China (includes Tibet, Hong Kong, and Macau) – Macau

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but the government occasionally sought to restrict these rights.

In August police arrested two persons for allegedly spreading false information about the government’s response to a typhoon. In December the government said it had begun drafting legislation to implement a national law passed in September that criminalizes any action mocking the Chinese national anthem and requires persons attending public events to stand at attention and sing the anthem in a solemn manner when the anthem is played.

The SAR Penal Code states that anyone who initiates or organizes, or develops propaganda that incites or encourages, discrimination, hatred, or racial violence, is liable to imprisonment for one to eight years. The law also states that anyone who, in a public meeting or in writing intended for dissemination by any means or media, causes acts of violence against a person, or group of persons on the grounds of their race, color, or ethnic origin, or defames, or insults a person, or group of persons on those grounds with the intention of inciting or encouraging racial discrimination, is liable to imprisonment for between six months and five years.

Press and Media Freedom: Local media expressed a wide range of views but the government took steps to restrict unfavorable news coverage.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The media practiced self-censorship, in part because the government heavily subsidized major newspapers that tended to follow closely the PRC government’s policy on sensitive political issues. On August 29, the Macau Journalists Association stated at least five editors of local media outlets received messages from their senior executives instructing them to report more on positive news after a typhoon, and less on the government’s accountability for problems, especially the accountability of the highest officials. On August 28, the Macau Portuguese and English Press Association released a statement protesting the Macau Electoral Affairs Commission’s order to a local newspaper to remove an interview with a Legislative Assembly candidate from its website.

National Security: On August 26, SAR police denied entry to four journalists from Hong Kong who traveled to the SAR to report from the city after a typhoon. Immigration authorities asked the four journalists to sign a notice stating they “posed a risk to the stability of internal security,” according to a media report. In September the International Federation of Journalists condemned the SAR’s decision to deny entry to 15 Hong Kong-based journalists, some of whom intended to report on the SAR’s Legislative Assembly election.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content. Activists critical of the government reported the government monitored their telephone conversations and internet usage.

According to the Statistics and Census Service, approximately 59 percent of the population subscribed to the internet. This did not take into account multiple internet users for one subscription, nor did it include those who accessed the internet through mobile devices.

The law criminalizes a range of cybercrimes and empowers police, with a court warrant, to order internet service providers to retain and provide authorities with a range of data. Police may seize electronic evidence without a warrant under exigent circumstances, but the police must obtain judicial validation of their actions within 72 hours or destroy the evidence.

Activists previously reported the government installed enterprise-grade software capable of censoring, decrypting, and scanning secured transmissions on its free Wi-Fi service without notifying users.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

Academics reported self-censorship and also reported they were deterred from studying or speaking on controversial topics concerning China. Scholars also previously reported they were warned not to speak at politically sensitive events or on behalf of certain political organizations. University professors reported the SAR’s universities lacked a tenure system, which left professors vulnerable to dismissal for political reasons.

In February an art gallery cancelled a scheduled performance by an ethnically Tibetan artist after it received pressure to do so from government officials, according to media reports.

The law provides for freedom of peaceful assembly and association, and the government often respected these rights, despite some efforts to discourage participation in peaceful demonstrations.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The law requires prior notification, but not approval, of demonstrations involving public roads, public places, or places open to the public. Police may redirect demonstration marching routes, but organizers have the right to challenge such decisions in court.

Activists alleged authorities were making a concerted effort to use both intimidation and criminal proceedings against participants in peaceful demonstrations to discourage their involvement. For example, the Legislative Assembly, in a secret ballot, voted to suspend Sulu Sou from the Legislative Assembly after prosecutors charged him with “aggravated disobedience” to police authorities during a peaceful protest against the Chief Executive. Activists reported police routinely attempted to intimidate demonstrators by ostentatiously taking videos of them and advising bystanders not to participate in protests.

In June approximately 200 persons participated in a vigil at Senado Square to mark the 28th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The law provides for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. No authorization is required to form an association, and the only restrictions on forming an organization are that it not promote racial discrimination, violence, crime, or disruption of public order, or be military or paramilitary in nature.

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

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The Immigration Department cooperated with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

The Internal Security Law grants police authority to deport or deny entry to nonresidents whom they regard under the law as unwelcome, a threat to internal security and stability, or possibly implicated in transnational crimes. During the year the government banned several Hong Kong politicians and activists from entering the SAR on the grounds they posed a threat to internal security, according to media reports.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. Persons granted refugee status ultimately enjoy the same rights as other SAR residents.

Pending final decisions on their asylum claims, the government registered asylum seekers and provided protection against their expulsion or return to their countries of origin. Persons with pending applications were eligible to receive government support, including basic needs such as housing, medical care, and education for children, but were not allowed to work until their refugee status was recognized.

Federated States of Micronesia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution provides for freedom of expression but does not refer specifically to speech or the press; however, 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.

INTERNET FREEDOM

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. Internet access was available in all four states, but service was slow with frequent outages. According to the International Telecommunication Union, more than 33 percent of the population had access to the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

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

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

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

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

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

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. The government most recently cooperated with UNHCR to process asylum seekers in the country in 2016.

Italy

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jamaica

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

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

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom.

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

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

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

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

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

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

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

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

Japan

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

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

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

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

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

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

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

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

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jordan

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

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

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

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

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

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

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

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

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

The government limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

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

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

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

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

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

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

STATELESS PERSONS

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

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

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

Kazakhstan

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

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

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

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

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

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

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

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

STATELESS PERSONS

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kenya

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

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

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

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

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

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

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

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

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

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

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

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

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

The government generally cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons (IDPs), refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern. In October 2017 the country pledged to apply the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework to enhance refugee self-reliance, increase access to solutions, and improve conditions in countries of origin for safe and voluntary returns.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

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

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

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

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: There were no confirmed cases of refoulement.

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

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

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

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

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

STATELESS PERSONS

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kiribati

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

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

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

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

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

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

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

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

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

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

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

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

Kosovo

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

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

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

STATELESS PERSONS

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

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

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

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

Kuwait

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

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

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

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

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

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

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

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

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

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

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

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

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

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

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

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

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

Stateless Persons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kyrgyz Republic

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

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

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

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

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

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

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

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

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

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

STATELESS PERSONS

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

Laos

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

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

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

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

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

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

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

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

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

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

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

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

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

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

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

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

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

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

The government used the law to restrict freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government cooperated in some cases with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

In-country Movement: Citizens traveling for religious purposes including to minister, give advice, or visit other churches, with the exception of animist groups, are required to seek permission from central and provincial authorities. This process can take several weeks.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

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

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

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

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

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

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

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

Latvia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

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

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

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

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

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

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

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

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

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

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

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

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

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

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

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

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

STATELESS PERSONS

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

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

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

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

Lebanon

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

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

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

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

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

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

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

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

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

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

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

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

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

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

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

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

STATELESS PERSONS

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lesotho

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

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

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

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

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

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

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

Liberia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

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

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

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

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

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

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

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

Libya

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

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

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

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

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

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

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

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

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

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

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

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

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

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

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

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

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

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

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

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

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

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

STATELESS PERSONS

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

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

Liechtenstein

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

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

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

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

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

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

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

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

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

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

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

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

Lithuania

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

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

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

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

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

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

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

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

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

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

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

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

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

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

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

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

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

STATELESS PERSONS

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

Luxembourg

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

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

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

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

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

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

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

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

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

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

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

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

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

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

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

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

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

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

Madagascar

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but these “may be limited by the respect for the freedoms and rights of others, and by the imperative of safeguarding public order, national dignity, and state security.” The government sometimes restricted these rights. The communication code includes a number of provisions limiting freedom of speech and expression. The code also grants broad powers to the government to deny media licenses to political opponents, seize equipment, and impose fines.

The government arrested journalists and activists who had publicly denounced the misbehavior of public authorities. The government often used unrelated charges to prosecute them.

Freedom of Expression: In accordance with the constitution, the law restricts individuals’ ability to criticize the government publicly.

In May the Court of Appeals of Fianarantsoa confirmed a two-year suspended prison sentence for human rights activist Raleva, accused of impersonating the district chief of Mananjary. Raleva publicly questioned the legality of the gold mining permit of a Chinese company operating in Mananjary, on the southeast coast, and denounced the negative impact of the company’s activities on the environment and the health of the local population. In October 2017, after a month’s detention, the court of Mananjary convicted him of identity fraud against the district chief, for having demanded during a public meeting to see the legal document authorizing the Chinese company to operate on the site. Civil society members and local and international NGOs condemned the court decision and characterized it as an effort to silence human rights activists.

During the year, the CNIDH and local NGOs issued several communiques denouncing the continuing harassment, including arrest and intimidation, of human rights activists. Most of the affected activists had denounced illegal aspects of the evictions of local communities in several parts of the country to the benefit of foreign investors.

Press and Media Freedom: The communications code contains several articles limiting press and media freedoms. For example, Article 85 requires the owner of a media company to be the chief publisher. This article may permit the harassment of potential opposition presidential candidates, many of whom were also media owners.

Although defamation is not a criminal offense in the communications code, a separate cyber criminality law allows for the charge of criminal defamation for anything published online. It is unclear whether the cyber criminality law, which includes prison sentences for online defamation, has precedence over the 2015 communications code, as all newspapers are also published online. The fines allowed for offenses under the communications code are many times higher than the average journalist’s annual salary.

The communications code gives the communications ministry far-reaching powers to suspend media licenses and seize property of media outlets if one of their journalists commits two infractions of the code. Finally, the code allows only state owned radio and television stations the right to broadcast nationally, although this limitation was not always enforced.

The country had numerous independent newspapers. More than 300 radio and television stations operated in the country, although many shifted to live call-in shows in recent years to distance themselves from editorial responsibility for content. Many of them continued to have a national audience, in spite of the code’s limitations. Nevertheless, access by nonstate actors, especially the opposition, to public media, was limited.

In August newspapers reported that the minister of communication had ordered staff of the national television station not to broadcast Andry Rajoelina’s announcement of his candidacy for president. Although former president and opposition figure Marc Ravalomanana’s radio station MBS was allowed to resume broadcasting after years of suspension, its management alleged the government was deliberately jamming its broadcasts.

On August 8, after a meeting related to the coverage of the presidential election, managers of the state owned media announced their intent to ensure neutrality vis-a-vis the presidential candidates before, during, and after the elections.

Violence and Harassment: There were several reports of journalists being suspended or harassed for coverage of opposition figures. An online media outlet, Gasy Patriot, reported in May that a journalist for the public radio station had been suspended and others moved following accusations by their supervisors that they were too close to opposition members of Parliament who were demonstrating against the government at the time.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists practiced self-censorship, and authors generally published books of a political nature abroad.

In February the prefect of Mahajanga, Lahiniaina Ravelomahay, banned any interaction with the press about an ongoing conflict within the local university, and required the University of Mahajanga, its student association, and students’ parents to obtain official authorization from his office before talking to journalists. The announcement also required journalists to check whether their interviewees had the prefect’s written authorization to speak to journalists prior to conducting any interview.

Libel/Slander Laws: There were several reports of government authorities using libel, slander, or defamation laws to restrict public discussion.

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

A cybercrime law prohibits insulting or defaming a government official online. According to Reporters without Borders, “the law’s failure to define what is meant by ‘insult’ or ‘defamation’ leaves room for very broad interpretation and major abuses.” The law provides for punishment of two to five years’ imprisonment and a fine of two million to 100 million ariary ($560 to $28,000) for defamation. Following criticism from the media and international community, the government promised to revise the law, but did not do so.

Public access to the internet was limited mainly to urban areas. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 9.8 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

Political groups, parties, and activists used the internet extensively to advance their agendas, share news, and criticize other parties. Observers generally considered the internet (exclusive of social media) among the more reliable sources of information.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution and law provide for freedom of peaceful assembly, but authorities often restricted this right. The government required all public demonstrations to have official authorization from the municipalities and police prefectures, but these rarely gave authorization to opposition parties. Security forces regularly impeded opposition gatherings throughout the country and used excessive force to disperse demonstrators.

Several times during the year, security forces used tear gas to disperse demonstrations by university students, supporters of political opponents, and other groups. Students generally retaliated by throwing stones at security forces or set up roadblocks, which often resulted in injuries and arrests.

During the year, the government systematically hindered political opponents’ ability to meet with their supporters in public places. On January 6 and 22, for example, the joint security unit Emmo-Reg prevented former president Marc Ravalomanana from meeting with supporters by blocking supporters’ entry and destroying audio equipment in private venues.

Government political restrictions on public political demonstrations peaked in April when a group of parliamentarians demonstrated against the proposed electoral code. On April 21, in Antananarivo, elements from the Emmo-Reg blocked the entry to City Hall where opposition parliamentarians had planned to meet voters and report on the adoption of the electoral laws that they judged controversial and in violation of democratic principles. Security forces threw tear gas and fired blanks to prevent access to the compound. Later the same day, security forces that reportedly left the area because they were out of supplies allegedly shot at demonstrators who tried to pursue them. Casualty reports after the confrontations differed, with estimates of between two and five dead and 17 injured.

After April 21, security forces issued a statement that they would no longer intervene in demonstrations unless lives or property were endangered. Opposition members were allowed to demonstrate unhindered, which eventually led to the establishment of a consensus government, and the freedom of all parties to hold political rallies and events without interference for the remainder of the year.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution and law provide for the right of association, but the government did not always respect this right.

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

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. Authorities cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian agencies in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. There were no reports that the government pressured or threatened refugees to return to the country from which they had fled.

A 2013 decree prohibits citizens from leaving the country to work abroad in countries deemed “risky, as a measure to reduce trafficking in persons. Because destination countries are not specifically identified in the decree, Malagasy persons may be prevented from leaving the country to work abroad at the discretion of border agents.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

More than 70,000 persons were displaced in January and March by Tropical Cyclones Ava and Eliakim and were temporarily housed in common shelters in several regions of the country. Through the National Office in Charge of Risk and Disaster Management (BNGRC), the government, coordinated with private and international donors to provide humanitarian assistance and to assist the majority of them to return home.

According to a survey conducted by the International Organization for Migration in 10 cities, more than 18,000 persons migrated from the deep south of the country between 2009 and 2017, most citing drought conditions. A new survey conducted in 20 other cities in the same region concluded that approximately 5,699 persons were displaced between 2009 and August, 986 of whom were displaced between January and August alone. Among the persons displaced, 42 percent were displaced by drought, 11 percent for economic reasons, and 9 percent due to insecurity. A portion of these IDPs had returned to their homes when climate conditions improved; others decided to resettle elsewhere. The BNGRC also coordinated with private partners and international donors to assist the displaced persons.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

As of March, approximately 55 persons had official refugee or asylum seeker status in the country.

Access to Asylum: The law does not include provisions for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. Authorities generally cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in assisting the small number of refugees in the country.

Freedom of Movement: Refugees and asylum seekers reported that police frequently detained some of them and sometimes did not honor UNHCR-issued documents certifying their status or tore them up, rendering them vulnerable to arrest or expulsion.

Employment: Refugees and asylum seekers did not have access to employment, because without a resident visa they were unable to get a work permit.

Access to Basic Services: Refugees and asylum seekers received no support from the government, but the government did not interfere with support provided by UNHCR via a local NGO. Refugees and asylum seekers complained that the amount of support they receive is insufficient because they may not work and receive no government support. Hospitals and service providers charged refugees higher rates as foreigners, making basic medical care unaffordable to refugees.

STATELESS PERSONS

The nationality code promulgated by the president in 2017 gave men and women equal rights to pass their nationality to their children and more protection to women and children against the loss of their nationality. The code’s main reform grants Malagasy women the right to transmit nationality to their children regardless of a woman’s marital status. The loss of Malagasy citizenship for any reason mentioned in the law does not affect the spouse and the children of the deprived person.

The provisions of the old code of nationality resulted in a large number of stateless persons in the minority Muslim community, many belonging to families that lived in the country for generations. Muslim leaders estimated the laws affected as much as 5 percent of the approximately two million Muslims in the country. Members of the wider Muslim community suggested a Muslim sounding name alone could delay one’s citizenship application indefinitely.

According to a July media report, Focus Development, a local NGO working on statelessness, reported an increase in nationality certificate requests since the adoption of the new nationality code. She reported that the court of Antananarivo alone had delivered more than 1,500 certificates since the 2017 legal reform. Even after the adoption of the new code, statelessness remained an issue for those who remained ineligible for nationality.

Some members of the South Asian community–who failed to register for Indian, Malagasy, or French citizenship following India’s independence in 1947 and Madagascar’s independence in 1960–were no longer eligible for any of the three citizenships; this circumstance applied to their descendants as well.

All stateless persons may apply for a foreign resident card, which precludes the right to vote, own property, or apply for a passport, thus limiting international travel. Stateless women may obtain nationality by marrying a Malagasy citizen and may request citizenship before the wedding date, but Malagasy women cannot confer citizenship on a stateless husband. Stateless persons had difficulty accessing education and health care, could not get jobs or buy land, and lived in fear of arrest.

Malawi

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

Freedom of Expression: The government sometimes used antisedition and breach of peace laws to stifle criticism. On August 21, police arrested Manes Hale, an American citizen of Malawian origin, while she was boarding an airplane departing the country. The government charged her with insulting the president under section 4 of the Protected Flag, Emblems, and Names Act for critical remarks she wrote concerning the president on Facebook. On August 23, she was released on bail; on August 27, the government dropped the charges, and Hale flew to the United States the following day.

Violence and Harassment: Authorities sometimes attempted to intimidate journalists who reported criticism of the ruling party. On May 4, during the president’s State of the Nation Address at the Parliament, ruling party cadres assaulted a cameraman of privately-owned Times Television. Despite the information minister apologizing for the incident, there were no signs police had undertaken an active investigation. On July 2, two ruling party cadres assaulted newspaper columnist Idris Ali Nassah for his criticism of the Mutharika administration. The government also regularly barred privately owned media from covering government events.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists sometimes practiced self-censorship, especially at government-owned media outlets such as the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC). Government agencies sometimes selectively targeted prominent media houses critical of the government for enforcement actions. On June 1, the Malawi Revenue Authority sealed Times Group offices due to unpaid VAT arrears of Malawian kwacha (MWK) 550 million ($756,000). Similarly, on August 22, Zodiak Broadcasting was raided by MRA for MWK 1.7 billion ($2,337,000) in unpaid taxes. In contrast the equally tax delinquent progovernment MBC owed MWK 4.5 billion ($6,187,000) in back taxes but operated without any impediment.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The Electronic Transactions and Cyber Security Act became law in June 2017. The law criminalizes the act of “knowingly receiving and sharing unauthorized data” and stipulates that a person found sharing or receiving such information is committing a crime and liable to a fine of 1.85 million MWK ($2,500) and imprisonment for up to five years. The law also makes it a crime for any person willfully and repeatedly to use electronic communication to attempt to disturb the peace or right of privacy of any person. Civil society organizations decried passage of the law, arguing it was meant to silence persons on social media ahead of national elections scheduled for 2019. As of November no one had been charged with a crime under the law. Lack of infrastructure and the high cost of internet connections limited internet access. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 13.8 percent of the population used the internet in 2017, the latest year for which data was available.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom during the year; however, the government sporadically censored films that it deemed contained culturally sensitive or sexually explicit material.

The Malawi Censorship Board Secretariat is responsible for reviewing and classifying plays, films, and foreign music for adult content as well as regulating public theaters.

The constitution and law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but the government did not always respect these rights.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly, but the government did not always respect this right.

Government officials used their positions to thwart protests or gatherings by opposition figures through the selective use of permits. In September, after a coalition of NGOs critical of the government announced its intent to hold a protest, the ruling party sought and quickly obtained a permit for a competing event, forcing the activists to reschedule.

In September 2017, during a march against gender-based violence, male police officers arrested protester Beatrice Mateyo and charged her with “insulting the modesty of a woman” for carrying a placard deemed offensive. Released on bail, she had yet to be tried by year’s end.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution and law provide for the freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. The government required registration of all NGOs and political parties. NGOs must register with three different government entities and pay significant yearly registration fees.

During the year the government tried to increase its control over civil society. Two draft laws include provisions that would give government-controlled bodies the ability to deregister NGOs. The government, however, had yet to introduce these drafts into parliament.

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

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

The government cooperated with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern. As of September 30, there were 35,938 asylum seekers and refugees at the Dzaleka Camp in the central region, with an average monthly arrival total of 500 individuals, mostly from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In November, UNHCR turned over the Luwani Camp, located in the southern region, to the government after the remaining Mozambican asylum seekers returned home voluntarily. After multiple cancelled Tripartite Agreement signing ceremonies scheduled for December 2017 and again in March and September, the Malawian government and UNHCR collaborated to provide documentation and financial support to assist the remaining 2,567 Mozambicans to return home.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Security forces sometimes intimidated refugees and asylum seekers. Police routinely detained and returned to the Dzaleka Camp refugees found outside, including those with proper identity documents. Local citizens often accused refugees of committing various crimes, and this at times resulted in looting of refugee property by community members. During the year UNHCR received no cases of refugees facing forced return to their countries of origin. Sporadic detention of persons of concern who were found outside the camp took place, with others taken to court and fined up to MWK 100,000 ($138), an approach authorities adopted during the year.

UNHCR received asylum seekers claiming to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals. Asylum seekers traveled irregularly from Kakuma Refugee camp in Kenya and from Uganda. The government has placed a ban on registration of perceived LGBTI persons’ cases on the basis that it is against the law of the country. UNHCR was still negotiating with the Ministry of Home Affairs to reverse its decision and consider registration and processing of all arrivals, including LGBTI cases.

In-country Movement: Refugees were subject to an encampment policy that restricted them to the Dzaleka and Luwani refugee camps, the only two officially designated refugee camps. Authorities periodically rounded up and returned to the Dzaleka Camp those who left it.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and as of September the government provided protection to more than 35,500 individuals. Asylum seekers primarily came from the Great Lakes Region of Africa. A majority of them remained designated as asylum seekers, with fewer than 14,000 recognized as refugees.

There were multiple reports of so-called survival sex by refugees to obtain income to supplement food rations and other necessities in the Dzaleka Camp. UNHCR also reported gender-based violence and other criminal activities at Dzaleka. Some refugees reported fear of alleged country of origin operatives in Malawi.

From January to August, the MHRC received one complaint of mistreatment at the Dzaleka Camp.

Employment: In general, the government did not allow refugees to seek employment or educational opportunities outside the camp. Most refugees were dependent on donor-funded food assistance. A small number of refugees with professional degrees, especially those with medical training, received permits to pursue employment and other opportunities outside the camp.

Access to Basic Services: UNHCR, NGOs, and the government collaborated to provide most basic services. Refugees had access to education and health-care services through camp schools and clinics. The Dzaleka camp housed almost 36,000 persons of concern, creating congestion and a burden on resources and facilities. These overtaxed facilities served both refugees and local communities. A rapid increase in the refugee population and the inability of most refugees to grow food or earn money due to the encampment policy limited the available food and services to that provided by donors through UNHCR and the World Food Program. Shelter and food ration allocations were below recommended levels due to lack of space and insufficient funding.

While local laws and the justice system applied to refugees, access to the justice system was limited by inefficiencies and inadequate resources. With only 13 police officers assigned to the Dzaleka Camp, law enforcement capacity was extremely limited.

During the year the government committed to include refugees in national systems, as recognized in the Malawi Development and Growth Strategy III (MDGS III). The government has also indicated a willingness to adopt the UN’s Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework that would lead to the inclusion of refugees in the provision of health and education services.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees; however, no reliable statistics were available.

Malaysia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution allows restrictions on the freedom of expression “in the interest of the security of the Federation…[or] public order.” The former government regularly restricted freedom of expression for the media and civil society, citing reasons such as upholding Islam and the special status of ethnic Malays, protecting national security, maintaining public order, and preserving friendly relations with other countries.

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits sedition and public comment on issues defined as sensitive, including racial and religious matters or criticism of the king or ruling sultans. Sedition charges often followed comments by vocal civil society or opposition leaders. Civil society groups claimed the former government generally failed to investigate and prosecute similar statements made by progovernment or pro-Malay persons.

Citing a “misdirection of law,” the court of appeals in February overturned the 2014 conviction of Adam Adli under the Sedition Act after he urged people to topple the government during a Kuala Lumpur forum in 2013. Authorities also withdrew Sedition Act charges against Members of Parliament Khalid Samad, Hassan Abdul Karim, and R. Sivarasa; former Member of Parliament Tian Chua; human rights lawyers N. Surendran and Eric Paulsen; socialist party central committee member S. Arulchevan; and political cartoonist Zulkiflee Anwar Al Haquem, popularly known as Zunar. The government initiated new charges under the Sedition Act against several persons for allegedly criticizing the country’s royal families.

In February artist Fahmi Reza was sentenced to one month in jail and fined RM30,000 ($7,500) for publishing a caricature of then prime minister Najib Razak in 2016 that was deemed “obscene, indecent, false, menacing or offensive in character with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten, or harass another person.” Amnesty International called the decision “yet another example of the continued crackdown on dissent by the Malaysian authorities.” In November the High Court upheld the conviction but reduced the fine to RM10,000 ($2,500) and revoked the jail sentence. In October prosecutors dropped similar charges against Fahmi in a separate case.

In September the Federal Court ruled that the government can sue individuals for defamation. Human rights groups, the Malaysian Bar Council, and former judges criticized the decision, describing it as “not in consonance with the citizens’ freedom of speech and the principle of good governance.”

Press and Media Freedom: Political parties and individuals linked to the former ruling coalition owned or controlled a majority of shares in almost all print and broadcast media, many of which were overtly progovernment. Online media outlets were more independent but were often the target of legal action and harassment.

Despite many restrictions and official pressure, opposition parties, social action groups, unions, internet news sites, and other private groups actively covered opposition parties and frequently printed views critical of government policies. Online media and blogs provided views and reported stories not featured in the mainstream press.

The government maintained and at times exerted control over news content, both in print and broadcast media. The former government punished publishers of “malicious news” and banned, restricted, or limited circulation of publications believed a threat to public order, morality, or national security. The government has the power to suspend publication for these reasons and retained effective control over the licensing process. In February the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) asked two online news portals to remove articles that went “against the country’s laws.” According to media, “the articles all addressed current issues and local politics, while being openly critical of certain political parties and leaders.”

In April parliament passed the Anti-Fake News law, criminalizing the “malicious” production or dissemination of “any news, information, data or reports, which is or are wholly or partly false.” Later that same month, Salah Salem Saleh Sulaiman, a Danish national of Yemeni descent, pled guilty to maliciously creating and publishing fake news and was fined RM10,000 ($2,500) for posting a video on social media in which he alleged police did not respond promptly to emergency calls following the assassination of Palestinian lecturer Fadi Albatsh on April 21. Parliamentarians voted to repeal the law in August, but the opposition-controlled Senate overturned the decision, postponing the law’s repeal for as long as one year.

The former government sometimes barred online media from covering government press conferences.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists were subject to harassment and intimidation, especially in the run-up to the general election.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The former government censored media, primarily print and broadcast media; the new government maintained the ability to censor media but did not use this power as frequently. In addition to controlling news content by banning or restricting publications believed to threaten public order, morality, or national security, the former government prosecuted journalists for “malicious news,” and took little or no action against persons or organizations that abused journalists. The law requires a permit to own a printing press, and printers often were reluctant to print publications critical of the government due to fear of reprisal. Such policies, together with antidefamation laws, inhibited independent or investigative journalism and resulted in extensive self-censorship in the print and broadcast media.

On election night the MCMC reportedly instructed internet service providers to block access to independent media outlets such as Malaysiakini, which were publishing unofficial election results indicating a possible win by the Pakatan Harapan opposition coalition. The new government ordered an investigation into the matter.

The government occasionally censored foreign magazines, newspapers, and news programming, most often due to sexual content.

Government restrictions on radio and television stations mirrored those on print media, and all also predominantly supported the government. News about the opposition in those media remained restricted and biased. Television stations censored programming to follow government guidelines.

The government generally restricted publications it judged might incite racial or religious disharmony. The Ministry of Home Affairs maintained a list of 1,653 banned publications as of March 2017. In April 2018 the ministry banned six books whose contents it judged could be detrimental to public order, morality, or public interest, including texts that contained “elements promoting liberalism that can cause confusion among some readers.” In January the court of appeal ruled a 2015 ban on three books by novelist Faisal Musa violated the author’s freedom of speech. The previous government appealed the decision, but in October the new government withdrew the appeal and instructed the Ministry of Home Affairs to remove the titles from its list of banned publications.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law includes sections on civil and criminal defamation. Criminal defamation is punishable by a maximum two years’ imprisonment, a fine, or both. True statements can be considered defamatory if they contravene the “public good.” The government and its supporters used these laws, along with provisions against sedition, to punish and suppress publication of material critical of government officials and policies. In August prosecutors charged a member of the opposition United Malays National Organization (UMNO) under the Communications and Multimedia Act for allegedly insulting another UMNO member on Facebook. The accused’s attorney questioned why prosecutors dropped similar charges against members of the ruling coalition.

National Security: Authorities under the former government occasionally cited national security laws to restrict media distribution of material critical of government policies and public officials.

Nongovernmental Impact: NGOs sympathetic to the former government sought to limit freedom of expression through criminal complaints of allegedly seditious speech. Such NGOs also sometimes attempted to intimidate opposition groups through demonstrations.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government generally maintained a policy of restricted access to the internet. Authorities blocked some websites and monitored the internet for email messages and blog postings deemed a threat to public security or order. Following the May election, the new government restored access to several online media outlets that were previously blocked, including Sarawak Report and Medium.

Authorities restricted internet freedom to combat dissenting political views online. In August the minister of religious affairs stated government authorities would monitor “LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) issues, as well as liberal Islam” on social media.

The government warned internet users to avoid offensive or indecent content and sensitive matters such as religion and race, and aggressively pursued charges against those criticizing Islam, the country’s royalty, or its political leaders.

In July authorities opened an investigation into lawyer Fadiah Nadwa under the Sedition Act and Communications and Multimedia Act in relation to a blog post in which she criticized the royalty.

In February a man was sentenced to a RM20,000 ($5,000) fine or four months in jail for uploading content to Facebook in 2016 related to the prime minister and attorney general that authorities deemed offensive.

Sedition and criminal defamation laws led to self-censorship by local internet content sources including bloggers, news providers, and NGO activists.

The law requires internet and other network service providers to obtain a license, and permits punishment of the owner of a website or blog for allowing offensive racial, religious, or political content. By regarding users who post content as publishers, the government places the burden of proof on the user in these cases. NGOs and members of the public criticized the law, noting it could cause self-censorship due to liability concerns.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 80 percent of the population had access to the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government placed some restrictions on academic freedom, particularly the expression of unapproved political views, and enforced restrictions on teachers and students who expressed dissenting views. The government requires all civil servants, university faculty, and students to sign a pledge of loyalty to the king and government. Opposition leaders and human rights activists claimed the government used the loyalty pledge to restrain political activity among these groups. Although faculty members sometimes publicly criticized the government, public university academics whose career advancement and funding depended on the government practiced self-censorship. Self-censorship took place among academics at private institutions as well, spurred by fear the government might revoke the licenses of their institutions. The law imposes limitations on student associations and on student and faculty political activity. In February a court ruled on procedural grounds that the University of Malaya should not have disciplined four students for holding political placards during a town hall meeting in 2016. The court did not, however, entertain the students’ claim that the university’s actions violated their right to freedom of expression.

The government regularly censored films, editing out profanity, kissing, sex, and nudity. The government also censored films for certain political and religious content, not allowing, for example, screening of films in Hebrew, Yiddish, or from Israel. Although the government allowed foreign films at local film festivals, it sometimes censored content by physically blocking screens until the objectionable scene was over. Media censorship rules forbid movies and songs that promote acceptance of gay persons (see section 6). The Film Censorship Board banned a controversial Hindi film that featured a relationship between a Hindu queen and a Muslim ruler in medieval India. The board also banned Those Long Haired Nights, a Philippine film about transgender prostitutes.

The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association but allows restrictions deemed necessary or expedient in the interest of security, public order, or (in the case of association) morality. Abiding by the government’s restrictions did not protect some protesters from harassment or arrest.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides all citizens “the right to assemble peaceably and without arms;” however, several laws restricted this right. Although the law does not require groups to obtain a permit for assemblies, police frequently placed time, location, and other restrictions on the right to assemble. Authorities banned street protests, and police sometimes confronted civil society and opposition demonstrations with mass arrests.

Protests deemed acceptable by the government usually proceeded without interference.

In December police approved a demonstration opposing the ratification of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination but rescinded a previously approved application to hold a Human Rights Day event on the same day citing security risks.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for the right of association; however, the government placed significant restrictions on this right, and certain statutes limit it. By law only registered organizations of seven or more persons may legally function. The government often resisted registering organizations deemed particularly unfriendly to the government or imposed strict preconditions. The government may revoke registrations for violations of the law governing societies.

The government bans membership in unregistered political parties and organizations.

The law prohibits students who hold political positions from conducting political party activities on campus. Students are also prohibited from “expressing support or sympathy” for an unlawful society or organization. In December the lower house of parliament passed amendments to legislation on university students’ participation in political-party activities on campus. The Senate, however, did not approve the legislation during the year. Earlier in the year the government lifted the ban on opposition politicians visiting schools in their constituencies, but required them to first obtain approval from state authorities.

Many human rights and civil society organizations had difficulty obtaining government recognition as NGOs. As a result, many NGOs registered as companies, which created legal and bureaucratic obstacles to raising money to support their activities. Authorities frequently cited a lack of registration as grounds for action against organizations. Some NGOs also reported the government monitored their activities in order to intimidate them.

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

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

The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, emigration, and repatriation, but these rights were often restricted by federal and state government officials, particularly in eastern Sabah and Sarawak States.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The government generally did not impede organizations providing protection and assistance to migrants, refugees, and stateless persons, most of whom lived intermingled with the general public. Access to those in detention centers, however, was often significantly limited.

Migrants, refugees, and stateless persons receive no government support. The government allows UNHCR and NGOs to work with these populations, but government cooperation with UNHCR was inconsistent. In 2017 the government launched the Tracking Refugees Information System to register refugees and collect their biometric data. The program requires refugees to pay an annual fee of RM500 ($125) for an identification card but did not provide any benefits.

As “illegal immigrants,” refugees and others are subject to deportation at any time. They also face a maximum five years’ imprisonment, a fine of RM10,000 ($2,500), or both, and mandatory caning of a maximum six strokes if convicted of immigration law violations.

In July the government used what some NGOs called inhuman and degrading methods to carry out a mass operation to arrest undocumented migrant workers.

Most migrants, refugees, and stateless persons lived in private accommodations and survived on support from UNHCR and NGOs or illegal casual labor. The government, however, held thousands in immigration detention centers and other facilities.

NGOs and international organizations involved with these populations made credible allegations of overcrowding, inadequate food and clothing, lack of regular access to clean water, poor medical care, improper sanitation, and lack of bedding. An NGO with access to the detention centers claimed these conditions and the lack of medical screening and treatment facilitated the spread of disease and contributed to deaths. NGOs provided most medical care and treatment in the detention centers.

Local and international NGOs estimated the population at most of the country’s 17 immigration detention centers was at or beyond capacity, with some detainees held for a year or longer. The number detained in these centers was not publicly available.

In-country Movement: Sabah and Sarawak States controlled immigration into their areas and required citizens from peninsular Malaysia and foreigners to present passports or national identity cards for entry. State authorities continued to deny entry to certain national opposition leaders to these states. Sarawak maintained a travel ban on a SUHAKAM commissioner for criticizing the construction of a controversial dam in the state. SUHAKAM stated the travel ban prevented it from holding its October commission meeting as planned.

Foreign Travel: Travel to Israel is subject to approval and limited to religious purposes. The government also sometimes used its powers to restrict travel by its critics. In addition to preventing overseas travel by some activists, the former government temporarily detained and in some cases denied entry to foreign human rights activists.

In May immigration authorities banned former prime minister Najib Razak, his wife, and several other former government officials from traveling overseas because they were suspected of corruption, although they had not been charged with a crime at the time they attempted to leave the country. Authorities later charged Najib with 38 counts of money laundering, bribery, and criminal breach of trust, and his wife with 19 counts of money laundering and corruption.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: The government at times did not provide legal protection against the expulsion or forcible return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom could be threatened based on their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. In 2017 authorities detained three Turkish citizens, one a UNHCR-registered refugee, and deported them to Turkey, reportedly at the request of the Turkish government. According to a report released during the year by a Swedish human rights group, a Turkish national deported by Malaysian authorities in 2016 was beaten, tortured, and threatened with death upon his return to Turkey. Malaysian human rights groups said in April that the incident violated international customary law.

In October the government released 11 Uighurs from prison and dropped charges against them of illegal entry. The government also rejected China’s request to forcibly return the group to China and allowed them to relocate to Turkey.

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status; government cooperation with UNHCR was inconsistent, but the government occasionally reported potential refugees to UNHCR.

Human rights organizations expressed serious concerns about conditions in immigration detention centers and the lack of access to fair legal process and adequate representation during immigration court hearings. The Malaysian Bar Council has strongly criticized the immigration courts in detention centers as facilitating a legal process where migrant workers were not provided with a clear understanding of the charges against them in their own language and were effectively denied the right to legal counsel. At court hearings 15 to 20 migrants were often tried together, grouped by the offense with which they were charged. If found guilty the cost of deportation is generally at the detainee’s expense, which led to prolonged detention for migrants who were unable to pay.

Freedom of Movement: The government generally tolerated the presence of undocumented refugees and asylum seekers, but sometimes detained them for a variety of causes in police jails or immigration detention centers until they could be deported or UNHCR established their bona fides. Some refugees holding UNHCR identification cards reported, nonetheless, limited ability to move throughout the country because authorities sometimes did not recognize the UNHCR card.

Employment: Although the government does not authorize UNHCR-registered refugees to work, it typically did not interfere if they performed informal work. UNHCR reported the government brought charges, in a few cases, against employers for hiring them. During the year the government permitted a pilot program for 30 Rohingya refugees to work in a local bakery, a program refugee advocates said was a success.

Access to Basic Services: The government provided access to health care at a discounted foreigner’s rate of 50 percent to UNHCR-registered refugees, but not to asylum seekers, who did not receive UNHCR registration cards. NGOs operated mobile clinics, but their number and access was limited. Refugees did not have access to the public education system. Access to education was limited to schools run by NGOs and ethnic communities, and UNHCR estimated no more than 40 percent of refugee children attended school. A lack of resources and qualified teachers limited opportunities for the majority of school-age refugee children. UNHCR staff members conducted numerous visits to prisons and immigration detention centers to provide counseling, support, and legal representation for refugees and asylum seekers.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary, renewable residence permits to a group of Syrian refugees. The permit allows for legal residency and conveys work rights, but must be renewed annually.

STATELESS PERSONS

The National Registration Department did not maintain records of stateless persons. UNHCR estimated there were 12,350 stateless persons residing in peninsular Malaysia and 450,000 in Sabah. In May the government established a minority task force to address statelessness among members of the country’s ethnic Indian community.

Citizenship law and birth registration rules and procedures created a large class of stateless children in the migrant/refugee population. When mothers did not have valid proof of citizenship, authorities entered the child’s citizenship as “unknown” on the birth certificate. UNHCR deemed this a widespread problem and reported that, in a population of approximately 80,000 Filipino Muslim refugees in Sabah State, an estimated 10,000 were children who were technically stateless.

Even if the father is a citizen, the marriage may be considered invalid and the children illegitimate if the mother lacks proof of citizenship; such children were also considered stateless.

Some observers indicated that children born to Muslim refugees and asylum seekers often had an easier time obtaining citizenship than non-Muslim refugees and asylum seekers. For refugees in Muslim marriages, the observers claimed authorities often accepted a UNHCR document or other documentation in lieu of a passport as proof of citizenship.

Persons who lacked proof of citizenship were not able to access government services, such as reduced cost health care, or own property.

In October the federal government approved the citizenship applications of two stateless children after lawyers sued the government. The cases of three other stateless children remained pending.

Maldives

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, except on religious matters, but the government imposed legal restrictions on this freedom and regularly obstructed this right.

Freedom of Expression: The Anti-Defamation and Freedom of Expression Act, enacted in 2016 and repealed November 14, criminalized any expression that “contradicts a tenet of Islam, threatens national security, contradicts social norms, or encroaches on another’s rights, reputation, or good name.” The act imposed fines of up to two million Maldivian rufiyaa (MVR) ($129,800) for violations and jail terms of up to six months for failure to pay fines. According to the law, journalists could also be required to reveal the sources of alleged defamatory statements in direct contravention to Article 28 of the constitution, which states, “No person should be compelled to disclose the source of any information that is espoused, disseminated, or published by that person.”

Ministry of Youth regulations prohibit publishing literary material without first seeking authorization from the National Bureau of Classification. The regulations define publication of literary material as “any writing, photograph, or drawing that has been made publicly accessible electronically or by way of printing, including publicizing or circulating on the internet.”

On several occasions during the year police sought to limit free speech and expression by arresting and questioning individuals who participated in opposition political activities, while taking no action against those inciting violence against opposition leaders. According to media sources, the government directly and indirectly forbade civil servants from attending opposition political events, firing or transferring those who did so. Opposition parties reported difficulty conducting lawful rallies because of 2016 amendments to the Freedom of Peaceful Assembly Act that imposed additional restrictions on planning and execution of protests. Police and members of the military routinely monitored opposition rallies. Police reported they had dispersed 72 protests for violation of the Freedom of Peaceful Assembly Act as of July 31. Journalists reported police intimidation against protesters and journalists covering the raids and protests, including physical assault, use of pepper spray, and deliberate damage of equipment.

The constitution prohibits utterances contrary to tenets of Islam or the government’s religious policies.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. Criticism of the government and debates on societal problems were commonplace, but media did not question Islamic values or the government’s policies on religion. Until repealed November 14, under the Anti-Defamation and Freedom of Expression Act, the government could impose heavy fines against media outlets that broadcasted criminalized content and could revoke licenses of websites and outlets that failed to pay the fines.

Police routinely detained journalists covering protests and held them for several hours before releasing them without charges. During the February SoE, the MPS obstructed journalists from approaching or covering opposition protests, sometimes confiscating their equipment.

In August the Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC) issued two fines totaling MVR two million ($129,800) against independent news outlet Raajje TV for broadcasting an opposition parliamentarian’s speech at a rally the MBC claimed threatened national security and defamed President Yameen. Raajje TV alleged the fines were “a calculated and well coordinated attack to obstruct its efforts to make President Yameen’s government accountable ahead of presidential elections.” In March the MBC fined independent news outlets VTV and sister outlet VFM MVR 400,000 ($26,000) and Sangu TV MVR 100,000 ($6,500) for broadcasting a speech by an opposition parliamentarian deemed defamatory towards President Yameen. Independent and pro-opposition media claimed the charges and fines were part of the government’s systematic attempts to silence free speech.

Violence and Harassment: Authorities attacked, harassed, and intimidated media representatives. Approximately 20 journalists from various outlets that covered a February 16 opposition protest sought medical treatment due to manhandling and close-range pepper spraying by MPS officers. Hassan Hussain, a reporter from Raajje TV, lost consciousness due to police brutality and remained hospitalized for weeks. A statement from the PPM accused reporters of organizing the protest that preceded the crackdown on the media. The next day the MPS accused the reporters of spreading false information and “behaving like protesters.”

On February 8, Raajje TV preemptively shut down its operations for 56 hours following threats from both state and nonstate actors and in expectation of an imminent government order to close. Days before, PPM deputy leader Abdulla Abdul Raheem had repeatedly called on authorities to shut down the station, and on February 3, a small group of government supporters led by PPM MP Abdulla Yameen gathered near the Raajje TV office and led a chant calling to burn it down. Progovernment social media outlets continued to call for Raajje TV to be shut down in the first week of February. In April, Raajje TV said they had credible information that PPM officials paid a criminal gang to assault their chief operating officer Hussain Fiyaz Moosa.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The Parliament Privileges Act and the Anti-Defamation and Freedom of Expression Act allow authorities to force journalists to reveal their sources, but authorities did not routinely take advantage of this provision. Media reported higher levels of self-censorship in reporting political news following the passage of the Anti-Defamation and Freedom of Expression Act. Several outlets continued to avoid publishing bylines to protect their journalists from possible punitive actions. Members of civil society organizations and journalists said crackdowns on political opposition members led them to self-censor.

In January after all local mainstream media outlets covered a statement released by convicted former vice president Adeeb, the MCS issued a statement threatening to take action against any outlets that “promote” convicts by broadcasting their interviews or statements. In May as convicted opposition leader Nasheed campaigned in the Maldives Democratic Party (MDP) presidential primary, the MBC and the Ministry of Home Affairs issued statements with the same warning. In August, after the joint opposition began putting up presidential campaign posters with photos of convicted opposition leaders, the MPS released a statement threatening action against political parties and media outlets who “promote” convicts. Media outlets noted no legislation that prohibits the coverage of statements by convicts, but all outlets refrained from broadcasting statements, interviews, or campaign rally speeches by convicted opposition leaders following the warning in May.

NGO sources stated media practiced self-censorship on matters related to Islam due to fears of harassment from being labeled “anti-Islamic.” Journalists also practiced self-censorship in reporting on problems in the judiciary or criticizing the judiciary.

There were no known restrictions on domestic publications, nor were there prohibitions on the import of foreign publications or materials, except for those containing pornography or material otherwise deemed objectionable to Islamic values, such as Bibles and idols for worship. The restriction applies only to items for public distribution; tourists destined for resort islands were not prohibited from carrying Bibles and other religious paraphernalia for their personal use.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government generally did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 63 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

The Communications Authority of Maldives (CAM) is the regulatory body mandated to enforce internet content restrictions on sites hosted within the country and to block domestic access to any websites. CAM maintained an unpublished blacklist of all offending websites. Although CAM did not proactively monitor internet content, it accepted requests from ministries and other government agencies to block websites that allegedly violated domestic laws on anti-Islamism, pornography, child abuse, sexual and domestic violence, and other prohibitions. The MPS reported it investigated two cases for unlawful content and one case related to anti-Islamic rhetoric as of August.

During the year the MPS charged opposition MP Ahmed Mahloof with two counts of reporting false information to law enforcement related to a December 2017 tweet criticizing lack of medical care provided to detainees and a January tweet claiming a senior police officer was demoted for attempting to leak information on an alleged plot to assassinate the former vice president. The government argued the fact that Mahloof tagged the MPS twitter account in both tweets amounted to reporting of the information. In September the Criminal Court dismissed the charges related to the January tweet. As of October 23, Mahloof remained on trial for the December tweet.

In April the MPS questioned local NGO Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN) executive director Shahindha Ismail on allegations of attempting to disrupt religious unity and create religious discord with a December 2017 tweet. Ismail had responded to a statement by President Yameen that he would not allow any religion other than Islam in the country by tweeting that other religions exist because God allows it. The MPS launched its investigation after a progovernment news website posted a series of articles December 28, 2017, about her tweet, accusing her of blasphemy for “indirectly calling to allow other religions in the Maldives” and branding her an apostate, and the Ministry of Islamic Affairs published a statement condemning anti-Islamic speech. Ismail received death threats online after the Ministry of Islamic Affairs’ statement. Although questioned three times since December 2017, Ismail remained uncharged as of October 23.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The law prohibits public statements contrary to the government’s policy on religion or the government’s interpretation of Islam. In response to the law, there were credible reports that academics practiced self-censorship. The government censored course content and curricula. Sunni Islam was the only religion taught in schools. In August the government ordered the removal of statues presented in a private resort’s new underwater gallery, alleging they promoted idol worship contrary to Islam.

The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides for “freedom of peaceful assembly without prior permission of the State,” but the government did not respect this right. A 2013 law on peaceful assembly restricts protests outside designated areas, and a 2016 amendment to the law further restricts the designated areas for lawful protests in the capital city. Protesters must obtain prior written permission from the MPS to hold protests outside of designated areas and from the Ministry of Home Affairs to hold protests within the designated area, which local civil society organizations condemned as unconstitutional. Opposition political parties expressed concern the amendment effectively banned protests in the city. Police reported they had dispersed 72 gatherings for violation of the Freedom of Peaceful Assembly Act as of July 31. In a March 12 statement, the HRCM said MPS had used disproportionate force in dispersing multiple opposition protests since February 1, causing injuries to protesters and journalists, and violating regulations on use of less-than-lethal weapons in their use of pepper spray. Opposition parties also reported that the police and Ministry of Housing routinely ignored requests to grant permission to hold opposition protests, while allowing and facilitating progovernment gatherings to proceed.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for freedom of association, but the government imposed limits on this freedom. The government allowed only clubs and other private associations that did not contravene Islamic or civil law to register.

NGOs reported that a 2015 associations regulation threatened their freedom of operation. The regulation requires human rights and other NGOs to seek government approval before applying for domestic assistance above MVR 25,000 ($1,630) or for any foreign assistance. The regulation also requires organizations to submit a membership registry to the government and grants the registrar of associations sweeping powers to dissolve organizations and enter organizations to obtain documents without a search warrant. The registrar dissolved the Maldives NGO Federation, a registered network of 62 NGOs, after it released a statement calling for the enforcement of the February 1 Supreme Court order to release nine detained opposition figures.

The Political Parties Act restricts registration of political parties and eligibility of state funds to those parties with 10,000 or more members. A 2016 amendment to the act requires all political parties to submit fingerprints with each membership application, legalizing a 2011 Elections Commission requirement. Forms without fingerprints would be considered invalid, and those persons would not be counted as members of a political party. The TM and the MDN raised concerns the law and subsequent amendments restricted the constitutional right to form and participate in political parties.

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

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. During the year, however, the government confiscated the passports of several members of the political opposition, restricting their foreign travel.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees.

Mali

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, but the government occasionally restricted those rights.

Freedom of Expression: The government restricted freedom of expression and information, particularly during the presidential election period. A radio station that hosts an opposition talk show was abruptly closed. The government claimed security reasons for closing the station. Internet interruptions also occurred during the presidential election period.

Press and Media Freedom: Malian law imposes fines and prison sentences for defamation. It also criminalizes offenses such as undermining state security, demoralizing the armed forces, offending the head of state, sedition, and consorting with the enemy. On August 1, Bamako Governor Colonel Deberekoua Soara issued a decree that ordered radio station 98.1 Renouveau FM to cease all operations following a July 31 broadcast of controversial radio announcer Yousouf Mohamed Bathily’s (a.k.a. Ras Bath) Cartes Sur Table (Cards on the Table) radio program. According to the decree, Bath’s statements during the broadcast “incited revolt and hatred.” On August 10, the high authority regulating communications ordered the reopening of the radio but prohibited the show Cards on the Table.

Violence and Harassment: Renouveau TV and Radio directors Antoine Solange Dembele and Djibril Sacko stated that on the morning of August 2, two armed police officers arrived at Renouveau FM and posted a closure notification on the door. Shortly thereafter, Dembele recounted, a “truck of armed police, carrying tear gas” arrived to prevent anyone from entering the building.

Journalists had difficulty obtaining military information deemed sensitive by the government and often were unable to gain access to northern locations.

Financial considerations also skewed press coverage. Most media outlets had limited resources. Journalists’ salaries were extremely low, and many outlets could not pay the transportation costs for their journalists to attend media events. Journalists often asked event organizers to pay their transportation costs, and the terms “transportation money” and “per diem” became euphemisms for a pay-for-coverage system, with better-financed organizations often receiving better press coverage.

INTERNET FREEDOM

Digital rights NGO Internet without Borders condemned the blocking of access to social media and published on August 1 a detailed analysis conducted by the Open Observatory of Network Interference, which demonstrated that, beginning July 29, “access to certain platforms and websites,”–including Twitter and WhatsApp, were blocked by Orange Mali, the country’s primary mobile carrier. Embassy staff, foreign diplomats, the public, and media sources reported experiencing disrupted internet access and limited transmission on social media platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp, and Twitter from July 29 to more than one week after the second round of the election on August 12. Internet access was restored following the presidential election.

There were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. There were numerous internet cafes in Bamako, but home internet access remained limited due to the expense. Outside Bamako, access to the internet was very limited. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 12.7 percent of residents used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly, but the government did not always respect this. Security forces used tear gas to break up a June 2 march led by leading opposition politicians and activists. The governor of Bamako used State of Emergency powers, in effect since 2015, to deny the organizers’ formal request to hold the march. March organizers held the march despite this denial. More than 30 protesters, including presidential candidates, were injured during the violence. A reported 16 protesters were admitted to Hospital Gabriel Toure, with unconfirmed reports of two critically injured, of whom one died from his wounds on June 3. The government claimed three security force members also suffered injuries. The government denied that live ammunition was used and defended the actions of the security forces. The political opposition condemned the violence and called for another march on June 8, which the government permitted without restrictions. The June 8 march occurred peacefully.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for freedom of association, although the law prohibits associations deemed immoral. The government generally respected freedom of association except for members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community.

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

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

The government generally cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing humanitarian assistance, including some protection services, to internally displaced persons (IDPs), refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern. Failure to uphold the Peace Accords and security restrictions affected the delivery of humanitarian assistance.

In-country Movement: While in-country movement was not formally restricted, the army established checkpoints to maintain security, and the unstable security situation limited freedom of movement. The populations of Gao, Kidal, Timbuktu, and parts of Mopti feared leaving the cities for security reasons, including the threat from roadside bombs (see section 1.g.). Conditions at the beginning of the year encouraged some refugees and IDPs to return to their homes in the North, but subsequent incidents of insecurity slowed the rate of returns. The government facilitated travel to the North for IDPs who lacked the means to pay for their travel.

Police routinely stopped and checked citizens and foreigners to restrict the movement of contraband and verify vehicle registrations. The number of police checkpoints on roads entering Bamako and inside the city increased after a rise in extremist attacks across the country. Journalists often complained that the government, citing security concerns, did not allow them to move freely in the North during military operations.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

The UN independent observer reported 61,404 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Mali and 138,675 refugees in neighboring countries as of August. Humanitarian access in the northern regions generally improved following the June 2015 signing of the Peace Accord, although insecurity related to terrorism and banditry remained a challenge in much of the country.

The Ministry of Internal Security and Civil Protection registered IDPs, and the government assisted them. IDPs generally lived with relatives, friends, or in rented accommodations. Most IDPs resided in urban areas and had access to food, water, and other forms of assistance. As many as half of all displaced families lacked official identity documents needed to facilitate access to public services, including schools for children, although identification was not required for humanitarian assistance. Aid groups provided humanitarian assistance to IDPs residing in the South and North as access permitted.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. A national committee in charge of refugees operated with assistance from UNHCR. According to UNHCR, the International Organization for Migration, and the government, by July 31, there were 24,368 registered refugees and 601 asylum seekers residing in the country–the majority of whom were Afro-Mauritanian refugees expelled from Mauritania in 1989–and their children. At a meeting between UNHCR and ministers from the Economic Community of West African States, the government committed itself to assisting all Mauritanian refugees who wished to integrate locally with a declaration of intention to facilitate their naturalization. In 2015 the government issued birth certificates to nearly 8,000 refugee children born in the country as part of its commitment to facilitate local integration for Afro-Mauritanian refugees, allowing them to access public services, sign employment contracts, buy and sell land, set up companies, and borrow from banks.

As of August there were 138,675 Malian refugees registered in neighboring Burkina Faso, Mauritania, and Niger. New refugee arrivals continued to increase throughout the year due to the conflict and violence in Mali. Despite security challenges, the government reported 60,373 Malian refugees had returned to Mali from neighboring countries as of August.

Temporary Protection: The government’s Office of International Migration is responsible for providing temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. The National Commission for Refugees adjudicates refugee or asylum claims and provides temporary protection pending a decision on whether to grant asylum.

Malta

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

Freedom of Expression: The Media and Defamation Act, passed by parliament during the year, amended the criminal code to eliminate the article that criminalized contempt for the president. The revised code makes incitement to take away the life or liberty of the president or any other minister a criminal offense. It remains a criminal offense to offend public morality, propriety, or decency. 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.

In September an independent blogger and activist filed an application in court against the minister of justice, local government entities, and the director general for the Division of Cleansing and Maintenance, accusing them of breaching the European Convention on Human Rights by periodically removing makeshift memorials to slain journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Violence and Harassment: In December 2017 police charged three persons with the killing of investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in a 2017 car bombing near her home. Caruana Galizia had reported on major government corruption, allegedly involving the prime minister and other senior government officials (see section 4, Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government). Her writing targeted a wide range of individuals, including members of each political party, business leaders, judges, and other prominent individuals. Public mourning for the murdered journalist was the target of censorship by governing party politicians and public officials, who repeatedly ordered the removal of a makeshift memorial in the capital.

Libel/Slander Laws: In September the minister of the economy, Chris Cardona, declined to reinstate libel proceedings, cancelled earlier by the courts, against Daphne Caruana Galizia. Her family had asked the court to continue with the proceedings. In 2017 Cardona sued the journalist for libel after she had alleged that the minister visited a brothel during an official visit to Germany. Cardona sued for 40,000 euros ($46,000) in damages and asked the court to freeze the assets in the journalist’s bank account pending a trial. The court upheld Cardona’s request.

Actions to Expand Freedom of Expression, Including for the Media: On April 27, parliament enacted the Media and Defamation Bill. Among other provisions, aimed at strengthening the freedom of the media, it abolished criminal libel and introduced alternative civil remedies for slander.

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

Independent online media accused Facebook groups associated with the governing Labor Party of mounting disinformation campaigns aimed at vilifying and intimidating critics. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) condemned and called for the dismissal of a leading public official following his online derogatory comments against a civil society activist; the official later apologized.

According to Eurostat in 2017, approximately 85 percent of households had access to the internet.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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 www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

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

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

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees 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: In May the Council of Europe’s European Commission against Racism and Intolerance noted pervasive offensive content aimed against migrants on the internet and in social media in the country, reflecting negative attitudes toward immigration.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

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

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country denied asylum to applicants who arrived from other EU countries.

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 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 September, 100 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. As of September, 16 migrants had sought assisted voluntary return. According to several NGOs, integration efforts moved slowly, as migrants generally tended to stay close to residential centers, although some moved into the community. Many migrants found work, mostly in low skilled sectors. Migrants also expressed concerns about access to higher education.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary protection, known as “subsidiary” protection, to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. From January to August, the country granted subsidiary protection to 334 persons.

Marshall Islands

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Internet access and availability increased, although it remained low (approximately 10 percent of the country’s population) due to high cost and technical difficulties, particularly in areas outside the capital city, Majuro.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

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

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

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

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

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

U.S. nuclear testing from 1947 to 1958 displaced an estimated 14,000 individuals (original evacuees and their descendants). Some relocated to the United States, but most remained as IDPs residing in several locations across the country, including Kili Island and Ejit Islet in Majuro Atoll. IDPs did not suffer societal discrimination and received substantial government support.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The laws do not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. The country has no history of receiving refugees or asylum seekers.

Mauritania

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution provides for freedom of speech, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right; however, it sometimes arbitrarily and selectively applied regulations to suppress individuals or groups of individuals who opposed government policies. Individuals were generally free to criticize the government publicly or privately but were occasionally subject to retaliation. The constitution and law prohibit racial or ethnic propaganda. The government used these provisions against political opponents, accusing them of “racism” or “promoting national disunity” for speaking out against the extreme underrepresentation in government of Haratines and sub-Saharan Africans.

Freedom of Expression: There were no major restrictions on freedom of opinion and expression. Local NGOs and bloggers, among other observers, reported the government’s actions in recent years discredited its image and reputation. For example, it arrested journalists who were sympathizers to prominent government opposition figures.

On September 15, the news website al-Akhbar reported that police arrested several opposition bloggers and activists at the headquarters of the political party Tawassoul in the city of Zoueirate in the northern part of the country. Included in the arrests was a youth caravan coming from Nouakchott to support the opposition candidates.

Press and Media Freedom: Several independent daily publications generally expressed a wide variety of views with limited restrictions. Throughout the year incidents of government retaliation against media deemed too outspoken increased.

In June 2017 the National Assembly passed a bill imposing harsh penalties on journalists who publish “incendiary” articles. The law describes possible financial penalties for journalists publishing articles or statements that may, according to government, incite discrimination, hatred, violence, or insult based on origin, ethnicity, or nationality.

Independent media remained the principal source of information for most citizens, followed by government media. Government media focused primarily on official news but provided some coverage of opposition activities and views.

Violence and Harassment: On October 8, political parties from the hardline opposition, as well as many international and national organizations, denounced the government’s repression and harassment of the protests organized by the IRA.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Some opposition leaders asserted they had no effective access to official media. The government made payment of back taxes, at times unpaid for years with official complicity, a matter of priority, threatening the solvency of several independent stations.

In October 2017 Tele Diffusion Mauritania (TDM) briefly shut down five private television channels. TDM explained that its decision to suspend the private television stations’ operations was intended to force these outlets to pay their overdue royalties and broadcasting dues. TDM claimed to have made several attempts at finding an amicable solution but said they were either rebuffed or ignored by the owners of the private television stations.

On August 3, TDM again notified private channels and radio stations to pay their debts. According to the local press, TDM gave one week for these media outlets to settle, otherwise, they would be closed again. The media outlets did not pay, but they were not suspended.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, in 2017 approximately 21 percent of the population used the internet.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly. Registered political parties are not required to seek permission to hold meetings or demonstrations. The law requires NGO organizers to apply to the local administrative chief for permission to hold large meetings or assemblies. Authorities usually granted permission but on some occasions denied it in circumstances that suggested the application of political criteria.

On several occasions officials with the IRA and other organizations reported security force members arrested their activists for failing to obtain the local prefect’s permission before holding a rally.

On August 29, the news website Sahara Media reported that police dispersed an opposition rally in Nouakchott in advance of the September elections. Police objected to the rally on the grounds of a complaint filed by Al-Najah Company, which owned the old airport (site of the rally). According to opposition leaders, they had previously received approval from the government to hold the rally.

After parliament opened on October 8, the IRA organized several largely peaceful protests against the continued detention of their leader and newly elected parliamentarian Biram Dah Abeid. Police response to some protests was violent.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The law provides for freedom of association, and the government generally, but not in every instance, respected this right.

All local NGOs must register with the Ministry of Interior and Decentralization. Generally, if the ministry fails to respond within 45 days to a request to establish an NGO, the NGO may proceed with its work, although it was not considered officially registered.

Since 2014 Amnesty International documented 43 cases in which NGOs working in the human rights domain had not received a response from the government on their registration requests, meaning the NGOs were not authorized to operate in the country.

The government encouraged locally registered NGOs to join the government-sponsored Civil Society Platform. Approximately 6,000 local NGOs did so.

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

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

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, vulnerable migrants, or other persons of concern. Resources provided by the government were inadequate to meet the assistance needs of these populations.

In-country Movement: Persons lacking identity cards could not travel freely in some regions. As in previous years, the government set up mobile roadblocks where gendarmes, police, or customs officials checked the papers of travelers.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. UNHCR carries out refugee status determinations under its mandate and then presents cases to the National Consultative Commission for Refugees for recognition. The country hosted nearly 54,000 Malian refugees in the M’bera camp and continued to offer asylum to new refugee arrivals. The country also provided additional security in the camp to allow the Malian refugees to vote in the 2018 Malian presidential election.

In accordance with agreements with the Economic Community of West African States on freedom of movement, the government allows West Africans to remain in the country for up to three months, after which they must apply for residency or work permits. Authorities immediately deported migrants determined to be illegally seeking to reach Spain’s nearby Canary Islands.

STATELESS PERSONS

The law allows children born outside the country to Mauritanian mothers and foreign men to obtain Mauritanian nationality at age 17. According to Article 15 of the code of nationality, as amended, children born to Mauritanian fathers and foreign mothers are automatically Mauritanian. If the father is stateless, children born outside the country are subject to statelessness until age 17, at which point the child is eligible for nationality. The unwillingness of local authorities to process thousands of sub-Saharan Africans who returned from Senegal, following their mass expulsion between 1989 and 1991, rendered the returnees stateless.

Mauritius

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press; however, the law was amended on October 31 to prevent internet users from posting anything that could cause “annoyance, humiliation, inconvenience, distress or anxiety to any person” on social media. Anyone found guilty faces 10 years imprisonment.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views.

The government owned the sole domestic television network, MBC TV, and opposition parties and media commentators regularly criticized the station for its allegedly progovernment bias and unfair coverage of opposition parties as well as alleged interference in the network’s daily operations by the prime minister’s senior adviser. International television networks were available by subscription or via cable. Stringent limitations on foreign investment in local broadcast media contained in the Independent Broadcasting Authority Act were deterrents to the establishment of independent television stations.

Violence and Harassment: Unlike in the previous year, there were no reports of violence or harassment against journalists.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: On November 8, the immigration services of Dubai interrogated and threatened to deport a Mauritian citizen living in the United Arab Emirates for allegedly posting offensive comments on social media against the Mauritian government. The interrogation was allegedly the result of an Interpol investigation. Mauritian press reported, however, that a senior member of the Mauritian government may have intervened to initiate the Dubai authorities’ action. Additionally there were anecdotal reports that a government agent intimidated the relatives of a social media user to discourage them from posting antigovernment comments online.

The government continued its 1989 ban on The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie. While bookstores could not legally import the book, purchasers could buy it online without difficulty.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet. According to the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 56 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

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

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

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

Foreign Travel: In cases where individuals were arrested and released on bail, the government generally seized the person’s passport and issued a prohibition order preventing such individuals from leaving the country.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system providing protection to refugees. According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, there were no registered refugees or asylum seekers in the country.

Mexico

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. Most newspapers, television, and radio stations were privately owned. The government had minimal presence in the ownership of news media but remained the main source of advertising revenue for many media organizations, which at times influenced coverage. Media monopolies, especially in small markets, could constrain freedom of expression.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists were murdered or subject to physical attacks, harassment, and intimidation (especially by state agents and transnational criminal organizations) due to their reporting. This limited media’s ability to investigate and report, since many of the reporters who were killed covered crime, corruption, and local politics. According to the NGO Article 19, as of December 5, nine journalists had been killed because of their reporting.

Perpetrators of violence against journalists acted with impunity. According to Article 19, as of August the impunity rate for crimes against journalists was 99.7 percent. In 2017 there were 507 attacks against journalists, according to Article 19. Since its creation in 2010, the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Crimes Against Journalists (FEADLE), a PGR unit, won only eight convictions, and none for murder, in the more than 2,000 cases it investigated. On August 25, FEADLE won its first conviction in the new justice system, obtaining a sentence against Tabasco state police officers for illegally detaining a journalist because of his reporting.

Government officials believed organized crime to be behind most of these attacks, but NGOs asserted there were instances when local government authorities participated in or condoned the acts. According to Article 19, in the last five years, 48 percent of physical attacks against journalists originated with public officials. Although 75 percent of those came from state or local officials, federal officials and members of the armed forces were also suspected of being behind attacks against journalists.

In April 2017 the government of Quintana Roo offered a public apology to journalist Pedro Canche, who was falsely accused by state authorities of sabotage and was detained for nine months in prison. In May the PGR detained a police officer, Tila Patricia Leon, and a former judge, Javier Ruiz, for undermining Canche’s freedom of expression through arbitrary detention in retaliation for his critical reporting about state government authorities.

There were no developments in the March 2017 killing of Miroslava Breach, a prominent newspaper correspondent.

In March, two police officers, Luigi Heriberto Bonilla Zavaleta and Jose Francisco Garcia, were sentenced to 25 years in prison for the murder of Moises Sanchez, a newspaper owner and journalist in Veracruz. Sanchez was kidnapped in 2015 and found dead three weeks after his disappearance. The local mayor, accused of ordering the murder, remained a fugitive.

In 2005 journalist Lydia Cacho wrote a book exposing a pedophile ring in Cancun. She was arrested in December 2005 and driven 20 hours to Puebla, during which time police threatened her and forced a gun down her throat. On August 8, a federal court in Quintana Roo upheld the October 2017 decision that found Puebla state police officer Jose Montano Quiroz guilty of torture. In the 2017 sentence, the judge recognized Cacho was tortured psychologically and physically and that the torture inflicted was in retaliation for her reporting.

Between 2012 and June 2018, the National Mechanism to Protect Human Rights Defenders and Journalists received 301 requests for protection for journalists. According to Article 19, there had been 62 requests as of October.

On July 24, Playa Del Carmen-based journalist Ruben Pat became the third journalist killed while under protection of the mechanism. Pat had been arrested, threatened, and allegedly tortured by municipal police in Quintana Roo on June 25, according to the OHCHR. Pat was the second journalist killed from the Seminario Playa news outlet in one month. His colleague Jose Guadalupe Chan Dzib was killed on June 29.

A June joint report from IACHR Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression Edison Lanza and UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression David Kaye stated journalists in Mexico lived in a “catastrophic” situation given the number of journalists killed since 2010. The report claimed vast regions of the country were “zones of silence” where exercising freedom of expression was dangerous. Observers noted that journalists were often required to publish messages at the behest of organized criminal groups.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Human rights groups reported some state and local governments censored the media.

Journalists reported altering their coverage due to a lack of protection from the government, attacks against members of the media and newsrooms, and threats or retributions against their families, among other reasons. There were reports of journalists practicing self-censorship due to threats from criminal groups and government officials, especially in the states of Tamaulipas and Sinaloa.

According to Freedom House’s 2017 Freedom of the Press report, the federal government and some state governments used advertising expenditures to influence the editorial policies of media outlets. Article 19 reported in March the government had a strong financial impact and influence on the largest media companies.

Libel/Slander Laws: There are no federal criminal laws against defamation, libel, or slander, but there are state criminal laws in eight states. In Guanajuato, Nuevo Leon, Baja California Sur, Nayarit, Michoacan, and Yucatan, the crime of defamation is prosecuted, with penalties ranging from three days to five years in prison, and fines ranging from five to five hundred days of minimum salary for committing defamation or slander, both considered “crimes against honor.” Slander is punishable under the criminal laws of the states of Hidalgo, Guanajuato, Nuevo Leon, Baja California Sur, Sonora, Nayarit, Zacatecas, Colima, Michoacan, Campeche, and Yucatan, with sentences ranging from three months to six years in prison, and monetary fines. Five states have laws that restrict the publishing of political caricatures or “memes.” These laws were seldom applied.

In May the Supreme Court struck down a law in the state of Nayarit penalizing slander. The court ruled the law violated freedom of expression.

Nongovernmental Impact: Organized criminal groups exercised a grave and increasing influence over media outlets and reporters, threatening individuals who published critical views of crime groups. Concerns persisted about the use of physical violence by organized criminal groups in retaliation for information posted online, which exposed journalists, bloggers, and social media users to the same level of violence faced by traditional journalists.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or block or filter online content. Freedom House’s 2017 Freedom on the Net report categorized the country’s internet as partly free, noting concerns about illegal surveillance practices in the country and violence against online reporters.

NGOs alleged provisions in secondary laws threatened the privacy of internet users by forcing telecommunication companies to retain data for two years, providing real-time geolocation data to police, and allowing authorities to obtain metadata from private communications companies without a court order. While the Supreme Court upheld those mechanisms, it noted the need for authorities to obtain a judicial warrant to access users’ metadata.

There were no developments in the criminal investigation the government stated in 2017 that it had opened to determine whether prominent journalists, human rights defenders, and anticorruption activists were subjected to illegal surveillance via a sophisticated surveillance program, “Pegasus.” PGR officials acknowledged purchasing Pegasus but claimed to have used it only to monitor criminals. In May a Mexico City district judge ordered the victims’ evidence be accepted in the PGR’s ongoing investigation. According to a November report by the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto, 24 individuals were targeted with Pegasus spyware.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 64 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights. There were some reports of security forces using excessive force against demonstrators. Twelve states have laws that restrict public demonstrations.

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

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

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

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

The government and press reports noted a marked increase in refugee and asylum applications during the year. According to UNHCR statistics, there were 9,900 asylum applications during the first half of the year, compared with a total of 14,596 applications in all of 2017.

At the Iztapalapa detention center near Mexico City, the Twenty-First Century detention center in Chiapas, and other detention facilities, men were separated from women and children, and there were special living quarters for LGBTI individuals. Migrants had access to medical, psychological, and dental services, and the Iztapalapa center had agreements with local hospitals to care for any urgent cases free of charge. Individuals from countries with consular representation also had access to consular services. Commission to Assist Refugees (COMAR) and CNDH representatives visited daily, and other established civil society groups were able to visit the detention facilities on specific days and hours. Victims of trafficking and other crimes were housed in specially designated shelters. Human rights pamphlets were available in many different languages. In addition approximately 35 centers cooperated with UNHCR and allowed it to display posters and provide other information on how to access asylum for those in need of international protection.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The press and NGOs reported victimization of migrants by criminal groups and in some cases by police, immigration officers, and customs officials. Government and civil society sources reported the Central American gang presence spread farther into the country and threatened migrants who had fled the same gangs in their home countries. An August 2017 report by the independent INM Citizens’ Council found incidents in which immigration agents had been known to threaten and abuse migrants to force them to accept voluntary deportation and discourage them from seeking asylum. The council team visited 17 detention centers across the country and reported threats, violence, and excessive force against undocumented migrants. The INM responded to these allegations by asserting it treated all migrants with “absolute respect.”

There were media reports that criminal groups kidnapped undocumented migrants to extort money from migrants’ relatives or force them into committing criminal acts on their behalf.

A November 2017 Amnesty International report highlighted the dangers Central American LGBTI migrants faced in Mexico. Citing UNHCR data, the report stated two-thirds of LGBTI migrants from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras who applied for refugee status reported having been victims of sexual violence in Mexico.

According to a July 2017 report from the NGO Washington Office on Latin America, of the 5,824 reported crimes against migrants that occurred in the states of Chiapas, Oaxaca, Tabasco, Sonora, Coahuila, and at the federal level, 99 percent of the crimes were unresolved.

In-country Movement: There were numerous instances of armed groups limiting the movements of migrants, including by kidnappings and homicides.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

The NGO Mexican Commission for the Defense and Promotion of Human Rights (CMDPDH) attributed the displacement of 10,947 people in 2018 to violence by government forces against civilians in the states of Chiapas, Oaxaca, and Sinaloa. Land conflicts, social and ethnic violence, local political disputes, religiously motivated violence, extractive industry operations, and natural disasters were other causes. The CMDPDH found 74 percent of displaced persons in 2017 came from the states of Chiapas, Guerrero, and Sinaloa. The government, in conjunction with international organizations, made efforts to promote the safe, voluntary return, resettlement, or local integration of IDPs.

During an October 2017 border dispute between two municipalities in the state of Chiapas, 5,323 Tzotziles indigenous individuals were displaced. Violence between the communities resulted in women, children, and the elderly abandoning their homes. By January, 3,858 had returned, and the rest remained in shelters.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status and complementary protection, and the government has an established procedure for determining refugee status and providing protection to refugees. At the end of 2017, the Commission to Assist Refugees (COMAR) had received 14,596 petitions, of which 2,400 were abandoned, 7,719 were pending, and 4,475 were resolved. The number of applicants withdrawing from the process dropped to 16 percent during the year, down from 36 percent in 2014. The refusal rate decreased from 61 percent to 37 percent over that same period. NGOs reported bribes sometimes influenced the adjudication of asylum petitions and requests for transit visas.

The government worked with UNHCR to improve access to asylum and the asylum procedure, reception conditions for vulnerable migrants and asylum seekers, and integration (access to school and work) for those approved for refugee and complementary protection status. In October, the government announced the “You Are at Home” (“Estas en tu casa”) program to address the flow of migrants in so-called caravans from Central America transiting the country to seek asylum in the United States. The program offered migrants the opportunity to stay legally in the country with access to health care, employment, and education for children. Press reports indicated that 546 migrants had registered for the program as of November 11.

Moldova

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

While the law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, authorities did not always respect this right. Pressure on independent media continued during the year, and a number of investigative journalists reported being intimidated and harassed after publishing investigative articles on political figures.

Concentration of ownership in media remained a problem. Smaller outlets faced difficulty competing against progovernment enterprises controlled by political figures and oligarchs. Lack of equal access to media advertising funds led to financial constraints for some media outlets.

Freedom House scored media freedom in the Transnistrian region as “not free.”

Freedom of Expression: The law provides for freedom of expression and allows individuals to criticize the government or to discuss matters of general public interest. Restrictions apply only in cases when such freedom poses a threat to national security, territorial integrity, public order or safety. There is no law criminalizing hate speech. During the year, opposition groups reported that authorities restricted their abilities to hold political meetings, especially in the regions. Opposition parties reported cases of monitoring by the authorities of their political and public meetings, cases of illegal wiretaps, confiscation by law enforcement from citizens of newspapers distributed by an opposition party, etc. The opposition also reported multiple cases of threats, intimidation and dismissals for political reasons, particularly in the regions.

Press and Media Freedom: The law prohibits editing and publishing of literature that contains “denial and defamation of the state and the people; calls for war or aggression; appeals to ethnic, racial, or religious hatred; [or] incites discrimination, territorial separatism, or public violence.”

According to Freedom House’s Nations in Transit report, the country’s media sector continued to face the same challenges as in previous years: excessive political and oligarchic influence; external and internal propaganda and manipulation; a lack of transparency in media ownership; limited independence for the broadcasting regulatory authority; and unfair competition within the advertising market.

While the print media expressed diverse political views and commentary, oligarch-controlled business groups that distorted information for their benefit controlled most of the country’s media, albeit with some notable exceptions. Information about the owners of private broadcasters, made public in 2015, confirmed the high concentration of media ownership. The government, political parties, and political figures also owned or subsidized a number of newspapers that expressed clearly defined political views. Large media outlets associated with leaders of political factions or oligarchs exerted pressure on smaller outlets, which brought several to the brink of closing and prompted prominent journalists to leave key outlets acquired by oligarchs. Oligarchs closely supervised content and maintained editorial control over reporting from the outlets they owned.

On October 18, parliament adopted in a third and final reading, a new code for audiovisual media services that will enter into force on January 1, 2019 if signed by the President. The new code regulates editorial independence, protects the national broadcasting environment, calls for the transparency and deconcentration of media ownership, offers distributors for media services, and calls for the protection of journalists, the protection of minors and persons with disabilities, gender balance, freedom of expression, and media access to major events.

In 2017 a monitoring report presented by the Independent Press Association showed that Russian channels rebroadcast in the country disseminated propaganda and presented distorted information about regional and international events. In 2017 parliament amended the audiovisual code to only allow the rebroadcast of news and programs with political, analytical, and military content originating from the United States, Canada, EU member countries, and states that have ratified the European Convention on Transfrontier Television. This provision was preserved in the new code and implemented in 2018.

On January 19, several broadcasters supported by major media NGOs filed a joint complaint to the government’s Competition Council and asked it to investigate unfair competition in the media advertising market promoted by two major sales houses, Casa Media and Exclusiv Sales House. Broadcasters stated that as of November, they had not received a response from the Competition Council on its decision.

NGOs monitoring the Chisinau mayoral election campaign reported findings of biased and unbalanced media coverage. Prior to elections, major media outlets affiliated with political parties issued statements refusing to take part in pre-election coverage. Monitors noted, however, that some of these outlets still heavily broadcasted the activities of one candidate over the others.

During the local election campaign, the Audiovisual Coordinating Council fined several smaller television broadcasters, including TV8, Accent TV, NTV Moldova, Exclusiv TV, RTR Moldova, and Jurnal TV, 5,000 lei ($300) each for violating electoral legislation and the audiovisual code provision requiring “fairness, equity, and impartiality” during election coverage. The Council fined Ren TV Moldova 7,500 lei ($449) for the same violation.

Two organizations controlled the Transnistrian mass media market: The “Public Agency for Telecommunication,” which controlled official news information agencies, newspapers, and one of the two most popular television channels, and Sheriff Holding, a business conglomerate with considerable influence in the Transnistrian “Supreme Soviet.” The Transnistrian “Supreme Soviet” passed a law restricting access of journalists to the institution’s plenary sessions.

Violence and Harassment: During the year civil society and media advocates raised concerns over intimidation and harassment of prominent investigative journalists.

Journalist Victor Sofrani was indicted for criminal hooliganism and providing false information to a law enforcement official after he reported to police in Rezina and Soldanesti that he had received a threatening telephone call and violent images in December 2017. Sofrani claimed he was intimidated and targeted after publishing an investigative story in May about the misuse of public funds and corruption by local officials.

In July Orhei mayor Ilan Shor posted a video on Facebook verbally attacking journalists from Radio Orhei. On August 5, he prevented the journalists from covering an opposition protest in Orhei. The UN Office in the country condemned Shor’s attack as hate speech and incitement to violence against journalists and political opponents and called for an investigation. The Prosecutor’s Office initiated an investigation and called for the affected journalists to file complaints. Alexandr Petcov, a journalist and former member of parliament, filed a formal complaint. As of November no action had been taken on the case.

On October 31, the investigative journalism news portal RISE.md reported that law enforcement representatives followed one of its journalists, Liuba Sevciuc, after she published an investigative article on September 5 about vacation properties owned by Democratic Party leader Vlad Plahotniuc. Other investigative news agencies such as Ziarul de Garda also said their reporters had received online threats and had their personal data released on social media by unknown entities.

Censorship or Content Restriction: In many cases, journalists practiced self-censorship to avoid conflicts with the sponsors or owners of their media outlets. In Transnistria, journalists avoided criticizing separatist officials’ goal of independence or their “foreign policy” to avoid official reprisals.

Journalists voiced concern that a personal data protection law restricted journalists’ access to information.

Media NGOs criticized access restrictions that prevented media from fully covering public events. The NGOs expressed concern about the ruling Democratic Party’s decision to restrict the access of TV8 and Jurnal TV journalists to its public events. On September 14, a TV8 crew was denied entry to a meeting of the National Political Council of the Democratic Party. Other media outlets had free access to the meeting. On September 18, TV8 news crews were restricted from attending the prime minister’s press briefing at the ruling party headquarters where he announced the appointment of two new government ministers. On October 2, JurnalTV was banned access to the Democratic Party’s weekly briefing.

NGOs condemned authorities for abuse of power for preventing journalists from several media outlets from covering a planned mass public demonstration in the Great National Assembly Square in the center of Chisinau on August 26 and 27. Journalists from the Radio Free Europe Moldova Service reported being pushed by unlicensed guards affiliated with Shar. Authorities also reportedly barred journalists from TV8 and the Ziarul de Garda newspaper from covering official public events in the main square.

Libel/Slander Laws: Some newspapers practiced self-censorship and avoided controversial issues due to concerns that government officials and other public figures could use defamation laws to retaliate against critical news reports.

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

According to statistics published by the Moldovan Agency for Regulation in Electronic Communication and Information Technology, the number of mobile internet user accounts reached 4.43 million. The number of active internet users was 1.7 million.

In 2015 former Transnistrian “president” Shevchuk issued a decree on combating extremism that authorized the Transnistrian “KGB” to request the “prosecutor’s office” to block internet content. Authorities would make such a determination following a review by a panel appointed by the “KGB.”

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

The government placed some limits on freedoms of peaceful expression and association

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The law provides for freedom of assembly, and the government generally respected this right, with several exceptions during the year.

On August 26, opposition extra-parliamentary parties and their supporters held a large-scale rally to protest the courts’ invalidation of the local elections in Chisinau, the government’s failure to investigate the bank fraud, and mounting pressure levied against opposition parties. The protest organizers asserted that authorities “took illegal and disproportionate measures to hinder the arrival of protesters in Chisinau, particularly from the rural areas.” Opposition leaders also alleged that law enforcement agencies intimidated local activists before the protest and that regional representatives from the ruling party threatened to withdraw the licenses of local transportation companies if they transported people to Chisinau on the day of the protest. Media outlets reported several incidents of police or transportation regulators stopping drivers to fine them for “unusual illegalities.” In an appeal sent to diplomatic missions and international human rights watchdogs, a number of NGOs claimed that authorities infringed upon the right to free movement and the right to peaceful assembly.

Authorities in Transnistria continued to restrict freedom of assembly and were reluctant to issue permits for public protests organized by the opposition. Transnistrian authorities refused to authorize a protest planned for June 5 by the region’s only allowed opposition group, the Communist Party. Oleg Horjan, the leader of the Communist Party and organizer of the planned protest, instead decided to hold an informal public gathering of his party’s constituents. Transnistrian law enforcement bodies reportedly arrested approximately 40 participants present at the gathering, including Horjan’s son. On June 11, Oleg Horjan was arrested after the plenary of the region’s legislature lifted his legislative immunity. The case was ongoing in court.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for freedom of association and states that citizens are free to form parties and other social and political organizations, and the government generally respected this right. The law prohibits organizations “engaged in fighting against political pluralism, the principles of the rule of law, or the sovereignty and independence or territorial integrity” of the country.

During the year government officials and members of the parliamentary majority continued to denigrate the role of civil society in the country, characterizing NGOs critical of government actions as “political actors” who require increased regulation.

In June the UN’s special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst, expressed concern that human rights defenders and journalists were victims of stigmatization campaigns. According to Forst there were allegations of intimidation and threats towards human rights defenders by public authorities, particularly after defenders expressed criticism of government decisions.

In Transnistria, authorities severely restricted freedom of association. Separatist authorities granted the legal right of association only to persons they recognized as citizens of Transnistria. All nongovernmental activities had to be coordinated with local authorities; groups that did not comply faced harassment, including visits from security officials. Authorities strictly prohibited organizations favoring reintegration with the rest of Moldova.

The human rights NGO Promo-Lex, which suspended its activities in the Transnistrian region in 2015 following notification of a criminal case opened against it, did not renew attempts to enter the region.

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

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

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

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

A January decree by the Transnistrian leader adopted new migration mechanisms. According to Transnistrian authorities, the new law would “optimize the stay and registration of foreign citizens and stateless persons in Transnistria and improve migration processes.” Transnistrian authorities, however, maintained a travel notification mechanism required for all Moldovan and visiting foreign officials. There was at least one case of a Moldovan journalist being denied access to Transnistria in August. According to the OSCE Mission, since January 1, mission officials and their family members can cross the Transnistrian administrative line without being subject to the Transnistrian travel notification mechanism.

Although citizens generally may depart from and return to the country freely, there were some limitations on emigration. Before emigrating, the law requires individuals to settle all outstanding financial obligations with other persons or legal entities. The government did not strictly enforce this requirement. The law also provides that close relatives who are financially dependent on a potential emigrant must concur before the prospective emigrant may depart the country. Authorities did not enforce this law.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: Local and international observers, including Amnesty International, criticized the government for forcibly returning seven Turkish educators to Turkey in September where they were held on unclear charges by Turkish authorities. Media reports characterized them as Gulenists. Five of the educators had applied for political asylum and sought protection in the country. On September 13, another Turkish citizen was forcibly returned to Turkey by the Moldovan Intelligence Service, allegedly because of unlawful stay and for spreading of “extremist” ideas. On September 26, Amnesty International Moldova announced there were approximately 48 additional Turkish citizens in the country who were “blacklisted” and at risk of being forcibly returned to Turkey.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government established a system for protecting refugees. Obtaining formal refugee status was slow and burdensome. Authorities issued refugees identity cards for an indefinite term; beneficiaries of humanitarian protection received identification documents valid for three years; and asylum seekers received temporary identification cards. UNHCR provided refugees logistical, housing, and financial support. A temporary accommodation center administered by the Bureau of Migration and Asylum was available for asylum seekers.

Temporary Protection: The government provided humanitarian protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. As of August, there were 254 beneficiaries of humanitarian protection registered in the national asylum system.

STATELESS PERSONS

There were approximately 2,700 stateless persons in the country, most of whom resided in Transnistria. The largest numbers of stateless persons were ethnic Ukrainians, Russians, Romanians, and Turks.

The law grants citizenship to persons who resided in the historical regions of Bessarabia, Northern Bucovina, the Herta region, and the territory of the Moldovan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic prior to 1940 as well as their descendants. The law includes procedures for the determination of statelessness.

Stateless persons and refugees may gain nationality through naturalization. The law allows a stateless person who has resided legally in the country for eight years to seek citizenship. The government issued residence permits for a period of up to one year to stateless persons temporarily residing in the country at a cost ranging from approximately 500 to 1,400 lei ($30 to $84), depending on the urgency of the permit. Trafficking victims received residence permits free of charge.

Monaco

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits public “denunciations” of the ruling family and provides for punishment of six months’ to five years’ imprisonment for violations. Authorities did not charge anyone with violating these statutes during the year. The law on freedom of expression prohibits defamation or insult, particularly against citizens responsible for a public service or office.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to statistics from the International Telecommunication Union, 97 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

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

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

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and provided mainly financial support for the commissioner’s programs.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. Monaco is not normally a refugee-receiving country. The government vets applications for asylum with the French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons.

Durable Solutions: On May 30, the government and the Community of Sant’Egidio, a “public lay association” of the Roman Catholic Church, signed an agreement for hosting refugees in Italy. The government contributed 500,000 euros ($575,000) to support refugees, particularly refugees from Lebanon, for four years.

Mongolia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right, although it imposed some content restrictions, licensing could be problematic, and there was reported harassment of journalists. These problems contributed to occasional self-censorship.

Press and Media Freedom: Globe International, a local NGO specializing in freedom of the press and media, reported continued pressure from police, politicians, and large business entities on local media and press outlets.

The ownership and political affiliations of the media often were not disclosed to the public, and a Globe International survey found that 23.3 percent of journalists reported they did not cover some stories due to their media outlet’s financial and personal relationships with political officials and business elites. The Mongolian Center for Investigative Journalism also reported that journalists sometimes practiced self-censorship for the same reasons.

Violence and Harassment: Some journalists reported they faced violence, harassment, or intimidation by police. For example, according to the Federation of Mongolian Journalists, a police officer punched a television reporter in July.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Communications Regulatory Commission (CRC) regulations on digital content and television and radio service impose content restrictions in broad terms, for example on pornography or extreme violence. The government appoints members of the CRC, which grants television and radio broadcast licenses without public consultation. This process, together with a lack of transparency during the license-tendering process, inhibited fair access to broadcast frequencies and benefited those with political connections.

Libel/Slander Laws: Press representatives faced libel complaints by government authorities and private persons or organizations. The courts prosecuted the majority of libel and slander cases as petty offenses punishable by fines ranging from two million to 20 million tugriks ($770 to $7,700).

The law provides an exception during election campaign season, when fines of 450,000 to 5.4 million tugriks ($175 to $2,100) or imprisonment from one month to one year apply for spreading false information that defames political parties, coalitions, or candidates running for office. The law imposes additional restrictions against media during campaign periods; penalties include suspending a media organization’s license for six months for defamation and dissemination of false information.

Globe International expressed concern about some legislators who continually publicly espoused making libel and slander criminal offenses. In January, Speaker M. Enkhbold sued a journalist for defamation, claiming the journalist spread false information about him in an article published during the 2017 presidential campaign. Speaker Enkhbold did not appeal the first instance court’s dismissal of the case.

The law provides media an option to seek redress against a person who, by threats of violence, attempted bribery, or other means of intimidation, seeks to compel a media outlet (or other entity) to withhold critical information about that person. In such cases the media outlet may seek a criminal complaint or file a civil complaint against the threatening person. If convicted, that person is subject to a fine of from 450,000 to 2.7 million tugriks ($175 to $1,050), revocation of the right to travel from one to six months, one to six months’ imprisonment, or both.

INTERNET FREEDOM

By law individuals and groups may engage in the peaceful expression of views on the internet. The government restricted internet content deemed pornographic or presenting extreme violence. It maintained a list of blocked websites and added sites to the list for alleged violations of relevant laws and regulations, including those relating to intellectual property. At the end of September, the government had blocked 596 websites.

A CRC regulation places broad restrictions on obscenities and inappropriate content without defining objectionable content explicitly. The regulation requires websites with heavy traffic to use filtering software that makes publicly visible the internet protocol addresses of those commenting or sharing content.

There were reports police interviewed individuals following complaints they made derogatory online posts and comments. Such cases were routinely resolved outside the formal court process. For example, the parties might agree on the removal of the content, the issuance of an apology, or payment of a fine.

Internet access was widely available to the country’s urban population and was increasingly more available in rural areas. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 24 percent of the population had access to the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

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

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

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

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

In-Country Movement: An order aimed at curbing air and environmental pollution and traffic jams, effective until January 1, 2020, suspends migration from the countryside to Ulaanbaatar. The law exempts persons traveling to Ulaanbaatar for medical treatment or for work for longer than six months.

Foreign Travel: Under the criminal code, at the request of the Prosecutor General’s Office, courts can ban the departure of persons who are plotting criminal activity. The law requires that those subject to an exit ban receive timely notification. Authorities did not allow persons under exit bans to leave until the disputes leading to the bans were resolved administratively or by court decision, and bans may remain in place for years. According to reports 500 persons, including several foreign residents, remained banned from leaving the country.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The constitution provides for granting asylum, and the government provided limited protections to foreign residents in the country while UNHCR adjudicated their refugee claims. The law establishes deportation criteria and permits the Agency for Foreign Citizens and Naturalization (the country’s immigration agency) to deport asylum seekers who it deems do not qualify.

Employment: The law does not afford a specific legal status to refugees and asylum seekers; by default, therefore, authorities usually treated them as irregular migrants and did not issued them work permits.

Access to Basic Services: Because the law does not provide for refugee status, asylum seekers generally did not have access to government-provided basic services such as health care and education. Refugees and asylum seekers could access private medical facilities with UNHCR support.

Montenegro

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media generally expressed a wide variety of political and social views, including through articles and programs critical of the authorities. The NGO Center for Civic Education warned in each of its annual reports since 2012, however, that selective and nontransparent public funding through the purchase of advertising continued to exert undue influence on the media market. According to the NGO, such funding was provided to reward media outlets favorable to the government and withheld from media that questioned official policies or practices.

The independent television station and newspaper Vijesti continued to blame unfair media conditions, economic pressure from the government, and selective prosecution for its difficulties in making regular tax payments. On April 25, the Commercial Court rejected a 2014 lawsuit brought by Vijesti’s parent company, Daily Press, against the progovernment tabloid Pink M Television for allegedly discrediting Vijesti’s reputation.

Violence and Harassment: Attacks directed at journalists continued to be a serious problem.

On May 8, an unknown assailant shot and wounded investigative journalist Olivera Lakic of the daily Vijesti in front of her home in Podgorica. Lakic, whose reporting covered crime and corruption in the country, was previously attacked in 2012 for her reporting. Government officials, political parties, and international and multilateral organizations condemned the attack. On May 9, journalists, citizens, and civic activists rallied to demand that authorities stop violence against journalists. Also on May 9, in an interview with Radio Danilovgrad, then president-elect Milo Djukanovic condemned the assault on Lakic, but drew heavy criticism for stating, “There is no difference if somebody from a narcotics-trafficking clan or from the media draws a target on their opponents.”

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Independent and pro-opposition media complained about unfair treatment and economic pressure from government ministries and agencies. The Center for Civic Education claimed that selective and nontransparent distribution of public funds to media outlets created an unfair media environment and constituted “soft censorship.”

On June 7, the managing council of the public broadcaster Radio Televizija Crna Gora (RTCG) dismissed the RTCG’s director general, Andrijana Kadija. Six representatives of the nine-member council voted for Kadija’s dismissal. All six were affiliated with the ruling Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS). In its decision, the council said the RTCG improperly ceded editorial control to a NGO for an EU-funded project. Kadija denied that the EU-funded grant hampered the editorial independence of the RTCG and asserted her only fault was her apolitical stance and commitment to shield the RTCG from political control.

The EU and the OSCE sharply criticized Kadija’s dismissal. Independent journalists, civil society activists, and opposition politicians asserted that Kadija’s dismissal was the final step in the DPS’s campaign to regain control of the public broadcaster. That campaign, they said, began late in 2017 when parliament dismissed two RTCG council members, film director Nikola Vukcevic and NGO activist Goran Djurovic, because of alleged conflicts of interest. Both Vukcevic and Djurovic denied the allegations. Parliament later appointed two DPS-affiliated members, Slobodan Pajovic and Goran Sekulovic, as their replacements. On November 30, the RTCG managing council elected Bozidar Sundic, who also had strong DPS ties, as its new director general.

Additionally, in December 2017 parliament dismissed another NGO representative, Darko Ivanovic, from the managing council of the Agency for Electronic Media (AEM), citing an alleged illegal conflict of interest. Ivanovic denied the accusation and claimed he was dismissed because he had advocated punitive measures against the progovernment tabloid television station PinkM, which the AEM had cited on numerous occasions for violations of the agency’s program principles and standards.

In its 2018 Report on Montenegro, the European Commission (EC) noted that the country made no progress in advancing freedom of expression since November 2016. The EC specifically warned that “recent political interference in the national public broadcaster council and the Agency for Electronic Media are a matter of serious concern.”

Some media outlets continued to demonstrate a willingness to criticize the government. However, a lack of training and unprofessional journalistic behavior, combined with low salaries and political pressure, contributed at times to biased coverage.

Libel/Slander Laws: There is no criminal libel law, but media outlets faced libel charges in civil proceedings. During the year the AEM issued nine warnings to Pink M for “violating program principles and standards.” Some civil society representatives urged the AEM to take more severe disciplinary measures against the broadcaster.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no official reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. However, MANS did complain of government surveillance of their communications.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, an estimated 71 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution and law provide for the freedom of peaceful assembly. The government usually respected this right, but on several occasions, the Ministry of Interior denied permits to workers and LGBTI groups wishing to assemble to express their grievances. Public gatherings within 164 feet of government buildings are prohibited.

Police asserted that they prohibited gatherings that would disturb public peace and order and interfere with traffic. In some cases, authorities offered protesters alternate locations for demonstrations. In a few cases, when protesters assembled without authorization or failed to obey police orders to disperse, police detained them for questioning and charged them with misdemeanors.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

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

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

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

The Ministry of Interior significantly reduced the number of pending applications for resolving residency status in the country. As of September a total of 15,131 displaced persons (DPs) had applied to resolve their residency status. While authorities completed 14,828 of those requests, 303 were still pending. Of those completed, 12,242 received permanent or temporary resident status.

Persons whose applications for “foreigner with permanent residence” status were pending with the Ministry of Interior continued to hold the legal status of DPs or IDPs. Some persons who were entitled to apply faced difficulties in obtaining the required documentation, particularly in regularizing previously unregistered births or paying the fees required to procure documents.

With UNHCR and OSCE support, the government, together with the government of Kosovo, continued to assist displaced Romani persons and Balkan Egyptians in obtaining personal identification documents under the Montenegro-Kosovo agreement on late registration of births of persons born outside the hospital system. The process facilitated the registration of births of persons born in Montenegro or Kosovo, especially Romani, Ashkali, and Balkan Egyptian children.

Conditions for IDPs and DPs from the Yugoslav wars varied. Access to employment, health care, and social services was sometimes limited due to language barriers, insufficient integration programs, lack of documentation, or unclear or inconsistent administrative procedures. According to UNHCR, many remained vulnerable and in need of assistance.

Together with Croatia, Serbia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina, the country was a party to the Regional Housing Program, facilitated by international donors, to provide durable solutions for up to 6,000 DPs and IDPs in the country. During the year, the construction or purchase of apartments progressed well through eight projects which were in different stages of implementation.

A number of IDPs continued to live in substandard dwellings, struggled to pay rent for private accommodation, or feared eviction from illegally occupied facilities known as informal collective centers. Approximately 600 Roma from Kosovo remained split between a settlement in Berane and a container camp in Podgorica, while approximately 250 displaced Serbs continued to live in substandard collective housing in Berane. The government and international donors continued to assist camp residents while constructing multiple apartment buildings under the Regional Housing Program.

To assist both refugees from Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina and IDPs from Kosovo, the government continued to implement its 2017-19 national strategy for finding durable solutions for DPs and IDPs during the year.

Restricted access to employment pushed many DPs into gray-market activities. Poor economic prospects particularly affected Roma, Ashkali, and Balkan Egyptians from Kosovo as well as the aging Kosovo-Serb population in the Berane area, who continued to form a large segment of the marginalized and vulnerable DP and refugee population by virtue of their size, time in country, and access to resources. Romani DPs were the most vulnerable and marginalized displaced population in the country due to their low social status and level of integration, high levels of unemployment, and low levels of schooling and literacy.

Although the law gives foreigners with permanent residence the same rights as citizens, with the exception of the right to vote, IDP’s from the former Yugoslavia sometimes had limited access to employment, education, property ownership, and specialized medical care due to the difficulty of obtaining official documents.

The government continued to encourage DPs and IDPs to return to their places of origin, but repatriation slowed to a trickle due to the preference of many IDPs and DPs to remain in the country due to fear of reprisals in their countries of origin or a lack of resources. The availability of housing solutions in the country through the Regional Housing Program also affected the interest in returning. During the first eight months of 2017, only 53 IDPs voluntarily returned to Kosovo and Serbia.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of refugee or subsidiary protection status, and the government established a system for providing protection to refugees. The government allows individuals to apply for asylum within a few days of entering the country. However, those caught illegally crossing the border who do not apply for asylum are placed into a detention center for criminal processing and deported. In January parliament adopted the Law on International Assistance and Temporary Protection of Foreigners, under which the Ministry of Interior took over management of the asylum center in Spuz, thus centralizing the main functions of the asylum system (i.e., initial determination of international protection and reception of services).

Unlike 2017, when 90 percent of asylum seekers were men, the year saw a substantial increase in the number of families applying for asylum. The government made efforts to strengthen its capacity to cope with sudden or large influxes of migrants by improving reception capacity. In July, in collaboration with the Ministry of Interior, UNHCR set up four refugee housing units at asylum centers to accommodate additional asylum seekers. The government has a contingency plan in place to ensure preparedness in case of a mass influx, but it was under revision at year’s end. On August 16, the government deployed the army to the Bozaj border crossing area of the border with Albania to prevent irregular entry into the country.

Of 2,346 asylum applications, 2,079 interviews were scheduled, and 44 were held. Observers noted that attention and readiness to address the increased mixed flow of migrants remained focused on border control aspects, as evidenced by the sharp rise in the number of migrants pushed back from the Montenegrin boarder during the year. The Ministry of Interior confirmed it attempted to deter migrants from entering by using patrols and noted that young men who saw the patrols often lost their nerve and went back to the other side of the border from which they had come.

Access to Basic Services: Once the asylum procedure is initiated, asylum seekers are granted access to free health care and education services in line with international standards, although barriers, including language and cultural differences, sometimes limited practical access.

In April, UNHCR and the Red Cross opened a community center near the asylum center to provide information, psychosocial support, counselling, legal support, language classes, and sports activities.

Durable Solutions: A path to citizenship was available but requires evidence that the applicant had renounced citizenship in his or her country of origin. The government provided support for the voluntary return or reintegration of refugees from countries of the former Yugoslavia. Those who chose the option of integration rather than return to their country of origin enjoyed access to the same rights as citizens, including access to basic services and naturalization in the country, but they did not have the right to vote.

Under the new Law on International Assistance and Temporary Protection of Foreigners, the integration of refugees and persons who receive subsidiary protection remains under the purview of the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare.

Morocco

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution and law generally provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, although they criminalize and restrict some freedom of expression in the press and social media–specifically criticism of Islam, the institution of the monarchy, or the government’s positions regarding territorial integrity and Western Sahara. Such criticism can result in prosecution under the penal code, with punishments ranging from fines to prison time, despite the freedom of expression provided for in the 2016 press code. The press code applies only to journalists accredited by the Ministry of Communication for speech or publications in the line of work; private speech by accredited journalists remains punishable under the penal code. According to a Freedom House report in January, the press enjoys a significant degree of freedom when reporting on economic and social policies, but authorities used an array of financial and legal mechanisms to punish critical journalists. International and domestic human rights groups criticized criminal prosecutions of journalists and publishers as well as libel suits, claiming that the government principally used these laws to restrict independent human rights groups, the press, and social media.

Freedom of Expression: The law criminalizes criticism of Islam, of the legitimacy of the monarchy, of state institutions, of officials such as those in the military, and of the government’s positions regarding territorial integrity and Western Sahara. The government sometimes prosecuted persons who expressed criticism on these topics. According to government figures, 10 individuals were charged under the penal code during the year for content they published or expressed and 16 individuals were specifically charged for criminal speech, including defamation, slander, and insult (see Libel/Slander Laws and National Security).

On February 8, the court of first instance in Al Hoceima sentenced defense lawyer for Hirak protesters Abdessadek El Bouchtaoui to 20 months in prison and a 500 dirhams ($52) fine for insulting officials and representatives of authority while on duty, undermining the authority of justice, incitement to commit crimes, public incitement via Facebook to participate in unauthorized protests and crimes, and participation in unauthorized protests. According to Amnesty International, the government’s charges were based on 114 posts on El Bouchtaoui’s Facebook account and comments he made on national media criticizing the security forces’ use of force against Hirak protesters. El Bouchtaoui appealed the sentence and left the country.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media, as well as partisan media, were active and expressed a wide variety of views within the restrictions of the law. In 2016 parliament passed a press code that limits punishments for accredited journalists to fines. Two journalists were prosecuted under the press code during the year, compared with three in 2017. The first was fined 10,000 dirhams ($1,050) and the other was fined 50,000 dirhams ($5,250); the charges against the journalists were unspecified. According to the Ministry of Justice, Tawfiq Bouachrine and Hamid al-Mahdawi were the only accredited journalists in prison for criminal acts outside of their role as journalists. The ministry also reported that 28 journalists faced charges during the year under the press code, mostly due to complaints of defamation, publishing false information, and invasion of privacy.

Journalists denounced the cumbersome administrative procedures and the long wait times to receive accreditation under the 2016 press code. Some members of the press claimed that journalists from outlets close to the government and Palace received their credentials sooner than journalists from independent outlets. They claim journalists waiting for their credentials had to operate without a press card in a legally ambiguous status, as the protections of the press code are only available to accredited journalists.

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

On February 1, the Rabat Court of Appeals sentenced Abdelkabir al-Horr, founder and editor of the Rassdmaroc news website, to four years in prison under the criminal code for condoning terrorism, inciting a banned demonstration, and insulting state authority in connection with his coverage of the Hirak protests in the northern Rif region. The government asserted that al-Horr was not a registered journalist in 2017 or 2018 and tried him under the penal code.

According to media reports, on May 7 and 8, directors of Yabiladi and LeDesk announced on Twitter that journalists from these online news outlets were denied accreditation after a seven-month wait. The government issued accreditation cards two days later when Head of Government Saadeddine El Othmani intervened and the directors of the publications met with a Communication Ministry official.

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

The trial for seven members of the Moroccan Association for Investigative Journalism, including Hicham Mansouri, Maati Monjib, and Hisham Almiraat, has been repeatedly postponed since 2015; the next hearing is scheduled for January 30, 2019. According to the Ministry of Justice, the four individuals were suspected of accepting foreign funds intended for acts threatening the internal security and territorial integrity of Morocco. The individuals were charged for posing a threat to the internal security of the country, fraud, managing an association exercising unauthorized acts, and accepting unauthorized foreign funds. The seven remained free but reported hardships due to the open case.

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

According to media reports, authorities expelled at least three international journalists during the year because they lacked valid permits. The government stated that foreign media representatives who comply with local laws are allowed to perform their duties without interference and that allegations that authorities expelled foreign journalists were unsubstantiated.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Self-censorship and government restrictions on sensitive topics remained serious hurdles to the development of a free, independent, and investigative press. Publications and broadcast media require government accreditation, and the government may deny and revoke accreditation as well as suspend or confiscate publications that breach public order or criticize Islam, the institution of the monarchy, or the government’s positions on territorial integrity. The press code lists threats to public order as one of the criteria for censorship. While the government rarely censored the domestic press, it exerted pressure by pursuing legal cases that resulted in heavy fines and suspended publication. Such cases encouraged editors and journalists to self-censor. The government denies restricting content on media outlets.

According to media reports, in February the Ministry of Culture withdrew 25 books from the Casablanca Book Fair because they included content that negatively portrayed Islam, Judaism, or Christianity or maps of Morocco without Western Sahara included as part of the country. The ministry denied these allegations and reported that the book fair took place without any restrictions or censorship.

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

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

National Security: The antiterrorism law provides for the arrest of individuals, including journalists, and filtering websites deemed to “disrupt public order by intimidation, terror, or violence.”

On June 26, a criminal court in Casablanca sentenced Hamid El Mahdaoui, editor of the online news website badil.info, to three years in prison and fined him 3,000 dirhams ($315) for failing to report a national security threat. Although El Mahdaoui was an accredited journalist, he was prosecuted under the penal code for activities outside his official duties. Authorities alleged that El Mahdaoui received information that an individual intended to smuggle weapons into the country for use in protests but failed to report it to the police. El Mahdaoui’s defense denied the allegation and claimed that even if it had occurred, there would have been no need to report such information because El Mahdaoui knew it would be impossible to smuggle in weapons. According to Reporters without Borders, authorities arrested El Mahdaoui in July 2017 while filming a banned protest in Al Hoceima in the Rif region. The government reported no one could verify that El Mahdaoui was in the act of filming during his arrest. Some media reports stated that El Mahdaoui was arrested while speaking with citizens in the street about the protests and their social-economic grievances.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not disrupt access to the internet, but it did apply laws governing and restricting public speech and the press on the internet. The press code stipulates that online journalism is equivalent to print journalism. Laws on combatting terrorism permit the government to filter websites. According to Freedom House’s 2018 Freedom on the Net report, the government did not block or filter any political, social, or religious websites during that year. Social media and communication services including YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter were available in the country, as were international blog-hosting services. Freedom House claimed, however, that unfair disbursement of advertising money, strict self-censorship, and ongoing trials of journalists have prevented the emergence of a vibrant online media environment. According to the government, funds for advertisements derive from the private sector not from the public sector. The government also repeatedly reminded online journalists to obey the law. On November 24, the Ministry of Communication issued a statement warning that it considered online media outlets that do not comply with the press code illegal and urged them to stop publishing to avoid prosecution. The government also prosecuted individuals for expressing certain ideological views online, particularly related to protests in the northern Rif region.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 61.8 percent of the population used the internet in 2018.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

The government limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The law provides for the right of peaceful assembly. The government generally allowed authorized and unauthorized peaceful demonstrations to occur. Under the law groups of more than three persons require authorization from the Ministry of Interior to protest publicly. Security forces intervened on occasion to disband both authorized and unauthorized protests when officials deemed the demonstration a threat to public security.

Some NGOs complained that authorities did not apply the approval process consistently and used administrative delays and other methods to suppress or discourage unwanted peaceful assembly. According to Human Rights Watch’s World Report 2018, police allowed many protests demanding political reform and protesting government actions, but often forcibly dispersed peaceful protests or prevented demonstrations from occurring. According to the government, there was an average of 20,000 demonstrations per year. While the majority of protests proceeded peacefully, on several occasions violence erupted between protestors and police. According to the CNDH, during some unauthorized demonstrations in Tan-Tan, the security forces intervened in a “disproportionate manner.”

Security forces were generally present both in and out of uniform at protests, particularly if the protest was expected to address a sensitive issue. In general, officers were under orders to observe and not intervene, unless the demonstration becomes unruly, threatening to bystanders, or overflows into public highways. In those cases, under standard operating procedures, officers are required to give the crowd three warnings that force will be used if they do not disperse. Security forces then attempt to force protestors to leave the area, using riot shields to push standing protestors into a designated area or carrying seated protestors to the designated area. If such lower-level tactics fail, security forces may escalate to the use of batons, water cannons, or tear gas to clear the area and restore order. Security force tactics did not differ significantly, whether the protest was authorized or unauthorized, although the decision on whether to intervene sometimes depended on whether the protest was authorized. According to the government, if officers intervene in a protest, a police judiciary officer not involved in the intervention and under the supervision of the attorney general must produce a statement documenting the circumstances of the case, the number of victims, and the material damage due to the operation. The police judiciary officer must address the statement to the Attorney General’s Office with a copy to the governor of the territorial jurisdiction where the incident transpired. The government organized ongoing training on human rights-based methods to manage crowds throughout the year.

In December 2017, two brothers were found dead inside a coal pit in the northeast province of Jerada where they mined illegally. According to media reports, their deaths sparked protests over social disparities, economic grievances, and unemployment. According to the government, from December 2017 to August, approximately 300 protests involving nearly 55,000 persons total took place, injuring 29 civilians and 247 members of the security forces in violence that erupted during interventions.

On March 14, online media sources released a video showing four police vehicles driving close to protesters and severely injuring a minor during an unauthorized protest in Jerada. The government reported that security forces accidentally hit the minor while attempting to disperse the crowds. As of December authorities arrested 94 people in connection with the Jerada protests. According to press reports, several protest leaders and three minors were among the detained. According to the government, 51 were sentenced to prison, 31 of whom were sentenced to prison terms of one to five years. Some detainees were sentenced for destruction of public goods, incitement to commit crimes, and or involvement in unauthorized protests. More than 40 cases continued at year’s end.

On June 26, the Casablanca Court of Appeal convicted and issued sentences to protest leader Nasser Zefzafi and 52 other members of the Hirak protest movement. Four detainees, including Zefzafi, were sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment on charges including threatening national security. Other sentences varied from 15 years’ imprisonment to suspended sentences and fines. The detainees appealed the convictions; no updates were available at year’s end. According to the Ministry of Justice, authorities implicated 578 persons in crimes related to the Hirak protests, of whom 306 were sentenced, 204 pardoned, 39 acquitted of all charges, and 29 were awaiting trial as of November.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

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

The Ministry of Interior required NGOs to register before being recognized as legal entities, but there was no comprehensive national registry publicly available. A prospective organization must submit its objectives, bylaws, address, and photocopies of members’ identification cards to the ministry. The ministry issues a receipt to the organization that signifies formal approval. Organizations without receipts are not formally registered, although the government tolerated activities of several organizations without these receipts. Unregistered organizations could not access government funds or legally accept contributions.

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

According to the CNDH, the Tan-Tan branch of the CNDH received one complaint from an organization denied registration during the year. The branch contacted government authorities, and following mediation the government registered the organization.

Authorities continued to monitor Justice and Charity Organization activities.

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

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights although it limited movement to areas experiencing widespread unrest. The government denied entry to individuals it believed threatened the stability of the country. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern. The government also provided funding to humanitarian organizations to provide social services to migrants, including refugees.

The government continued to make travel documents available to Sahrawis, and there were no reported cases of authorities preventing Sahrawis from traveling. The government encouraged the return of Sahrawi refugees from Algeria and elsewhere if they acknowledged the government’s authority over Western Sahara.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Refugees and asylum seekers, as well as migrants, were particularly vulnerable to abuse. Europe-bound human smuggling and human trafficking increased in part due to restrictions on migration via the central and eastern Mediterranean. Moroccan authorities, however, cooperated with Spanish and EU authorities to thwart trafficking networks and arrest traffickers. Parliament passed legislation in 2016 to improve protections for victims. There were reports of government authorities arresting or detaining migrants, particularly around the Spanish enclave cities of Melilla and Ceuta, and forcibly relocating them to other parts of the country to deter attempts to cross illegally into Spanish territory.

In-country Movement: According to Amnesty International, since July law enforcement authorities seized an estimated 5,000 persons, including thousands of sub-Saharan migrants, and forcibly relocated them from areas neighboring the straits of Gibraltar and the Spanish enclaves of Melilla and Ceuta to the south of the country or near the Algerian border. According to Amnesty International, these included 14 asylum-seekers and four refugees registered with UNHCR in the country who authorities forcibly transferred to the south. At a press conference on August 30, government spokesperson Mustapha Khalfi stated the operations transferring migrants to other cities were in accordance with national laws that fight illegal immigration. The Ministry of Interior also affirmed the authorities relocated migrants without legal status from the north to other parts of Morocco in accordance with the law after local authorities had given notice to the migrants to relocate due to national security concerns.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of refugee status. The government has historically deferred to UNHCR as the sole agency in the country entitled to perform refugee status determinations and verify asylum cases. UNHCR referred cases that meet the criteria for refugee recognition to the government’s interministerial Commission in Charge of Hearings for Asylum Seekers within the Bureau of Refugees and Stateless Persons. The government recognizes two types of asylum status: refugees designated according to the UNHCR statute and the “exceptional regularization of persons in irregular situation” under the 2016 migrant regularization program. The government continued to grant status to UNHCR-recognized refugees and temporary status to registered Syrians. There were 755 refugees registered in the country. During the year the commission held one hearing on January 25 for 36 asylum seekers referred by UNHCR; the eight asylum seekers who attended the hearing were granted legal status. According to the Ministry of Interior, as of August, UNHCR Rabat referred 803 asylum seekers to the commission, of whom about 60 percent were Syrian nationals.

Access to Basic Services: Recognized refugees and migrants were generally able to work and access health care and education services, including publicly funded professional and vocational training. Requests on behalf of women and children receive automatic approval, with immediate access to education and healthcare. Asylum seekers were, however, sometimes unable to access the national health care system and continued to have little access to the judicial system until recognized as refugees.

Durable Solutions: According to the government, during the second phase of its migrant regularization program from December 2016 to December 2017, the government granted legal status to 27,660 applicants. The government initially denied 14,898 applicants, of whom 9,328 reapplied and reviewing committees established at the local level reviewed these applications and granted those 9,328 legal status. The reviewing committees were composed of government officials, authorities, and representatives from the CNDH and migrant-serving NGOs. The program, similar to the 2014 campaign, granted legal status to foreign spouses and children of citizens and other legal residents of the country as well as to individuals with at least five years of residence in the country, a valid work contract, or chronic illness. From 2014 through 2017, the government granted legal status to more than 50,756 migrants, approximately 85 percent of the migrants who applied. Migrants and refugees may obtain Moroccan nationality if they meet the legal requirements of the Nationality Law and submit a request to the Ministry of Justice. The government facilitated voluntary returns in cooperation with UNHCR and, when necessary, the resettlement of recognized refugees to third countries. Since 2004 the government and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) have cofunded for the voluntary return of an estimated 26,000 migrants to their countries of origin. According to the government, it assisted with the voluntary return to the country of origin of an average of 2,000 to 3,000 migrants per year.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. Syrians and Yemenis benefited from “exceptional regularization” outside of the more permanent migrant regularization program. From December 2017 to February, 23,464 migrants benefited from exceptional regularization.

Mozambique

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press; however, the government did not always effectively protect or respect these freedoms. Academics, journalists, opposition party officials, and civil society reported an atmosphere of intimidation and fear that restricted freedom of speech and press. Journalists expressed concern regarding government intimidation by security forces.

Freedom of Expression: There were no official restrictions on the ability of individuals to criticize the government or on the discussion of matters of general public interest; however, police imposed de facto restrictions on free speech and expression throughout the year. Opposition and civil society members complained they could not freely criticize the government without fear of reprisal, particularly following the March 27 kidnapping and beating of journalist Enricino de Salema (see below). In addition, Renamo accused the government of using the military and police to prevent its municipal election candidates from undertaking political activities.

Press and Media Freedom: Media outlets and individual journalists regularly reported on a broad range of topics and criticized the government, the ruling party, and prominent political figures. The vast majority of critical articles did not result in retaliation from the government or the ruling party. Civil society organizations and journalists, however, asserted the government and ruling party exerted substantial pressure on all forms of media and took retaliatory action when unspecified limits were crossed. The NGO Sekhelekani reported media outlets and journalists frequently self-censored to avoid crossing limits that would result in government retaliation.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists were subjected to violence, harassment, or intimidation due to their reporting. On March 27, prominent journalist and human rights lawyer Ericino de Salema was abducted and severely beaten in broad daylight by unidentified gunmen outside the National Journalist Union building.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: There were no official government guidelines for media. Journalists in the state-controlled and private media reported pressure to self-censor. Some journalists stated critical reporting could result in cancellation of government and ruling party advertising contracts. The largest advertising revenue streams for local media came from ministries and state-controlled businesses. Sekhelekani stated the government asserted its control over state-owned media by giving media outlets their annual budgets in small increments, with the amounts determined by how faithfully articles hewed to official positions.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict access to the internet or censor online content. Members of civil society reported government intelligence agents monitored email and used false names to infiltrate social network discussion groups. Local internet freedom advocates believed the intelligence service monitored online content critical of the government.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 20.8 percent of persons in the country used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events; however, certain academics reported self-censorship. Although the law provides for separation of party and state, primary school teachers in Gaza Province included Frelimo party propaganda in their curriculum, reportedly on their own initiative.

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association; however, the government did not always respect these rights.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

By law protest organizers do not require government “authorization” to protest peacefully; however, they must notify local authorities of their intent in writing at least four business days beforehand. Unlike in prior years, there were no reports the government disapproved organizers’ requests to hold protest demonstrations by alleging errors in notification documents.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The Ministry of Justice, Constitutional, and Religious Affairs did not act on the request for registration of The Mozambican Association for the Defense of Sexual Minorities (LAMBDA)–the country’s only lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) advocacy NGO–by year’s end. Although the registration process usually takes less than two months, LAMBDA’s request has been pending since 2008 despite resubmissions of its application. Civil society leaders and some diplomatic missions continued to urge the ministry to act on LAMBDA’s application and to treat all registration applications fairly. In October 2017 the Constitutional Court ruled LAMBDA and other groups could not be precluded from registration based on “morality” but did not direct the government to grant official recognition to LAMBDA. LAMBDA continued to pursue a previously filed case with the Administrative Tribunal–the highest jurisdiction for administrative matters–specifically seeking to compel the government to respond to its registration request.

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

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

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

On June 20, Human Rights Watch stated that more than 1,000 individuals were displaced from October 2017 to June due to extremist violence in six northern districts of Cabo Delgado Province. In-person interviews by diplomatic and international organization representatives revealed that most of those displaced returned to their villages of origin by July following the stationing of military forces in or close to their villages. Civil society groups reported, however, that because the security situation in the six northern districts remained tenuous, at the same time that IDPs were returning to their villages new IDPs were fleeing their villages.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The government provided protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

Durable Solutions: The government worked closely with UNHCR to implement a local integration program for refugees at the Maratane Camp in Nampula Province. UNHCR referred a limited number of refugees for third-country resettlement.

Namibia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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 expression, including for the press.

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

Censorship or Content Restrictions: There were reports journalists working for state-owned media practiced self-censorship in favor of the government and Swapo.

National Security: There was one instance of national security concerns invoked to restrict press freedom. Namibia’s Central Intelligence Services filed for an injunction on national security grounds against the publication of an article, but the Windhoek High Court did not grant the injunction, and the press published the article.

INTERNET FREEDOM

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 communication without appropriate legal authority.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 36.8 percent of individuals used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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 www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

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

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

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

Refugees were required to live at the government’s Osire refugee settlement. The government cooperated with the NGO Komeho Namibia to provide food, shelter, water, and sanitation at the settlement. The government issued identification cards and exit permits allowing refugees to leave the settlement to travel to a specified place for a limited period. The government maintained strict control over civilian access to the Osire refugee settlement but provided regular unrestricted access to the ICRC, UNHCR, and UNHCR’s NGO partners.

Nauru

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press; however, the government owned all media and exercised editorial control over content.

Press and Media Freedom: In May the government waived the 8,000 Australian dollars (AUD) ($5,780) journalist visa fee for 30 foreign journalists covering the September summit of Pacific Islands Forum leaders. The government, however, banned journalists from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation from entering the country for the summit, claiming the network published biased and false reporting about the country.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government owned all media, giving the government significant control over published and broadcast content.

Libel/Slander Laws: By law “unlawful vilification” and “criminal defamation” are punishable by a maximum three years’ imprisonment. There were no reports of arrests for breach of the law, although critics contended the new offenses could inhibit free speech.

INTERNET FREEDOM

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 makes online child pornography illegal and defines illegal access to computers or program data. The law also applies to information related to national security, enforcement of criminal law, provision of services related to public infrastructure, and the protection of public safety. In January, President Baron Waqa announced the government lifted restrictions, pursuant to the 2015 law, that it had cited previously to block Facebook.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 54 percent of the population had access to the internet, and it was widely used.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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 www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

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

 

INT

Neither the constitution nor law specifically provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government generally respected these rights for its citizens. The government cooperated with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: On October 13, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees called for the government and the Australian government to end offshore detention and for the immediate evacuation of the remaining refugees and asylum seekers, citing a deteriorating health situation in the refugee facilities. The call came after the government expelled global medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres from the country, calling its members “political activists for refugees.”

According to media reports, children at the Refugee Processing Center indicated growing risks of self-harm, suicide attempts, or refusing all food and fluids. In August a 14-year-old male refugee who went on a hunger strike for more than 14 days was flown to Australia for treatment after he became critically ill. A 12-year-old female refugee was reportedly hospitalized in the country for injuries sustained after she attempted to set herself on fire.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

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

Durable Solutions: The government grants five-year visas to asylum seekers after they receive refugee determination.