal or unauthorized demonstrations. The length of detention varied from state to state.

The government restricted freedom of association in some instances. The law permits authorities to prohibit organizations whose activities the Constitutional Court or federal or state governments determine to be opposed to the constitutional democratic order or otherwise illegal. While only the Federal Constitutional Court may prohibit political parties on these grounds, both federal and state governments may prohibit or restrict other organizations, including groups that authorities classify as extremist or criminal in nature. Organizations have the right to appeal such prohibitions or restrictions.

The federal and state OPCs monitored several hundred organizations. Monitoring consisted of collecting information from public sources, written materials, and firsthand accounts, but it also included intrusive methods, such as the use of undercover agents who were subject to legal oversight. The federal and state OPCs published lists of monitored organizations, including left- and right-wing political parties. Although the law stipulates surveillance must not interfere with an organization’s legitimate activities, representatives of some monitored groups, such as Scientologists, complained that the publication of the organizations’ names contributed to prejudice against them.

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

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

In-country Movement: Authorities issued three types of travel documents to stateless individuals: those with refugee or asylum status, and foreigners without travel documents. Stateless individuals received a “travel document for the stateless.” Those with recognized refugee and asylum status received a “travel document for refugees.” Foreigners from non-EU countries received a “travel document for foreigners”if theydid not have a passport or identity document and could not obtain a passport from their country of origin.

A 2016 federal government law requires refugees with recognized asylum status who received social benefits to live within the state that handled their asylum request for a period of three years, and several states implemented the residence rule. States themselves can add other residence restrictions, such as assigning a refugee to a specific city. Local authorities who supported the rule stated that it facilitated integration and enabled authorities to plan for increased infrastructure needs, such as schools.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, numerous municipalities and state governments imposed a variety of strict temporary restrictions on freedom of movement to prevent the spread of the virus, including stay-at-home requirements throughout the country and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania’s entry ban on visitors from out of state. Citizens challenged many of these restrictions in court, with varying results. For example, while Saarland’s state Constitutional Court suspended on April 28 the state ban on leaving one’s home without a “good reason,” The Bavarian Administrative Court ruled on April 28 that the state’s similar restriction was valid on the basis that there were in fact many good reasons to leave one’s home. While most restrictions were lifted in the summer, as of November the government had instituted a nationwide ban on overnight accommodations in an attempt to restrict in-country travel.

Not applicable.

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, or other persons of concern.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Assaults on refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants continued, as did attacks on government-provided asylum homes. On August 1, prosecutors charged three private security guards at a government-run reception center for asylum seekers in Halberstadt, Saxony-Anhalt with causing bodily harm after a video appeared online in April 2019 showing guards beating an asylum seeker. The trial continued as of November.

On May 16, a group of 15-20 youths attacked four asylum seekers in Guben, Brandenburg. Two were able to flee, but the other two were beaten, kicked, and racially insulted. A 16-year-old Guinean and a 19-year-old Moroccan were injured and had to be treated in the hospital. Investigations continued as of September.

On April 22, the Administrative Court of Leipzig ruled an asylum seeker could leave the holding center where he was staying because it was too crowded to respect COVID-19 distancing rules. The man had to share a room of 43 square feet with another person and had to share toilets, showers, and a kitchen with 49 other residents. The state of Saxony declared it would appeal the decision, and the case continued as of September.

In May, Bundestag members Filiz Polat and Luise Amtsberg (both Green Party) accused the federal government of a systemic failure in its dealing with refugees amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. They criticized that refugees were confined together in cramped living conditions where the coronavirus could easily spread. They also faulted the federal government for ending many legal forms of immigration in light of COVID-19 while still enabling thousands of seasonal workers to enter the country in disregard of infection protection measures.

Refoulement: In 2018 the government lifted its deportation ban for Afghanistan, with 107 refugees deported to that country during the first three months of the year. Previous federal policy permitted deportations only of convicted criminals and those deemed a security risk. NGOs including Amnesty International criticized the policy as a breach of the principle of refoulement. On March 30, the Ministry of the Interior announced a temporary ban on deportations to Afghanistan due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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 country faced the task of integrating approximately 1.3 million asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants who arrived between 2015 and 2017. The Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) reported 165,938 asylum requests in 2019 and 74,429 requests in the first eight months of the year (see also section 6, Displaced Children).

BAMF reported 962 persons from China requested asylum in the country in 2019, more than doubling the previous year’s figures. Of the total of 962, 193 applicants were Uyghurs, nearly triple the figure from 2018; 96 percent of Uyghur asylum requests were granted.

The NGO Pro Asyl criticized the “airport procedure” for asylum seekers who arrive at the country’s airports. Authorities stated the airport procedure was used only in less complex cases and that more complex asylum cases were referred for processing through regular BAMF channels. Authorities maintained that only persons coming from countries the government identified as “safe” (see below) and those without valid identification documents could be considered via the “fast track procedure.” The “fast track procedure” enabled BAMF to decide on asylum applications within a two-day period, during which asylum applicants were detained at the airport. If authorities denied the application, the applicant had the right to appeal. Appeals were processed within two weeks, during which the applicant was detained at the airport. If the appeal was denied, authorities deported the applicant. The NGO Fluechtlingsrat Berlin criticized a similar “fast track” or “direct” procedure applied to some asylum seekers in Berlin. The organization claimed asylum applicants were not provided with sufficient time and access to legal counsel.

In 2018 BAMF suspended the head of its Bremen branch, Ulrike Bremermann, amid allegations she improperly approved up to 1,200 asylum applications. In April 2019, however, a BAMF review concluded that just 145 of 18,000 positively approved Bremen asylum decisions since 2006 that were reviewed by a special commission (0.81 percent) should be subject to legal review–a proportion below the national average of 1.2 percent. In September 2019 a Bremen prosecutor brought charges against Bremermann and two private lawyers. They are accused of 121 criminal offenses–mainly asylum law violations, but also falsifying documents and violating official secrets. In November the Bremen Regional Court rejected 100 of the charges, including all of the charges related to violations of the asylum and residence laws, asserting there was “no criminal offense committed.” As of November the trial for the remaining 21 minor charges had not begun.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country adheres to the EU’s Dublin III regulation that permits authorities to turn back or deport individuals who entered the country through “safe countries of transit,” which include the EU member states, and Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein. “Safe countries of origin” also include Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ghana, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Senegal, and Serbia. The government did not return asylum seekers to Syria. Pro Asyl pointed out that asylum seekers who under the Dublin III regulation fell into another EU state’s responsibility but could not be returned to that country often remained in a legal gray zone. They were not allowed to work or participate in integration measures, including German-language classes.

Freedom of Movement: Under a 2019 law addressing deportation, all asylum seekers must remain in initial reception facilities until the end of their asylum procedure, up to 18 months. Rejected asylum seekers who do not cooperate sufficiently in obtaining travel documents can be obliged to stay in the institutions for longer than 18 months. Authorities can arrest without a court order persons who are obliged to leave the country. Persons obliged to leave the country who do not attend an embassy appointment to establish their identity can be placed in detention for 14 days. The law indicates that persons detained under “deportation detention”–including families and children–would be held in regular prisons. Refugees deemed to be flight risks can be taken into preventive detention. Officials who pass on information regarding a planned deportation are liable to prosecution. Legal scholars stress the regulations are legally problematic because both the German constitution and the EU Return Directive pose high hurdles for deportation detention. The law also provides for the withdrawal after two weeks of all social benefits from those recognized as asylum seekers in other EU states. As of January no federal state had made use of the law.

Authorities issued 11,081 expulsion orders in 2019, considerably more than the 7,408 expelled in 2018. Persons originating from Ukraine (1,252 cases), Albania (1,220), and Serbia (828) were subject to the highest number of expulsions, which are orders to leave the country, often due to criminal activity. Bundestag member Ulla Jelpke (Left Party) called for an abolition of the practice, arguing that some of the expellees had been living in the country for decades.

Employment: Persons with recognized asylum status were able to access the labor market without restriction; asylum seekers whose applications were pending were generally not allowed to work during their first three months after applying for asylum. According to the Federal Employment Agency, approximately 270,000 refugees were unemployed as of August. Migration experts estimated 40-45 percent of refugees who arrived in 2015 were employed at the end of 2019. Refugees and asylum seekers faced several hurdles in obtaining employment, including lengthy review times for previous qualifications, lack of official certificates and degrees, and limited German language skills.

The law excludes some asylum seekers from access to certain refugee integration measures, such as language courses and employment opportunities. This applies to asylum seekers from countries considered “safe countries of origin” and unsuccessful asylum seekers who cannot be returned to the country through which they first entered the area covered by the Dublin III regulation. The government did not permit rejected asylum seekers or persons with temporary protected status who are themselves responsible for obstacles to deportation to work, nor asylum seekers from safe countries of origin if they applied for asylum after 2015.

Access to Basic Services: State officials retain decision-making authority on how to house asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants and whether to provide allowances or other benefits.

Several states provided medical insurance cards for asylum seekers. The insurance cards allow asylum seekers to visit any doctor of their choice without prior approval by authorities. In other states, asylum seekers received a card only after 15 months, and community authorities had to grant permits to asylum seekers before they could consult a doctor. The welfare organization Diakonie criticized the medical insurance card system, which only enabled asylum seekers to obtain emergency treatment. Local communities and private groups sometimes provided supplemental health care.

Durable Solutions: The government accepted for resettlement and facilitated the local integration (including naturalization) of refugees who had fled their countries of origin, particularly for refugees belonging to vulnerable groups. Such groups included women with children, refugees with disabilities, victims of trafficking in persons, and victims of torture or rape. Authorities granted residence permits to long-term migrants, asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants who could not return to their countries of origin.

The government assisted asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants with the safe and voluntary return to their countries. In the first half of the year, authorities provided financial assistance of 300 to 500 euros ($360 to $600) to approximately 1,691 individuals to facilitate voluntary returns to their country of origin. Beneficiaries were either rejected asylum seekers or foreigners without valid identification. The largest group of program applicants came from Iraq.

Temporary Protection: The government provides two forms of temporary protection–subsidiary and humanitarian–for individuals who do not qualify as refugees. In the first eight months of the year, the government extended subsidiary protection to 12,267 persons. This status is usually granted if a person does not qualify for refugee or asylum status but might face severe danger in his or her country of origin due to war or conflict. During the same period, 3,816 individuals were granted humanitarian protection. Humanitarian protection is granted if a person does not qualify for any form of protected status, but there are other humanitarian reasons the person cannot return to his or her country of origin (for example, unavailability of medical treatment in their country of origin for an existing health condition). Both forms of temporary protection are granted for one year and may be extended. After five years, a person under subsidiary or humanitarian protection can apply for an unlimited residency status if he or she earns enough money to be independent of public assistance and has a good command of German.

UNHCR reported 14,947 stateless persons in the country at the end of 2019. Some of these persons lost their previous citizenship when the Soviet Union collapsed or Yugoslavia disintegrated. Others were Palestinians from Lebanon and Syria.

Laws and policies provide stateless persons the opportunity to gain citizenship on a nondiscriminatory basis. Stateless persons may apply for citizenship after six years of residence. Producing sufficient evidence to establish statelessness could often be difficult, however, because the burden of proof is on the applicant. Authorities generally protected stateless persons from deportation to their country of origin or usual residence if they faced a threat of political persecution there.

Greece

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

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 Speech: The constitution and law protect freedom of expression but specifically allow restrictions on speech inciting discrimination, hatred, or violence against persons or groups based on their race, skin color, religion, descent, national or ethnic origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability, or who express ideas insulting to persons or groups on those grounds.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. Minority media owners in Thrace, northern Greece, where members of the country’s recognized Muslim minority reside, complained that unlike numerous other media owners throughout the country, they did not receive government funding to promote the widespread Menoume spiti (We stay at home) campaign during the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2019 the government passed legislation requiring vendors who sell print media to stock and display all Greek newspapers and magazines.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists were subjected to physical attack, harassment, or intimidation due to their reporting in at least 12 instances. On January 19, unidentified perpetrators, allegedly far-right supporters, attacked and injured a Deutsche Welle journalist, Tomas Jacobs, who was covering a rally against migrants and refugees. According to the journalist, who is also one of the scriptwriters of a documentary about the Golden Dawn neo-Nazi movement in the country, the perpetrators confirmed his identity before the attack. The victim also claimed that police in the area did not come to his rescue. The government, mainstream political opposition, and the Foreign Press Association denounced the attack.

On March 1, angry residents in Lesvos verbally and physically attacked three foreign journalists covering their attempts to stop a dinghy carrying migrants and asylum seekers from landing at a small port. On July 27, unknown perpetrators shot Stefanos Chios, journalist and publisher of the ultra-sensationalist news site Makeleio, injuring him severely. Anarchists spray-painted the walls of media outlets on January 16, wrote insults targeting a journalist outside his residence on February 6 and on March 24 claimed responsibility for setting fire to the entryways to two journalists’ residences. On February 3, unknown perpetrators exploded the publisher’s parked car.

On November 11, NGOs Media Freedom Rapid Response and Reporters Without Borders sent a letter to the chief of police and to the minister of interior protesting the eight-hour-long October 19 “arbitrary detention” of a four-member German media crew on Samos for the production of a film on climate-induced migration. During their detention, they claimed they were subjected to questioning and harassment, and were denied food by officers who were not wearing protective masks. The police reportedly suspected them of espionage because they had used a drone to take camera shots from a beach next to a military site but the crew members firmly denied they were filming the site in question.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government did not censor media. The government maintains an online register with the legal status of local websites, their number of employees, detailed shareholder information, and their tax office. Once registered, these websites are accredited to accept funding through state advertising, to cover official events, and to benefit from research and training programs of the National Center of Audiovisual Works. All registered websites must display their certification on their homepage. Although registering was an open and nonobligatory process, outlets failing to do so could be excluded from the accreditation benefits. In 2019 the government launched a similar electronic registry for regional and local press.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law provides criminal penalties for defamation and libel. A law passed in 2019 clarified that individuals convicted of crimes cannot claim slander for discussion of those crimes. The same law also removes the provision requiring journalists to appear immediately before a court, or wait in jail until the court opened, in the case they were accused of libel, a provision that had been abused by politicians to intimidate journalists. On September 14, media reported that a court awarded 160,000 euros ($192,000) to a Greek correspondent in the United States, Thanos Dimadis, for being slandered by a former minister. The court cited “personal and professional damage” against Dimadis, ruling he had been wrongly accused by the minister and his associates of spying on them during their visit to New York in September 2016. Members of the ministerial delegation had stated in public that the correspondent had been arrested by police in New York for his behavior, an allegation the journalist denied and proved to the court to be slanderous.

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

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events. Government restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic forced some cultural and artistic events between March and November to be rescheduled or cancelled.

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights, albeit with restrictions as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Due to COVID-19, the government banned gatherings of more than nine or 10 individuals during the lockdowns.  On July 10, the parliament separately passed non-COVID-related legislation on public open-air gatherings.  The law requires prior and timely announcement–in writing or via email–of the gatherings to the competent police or coast guard authorities and makes protest organizers accountable in case of bodily harm or property damage if they have not followed requirements for notification and precautionary measures.  Some parliament members and analysts called the law anticonstitutional and antidemocratic, arguing it infringes the right of assembly.

Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of association, the government continued to place legal restrictions on the names of associations of nationals who self-identified as ethnic Macedonian or associations that included the term “Turkish” as indicative of a collective ethnic identity (see section 6, National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities). Such associations, despite the lack of legal recognition, continued to operate unobstructed.

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. Some of these freedoms were partially suspended as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, although the restrictions were put in place by region and did not target specific groups. The government enforced restriction measures at all six RICs, including a ban on movement outside nearby towns from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., with movement otherwise allowed only in small groups of up to 10 persons. Visitors were generally banned from RICs. Similar measures also applied to migrant and refugee accommodation centers. Human rights groups criticized the restrictions as being more severe than those on the general population.

In-country Movement: Prior to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, undocumented migrants and asylum seekers arriving at Greek islands were subject to special border reception and registration procedures and were not allowed to leave registration centers for up to 25 days. After this 25-day period, undocumented migrants remaining in those facilities were generally allowed to enter and exit but were prohibited from travelling to the mainland unless they successfully filed asylum applications.

To prevent the spread of COVID-19, border reception and registration procedures were adapted to provide medical tests to all newly arriving migrants and asylum seekers and require 14 days of quarantine in a special facility. A law passed May 12 states that asylum seekers deemed “vulnerable” are not eligible to receive expedited examination of their asylum claims or to be transferred to the mainland on vulnerability grounds alone. Once asylum applicants were granted refugee status, they could move off the islands. Those with admissible cases and likely to receive refugee status could also be transferred to the mainland, space permitting. The government also allowed some asylum seekers in poor health to transfer from congested island registration and reception facilities to less-congested facilities in the mainland as a precautionary measure against COVID-19.

Despite government efforts to increase placements in the mainland and decongest the north Aegean islands, local residents and authorities strongly resisted receiving asylum seekers, even in privately owned facilities such as hotels. Restrictions on movements also applied to mainland accommodation centers as a result of the pandemic.

Local and international NGOs reiterated criticism of the government’s practice of confining asylum seekers to the islands and employing “protective custody” for unaccompanied minors (see section 1.c., Prison and Detention Center Conditions, Physical Conditions). Local and international organizations expressed criticism and concern over a law passed on May 12 establishing closed and semi-closed facilities for the temporary reception of asylum applicants, arguing that deprivation of liberty would become the norm for most asylum seekers. NGOs such as MSF criticized the government’s decision to apply increased movement restrictions on residents of all six RICs and other reception facilities around the mainland due to COVID-19. MSF called the measure “discriminatory.”

Not applicable.

The government cooperated with UNHCR, IOM, and other organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern.

On February 28, Turkish president Erdogan announced that the borders Turkey shares with the EU were “open,” prompting over 50,000 refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants to move to the border areas. Some local Turkish officials provided free buses to aid refugees’ mass movement to the border, according to humanitarian organizations and rights groups.

Citing national security concerns, Greece suspended receiving any asylum claims until April 3 but permitted those who had entered the country since February 28 to apply for asylum starting April 1. International and local human rights agencies and organizations, including Oxfam, the Greek Council for Refugees, and the UN special rapporteur for the rights of migrants, raised concern about the deprivation of liberties. On March 9, the European Court for Human Rights rejected an application filed by three Syrian nationals to lift the government’s suspension of reception of new asylum claims.

On March 11, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government again suspended asylum services that could not be conducted electronically or with social distancing, but required a physical presence. During this period the government extended the deadline for asylum seekers to apply for and renew residence permits. The government also extended the deadline from March 31 to May 31 for recognized refugees to remain in the cash assistance program and in government-funded housing.

On July 6, the NGO Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) reported that the public prosecutor on Lesvos pressed criminal charges for illegal entry against asylum seekers who arrived on the island during March, when the government had suspended asylum applications. HIAS reported that the lives of approximately 850 persons were impacted by the prosecutor’s decision. According to HIAS, “the criminal prosecution of asylum seekers for unauthorized entry, while the government itself had suspended submission of new asylum applications is illegal.”

During the year, the flow of migrants and asylum seekers to the country from Africa, Asia, and the Middle East continued, though in reduced numbers as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and enhanced border protection surveillance. As of September 30, UNHCR figures indicated 121,100 migrants and asylum seekers resided in the country.

On January 1, a law amending asylum regulations took effect. The law was designed to speed up decision-making on asylum applications. It established extended periods of detention for asylum seekers and ties the treatment of asylum applications to the applicants’ cooperation (or lack thereof) with authorities. It altered the composition of the appeals committees to consist exclusively of judges, dropping a position held by a UNHCR designate. The law required appeals to be filed and justified through court briefs instead of standardized documents, eliminated post-traumatic stress disorder as a factor for designating whether a refugee was considered “vulnerable” and therefore ineligible to be returned to Turkey or their country of origin if their asylum application is denied, and. It codified that rejected asylum applicants should immediately return to Turkey or their country of origin. UNHCR, local and international NGOs, including the Greek National Commission for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, the Greek Council for Refugees, MSF, and other organizations argued the law emphasizes returns over protection and integration, puts an excessive burden on asylum seekers, focuses on punitive measures, and introduces requirements an asylum seeker could not reasonably be expected to fulfill.

On March 10, the government passed legislation reducing free shelter and cash assistance benefits to asylum seekers to one month (down from six months) after receiving refugee status, with the exception of unaccompanied minors. On May 12, the government amended the asylum law so asylum seekers deemed vulnerable are not prioritized. The new law establishes a secretariat in charge of unaccompanied minors under the Ministry for Migration and Asylum instead of under the National Center for Social Solidarity. The law sets tighter deadlines for issuing decisions on claims filed by asylum seekers in detention from 20 to 10 days. The law precipitates the process for the issuance of decisions after appeals were filed; unifies the registration process at the RICs and the Asylum Service into one step; and introduces sign language, as appropriate, as well as the official language of a country as an acceptable alternative to the language requested by applicants for interpretation.

If authorities decide to halt an asylum case, the applicant can, within nine months, either request that the process be restarted or file a new claim. In such cases, until there is a final decision, the asylum applicant cannot be deported or returned. Under the same law, if an appeal is rejected, applicants (except unaccompanied minors), must be detained at a predeparture center until they are returned. The filing of a subsequent application or a request for annulment of a decision does not automatically end the detention.

On January 3, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Citizen Protection issued a joint decree naming 12 countries of origin of asylum seekers that the government considers safe: Ghana, Senegal, Togo, Gambia, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Albania, Georgia, Ukraine, India, and Armenia. Applicants from “safe” countries of origin undergo a fast-track process for reviewing their asylum claim and are required to demonstrate why their country is not safe for their return.

Human rights activists and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community argued that the vast majority of asylum applicants from these countries were either persecuted due to their sexual orientation and gender identity or faced serious threats to their lives, many due to their LGBTI status. On July 7, the Greek NGO Diotima reported on a Moroccan female transgender asylum seeker whose application and appeal had been rejected and who faced deportation. Diotima asked that she be granted international protection, arguing that her life would be at risk due to her sexual orientation if she returned to Morocco. On October 14, the court accepted her claim, annulling the deportation order on the grounds that she would face arrest, imprisonment, and abuse if sent back to her country (see section 6, Acts of Violence, Discrimination and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity).

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Authorities did not always provide adequate security or physical protection to asylum seekers, particularly those residing in the overcrowded RICs.

Local and international media, human rights NGOs, and international organizations reported that asylum seekers personally testified that at the Greece-Turkey land border they were physically abused and deprived of their personal belongings, including their money and cell phones, prior to being returned to Turkey.

On March 4, a man was shot and killed while trying to cross the border from Turkey to Greece amid violent clashes at the Evros border (see section 2.f., Refoulement). Some NGOs reported he was shot by Greek security forces, likely by accident. On May 12, more than 100 members of the European Parliament addressed a letter to the head of the European Commission, calling for a formal investigation into the death. A government spokesman on March 10 “explicitly denied” that Greek security forces were involved in the incident.

The CPT reported receiving “credible allegations of migrants being pushed back across the Evros land border to Turkey.” The CPT also raised concerns over the Coast Guard preventing migrants’ boats from reaching the country’s islands or pushing back migrants who had arrived within the country’s territory.

In many instances, newly arrived migrants and asylum seekers on the islands, including pregnant women and children, stayed for days in the open air, without shelter, food, and other care, waiting to be temporarily transferred to a quarantine facility and processed for registration to the RICs. The separation and protection of vulnerable groups was not implemented at some sites due to overcrowding, lack of alternative housing, and restrictions in movement due to the pandemic.

NGOs, including Diotima, stated the COVID-19 lockdown and restriction measures employed at the RICs for most of the year resulted in more gender-based violence but with fewer of these incidents being reported. Refugee and migrant women who are victims of gender-based violence are legally eligible for temporary shelter in government-run homes and for legal and psychosocial assistance, but few reported abuse, according to aid organizations. Some NGO representatives reiterated findings from previous years that even after reporting rapes to the authorities, some victims continued residing in the same camp as the perpetrators.

Authorities recorded numerous other violent incidents, including clashes among residents of various nationalities occurring mostly in the RICs, often resulting in injuries and deaths. The RVRN recorded 51 incidents involving racially motivated verbal and physical violence against refugees and migrants in 2019 (see section 6, National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities).

Refoulement: The government provided some protection against the expulsion or return of asylum seekers to countries in which their lives or freedom would be threatened due to race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

Several international media reported on allegations of pushbacks. A New York Times article on August 14 claimed the country illegally pushed back at least 1,072 asylum seekers and migrants who arrived in Greek territory, citing at least 31 incidents in which groups were sent back to Turkey. In a public statement on June 11, the IOM in Geneva expressed concern about “persistent reports of pushbacks and collective expulsions of migrants, in some cases violent, at the EU border between Greece and Turkey.” The IOM called on authorities to investigate the alleged incidents, for all states to avoid militarizing border patrols, and to continue “ensuring protection-sensitive border management, aligned with international law.” The following day, June 12, UNHCR issued a statement stating “the present allegations go against Greece’s international obligations and can expose people to grave danger.” Several respected media outlets published investigative reports between May and July saying security forces pushed refugees back into Turkey. The methods reportedly include disabling (sometimes by assailants covered head-to-toe in black) the engines of boats full of asylum seekers so the boats drift back to Turkey, putting the migrants on tent-like life rafts which have a motor but cannot be steered and were pointed toward Turkey, or simply towing the boats into Turkish waters and cutting the line.

The government stated border protection operations were carried out in cooperation with the European Union Agency Frontex. Prime Minister Mitsotakis publicly affirmed the country operated according to international law. On November 12, Frontex stated that a preliminary internal investigation found no evidence of direct or indirect involvement by Frontex or EU member-state officials in refugee pushbacks at the Greece-Turkey border. Media and NGO reports continued to allege that pushbacks were a standard practice. The Frontex Management Board agreed to organize a subgroup under its authority to carry out an investigation on the matter.

Prime Minister Mitsotakis and other government officials, including the ministers for migration and asylum, for citizen protection and for shipping affairs and island policy, denied any wrongdoing, affirmed the country’s commitment to international law, and blamed the reports on Turkish disinformation campaigns. In public remarks on March 3, after border guards repelled attempts over several days by thousands of apparent refugees to cross the land border with Turkey at Evros, Mitsotakis said the issue was “no longer a refugee problem” and called Turkey a “safe country.” He charged that Turkey was instead using “desperate people to promote its geopolitical agenda and to divert attention from the horrible situation in Syria. The tens of thousands of people who tried to enter Greece over the past few days did not come from Idlib. They have been living safely in Turkey for a long period of time; most of them speak Turkish fluently.” Other officials similarly have argued that the country is protecting its borders in response to Turkish efforts designed to pressure the country and the EU. They described Turkey as a “safe country,” meaning that returning asylum seekers to Turkey is not refoulement.

On March 31, the president of the Council of State agreed to temporarily halt the extradition of two Afghan women on vulnerability grounds. The applicants had filed a petition for the suspension of the order that temporarily barred asylum applications. The order would have forced their deportation without allowing them to seek protection through asylum. The president denied a similar request by a third Afghan female plaintiff.

Access to Asylum: The law establishes procedures for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing legal protection to refugees through an autonomous asylum service under the authority of the Ministry of Migration and Asylum. The law requires that applicants have access to certified interpreters and allows applicants to appeal negative decisions and remain in the country while their appeals are examined.

Authorities worked with NGOs, international organizations, and the European Asylum Support Office to inform undocumented migrants awaiting registration in the asylum system, as well as non-EU foreign national detainees, about their rights, asylum procedures, and IOM-assisted voluntary return programs. UNHCR assisted the government with briefings and the distribution of multilingual leaflets and information packages on asylum and asylum procedures.

The Asylum Service, including regional asylum offices and autonomous asylum units, suspended in-person services between March 13 and May 15 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. During that period, applications for international protection and appeals at second instance were not registered by the authorities and interviews were not conducted. With the exception of asylum applicants at the centers on Lesvos, Samos, Chios, Leros, and Kos, the government renewed for an additional six months asylum seekers’ residence permits that would have expired between March 13 and May 31. The Asylum Service resumed operations on May 18, with many administrative procedures (such as changes to addresses, telephone numbers, personal data, the separation of files, the procurement of copies from the personal file, the rescheduling and the prioritization of hearings, the provision of legal aid etc.) able to be completed online.

Starting March 22, authorities restricted movement and generally did not allow visitors at the RICs and several reception facilities. In a July 4 ministerial decree, these measures were expanded to all reception facilities around the country. Residents were required to stay within the perimeter of the reception center, and movement outside the camps was permitted only from 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., with no more than 150 residents allowed to exit every hour, and only in groups no larger than 10 persons. All visits or activities inside the RICs were banned unless they related to accommodation, food provision, or medical care, or were authorized by the management of the center or camp. Access to legal services was also subject to management authorization. Human rights groups criticized those restrictions as being more severe than those applied to the general population.

On May 19, human rights activists and NGOs working with asylum applicants, including Oxfam and the Greek Council for Refugees, expressed concerns about what they called “a practice by the authorities of issuing mass rejections,” arguing that the mass rejections undermined individuals’ right to a fair asylum procedure. In their statement both organizations estimated that only a fraction of those whose initial applications were rejected were able to access legal support granted by the state, due to restrictions in movement, the tight 10-day deadline for submitting an appeal, and the overall structural difficulties for navigating the highly complex asylum procedure. On April 27, the Greek Council for Refugees reported that in 2019 only 33 percent of the asylum seekers who had lodged an appeal at second instance had benefitted from free legal assistance. The Greek Council for Refugees called this “an administrative practice incompatible with the EU law,” albeit quasi-standardized and generalized.

Access to the asylum process for persons detained in predeparture centers remained a concern. According to the Asylum Information Database annual report, updated by the Greek Council for Refugees on June 23, the average processing time in 2019 for asylum applications exceeded 10 months. Out of 87,461 applications pending at the end of 2019, the personal interview had not yet taken place in 71,396 (approximately 82 percent) of them. For nearly 48,000 of the applications pending at the end of 2019, the interview was scheduled for the second half of 2020 or even after. Fast-track Syria Unit applicants received interview appointments for 2021, while applicants from Iraq and from African countries were scheduled to be interviewed in late 2023. Interview dates for applicants from Turkey, Iran, and Afghanistan were set as far ahead as 2024.

In his annual report for 2019, the ombudsman confirmed, while sourcing the Asylum Service regional offices in Athens and in Thessaloniki, that the average waiting time for the examination of asylum applications by nationals with high recognition rates (from Turkey, Afghanistan, and Iran) exceeded three years. On November 12, the Ministry of Migration and Asylum presented data indicating that the number of asylum decisions increased by 73 percent compared with 2019, and the number of pending asylum decisions decreased by 37 percent. According to the ministry, as of October 30, 82,646 initial decisions were pending and 4,976 more decisions were pending at the Appeals Authority.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country adheres to the Dublin III Regulation, according to which authorities may return asylum seekers to the EU member state of first entry for adjudication of asylum claims.

According to the 2016 EU-Turkey statement, every undocumented migrant crossing from Turkey to the Greek islands would be confined to a RIC for up to 25 days, during which time the individual would have the opportunity to apply for asylum in Greece. Individuals opting not to apply for asylum or whose applications were deemed unfounded or inadmissible would be returned to Turkey (see section 2.d., Freedom of Movement). Citing the COVID-19 pandemic, on March 16 Turkey suspended all returns of rejected asylum applicants from the five island centers until further notice. From the beginning of the year until then, a total of 139 rejected asylum seekers were returned to Turkey.

Employment: Recognized refugees and holders of asylum-seeker papers were entitled to work, although this right was not widely publicized or consistently enforced. There were limited options for employment, made scarcer by the pandemic.

Access to Basic Services: Legally, services such as shelter, health care, education, and judicial procedures are granted to asylum seekers with a valid residency permit. However, asylum seekers had limited access to these services due to overcrowding in reception sites, overburdened hospitals and health units, restrictions in movement, and staffing gaps due to the pandemic.

Everyone in the country is entitled to emergency medical care, regardless of legal status. Medical volunteers, NGO-contracted doctors, the National Organization for Public Health, and army medical doctors provided basic health care in reception centers and referred emergencies and complex cases to local hospitals, which were often overburdened and understaffed. MSF was forced to close a medical clinic on Lesvos after protesters threw rocks at volunteers. Their press release noted a rise in “aggressive behavior towards asylum seekers and refugees, as well as humanitarian organizations and volunteers.”

Some individuals suffering from chronic diseases encountered problems obtaining proper medication. Asylum seekers lacking a permanent or provisional social security number faced particular difficulty in accessing medical, mental health, and pharmaceutical care, with those suffering from chronic diseases being left without treatment for a considerable amount of time.

On October 11, Migration and Asylum Minister Notis Mitarachis announced that asylum seekers would receive a bank account, taxpayer identification number, and social security number upon completing their initial registration, allowing asylum seekers to rent an apartment, get a job, and receive medical care.

Once granted asylum, new refugees were provided one month in subsidized housing. It remained difficult in that time span to receive documents required to apply for a job, rent a house, or receive the health booklet needed for some medical services. Passports to leave the country temporarily were easily obtainable.

The government operated facilities staffed with basic medical personnel outside the RICs and reception facilities in the mainland for the examination and isolation of possible COVID-19 cases. Media and NGOs, including MSF, reported funding gaps which delayed or disrupted the operation of these facilities. They also underscored the difficulty in practicing social distancing in congested environments that lacked washing facilities, antiseptics, and sufficient masks.

The government enforced a different protocol for the management of COVID-19 outbreaks in reception camps than for other enclosed population groups. The government protocol, known as the Agnodiki Plan, requires facilities to be quarantined and all cases (confirmed and suspected) to be isolated. If outbreaks occur at other enclosed population groups (such as nursing homes), vulnerable individuals are to be immediately moved from the site to safe accommodations, while all confirmed and suspected cases are isolated off-site in a separate facility.

RICs on islands and in the Evros region continued to be overcrowded despite intense government efforts to decongest them. Shelter, health care, wash facilities, and sewer connections were inadequate, often raising security and health concerns. Housing conditions at reception facilities elsewhere on the mainland were generally better, although at times overcrowding and remoteness from urban centers hindered access to services.

Many vulnerable asylum seekers were eligible to be sheltered in apartments via the ESTIA housing program implemented by UNHCR in cooperation with some NGOs and local municipalities. Conditions in the apartments were significantly better than in reception facilities. IOM implemented a program for sheltering asylum seekers in short-term facilities such as hotels. Throughout July media reported on several cases of recognized refugees staying in the streets after they had to leave EU- and government-sponsored accommodation. An unknown number of homeless refugees were temporarily accommodated in big tents at reception camps around Attica (Elaionas, Skaramangas, Schisto, Malakasa.)

Unaccompanied minors living in “protective custody” in police stations had limited or no access to health care or medical services. As of October 15, according to the country’s National Center for Social Solidarity, 176 unaccompanied children were in protective custody (see section 1.c., Prison and Detention Center Conditions, Physical Conditions). On November 18, the Ministry for Migration and Asylum reported that all 170 unaccompanied minors who had been in protective custody were transferred to suitable facilities.

Durable Solutions: Refugees may apply for naturalization after seven years of residence in the country as a recognized refugee per a change in the law that took effect March 11. The previous requirement was three years. The government processed family reunification applications for asylum seekers with relatives in other countries. The IOM offered voluntary returns to rejected asylum seekers and those who renounced their asylum claims, offering in some cases 2,000 euros ($2,400) as an inducement.

Temporary Protection: As of February 29, the government provided temporary protection to approximately 599 individuals who may not qualify as refugees.

Hungary

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press, and media were active and expressed a wide range of views. There were some formal restrictions on content related to “hate speech.”

On March 30, as part of the government’s legislative package declaring a state of emergency due to COVID-19, parliament permanently amended the criminal code to increase the penalty for spreading a “falsehood” or “distorted truth” (“scaremongering”) that could obstruct or prevent successful protection under a special legal order to imprisonment of up to five years (see section 3 for more on the state of emergency). Government officials asserted that the legislation sought to discourage the spread of harmful “fake news” that could hinder attempts to keep the pandemic under control. Domestic and international observers spoke out against the legislation and raised concerns about its potential effects on media freedom. On March 27, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) expressed concerns that the amendments could negatively affect the work of journalists and have a potentially chilling effect on freedom of expression. On March 26, Reporters without Borders (RSF) stated that the law granted the government a tool to threaten journalists and intimidate them into self-censorship. On April 21, RSF also noted that before the legislation was submitted, “progovernment media organizations” had called for the arrest of journalists critical of the government.

On June 25, the Constitutional Court ruled that the 2018 government decree classifying the nonprofit Central European Press and Media Foundation (KESMA)–which experts estimated controls between 80 and 90 percent of all commercial Hungarian media outlets and is managed by Fidesz party allies–as being of “national strategic importance” was constitutional. The Competition Authority and the Media Council cannot scrutinize transactions categorized as of national strategic significance. Government-linked media mounted mostly ad hominem attacks against the owner of the country’s largest independent media group. A law granting members of parliament the right to enter the offices of public buildings was repealed in 2019, and they now require prior notification or permission; experts viewed this as a response to opposition members of parliament having attempted to enter government and state-run media facilities as a form of protest. The European Commission reported that KESMA represented an “increased risk to media pluralism.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the government set up an Operative Board to manage and communicate government action. Operative Board members answered press questions submitted in writing and in advance at daily press briefings. Independent and government-critical media repeatedly complained that their questions were rarely answered.

Freedom of Speech: Criminal law provides that any person who publicly incites hatred against any national, ethnic, racial, religious, or certain other designated groups of the population may be prosecuted and convicted of a felony punishable by imprisonment for up to three years. The constitution includes hate speech provisions to “protect the dignity of the Hungarian nation or of any national, ethnic, racial, or religious community.” The law prohibits the public denial of, expression of doubt about, or minimization of the Holocaust, genocide, and other crimes of the National Socialist (Nazi) and communist regimes; such crimes are punishable by up to three years in prison. The law also prohibits as a misdemeanor the wearing, exhibiting, or promoting of the swastika, the logo of the Nazi SS, the symbols of the Arrow Cross, the hammer and sickle, or the five-pointed red star in a way that harms human dignity or the memory of the victims of dictatorships. Judicial remedies exist for damage to individuals and communities that results from hate speech; however, NGOs representing the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community reported that police officers continued to resist classifying incidents as hate speech and were unfamiliar with police hate crime protocols (see section 6). The media law also prohibits media content intended to incite hatred or violence against specific minority or majority communities and their members. The law includes the provision that media content must not have the potential to instigate an act of terrorism.

On May 12, police went to the home of a man from Borsod County with a search warrant based on suspicion of COVID-19 “scaremongering” because of his April 28 social media post. The man had questioned the government’s decision to lift curfew restrictions the day after a peak of the pandemic and appealed to “our dear dictator, our dear leader.” Police published photos and videos of the arrest, which was widely reported. Police released him that afternoon after questioning and told him he would not be charged since no crime had been committed.

On May 13, police also carried out a home raid and detained Janos Csoka-Szucs, a member of the opposition Momentum party in the town of Gyula, for a comment he made in a closed Facebook group on April 20. Csoka-Szucs had shared a post from an independent member of parliament about a protest against the government’s decision to discharge patients from hospitals to make room for potential COVID-19 cases. Police claimed his post “jeopardized the effectiveness of the defense in an emergency.” He was released after four hours of questioning, but police seized his computer and mobile phone. NGOs and opposition parties claimed the arrest was an attempt to suppress free speech and intimidate opponents of the government.

A law approved in 2018 imposed a 25 percent tax on civil entities that aid or promote illegal immigration, including groups that support media campaigns deemed to aid or promote immigration. Several NGOs sharply criticized the law, noting that it penalizes the public expression of opinions different from that of the government (see also section 5). According to press reports, no entity had paid any tax in 2019 under the law, and no known tax office investigation or audit had been conducted to that effect.

On September 21, the independent news outlet Telex reported that, in a June 2 letter, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade deputy state secretary for development of European affairs, Jozsef Magyar, asked the country’s EU-based embassies to report the professional visits of Hungarian journalists to those countries. According to the report, the letter asked the embassies to report when the visit(s) took place, which Hungarian outlets took part, and the organizations or local press outlets with which they met. In response to Telexs query as to the purpose of gathering such information, the ministry stated: “To fulfill its mandate, [the ministry] is doing everything against foreign interference in Hungarian domestic affairs. Experience has shown that Soros organizations tend to be behind such attacks.”

On September 29, the Prosecutor General’s Office indicted the president of the Momentum party, Andras Fekete-Gyor, and another member of the party on the charge of assaulting law enforcement personnel during the 2018 protests against the government’s changes to the labor code, which critics dubbed the “slave law” (see section 7). Fekete-Gyor declared he was innocent of the charges, which he described as politically motivated, and opposition Democratic Coalition party released a statement of support, arguing that the government was attempting to use the justice system to stifle freedom of expression.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without formal restriction. Media consolidation resulted in further expansion of government-friendly enterprises and reduction in other media voices. Some new independent media outlets were founded, one of them by reporters from a formerly independent outlet. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) relaunched its Hungarian service on September 8.

In February the beverage company Hell Energy Drink brought a lawsuit against the monthly magazine Forbes Hungary after it published a list of the richest Hungarians. Forbes was forced to recall the issue from newsstands because the privately owned family beverage company argued that the magazine had breached their privacy under the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). In October the company also obtained a court order barring the publication of parts of an article in the weekly Magyar Narancs, which noted that companies connected to the family had received large amounts in state and EU grants and subsidized loans in previous years, citing again GDPR regulations.

On March 31, government-aligned media mogul Miklos Vaszily purchased 50 percent of Indamedia, the advertising sales company that generated virtually all revenues for the independent news site Index, at the time the country’s most visited online news outlet. With ad revenues decreasing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a newly appointed adviser proposed a reorganization plan that would have stripped part of the editorial board’s control. In June, Indexs editor in chief, Szabolcs Dull, publicly opposed the proposal, warning that the outlet was under increasing political pressure. In response, Laszlo Bodolai, chairman of the board of Indexs parent foundation, fired Dull on July 22. Bodolai asserted that Dull’s actions had endangered Indexs economic viability while denying that the outlet’s independence was at risk. Index journalists publicly called Dull’s dismissal “unacceptable” and an open attempt at pressure, which would lead to “the end of independent reporting.” On July 24, more than 70 journalists–the majority of Indexs staff–resigned in protest. On November 23, Indamedia announced it had purchased all of Index’s shares. As of November the website was still operating under the same name but with different staff and with far fewer investigative stories.

Some progovernment outlets relied almost completely on government advertising for their revenues. According to Freedom House, “while private, opposition-aligned media outlets exist, national, regional, and local media are increasingly dominated by progovernment outlets, which are frequently used to smear political opponents and highlight false accusations. Government advertising and sponsorships favored progovernment outlets, leaving independent and critical outlets in a financially precarious position.” The European Commission stated that advertising directed at progovernment outlets permitted the government to exert indirect control over media.

The government and government-linked entities often excluded independent and opposition media from their events and press conferences.

The National Media and Info-Communications Authority (NMHH), subordinate to parliament, is the central state administrative body for regulating media. The authority of the NMHH includes overseeing the operation of broadcast and media markets as well as “contributing to the execution of the government’s policy in the areas of frequency management and telecommunications.” The NMHH president serves as the chair of the five-member Media Council, the decision-making body of the NMHH that supervises broadcast, cable, online, and print media content and spectrum management. The NMHH consists exclusively of persons named by the governing parties. Some experts criticized the NMHH’s frequency awarding practices for allegedly penalizing radio stations that are critical of the government. In December 2019 the NMHH declined to extend the frequency license of a prominent Budapest community radio station, citing previous minor violations of the media law for which the station had already been fined. The station continued to operate online throughout the year. The Capital City Court of Law ruled in July that a September 2019 Media Council resolution that exonerated a public television station from accusations of unlawful bias violated the media law. The court ordered the Media Council to conduct new proceedings into the case. In September the NMHH announced it would not renew the frequency license for Klubradio, set to expire in February 2021, due to minor national content violations. Klubradio had previously broadcast news critical of the government.

The state news agency, MTI, which offers its services free of charge, is mandated by law to provide balanced, objective, nonpartisan coverage. Media watchdogs and independent outlets criticized the state media for concealing facts and opinions unfavorable to the government. Because MTI’s news services are free, its news products are broadcast widely by national and local outlets. Opposition politicians complained that they were rarely able to appear on state-run broadcasts or were given significantly less time to articulate their positions.

A November independent press report described a concerted effort by state-run media to promote the political agenda of Fidesz ahead of the 2019 European Parliament elections. The report included audio recordings from officials at state media conglomerate MTVA from March and April 2019, in which MTVA chief editor Balazs Bende and news director Zsolt Nemeth were heard directing MTVA employees to promote the government agenda in advance of the elections. Bende made repeated threats that employees were to get on board with the directive or “get out.” According to the independent press report, the Media Council stated it had “received a complaint which was being investigated.”

The speaker of parliament, Laszlo Kover, continued to ban parliamentary access for various individuals–primarily journalists–for alleged violations of parliamentary rules. On May 26, the ECHR ruled that the bans Kover imposed on journalists working for independent and government-critical media in the spring of 2016 unlawfully restricted the work of media and violated the rights of the reporters. Kover issued a statement declaring that the ruling did not mandate his office to change the existing rules governing press work.

Violence and Harassment: There were no reports of violence against journalists or of physical or legal harassment. Nevertheless, government officials and government-aligned media continued to refer to some independent journalists as “Soros agents” or “Soros mercenaries” and independent media as the “Soros media,” or in one instance as the “Soros blog.” In 2018 an investigative reporter for an independent news website was admonished in a summary procedure before a district court in Budapest for alleged abuse of personally identifiable information by using publicly available information in an article on a Hungarian person who criticized Sweden’s migration policy. The reporter demanded a full trial. In September 2019 another court notified the reporter of its nonbinding resolution exonerating him, since the person in question was a public figure who must tolerate in-depth scrutiny in the public interest. The prosecutors appealed the court ruling, and the Capital City Appeal Court remanded the case to the original court for a new trial in February. The case remained pending as of November.

In November 2019 an extreme right-wing website published an anti-Semitic drawing of a journalist from an independent outlet, which was then shared by a mainstream progovernment outlet. A few days later, anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli posters appeared in downtown Budapest with the photographs of two reporters who at that time worked for the country’s most widely read news site. The posters suggested the two journalists were foreign agents. The Action and Protection Foundation and the mayor of the district where the posters appeared filed police reports, citing hate speech, against unknown perpetrators. In March the chief of the Budapest police told a press outlet that no proceedings had been launched as there was no indication of a public crime, and no private prosecution had been initiated.

On multiple occasions, government-aligned outlets criticized nongovernment-aligned, independent, and international journalists by name for their reporting. The outlets, many of which belong to the Fidesz-affiliated media conglomerate KESMA (see above), accused these journalists, among other accusations, of being “Soros agents” and, on at least one occasion, reported comments calling for a journalist to be prosecuted under the “scaremongering” provision of the COVID-19 state of emergency law. Some publications included details about the journalists’ backgrounds, where they reside, and photographs of them. Some journalists and commentators were specifically named on multiple occasions, including by a government representative in a press briefing.

For example, an April 16 article in a KESMA-held media outlet published the names of two international journalists, claiming that the “sole purpose of their article was to denigrate the Hungarian government” and included pictures of the journalists. On April 9, the host of a KESMA-held news channel identified by name one of the journalists who resides in Budapest as a native of another country. In an April 16 press conference, the head of the Prime Minister’s Office, Gergely Gulyas, singled out one of the international reporters for criticism over his reporting. An April 6 article in the KESMA-held Magyar Nemzet quoted a constitutional lawyer who said an article the journalist published on COVID-19 in Hungary qualified as the “spread of horror” and therefore a crime under the scaremongering provision of the emergency law. The lawyer also suggested that a Hungarian news portal that reported on the article should be liable under the law, and both comments were later reported on a KESMA-held news channel. Journalists targeted in this manner by media and government officials reported receiving threats to their safety from individuals.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law provides content regulations and standards for journalistic rights, ethics, and norms that are applicable to all media, including news portals and online publications. It prohibits inciting hatred against nations; communities; ethnic, linguistic, or other minorities; majority groups; and churches or religious groups. It provides for maintaining the confidentiality of sources with respect to procedures conducted by courts or authorities.

The law mandates that every media service provider that delivers news to the public must report in a balanced manner, and that public service media providers should pursue balanced, accurate, detailed, objective, and responsible news and information services. These requirements were widely disregarded, including by public media. Public television station M1 and its news website, hirado.hu, launched a segment monitoring “fake news” related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The independent media watchdog Mertek Media Monitor noted in a June 16 analysis that the featured reports were “a mix of items published on actual fake news sites and of articles published by independent and government-critical media that obviously do not seem like fake news at all; in fact, the series even included as alleged fake news statements by opposition politicians.”

The Media Council may impose fines for violations of content regulations, including on media services that violate prohibitions on inciting hatred or violating human dignity or regulations governing the protection of minors. The Council may impose fines of up to 200 million forints ($666,000), depending on the nature of the infringement, type of media service, and audience size. It may also suspend the right to broadcast for up to one week. Defendants may appeal Media Council decisions but must appeal separately to prevent the implementation of fines while the parties litigate the substantive appeal.

As of August 24, the Media Council had issued 86 resolutions concerning various alleged violations of the media law, of which 57 imposed fines totaling some 23.14 million forints ($77,800) on 46 media service providers.

Libel/Slander Laws: Journalists reporting on an event may be judged criminally responsible for making or reporting false statements. Both individuals and media outlets may be sued for libel for their published statements or for publicizing libelous statements made by others. Plaintiffs may litigate in both civil and criminal courts.

Public officials and other public figures continued to use libel and defamation laws in response to criticism from citizens and journalists. Opposition politicians and government-critical private individuals sued government-allied media outlets in several high-profile cases. Courts tended to pass verdicts that protected private individuals from libel or slander by government-affiliated media and their reporters.

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

In cooperation with internet service providers, the NMHH maintained a nonpublic database to store and cooperate in the implementation of court rulings and tax authority resolutions to block websites that violate the law, including content-related legislation.

In 2017 an amendment to the higher education law required universities from non-EU countries to have a physical presence in their country of origin, operate under an intergovernmental agreement between Hungary and the country of accreditation, and ensure that the university’s name in Hungarian reflects an exact translation of the name in the country of origin. The U.S.-accredited Central European University (CEU) established a presence at Bard College in New York in 2018, and the government and the State of New York negotiated an intergovernmental agreement. The government argued, however, that CEU had not sufficiently complied with the provisions of the law and declined to sign the draft agreement to bring CEU into compliance with the law. In 2018 CEU announced it would move its U.S.-accredited programs to Vienna and did so in 2019. In July 2019 CEU was accredited as an Austrian private university under the name of Central European University, and in November 2019 it officially opened its campus in Vienna. The European Commission launched an infringement procedure against Hungary over the matter in 2017. The Constitutional Court suspended the case until the European Court of Justice (ECJ) makes its decision.

The ECJ ruled on October 6 that the amendment violated EU law and contradicted the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights relating to academic freedom. The ECJ also found the law violated the international General Agreement on Trade in Services and World Trade Organization regulations. The ruling stated that the condition of an international treaty between Hungary and the third country constituted a “means of arbitrary discrimination because of the decisive nature of the political will of the Hungarian authorities.” The CEU rector, Michael Ignatieff, described the ruling as a legal and moral vindication but underscored that CEU’s move to Vienna was final, adding that the ruling “lifts the whole burden of Lex CEU off our backs and restores our freedom.”

In 2019 parliament passed a law that gave the government control, through a newly established organization, over the funding of 15 research institutes previously funded and managed by the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. The law received domestic and international criticism as infringing upon the principles of academic freedom and the self-governance of scientific institutions. In July the research institutes received a one-day deadline to submit their “research plan descriptions,” which renewed concerns over the evaluation process of research funding.

Under legislation passed by parliament on May 19, the government assigned private foundations the right to operate six public universities starting August 1. Following the model introduced at Corvinus University in 2019, the Veterinary University, the University of Miskolc, the Moholy-Nagy University of Arts, Neumann Janos University, the University of Sopron, and Szechenyi Istvan University began operating under new structures financed by foundations and in some cases with government officials as members of the board.

On July 3, parliament adopted a law that transferred the ownership of the University of Theater and Film Arts to a foundation as of September 1. The government disregarded the university’s proposal on the composition of the foundation board, instead appointing National Theater director Attila Vidnyanszky as the head of the foundation. The university senate asserted that Vidnyanszky “consistently and deliberately sought to destroy the reputation of the university for years, while the other members of the board have no significant experience in higher education.” Several instructors announced their resignations following the announcement. The university’s students, staff, artists and the public held several demonstrations against the law, and students barricaded themselves inside university buildings, demanding university autonomy. Students ended the blockade due to the government announcement of a ban on assemblies on November 10 as part of measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

In an exceptional procedure on March 24 during the COVID-19 pandemic, parliament passed an amendment to the act on culture that removed state-funded Budapest theaters from the control of the municipal government and placed them under central government control. The central government also gained the right to appoint theater leadership. Referring to an allegation of sexual harassment at a Budapest theater at the end of 2019, the government argued that if it provided all funds for the operation of the theaters then it should also be entitled to make personnel and financial decisions, adding that it could no longer support the operation of theaters that did not allow inspection into their affairs. The cabinet introduced the amendment without any professional consultations. In April the central government and the municipality of Budapest concluded an agreement on the operation of Budapest theaters. Under the agreement the municipality of Budapest will finance four theaters without government funding, with the right to decide on the appointment of their directors.

The constitution and law provide for the freedom of peaceful assembly, and the government generally respected this right. The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right, with some exceptions.

The constitution includes a provision on the protection of privacy, which stipulates that freedom of expression and the exercise of the right to assembly shall not harm others’ private and family life and their homes, potentially restricting protests in public spaces near politicians’ homes and protests in other public spaces that have apartments nearby. The law also permits the government to regulate public demonstrations, including holding organizers liable for damages caused by their events, and to ban protests in advance. Under the law authorities may ban or dissolve gatherings that unnecessarily and disproportionately harm the dignity of the nation or other national, ethnic, or religious communities. The law also criminalizes the nonviolent disturbance or impediment of a demonstration.

The criminal code provides that harassment of “official persons” (including members of parliament, judges, and prosecutors) when they are not performing public duties is a crime punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment.

During the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, the government introduced restrictions on indoor and outdoor public gatherings and events. In May police fined drivers who participated in a protest against the government’s decision to release patients from hospitals due to COVID-19 by honking their car horns. Police considered the May 28 protest of far-right groups against “Gypsy crime” as falling outside the scope of the law on assembly (see also section 6 on ethnic minorities). During the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, the government put a blanket ban on assemblies in public spaces and imposed fines for violations of up to 500,000 forints ($1,670) for participants of banned protests.

On May 26, the ECHR ruled that police interfered with a private individual’s right to peaceful assembly by unjustifiably dismissing his notification of intent to hold a demonstration in front of the president’s residence in 2013. Police argued that TEK had closed the area in question, rendering it no longer a public space available for demonstrations for the requested period. Subsequent court scrutiny removed the legal basis of the ban but only at a time when the reason for the demonstration had already become obsolete. The ECHR ordered the state to pay the private individual 2,600 euros ($3,100) as compensation for nonpecuniary damage.

On June 18, the ECJ ruled that the country’s 2017 law requiring NGOs that receive foreign funding to register and label themselves as “foreign-funded organizations” violated EU law (see section 5).

A 2011 law on religion deregistered more than 300 religious groups and organizations that had previously held incorporated church status; most were required to reapply for registration. The government had not approved any applications for incorporated church status since it amended the law in 2012, but it approved many applications for a lesser status of religious organizations. In 2019 an amendment to the law entered into force creating four different statuses for religious organizations. Observers noted that while the amendment provides a simpler procedure for religious entities to gain an intermediate-level status, it only restores some of the rights those religious groups could exercise before 2011.

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

Not applicable.

The government cooperated with and provided the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) access to refugees and asylum seekers, with the exception of those held in detention under the aliens policing procedure.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Human rights advocates and UNHCR criticized the government’s treatment of migrants and asylum seekers, including its pushbacks of migrants and asylum seekers to the Serbian side of the Serbia-Hungary border fence, even if they had not entered Hungary through Serbia.

Domestic human rights NGOs reported that their attorneys had difficulties in maintaining contact with foreigners kept in aliens-policing or asylum-detention facilities.

Refoulement: The CPT report published in March noted there were no legal remedies offering effective protection against forced removal or refoulement, including chain refoulement. Human rights advocates reported that 11,101 pushbacks to Serbia took place in 2019, according to official police statistics.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for asylum and establishes a procedure for asylum seekers outside the country to apply for it, but UNHCR stated on June 29 that the new law (see below) “further undermines the effective access to territory and asylum for those fleeing wars and persecution which had been already seriously constrained before.” UNHCR called on the government to bring its asylum system into conformity with international refugee and human rights law.

Following the ECJ’s May 14 ruling that classified the government’s holding of asylum seekers in two transit zones on the Hungary-Serbia border as unlawful detention, the government announced on May 21 the closure of the transit zones and introduced a new asylum system in a government decree as of May 27. Based on the new legislation, asylum seekers arriving at Hungary’s border were subsequently turned away and directed to submit a statement of intent to request asylum at the Hungarian embassies in Belgrade or Kyiv. The asylum authority had 60 days to examine the statement of intent and make a proposal to the embassy whether to issue the asylum seeker a special single-entry travel permit to enter Hungary. In case the permit is issued, the asylum seeker travels on their own to Hungary within 30 days and, upon arrival, immediately avail themselves to the border guards who present them to the asylum authority within 24 hours. Those not granted the special one-time entry permit at one of the embassies cannot request asylum in Hungary. The decree was later included as part of the bill ending the state of emergency that entered into force on June 18. On June 29, UNHCR expressed concern that the law exposes asylum seekers to the risk of refoulement. All third-country nationals found anywhere in the country without already having a right to stay (e.g., a valid visa or residence permit) are “escorted” to the other side of the border fence. As of November the asylum authority had not approved any submitted statements of intent.

On October 30, the European Commission opened an infringement procedure due to the new asylum rules, which it considers to be unlawful as they preclude persons who are in the country’s territory, including at the border, from applying for international protection.

On December 17, the ECJ ruled that restricting access to the international protection procedure, detaining asylum applicants for that protection procedure in transit zones, and moving third-country nationals who were illegally present to the Hungary-Serbia border area without observing the safeguards in a return procedure were in breach of EU law.

On June 21, the Hungarian Helsinki Committee reported that between 2017 and the closure of the transit zones in May, thousands of adults and children were detained unlawfully for extensive periods of time, up to almost two years. Authorities deprived 34 individuals of food in 24 cases for one to eight days. In each case the Hungarian Helsinki Committee had to request interim measures from the ECHR to stop the deprivation of food.

On March 1, Prime Minister Orban’s domestic security adviser Gyorgy Bakondi announced the indefinite suspension of the admission of new asylum seekers due to COVID-19. On March 8, the government extended the “crisis situation due to mass migration”–first introduced in 2015 and renewed since every six months–until September 7 due to COVID-19 and the security risk posed by the situation at the border between Turkey and Greece. On September 1, the government extended the “crisis situation” for a further six months. On August 6, Surgeon General Cecilia Muller stated that uncontrolled migration posed an “extreme danger” to the country because most “illegal migrants” came from countries with a high number of COVID-19 cases and may be infected with other diseases no longer common in the country.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The government maintained lists of “safe countries of origin” and “safe third countries.” Both lists included Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo. UNHCR repeatedly objected to the government’s designation of Serbia as a safe third country on the grounds that it does not have effective asylum procedures. In 2018 parliament modified the constitution to state that persons arriving in the country “through a country where he or she was not exposed to persecution or a direct risk of persecution should not be entitled to asylum.” Parliament also amended the asylum law and restricted the right to asylum to only those persons who arrived in Hungary directly from a place where their life or freedom were at risk.

On March 19, the ECJ ruled that national legislation, which stipulated that an asylum application by an asylum seeker arriving in an EU member state through a safe transit country was inadmissible, breached EU law. The court ruled that EU member states were obliged to assess the asylum seekers’ “connection” to the transit country when determining the admissibility of their application; merely transiting through the country was not sufficient to provide the basis of such connection. The case concerned a Syrian Kurd’s asylum application that the immigration authority deemed inadmissible because the applicant had transited Serbia, which the government considers a safe transit country.

Freedom of Movement: Following the closure of the transit zones, the new asylum provisions prescribe the automatic “placement of the applicant in a closed facility” for four weeks following the registration of their asylum request, without any available remedy to challenge the placement. After four weeks the applicant can either be placed in an open facility or in detention, with a legal remedy available against that detention decision. The law permits the detention of rejected asylum seekers under an aliens policing procedure for a maximum of 12 months, or for six months under asylum detention in certain cases of pending asylum applications. Immigration detention generally took place in immigration detention centers.

In May authorities expelled 15 Iranian students who had allegedly broken COVID-19 quarantine restrictions while being examined at a Budapest hospital. The expulsions came after national political leaders claimed that foreigners, particularly Iranians, were spreading the disease. On July 15, media reported that the decisions were under review.

Access to Basic Services: The National Directorate-General for Aliens Policing (asylum authority) has 60 days to make a proposal to the Hungarian embassy in Belgrade or Kyiv on whether to grant an asylum seeker a one-time entry permit. During this time the asylum seeker is not entitled to accommodation or any support services and does not enjoy any protection.

Human rights advocates reported that, from the closure of transit zones at the end of May until the end of August, no formal education was provided in either the Vamosszabadi or Balassagyarmat refugee reception centers on the Hungary-Slovakia border, where the government moved nearly all of the asylum seekers previously kept in the transit zones. In Balassagyarmat social workers were present in adequate numbers, but psychosocial assistance was not available on a regular basis on site, while a psychologist was contacted on demand. A similar situation was reported in Vamosszabadi.

The law limits benefits and assistance to persons given international protection on the grounds they should not have more advantages than citizens. Authorities do not provide housing allowances, educational allowances, or monthly cash allowances to asylum seekers, refugees, or beneficiaries of subsidiary protection.

In 2019 the European Commission referred Hungary to the ECJ, stating the legislation that criminalizes providing assistance to asylum seekers who were not subject to persecution in their home country or who had already transited a safe country curtailed the asylum seekers’ right to communicate with and be assisted by national, international, and nongovernmental organizations. The case remained pending as of November.

Durable Solutions: Refugees are allowed to naturalize, but according to civil society organizations, the applications of refugees and stateless persons were approved at a lower rate than those of other naturalization seekers. The Hungarian Helsinki Committee criticized the procedural framework for naturalization, noting decisions were not explained to applicants and no appeal of rejections were allowed. There were no reported cases of onward refugee resettlement from the country to other states.

Temporary Protection: The law provides for a specific temporary protection status for situations of mass influx, but organizations working on the problem reported that it was not used in practice. Under the law all forms of international protection (refugee status, subsidiary protection, tolerated stay, stateless status, etc.) are temporary by nature, with periodic review of the entitlement to protection.

In 2019 the ECJ ruled that judges may grant international protection status to asylum seekers if an administrative body has overruled their decision without establishing new elements in the case. A 2015 regulation had stripped the courts of the right to overrule immigration authorities on asylum applications.

Ireland

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

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 Speech: The law prohibits words or behaviors likely to generate hatred against persons because of their race, nationality, religion, ethnicity, national origins, or sexual orientation. As a result of a referendum to remove blasphemy from the constitution in 2018, the Blasphemy (Abolition of Offenses and Related Matters) Act 2020 was signed into law on January 16.

Freedom of Press and Media Freedom, Including Online Media: 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 speech 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.

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.

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

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 https://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.

Not applicable.

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.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting 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 continued to express concern over the length and complexity of the application and appeal processes. In 2019 the average length of stay in “direct provision” was 22 months. Direct provision is a system that includes housing, meals, a weekly cash allowance, access to health care, and education for children.

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. As of August the government received 72 asylum seekers who were rescued in the Mediterranean Sea.

Employment: An individual seeking asylum can access the labor market nine months after submitting an application for international protection. As of September 16, the government received 7,328 applications for labor market access. Of these, 1,811 were refused and 5,322 granted, with 195 pending.

Access to Basic Services: The country employs a system called “direct provision” for asylum seekers. As of July, 77 percent of asylum seekers remained in the government-run support system for less than three years, almost the same as the previous year. The Irish Refugee Council, the national ombudsman, and the UNHCR expressed concern over the detrimental effects of long stays in direct provision accommodation. In 2018 the direct provision facilities reached capacity, which required the government to house asylum seekers in emergency accommodations in hotels around the country. As of September, 1,204 individuals were in emergency accommodation, including 240 children. NGO representatives said the government’s overreliance on emergency accommodations led to serious difficulties for asylum seekers to access basic services, including health care and education.

Durable Solutions: The government operated a resettlement program to accommodate up to 200 persons referred by the 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. From the inception of the program through September, a total of 3,358 persons arrived in the country. The government provided a postarrival cultural orientation program and civics and language courses.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection (subsidiary protection) to some individuals who may not qualify as refugees and granted such protection to 161 persons in 2019. 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.

Italy

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government 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 Speech: The law criminalizes insults against any divinity as blasphemy and penalizes offenders with fines. There were no reports of enforcement of this law or of convictions under it during the year.

Speech based on racial, ethnic, national, or religious discrimination is a crime punishable by up to 18 months in prison. Detention is legitimate only in the case of serious violation of fundamental rights and hate crimes. Holocaust denial is an aggravating circumstance carrying additional penalties in judicial proceedings.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel and defamation are criminal offenses punishable by up to three years of imprisonment, which may be increased if directed against a politician or government official. Public officials brought cases against journalists under libel laws. Criminal penalties for libel were seldom carried out.

Nongovernmental Impact: Reporters without Borders reported growing hostility toward reporters mainly due to organized crime-affiliated threats. According to the same organization, approximately 20 journalists, especially in and near the South, received around-the-clock police protection because of serious threats or murder attempts. In Rome reporters were at times harassed by neo-Fascist activists and became targets of criticism and harassment on social media platforms by private and political activists, including supporters of the Five Star Movement.

Reporters without Borders reported journalists exposed to threats by criminal organizations increasingly self-censored. On July 14, the national daily La Repubblica published transcripts of conversations of organized crime bosses describing television anchorman Massimo Giletti as an annoyance. Giletti had criticized the release of more than 300 organized crime bosses and associates due to the government’s emergency measures aimed at reducing COVID-19 in prisons.

The 2020 report of the Partner Organizations to the Council of Europe Platform to Promote the Protection of Journalism and Safety of Journalists cited concerns over physical and verbal attacks on journalists by neo-Fascist groups.

On April 8, Silvio Palazzolo, a reporter for La Repubblica, was threatened in a Facebook post by the brother of an organized crime boss detained in Sicily. Palazzolo had published an article asserting that the generosity of organized crime affiliates during the COVID-19 lockdown was aimed at increasing their infiltration in communities in Palermo. In July 2019 the National Federation of the Italian Press reported that two organized crime members were intercepted discussing a possible assault against Palazzolo. On April 18, the federation expressed solidarity with the editor of La Repubblica, Carlo Verdelli. According to investigators, Verdelli was the target of multiple Twitter attacks by far-right groups between January and April. On February 2, the founder and former editor of La Repubblica, Eugenio Scalfari, received six letters containing insults.

The National Federation of Italian Press also reported 83 cases of threats against journalists between January and June, of which approximately half were published online.

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, part of the National Police, monitored websites for crimes involving child pornography.

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

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 https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

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

Not applicable.

The government cooperated with UNHCR and other international and humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. The uncertainty of EU member states’ willingness to accept a share of migrant arrivals and the fear of possible COVID-19 contagion affected the willingness of authorities to protect migrants and asylum seekers brought to the country by rescue vessels.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: International humanitarian and human rights organizations accused the government of endangering migrants by encouraging Libyan authorities, through cooperation and resources, to rescue migrants at sea and return them to reception centers in Libya. Aid groups and international organizations deemed Libyan centers to have inhuman living conditions.

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

The government uncovered corruption and organized crime in the management of resources allotted for asylum seekers and refugees. In June the Ministry of Interior suspended its contract with an NGO that managed a migration center in Cosenza after one of its managers was accused of corruption in an organized crime investigation.

Refoulement: Amnesty International and other NGOs accused the government of failing to protect migrants when it renewed the 2017 memorandum of understanding on illegal immigration with Libya on February 2. Italian authorities cooperated with the Libyan coast guard to rescue migrants in Libyan waters and take rescued migrants back to Libya. UNHCR did not consider Libya a “safe country” in light of the absence of a functioning asylum system, the widely reported difficulties faced by refugees and asylum seekers in Libya, the lack of protection from abuses, and the lack of durable solutions.

Access to Asylum: On April 7, the minister for infrastructure and transportation signed a decree stating that Italian ports could not guarantee to meet the requirements to qualify as place of safety for migrants rescued by foreign-flagged ships outside the Italian search and rescue area due to the massive outbreak of COVID-19 in the country. The decree effectively continued the highly restrictive policy of former deputy prime minister and interior minister Matteo Salvini. On May 6, the coast guard seized two humanitarian ships, one German and one Spanish, ostensibly because their equipment was inadequate.

NGOs and independent observers identified difficulties in asylum procedures, including inconsistency of standards applied in reception centers and insufficient referral rates of trafficking victims and unaccompanied minors to adequate services.

On October 5, the government adopted a decree reintroducing humanitarian protections for migrants who face risk of life in their countries of origin and authorizing local authorities to provide legal residency to asylum seekers, allowing them to access public services, such as health care and education. Regional adjudication committees took an average of five months to process asylum claims. If a case was legally appealed, the process could last up to two years. On July 31, migration centers hosted 85,000 migrants, a 19-percent decrease from the previous year. From January to June, the government reviewed 71,700 asylum applications.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country is party to the EU’s Dublin III Regulation and its subsequent revisions, which identify the member state responsible for examining an asylum application based primarily on the first point of irregular entry.

Freedom of Movement: The law permits authorities to detain migrants and asylum seekers in identification and expulsion centers for up to 180 days if authorities decide they pose a threat to public order or if they may flee from an expulsion order or pre-expulsion jail sentence. On March 24, in order to prevent COVID-19 contagion in the expulsion centers, the ombudsman for detainees asked the government to free some of the 381 irregular migrants who could not be repatriated and who were detained in expulsion centers. The government worked to reduce migrant flows across the Mediterranean Sea on smuggler vessels and imposed restrictions on freedom of movement for up to 72 hours after migrants arrived in reception centers.

Employment: According to labor unions and NGOs, employers continued to discriminate against refugees in the labor market, taking advantage of weak enforcement of legal protections against exploitation of noncitizens. High unemployment in the country and the COVID-19 national lockdown also made it difficult for refugees to find legal employment.

Access to Basic Services: Authorities set up temporary housing for refugees in centers of varying quality, from high-quality centers run by local authorities to repurposed facilities, such as old schools, military barracks, and residential apartments. Some rescued asylum seekers were quarantined off Sicily’s coast aboard cruise ships leased by the government. Some refugees who tested positive for COVID-19 were hospitalized in military facilities. UNHCR, the IOM, and other humanitarian organizations and NGOs reported thousands of legal and irregular foreigners, including refugees, were living in abandoned, inadequate, or overcrowded facilities in Rome and other major cities. They also reported refugees had limited access to health care, legal counseling, basic education, and other public services.

Some refugees and asylum seekers working in the informal economy could not afford to rent apartments, especially in large cities. They often lived in makeshift shacks in rural areas or squatted in buildings in substandard conditions. On April 9, authorities in Rome found at least 16 COVID-19-positive refugees squatting in a building with 600 other persons. NGOs and advocacy groups alleged the Rome municipal government failed to provide alternative public housing for evicted persons, including refugees.

Durable Solutions: The government’s limited attempts to integrate refugees into society produced mixed results. The COVID-19 lockdown caused an increase in unemployment among refugees and asylum seekers. The government offered refugees resettlement services. The government and the IOM assisted migrants and refugees who opted to return to their home countries.

Temporary Protection: Between January and July, the government provided special protection to 185 persons and subsidiary protection to 2,258 persons.

Latvia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

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

Freedom of Speech: Although the law generally provides for freedom of speech, it criminalizes incitement to racial or ethnic hatred and the spreading of false information about the financial system. 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 five-year prison sentence, community service, or a fine. There are also restrictions on speech deemed a threat to national security. The law criminalizes nonviolent acts committed against the state or that challenge its “independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity, or authority.”

As of October the State Security Service initiated two criminal cases against individuals for inciting national, ethnic, or racial hatred.

Press and Media Freedom, Including Online Media: 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 in all national and local media. 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 print and broadcast media, the publication of books, and online newspapers and journals.

Electronic media are legally required to present news and current affairs programs with due accuracy and impartiality. All companies, including media and other publishers, are required to disclose their ownership, and this data is publicly available. Electronic mass media are required to disclose their ultimate beneficiaries and report any changes to the media regulator. NGOs stated that opaque ownership of many of the largest media outlets posed a threat to media independence and transparency.

The Latvian Journalists Association expressed concern about local newspapers’ independence and viability. Some municipalities provided funding to local newspapers in exchange for editorial control, or even published their own newspapers to drive independent competitors out of business.

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.

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

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

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. Authorities can approve demonstrations within 24 hours if longer advance notice is “reasonably impossible.” Officials may deny or modify permits to prevent public disorder. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government introduced several temporary assembly restrictions which changed in proportion to the assessed risks.

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 https://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.

COVID-19 travel restrictions were primarily limited to self-isolation requirements based on published EU infection data and adjusted for infection levels. The government supported repatriation travel of the country’s residents, with self-isolation requirements, and facilitated repatriation of foreign citizens as requested by other countries.

Not applicable.

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

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. During the year the government granted refugee status to three persons in 67 applications.

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. The government made an exception to this policy to participate in the EU’s efforts to address high levels of migration into Europe.

Durable Solutions: The government funded integration projects through the Ministry of Culture and local NGOs. Some observers expressed concern that Latvian language education programs did not have sufficient training capacity. Refugee benefits fell well below the country’s poverty line.

Temporary Protection: The law allows for the granting of temporary protection for individuals not found to qualify for refugee status but who were nonetheless determined to be in need of international protection. In the first eight months of the year, the government provided no temporary protection status to any individual who did not qualify as a refugee.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported 216,851 stateless persons resident in the country at the end of 2019. This number included 216,682 persons the government considered “noncitizens.” 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.

UNHCR included most of the country’s noncitizen population in the stateless category, but as of 2018 also considered them persons to whom the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons does not apply. The government preferred to designate this population as noncitizen residents, since they were eligible to naturalize under the law. 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 residency 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.

Noncitizen residents may seek naturalization in the country. From January to September, authorities received 410 new naturalization applications; 535 prior applicants received their citizenship by September, and 42 failed to pass the language exam but can reapply. 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, lack of accessible Latvian language training or anticipated exemption from the language requirement upon reaching the age of 65, and their understanding that Latvian citizenship was not necessary for them to travel to Russia and EU-member states.

A subset of these noncitizen permanent residents hold citizenship in a different country, such as Russia, although the exact number and percentage were unknown, and dual citizenship for noncitizen permanent residents above the age of 25 is not legal. This subgroup while living in Latvia may not only travel in the Schengen area like other noncitizen permanent residents but may also travel visa-free to and from Russia.

Noncitizen resident children born in the country after January 1, 2020, are considered Latvian citizens.

Lithuania

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

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 promote freedom of expression, including for the press.

Freedom of Speech: 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.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: 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 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: The Radio and Television Commission of Lithuania (LRTK) may impose a 72-hour suspension on television programs that posed a threat to public and national security. The LRTK may impose this suspension without a court order on television programs from countries both inside and outside the EU, the European Economic Area, and from European states that ratified the Council of Europe’s Convention on Transfrontier Television.

On July 8, the government banned five Russian RT television channels in the country. It argued it was implementing the EU’s sanctions against Dmitriy Kiselyov, RT’s general director.

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.

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.

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

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

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 https://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.

Not applicable.

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.

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.

Employment: Refugee employment opportunities were primarily concentrated in construction, hospitality (restaurants), manufacturing, and housekeeping. Highly skilled positions required Lithuanian, English, or Russian language skills. The lack of language skills, job search assistance, education, and qualifications were major barriers to the employment of refugees.

Access to Basic Services: Refugees said that language barriers prevented them from accessing health and psychological consulting services.

Durable Solutions: As of July 31, a total of 89 asylum seekers and two displaced persons lived at the Refugee Integration Center. During this period 402 persons (231 asylum seekers) participated in integration programs in municipalities.

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, and in 2019 the authorities extended temporary protection to 13 persons.

According to UNHCR as of 2019, there were 2,904 stateless persons 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:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

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 Speech: The law prohibits hate speech in any medium, including online forums, and provides for prison sentences of between eight days and two years and fines for violations. 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. The public prosecutor’s office and the courts responded firmly to hate speech.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction.

Between March 18 and May 4, the government held virtual press conferences without the physical presence of the press corps in a national effort to limit the spread of coronavirus. Journalists complained they had limited access to information at a critical time when the country needed timely updates and that they could not ask follow-up questions. On May 4, the government reopened the press conferences to physical presence of journalists, with the appropriate health and safety measures added, including government-mandated social distancing.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law prohibits “libel, slander and defamation” and provides for prison sentences of between eight days and two years and fines for violations. The government or individual public figures did not use these laws to restrict public discussion or retaliate against journalists or political opponents.

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.

Between March 18 and May 11, the government closed academic and cultural venues in a national effort to limit the spread of the coronavirus. After May 11, the government authorized the reopening of academic and cultural venues on the conditions that attendees be seated and must either wear a mask or maintain a 6.5-foot distance between one another. Most organizers moved their events online. Starting November 26, and until December 15, the government closed all cultural venues with the exceptions of museums, art galleries, libraries, and national archives, in a national effort to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

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

Between March 18 and September 30, in a national effort to limit the spread of COVID-19, the government imposed restrictions on public gatherings, prohibiting them from March 18 to May 11. Violating the ban was punishable by a fine. The government did not enforce the ban against protests. Following May 11, the government authorized public gatherings provided that participants be seated and wear a mask or maintain a 6.5-foot distance from one another. The requirement to be seated did not apply to protesters.

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://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. Starting October 30, until at least December 15, the government established an 11 p.m.-6 a.m. curfew in a national effort to limit the spread of COVID-19, with certain exceptions for professional, health, family, transit, and emergency reasons. Violating the curfew was punishable by a fine. The Consultative Commission for Human Rights insisted in its October 28 review of the bill on the “seriousness of this measure, which in particular presents a significant restriction on freedom of movement.”

Not applicable.

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

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.

On August 11, the Luxembourg Refugee Council, a collective of prorefugee NGOs and associations, accused the Immigration Directorate of discouraging asylum seekers from submitting their applications for asylum and of failing to provide those who submitted a request with a reception certificate that would allow them to stay in country pending adjudication of their asylum applications. In reply Minister of Immigration and Asylum Jean Asselborn admitted that the directorate was unable to register applications for international protection between June 29 through July 9 due to technical difficulties, resulting in applicants’ having to return later, but he stated that affected applicants were accommodated and supported by the National Reception Office, even without a proper application receipt.

The council further accused the directorate of failing to respect the presumption of minor status by making excessive background checks for the registration of an asylum application. Asselborn clarified that the directorate is under the obligation to protect minors in homes and schools and to prevent adults who might fraudulently pose as a minor in an attempt to benefit from government programs. He noted that in 2019 a total of 64 applicants tried to pass as minors, compared with 40 in 2018.

The government exempted persons seeking international protection or refugee status for other humanitarian reasons from temporary immigration restrictions between March 18 and December 31.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country generally denied asylum to asylum seekers who arrived from a safe country of origin or transit, pursuant to the EU’s Dublin III Regulation. The government considered 13 countries to be “safe countries of origin” for purposes of asylum. Countries considered “safe” at the end of 2017 were Albania, Benin (only for male applicants), Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cabo Verde, Croatia, Georgia, Ghana (only for male applicants), Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Senegal, Serbia, and Ukraine.

Employment: According to the country’s National Refugee Council, language barriers and the inability to understand the domestic job market reduce employment opportunities. According to the representatives of the Immigration Directorate, application procedures are the same for all non-EU nationals.

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

Temporary Protection: The government provided subsidiary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees but who could not return to their country of origin due to a risk of serious harm, and provided it to approximately 40 persons in 2019.

Malta

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

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 generally combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.

Freedom of Speech: It remains a criminal offense to “commit an offence against decency or morals, by any act committed in a public place or in a place exposed to the public.” The law criminalizes speech that promotes hatred on grounds of gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, color, language, ethnic origin, religion or belief, or political or other opinion. Incitement to religious hatred is punishable by a prison term of six to 18 months. On January 30, the courts found in favor of civil society activist Manuel Delia in a constitutional case against the government. The courts found that the government had breached Delia’s right to freedom of expression when it ordered the removal of articles protesters, including Delia, had placed on the makeshift memorial for Daphne Caruana Galizia, an investigative journalist killed by a car bomb in 2017.

Violence and Harassment: In 2017 police charged three persons with the killing of Caruana Galizia in a 2017 car bombing near her home. They were awaiting trial. Caruana Galizia had reported on major government corruption, allegedly involving the prime minister and other senior government officials.

In September 2019, Prime Minister Muscat created a commission for an independent public inquiry into Caruana Galizia’s killing. In November 2019, police arrested business magnate Yorgen Fenech as a “person of interest” in the killing, charging him with criminal conspiracy, being an accomplice in Caruana Galizia’s murder, and conspiring to commit murder, among other things. Fenech denied the charges. Both the public inquiry and the murder investigation continued (for case details, see section 4, Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government).

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.

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

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 https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

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

Not applicable.

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

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The government delayed safe disembarkation to refugees and migrants intercepted at sea, ostensibly due to coronavirus concerns. There were allegations the government ordered private fishing trawlers to intercept migrants and refugees at sea and to return them forcibly to Libya.

On November 30, the courts ordered the release of four migrants after the courts found that authorities had detained them illegally for 166 days. Earlier, on October 29, the courts had also ordered the immediate release of an Ivorian national after they found that Maltese authorities had detained him illegally for 144 days. On November 4, 50 asylum seekers and the siblings of two others who had died opened a constitutional case against the prime minister, the minister of home affairs, national security, and law enforcement, and the commander of the Armed Forces of Malta after they were reportedly pushed back to Libya in April in a seaborne operation. They alleged that Maltese authorities had violated their human rights, including the right to life and the right to seek asylum and subjected them to inhuman and degrading treatment and collective expulsion. The civil society NGO Republika supported the migrants’ case.

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: The country denied asylum to applicants who arrived from other EU countries, in accordance with the Dublin III Regulation.

Freedom of Movement: The government may legally detain an asylum applicant for up to nine months. By law the detention must serve to verify the applicant’s identity or nationality; identify elements on which the asylum application is based; decide on the applicant’s legal right to enter the country; facilitate a return procedure, including to another EU country; or protect national security or public order.

In some cases, immigration authorities may allow alternatives to detention, which are also limited to nine months’ duration, which may include regular reporting to an assigned place, residing at an assigned place, or depositing documents or a surety. Most asylum seekers were allowed one of these alternatives to detention and stayed in detention for no more than two months.

Immigration officers may also legally detain irregular migrants (including failed asylum seekers) who are subject to repatriation. Such detention may have a duration of six months and can be extended by a further 12 months. Most persons detained under these regulations stayed in detention for less than three months prior to their return.

Persons permitted to remain in the country were issued work permits. They were eligible for voluntary repatriation programs, but few chose to participate.

Durable Solutions: Between January and August, 64 persons were granted refugee status. Few refugees were able to naturalize. While persons with refugee status may apply for reunification with family outside the country, those with temporary “subsidiary” protection–the majority of asylum seekers–are not allowed to do so. From January to September, four migrants sought assisted voluntary return. According to several NGOs, integration efforts continued to move slowly, since migrants generally tended to stay close to residential centers, although some moved into the community. Many migrants found work, mostly in low-skill sectors.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary protection, known as “subsidiary” protection, to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. From January to July, the country granted subsidiary protection to 148 persons.

Netherlands

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the governments throughout the kingdom 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 Speech: It is a crime to “verbally or in writing or image deliberately offend a group of people because of their race, their religion or beliefs, their sexual orientation, or their physical, psychological, or mental disability.” The statute in the Netherlands does not consider statements that target a philosophy or religion, as opposed to a group of persons, as criminal hate speech. The penalties for violating the law include imprisonment for a maximum of two years, a substantial monetary fine, or both. In the Dutch Caribbean, the penalties for this offense are imprisonment for a maximum of one year or a monetary fine. In the Netherlands there are restrictions on the sale of the book Mein Kampf and the display of the swastika symbol with the intent of referring to Nazism.

On September 4, an appellate court upheld Party for Freedom leader Geert Wilders’ 2016 conviction for “group insult” against Moroccans at a 2014 political rally. The appeals court threw out the charges of inciting hatred and discrimination, finding that Wilders made the remarks for political purposes, rather than to inspire discrimination. The court upheld his conviction, however, for “group insult,” a crime of deliberately insulting a group of persons because of their race, religion, or conviction. As was the case in the original 2016 conviction, Wilders did not receive a punishment. Wilders asserted the conviction violated his right to freedom of expression and stated he would appeal the conviction to the Supreme Court.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media in the kingdom were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. Restrictions on “hate speech” applied to media outlets but were only occasionally enforced. Disputes occasionally arose over journalists’ right to protect their sources.

Nongovernmental Impact: Several crime reporters and media outlets in the Netherlands faced threats, violence, and intimidation from criminal gangs. If required by circumstances, reporters receive temporary police protection. On February 2, two assailants punched and threatened to kill Pakistani blogger Ahmad Waqass Goraya outside his Rotterdam home.

Kingdom governments did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the governments monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Authorities continued, however, to pursue policies to prevent what they considered incitement to discrimination on the internet. They operated a hotline for persons to report discriminatory phrases and hate speech with the principal aim of having them removed.

It is Dutch government policy to allow the online community to regulate and check itself, except for the removal of illegal content. The government advocated a common European approach for dealing with online hate speech. The government supported independent legal review by the government-sponsored but editorially independent Registration Center for Discrimination on the Internet (MiND Nederland).

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

The laws in the kingdom provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the governments generally respected these rights.

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

The laws in the kingdom provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the governments generally respected these rights.

Beginning in March kingdom authorities established temporary restrictions on internal movement and foreign travel to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Citizenship: Some human rights organizations questioned the law which allows revocation of the Dutch citizenship of dual nationals suspected of being a foreign terrorist fighter. During the year the government did not revoke any dual citizen’s citizenship on the basis of terrorism.

Not applicable.

The governments of the Netherlands, Sint Maarten, and Aruba 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. Curacao expelled UNHCR in 2017 and has allowed UNHCR neither to establish an office nor to interview refugees.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Human rights organizations criticized the government of Curacao for failing to provide temporary status to Venezuelan refugees and other displaced Venezuelans. They found that many migrants and displaced Venezuelans without legal status ended up living on the fringes of society, with no protection against abuse from neighbors or from employers in the informal sector.

The LGBT Asylum Support Foundation reported more than 60 cases of violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals in asylum centers in the Netherlands between June and August and urged for the creation of separate living quarters in asylum centers for LGBTI asylum seekers. Most of the violence was instigated by asylum seekers who discriminated against LGBTI individuals.

Refoulement: On Curacao and Sint Maarten, there is no legal protection from returning a person to their country of origin who faces a well founded fear of persecution there. Curacao and Sint Maarten may have a legal basis, however, to prevent returning a person to a country where they would face torture or degrading or inhuman treatment or punishment, based on the European Convention on Human Rights. Both governments developed corresponding national procedures but did not amend their immigration statutes. The Netherlands and Aruba have legal protections to prevent refoulement. In Aruba, however, authorities deported Venezuelans, who had stated to human rights organizations that they would face abuse if returned to Venezuela, without adjudicating their asylum claim.

There were disagreements between the government of the Netherlands and human rights organizations on the deportation of rejected asylum seekers to countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan, and Bahrain. The courts agreed with the government that conditions in these countries were safe enough to deport these individuals. One case concerned the 2018 deportation of Ali Mohamed al-Showaikh, a rejected asylum seeker from Bahrain, who was immediately arrested upon his deportation to his home country. The government was reproached by human rights organizations for ignoring pertinent information that al-Showaikh would be at risk if deported.

Access to Asylum: The laws on asylum vary in different parts of the kingdom. In the Netherlands, the law generally provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has an established system for providing protection to refugees.

The laws in Sint Maarten and Curacao do not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status. Foreigners requesting asylum are processed as foreigners requesting a humanitarian residence permit. If an individual is unable to obtain a humanitarian residence permit, authorities deport the person to their country of origin or a country that agreed to accept them. Curacao requested and received guidance and training from the Netherlands on asylum-processing procedures. Curacao established an asylum policy based on Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Most asylum seekers in the Dutch Caribbean were from Venezuela. Authorities in Aruba, Curacao, and Sint Maarten generally considered most Venezuelan asylum seekers to be economic migrants ineligible for protection. There were an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 Venezuelan asylum seekers each in Aruba and Curacao and another 1,000 in Sint Maarten. Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao deported undocumented displaced Venezuelans throughout the year. Local and international human rights organizations urged the governments of Aruba and Curacao to refrain from deporting Venezuelan asylum seekers back to their home country. Local human rights organizations reported that Aruba and Curacao deported asylum seekers who had presented credible facts suggesting that they would face abuse for their political beliefs if returned to Venezuela.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: Authorities in the Netherlands denied asylum to persons who came from so-called safe countries of origin or who had resided for some time in safe countries of transit. They used EU guidelines to define such countries. Applicants had the right to appeal all denials.

Under the EU’s Dublin III Regulation, the Netherlands did not return third-country asylum seekers arriving from Hungary back to Hungary, due to discrepancies between Hungary’s asylum laws and EU migration law.

Freedom of Movement: Government guidelines allow those whose asylum application has been denied and are to be deported to be detained for up to six months, during which a judge monthly examines the legitimacy of the detention. If the authorities cannot deport the detained individual within this time period, he or she is released. Authorities can, however, detain the individual for up to a maximum of 18 months on exceptional grounds, such as security concerns, with approval from the court. Detainees have access to a lawyer and can appeal the detention at any time. The Ministry of Justice estimated the average detention span is two months. In the Netherlands, Amnesty International, the Dutch Refugee Council, and other NGOs asserted that persons denied asylum and irregular migrants were regularly subjected to lengthy detention before deportation even when no clear prospect of actual deportation existed.

Durable Solutions: In the Netherlands, the government accepted up to 500 refugees per year for resettlement through UNHCR, and the governments of the Dutch Caribbean accepted up to 250 each. In 2019 the government also relocated up to 350 Syrians from refugee camps in Turkey under the terms of the EU agreement with Turkey. Most of the persons granted residency permits on Curacao and Aruba were from Venezuela. The governments provided financial and in-kind assistance to refugees or asylum seekers who sought to return to their home country voluntarily. Sint Maarten does not receive a significant number of applications from refugees or asylum seekers for residency permits; of those, most were from the northern Caribbean, not Venezuela. The laws in all parts of the kingdom provide the opportunity for non-Dutch persons to gain citizenship.

Temporary Protection: The government of the Netherlands provided temporary protection to individuals who did not qualify as refugees. According to Eurostat data, in 2019 it provided subsidiary protection to 2,355 persons and humanitarian status to 680 others.

During the year, Statistics Netherlands reported the registration of 45,947 persons under “nationality unknown,” which also included stateless persons. The laws in all parts of the kingdom provide the opportunity for stateless persons to gain citizenship.

Some newborns of undocumented Venezuelan parents on Curacao risked becoming stateless, because neither the local government nor the Venezuelan consulate issues birth certificates to undocumented persons.

Poland

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, and the government generally respected these rights.

Freedom of Speech: The law prohibits hate speech, including the dissemination of anti-Semitic literature, the public promotion of fascist, communist, or other totalitarian systems, and the intentional offense of religious feelings.

Violence and Harassment: On February 3, the Warsaw regional court sentenced Michal Majewski, a Wprost weekly reporter, to a fine for protection of sources of information. The conviction refers to a 2014 incident, when Internal Security Agency officers tried to seize forcefully a laptop of one of the journalists who revealed a wiretapping scandal involving leading politicians. The Center for Monitoring Freedom of Speech at the Association of Polish Journalists criticized the conviction as a clear violation of freedom of speech. The ruling was subject to appeal.

On November 11, some police officers used violent crowd control measures against several journalists who were covering violent clashes between police and groups of hooligans during the annual Independence March that took place in Warsaw. Police shot one photojournalist in the face with a rubber bullet and used batons and a stun grenade against other journalists. After the incidents the government announced investigations into the police actions. On December 2, police officially apologized for the incidents and announced training for police officers.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The constitution prohibits censorship of the press or social communication. Nevertheless, laws regulating broadcasting and media prohibit, under penalty of fines, license revocation, or other authorized sanctions, the promotion of activities endangering health or safety, or the promotion of views contrary to law, morality, or the common good. The law also requires that all broadcasts “respect the religious feelings of the audiences and, in particular, respect the Christian system of values.”

Critics alleged persistent progovernment bias in state television news broadcasts.

Libel/Slander Laws: Defamation by print and broadcast journalists is a criminal offense and includes publicly insulting or slandering the president, members of parliament, government ministers and other public officials, the Polish nation, foreign heads of state and ambassadors, private entities and persons, as well as insult or destruction of the national emblem, the flag, other state symbols, and monuments. Defamation outside media is punishable by a fine and community service. The courts rarely applied maximum penalties, and persons convicted of defamation generally faced fines or imprisonment of less than one year. The maximum sentence for insulting the president is three years’ imprisonment.

On August 5, police charged three persons with desecrating monuments and offending religious sentiment by placing rainbow flags on several monuments around Warsaw, including an historic religious statue standing in front of a Roman Catholic Church associated with Warsaw’s occupation. If convicted the three may face a fine for insulting the monuments and up to two years in prison for offending religious sentiment.

The Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights and the Association of Polish Journalists reported that journalists convicted of defamation had never received the maximum penalty. According to the Helsinki Foundation, however, the criminal defamation law may have a chilling effect on journalists, especially in local media, since local authorities may use the law against journalists. Media owners, particularly of small local independent newspapers, were aware that potentially large fines could threaten the financial survival of their publications. According to the Helsinki Foundation, there was a considerable increase in the number of convictions under the criminal defamation law over the last several years. The foundation observed that those seeking to protect their reputations were more likely to pursue criminal defamation charges than civil litigation. This may negatively affect the operation of local media outlets, which the foundation stated were often the only source of accountability for local officials. According to Ministry of Justice statistics for 2018, the most recent data available, courts convicted one person of insulting the president and three persons for insulting constitutional organs of the government. In 2018 the courts fined two persons for public defamation through media using the public prosecution procedure, when a private person presses criminal charges against another person. In 2018 there were 116 convictions for criminal defamation through media using the private prosecution procedure.

On September 2, the Supreme Court struck down a Lodz District Court judgment from February 2019 against investigative reporter Wojciech Biedron on charges of public insult of a judge for inaccurately reporting that a court had initiated disciplinary proceedings against the judge. The September 2 decision resulted from a complaint filed with the Supreme Court by the prosecutor general in September 2019. The case was sent back to the district court for a retrial.

Nongovernmental Impact: On July 7, unknown perpetrators vandalized the offices of the magazine Fakty Social Dialogue. The perpetrators wrote “Fakty TVN go away” on the office walls, apparently mistaking the magazine’s offices for those of private television station TVN’s flagship news program Fakty, which had broadcast criticism of the government. The magazine’s equipment and server room were destroyed, and hard drives from laptops and computers were stolen. The editor in chief of the magazine claimed the vandalism was the result of a campaign by the governing party against “opposition media.”

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 or email without appropriate legal authority. The law authorizes the (ABW) to block websites without a prior court order in cases relating to combating, preventing, and prosecuting terrorist crimes; shut down telecommunications networks when there is a terrorist threat; and conduct surveillance of foreign nationals for up to three months without a court order. During the year there were no reports by media or NGO sources that the ABW blocked websites.

The law against defamation applies to the internet as well.

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

The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights. The law permits restrictions on public assemblies in situations of elevated terrorist threats. During the year there were no cases of the prohibition of a public assembly due to an elevated terrorist threat.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, on March 13, the government limited public assemblies to a maximum of 50 persons. From March 31 to May 29, due to a declared “state of epidemic,” the government introduced a total ban on public assemblies. From May 30 to October 16, public assemblies of up to 150 participants were allowed, except for so-called spontaneous gatherings organized without prior notification to local authorities. On October 17, new regulations entered into force that allowed public assemblies of up to 10 participants in regions of the country with the highest numbers of COVID-19 infections and 25 participants in the remaining parts of the country. On October 24, public assemblies were limited to five participants nationwide. In a speech to the Senate on November 27, the ombudsperson expressed concerns that police were increasingly using excessive means of direct coercion against demonstrators over the course of the pandemic and urged the Senate to work on a bill “to make the police more oriented towards observing human rights.”

On May 16, police detained more than 380 persons following a protest by entrepreneurs in Warsaw against government policy towards businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic. Police used tear gas to disperse the protest. The government punished 220 persons for violating social distancing restrictions, and five were charged with more serious crimes, including assaulting police officers.

On October 27, following several days of large public demonstrations against an October 22 Constitutional Court ruling restricting abortion, Law and Justice Party Chairman and Deputy Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski released a video statement claiming protest organizers and protesters themselves were committing a “serious crime” by protesting during a period of heightened COVID-19 infections in the country. He said authorities had an “obligation to oppose such events.”

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

Not applicable.

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, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

In addition to guarded centers for foreigners, the government operated 10 open centers for asylum seekers with an aggregate capacity of approximately 1,900 persons in the Warsaw, Bialystok, and Lublin areas.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Some incidents of gender-based violence in the centers for asylum seekers occurred, but UNHCR reported that local response teams involving doctors, psychologists, police, and social workers addressed these cases. UNHCR reported no major or persistent problems with abuse in the centers.

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.

On July 23, the European Court of Human Rights ruled against the country, stating it violated the European Convention on Human Rights by not accepting a group of asylum seekers from Russia and not allowing them to file applications for international protection. The case originated in 2017 when several Russian asylum seekers of Chechen origin attempted to enter the country via Belarus but were repeatedly returned to Belarus. The Polish Border Guard refused to accept their applications for international protection even though some had documents that proved they were victims of torture and persecution. On July 24, the Warsaw branch of UNHCR appealed to the government to follow international law and allow asylum seekers to apply for international protection in the country.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The EU’s Dublin III Regulation, to which the country is subject, recognizes all EU countries as safe countries of origin and transit. The regulation also authorizes the governments of EU member states to return asylum seekers to the countries where they first entered the EU. The law permits denial of refugee status based on safe country of origin or safe country of transit but includes provisions that allow authorities to consider the protection needs of individuals in exceptional cases.

Freedom of Movement: Authorities placed some asylum seekers in guarded centers for foreigners while they awaited deportation or decisions on their asylum applications. Border guards may place an individual in a guarded center only by court order. The law prohibits the placement of unaccompanied minors younger than 15 in guarded centers. Border guards typically sought to confine foreigners who attempted to cross the border illegally, lacked identity documents, or committed a crime during their stay in the country.

Employment: Asylum seekers are not allowed to work during the first six months of the asylum procedure. If the asylum procedure lasts longer than six months, they may work until the asylum decision is final.

Access to Basic Services: Asylum seekers faced language and cultural barriers and had limited access to higher education. Children in centers for asylum seekers had free access to public education, in addition to other educational activities organized in the center, but those placed with relatives in guarded centers for foreigners did not.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary protection to some individuals who did not qualify as refugees. Between August 18 and November 12, according to Ministry of Interior and Administration statistics, 1,050 Belarusian citizens entered the country under special procedures, including “humanitarian visas,” refugee status, and special permissions from the Border Guard’s chief commander. In addition, 330 Belarusians entered the country under the Ministry of Development program Poland. Business Harbor, which facilitates business activity for Belarusians who want to relocate their business to Poland.

The law affords the opportunity for stateless persons to obtain nationality. A 2019 UNHCR report noted, however, that the government’s lack of a formal procedure of identifying stateless persons led to protection gaps and exposed stateless persons to many negative consequences, including detention.

The 2019 UNHCR report noted several problems resulting from stateless status, including the inability to undertake legal employment or to access social welfare and health care. Stateless persons often lack identity documents, which limits their ability to perform many legal actions, such as opening a bank account or entering into a marriage. According to UNHCR, such problems made this group particularly vulnerable to poverty and marginalization.

Portugal

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

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. The law criminalizes the denigration of ethnic or religious minorities, as well as Holocaust denial, as an offensive practice. Prison sentences for these crimes run between six months and eight years.

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.

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

The constitution and law provide 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 https://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.

Not applicable.

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, returning refugees, and other persons of concern.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: According to NGOs and media reports, authorities kept in detention some asylum seekers who submitted their applications for international protection at border points. If asylum seekers appeal a negative decision, they can await the decision in housing provided by the Portuguese Refugee Council, the Social Emergency Bureau of Lisbon’s Holy House of Mercy (almshouse), or the Salvation Army’s shelter center.

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 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, or other persons of concern.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The government considers all other EU countries to be safe countries of origin or transit. It returned asylum seekers to their country of entry into the EU for adjudication of their applications.

Durable Solutions: The government fulfilled its commitment and received refugees under the EU’s relocation plan for refugees who entered the EU through Greece and Turkey. It offered naturalization to refugees residing within the country’s territory and other durable solutions, such as the right to work, education, access to health care, and housing support.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees, and it provided subsidiary protection to 113 persons in 2019, according to SEF’s 2019 Immigration, Borders, and Asylum Report.

Romania

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government partially respected this right. Independent media organizations noted excessive politicization of media, corrupt financing mechanisms, as well as editorial policies subordinated to the former elected ruling party and owners’ interests. Reporters said their freedom of expression was also limited by restricted access to information of public interest issued by the previous government and public institutions, including expenses, contracts, or bids involving public funds, and officials’ academic records, and pandemic records. Reporters and NGOs often had to sue state-controlled ministries, agencies, or local entities to access public information.

Freedom of Speech: The law prohibits Holocaust denial and promoting or using symbols representing fascist, racist, xenophobic ideologies, or symbols associated with the interwar nationalist, extremist, fascist and anti-Semitic Legionnaire movement. Various government bodies, mainly the gendarmerie, continued to fine, place under temporary arrest, or block individuals who protested in the streets for differing causes.

The Gendarmerie fined several individuals who attended an August 10 protest in Victoria Square to commemorate the victims of the Gendarmerie’s violent intervention against pro-rule-of-law protesters on August 10, 2018. Those fined included reporter Mircea Savin of Podul.ro.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: While independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without overt restriction, politicians or persons with close ties to politicians and political groups either owned or indirectly controlled numerous media outlets at the national and local levels. The news and editorial stance of these outlets frequently reflected their owners’ views and targeted criticism at political opponents and other media organizations.

On March 4, the High Court of Justice ruled against an appeal by Vrancea County Council President Marian Oprisan (PSD) against reporter Sebastian Oancea of Vrancea24 who wrote about public contracts granted by Oprisan to his business associates and individuals with criminal records. It was the fourth case lost by Oprisan against Oancea in recent years.

In March the government ordered prefects and public health authorities to ban the publication of county-level information on the number of COVID-19 tests performed and number of infections. On March 20, 14 civic associations issued a joint statement protesting the move, and on April 6, almost 100 news outlets and 165 journalists from national and local organizations signed a freedom of information request initiated by the Center for Independent Journalism asking for fair and timely access to COVID-19 information. Due to media and NGO protests, in April the government created a Strategic Communications Task Force to manage messaging during the pandemic. It also expanded its daily reports to include county-level breakdowns.

Violence and Harassment: Some reporters throughout the country continued to be harassed, sued, or threatened by authorities they investigated or by their proxies.

In February reporters Alex Costache of TVR and Cosmin Savu of ProTV were followed, filmed, and intimidated by six individuals before, during, and after the two met with a military prosecutor and a judge at a private event in a restaurant. Footage of the four was disseminated on February 21 by outlets controlled by oligarchs and media owners facing criminal chargers, under investigation, or previously arrested for fraud. Military prosecutors opened an investigation into the illegal surveillance and filming. In April, Prosecutor General Gabriela Scutea dismissed the evidence gathered by military prosecutors, claiming the prosecutors lacked jurisdiction.

The government did not systematically 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.

On March 16, President Klaus Iohannis signed an emergency decree that included provisions to counter the spread of disinformation related to COVID-19 online and allowed for the removal of reports and entire websites deemed to be spreading false information; the decree provided no appeal or redress mechanisms. The National Authority for Management and Regulation in Communications, an institution for communication infrastructure with no expertise in media content, was given responsibility for implementing the decree. In response, on March 30 the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)’s Representative on Freedom of the Media issued a press release urging authorities to restore the capacity of journalists to act in the public interest, without undue restriction and to respect the principles of necessity and proportionality in any decision related to the emergency situation. The European Federation of Journalists also urged President Iohannis and the Government of Romania to revise emergency policies restricting reporters’ access to information regarding the spread of COVID-19 and the regulations giving authorities the power to shut down websites. The government suspended 15 websites.

On June 16, the Senate adopted an Education Law amendment banning schools and universities from discussing gender identity. The vote generated numerous protests from associations of university rectors, professors, doctors, psychologists, and cultural figures, who the amendment violated academic and cultural freedoms as well as the right to a science-based education. President Iohannis challenged the amendment at the Constitutional Court, arguing the amendment violated the constitution. On December 16, the Constitutional Court declared the amendment unconstitutional.

The constitution and law provide for the freedom of association, but the government occasionally restricted freedom of peaceful assembly.

The constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, which the government has generally respected. The law provides that unarmed citizens may assemble peacefully but also stipulates that meetings must not interfere with other economic or social activities and may not take place near such locations as hospitals, airports, or military installations. In most cases organizers of public assemblies must request permits in writing three days in advance from the mayor’s office of the locality where the gathering is to occur.

In 2018, the Supreme Court ruled that public gatherings, including protests, must be declared in advance when they are to be held in markets, public spaces, or in the vicinity of institutions “of public or private interest.” The decision was mandatory. Activists opposed these restrictions, stating that by announcing the protests, those who take to the streets would be forced to take responsibility not only for themselves, but also for larger groups or for instigators to violence who may be brought there to compromise peaceful anticorruption protests.

In 2018 a protest at Victoria Square in Bucharest attracted approximately 100,000 protesters. Gendarmes used tear gas and water cannon indiscriminately, harming peaceful protesters, some of whom were children or elderly. More than 770 criminal complaints concerning violent incidents that allegedly constituted excessive force against peaceful protesters were submitted to authorities. During the year, the Directorate for Investigating Organized Crime and Terrorism (DIICOT) announced it was suspending investigations of four senior officials in relation to the protest and that investigations of rank-and-file gendarmes accused of excessive violence would continue under the coordination of military prosecutors. Following public outcry, DIICOT reinstated charges of abuse of office and abusive conduct against the senior officials and submitted its decision to the preliminary chamber of the Bucharest Court of Appeal for confirmation. The Bucharest Court of Appeal declined its jurisdiction and sent the case to the Bucharest Tribunal which, as of November, had not made a decision.

To prevent the spread of COVID-19, between March and September the government maintained a ban on public gatherings. On September 15, the government introduced regulations that allowed public gatherings of a maximum of 100 persons. Observers and several NGOs including the Civil Liberties Union for Europe and the Greenpeace European Unit noted that the government maintained the ban on public gatherings while allowing other types of events, such as concerts, to have up to 500 participants.

The constitution provides for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. The law prohibits fascist, racist, or xenophobic ideologies, organizations, and symbols.

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

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

In-country Movement: The internal movement of beneficiaries of international protection and stateless persons was generally not restricted. Asylum seekers may be subject to measures limiting their freedom of movement and to detention in specific circumstances. The law and implementing regulations provide that the General Inspectorate for Immigration may designate a specific place of residence for an applicant for asylum while authorities determine his or her eligibility, or may take restrictive measures, subject to approval by the prosecutor’s office, that amount to administrative detention in “specially arranged closed areas.” According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), as of October no such cases of asylum detention were recorded during the year. Applicants who do not qualify for asylum are treated as aliens without a right to stay in the country and may be taken into custody pending deportation. According to the law, those applying for asylum while in public custody were released from detention if granted access to the ordinary procedure. Detention in public custody centers is subject to regular review and should not exceed six months unless there are specific circumstances, in which case detention may be extended for up to 18 months. Applicants for or beneficiaries of international protection in certain circumstances, particularly those declared “undesirable” for reasons of national security, may be subject to administrative detention in public custody centers.

Not applicable.

The government cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern, which could include irregular migrants potentially in need of international protection.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: According to UNHCR, several incidents of harassment, discrimination, and crimes against refugees and migrants were reported throughout the year throughout the country, although most incidents were not reported because of fear, lack of information, inadequate support services, and inefficient redress mechanisms.

Refoulement: The law establishes exceptions to the principle of nonrefoulement and the withdrawal of the right to stay following a declaration of a person as “undesirable.” This may occur, for example, when classified information or “well founded indications” suggest that aliens (including applicants for asylum, or persons granted asylum) intend to commit terrorist acts or favor terrorism. Applicants for protection declared “undesirable” on national security grounds were taken into custody pending the finalization of their asylum procedure and then deported.

Access to Asylum: The law provides access to asylum procedures to foreign nationals and stateless persons who express their desire for protection, which may be in the form of refugee status or temporary “subsidiary protection” status. The law prohibits the expulsion, extradition, or forced return of any asylum seeker at the country’s border or from within the country’s territory, but this was not without exceptions, particularly in cases that fell under the country’s national security and terrorism laws.

The law also refers to the concept of a safe third country. The law extends to irregular migrants who transited and were offered protection in a third country considered safe or who had the opportunity at the border or on the soil of a safe third country to contact authorities for the purpose of obtaining protection. In such cases authorities could deny access to asylum procedures if the designated safe third country agreed to readmit the applicant to its territory and grant access to asylum procedures. According to the MFA, the government has not rejected any application for protection on a safe third country basis.

Freedom of Movement: The law incorporates four “restrictive” measures under which the internal movement of applicants for asylum may be limited. The first two establish an obligation to report regularly to the General Inspectorate for Immigration or to reside at a regional reception center. A third restrictive measure allows authorities to place applicants in “specially arranged closed areas” for a maximum of 60 days, either to access the asylum procedure or if the asylum seeker is deemed to pose a danger to national security. There was no case of an asylum applicant being placed in a specially arranged closed area through August. Authorities may also place asylum applicants in administrative detention in a public custody center if they are subject to a transfer to another EU member state under the Dublin Regulations or if they have been declared “undesirable” for reasons of national security, pending their removal from the country.

According to UNHCR, irregular migrants, persons declared as “undesirable,” asylum seekers deemed to pose a “risk of absconding,” as well as other categories of foreigners may face detention in public custody centers or in closed areas inside reception centers. Under provisions of the law to limit “abuse to the asylum procedure,” irregular migrants who submitted their first application for international protection while in custody were released from detention only if granted access to the ordinary asylum application procedure. The provisions raised concerns among UN agencies and civil society due to the ambiguity in the phrases “abuse of the asylum procedure” and “risk of absconding.”

The period of detention in a public custody center could be prolonged up to a maximum of 18 months.

Employment: While persons granted international protection have the legal right to work, job scarcity, low wages, lack of language proficiency, and lack of recognized academic degrees and other certifications often resulted in unemployment or employment without a legal contract and its related benefits and protections. Obtaining a legal work contract remained difficult for various reasons, including tax concerns and the reluctance of employers to hire refugees.

Access to Basic Services: Effective access by persons with refugee status or subsidiary protection to education, housing, lifelong learning and employment, public health care, and social security varied across the country, depending on the level of awareness of various public and private actors responsible for ensuring access to these services.

Beneficiaries of international protection continued to face problems with local integration, including access to vocational training adapted to their specific needs, counseling programs, and naturalization. According to UNHCR, refugee integration programs relied almost exclusively on NGOs, with coordination from the General Inspectorate for Immigration. The support services or targeted integration and inclusion programs provided by local governments to refugees were limited. Access to education was problematic, and several school inspectorates refused to organize Romanian language classes. According to several reports, schools across the country, including in large cities such as Bucharest, delayed enrollment of refugee children in school for several months.

Temporary Protection: The government may grant “tolerated status” to persons who do not meet the requirements for refugee status or subsidiary protection, but who cannot be returned for various reasons. These reasons include cases where stateless persons are not accepted by their former country of habitual residence or where the lives or well-being of returnees could be at risk. Persons with “tolerated status” have the right to work but not to benefit from any other social protection or inclusion provisions, and the government restricted their freedom of movement to a specific region of the country.

Recipients of subsidiary protection complained of problems regarding their freedom of movement to other countries due to the additional visa requirements. UNHCR reported that refugees saw citizenship acquisition as a cumbersome, costly, and difficult process, with some requirements, particularly related to the applicant’s financial situation, that were difficult to meet.

According to the MFA, as of July there were 275 stateless persons with valid residence documents in the country. These included legal residents under the aliens’ regime, stateless persons of Romanian origin, as well as persons granted some form of international protection. Data on stateless persons, including on persons at risk of statelessness and persons of undetermined nationality, were not reliable due to the absence of a procedure to determine statelessness, the absence of a single designated authority responsible for this purpose, and the lack of adequate identification and registration of persons with unknown or undetermined nationality.

The law includes favorable provisions for stateless persons of Romanian origin to reacquire citizenship. Nevertheless, a significant gap persisted due to the lack of safeguards against statelessness for children born in the country, who would be stateless because their parents either were themselves stateless or were foreigners unable to transmit their nationality.

Slovakia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected these rights.

Freedom of Speech: The law prohibits the defamation of nationalities and race, punishable by up to three years in prison, and denial of the Holocaust and crimes committed by the fascist and communist regimes, which carry a prison sentence of six months to three years.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: The prohibitions against defamation of nationalities and denial of the Holocaust and crimes committed by the fascist and communist regimes also applied to the print and broadcast media, the publication of books, and online newspapers and journals. According to media organizations, criminal libel provisions restrict freedom of expression, including freedom of media. In one instance criminal court proceedings were pending against a journalist who was sentenced for libel after he published a 2015 article concerning alleged corruption by former speaker of parliament Jaroslav Paska involving his health-care business.

In June 2019 a Bratislava district court issued a preliminary measure ordering former presidential candidate Martin Dano to withdraw his online videos targeting investigative journalist and anticorruption NGO director Zuzana Petkova. The court ruled Dano’s videos incited hatred and defamed Petkova and other investigative journalists. Petkova informed media outlets that Dano had not complied with the court decision. Appeal proceedings were pending. In December 2019 an investigator pressed charges against Dano and his YouTube partner, Rudolf Vasky, for hooliganism after they allegedly incited violence against several political, judicial, and media personalities. In January a Bratislava district court issued a similar ruling against Dano and ordered him to remove his online videos targeting a journalist. Criminal proceedings were pending.

The majority of media are privately owned or funded from private sources. Radio and Television Slovakia and the TASR news agency received state funding for specific programming. Observers expressed concern, however, about the increasing consolidation of media ownership and its potential long-term threat to press freedom. NGOs reported most of the country’s private media outlets, including television stations and print publications, are controlled by relatively few financial conglomerates or wealthy individuals.

Violence and Harassment: In 2018 investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancee, Martina Kusnirova, were murdered in their home. Kuciak regularly reported on allegations of high-level corruption and documented tax-fraud schemes. In 2019 authorities arrested and indicted four suspects in the case, including businessman Marian Kocner, who was charged with ordering the murder. In January the Specialized Criminal Court sentenced Zoltan Andrusko and in April sentenced Miroslav Marcek to prison sentences of 20 and 23 years, respectively, for their involvement in the murders. In September the Specialized Criminal Court acquitted both Marian Kocner and indicted collaborator Alena Zsuzsova of ordering the murder, citing a lack of evidence. The prosecutor appealed the acquittals to the Supreme Court. The court sentenced Tomas Szabo to 25 years in prison as an accessory to the murder.

Nationwide public protests in 2018 following the killings prompted the resignation of then interior minister Robert Kalinak, then prime minister Robert Fico, and then police president Tibor Gaspar. Since the resignations, Fico on multiple occasions accused media outlets and NGOs of using the killings to foment a “coup.”

The investigation into the Kuciak murder led to allegations that Kocner and his collaborators conducted surveillance of selected investigative journalists, allegedly with the assistance of law enforcement. According to media reports, the investigation revealed that police representatives illegally accessed government databases to collect information on journalists and their family members. Information collected through surveillance and from state databases was allegedly used to intimidate individual journalists. In June a court took into custody the former chief of the Financial Intelligence Unit, Pavol Vorobjov, who was accused of unlawfully accessing police databases. Investigations into the surveillance and intimidation cases involving unlawfully collected personal data of 140 individuals, including 28 journalists, were pending (see section 4, Corruption).

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel and slander are treated as criminal offenses. Media organizations criticized a criminal libel provision in the criminal code as restricting freedom of expression.

Financial elites targeted the press in several civil defamation lawsuits, which often required the press to pay large sums of money in penalties or legal costs. The International Press Institute Slovakia and other observers expressed concern this financial risk and the administrative burden of constantly contesting lawsuits could lead to media self-censorship.

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Police, however, monitored websites containing hate speech and attempted to arrest or fine the authors.

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

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

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

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

In March the government introduced sweeping restrictions on the freedom of movement in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including closing borders for all but exempted foreign nationals, imposing a mandatory 14-day isolation period for all citizens arriving from abroad in government-run quarantine centers, and sealing off entire marginalized Romani settlements under quarantine for COVID-19. Human rights activists and the ombudsperson questioned whether the extraordinary measures and restrictions introduced to contain the spread of COVID-19, particularly the 14-day quarantine of arrivals from abroad in state-run facilities, were proportionate, had a valid legal basis, or violated the constitution. As of September the Constitutional Court continued to review the legality of the government measures after several citizens lodged official complaints, citing violations of their fundamental rights and freedoms.

Not applicable.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has an established system for providing some protection to refugees. Some organizations criticized the Migration Office for applying a restrictive asylum policy and granting asylum only in a very limited number of cases. During the year, for example, the government had received 249 asylum applications and granted asylum to 10 individuals. The government granted asylum to nine individuals in 2019.

NGOs reported asylum seekers had only limited access to qualified, independent legal advice. The contract for legal assistance to asylum seekers did not cover asylum seekers in detention, so these persons could access free legal assistance only in the second, appellate-level hearing on their asylum application process. Migration Office staff allegedly endeavored to provide legal advice to some asylum applicants, even though they were also interviewing the asylum seekers and adjudicating their asylum applications.

There was no independent monitoring by local NGOs of access to asylum procedures on the country’s borders and only limited monitoring of access to asylum by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country denied asylum to applicants from a safe country of origin or transit. The law requires authorities to ensure the well-being of individual asylum seekers is not threatened if deported to a non-EU “safe country.” Some observers criticized the Bureau of Border and Alien Police for lacking the information necessary to determine whether a country would be safe for persons facing deportation there.

Freedom of Movement: NGOs reported that the Bureau of Border and Alien Police unnecessarily detained migrants on badly founded or arbitrary detention orders, including asylum seekers who police believed made false asylum claims, and that police failed adequately to use alternatives to detention, such as supervised release or financial bonds. NGOs reported it was routine practice to issue detention orders and place asylum seekers with children in the immigration detention center in Secovce, where they often faced degrading treatment.

Access to Basic Services: NGOs reported schools generally did not make use of available government support for language and integration assistance for foreign students.

The human rights organization Marginal stated that integration of approved asylum seekers in the country was hampered by the absence of a comprehensive government-funded and -operated integration program. These services had to be provided by NGOs and funded through a patchwork of domestic and international sources.

Human rights organizations reported that asylum seekers placed in immigration detention did not have adequate access to quality health care, contributing to the spread of contagious diseases in detention facilities.

Durable Solutions: The Migration Office accommodated refugees processed at the UNHCR emergency transit center in Humenne for permanent resettlement to a third country. The refugees were moved to Slovakia from other countries due to security and humanitarian concerns. The center was able to accommodate up to 250 refugees at a time but operated at near zero occupancy throughout the year.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary “subsidiary protection” to individuals who might not qualify as refugees but could not return to their home countries and during the year granted it to 21 persons. Subsidiary protection is initially granted for one year, with possible extensions. NGOs asserted this approach created uncertainty regarding the individual’s status in the country and significantly hindered their employment and overall integration prospects. There were reports persons granted subsidiary protection had only limited access to health care. The Ministry of Interior issued health coverage documentation directly to persons with subsidiary protection without clear explanation of benefits.

Slovenia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

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 Speech: The law prohibits the incitement to hatred, violence, and intolerance based on nationality, race, religion, gender, skin color, social status, political or other beliefs, sexual orientation, and disability in a way that could threaten or disrupt public order, typically requiring violence to occur for the prosecution of such incitement. The penal code also prohibits the expression of ideas of racial superiority and denial of the Holocaust.

On May 11, police launched an investigation against demonstrators for their participation in regular antigovernment protests, at which some brandished the slogan “Death to Jansism,” in reference to Prime Minister Janez Jansa. The Prime Minister claimed the slogan was a death threat that could escalate into physical violence. The state prosecution did not press charges, determining on May 20 that the word “death” in the slogan should be seen as metaphorical and as a call to halt the policies of Jansa.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. Nevertheless, journalist organizations reported growing hateful rhetoric and threats against journalists online, spurred by animosity from officials. The International Press Institute highlighted a series of Twitter attacks on reporters, “enabling a wider increase in digital harassment from online trolls and contributing to an increasingly hostile climate for watchdog journalism.”

On March 15, the government’s COVID-19 Crisis Headquarters retweeted an insulting claim about investigative journalist Blaz Zgaga, alleging that he had a “COVID Marx-Lenin virus,” after Zgaga filed a freedom of information request regarding the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Following this tweet, progovernment media and social media users engaged in smears and verbal attacks on Zgaga, claiming he was an “enemy of the state.” Zgaga also received online death threats. Several international organizations, including the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, as well as press freedom groups, condemned the threats against the journalist, and European Union Commissioner for Values and Transparency Vera Jourova contacted the country’s authorities about the media freedom situation. In a reply to the Council of Europe, the government condemned the case of alleged harassment of the journalist, but stated that there is no conclusive evidence as to what caused the harassment.

The European Commission reported in its September rule of law report for the country that concerns have been raised by stakeholders about possible politically motivated changes to the funding of the national public broadcaster and the governance of the national press agency.

Media freedom watchdogs also expressed concerns about government moves to exert pressure on public broadcaster RTV through changes to its governing bodies, especially following criticism by government officials of RTV’s reporting that was unfavorable to the government. One of the new administration’s early actions was to replace a subset of RTV’s supervisory board, intended to insure its financial independence, as is not uncommon with a change in government. Though the move was not unprecedented, one of the supervisory board members appealed, noting their terms had not expired. The case was still being adjudicated, however, an attempt to change two other supervisory board members was blocked by a parliamentary committee on May 21. The government also appointed some new members to RTV’s Program Council, which oversees its editorial policy and selects its director general.

On March 20, Prime Minister Jansa accused RTV on Twitter of spreading lies about an alleged decision by the government to raise salaries of ministers and state secretaries, adding that “obviously, there are too many of you and you are overpaid.” The Association of Slovenian Journalists expressed concern about the Prime Minister’s statement, asserting that it should be understood as a threat to RTV employees against possible loss of employment if they do not report according to the government’s liking. RTV Director General Igor Kadunc claimed that the comment had damaging consequences for media freedom and was aimed at the subordination of the central media to one political option.

RTV complained about a growing number of insulting tweets and verbal attacks against the institution and its journalists by politicians, labeling such attacks an attack on democracy. Following these verbal attacks, RTV journalists experienced several physical attacks by nongovernment actors.

The International Press Institute estimated that “few countries in Europe have experienced such a swift downturn in press and media freedom after a new government came to power,” leading to “a worrying decline in press freedom in a very short space of time in a country previously considered a relative safe haven for independent journalism, sending up further warning signs about deteriorating media freedom in Central Europe.”

Responding to allegations of pressure on the media in the country, the government attempted to justify its criticisms of the press by providing additional context in a April 7 letter to the Council of Europe, stating that the situation is a result of the country’s media having “their origin in the former communist regime” and the consolidation of media ownership in the hands of circles close to the left.

Journalists and media representatives stated existing media legislation does not address the problem of excessive concentration of ownership in media, which could limit the diversity of views expressed. On July 23, the European Commission expressed concern about transparency of media ownership in its rule of law report for the country. Particularly in the case of multiple shell owners, the law may make it difficult to identify who ultimately controls editorial decision making.

The European Commission also reported on a high level of political influence over some media companies, which could trickle down to the press and broadcasters at regional and local levels. Most media in the country are perceived by the population as somewhat biased, with those on the right asserting that the predominantly left-leaning media environment prevents a full spectrum of political views from being widely expressed.

Watchdog groups’ concerns about alleged financing of certain Slovenian media outlets by sources tied to Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party increased on September 30, when Telekom Slovenije sold Planet TV to Hungary’s TV2 Media, owned by Jozsef Vida, reportedly linked to the business network of Fidesz. Two Slovenian media outlets associated with the Slovenian Democratic Party, weekly newspaper Demokracija and the NovaTV web portal and TV channel, have long been rumored to receive funding from Fidesz allies.

The print and broadcast media, like online newspapers and journals, as well as book publishers, are subject to the laws prohibiting hate speech, libel, and slander.

Violence and Harassment: RTV journalists reported several physical attacks. On March 31, a news crew from RTV was verbally abused and threatened in the street by an unidentified individual as they were reporting from the capital, Ljubljana. After walking away, the assailant returned to the crew’s company vehicle and damaged the tires.

Such incidents were strongly condemned by the country’s senior officials and parties, including Prime Minister Jansa, who tweeted: “We condemn any form of street violence targeting journalists or anyone else, as well as any instigating of such acts.”

On June 1, Eugenija Carl, a journalist at RTV, received an envelope addressed to her containing a threatening handwritten note and a suspicious white powder that she said caused irritation and gave her a sore throat.

Physical attacks on journalists by nongovernment actors occurred particularly during protests. For example, on November 5, an unknown assailant hit photojournalist Borut Zivulovic in the head, apparently deliberately as journalists covered violent clashes with riot police during protests in Ljubljana. Press freedom groups strongly condemned the attack. A police investigation is ongoing. Several other media outlets also reported that their crews were intimidated, pushed, and obstructed during the protest.

During an antigovernment rally in Ljubljana on October 16, a protester, rapper Zlatan “Zlatko” Cordic, approached a cameraman for progovernment broadcaster Nova24 and grabbed his camera, demanding that he erase the recording. After police intervened, the camera was returned. Several videos of the incident appeared on social media. Journalist groups on both sides of the political spectrum condemned violence against media in response to the incident.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Instances of overt political pressure on the press remained isolated. The Slovenian Association of Journalists and media analysts observed that standards of journalistic integrity suffered because of economic pressure, nonstandard forms of employment such as freelance or student status, and reduced protections for journalists, leading some to practice self-censorship to maintain steady employment.

Libel/Slander Laws: The print and broadcast media, like online newspapers and journals, as well as book publishers, are subject to the laws criminalizing hate speech, libel, and slander. The government has not used the law to retaliate against journalists or political opponents.

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

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

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

There were reports that police in rare cases used excessive force when responding to demonstrations. On October 11, several demonstrators addressed a protest letter to the acting Police Commissioner over the conduct of police during antigovernment protests in Ljubljana on October 9, claiming officers used excessive force without reason in several cases. The letter alleged that despite keeping a safe distance, “individuals were targeted without a warranted reason,” adding that the police should have acted differently, as the use of force was unnecessary. The Ljubljana Police Department denied allegations that they used excessive force. The police stressed in a press release that their task was to uphold public order, considering the temporary government decree restricting movement and assembly in public areas.

Several civil society organizations alleged that the government took steps to retaliate against them for their criticism of government policy (see section 5).

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

In-Country Movement: Due to COVID-19, the government instituted limitations on movement to within the borders of an individual’s municipality of residence from mid-March until mid-May. These limitations were re-established in October along with a 30-day epidemic declaration that included a 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew. On December 17, the government formally extended the limitations by another 30 days, from December 18 until January 16, 2021. In the four regions with the best epidemiological situation, individuals using the national contact tracing app #OstaniZdrav (#StayWell) will be able to move between municipalities despite the general ban on intermunicipal movement.

Citizenship: Based on a 2012 decision by the European Court of Human Rights, in 2013 the government introduced a system for providing just satisfaction (i.e., restitution for damages) for the “erased” citizens of other former Yugoslav republics denied the right to reside legally in the country in the 1990s. To date, more than 10,300 “erased” individuals have regularized their legal status in the country. An additional 3,000 were presumed deceased, and approximately 12,000 were believed to be living abroad with no intention of returning to the country.

Not applicable.

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 alleged that border authorities continued to reject without due process most individuals seeking asylum.

NGOs reported that asylum seekers returned by Slovenian police to Croatia have no legal remedies to challenge border police decisions. NGOs alleged Croatian police forcibly pushed returning many migrants to Croatia into Bosnia and Herzegovina. Amnesty International stated that the expulsions from Slovenia took place without appropriate procedural safeguards against refoulement. This situation has made it difficult for migrants to apply for international protection.

On August 24, the Supreme Court overturned an Administrative Court ruling that blocked the return of migrants to Croatia without a formal Slovenian decision, effectively authorizing the immediate return of migrants to Croatia. The Administrative Court had ruled fast-track returns based on a Slovenian-Croatian interstate agreement but without a specific Slovenian decision in each case violated European and Slovenian legislation and constitutionally secured rights. The Supreme Court ruled that the 2006 agreement provides for the summary return of migrants.

The government also contended it lacks the capacity to process and house all new asylum seekers. Seven EU members, including the country, addressed a letter to the European Commission in June, expressing opposition to compulsory redistribution of migrants among EU member states.

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: Due to an increase in numbers of asylum seekers and a backlog of cases, applicants were detained at asylum centers while waiting to lodge their application for international protection. The lack of capacity to address large numbers of arrivals resulted in lower hygienic standards and health risks.

A migrant rights advocacy group, Taskforce for Asylum, maintained that authorities were violating the rights of foreigners kept at the Center for Aliens in Postojna were being violated by returning them to Croatia. The center held 96 asylum seekers as of July, mostly from Pakistan, Morocco, Afghanistan, and Algeria, with 55 of them in the process of obtaining international protection. The remaining foreigners were in the process of being returned to neighboring countries on the basis of bilateral agreements or deported to their home countries.

Asylum seekers outside of EU resettlement and relocation programs often waited six or more months for their cases to be adjudicated and were barred from working during the initial nine months of this period, although many reportedly worked illegally. Local NGOs criticized this restriction, asserting it made asylum seekers vulnerable to labor exploitation and trafficking due to their illegal status, lack of knowledge of local labor laws, and language barriers.

Durable Solutions: In 2016 the government approved an EU plan to relocate asylum seekers from Italy and Greece and to resettle refugees from non-EU countries. The government also agreed to resettle Syrian refugees from Turkey. Individuals granted refugee status are eligible for naturalization once they have fulfilled the necessary legal conditions.

Not applicable.

Sweden

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

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 promote freedom of expression, including for the press.

Freedom of Speech: The law criminalizes expression considered to be hate speech and prohibits threats or statements of contempt for a group or member of a group based on race, color, national or ethnic origin, religious belief, or sexual orientation. Penalties for hate speech range from fines to a maximum of four years in prison. In addition the country’s courts have held that it is illegal to wear xenophobic symbols or racist paraphernalia or to display signs and banners with inflammatory symbols at rallies.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. The law criminalizing hate speech applies as well to print and broadcast media, the publication of books, and online newspapers and journals.

Nongovernmental Impact: Journalists were subjected to harassment and intimidation. Swedish Television (SVT) reported it handled an average of 35 security threats daily. Threats ranged from social media attacks on journalists and information technology breaches to physical threats against employees. The CEO stated in August that security costs had quadrupled since 2015 and that she had to have a bodyguard.

On February 26, Tumso Abdurakhmanov, a blogger critical of authorities in Chechnya, Russia, survived a violent assault in his home in Gavle. Two Russian nationals were arrested in connection with the attack.

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.

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

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 https://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.

Not applicable.

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.

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 may appeal unfavorable asylum decisions.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: In accordance with EU regulations, the government denied asylum to persons who had previously registered in another EU or Schengen member state or in countries with which the government maintained reciprocal return agreements.

Access to Basic Services: Asylum seekers who have been denied residence are not entitled to asylum housing or a daily allowance, although some municipalities continued to support rejected asylum seekers through the social welfare system at the local level.

Durable Solutions: The government assisted in the voluntary return of rejected asylum seekers to their homes and authorized financial support for their repatriation in the amount of 30,000 kronor ($3,425) per adult and 15,000 kronor ($1,712) per child, with a maximum of 75,000 kronor ($8,562) per family. The country also participated in the European Reintegration Network that offered support for the reintegration of returning rejected asylum seekers.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided various forms of temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees and provided subsidiary protection to 2,307 persons in 2019.

According to UNHCR there were 30,305 stateless persons in the country at the end of December 2019. The large number of stateless persons was due to the influx of migrants and refugees and the birth of children to stateless parents who remained stateless until either one parent acquired citizenship or a special application for citizenship (available for stateless children under the age of five) was made. Most stateless persons came from the Middle East (Gaza and the West Bank, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq) and Somalia.

Stateless persons who are granted permanent residence can obtain citizenship through the same naturalization process as other permanent residents. Gaining citizenship generally took four to eight years, depending on the individual’s grounds for residency, ability to establish identity, and lack of a criminal record.