Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government routinely 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 expressions of hatred toward persons because of their color, race, nationality (including citizenship), ethnic or national origin, religion, or sexual orientation as well as any communication that is deemed threatening or abusive and is intended to harass, alarm, or distress a person. The penalties for such expressions include fines, imprisonment, or both.
Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: The law’s restrictions on expressions of hatred apply to the print and broadcast media. In Bermuda the law prohibits publishing written words that are threatening, abusive, or insulting, but only on racial grounds; on other grounds, including sexual orientation, the law prohibits only discriminatory “notices, signs, symbols, emblems, or other representations.”
In September the Council of Europe issued a “Level 2 Media Freedom Alert” to the UK after Ministry of Defence press officers refused to engage with Declassified UK, an investigative media outlet. The secretary of state for defence issued an apology to lawyers for Declassified UK and said he would open an investigation into the incident.
Violence and Harassment: During Black Lives Matter protests in London in June, two Australian and one British journalist, were violently attacked. The National Union of Journalists called for the arrest of the perpetrators, which had not taken place at year’s end.
In July charges were brought against a suspect for the killing of freelance reporter Lyra McKee in April 2019 in Londonderry, Northern Ireland.
Libel/Slander Laws: On February 12, the governor of the British Virgin Islands signed into law a bill that criminalizes with imprisonment for up to 14 years and a fine “sending offensive messages through a computer.” The law applies to a message that is “grossly offensive or has menacing character” or that is sent “for the purpose of causing annoyance or inconvenience.” The provision carries penalties up to 14 years in prison and a fine. Media freedom NGOs strongly criticized the law.
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 country has no blanket laws covering internet blocking, but the courts have issued blocking injunctions against various categories of content such as depictions of child sexual abuse, promotion of violent extremism and terrorism, and materials infringing on copyrights.
By law the electronic surveillance powers of the country’s intelligence community and police allow them, among other things, to check internet communications records as part of an investigation without a warrant.
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events. Under emergency COVID-19 legislation, participation in cultural events was severely restricted.
In March the UK’s cultural scene, including restaurants, museums, galleries, cinemas, and sporting events, was closed down because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Outdoor music events were allowed from July, but indoor musical events remained restricted at year’s end. The government provided a support package of 1.57 billion pounds ($2.07 billion) for arts groups and venues. From March through the end of the year, the government imposed restrictions on the number of persons from separate households who could gather socially indoors and outdoors, including with regard to protest.
The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government routinely respected these rights. Under emergency COVID-19 legislation, the government banned mass gatherings.
d. Freedom of Movement
Except for areas affected by COVID-19 laws and guidelines, the law generally provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government routinely respected these rights.
In March, Prime Minister Boris Johnson introduced extraordinary measures, including curbs on the freedom of movement, to slow the spread of COVID-19 in England. These measures continued in force in some form at year’s end. From March 24 through May 13, the government instructed individuals they were only allowed out of their homes to purchase essential items.
COVID-19 legislation empowers police to enforce the evolving government guidelines. Police officers could issue fixed penalty notices (FPNs) to those they suspected of acting contrary to government guidelines on social interaction. FPNs allowed the accused to pay a fine rather than face prosecution for the offense.
On May 13, the prime minister announced changes that allowed those in England to leave their homes for outdoor recreation. The governments of Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland also began easing their lockdown restrictions in May. From May through year’s end, COVID-19 guidelines in all four nations of the UK were frequently relaxed or tightened to account for shifting trends in the spread of COVID-19 as well as public pressure to reopen schools and businesses. The prime minister announced that from July 4, lockdown laws in England would no longer provide legal restrictions associated with the government’s social distancing guidance. The other three nations made similar changes to their laws in July. Laws across the UK mandate some restrictive rules on social gatherings. As the spread of COVID-19 began to slow, the government took steps in July and August to loosen restrictions, allowing individuals to have small gatherings, return to the office and schools, and reopen retail businesses, restaurants, and pubs. The UK government passed laws in September that imposed additional restrictions called “local lockdowns” in areas where the virus was most prevalent. From November 5 until December 2, the prime minister imposed a lockdown across England to slow the spread of the virus.
In-country Movement: The home secretary may impose terrorism prevention and investigation measures (TPIMs) based on a “balance of probabilities.” TPIMs are a form of house arrest applied for up to two years to those thought to pose a terrorist threat but who cannot be prosecuted or deported. The 14 measures include electronic tagging, reporting regularly to the police, and facing “tightly defined exclusion from particular places and the prevention of travel overseas.” A suspect must live at home and stay there overnight, possibly for up to 10 hours daily. Authorities may send suspects to live up to 200 miles from their normal residence. The suspect may apply to the courts to stay elsewhere. The suspect may use a mobile phone and the internet to work and study, subject to conditions.
Exile: The law permits the home secretary to impose “temporary exclusion orders” (TEOs) on returning UK citizens or legal residents if the home secretary reasonably suspects the individual in question is or was involved in terrorism-related activity and considers the exclusion necessary to protect people in the UK from a risk of terrorism. TEOs impose certain obligations on the repatriates, such as periodic reporting to police. The measure requires a court order and is subject to judicial oversight and appeal.
In May a UK high court issued a preliminary ruling that the restrictions imposed on individuals under TEOs must be in accordance with the provision of the European Convention on Human Rights providing for a fair trial. The ruling allows those under TEOs to know the evidence against them and to contest the terms of their obligations.
Citizenship: The law allows the home secretary to deprive an individual of citizenship if officials are satisfied this is “conducive to the public good,” but not if this renders a citizen stateless.
In 2019 the home secretary started the process of revoking the citizenship of Shamima Begum, a 20-year-old British citizen by birth of Bangladeshi extraction who left the UK to join ISIS. Because Begum was British by birth, the home secretary could only cancel her British citizenship if she were a dual national. The home secretary asserted that Begum held dual citizenship with Bangladesh. Begum’s lawyers disputed that she had Bangladeshi citizenship. In August the Court of Appeal of England and Wales ruled that Begum should be allowed to return to the UK to have a fair and effective appeal against being stripped of her British citizenship. In November the Supreme Court held hearings on the home office’s appeal.
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.
During the year the UK government consolidated its various refugee resettlement programs into a single “global scheme” aimed at providing more consistency in the way that refugees are resettled and to broaden the geographical focus beyond the Middle East and North Africa. UNHCR welcomed the shift.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Home Office officials have the power to detain asylum seekers and unauthorized migrants who do not enter the asylum system. There was no maximum time limit for the use of detention. Immigration detention was used to establish a person’s identity or basis of claim, to remove a person from the country, or to avoid a person’s noncompliance with any conditions attached to a grant of temporary admission or release.
On September 20, Glasgow’s six members of Parliament (MPs) signed a joint letter calling for a fatal accident inquiry into the deaths of three asylum seekers housed in the city during the year. Adnan Walid Elbi, Mercy Baguma, and Badreddin Abedlla Adam died in separate incidents. The causes of Elbi’s and Baguma’s deaths were not determined, although the NGO Positive Action in Housing stated they were living in “extreme poverty.” In June police officers shot and killed Adam after he stabbed six persons at a hotel temporarily housing asylum seekers. Scotland’s Police Investigations and Review Commissioner launched an investigation into the police shooting, but had not published the results at year’s end. Media reports and NGOs suggested the government contractor providing services to Adam and other asylum seekers at the location of the attack may have been negligent in the provision of health services.
Access to Asylum: In England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, the law provides for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. Asylum is a matter reserved for the UK government and is handled centrally by the Home Office. Bermuda’s constitution and laws do not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government does not have an established system for providing protection to refugees.
NGOs criticized the government’s handling of asylum seekers crossing the English Channel from France. By October an estimated 7,000 persons had crossed the channel in more than 500 boats. Media reported that many of these asylum seekers were being held in detention centers.
Safe Country of Origin/Transit: Until the end of the year, the country was subject to the EU’s Dublin III regulation and considered all other EU member states to be countries of safe origin or transit. The regulation permits authorities to remove an asylum applicant to another country responsible for adjudicating an applicant’s claim. The government placed the burden of proof on asylum seekers who arrived from safe countries of origin, who passed through a country where they were not considered to be at risk, or who remained in the country for at least five consecutive months before seeking asylum.
For the duration of their asylum application, asylum seekers are eligible for government support at 30 percent below the normal rate for their family size, an amount that NGOs continued to deem inadequate. NGOs continued to criticize the government for cutting off benefits 28 days after a person is granted refugee status, which they say left some destitute.
Employment: Refugees are eligible to work or to receive state benefits if unable to work. In Scotland the devolved government funded the Refugee Doctors’ Program to help refugees to work for the National Health Service Scotland. The program offers doctors advanced English lessons, medical classes, and placements with general practitioners or hospitals, providing them with the skills needed to get their UK medical registration approved.
Temporary Protection: The government may provide temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. In the year ending in March, the government granted humanitarian protection to 1,482 individuals (up 24 percent from 2019), 1,026 grants of alternative forms of leave (down 18 percent), and 4,968 grants of protection through resettlement schemes.
The government provides a route to legal residence for up to five years for stateless persons resident in the country. After the initial five-year period, stateless persons are able to apply for “settled status” or further extension of their residency. The government did not publish data on the number of habitual residents who are legally stateless.