Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
See the Country Reports on Human Rights for Russia for a description of the relevant Russian laws and procedures the Russian government applied and enforced in occupied Crimea.
Occupation authorities significantly restricted freedom of expression and subjected dissenting voices including the press to harassment and prosecution.
Freedom of Expression: The HRMMU noted occupation authorities placed “excessive limitations on the freedoms of opinion and expression.” Individuals could not publicly criticize the Russian occupation without fear of reprisal. Human rights groups reported the FSB engaged in widespread surveillance of social media, telephones, and electronic communication and routinely summoned individuals for “discussions” for voicing or posting opposition to the occupation.
Occupation authorities often deemed expressions of dissent “extremism” and prosecuted individuals for them. For example, according to press reports, on June 10, the Sevastopol “district court” sentenced the head of the Sevastopol Worker’s Union, Valeriy Bolshakov, to two years and six months of suspended imprisonment for “public calls to extremist activities” for his criticism of occupation authorities on social networks. Bolshakov called to replace the “Putin regime” with a “dictatorship of the proletariat.”
Occupation authorities harassed and fined individuals for the display of Ukrainian or Crimean Tatar symbols, which were banned as “extremist.” For example, according to NGO reporting, on June 26, the Saky “district court” fined local resident Oleg Prykhodko for “public demonstration of paraphernalia or symbols of extremist organizations.” Prykhodko had displayed Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar flags on his car. On October 9, authorities arrested Prykhodko during a raid on his home, where they purportedly “found” explosives in his garage, which human rights defenders maintained were planted there. On October 28, authorities charged Prykhodko with terrorism and possession of explosives.
Occupation authorities deemed expressions of support for Ukrainian sovereignty over the peninsula to be equivalent to undermining Russian territorial integrity. For example, according to the Crimean Human Rights Group, on January 29, occupation authorities charged Crimean Tatar Mejlis member Iskander Bariyev with calling for the violation of the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation, in connection with a December 2018 Facebook post in which he called for the “liberation” of Crimea from Russian occupation and criticized repression taking place on the peninsula.
There were multiple reports that occupation authorities detained and prosecuted individuals seeking to film raids on homes or court proceedings. For example, according to press reports, on March 27, a Simferopol court sentenced Crimean Tatar activist Iskender Mamutov to five days in prison for “minor hooliganism” because he filmed security services as they raided Crimean Tatar homes.
During the year occupation authorities prosecuted individuals for the content of social media posts written before Russia began its occupation of Crimea. For example, on July 2, police detained a resident of the town of Sudak, Seyar Emirov, for a video posted on a social network in 2013. The video was of a local meeting of Hizb ut-Tahrir, which is legal in Ukraine. The local occupation “court” fined him 1,500 rubles ($23) for “production of extremist material.”
There were reports that authorities prosecuted individuals for their appearance in social media posts that they did not author. For example, according to the Crimean Human Rights Group, on May 31, a court in Simferopol fined Crimean Tatar activist Luftiye Zudiyeva 2,000 rubles ($30) for being tagged in social media posts in 2014 authored by another person, which authorities alleged also contained banned symbols.
Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent print and broadcast media could not operate freely. Most independent media outlets were forced to close in 2015 after occupation authorities refused to register them. According to the Crimean Human Rights Group, after the occupation began, many local journalists left Crimea or abandoned their profession. With no independent media outlets left in Crimea and professional journalists facing serious risks for reporting from the peninsula, civic activists were a major source of information on developments in Crimea.
Violence and Harassment: There were numerous cases of security forces or police harassing activists and detaining journalists in connection with their civic or professional activities. For example, during the year security forces reportedly harassed, abused, and arrested journalist Yevgeniy Haivoronskiy. Haivoronskiy initially supported the Russian occupation, but in recent years came to oppose it, a position he expressed publicly. On March 6, police raided Haivoronskiy’s home and seized computers and documents. On March 22, the newspaper that published his articles, Primechania, announced it would no longer carry his work due to his pro-Ukrainian position. On March 26, Haivoronskiy was arrested several hours after he gave an interview criticizing occupation authorities and calling for control of the peninsula to be returned to Ukraine. Police alleged he had been using drugs, and a judge sentenced him to 12 days in jail and to undergo drug treatment. Haivoronskiy denied he used drugs and maintained the charge was an effort to frame him in retaliation for his political views. On May 7, a court sentenced him to a further 10 days in jail for refusing a medical examination during the March prison stay. On October 22, police detained Haivoronskiy, reportedly beating him and slamming his head into the side of a police car during detention. The same day a court sentenced him to 15 additional days in jail for failing to complete the drug treatment program ordered by the court in March. On December 31, Russian occupation authorities forcibly removed Haivoronskiy from Crimea to mainland Ukraine.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Following Russia’s occupation of Crimea, journalists resorted to self-censorship to continue reporting and broadcasting. The August UN secretary-general’s special report stated, “In order to avoid repercussions for independent journalistic work, [journalists] frequently self-censored, used pseudonyms and filtered their content prior to publication. Ukrainian journalists, as well as public figures who are perceived as critics of Crimea’s occupation, have faced entry bans issued by FSB and were unable to access Crimea to conduct their professional activities.”
There were reports occupation authorities sought to restrict access to or remove internet content about Crimea they disliked. For example, on February 5, YouTube informed the Crimea-focused website The Center for Journalistic Research, which operated in mainland Ukraine, that it had received a notification from Russian censorship authorities (Roskomnadzor) that material on the Center’s YouTube account violated the law. Occupation authorities specifically deemed a documentary about Crimean Tatar political prisoner Emir-Usain Kuku to be “extremist.” YouTube notified the Center that if it did not delete the material, it could be forced to block it. On February 7, Amnesty International released a statement urging YouTube not to block the video, and YouTube did not do so.
Occupation authorities banned most Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar-language broadcasts, replacing the content with Russian programming. According to Crimean Human Rights Group media monitoring, during the year occupation authorities jammed the signal of Ukrainian radio stations by transmitting Russian radio stations at the same frequencies.
Human rights groups reported occupation authorities continued to forbid songs by Ukrainian singers from playing on Crimean radio stations.
Censorship of independent internet sites was widespread (see Internet Freedom).
According to the Crimean Human Rights Group, 10 Crimean internet service providers blocked 14 Ukrainian information websites and two social networks during the year, including the sites of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People.
National Security: Authorities cited laws protecting national security to justify retaliation against opponents of Russia’s occupation.
The Russian Federal Financial Monitoring Service included prominent critics of the occupation on its list of extremists and terrorists. Inclusion on the list prevented individuals from holding bank accounts, using notary services, and conducting other financial transactions. As of October the list included 47 persons from Crimea, including numerous political prisoners and their relatives as well as others reportedly being tried for their pro-Ukrainian political positions, such as Oleh Prykhodko (see Freedom of Expression, above).
Authorities frequently used the threat of “extremism,” “terrorism,” or other purported national security grounds to justify harassment or prosecution of individuals in retaliation for expressing opposition to the occupation. For example, on July 12, according to press reports, a court authorized the in absentia arrest of independent Crimean Tatar journalist Gulsum Khalilova for “participating in an armed formation in the territory of a foreign state” for allegedly joining an armed battalion in Ukraine. Khalilova, who moved to mainland Ukraine, denied having any dealings with armed groups and characterized the case as fabricated in retribution for her independent reporting on the peninsula.
Russian occupation authorities restricted free expression on the internet by imposing repressive Russian Federation laws on Crimea (see section 2.a. of the Country Reports on Human Rights for Russia). Security services routinely monitored and controlled internet activity to suppress dissenting opinions. According to media accounts, occupation authorities interrogated and harassed residents of Crimea for online postings with pro-Ukrainian opinions (see Censorship or Content Restrictions, above).
More than 30 Ukrainian online outlets were among the hundreds that authorities blocked in Crimea, including several sites that were not on the Russian federal internet block list.
Occupation authorities engaged in a widespread campaign to suppress the Crimean Tatar and Ukrainian languages (see section 6, National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities).
See the Country Reports on Human Rights for Russia for a description of the relevant Russian laws and procedures that the Russian government applied and enforced in occupied Crimea.
According to the August UN secretary-general’s special report, “public events initiated by perceived supporters of Ukrainian territorial integrity or critics of policies of the Russian Federation in Crimea were reportedly prevented and/or prohibited by occupation authorities.” For example, on August 9, the head of the Zarechenskoye village council denied an application filed by Crimean Tatar activist Kemal Yakubov to hold a public celebration of the Muslim holiday Kurban Bayram. She cited a lack of a support letter from the pro-occupation Administration of Muslims of Crimea as the reason for her denial.
The Crimean Human Rights Group reported Crimeans were regularly charged with administrative offenses for peacefully assembling without permission. For example, on August 21, a court in Sudak convicted environmental activist Igor Savchenko of holding an unauthorized demonstration and fined him 20,000 rubles ($313); Savchenko had organized a demonstration on August 14 against illegal construction on the Meganom Cape.
Occupation authorities brought charges for “unauthorized assemblies” against single-person protests, even though Russian law imposed on Crimea does not require preauthorization for individual protests. For example, according to the Crimean Human Rights Group, on March 29, police in Simferopol detained Crimean Tatar activist Tair Ibragimov, who was standing alone with a poster that read, “Give 166 children their fathers back!!!,” in protest against the mass arrests of March 27. He was charged with violating regulations on public protest. A court convicted him the same day and fined him 15,000 rubles ($235).
There were reports that authorities used a ban on “unauthorized missionary activity” to restrict public gatherings of members of religious minorities. For example, three administrative cases were initiated against a group of members of the Hare Krishna faith who gathered in a Sevastopol park to sing mantras. On August 6, the Leninskiy “district court” in Sevastopol fined each of them 5,000 rubles ($78) for “unauthorized missionary activity.”
A “regulation” limits the places where public events may be held to 366 listed locations. The HRMMU noted that the “regulation” restricted freedom of assembly to a shrinking number of “specially designated spaces,” a move that appeared “designed to dissuade the exercise of the right of freedom of assembly.”
There were reports of occupation authorities using coercive methods to provide for participation at rallies in support of the “government.” Students, teachers, and civil servants were forced to attend a commemoration event on the day of deportation of the Crimean Tatars organized by occupation authorities in Simferopol on May 18.
There were reports occupation authorities charged and fined individuals for allegedly violating public assembly rules in retaliation for gathering to witness security force raids on homes.
See the Country Reports on Human Rights for Russia for a description of the relevant Russian laws and procedures that the Russian government applied and enforced in occupied Crimea.
Occupation authorities broadly restricted freedom of association for individuals who opposed the occupation. For example, there were numerous reports of authorities taking steps to harass, intimidate, arrest, and imprison members of the human rights group Crimean Solidarity, an unregistered movement of friends and family of victims of repression by occupation authorities (see section 1.d.). During the year the Crimean Human Rights Group documented multiple cases in which police visited the homes of Crimean Solidarity activists to threaten them or warn them not to engage in “extremist” activities. For example, at least seven Crimean Solidarity activists were given such “preventative warnings” on the eve of the May 17 anniversary of the 1944 deportation of the Crimean Tatar people.
Occupation authorities placed restrictions on the Spiritual Administration of Crimean Muslims, which was closely associated with Crimean Tatars. According to human rights groups, Russian security services routinely monitored prayers at mosques for any mention that Crimea remained part of Ukraine. Russian security forces also monitored mosques for anti-Russian sentiment and as a means of recruiting police informants.
The Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People remained banned for purported “extremism” despite an order by the International Court of Justice requiring occupation authorities to “refrain from maintaining or imposing limitations on the ability of the Crimean Tatar community to conserve its representative institutions, including the Mejlis.” Following the 2016 ban on the Crimean Tatar Mejlis as an “extremist organization,” occupation authorities banned gatherings by Mejlis members and prosecuted individuals for discussing the Mejlis on social media.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement
Occupation authorities did not respect the right to freedom of movement.
In-country Movement: Occupation authorities maintained a state border at the administrative boundary between mainland Ukraine and Crimea. According to the HRMMU, the boundary and the absence of public transportation between Crimea and mainland Ukraine continued to undermine freedom of movement to and from the peninsula, affecting mainly the elderly, individuals with limited mobility, and young children.
There were reports occupation authorities selectively detained and at times abused persons attempting to enter or leave Crimea. According to human rights groups, occupation authorities routinely detained adult men at the administrative boundary for additional questioning, threatened to seize passports and documents, seized telephones and memory cards, and questioned them for hours. For example, on June 11, the FSB detained activist Gulsum Alieva at the administrative borderline when she was entering the peninsula. They brought the activist to the police station in the nearby town of Armyansk. According to her lawyer, authorities charged Alieva with extremism and released her later the same day.
In other cases, authorities issued entry bans to Crimean Tatars attempting to cross the administrative boundary from mainland Ukraine. For example, according to the Crimean Human Rights Group, on February 5, occupation authorities at the administrative boundary detained Crimean Tatar Rustem Rashydov, who was seeking to visit his family in Crimea. He was released after being interrogated for 12 hours and given a document stating he was banned from entering the “Russian Federation.”
Occupation authorities launched criminal cases against numerous high-profile Crimean Tatar leaders, including member of the parliament Mustafa Jemilev and Refat Chubarov, the current chairmen of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis; by Crimean Tatar activist Sinaver Kadyrov; and by Ismet Yuksel, the general director of the Crimean News Agency.
According to the HRMMU, Ukrainian legislation restricts access to Crimea to three designated crossing points and imposes penalties, including long-term entry bans, for noncompliance. Crimean residents lacking Ukrainian passports, who only possessed Russian-issued Crimean travel documents not recognized by Ukrainian authorities, often faced difficulties when crossing into mainland Ukraine.
Citizenship: Russian occupation authorities required all residents of Crimea to be Russian citizens. Those who refused Russian citizenship could be subjected to arbitrary expulsion. According to the Crimean Human Rights Group, during the five years of Russia’s occupation, more than 1,500 Ukrainians were prosecuted for not having Russian documents, and 450 persons were ordered to be deported.
According to the HRMMU, in 2018 “courts” in Crimea ordered deportation of 231 Ukrainian nationals, many of whom were Crimean residents with Ukrainian citizenship, whose residence rights in Crimea were not recognized.
Residents of Crimea who chose not to adopt Russian citizenship were considered foreigners. In some cases they could obtain a residency permit. Persons holding a residency permit without Russian citizenship were deprived of key rights and could not own agricultural land, vote or run for office, register a religious congregation, or register a vehicle. Authorities denied those who refused Russian citizenship access to “government” employment, education, and health care, as well as the ability to open bank accounts and buy insurance, among other limitations.
According to the Crimean Human Rights Group, Russian authorities prosecuted private employers who continued to employ Ukrainians. Fines could be imposed on employers for every recorded case of employing a Ukrainian citizen without a labor license. Fines in such cases amounted to several million dollars.
In some cases authorities compelled Crimean residents to surrender their Ukrainian passports, complicating international travel, because many countries did not recognize “passports” issued by Russian occupation authorities.
Approximately 33,000 residents of Crimea registered as IDPs on the mainland, according to the Ministry of Social Policy. The Mejlis and local NGOs, such as Krym SOS, believed the actual number could be as high as 100,000, as most IDPs remained unregistered. Many individuals fled due to fear that occupation authorities would target them for abuse because of their work as political activists or journalists. Muslims, Greek Catholics, and Evangelical Christians who left Crimea said they feared discrimination due to their religious beliefs.
Crimean Tatars, who made up the largest number of IDPs, said they left because pressure on their community, including an increasing number of arbitrary searches of their homes, surveillance, and discrimination. In addition, many professionals left Crimea because Russian occupation authorities required them to apply for Russian professional licenses and adopt Russian procedures in their work.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech, including for the press, but the government often restricted this right.
Freedom of Expression: The government restricted citizens’ ability to criticize its actions. It also restricted some political symbols, musical lyrics, and theatrical performances.
On September 18, the government published guidelines that banned the public from wearing red berets, saying that the berets would henceforth be considered a military uniform and therefore the exclusive property of the state. Red berets had been the symbol worn by supporters of Kyagulanyi’s People Power movement. On October 1, Kyagulanyi reported that the UPF and UPDF had started arresting People Power supporters whom they found wearing the red berets. The UPF on numerous occasions also confiscated People Power movement insignia, especially red berets and T-shirts with pro-Kyagulanyi messages. On August 13, the UPF raided the Democratic Party’s (DP) offices, arrested four supporters, and confiscated 300 T-shirts with pro-Kyagulanyi messages commemorating the one-year anniversary of Kyagulanyi’s arrest and torture. The UPF said the T-shirts bore messages inciting violence. The UPF released the four DP supporters later that day and said it only called them in for interrogation.
Press and Media, Including Online Media: The country had an active media environment with numerous privately owned newspapers and television and radio stations. These media outlets regularly covered stories and often provided commentary critical of the government and officials. The UPF’s Media and Political Crimes Unit, however, closely monitored all radio, television, and print media, and security forces subjected numerous journalists to harassment, intimidation, and arrest. Government officials and ruling party members owned many of the private rural radio stations and imposed reporting restrictions. Media practitioners said government and security agents occasionally called editors and instructed them not to publish stories that negatively portrayed the government. On April 30, the communications regulator Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) wrote to broadcast houses ordering the suspension of 39 journalists holding producer and editing positions for violating minimum broadcast standards when they aired live images of a Kyagulanyi procession through Kampala on April 29. The UCC also ordered the media houses to submit all footage aired that day for investigation. On May 8, the Uganda Journalists Association and two private attorneys filed an application in court to block the UCC action, which a court granted May 23, indicating that the UCC had overstepped its mandate.
Violence and Harassment: Security forces subjected journalists and media houses to violence, harassment, and intimidation. On February 7, the UPF arrested five local and international journalists who were working undercover to report on the theft of drugs in public hospitals. The UPF stated that it arrested the five on charges of “illegal possession of classified drugs.” On February 8, the UPF released the journalists on police bond but said investigations into the case continued. Civil society contacts also reported that in October the president expelled a journalist from a press conference after the reporter asked a question about the country’s fiscal debt.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government penalized those who published items counter to its guidelines, and directly and indirectly censored the media, including by controlling licensing and advertising, instructing editors to suspend critical journalists, arresting and beating journalists, and disrupting and ransacking photojournalistic exhibitions. The media, under government pressure, practiced self-censorship. On July 24, NBS TV aired live footage as Kyagulanyi launched his presidential bid in his home but edited out parts of his speech that were critical of the regime and of the president. In early August the UCC announced that it required online publishers, bloggers, and influencers to register with them for a $20 annual license. The UPF on several occasions switched off and broke into FM radio station studios that hosted opposition politician Kizza Besigye for talk shows. On April 18, the UPF switched off the Mubende FM radio transmission, and then forced its way into the studios where Besigye was attending a talk show and arrested him.
Libel/Slander Laws: Authorities used libel and slander laws to suppress criticism of government officials. On June 14, local media reported that on June 12 the authorities arrested journalist Pidson Kareire for offensive communication and criminal libel in relation to stories he published about labor recruitment companies with ties to the president’s family.
National Security: Authorities cited laws protecting national security to restrict criticism of government policies. Security agencies arrested numerous dissidents on charges of incitement of violence. UPF and UPDF officials on June 15 arrested events manager and Kyagulanyi supporter Andrew Mukasa as he held a press conference to announce a marathon in Kyagulanyi’s honor, on charges of inciting violence and disturbing the president’s peace. The UPF arraigned him in court on June 19 and released him on bail July 11. The case continued at year’s end.
The government restricted and disrupted access to the internet, censored online content, monitored internet communications without appropriate legal authority, and punished internet users who expressed divergent political views. On July 12, the UPF arrested pastor and former journalist Joseph Kabuleta on the accusation that he wrote “grossly offensive” posts on Facebook that referred to the president as “a gambler, thief, and liar.” The UPF said it would use “its acquired abilities to monitor comments on social media,” and punish offenders. Kabuleta told local media July 16 that UPF officers beat him until he bled in the face and took photos of his bruised face, before demanding that he promise never to insult the president’s son. Police released Kabuleta on July 16 without charge.
The government restricted some artistic presentations. The government throughout the year blocked Kyagulanyi from holding concerts at various locations across the country, allegedly because his previous concerts fell short of security guidelines, easily “turned into a public nuisance, violated traffic rules and regulations and caused other misconducts.” The government in June blocked concert performances by musician Joseph Mayanja, also known as Jose Chameleone, after he announced that he had joined the opposition DP. The government in November published new regulations on the performing arts that required all artists to seek government clearance before recording any material or staging performances.
The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.
While the constitution provides for freedom of assembly, the government did not respect this right. The government continued to use the Public Order Management Act to limit the right to assemble and disrupted opposition and civil society-led public meetings and rallies. The law placed a significant bureaucratic burden on those wishing to organize or host gatherings and afforded the UPF wide discretion to prevent an event. While the law only requires individuals to “notify” police of their intention to hold a public meeting, it also gives the police the power to block meetings they deem “unsuitable.” Typically, the UPF simply fails to respond to “notifications” from opposition groups, thereby creating a legal justification for disrupting almost any gathering. On May 30, the UPF fired teargas and bullets into the air to disperse opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party officials and supporters as they held a public rally at their offices in Iganga town. The UPF said the rally was an illegal assembly, since the police had not approved it.
While the constitution and law provide for freedom of association, the government did not respect this right. The government restricted the operations of local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), especially those that work on civil and political rights (see section 5). Government regulations require NGOs to disclose sources of funding and personal information about their employees and impose onerous registration and reporting requirements. They enable the NGO Bureau and its local level structures to deny registration to any organization focused on issues deemed “undesirable” or “prejudicial” to the “dignity of the people of Uganda.” The regulations also provide the NGO Bureau broad powers to inspect NGO offices and records and to suspend their activities without due process. They increased registration fees for local NGOs from 20,000 shillings ($5.33) to 100,000 ($26.67), and annual permit renewal fees from 20,000 shillings ($5.33) to 60,000 shillings ($16), respectively. They also introduced new fees, including for the NGO Bureau to review permit applications (60,000 shillings, or $16) and for NGOs to file annual reports (50,000 shillings, or $13.33). On August 8, the Ministry of Internal Affairs started a one-month validation and verification exercise that required all unregistered NGOs to register and all registered NGOs to validate and verify their registration and operation details with the NGO Bureau (see Section 5). The Ministry of Internal Affairs said the exercise would weed out thousands of NGOs that operated illegally. Civil society activists worried that this exercise would assist the authorities to limit their operations, especially the operations of NGOs engaged in civil and political rights. The same day, the government’s anti-money-laundering agency, the Financial Intelligence Authority (FIA), sent a letter to local banks asking for financial information and three years of bank statements from 13 accountability and good governance focused NGOs (see section 5).
The government also restricted the operations of opposition political parties (see section 3).
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement
The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: 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. The government continued to uphold its enabling asylum policies and practices towards refugees and asylum seekers from various countries, mainly from South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Burundi, and Somalia. Most refugees enjoyed unhindered access to asylum, freedom of movement, freedom of residence, right to registration and documentation, and access to justice, education, health care, and employment.
UNHCR and NGOs received reports that some government officials demanded bribes from refugees to process or issue paperwork, especially at Old Kampala Police Station, where urban refugees and other migrants registered.
Refoulement: Although there were no credible reports of refoulement during the year, Rwandan and Burundian refugee groups continued to express fear that authorities were either complicit in or unable to stop extrajudicial actions by neighboring governments. South Sudanese human rights defenders resident in the country also feared forcible return because of threats from government officials.
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. Individuals fleeing South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (as long as Congolese are from eastern DRC) who enter the country through a designated border point have automatic “prima facie” refugee status (status without determination of individual refugee status). The local Refugee Eligibility Committee, however, determines whether individuals fleeing from Rwanda, Somalia, and Burundi and other countries are eligible for refugee status. The committee was functional, but administrative issues and the continued influx of asylum seekers from Somalia, Eritrea, and Burundi created a backlog of more than 26,000 asylum seeker cases as of June.
Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country does not have a policy of presumptive denials of asylum to applicants. Numerous sources, however, reported that for several years the country clandestinely received migrants expelled from Israel. According to official reports, the government was unaware of Israeli government plans–later challenged and halted in Israeli courts–to remove approximately 39,000 migrants to unnamed African countries. Sources reported many Eritrean, Ethiopian, and Sudanese migrants crossed through the country. Some of these migrants eventually made their way to Libya and attempted to cross to Europe. There are no credible reports of official acquiescence or complicity in such crossings. There were no further reports received during the year.
Durable Solutions: The government did not accept third-country refugees for resettlement, but it assisted in the safe and voluntary return of refugees to their homes and supported the resettlement of third-country refugees to other countries by providing birth certificates and travel documents. A 2015 constitutional court ruling confirmed that certain long-term refugees have the right to naturalize, and in 2016, the government committed to begin processing naturalization cases for an estimated 15,000 refugees who had resided in the country for approximately 20 years. During the year there were no known cases of a refugee having naturalized.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
In the Donbas region, Russia-led forces suppressed freedom of speech and the press through harassment, intimidation, abductions, and assaults on journalists and media outlets. They also prevented the transmission of Ukrainian and independent television and radio programming in areas under their control.
Freedom of Expression: With some exceptions, individuals in areas under government control could generally criticize the government publicly and privately and discuss matters of public interest without fear of official reprisal.
The law criminalizes the display of communist and Nazi symbols as well as the manufacture or promotion of the St. George’s ribbon, a symbol associated with Russia-led forces in the Donbas region. On July 16, the country’s constitutional court upheld the ban on displaying communist and Nazi symbols. During the May 9 celebration of World War II Victory Day, police issued 27 administrative offense citations in Odesa, Mykolaiv, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia, and Donetsk Oblasts and detained several individuals in Kyiv, Kryvy Rih, Lviv, and Odesa for carrying banned Soviet symbols.
On October 10, a court in Kryvy Rih convicted a local resident of wearing a T-shirt with the state symbol of the USSR in a public place. The man reportedly wore the shirt at a local shopping center on June 14. He was given a one-year suspended sentence and another year of probation.
The law prohibits statements that threaten the country’s territorial integrity, promote war, instigate racial or religious conflict, or support Russian aggression against the country, and the government prosecuted individuals under these laws (see “Censorship” and “National Security”).
Press and Media, Including Online Media: The NGO Freedom House rated the country’s press as “partly free.” Independent media and internet news sites were active and expressed a wide range of views. Privately owned media, the most successful of which were owned by influential oligarchs, often presented readers and viewers a “biased pluralism,” representing the views of their owners, favorable coverage of their allies, and criticism of political and business rivals. The 10 most popular television stations were owned by businessmen whose primary business was not in media. Independent media had difficulty competing with major outlets that operated with oligarchic subsidies.
There were reports of continuing state pressure on the National Public Broadcasting Company (UA:PBC), created as a result of a 2014 law to provide an independent publicly funded alternative to oligarch-controlled television channels. On January 31, the supervisory board of UA:PBC announced the removal of the channel’s director, Zurab Alasania. Observers alleged the decision was made because the channel broadcast anticorruption investigations in the pre-electoral period that had been unflattering to then president Petro Poroshenko. According to press reports, the supervisory board’s initial draft decision cited the channel’s failure to cover events favorable to Poroshenko, but the final decision did not contain this language and instead alleged financial mismanagement. Following public outcry, the board announced Alasania would remain in place until May 6. Alasania challenged the board’s decision in court, and on June 19, a Kyiv court ruled the board’s decision was illegal. Alasania was reinstated in his position on July 1. On August 30, the SBI and SBU jointly raided the premises of UA:PBC, several of its regional affiliates, and the home of Alasania, apparently in connection with the allegations of financial mismanagement. The OSCE high representative on freedom of the media expressed concern about the raids and the potential impact of “any pressure on the independence of public media.” “Jeansa”–the practice of planting one-sided or favorable news coverage paid for by politicians or oligarchs–continued to be widespread. Monitoring by the IMI of national print and online media for jeansa indicated a wide range of actors ordered political jeansa, including political parties, politicians, oblast governments, and oligarchs. The IMI recorded a 22 percent increase of jeansa in the national online media before the parliamentary elections in 13 popular internet media outlets.
“Jeansa”–the practice of planting one-sided or favorable news coverage paid for by politicians or oligarchs–continued to be widespread. Monitoring by the IMI of national print and online media for jeansa indicated a wide range of actors ordered political jeansa, including political parties, politicians, oblast governments, and oligarchs. The IMI recorded a 22 percent increase of jeansa in the national online media before the parliamentary elections in 13 popular internet media outlets.
Violence and Harassment: Violence against journalists remained a problem. Human rights groups and journalists criticized what they saw as government inaction in solving the crimes as giving rise to a culture of impunity.
According to the IMI, as of September 1, there had been 20 reports of attacks on journalists, including one killing during the year, compared with 22 cases and no killings during the same period in 2018. As in 2018, private, rather than state, actors perpetrated the majority of the attacks. As of September 1, there were 33 incidents involving threats against journalists, as compared with 24 during the same period in 2018. The IMI and editors of major independent news outlets also noted online harassment of journalists by societal actors, reflecting a growing societal intolerance of reporting deemed insufficiently patriotic, a development they asserted had the tacit support of the government.
There were multiple reports of attacks on journalists by government officials. For example, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, on March 6, officials in the village of Chabany near Kyiv attacked Radio Liberty investigative reporter Kateryna Kaplyuk and cameraman Borys Trotsenko, leaving Trotsenko with a concussion and breaking his camera. The journalists were attempting to interview a village official for an investigation into allegations that officials were allocating state lands for private use, when a group of people that included two deputy mayors of the village, Yuriy Bondar and Volodymyr Chuprin, began shoving and punching them. They filed a police report, and police began an investigation, but no charges had been brought as of November.
There were reports of attacks on journalists by nongovernment actors. For example, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, on August 30 in Chernihiv, two unidentified individuals attacked blogger Ihor Stakh. Stakh was later treated for a concussion and required stitches for a cut on his face. The National Union of Journalists made statements indicating its belief that the attack was in retaliation for Stakh’s reporting on local corruption. Stakh reported receiving threats before the attack. Police opened an investigation but as of November had made no arrests.
On July 13, according to press reports, an unknown attacker fired a rocket-propelled grenade at the Kyiv office of pro-Russian television news broadcaster 112 Ukraine, damaging the building but causing no injuries. Police opened an investigation, but no arrests had been made as of October.
There were allegations that the government prosecuted journalists in retaliation for their work (see section 1.e.).
There were reports that government officials sought to pressure journalists through the judicial system, often to reveal their sources in investigations. For example, on February 4, the Pechersk District Court granted the Prosecutor General’s Office access to internal documents and email correspondence of the independent news outlet Novoye Vremya. Prosecutors were seeking to identify a source who spoke to the Novoye Vremya for a 2016 story revealing corruption by a high-ranking prosecutor, alleging that the source violated investigatory secrecy rules.
Journalists received threats in connection with their reporting. For example, according to the Institute for Mass Information, on September 10, journalists of the Chesno civic movement alleged that Member of Parliament Oleksandr Kovalev threatened them in response to news published on their website describing Kovalev’s illegal proxy voting on behalf of other members of parliament. The journalists filed a complaint with law enforcement authorities.
On December 12, police arrested five suspects in the 2016 killing of well-known Belarusian-Russian journalist Pavel Sheremet (see section 1.a.).
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Human rights organizations frequently criticized the government for taking an overly broad approach to banning books, television shows, websites, and other content (see subsections on National Security and Internet Freedom).
The State Committee on Television and Radio Broadcasting (Derzhkomteleradio) maintained a list of banned books seen to be aimed at undermining the country’s independence, spreading propaganda of violence, inciting interethnic, racial, religious hostility, promoting terrorist attacks, or encroaching on human rights and freedoms. As of July the list contained 211 titles.
Both independent and state-owned media periodically engaged in self-censorship when reporting stories that might expose political allies to criticism or might be perceived by the public as insufficiently patriotic or provide information that could be used for Russian propaganda.
Libel/Slander Laws: Libel is a civil offense. While the law limits the monetary damages a plaintiff can claim in a lawsuit, local media observers continued to express concern over high monetary damages awarded for alleged libel. Government entities, and public figures in particular, used the threat of civil suits, sometimes based on alleged damage to a person’s “honor and integrity,” to influence or intimidate the press and investigative journalists.
For example, on August 20, the head of the Presidential Administration, Andriy Bohdan, filed a libel lawsuit against the investigative journalism program Skhemy (Schemes), a joint program by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and UA:PBC. Bohdan clarified on August 23 that he was suing over Schemes’ reports about his repeated travel to visit oligarch Ihor Kolomoiskyy abroad, which he asserted were false.
National Security: In the context of the continuing conventional conflict in the Donbas, as well as continuing Russian disinformation and cyber campaigns, authorities took measures to prohibit, regulate, and occasionally censor information deemed a national security threat, particularly those emanating from Russia and promoting pro-Russian lines.
The government continued the practice of banning specific works by Russian actors, film directors, and singers, as well as imposing sanctions on pro-Russian journalists. According to the State Film Agency, as of mid-September approximately 800 films and television shows had been banned on national security grounds since 2014. In response to Russia’s continued barrage of cyberattacks and disinformation as part of its efforts to destabilize Ukraine, the government maintained its ban on the operations of almost 600 companies and 1,228 persons that allegedly posed a “threat to information and the cyber security of the state.” Among them were two widely used social networks based in Russia and major Russian television channels as well as smaller Russian channels that operated independently of state control.
There were reports that the government used noncompliance with national security-related content bans to pressure outlets perceived as having a pro-Russian editorial policy. For example, on February 7, the National Council on Television and Radio Broadcast imposed a fine on NewsOne TV, a channel owned by associates of Russian-backed Ukrainian politician Viktor Medvedchuk, for alleged “hate speech and propaganda promoting conflict and national hatred.” According to the National Council, monitoring of NewsOne TV broadcasts from late 2018 to early 2019 revealed “calls for aggressive actions, incitement of national, racial, or religious hatred, and justification of aggression against the territorial integrity” of Ukraine. On July 8, NewsOne announced that it had cancelled a planned July 12 joint live television program with the state-owned Russian television channel Rossiya 24, which is banned in the country, because of threats of violence. The proposed program, announced the day before on Russian state-owned television, was to be called We Have to Talk and would have linked up two studios in Kyiv and Moscow for a purportedly “apolitical” discussion between “everyday people” in the two countries the week ahead of parliamentary elections. The program’s announcement sparked public outrage, a protest outside NewsOne’s offices, and widespread condemnation from officials. On July 8, the prosecutor general called the program “attempted treason” and announced that NewsOne’s leadership had been called in for interrogation, while the SBU issued a warning letter to NewsOne. The National Security and Defense Council convened to discuss the program on July 8, after which the council’s head stated: “State bodies, including the SBU and National Police have received a number of orders, including in regards to defending the information space. Additional details cannot be revealed because of secrecy.” On July 10, the prosecutor general announced that a criminal case had been opened against NewsOne’s owner, Member of Parliament Taras Kozak, for “financing terrorism.” On July 9, Derzhkomteleradio announced it would hold an unscheduled inspection of NewsOne, which it conducted on July 24. On September 10, Derzhkomteleradio filed a lawsuit in a Kyiv district court seeking the revocation of the license, based upon its “incitement to hatred in Ukrainian society.”
On September 26, Derzhkomteleradio ruled that five affiliated media companies of pro-Russian Channel 112 TV violated their license conditions by changing their program concepts without required approvals. As a result of the decision, Channel 112 TV could not be broadcast by digital terrestrial signal in the country, but it was still available on satellite and cable networks. The OSCE representative on freedom of the media expressed concern about the decision, while a coalition of independent Ukrainian media watchdogs issued a statement of support of Derzhkomteleradio’s decision.
On August 19, the Supreme Court upheld a 2018 ban by the Lviv Oblast Council on all Russian-language books, films, and songs, in order to combat “hybrid warfare” by Russia. The Zhytomyr and Ternopil Oblast Councils mirrored this measure on October 25 and November 6, respectively, in 2018. There were no reported attempts at enforcing these bans.
Media professionals continued to experience pressure from the SBU, the military, and other officials when reporting on sensitive issues, such as military losses. For example, on November 6, the Joint Forces Operation (JFO) headquarters refused to accredit photo correspondent Maks Levin because of his reporting from the area of disengagement near Zolote, which the headquarters claimed violated the rules on reporting in the area of JFO in unspecified ways.
Authorities continued to deport and bar entry to foreign journalists on national security grounds. For example, on March 24, the State Border Service denied entry to Marc Innaro, a Moscow correspondent of the Italian public service broadcaster RAI and his colleague, a cameraman, claiming he “frequently engaged in anti-Ukrainian rhetoric in his reports.”
Nongovernmental Impact: There were reports that radical groups committed attacks on journalists. For example, according to press reports, on July 30, approximately a dozen members of the radical group Tradition and Order broke down the door of the state-run Ukrinform news agency in Kyiv and disrupted a press conference by parliamentary candidates who were alleging fraud in the July parliamentary election. They attacked and injured three Ukrinform staff members and poured water and threw eggs around the room. Police opened a criminal investigation into the incident, but as of November no arrests had been made.
The ability to exercise freedom of expression reportedly remained extremely limited in territory controlled by the “DPR” and “LPR.” Based on HRMMU media monitoring, critical independent media on the territory controlled by Russia-led forces was nonexistent. According to CyberLab Ukraine, an independent digital forensic analysis organization, the authorities in the “LPR” blocked more than 50 Ukrainian news outlets.
The HRMMU reported that journalists entering Russia-controlled territory of the “DPR” had to inform the “press center” of the “ministry of defense” about their activities on a daily basis, were arbitrarily required to show video footage at checkpoints, and were accompanied by members of armed groups when travelling close to the contact line.
On October 22, press outlets reported that a “court” in the “DPR” convicted journalist Stanislav Aseyev of espionage on behalf of Ukraine and sentenced him to 15 years in prison. Human rights defenders maintained that the charges were baseless and brought in retaliation for his independent reporting on events in territory controlled by Russia-led forces. Aseyev was released December 29 as part of a Ukraine-Russia prisoner and detainee exchange.
Law enforcement bodies monitored the internet, at times without appropriate legal authority, and took significant steps during the year to block access to websites based on “national security concerns.”
On March 19, then president Poroshenko endorsed new sanctions approved by the National Security and Defense Council that, among other things, extended sanctions on the Russian company Yandex and its services until 2022. Ukrainian internet providers continued to block websites at government demand based on national security concerns. On February 11, the SBU announced that it intended to block 100 websites that promote Russian interests in the country. As of October, 240 sites were blocked in the country. According to monitoring by CyberLab Ukraine, internet service-provider compliance with the government’s orders to block sites varied greatly. On July 22, the National Security and Defense Council announced it would continue the policy of blocking Russian social networks.
On September 30, a district administrative court in Kyiv dismissed a lawsuit brought by the For Free Net Ukraine Coalition against the Ministry of Information Policy, asking it to disclose the government’s criteria and methodology when creating its lists of internet resources to be banned on national security grounds.
Free speech advocates expressed concern that courts began to block access to websites on grounds other than national security. For example, on July 23, a Kyiv court ruled to block access to 18 websites, including blogging platform enigma.ua, at the request of the Kyiv Oblast prosecutor’s office on vague grounds related to violations of intellectual property rights. The owner of enigma.ua stated that he believed the blocking of his site was in retaliation for its publication of material critical of the country’s security services.
There were reports of the disclosure of personally identifiable information of persons to penalize expression of opinions. Between October 31 and November 5, Andriy Portnov, a former lawmaker and deputy head of former president Viktor Yanukovych’s administration, released personally identifying information of editorial and staff members of the anticorruption television program Schemes, as well as the registration data on 16 vehicles used by staff members of the program, on his Telegram messaging channel. In a November 5 message, Portnov invited anyone who comes across these vehicles to “give a stiff rebuff” to the drivers; he also suggested on October 31 that a driver whose personal data he disclosed was also under surveillance and could be exposed to physical harm. Portnov’s actions were apparently in response to an investigation by Schemes into his relationships with officials currently in the government.
The Myrotvorets (peacemaker) database, which published the personally identifying information of individuals it deemed to be “anti-Ukrainian” online and which reportedly maintained close ties to the country’s security services, published the personal data of journalists and public figures who had been critical of the country’s security services or had made other statements the site considered unpatriotic. On December 10, the database announced it was shutting down its servers to public access, but it noted some officials would continue to have access.
There were reports of cyberattacks on journalists who reported on corruption. For example, according to the Institute for Mass Information, for several weeks in February and March, journalists with the investigative anticorruption television program Schemes reported repeated attempts to hack their social network and messenger accounts.
Human rights groups and journalists who were critical of Russian involvement in the Donbas region and the occupation of Crimea reported their websites were subjected to cyberattacks, such as coordinated denial of service incidents and unauthorized attempts to obtain information from computers, as well as coordinated campaigns of “trolling” and harassment on social media.
In its annual Freedom on the Net report published in November, Freedom House concluded that internet freedom had improved very slightly after two years of decline. It noted in particular that “the online information landscape is partly censored, with the government blocking Russian and proxy websites, and the Russia-led forces blocking Ukrainian websites in the areas under their control. Implementation of these blocks, however, was lax on both sides, and the digital environment is otherwise vibrant, despite efforts by political actors to manipulate debates through disinformation and paid content. These efforts intensified ahead of the presidential election, held in March and April. Arrests of users were commonplace, primarily as an extension of continuing hostilities between the government in Kyiv and Russian-led forces, as were attacks against online journalists. Adding to these challenges, persistent cyberattacks continued to constrain internet freedom.”
There were reports that the government prosecuted individuals for their posts on social media. For example, according to press reports, on April 16, the SBU searched the home of a man in Odesa, whom they alleged had written posts supporting Russia-led forces in eastern Ukraine on social media, and seized computer equipment, mobile devices, and material with banned communist symbols. He was charged with “encroachment on territorial integrity.”
There were reports the government investigated academic personnel for their research. For example, according to the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, on April 24, the Lviv regional branch of the SBU announced a check into what it called a “provocative survey” by the respected research institute Kyiv International Institute of Sociology. The opinion poll was commissioned by the independent media outlet Dzherkalo Tyzhnya and included a question that asked residents of “Galicia,” a historical region that spans parts of current Ukraine and Poland, how they viewed the fate of their region after the presidential elections. One of the possible answers was “Galicia should join Poland,” which the SBU viewed as a possible “call to violate Ukraine’s territorial integrity.”
The government maintained a list of Russian or pro-Russian musicians, actors, and other cultural figures that it prohibited from entering the country on national security grounds.
The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.
The constitution provides for the freedom of peaceful assembly, and the government generally respected this right. There are no laws, however, regulating the process of organizing and conducting events to provide for the right, and authorities have wide discretion under a Soviet-era directive to grant or refuse permission for assemblies on grounds of protecting public order and safety. Organizers are required to inform authorities in advance of demonstrations.
During the year citizens generally exercised the right to assemble peacefully without restriction in areas of the country under government control. There were occasional reports of police using excessive force to disperse a protest. On February 9, police clashed with demonstrators, including members of violent radical group C14 and activists from the “Who Ordered Katya Handziuk” civic initiative, in Kyiv protesting at a rally by the Batkyvshchyna political party held because the one of the party’s members was allegedly complicit in the 2018 high-profile killing of activist Kateryna Handziuk (see section 1.a.). Police beat demonstrators, sprayed tear gas, and detained approximately a dozen persons. At the police station, the detained individuals were met by a crowd of supporters, who allegedly attempted to storm the station and attacked and used tear gas against police. Police reported that three officers were injured and hospitalized. An investigation into the actions of both police and the demonstrators continued as of September.
Large-scale LGBTI events including pride marches in Kyiv, Odesa, and Kharkiv took place in largely peaceful manner, protected by thousands of police officers. Police at times did not adequately protect participants from attack before or after these events, and they did not adequately protect smaller demonstrations, especially those organized by persons belonging to minority groups or opposition political movements. For example, according to press reports, organizers of a pride festival in the city of Kriviy Rih cancelled a planned march on July 24, citing the inability of police to guarantee the event’s security around the time of parliamentary elections. On December 24, the Rivne City Council voted to ban the holding of pride marches.
Events organized by women’s rights activists or the LGBTI community were regularly disrupted by members of violent radical groups. For example, on May 8, a group of approximately 10 members of C14 disrupted the gender issues festival Find the Balance in Kryvy Rih, occupying the premises shortly before the beginning of the event, putting up homophobic posters, and insulting the organizers. Police investigated the incident under hooliganism-related charges.
In Russia-controlled territory, the HRMMU observed the absence of free and peaceful assembly and noted, “such a restrictive environment, where dissenting opinions may trigger retaliation, has a long-lasting chilling effect on the population.” The HRMMU also noted the only demonstrations permitted in these areas were ones in support of local “authorities,” often apparently organized by Russia-led forces with forced public participation.
The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right.
In June the Constitutional Court invalidated a much-criticized law requiring assets to be reported for civil society organizations and journalists working on anticorruption matters.
Human rights organizations reported a decrease of attacks on activists following a spike in attacks in 2018 (37 attacks during the year, down from 66 in 2018). Some civil society organizations, however, saw the decrease in reported attacks as underreporting by civic activists opting not to submit complaints because they viewed it as a futile gesture that might invite further persecution. International and domestic human rights NGOs remained concerned about the lack of accountability for attacks on members of civil society organizations, which they believed had created a climate of impunity.
There were reports government targeted activists for raids, arrests, or prosecution in retaliation for their professional activity. For example, according to the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, on October 4, police raided the home of human rights activist Oleh Tsvily, the head of the NGO Alliance for Ukrainian Unity. They handcuffed him near his apartment and allegedly intentionally banged his head against the steps while bringing him up to his apartment. Police raided his apartment, seized his computer and other devices containing information, but did not arrest Tsvily. Tsvily’s lawyer maintained that law enforcement officials had no court warrant for the search. During the raid police claimed they were investigating Tsvily for purportedly selling drugs on the internet. Tsvily maintained the search and attack was in retaliation for his work exposing torture and abuse in the penitentiary system. A former head of the State Penitentiary Service posted a video of Tsvily’s arrest on his Facebook page with a comment calling Tsvily and other human rights activists “animals” and predicting that Tsvily would be sent to prison for selling drugs.
There were reports that unknown actors made death threats against activists because of their work. For example, according to the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, on August 26, unknown persons in Chuhuiv, Kharkiv Region left a coffin, funeral wreath with his name, a note, and an axe wedged into the door of the home of Roman Likhachov, a lawyer and head of the Chuhuiv Human Rights Group. The note read, “if you don’t stop doing stupid things, the next [axe] will be in your head.” Likhachov believed the threats to be linked with his work with a network of anticorruption centers investigating local tax evasion schemes in Chuhuiv involving local authorities and law enforcement as well as the sale of alcohol without a license in a local cafe owned by a city council member.
According to the HRMMU, in the territories controlled by Russia-led forces, domestic and international civil society organizations, including human rights defenders, could not operate freely. Residents informed the HRMMU they were being prosecuted (or feared being prosecuted) by the “ministry of state security” for their pro-Ukrainian views or previous affiliation with Ukrainian NGOs. If human rights groups attempted to work in those areas, they faced significant harassment and intimidation. The HRMMU also noted civil society organizations run by Russia-led forces, which appeared to require certain persons, such as public-sector employees, to join.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement
The constitution and law provide citizens with freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government, however, restricted these rights, particularly in the eastern part of the country near the zone of conflict.
In-country Movement: The government and Russia-led forces strictly controlled movement between government-controlled areas and territories in the Donbas region controlled by Russia-led forces. Crossing the line of contact remained arduous. On July 17, the government adopted new regulations establishing a list of goods prohibited for transfer across the line of contact to replace the list of goods allowed for transfer, thereby providing more flexibility for people to bring items across the line from both sides. Public passenger transportation remained prohibited; private transportation was available at high prices and was generally unaffordable for the majority of people crossing.
Although five crossing points existed, only four were in operation for much of the year. According to the HRMMU, between May and August, an average of 39,000 individuals crossed the line daily. The HRMMU reported that individuals crossing the line of contact, predominantly the elderly and persons with medical issues, had to spend several hours standing in line. The government required those seeking to cross into government-controlled territory to obtain a pass. The pass system imposed significant hardships on persons crossing into government-controlled territory, in particular those seeking to receive pensions and government benefits, not distributed in the territory controlled by Russia-led forces. The government attempted to reform a pass system involving an online application process to control movement into government-controlled territory. All passes issued after March 28 had no expiration date, but the measure did little to improve ease of movement across the contact line since many persons in Russia-controlled territory did not have access to the internet to obtain such passes.
Russia-led forces continued to hinder freedom of movement in the eastern part of the country.
The government and Russian occupation authorities subjected individuals crossing between Russian-occupied Crimea and the mainland to strict passport controls at the administrative boundary between Kherson Oblast and Crimea. Authorities prohibited rail and commercial bus service across the administrative boundary, requiring persons either to cross on foot or by private vehicle. Civil society, journalists, and independent defense lawyers reported that the government made efforts to ease requirements for entering Crimea, improving previously lengthy processes to obtain required permissions that hindered their ability to document and address abuses taking place there.
According to the Ministry of Social Policy, as of late September more than 1.4 million persons were registered IDPs due to Russia’s aggression in eastern Ukraine and its occupation of Crimea. Some NGOs and international organizations estimated the number to be lower, since some persons returned to their homes after registering as IDPs, while others registered while still living in the conflict zone. The largest number of IDPs resided in areas immediately adjoining the conflict zones, in government-controlled areas of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts as well as Kharkiv, Dnipropetrovsk, and Zaporizhzhia Oblasts and Kyiv. Many resided in areas close to the line of contact in the hope they would be able to return home.
The government granted social entitlements only to persons who had registered as IDPs. Local departments of the Ministry of Social Policy regularly suspended payment of pensions and benefits to IDPs pending verification of their physical presence in government-controlled territories, ostensibly to combat fraud, requiring recipients to go through a burdensome reinstatement process.
According to the HRMMU, the government applied the IDP verification procedure broadly. The suspensions affected the majority of IDP residents in government-controlled territory as well as most residents of Russia-controlled areas; effects were especially acute for the elderly and disabled, whose limited mobility hindered their ability to verify whether they were included in the lists or to prove their residency. The government often suspended payments without notification, and IDPs reported problems having them reinstated.
Humanitarian aid groups had good access to areas under government control.
IDPs were unable to vote in local elections and for single-mandate district seats in parliamentary elections unless they changed their registration to their new residence.
According to the HRMMU, IDP integration remained impeded by the lack of a government strategy and the absence of allocation of financial resources, leading to IDPs’ economic and social marginalization. UN agencies reported the influx of IDPs led to tensions arising from competition for scarce resources.
NGOs reported employment discrimination against IDPs. IDPs continued to have difficulty obtaining education, medical care, and necessary documents. According to the law, the government should provide IDPs with housing, but authorities did not take effective steps to do so. A shortage of employment opportunities and the generally weak economy particularly affected IDPs, forcing many to live in inadequate housing, such as collective centers and temporary accommodations. Other IDPs stayed with host families, volunteers, and in private accommodations, although affordable private accommodations were often in poor condition. Some IDPs, particularly those in government-controlled areas of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts, lacked sufficient sanitation, shelter, and access to potable water.
Romani activists expressed concern that some Roma could not afford to flee conflict areas, while others had no choice but to leave their homes.
Media reports indicated that banks continued to restrict services for Crimean IDPs even after a court ruling that they should be considered residents of the country.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Authorities frequently detained asylum seekers for extended periods without court approval.
The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to IDPs, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. International and domestic organizations reported the system for protecting asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern did not operate effectively.
Refoulement: There were reports that the government did not provide for protection against the expulsion or return of some asylum seekers to a country where there was reason to believe their lives or freedom would be threatened on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. There were also allegations that officials deported some individuals to countries where they were at risk of imprisonment without providing an opportunity for them to apply for asylum. For example, on December 12, Azerbaijani blogger Elvin Isayev was removed from Ukraine to Azerbaijan for allegedly violating migration laws. On September 10, before Isayev arrived in Ukraine, the ECHR invoked Rule 39 halting extradition of Isayev from Russia to Azerbaijan after his Russian citizenship had been revoked.
According to the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, on June 18, the SBU in Kyiv detained Belarussian anarchist Aleksandr Frantskevich when he came to the State Migration Service to extend his permanent residence permit. Frantskevich, who had lived in Kyiv since 2015, was considered by human rights groups to be a former Belarusian political prisoner. SBU officers reportedly forced him into a van, beat and strangled him, and took him to the border with Belarus, where they handed him a document saying that his activities, which were unspecified, were in conflict with the interests of Ukraine’s national security, sovereignty, territorial integrity, and constitutional order, and that he was banned from the country for three years.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a legal system to protect refugees. Protection for refugees and asylum seekers was insufficient due to gaps in the law and the system of implementation. According to the State Migration Service, the number of refugees and asylum seekers has decreased. The country is a transit and destination country for asylum seekers and refugees, principally from Afghanistan, the Russian Federation, Bangladesh, Syria, and Iraq.
Human rights groups noted that the refugee law falls short of international standards due to its restrictive definition of a refugee. The law permits authorities to reject many asylum applications without a thorough case assessment. In other instances government officials declined to accept initial asylum applications without a legal basis, leaving asylum seekers without documentation and vulnerable to frequent police stops, fines, detention, and exploitation. Asylum seekers in detention centers were sometimes unable to apply for refugee status within the prescribed time limits and had limited access to legal and other assistance. Asylum seekers have five days to appeal an order of detention or deportation.
A lack of access to qualified interpreters also hampered the full range of asylum procedures. International observers noted the government did not provide resources for interpreters, which created opportunities for corruption and undermined the fairness of asylum application procedures.
Employment: Refugees frequently have a hard time finding employment due to lack of qualifications and language proficiency. Some worked illegally, increasing the risk of exploitation.
Access to Basic Services: The national plan on the integration of refugees adopted by the government did not allocate resources for its implementation. A UNHCR report indicated all newly recognized refugees received a one-time grant of approximately 30 hryvnias ($1.26). Some reports, however, indicated the government did not always provide payment.
Temporary accommodation centers had a reception capacity of 421. Asylum seekers living outside an official temporary accommodation center often experienced difficulties obtaining residence registration, and authorities regularly fined them more than 500 hryvnias ($21) because they lacked registration. According to the State Migration Service, refugees could receive residence registration at homeless shelters for up to six months.
According to UNHCR, gaps in housing and social support for unaccompanied children left many without access to state-run accommodation centers or children’s shelters. Many children had to rely on informal networks for food, shelter, and other needs and remained vulnerable to abuse, trafficking, and other forms of exploitation. UNHCR noted a lack of educational programs and vocational activities for those in detention for extended periods.
Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary protection (“complementary protection”) to individuals who may not qualify as refugees; as of August 1, authorities had provided complementary protection to 41 persons.
UNHCR estimated there were 35,600 stateless persons in the country. Persons who were either stateless or at risk of statelessness included Roma, homeless persons, current and former prisoners, and persons older than 50 who never obtained a Ukrainian personal identification document after the fall of the Soviet Union and were no longer able to obtain one.
The law requires establishing identity through a court procedure, which demanded more time and money than some applicants had. UNHCR reported Roma were at particular risk for statelessness, since many did not have birth certificates or any other type of documentation to verify their identity. Homeless persons had difficulty obtaining citizenship because of a requirement to produce a document testifying to one’s residence.
United Arab Emirates
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press. However, the law prohibits criticism of national rulers and speech that may create or encourage social unrest. The government restricted freedom of speech and press. The media conformed to unpublished government guidelines. Editors and journalists are aware of government “red lines” for acceptable media content, enshrined in federal libel and slander laws. On other socially sensitive issues, they commonly practice self-censorship.
Freedom of Expression: After the onset of widespread regional turmoil in 2011, authorities severely restricted public criticism of the government and individual ministers. The government continued to make arrests or impose other restrictions for speech related to and in support of Islamist political activities, calls for democratic reforms, criticism of or perceived insults against the government and government institutions, and, in rarer cases, criticism of individuals. In November 2018 the Supreme Court ruled that both online verbal and written insults are a prosecutable offense.
In other cases, authorities brought individuals to trial for posting material on social media platforms. The material was considered a violation of privacy or personally insulting to acquaintances, colleagues, employers, or religions. In April Dubai police arrested a man for allegedly publishing a video on social media that mocked the traditional dress of Emiratis.
After the government severed diplomatic ties with Qatar in 2017, the General Prosecutor declared that showing any sympathy with Qatar or objecting to the government’s position against Qatar in written, visual, or verbal form, would be punishable by three to 15 years in prison or a minimum fine of 500,000 AED ($136,000). These restrictions continued to apply to social media users in the country. The government continued to block Qatari-funded al-Jazeera’s website and most Qatari broadcasting channels. During the year there were no confirmed arrests under the declaration.
Press and Media, Including Online Media: International NGOs categorized the press, both in print and online, as not free. Except for regional media outlets located in Dubai and Abu Dhabi’s free trade zones, the government owned most newspapers, television stations, and radio stations. Journalists reported the government maintains unpublished guidelines for acceptable media content. The government also influenced privately owned media through the National Media Council (NMC), which directly oversaw all media content. Satellite-receiving dishes were widespread and provided access to uncensored international broadcasts. In 2018 the NMC issued regulations for electronic media, including rules for publishing and selling advertising, print, video, and audio material. The regulations required those benefitting monetarily from social media advertising to purchase a license from the NMC.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: By law the NMC, whose chair the president appoints, licenses and censors all publications, including private association publications. In practice, domestic and foreign publications were censored to remove criticism of the government, ruling families, or friendly governments. Censorship also extends to statements that “threaten social stability,” and materials considered pornographic, excessively violent, derogatory to Islam, or supportive of certain Israeli government positions. In July Ajman authorities referred a resident to the Ajman criminal court for insulting Islam during a family gathering. The law also criminalizes as blasphemy acts that provoke religious hatred or insult religious convictions through any form of expression, including broadcasting, printed media, or the internet. Government and private institutions must obtain a license before publishing or broadcasting media or advertising content, or face penalties. This applies to any media or advertising activity and to any person or entity that issues any type of publication, including clubs, associations, diplomatic missions, foreign centers, and movie theaters.
Government officials reportedly warned journalists when they published or broadcast material deemed politically or culturally sensitive. Editors and journalists commonly practiced self-censorship due to fear of government retribution, particularly as most journalists were foreign nationals and could be deported. Authorities did not allow some books they viewed as critical of the government, Islam, and local culture, as well as books that supported the Muslim Brotherhood or its ideology.
Libel/Slander Laws: The government used libel and slander laws to suppress criticism of its leaders and institutions. The law criminalizes acts that defame others online or through information technology, including communication applications such as WhatsApp. In February a British woman was fined 10,000 AED ($2,722) and ordered deported by the Criminal Court of Ajman on defamation charges when she insulted her former husband on WhatsApp and Facebook years prior.
Those convicted of libel face up to two years in prison. The maximum penalty for libel against the family of a public official is three years in prison.
National Security: Authorities often cited the need to protect national security as the basis for laws that curb criticism of the government or expression of dissenting political views. For example, the country’s cybercrime laws include broad limitations on using electronic means to promote disorder or “damage national unity.” Human rights groups criticized these laws for excessively restricting freedom of speech, particularly in statements at the United Nations Human Rights Council in response to the country’s most recent Universal Periodic Review.
The government restricted access to some websites and conducted widespread surveillance of social media, instant messaging services, and blogs with little to no judicial oversight. Authorities stated they could imprison individuals for misusing the internet. Self-censorship was apparent on social media, and there were reports the Ministry of Interior monitored internet use. There are numerous documented instances of online surveillance used to track dissidents in the UAE and abroad. This includes reports that the government has purchased spyware and employed foreign hackers in systematic campaigns to target activists and journalists.
In December the New York Times and other media outlets reported that the UAE government was utilizing the mobile messaging and voice-over-internet-protocol application “ToTok” to track the conversations, locations, calendars, and address books of its users. According to media reports, “ToTok” is affiliated with DarkMatter, an Abu-Dhabi cyber-intelligence firm. Although the UAE Telecommunications Regulatory Authority issued a response stating its information security laws prohibit data breaches and unlawful interception, Google and Apple continued to block “ToTok” from their application stores through December.
The country’s two internet service providers, both linked to the government, used a proxy server to block materials deemed inconsistent with the country’s values, as defined by the Ministry of Interior. Blocked material included pornographic websites and a wide variety of other sites deemed indecent, such as those dealing with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) issues; Judaism and atheism; negative critiques of Islam; testimonies of former Muslims who converted to Christianity; gambling; promotion of illegal drug use; and postings that explained how to circumvent the proxy servers. International media sites, accessed using the country’s internet providers, contained filtered content. The government also blocked some sites containing content critical of ruling families in the UAE and other states in the region. The Telecommunications Regulatory Authority was responsible for creating lists of blocked sites. Service providers did not have the authority to remove sites from blocked lists without government approval. The government also blocked most voice-over-internet-protocol applications. In 2017 the government blocked Skype and in January 2018 reportedly blocked an online petition protesting that move. The voice and video functions on WhatsApp and other voice-over-internet-protocols have also been blocked from use in country or with phone numbers registered in the country.
The Federal Public Prosecution for Information Technology Crimes investigated criminal cases involving use of information technology, including the use of the internet with the intent to damage public morals, the promotion of sinful behavior, insults to Islam and God, illegal collections of donations, trafficking in persons, calling for or abetting the breach of laws, and the organization of demonstrations.
The law explicitly criminalizes use of the internet to commit a wide variety of offenses and provides fines and prison terms for internet users who violate political, social, and religious norms. The law provides penalties for using the internet to oppose Islam; to proselytize Muslims; to abuse a holy shrine or ritual of any religion; to insult any religion, belief, sect, race, color, or ethnic group; to incite someone to commit sin; or to contravene family values by publishing news or photographs pertaining to a person’s private life or family.
The 2012 cybercrimes decree and the 2015 Antidiscrimination Law provide for more severe penalties for violations, including sentences up to life imprisonment and fines depending on severity and seriousness of the crime. In August 2018 the penalties for violating the cybercrimes law were strengthened, including an increase in the maximum fines to four million AED ($1,089,000). These laws added to existing online communication limitations on freedom of speech to include prohibitions on criticism or defamation of the government or its officials; insults based on religion, belief, sect, race, color, or ethnic origin; insults directed at neighboring countries; and calls for protests and demonstrations. In April the Ras al-Khaimah police warned residents that posting or circulating “fake news” on social media was punishable by fines up to one million AED ($272,000).
Dubai Police reported in May that they had received 9,000 cybercrime reports through the Dubai Police’s E-Crime platform since its launch in 2018. The NMC requires social media influencers who accept payment in money or high-value goods and services in return for endorsing products to join a social media management agency or obtain an e-commerce license for 30,000 AED ($8,167) and a trade license, for which the price varies by emirate. In June the NMC warned that unlicensed paid social media influencers face a fine of 5,000 AED ($1,361).
The government restricted academic freedom, including speech both inside and outside the classroom by educators, and censored academic materials for schools. The government required official permission for conferences and submission of detailed information on proposed speakers and topics of discussion. This was also required at private schools for events on campus. Some organizations found it difficult to secure meeting space for public events that dealt with contentious issues.
Cultural institutions avoided displaying artwork or programming that criticized the government or religion. Self-censorship among cultural and other institutions, especially for content presented to the public, was pervasive and generally directed at preventing the appearance of illegal works, including those deemed as promoting blasphemy or addressing controversial political issues.
The constitution provides for the freedoms of assembly and association, but the government did not always respect these rights.
The law provides limited freedom of assembly. The government imposed significant restrictions in practice.
The law requires a government-issued permit for organized public gatherings. Authorities dispersed impromptu protests such as labor strikes and at times arrested participants. While there was no uniform standard for the number of persons who could gather without a permit, civil society representatives in the past have reported authorities could ask groups of four or more to disperse if they did not have a permit. The government did not interfere routinely with informal, nonpolitical gatherings held without a government permit in public places unless there were complaints. The government generally permitted political gatherings that supported its policies. Hotels, citing government regulations, sometimes denied permission for groups such as unregistered religious organizations to rent space for meetings or religious services.
The law provides limited freedom of association. The government imposed significant restrictions on freedom of association in practice.
Political organizations, political parties, and trade unions are illegal. All associations and NGOs are required to register with the Ministry of Community Development (formerly Social Affairs), and many that did received government subsidies. Domestic NGOs registered with the ministry were mostly citizens’ associations for economic, religious, social, cultural, athletic, and other purposes. Registration rules require that all voting organizational members, as well as boards of directors, must be local citizens. This requirement excluded almost 90 percent of the population from fully participating in such organizations. In Dubai volunteer organizations were required to register with the Community Development Authority (CDA) and were required to obtain approval from the CDA before conducting fundraising activities.
Associations must follow the government’s censorship guidelines and receive prior government approval before publishing any material. In Abu Dhabi all exhibitions, conferences, and meetings require a permit from the Tourism and Culture Authority. To obtain a permit, the event organizer must submit identification documents for speakers along with speaker topics. The government denied permits if it did not approve of the topic or speaker. If the event or speaker continued without an approved permit, the government imposed fines.
In December UAE authorities detained and subsequently deported Serbian investigative journalist Stevan Dojcinovic at the Abu Dhabi International Airport after denying him entrance into the UAE, where he was scheduled to speak at the eighth session of the Conference of the State Parties to the UN Convention Against Corruption. According to Dojcinovic, UAE authorities said he was placed on a travel “black-list” by an undisclosed foreign government other than the UAE. Human rights organizations and foreign journalists linked the UAE government’s actions to Dojcinovic’s investigative reporting on corruption and the Serbian government’s ties to the UAE.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement
The law generally provided for freedom of internal movement, emigration, and repatriation. While the government generally respected these rights, it imposed certain legal restrictions on foreign travel. The lack of passports or other identity documents restricted the movement of stateless persons, both within the country and internationally. The government allowed the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations to provide protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.
Foreign Travel: Authorities generally did not permit citizens and residents involved in legal disputes under adjudication and noncitizens under investigation to travel abroad. In addition, authorities sometimes arrested individuals with outstanding debts or legal cases while in transit through an airport.
At the sole discretion of emirate-level prosecutors, foreign nationals had their passports taken or travel restricted during criminal and civil investigations. Some individuals were also banned from foreign travel. These measures posed particular problems for noncitizen debtors, who in addition to being unable to leave the country, were usually unable to find work without a passport and valid residence permit, making it impossible to repay their debts or maintain legal residency. In some cases, family, friends, local religious organizations, or other concerned individuals helped pay the debt and enabled the indebted foreign national to depart the country. According to media reports, the president pardoned 669 prisoners ahead of Eid al-Adha and pledged to settle financial obligations of released prisoners. Rulers across the emirates pardoned over 1,800 prisoners ahead of national day. In May a Dubai-based businessperson cleared the debts of 600 prisoners to honor the holy month of Ramadan.
Travel bans were placed on citizens and noncitizens. For example, citizens of interest for reasons of state security, including former political prisoners, encountered difficulties renewing official documents, resulting in implicit travel bans. Authorities did not lift travel bans until the completion of a case in the judicial system. In complex cases, particularly in the investigation of financial crimes, travel bans remained in place for three years or more. In January Dubai’s Rental Dispute Center launched a smart system that allows rent defaulters with travel bans to settle their dues at the airport. Under the system, defaulters may present their case virtually to a judge and settle part of the amount owed prior to traveling.
In June the International Court of Justice rejected the UAE’s request for immediate measures against Qatar, ruling that the rights claimed did not fall under the antidiscrimination treaty. The UAE requested that the court bring provisional measures against Qatar to include that Qatar stop its national bodies and its State-owned, controlled and funded media outlets from disseminating false accusations regarding the UAE. In 2017 the government and several other regional countries severed diplomatic ties with Qatar and enacted a blockade on air, sea, and land traffic to and from Qatar. Qatari citizens were given two weeks to leave the UAE and were banned from traveling to and transiting the UAE. Emirati citizens were banned from visiting or transiting through Qatar. The UAE Ministry of Interior established a hotline to assist blended Qatari-Emirati families, allowing them to remain in the UAE on a case-by-case basis.
Custom dictates that a husband may prevent his wife, minor children, and adult unmarried daughters from leaving the country by taking custody of their passports.
Citizenship: The government may revoke naturalized citizens’ passports and citizenship status for criminal or politically provocative actions.
UNHCR lacked formal legal status in the country separate from the UN Development Program. The government nevertheless worked with UNHCR on a case-by-case basis to address refugee issues. The government did not formally grant refugee status or asylum to aliens seeking protection, but it allowed some refugees to remain in the country temporarily on an individual basis. This nonpermanent status often presented administrative, financial, and social hardships, including the need frequently to renew visas and the inability to access basic services such as health care and education for children. In June 2018 the government announced that citizens of war-torn countries who were living in the UAE and had overstayed their visas would be permitted to apply from August 1 to October 31 of that year for a permit to legally remain in the UAE for one additional year. These applicants were also exempted from immigration fines. According to foreign observers, as of September the government had not issued instructions on how to extend the permits issued in August 2018, which expired in August 2019, or whether this would be allowed.
Refoulement: The family of Abudujilili Supi, a Uighur man from China legally residing in the UAE, reported to media that Supi was detained by local police in 2018 after he left afternoon prayers at the Abdullah bin Rawaha mosque in Sharjah. Supi’s wife, who witnessed the arrest, was given no explanation why he was arrested. Supi called her from detention three days later informing her that he was told he would be forced to return to China involuntarily by UAE authorities. His whereabouts remained unknown. The UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID) addressed a letter to the government in January stating that the expected deportation to Pakistan of Rashid Hussain Brohi (see section 1.e.) “would appear to be in contravention of the principle of nonrefoulement.”
According to Amnesty International and the WGEID, authorities arrested Rashid Hussain Brohi, a Pakistani activist in the Baloch National Movement, without a warrant. Reports claimed that Brohi, who fled to the country after allegedly receiving threats from Pakistani security forces, was held incommunicado from December 2018 until his deportation to Pakistan in June. The WGEID addressed a letter to the government in January stating that deportation of Brohi to Pakistan “would appear to be in contravention of the principle of nonrefoulement.”
Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government had not established a transparent, codified system for providing protection to refugees. While the government extended informal protection from return to refugees in some cases, any persons lacking legal residency status were technically subject to local laws on illegal immigrants, and authorities could detain them. In some cases, authorities confined individuals seeking protection at an airport to a specific section of the airport while they awaited resettlement in another country.
Employment: Access to employment was based on an individual’s status as a legal resident, and persons with a claim to refugee status but who lacked legal residency status, including those with either short-term visitor visas or expired visas, were generally not eligible for employment.
Access to Basic Services: Access to education and other public services, including health care, is based on an individual’s status as a legal resident. As a result, some families, particularly from Iraq and Syria, reportedly did not have access to healthcare or schools. The government provided or allowed access to some services on a case-by-case basis, often after the intervention of UNHCR representatives. Some hospitals were willing to see patients without the mandatory insurance but required full payment up front.
Informal estimates suggested 20,000 to 100,000 Bidoon, or persons without citizenship, resided in the country. Government statistics estimated the population at 10,000. Most Bidoon lacked citizenship because they did not have the preferred tribal affiliation used to determine citizenship when the country was established. Others entered the country legally or illegally in search of employment. Because children derive citizenship generally from the father, Bidoon children born within the country’s territory remained stateless. Without passports or other forms of identification, the movement of Bidoon was restricted, both within the country and internationally. In recent years the government purchased a number of passports from Comoros and issued them to Bidoon. The documents conferred economic Comoran citizenship on the recipients and legalized their status in the UAE.
The government has a naturalization process, and individuals may apply for citizenship. Children of female citizens married to noncitizens do not acquire citizenship automatically at birth, but their mothers may obtain citizenship for the children after submitting an application, which a government committee reviews and generally accepts, once the child is 18 years old. A foreign woman may receive citizenship after 10 years of marriage to a citizen. Anyone may receive a passport by presidential fiat.
The committee that reviews mothers’ citizenship applications for their children also reviews citizenship applications from Bidoon who could satisfy certain legal conditions to be eligible for naturalization and subsequently could gain access to education, health care, and other public services. There were no reports, however, of stateless persons receiving Emirati citizenship.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government routinely respected these rights. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.
Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits expressions of hatred toward persons because of their color, race, nationality (including citizenship), ethnic or national origin, religion, or sexual orientation as well as any communication that is deemed threatening or abusive and is intended to harass, alarm, or distress a person. The penalties for such expressions include fines, imprisonment, or both.
Press and Media Freedom, Including Online Media: The law’s restrictions on expressions of hatred apply to the print and broadcast media. In Bermuda the law prohibits publishing written words that are threatening, abusive, or insulting, but only on racial grounds; on other grounds, including sexual orientation, the law prohibits only discriminatory “notices, signs, symbols, emblems, or other representations.”
Violence and Harassment: On April 18, freelance reporter Lyra McKee was shot and killed by an unknown assailant in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, while she was covering disturbances related to a police operation. In August, three men were charged with the physical assault on Owen Jones of The Guardian newspaper. The motive for the attack was unknown.
The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The country has no blanket laws covering internet blocking, but the courts have issued blocking injunctions against various categories of content such as depictions of child sexual abuse, promotion of extremism and terrorism, and materials infringing on copyrights.
By law the electronic surveillance powers of the country’s intelligence community and police, allow them, among other things, to check internet communications records as part of an investigation without a warrant.
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.
The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government routinely respected these rights.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement
The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government routinely respected these rights.
In-country Movement: The home secretary may impose terrorism prevention and investigation measures (TPIMs) based on a “balance of probabilities.” TPIMs are a form of house arrest applied for up to two years to those thought to pose a terrorist threat but who cannot be prosecuted or deported. The measures include electronic tagging, reporting regularly to the police, and facing “tightly defined exclusion from particular places and the prevention of travel overseas.” A suspect must live at home and stay there overnight, possibly for up to 10 hours. Suspects can be sent to live up to 200 miles from their normal residence. The suspect may apply to the courts to stay elsewhere. The suspect may use a mobile phone and the internet to work and study, subject to conditions.
Exile: The law permits the home secretary to impose “temporary exclusion orders” (TEOs) on returning UK citizens or legal residents if the home secretary reasonably suspects the individual in question is or was involved in terrorism-related activity and considers the exclusion necessary to protect persons in the UK from a risk of terrorism. TEOs impose certain obligations on the repatriates, such as periodic reporting to police. The measure requires a court order and is subject to judicial oversight and appeal. Home Secretary Sajid Javid confirmed the Home Office served nine TEOs in 2017; this figure has not been publicly updated.
Citizenship: The law allows the home secretary to deprive an individual of citizenship if officials are satisfied this is “conducive to the public good,” but not if this renders a citizen stateless.
In February the home secretary started the process of revoking the citizenship of Shamima Begum, a 19-year-old from east London. Begum was one of three teenage friends who left the UK in 2015 to join ISIS. She was detained in a Syrian refugee camp. Because Begum was British by birth, the home secretary could only cancel her British citizenship if she were a dual national. The home secretary believed that Begum held dual citizenship with Bangladesh because she was of Bangladeshi heritage. Begum’s lawyers disputed that she had Bangladeshi citizenship.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Home Office officials have the power to detain intending asylum seekers and unauthorized migrants who do not enter the asylum system. There was no maximum time limit for the use of detention. Immigration detention was used to establish a person’s identity or basis of claim, to remove a person from the country, or to avoid a person’s noncompliance with any conditions attached to a grant of temporary admission or release.
The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.
Access to Asylum: In England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, the law provides for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. Bermuda’s constitution and laws do not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government does not have an established system for providing protection to refugees.
The UK-wide system for processing asylum applications faced criticism in the media. Asylum seekers in Scotland have to travel 220 miles to Liverpool in order to submit evidence for their application, generally at their own expense. This has led to delays and increased hardship on those seeking asylum in Scotland, according to media reports.
Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country is subject to the EU’s Dublin III regulation and considers all other EU member states to be countries of safe origin or transit. The regulation permits authorities to remove an asylum applicant to another country responsible for adjudicating an applicant’s claim. The government places the burden of proof on asylum seekers who arrive from safe countries of origin, who pass through a country where they are not considered to be at risk, or who remained in the country for a period before seeking asylum.
Employment: Except in limited circumstances, asylum applicants are not allowed to work while their asylum application is under consideration. If the applicant has waited longer than 12 months for the government to make an initial decision on an asylum claim, the applicant may request permission to work. For the duration of their asylum application, asylum seekers are eligible for government support at 30 percent below the normal rate for their family size, an amount which NGOs continued to deem inadequate. NGOs continued to criticize the government for cutting off benefits 28 days after a person is granted refugee status, which they say left some destitute.
In Scotland the devolved government funded the Refugee Doctors’ Program, to help 38 asylum seekers and refugees to work for the National Health Service Scotland. The program offers doctors advanced English lessons, medical classes, and placements with general practitioners or hospitals, providing them with the skills needed to get their UK medical registration approved.
Temporary Protection: The government may provide temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees under the categories of humanitarian protection and discretionary leave. According to EU data, in 2018 it extended subsidiary protection to 1,295 persons and humanitarian protection to another 1,160.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, but the government restricted these rights for both online and offline media.
Freedom of Expression: The government exercises official and unofficial restrictions on the ability of individuals to criticize the government or to discuss matters of general public interest. The law restricts criticism of the president, and publicly insulting the president is a crime for which conviction is punishable by up to five years in prison. The law specifically prohibits publication of articles that incite religious conflict and ethnic discord or that advocate subverting or overthrowing the constitutional order.
Press and Media, Including Online Media: While authorities relaxed some controls, independent media did not operate freely because the state exercises control over media coverage. All media entities, foreign and domestic, must register with authorities and provide the names of their founder, chief editor, and staff members. Print media must also provide hard copies of publications to the government. The law holds all foreign and domestic media organizations accountable for the accuracy of their reporting, prohibits foreign journalists from working in the country without official accreditation and subjects foreign media outlets to domestic mass media laws. The government used accreditation rules to deny foreign journalists and media outlets the opportunity to work in the country. For example, the government continued to deny Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s accreditation request. Nevertheless, the government accredited the BBC Uzbek service. Two reporters also received accreditations: One who writes for The Economist and other publications, and one who writes for Eurasianet.
The law holds bloggers legally accountable for the accuracy of what they post and prohibits posts potentially perceived as defaming an individual’s “honor and dignity.” The law also prohibits perceived calls for public disorder, encroachment on constitutional order, posting pornography or state secrets, issuing “threats to the state,” and “other activities that are subject to criminal and other types of responsibilities according to legislation.”
The government prohibited the promotion of religious extremism, separatism, and fundamentalism as well as the instigation of ethnic and religious hatred.
Articles in state-controlled newspapers reflected the government’s viewpoint. The main government newspapers published selected international wire stories. The government prohibited legal entities with more than 30 percent foreign ownership from establishing media outlets. The government allowed publication of a few private newspapers with limited circulation containing advertising, horoscopes, and some substantive local news, including infrequent stories critical of the government’s socioeconomic policies. Some government-controlled print media outlets published articles that openly criticized local municipal administrations.
A few purportedly independent websites consistently reported the government’s viewpoint. During the year, however, press and news organizations broadcast and published a wider variety of views and news, to include criticisms of policies enacted under former president Karimov. The government launched Ozbekiston, a 24-hour news channel that broadcasts current affairs and news in Uzbek, Russian, and English, in 2017. The channel interviewed visiting high-level foreign officials.
Violence and Harassment: Police and security services subjected print and broadcast journalists to arrest, harassment, and intimidation as well as to bureaucratic restrictions on their activity. According to reports by BBC Uzbek and Radio Ozodlik, local authorities in Shahrikhan arrested blogger Nodirbek Khojimatov in September after he published a piece on Facebook calling on President Mirziyoyev to investigate two local officials for corruption. A district court convicted Khojimatov for violating the administrative code’s Article 41, which addresses offenses against a person’s dignity. Khojimatov’s father reported that the court did not allow him or his son to testify at trial, where Khojimatov was not represented by a lawyer. The court sentenced Khojimatov to 10 days in prison, even though the stated penalties for violating this provision of the code includes only a fine. Prior to his arrest, Khojimatov announced that the officials he alleged engaged in corruption had threatened him and a local prosecutor had pressured him no longer to publish blog posts criticizing government officials.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists and senior editorial staff in state media organizations reported that some officials’ responsibilities included censorship. In many cases the government placed individuals as editors in chief with the expressed intent that they serve as the main censor for a particular media outlet. Continuing the past trend of moderate criticism of the government, online publications like Kommersant.uz and Nuz.uz published critical stories on issues, such as demolitions, ecological problems, electricity outages, currency, trade, and the black market. In addition, Adobiyat Gazetesi, a literary journal, published stories by authors who are still on a “black list” that limits their ability to publish elsewhere.
During the year the government unblocked the website of privately owned Kun.uz, blocked in 2018. The outlet published articles critical of the government, including about regional and district officials’ involvement in illegal demolitions.
There was often little distinction between the editorial content of government and privately owned newspapers. Journalists engaged in limited investigative reporting. Widely read tabloids occasionally published articles that presented mild criticism of government policies or discussed some problems that the government considered sensitive, such as trafficking in persons.
Libel/Slander Laws: The criminal and administrative codes impose significant fines for libel and defamation. The government has used charges of libel, slander, and defamation to punish journalists, human rights activists, and others who criticized the president or the government. Some bloggers and activists nonetheless openly criticized the government on social media without reprisal.
The government generally allowed access to the internet, including social media sites. Internet service providers, allegedly at the government’s request, occasionally blocked access to websites or certain pages of websites that the government considered objectionable, such as Ozodlik.org. The government blocked or slowed access to Facebook in January but restored access in February. Following a meeting between President Mirziyoyev and Harlem Desir, the OSCE’s representative on Freedom of the Media, authorities unblocked websites of foreign media and rights groups. This included websites operated by the BBC, Voice of America, Deutsche Welle, the Fergana news agency, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Reporters Sans Frontieres.
The media law defines websites as media outlets, requiring them to register with authorities and provide the names of their founder, chief editor, and staff members.
Several active online forums allowed registered users to post comments and read discussions on a range of social problems. To become a registered user in these forums, individuals must provide personally identifiable information. It was not clear whether the government attempted to collect this information, although provisions of the law require internet cafe proprietors to log customers’ browser history.
A decree requires all websites seeking the “.uz” domain to register with the government’s Agency for Press and Information. The decree generally affected only government-owned or government-controlled websites. Opposition websites and those operated by international NGOs or media outlets tended to have domain names registered outside the country.
The government implemented procedures for restricting access to websites that include “banned information.” Based on these regulations, a website or blog could be blocked for calling for the violent overthrow of the constitutional order and territorial integrity of the country; spreading ideas of war, violence and terrorism, as well as religious extremism, separatism and fundamentalism; disclosing information that is a state secret or protected by law; or disseminating information that could lead to national, ethnic or religious enmity or involves pornography, or promoting narcotic usage. According to the Ministry of Justice), the government has the authority to block websites or blogs without a court order.
The government continued to limit academic freedom and cultural events. In September the National Library again canceled an event commemorating a famous national poet who died in 2009, Rauf Parfi. Organizers tried to move the event to the Oybek museum, but museum officials also denied the organizers’ request. Authorities occasionally required department-head approval for university lectures, and university professors generally practiced self-censorship.
Recent presidential directives mandate that higher education institutions seek out opportunities to cooperate with foreign institutions, and such cooperation was one of the government’s highest priorities in the education sector.
The government sometimes restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.
The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly. While the government restricted this right, it sometimes allowed individuals to exercise this freedom without reprisal. Media reported that thousands of protestors in different cities across the country demonstrated in July against the illegal demolition of private homes and businesses (see section 1.e, Property Restitution). The demonstrations prompted the government to meet some of the protestors’ demands. In July local police in Nukus, however, reportedly detained and beat a small group of protestors.
Authorities have the right to suspend or prohibit rallies, meetings, and demonstrations. Although the law requires demonstrators to obtain permits, most demonstrators proceeded without filing permit applications. In some incidents, authorities subjected citizens to large fines, threats, arbitrary detention, or abuse for violating procedures for organizing meetings, rallies, and demonstrations or for facilitating unsanctioned events by providing space, other facilities, or materials. Organizers of “mass events” with the potential for more than 100 participants must sign agreements with the Ministry of Interior for the provision of security prior to advertising or holding such an event. Officials broadly applied this regulation, including to private corporate functions.
While the law provides for freedom of association, the government continued to restrict this right. Authorities sought to control NGO activity, internationally funded NGOs, and unregulated Islamic and minority religious groups. The operating environment for independent civil society, in particular human rights defenders, remained restrictive, although several activists reported improved cooperation with government officials. Several independent NGOs continued to face barriers to registering locally due to earlier court orders against them or other objections by officials.
The Ministry of Justice, which oversees the registration of NGOs, requires NGOs to obtain the ministry’s approval to hold large meetings with nonmembers, including foreigners; to seek the ministry’s clearance on any event where materials are to be distributed; and to notify the ministry in writing of the content and scope of the events in question.
The government has a legal framework for public oversight of the activities of government bodies and government officials. In accordance with the law, citizens, citizens’ self-government bodies, noncommercial organizations, and mass media have the right to exercise oversight regarding activities of government bodies and officials.
There are legal restrictions on the types of groups that may be formed. The law requires that organizations with an operating budget and funds register formally with the government. The law allows for a six-month grace period for new organizations to operate while awaiting registration from the Ministry of Justice, during which time the government officially classifies them as “initiative groups.” Several NGOs continued to function as initiative groups for periods longer than six months.
In 2018 the government issued a number of regulations that affected NGO activity. NGOs are no longer required to obtain approval from the Ministry of Justice in order to conduct events, but they still need to notify the ministry of plans to conduct public programs. The minimum period for informing the ministry of planned activities is 10 days before the start of an event without the participation of foreign citizens, and 20 days before the start of event with the participation of foreign citizens. The ministry only provides NGOs with written notice in cases of refusal to conduct the event. The law also requires that NGOs file annual reports to the government. In 2018 the Ministry of Justice adopted the Regulation on Monitoring and Studying Activities of Nongovernmental, Noncommercial Organizations, which establishes a separate procedure on monitoring and studying NGOs’ activities.
While the law grants the Ministry of Justice authority to inspect and audit NGOs, civil society organizations did not report being inspected or audited. The administrative liability code imposes large fines for violations of procedures governing NGO activity as well as for “involving others” in “illegal NGOs.” The law does not specify whether the term refers to NGOs suspended or closed by the government or merely NGOs not officially registered. The administrative code also imposes penalties against international NGOs for engaging in political activities, activities inconsistent with their charters, or activities the government did not approve in advance.
Registered NGOs are allowed to receive grants from domestic and foreign donors. Receiving organizations must notify the Ministry of Justice of their grants and present a plan of activities to the ministry that details how the NGO would allocate the funds. If the ministry approves, no other government approvals are required. The ministry requires yearly financial reports from NGOs.
Parliament’s Public Fund for the Support of Nongovernmental, Noncommercial Organizations, and Other Civil Society Institutions continued to conduct grant competitions to implement primarily socioeconomic projects. Some civil society organizations criticized the fund for primarily supporting government-organized NGOs. The law criminalizes membership in organizations the government broadly deemed “extremist.”
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport.
d. Freedom of Movement
The constitution and laws provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.
In-country Movement: Authorities required citizens to have a domicile registration stamp in their internal passport before traveling domestically or leaving the country. The government at times delayed domestic and foreign travel and emigration during the visa application process. Individuals needed permission from local authorities to move to Tashkent City or the Tashkent Region from other parts of the country, but permission is no longer required to work in Tashkent. The law stipulates that Tashkent City or Tashkent Region registration are required for individuals to be eligible to receive city services, work legally, send their children to school, or receive routine medical care.
The government requires hotels to register foreign visitors with the government on a daily basis. The government requires foreigners staying in private homes to register their location within three days of arrival. Authorities recently simplified these registration procedures, which allow foreigners to register through an online portal.
Foreign Travel: The government officially abolished the Soviet-era exit visa, which citizens previously needed for most foreign travel. Citizens must obtain a separate passport issued by the Ministry of Internal Affairs for the purpose of foreign travel. This passport has a 10-year validity for adults and a five-year validity for minors, as opposed to a two-year exit visa validity for all ages with previously issued passports. The government generally granted passports to travel or emigrate outside the Commonwealth of Independent States. Authorities sometimes interfered in foreign travel, such as that of former political prisoners. Former political prisoner Bobomurod Abdullayev reported that it took almost two months for him to receive his travel passport, though the law requires issuance within 10 working days.
Girls and women living in the capital are no longer required to be interviewed by the migration and citizenship departments to obtain permission to travel abroad. In addition, girls and women no longer need permission from their spouse or a warrant from an authorized person, certificates from the mahalla, or to take any tests in order to qualify for foreign travel.
In May the government repatriated 156 Uzbek nationals, primarily women and children, from Syria, where the Syrian Democratic Forces held them in custody. A Ministry of Foreign Affairs press statement provided details about these individuals’ circumstances, stating these citizens had been misled into traveling to “a region of armed conflict in the Middle East.” The government promised that the repatriated nationals would receive comprehensive rehabilitation, reintegration, medical, and psychological support, as well as the opportunity to join educational and other social programs. The government also pledged to provide accommodation and job opportunities. In addition, the statement noted that a number of foreign countries and international organizations, including the ICRC and UNICEF, had provided “major support.” UNICEF reported it had access to all the women and children returnees, and that the government did not institutionalize or prosecute any of them.
Refoulement: The government provided some protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened due to their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.
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.
As of 2018, there were 14 individuals (10 cases) remaining under the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR) mandate. UNHCR undertakes the following activities in coordination with the UN Development Program (UNDP) office in Tashkent, through its staff under UNDP contract, and under the overall supervision of the UN resident coordinator: Issuing mandate refugee certificates to existing refugees, monitoring their rights situations and providing counseling and making interventions for them when necessary, and providing financial assistance to some of the refugees, based on their specific vulnerability.
In addition, UNHCR or UNDP staff can provide counselling to asylum seekers when they arrive.
Some refugees from Tajikistan were officially stateless or faced the possibility of becoming officially stateless, as many carried only old Soviet passports rather than Tajik or Uzbek passports. Children born to two stateless parents could receive Uzbek citizenship only if both parents had a residence permit.
Kun.uz published an article on September 28 citing statistics that, of a population of 33 million, there are 95,858 stateless persons in the country (along with 14,365 foreign nationals). It also claimed that since 2017, the government granted 8,249 stateless persons citizenship. Information obtained separately from the Ministry of Internal Affairs indicated that 2,072 persons acquired citizenship during the year. From 1991 to 2017, only 482 did so.