Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were numerous reports that state police committed unlawful killings. In some cases police employed indiscriminate force. The nongovernmental organization (NGO) Brazilian Public Security Forum reported police killed 5,804 civilians in 2019, compared with 6,160 civilians in 2018. Rio de Janeiro State was responsible for 30 percent of the national total, despite representing just 8 percent of the population. Those killed included criminal suspects, civilians, and narcotics traffickers who engaged in violence against police. Accordingly, the extent of unlawful police killings was difficult to determine. The Federal Public Ministry and Federal Prosecutor’s Office investigate whether security force killings are justifiable and pursue prosecutions.
In the city of Rio de Janeiro, most deaths occurred while police were conducting operations against narcotics trafficking gangs in the more than 1,000 informal housing settlements (favelas), where an estimated 1.3 million persons lived. NGOs in Rio de Janeiro questioned whether all of the victims actually resisted arrest, as police had reported, and alleged that police often employed unnecessary force.
On May 18, 14-year-old Joao Pedro Matos Pinto sought shelter in his home in Rio de Janeiro State’s municipality of Sao Goncalo as a police helicopter circled above his neighborhood of Salgueiro, searching for a suspect. According to the autopsy report and witness testimonies, police raided Joao Pedro’s home and shot him in the back dozens of times. During the joint operation of the Federal Police and Civil Police Coordination of Special Resources Unit, authorities said they mistook the teenager for the suspect. The Federal Public Ministry initiated a public civil inquiry to investigate the participation of federal agents in the case. In addition to the Civil Police’s Homicide Division and Internal Affairs Unit, the state and federal public prosecutor’s offices were also investigating the case. As of August no one had been indicted or arrested.
The number of deaths resulting from military and civil police operations in the state of Sao Paulo from January to April grew 31 percent, compared with the same period in 2019. The figures for the four-month period included a spike in deaths in April, with military and civil police reporting 119 officer-involved deaths in the state, a 53-percent increase from April 2019. According to the Sao Paulo state government, military police reported 218 deaths resulting from street operations from January to April.
In Santa Catarina, in the first six months of the year, police killed one person every three days. After pandemic-induced social distancing measures began on March 16, the lethality of military police interventions increased by 85 percent, according to data from the Public Security Secretariat of Santa Catarina. Victims’ families contested police accounts of self-defense, reporting extrajudicial executions and police alteration of crime scenes to match their story.
In the state of Rio Grande do Sul in June, Angolan citizen Gilberto Almeida traveled to his friend Dorildes Laurindo’s house in Cachoeirinha, a suburb of Porto Alegre. Almeida and Laurindo requested a ride through a ride-sharing app. Unbeknownst to them, the driver was a fugitive with a history of drug trafficking. Police gave chase while Almeida and Laurindo were passengers. The driver stopped the car, fled, and was arrested. Officers from the Rio Grande do Sul 17th Military Police Battalion in Gravatai fired 35 times, hitting both Almeida and Laurindo multiple times when they got out of the car. Both were taken to the hospital, where Laurindo died of her wounds. Upon discharge from the hospital, Almeida was taken to the Gravatai police station and then to Canoas State Penitentiary for 12 days before being released by court order.
As of August, Rio de Janeiro’s Public Prosecutor’s Office continued investigating the case of a 2019 operation by two military police units–BOPE and the Battalion to Repress Conflicts (CHOQUE)–in the Santa Teresa neighborhood of the city of Rio de Janeiro. The operation resulted in the deaths of 15 persons. Military police reported all of the victims were criminals; however, human rights organizations claimed the victims offered no resistance and that many were shot in the back. An investigation by Rio de Janeiro’s military police concluded that evidence was insufficient to prove that any crimes were committed. In November 2019 the Civil Police Homicide Division recommended that the case be closed and that none of the investigated police officers be held accountable for the killings.
According to some civil society organizations, victims of police violence throughout the country were overwhelmingly young Afro-Brazilian men. The Brazilian Public Security Forum reported that almost 75 percent of the persons killed by police in 2019 were black. As of August a trial date had not been set for the army soldiers from Deodoro’s (a neighborhood located in western Rio de Janeiro City) 1st Infantry Motorized Battalion, who killed black musician Evaldo Rosa dos Santos and injured two others in April 2019. Nine of the accused were released on bail in May 2019. According to a survey of cases between 2015 and 2017 at the Superior Military Court involving military personnel, 70 percent were either dismissed or resulted in no punishment.
Verbal and physical attacks on politicians and candidates were common. A survey from NGOs Terra de Direitos and Justica Global found 327 cases of political violence, including murder, threats, physical violence, and arrests of politicians or candidates between 2016 and September 2020. A majority of the violence–92 percent–targeted politicians and candidates at the municipal level. As of September 1, at least two candidate or incumbent city councilors, elected mayors or vice mayors, were killed each month of the year. In 63 percent of the cases, authorities had not identified any suspects. In September, Federal Deputy Taliria Petrone appealed to the United Nations for protection from multiple death threats she had received, saying Rio de Janeiro State and the federal government were failing to offer appropriate protections.
According to the aforementioned survey, as of September 1, a total of 27 politicians and candidates had been killed or attacked, and a record 32 killings of politicians and candidates in 2019. In Rio de Janeiro State alone, nine sitting and former politicians were killed in 2019. In March police arrested two former police officers, Ronnie Lessa and Elcio Vieira de Queiroz, in connection with the 2018 killing of a gay, black, Rio de Janeiro city council member and human rights activist, Marielle Franco, and her driver. A preliminary trial began in June 2019 at the Fourth Criminal Court in Rio de Janeiro. As of August police had not identified who ordered the crime, and no trial date had been set for the two accused.
The NGO Global Witness reported 23 social, human rights, and environmental activists were killed in 2019, leading it to classify the country as “extremely lethal” for activists. In March media reported that police officers from the Ninth Military Police Battalion of Uberlandia, Minas Gerais, killed human rights and land rights activist Daniquel Oliveira with a shot to the back of his head. Oliveira was a leader of the Landless Workers Movement. According to police, Oliveira shot at the officers, and they returned fire to defend themselves. According to other Landless Workers Movement activists, Oliveira was unarmed. Police initiated an internal investigation, and the Public Ministry of Minas Gerais interviewed witnesses regarding the killing.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
The constitution prohibits torture and inhuman or degrading treatment, but there were reports government officials sometimes employed such practices. The law mandates that special police courts exercise jurisdiction over state military police except those charged with “willful crimes against life,” primarily homicide. Impunity for security forces was a problem. Police personnel often were responsible for investigating charges of torture and excessive force carried out by fellow officers. Delays in the special military police courts allowed many cases to expire due to statutes of limitations.
According to the National Council of the Public Ministry, in 2019 there were 2,676 cases of guards and other personnel inflicting bodily harm on prisoners, compared with 3,261 cases in 2018.
In May residents of the Favela do Acari in the city of Rio de Janeiro reported that Iago Cesar dos Reis Gonzaga was tortured and killed during an operation in the community led by CHOQUE and BOPE. The victim’s family corroborated the residents’ report, saying that unidentified police officers tortured, abducted, and killed Iago. The 39th Police Precinct in Pavuna was investigating the case.
On July 12, a television channel broadcasted mobile phone video recordings of a police officer from the 50th Sao Paulo Metropolitan Military Police Battalion holding a black woman on the ground by stepping on her neck. The video was filmed in May in Sao Paulo during a public disturbance call. The woman sustained a fractured leg injury during the incident, and the two officers involved were suspended from duty and were under investigation for misconduct. The police officer who held the woman on the ground was indicted for abuse of authority.
There were reports of sexual assault committed by police. According to Globo news outlet, in August security cameras showed a Rio de Janeiro State military police officer inside the building of the victim who accused him of rape. The victim reported that the officer had been in the building a week before the incident responding to a domestic disturbance call. The officer returned to her building, identifying himself to the doorman as the one who had responded to the earlier call and saying that he needed to talk with the victim. The doormen allowed him to enter the building, and according to the victim, the officer entered her apartment and raped her. The state military police were investigating the case. The officer was suspended from field duties.
In January a military court provisionally released the two military police officers from the 37th and 40th Sao Paulo Metropolitan Military Police Battalions suspected of raping a woman in Praia Grande, Sao Paulo, in June 2019. As of August 10, no verdict had been issued. The two officers were not allowed to resume duties in the field.
In March the Military Prosecutor’s Office opened an investigation into the torture accusations against federal military officers from Vila Military’s First Army Division, but as of August no officer had been charged. In 2018 the press reported claims that the officers tortured 10 male residents of Rio de Janeiro. As of March all 10 men had been released after one year and four months in detention.
In July, four military police officers from the Itajai Military Police Battalion were convicted of torture and received sentences ranging from three to 10 years, in an operation that took place in 2011 in Itajai, Santa Catarina. The agents entered a house to investigate a drug trafficking complaint and attacked three suspects–two men and a woman–with punches, kicks, and electrical stun gun shots. The final report indicated officers fired 33 shots at the three suspects and three other persons, including two children.
Impunity for security forces was a problem. Police personnel often were responsible for investigating charges of torture and excessive force carried out by fellow officers, although independent investigations increased. Delays in the special military police courts allowed many cases to expire due to statutes of limitation. Local NGOs, however, argued that corruption within the judiciary, especially at the local and state levels, was a concern and alleged that impunity for crimes committed by security forces was common. According to a survey of cases involving military personnel between 2015 and 2017 at the Superior Military Court, 70 percent were either dismissed or resulted in no punishment. There was a 26-percent increase, however, in arrests of military police officers in the state of Sao Paulo between January and May, compared with the same period in 2019. Most of the 86 arrests during the year were for homicide, corruption, drug trafficking, and assault.
Conditions in many prisons were poor and sometimes life threatening, mainly due to overcrowding. Abuse by prison guards continued, and poor working conditions and low pay for prison guards encouraged corruption.
Physical Conditions: According to the National Penitentiary Department, as of December 2019, the average overall occupation rate in prisons was 170 percent of the designed capacity. The northern region of the country experienced the worst overcrowding, with three times more prisoners than the intended capacity. The southern state of Parana reported a shortage of 12,500 spaces for inmates in correctional facilities and provisional centers within the metropolitan area of Curitiba as a result of a 334-percent increase in the number of arrests in the first four months of the year. Much of the overcrowding was due to the imprisonment of pretrial detainees. A February survey by the news portal G1 showed that 31 percent of detainees were being held without a conviction, a drop from 36 percent in 2019.
A June report by the NGO Mechanism to Prevent Torture highlighted that prisons in all 26 states and the Federal District faced overcrowding and shortages in water (some facilities had water available for only two hours per day), personal hygiene products, and proper medical care. Prison populations endured frequent outbreaks of diseases such as tuberculosis and suffered from high rates of sexually transmitted diseases such as syphilis and HIV. Letters from detainees to the Pastoral Carceraria, a prison-monitoring NGO connected to the Catholic Church, reported a lack of guarantee of rights such as education, recreation, and contact with family and lawyers due to COVID-19 restrictions imposed by prison authorities.
Reports of abuse by prison guards continued. In March 2019 the national daily newspaper Folha de S. Paulo reported that the Sao Paulo Penitentiary Administration Secretary’s Ombudsman’s Office received 73 reports of torture in correctional facilities in the state of Sao Paulo in the first two months of 2019, of which 66 were related to the Provisional Detention Center of Osasco, in the metropolitan area of Sao Paulo. Reports mentioned long punishment in isolated cells, lack of access to health care, and psychological torture. The center was operating at 50 percent beyond designed capacity.
Police arrested one person in Fortaleza, Ceara State, who was allegedly responsible for the January 2019 prison riots that resulted in the Ministry of Justice authorizing a federal intervention taskforce to enter the state’s prisons. The National Mechanism for the Prevention and Combat of Torture investigated reports of abuse and reported in October 2019 that prison guards systematically broke prisoners’ fingers as a way to immobilize them. The National Penitentiary Department denied the findings of torture, stating prisoners were injured in the violent riots and received medical treatment.
General prison conditions were poor. There was a lack of potable water, inadequate nutrition, food contamination, rat and cockroach infestations, damp and dark cells, a lack of clothing and hygiene items, and poor sanitation. According to a March report from the Ministry of Health, prisoners were 35 times more likely to contract tuberculosis, compared with the general public. One NGO, the Rio de Janeiro Mechanism for Torture Prevention, asserted that injured inmates were denied medication and proper medical treatment.
Prisoners convicted of petty crimes frequently were held with murderers and other violent criminals. Authorities attempted to hold pretrial detainees separately from convicted prisoners, but lack of space often required placing convicted criminals in pretrial detention facilities. In many prisons, including those in the Federal District, officials attempted to separate violent offenders from other inmates and keep convicted drug traffickers in a wing apart from the rest of the prison population. Multiple sources reported adolescents were held with adults in poor and crowded conditions.
Prisons suffered from insufficient staffing and lack of control over inmates. Violence was rampant in prison facilities. According to the National Penitentiary Department, 188 prisoners were killed while in custody in 2019. In addition to poor administration of the prison system, overcrowding, the presence of gangs, and corruption contributed to violence. Media reports indicated incarcerated leaders of major criminal gangs continued to control their expanding transnational criminal enterprises from inside prisons.
Prison riots were common occurrences. In April approximately 100 minors rioted in the juvenile detention center Dom Bosco in Ilha do Governador, Rio de Janeiro City, after authorities suspended family visits due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Inmates set fire to mattresses, broke doors, and injured two guards.
Administration: State-level ombudsman offices; the National Council of Justice; the National Mechanism for the Prevention and Combat of Torture in the Ministry of Women, Family, and Human Rights; and the National Penitentiary Department in the Ministry of Justice monitored prison and detention center conditions and conducted investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment.
Due to COVID-19, Sao Paulo State penitentiaries implemented restrictive visitation policies. Beginning in March visits to inmates in the states of Santa Catarina and Rio Grande do Sul were suspended. In April, Santa Catarina implemented virtual visits. In Rio Grande do Sul, almost 3,000 inmates belonging to high-risk groups for COVID-19 were released from prison to house arrest and electronic monitoring.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by independent nongovernmental observers. Prisoners and detainees had access to visitors; however, human rights observers reported some visitors complained of screening procedures that at times included invasive and unsanitary physical exams.
Improvements: Ceara State prison officials took steps to reduce overcrowding by building new prisons, including a maximum-security prison inaugurated in February, reforming existing prisons to accommodate 5,000 more prisoners, and maximizing the use of parole programs. The state banned cell phones and televisions in prisons, increased the use of videoconferences so that prisoners had access to lawyers, and provided expanded access to educational courses.
In October a new law established Santa Catarina State’s policy for the rehabilitation of formerly incarcerated persons. The law guarantees support and promotes social inclusion for formerly incarcerated persons, assists them in entering the labor market, develops educational and professional qualification programs, and provides incentives to companies that provide jobs to this vulnerable population.
The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and limits arrests to those caught in the act of committing a crime or called for by order of a judicial authority; however, police at times did not respect this prohibition. The law provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. The government generally observed this provision.
Officials must advise persons of their rights at the time of arrest or before taking them into custody for interrogation. The law prohibits use of force during an arrest unless the suspect attempts to escape or resists arrest. According to human rights observers, some detainees complained of physical abuse while being taken into police custody.
Authorities generally respected the constitutional right to a prompt judicial determination of the legality of detention. The law permits provisional detention for up to five days under specified conditions during an investigation, but a judge may extend this period. A judge may also order temporary detention for an additional five days for processing. Preventive detention for an initial period of 15 days is permitted if police suspect a detainee may flee the area. Defendants arrested in the act of committing a crime must be charged within 30 days of arrest. Other defendants must be charged within 45 days, although this period may be extended. In cases involving heinous crimes, torture, drug trafficking, and terrorism, pretrial detention could last 30 days with the option to extend for an additional 30 days. Often the period for charging defendants had to be extended because of court backlogs. The law does not provide for a maximum period of pretrial detention, which is decided on a case-by-case basis. Bail was available for most crimes, and defendants facing charges for all but the most serious crimes have the right to a bail hearing. Prison authorities generally allowed detainees prompt access to a lawyer. Indigent detainees have the right to a lawyer provided by the state. Detainees had prompt access to family members. If detainees are convicted, time in detention before trial is subtracted from their sentences.
Arbitrary Arrest: On September 2, civil police officers from the Rio de Janeiro 76th Police Station arrested Luiz Carlos da Costa Justino for a 2017 car theft. According to police, the robbery victim identified Justino from a photograph lineup in the police station. According to media outlets, Justino, who was an adolescent at the time of the robbery, did not have a criminal record and therefore police should not have had access to any photographs of him. Video evidence showed that at the time of the crime, Justino, an Afro-Brazilian musician with the Grota String Orchestra in Niteroi, was performing in an event at a bakery located four miles from the crime scene. Justino was released after five days. As of October the public prosecutor’s office of Rio de Janeiro was reviewing Justino’s petition for revocation of the arrest.
Pretrial Detention: According to the Ministry of Justice’s National Penitentiary Department, 30 percent of prisoners nationwide were in pretrial detention. A study conducted by the National Penitentiary Department in 2018 found more than half of pretrial detainees in 17 states had been held in pretrial detention for more than 90 days. The study found that 100 percent of pretrial detainees in Sergipe State, 91 percent in Alagoas State, 84 percent in Parana State, and 74 percent in Amazonas State had been held for more than 90 days.
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. Local NGOs, however, argued that corruption within the judiciary, especially at the local and state levels, was a concern and alleged that impunity for crimes committed by security forces was common.
The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right, although NGOs reported that in some rural regions–especially in cases involving land-rights activists–police, prosecutors, and the judiciary were perceived to be more susceptible to external influences, including fear of reprisals. Investigations, prosecutions, and trials in these cases often were delayed.
After an arrest a judge reviews the case, determines whether it should proceed, and assigns the case to a state prosecutor, who decides whether to issue an indictment. Juries hear cases involving capital crimes; judges try those accused of lesser crimes. Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and have the right to be present at their trial, to be promptly informed of charges, not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt, to confront and question adverse witnesses, to present their own witnesses and evidence, and to appeal verdicts. Defendants generally had adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense but do not have the right to free assistance of an interpreter.
Although the law requires trials be held within a set time, there were millions of backlogged cases at state, federal, and appellate courts, and cases often took many years to be concluded. To reduce the backlog, state and federal courts frequently dismissed old cases without a hearing. While the law provides for the right to counsel, the Ministry of Public Security stated many prisoners could not afford an attorney. The court must furnish a public defender or private attorney at public expense in such cases, but staffing deficits persisted in all states.
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
Citizens may submit lawsuits before the courts for human rights violations. While the justice system provides for an independent civil judiciary, courts were burdened with backlogs and sometimes subject to corruption, political influence, and indirect intimidation. Cases involving violations of an individual’s human rights may be submitted through petitions by individuals or organizations to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which in turn may submit the case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
The government has no laws or mechanisms in place for, and NGOs and advocacy groups reported that the government had not made progress on, resolution of Holocaust-era claims, including for foreign citizens. Brazil endorsed the Terezin Declaration in 2009 and the Guidelines and Best Practices in 2010. Persons in the federal government, the Israeli diplomatic mission to Brazil, civil society organizations, and synagogues were unaware of any laws codifying the return of Holocaust-era property to victims. Representatives of the Uniao Brasileiro-Israelita do Bem Estar Social (UNIBES), a nonprofit organization operating in Sao Paulo for more than 95 years, worked with survivors based in the country pursuing claims, but usually those claims were done privately without advocacy or assistance from the government. UNIBES representatives said governmental assistance was primarily of a consular nature, provided to survivors pursuing claims while in Europe.
For additional information, the Department of State’s Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act report to Congress, released publicly on July 29, can be found at https://www.state.gov/reports/just-act-report-to-congress/.
Although the law and constitution prohibit warrantless searches, NGOs reported police occasionally conducted searches without warrants. Human rights groups, other NGOs, and media reported incidents of excessive police searches in poor neighborhoods. During these operations police stopped and questioned persons and searched cars and residences without warrants.
The Ministry of Justice’s Secretariat of Integrated Operations (SEOPI) provided information on individuals identified as antifascists to other law enforcement agencies. The press leaked a SEOPI dossier with the names, photographs, and social media activity of at least 579 individuals nationwide, including police officers, university professors, and former secretaries of public security and human rights. On August 3, the Minister of Justice fired the head of SEOPI and initiated an internal investigation into the matter. On August 20, the Supreme Court determined the monitoring had been illegal.
In October the president signed a decree compelling all federal bodies to share most of the data they hold on citizens, from health records to biometric information, and consolidate it into a single database. Officials argued this would consolidate information and facilitate citizen’s access to government services. There was no debate or public consultations before the decree was signed, and critics warned that the concentration of data could be used to violate personal privacy and other civil liberties. The database was to include biographic information, health information, and biometric data, such as facial profiles, voice, iris and retina scans, and prints of digits and palms.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men or women, including spousal rape. In addition, the Maria da Penha Law criminalizes physical, psychological, and sexual violence against women, as well as defamation and damage to property or finances by someone with whom the victim has a marriage, family, or intimate relationship. The law defines femicide as homicide of a woman due to her gender that could include domestic violence, discrimination, or contempt for women, and it stipulates a sentence of 12 to 30 years. According to NGOs and official data, there were 1,326 femicides in 2019, compared with 1,026 in 2018. According to the NGO Brazilian Public Security Forum, law enforcement identified 946 femicides in 2018. According to the National Council of Justice, courts imposed sentences in 287 cases of femicide in 2018.
According to NGOs and public security data, domestic violence was widespread. According to the 13th Public Safety Yearbook released annually by the Brazilian Public Security Forum, there were 66,000 cases of rape in 2018. Due to underreporting, the actual number of cases was likely much higher. In cases of femicide, the killer was a partner or former partner of the victim 89 percent of the time. In July, Santa Catarina Military Police sergeant Regiane Terezinha Miranda was killed by her former husband, who then took his own life. Miranda led the Catarina Network for the Protection of Women, a program designed to prevent and combat domestic violence.
Prolonged stress and economic uncertainty resulting from the pandemic led to an increase in gender-based violence. A May Brazilian Public Security Forum report showed an average 22-percent increase in femicides in 12 states. The absolute number of femicides in these states increased from 117 in March and April 2019 to 143 in March and April 2020.
The federal government maintained a toll-free nationwide hotline for women to report instances of intimate partner violence. Hotline operators have the authority to mobilize military police units to respond to such reports and follow up regarding the status of the case. The government distributed more electronic ankle monitors and panic button devices as a result of a technical cooperation agreement signed between the Ministry of Women, Family, and Human Rights and the Ministry of Justice in March 2019. Following implementation of the agreement, the sum of ankle monitors (to monitor abusers sentenced to house arrest or to alert police when abusers under a restraining order violate minimum distance requirements) and panic-button devices (to facilitate police notification that a victim is being threatened) increased from 12,727 to 14,786. The agreement also expanded the training and counseling services for abusers from 22 groups and 340 participants to 61 groups and 816 participants nationwide.
In July, Rio de Janeiro governor Witzel signed a bill that temporarily authorized gun permit suspensions and weapons seizures in cases of domestic violence and femicide during the COVID-19 pandemic. Authorities cited concerns that quarantine could lead to increases in domestic violence cases involving weapons. According to Rio de Janeiro’s Public Security Institute, as of June domestic violence calls to the military police aid hotline had increased by 12 percent in comparison with the same period the previous year. In August a Rio police operation resulted in the arrest of 57 suspects accused of domestic violence.
NGO and public security representatives claimed that culturally domestic violence was often viewed as a private matter. Oftentimes bystanders either did not report cases of violence or waited until it was too late. The Brazilian Public Security Forum reported a 431-percent increase in tweets between February and April during the peak of pandemic-related stay-at-home orders, from neighbors witnessing domestic violence. For example, in July, Fabricio David Jorge killed his wife Pollyana de Moura and then killed himself in their apartment in the Federal District. According to media reports, several neighbors heard screams coming from their apartment but did not report the disturbance to authorities.
Each state secretariat for public security operated police stations dedicated exclusively to addressing crimes against women. State and local governments also operated reference centers and temporary women’s shelters, and many states maintained domestic violence hotlines. Despite these protections, allegations of domestic violence were not always treated as credible by police; a study in the state of Rio Grande do Sul found 40 percent of femicide victims had previously sought police protection.
The law requires health facilities to contact police regarding cases in which a woman was harmed physically, sexually, or psychologically and to collect evidence and statements should the victim decide to prosecute.
Sexual assault and rape of minors was widespread. From 2017 to 2018, 64 percent of rapes involved a “vulnerable” victim, defined as a person younger than age 14, or who is considered physically, mentally, and therefore legally incapable of consenting to sexual intercourse.
In March police arrested a rideshare driver suspected of raping a 13-year-old boy in February in the Botafogo neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro City.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is a criminal offense, punishable by up to two years in prison, but it was seldom pursued. A law effective in 2018 broadens the definition of sexual harassment to include actions performed outside the workplace. NGOs reported sexual harassment was a serious concern, and perpetrators were infrequently held accountable. A 2019 study conducted by research institutes Patricia Galvao and Locomotiva with support from Uber found that 97 percent of women had experienced sexual harassment on public transportation, in taxis, or while using a rideshare application.
In August a regional labor court judge in Minas Gerais ordered a supervisor to pay an indemnity of R$5,000 ($900) to an employee he had sexually harassed and then dismissed after working for three months with the company.
Sexual harassment was also prevalent at public events such as concerts and during Carnival street festivals. Police departments throughout the country distributed rape whistles and informed Carnival goers of the women-only police stations and the sexual assault hotline during the annual celebrations. According to a February survey from the Brazilian Institute of Public Opinion and Statistics, 48 percent of women who attended Carnival events said they suffered some form of sexual harassment during the celebrations. According to public servants and NGOs, the increased awareness and success of national campaigns such as “No means No” led to an increase in reports of sexual harassment during the festivals.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of children and had the information and means to do so free from discrimination, coercion, and violence; however, abortion remains illegal except in limited circumstances with court approval. According to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), individuals in remote regions experienced difficulty accessing reproductive health services, a continuing problem in those regions hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. Some local authorities curbed sexual and reproductive services not deemed essential during the pandemic. According to 2018 UNFPA statistics, 77 percent of women of reproductive age had their need for family planning satisfied with modern methods. Human Rights Watch reported that the government provided sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men in all circumstances. The government did not enforce the law effectively. According to government statistics, women earned an average 79.5 percent of the wages earned by men. According to the Observatory on Workplace Equality, black women earned 55 percent of the wages earned by white men.
Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from birth in the country or from birth to a Brazilian citizen parent. Parents are required to register their newborns within 15 days of the birth or within three months if they live more than approximately 20 miles from the nearest notary. Nevertheless, many children did not have birth certificates.
Child Abuse: The law prohibits child abuse and negligence, but enforcement was often ineffective, and abuse was widespread. The national human rights hotline received 86,800 complaints of violations of the rights of children and adolescents in 2019, an increase of almost 14 percent compared with 2018.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 18 (or 16 with parental or legal representative consent). The practice of early marriage was common. A study of child marriage in the northeastern states of Bahia and Maranhao found that pregnancy was the main motivation for child marriage in 15 of 44 cases. According to a 2020 UNICEF report, 26 percent of women between the ages of 20 and 24 were married by age 18.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: Sexual exploitation of children, adolescents, and other vulnerable persons is punishable by four to 10 years in prison. The law defines sexual exploitation as child sex trafficking, sexual activity, production of child pornography, and public or private sex shows. The government enforced the law unevenly. The law sets a minimum age of 14 for consensual sex, with the penalty for statutory rape ranging from eight to 15 years in prison.
While no specific laws address child sex tourism, it is punishable under other criminal offenses. The country was a destination for child sex tourism. In addition girls from other South American nations were exploited in sex trafficking in the country.
The law criminalizes child pornography. The creation of child pornography carries a prison sentence of up to eight years and a fine. The penalty for possession of child pornography is up to four years in prison and a fine. On February 18, a nationwide operation coordinated by the Ministry of Justice and carried out by state civil police forces resulted in the arrests of 41 individuals for the possession and distribution of material depicting child sexual exploitation.
Displaced Children: According to a 2019 Human Rights Watch report, 529 unaccompanied Venezuelan children and adolescents crossed the border into Brazil between May and November 2019. Another 2,133 arrived without a parent, accompanied by another adult, often an extended family member. According to civil society contacts, some of these minors were at risk of being trafficked or sexually exploited. In one case an adolescent arrived with a much older man she claimed was her boyfriend, but further questioning revealed she had met him on her journey. Authorities alerted child protective services to take guardianship of the minor.
Local child protection services offices act as legal guardians so unaccompanied adolescents can go to school and obtain identification papers to access the public health system. In some areas, however, they could not accommodate the influx of children. State shelters in Roraima, the state where a majority of migrants entered the country, could house a maximum of 15 adolescent boys and 13 adolescent girls. According to a 2019 Human Rights Watch report, some unaccompanied children ended up living on the streets, where they may be particularly vulnerable to abuse or recruitment by criminal gangs.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.
According to the Jewish Federation, there were approximately 125,000 Jewish citizens, of whom approximately 65,000 lived in the state of Sao Paulo and 29,000 in the state of Rio de Janeiro.
In February, three men assaulted a Jewish man on the street in rural Sao Paulo State. The men shouted anti-Semitic offenses during the assault and cut the victim’s kippah (head covering) with a pocketknife. As of August police were investigating the case but had not identified the attackers.
Prominent Jewish organizations publicly noted their outrage at what they considered anti-Semitic comments made by high-level government officials. In May former minister of education Abraham Weintraub, who is of Jewish heritage, compared a Federal Police operation against fake news to Kristallnacht. Multiple Jewish organizations condemned the comparison, and the Israeli embassy in Brasilia posted on Twitter, “There has been an increase in the use of the Holocaust in public speeches, in a way that belittles its memory and this tragedy that happened to the Jewish people.”
A global survey released in June by the Anti-Defamation League indicated that the percentage of Brazilians who harbored some anti-Jewish sentiment had grown from 19 percent in 2019 to 26 percent in 2020. A survey from the Henry Sobel Human Rights Observatory found that acts of intolerance and anti-Semitic attitudes were increasingly common in society and politics. The organization recorded 30 such acts during the first six months of the year, compared with 26 in all of 2019. There were 349 active neo-Nazi organizations, according to anthropologist Adriana Magalhaes Dias at the Sao Paulo State University of Campinas. The largest concentrations were in the states of Sao Paulo, with 102 groups; Parana, with 74; and Santa Catarina, with 69.
Neo-Nazi groups maintained an active presence online. In May, Safernet, an NGO that promotes human rights on social networks and monitors radical websites, reported the creation of 204 new pages of neo-Nazi content in the country, compared with 42 new pages in May 2019.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical and mental disabilities, and the federal government generally enforced these provisions. While federal and state laws mandate access to buildings for persons with disabilities, states did not enforce them effectively. The law requires private companies with more than 100 employees to hire 2 to 5 percent of their workforce from persons with disabilities. According to the 2010 census, only 1 percent of those with disabilities were employed.
The Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities Act, a legal framework on the rights of persons with disabilities, seeks to promote greater accessibility through expanded federal oversight of the City Statute (a law intended to foster the safety and well-being of urban citizens, among other objectives). The act also includes harsher criminal penalties for conviction of discrimination based on disability and inclusive health services with provision of services near residences and rural areas. As of October the National Council of Justice reported 3,834 new cases of discrimination based on disability and 1,918 other cases in some phase of the appeal process.
The National Council for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the National Council for the Rights of the Elderly have primary responsibility for promoting the rights of persons with disabilities. The lack of accessible infrastructure and school resources significantly limited the ability of persons with disabilities to participate in the workforce. In September, President Bolsonaro signed a decree creating the National Special Education Policy to facilitate parents placing their children with disabilities in specialized schools without having to try nonspecialized schools first. Some critics claimed the policy could result in fewer schooling options for children with disabilities.
Civil society organizations acknowledged monitoring and enforcement of disability policies remained weak and criticized a lack of accessibility to public transportation, weak application of employment quotas, and a limited medical-based definition of disability that often excludes learning disabilities.
The law prohibits racial discrimination, specifically the denial of public or private facilities, employment, or housing to anyone based on race. The law also prohibits the incitement of racial discrimination or prejudice and the dissemination of racially offensive symbols and epithets, and it stipulates prison terms for such acts.
Approximately 52 percent of the population self-identified as belonging to categories other than white. Despite this high representation within the general population, darker-skinned citizens, particularly Afro-Brazilians, encountered discrimination. They experienced a higher rate of unemployment and earned average wages below those of whites in similar positions. There was also a sizeable education gap. Afro-Brazilians were disproportionately affected by crime and violence.
In a June 19 decision, Judge Ines Zarpelon repeated three times in her written decision that defendant Natan Paz was surely a member of a criminal group due to his Afro-Brazilian race. The judge sentenced him to 14 years and two months in prison for larceny, robbery, and organized crime, consistent with other sentences for similar crimes. Paz’s attorney stated he would appeal the decision, and the National Council of Justice and state bar association requested an investigation of the judge by the Curitiba court and the state Public Ministry. On September 28, the Internal Affairs Office of the state court in Parana dismissed the complaint, noting that the judge’s reference to the defendant’s race had been taken out of context and that the defendant’s sentence was a result of his crimes, not the color of his skin. After the killing of George Floyd in the United States, the country saw widespread Black Lives Matter activism targeted at not only ending police violence against Afro-Brazilians but also raising awareness of pervasive systemic racism in many aspects of society, including the criminal justice system.
Controversial deaths of Afro-Brazilians in Recife and Rio de Janeiro, albeit not at the hands of police, indicated that protests in those cities included a broader message against overall systemic racism in society, according to NGO observers. In Recife a wealthy and well-connected white woman required her Afro-Brazilian housekeeper to report to work despite the housekeeper reportedly not being able to find childcare for her five-year-old son due to COVID-19 closures. The white employer allegedly offered to babysit the toddler but then allowed him to enter an elevator alone and ride to a high floor, from which he subsequently fell to his death. The employer faced a manslaughter charge but was free on bail. Some believed she was treated leniently because of her political connections to local authorities, creating “die-ins” and street protests in the northeastern region of the country. In Rio de Janeiro protests began after the city reported that its first death from COVID-19 was an Afro-Brazilian housekeeper working in the home of a white employer who had recently returned from travel abroad, carrying the virus unknowingly, and had required the housekeeper to report to work. Both cases produced debate on social media regarding pervasive economic racism in the country and the failure of the criminal justice system to treat all citizens equally.
The law provides for quota-based affirmative action policies in higher education, government employment, and the military. Nevertheless, Afro-Brazilians were underrepresented in the government, professional positions, and middle and upper socioeconomic classes.
Many government offices created internal committees to validate the self-declared ethnicity claims of public-service job applicants by using phenotypic criteria, assessing “blackness” in an attempt to reduce abuse of affirmative action policies and related laws. University administrators regularly conducted investigations and expelled students for fraudulently claiming to be black or brown to claim racial quota spots in universities. In July the University of Brasilia revoked the diplomas of two students and expelled another 15 on suspicion of fraud in accessing racial quotas. Statistics showed university racial-quota policies were beginning to have a positive impact on educational outcomes for Afro-Brazilians. For example, the University of Brasilia reported in August that almost 49 percent of its students were black or brown, up from 10 percent in 2003.
In Rio Grande do Sul, many virtual classes and presentations with themes involving blackness, women, and LGBTI rights fell victim to “Zoom-bombing” by hate groups. Aggressors typically joined the group video calls and interrupted the presentations with messages of a sexual, racist, or homophobic nature. The Federal Police was investigating four cases in Santa Maria, Santo Angelo, and Porto Alegre, all in Rio Grande do Sul State.
Followers of Afro-Brazilian religions such as Candomble and Umbanda faced more discrimination and violence than any other faith-based group. Although less than 2 percent of the population followed Afro-Brazilian religions, a majority of the religious persecution cases registered by the human rights hotline involved victims who were practitioners of Afro-Brazilian religions.
On July 31, a Sao Paulo court awarded custody of a 12-year-old girl to her maternal Christian grandmother, removing the girl from her mother, who had supported her daughter’s choice to practice the Afro-Brazilian religion of Candomble. The grandmother filed for custody alleging the child faced physical and psychological harm after she shaved her head for a Candomble religious ceremony. Although court documents were not publicly available due to the minor status of the child, media reported that authorities had found no evidence of physical or psychological harm and that the girl had said Candomble was her religion of choice. On August 14, the court returned the girl’s custody to her mother and requested further police investigation.
Followers of Afro-Brazilian religions faced physical attacks on their places of worship. According to one religious leader, these attacks resulted from a mixture of religious intolerance and racism, systemic societal discrimination, media’s perpetuation of harmful stereotypes, and attacks by public and religious officials against these communities. On June 9, armed men invaded one of Bahia State’s oldest Candomble temples and destroyed several sacred objects. Media identified the invaders as employees of Grupo Penha packaging company. Representatives of the company denied any wrongdoing but claimed the temple was located on company-owned land.
According to data from the National Indigenous Foundation (FUNAI) and the 2010 census, there were approximately 897,000 indigenous persons, representing 305 distinct indigenous ethnic groups that spoke 274 distinct languages.
The constitution grants the indigenous population broad protection of their cultural patrimony and use of their territory; however, all aboveground and underground minerals as well as hydroelectric power potential belong to the government. Congress must consult with the tribes involved when considering requests to exploit mineral and water resources, including ones with energy potential, on indigenous lands. Despite several proposals, Congress had not approved specific regulations on how to develop natural resources on indigenous territory, rendering any development of natural resources on indigenous territory technically illegal.
In May the government launched the second phase of Operation Green Brazil to eradicate forest fires and deter criminal activity by making arrests, issuing fines, and confiscating illegally logged wood. Nevertheless, NGOs claimed the lack of regulation along with impunity in cases of illegal land invasions resulted in illegal exploitation of natural resources. The NGO Instituto Socioambiental (ISA) reported there were more than 20,000 miners illegally extracting gold from the Yanomami indigenous lands in Roraima State. According to a report released by the NGO Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI) in 2020, there were 256 cases of illegal invasions and exploitation of natural resources on 151 indigenous territories in 23 states in 2019. A 2019 Human Rights Watch report specifically detailed illegal deforestation in the Amazon. The report concluded that illegal deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon region was driven largely by criminal networks that had the logistical capacity to coordinate large-scale extraction, processing, and sale of timber, while deploying armed men to protect their interests. The report documented 28 killings–most of them since 2015–in which evidence indicated the perpetrators were engaged in illegal deforestation and the victims were targeted because they opposed these criminal activities. Victims included environmental enforcement officials, members of indigenous communities, or others who denounced illegal logging to authorities.
Illegal land invasions often resulted in violence and even death. According to the CIMI report, there were 113 killings of indigenous persons in 2019, compared with 135 such cases in 2018. The killing of indigenous leader and environmental and human rights defender Zezico Rodrigues in March in Arame, Maranhao, was the fifth such killing of an indigenous Guajajara in as many months. Rodrigues worked as director of the indigenous School Education Center and fought environmental crimes. According to indigenous leaders in the region, he reportedly received death threats and formally complained to FUNAI and the Federal Police.
According to FUNAI, the federal government established rules for providing financial compensation in cases of companies that won development contracts affecting indigenous lands. Illegal logging, drug trafficking, and mining, as well as changes in the environment caused by large infrastructure projects, forced indigenous tribes to move to new areas or make their demarcated indigenous territories smaller than established by law. Various indigenous groups protested the slow pace of land demarcations. In a case that lasted more than 30 years, in 2018 a court ordered the return of 20,000 acres of land to the Pankararu indigenous community in the municipalities of Tacaratu, Petrolandia, and Jatoba in the state of Pernambuco. As a result, the Federal Public Ministry instituted an administrative procedure to coordinate federal actions and prevent conflicts. It received reports of invaders cutting down trees, breaking fences, destroying gardens, and threatening members of the Pankararu community.
NGOs and indigenous people’s organizations reported higher mortality rates among members of indigenous groups due to COVID-19 than the Ministry of Health reported. According to the Institute for Environmental Research in the Amazon and the NGO Coordination of the Indigenous Organizations in the Brazilian Amazon, the mortality rate due to COVID-19 among indigenous persons on June 24 in the Amazon was 6.8 percent. In comparison, as of June 27, the ministry reported mortality rates due to COVID-19 averaged 4.3 percent, and in the northern region, where most indigenous groups lived, only 3.7 percent. Some of this discrepancy may have been due to differences in how mortality was calculated based on all indigenous persons or only those who live in indigenous territories. Many indigenous persons expressed concern that the virus, with its higher risk to older, vulnerable populations, could erase their cultural heritage by decimating an entire generation of elders. The Munduruku people, with land in the states of Amazonas and Para, reported losing seven elders between ages 60 and 86 to COVID-19. According to multiple media reports, indigenous leaders believed exposure from outside, specifically miners and loggers, and increased air pollution (due to machinery and burning deforested land) had caused aggravated respiratory health and put an already vulnerable population at higher risk of contracting COVID-19.
In July a federal court ordered the federal government to expel the estimated 20,000 illegal gold miners from Yanomami Indigenous territory to protect them from the COVID-19 spread. The Ministry of Health, FUNAI, and the Ministry of Defense sent medical missions and more than 350 tons of health supplies to indigenous territories, including more than $40 million in medical supplies to the state of Amazonas, where most indigenous groups lived. Additionally, the Health Ministry, together with state governments and FUNAI, opened five new hospital wings in the states of Para, Amapa, and Amazonas exclusively for treating indigenous COVID-19 patients. On July 8, President Bolsonaro passed a law creating an emergency action plan to support COVID-19 prevention and treatment for indigenous and other traditional populations. The plan addresses basic hygiene and medical needs. Indigenous leaders made public statements emphasizing that very few of these resources had been delivered to their communities and argued that resource scarcity resulting from the COVID-19 crisis remained a concern.
The Quilombola population–descendants of escaped African slaves–was estimated to include 6,000 communities and five million individuals, although the government had no official statistics. The constitution recognizes Quilombola land ownership rights. Nearly 3,000 communities were registered, but fewer than 140 had been granted land titles by the government.
Quilombola representatives and partner organizations reported that members of these communities suffered higher mortality rates due to COVID-19 than the rest of the country’s population. According to a partnership between the NGOs ISA and National Coordination for the Articulation of Quilombola Communities (CONAQ), the mortality rate due to COVID-19 in Quilombola communities as of June was 7.6 percent. In comparison, as of June 27, the Ministry of Health reported mortality rates due to COVID-19 in the entire country averaging 4.3 percent, and in the northern region, where a majority of indigenous peoples lived, 3.7 percent.
Quilombola communities faced systemic challenges such as endemic poverty, racism, violence, and threats against leaders and women, as well as limited access to essential resources and public policies. According to CONAQ, black populations had a higher rate of diseases that further aggravated the effects of COVID-19, such as diabetes and high blood pressure. The precarious access to water in many territories was a cause for concern, as it also hindered the hygiene conditions necessary to prevent the spread of the virus. Civil society leaders also cited concerns about food insecurity in Quilombola communities. The communities claimed that health officials were not conducting sufficient contact tracing or testing there, compared with the general population.
Violence against LGBTI individuals was a serious concern. The Federal Public Ministry is responsible for registering reports of crimes committed on the basis of gender or sexual orientation but reportedly was slow to respond. Transgender individuals were particularly at risk of being the victims of crime or committing suicide. According to the NGO Grupo Gay da Bahia, the risk for a transgender person of being killed was 17 times greater than for a gay person. According to the National Association of Transvestites and Transsexuals in Brazil, in partnership with the Brazilian Institute of Trans Education, 124 transgender men and women were killed in 2019, compared with 163 in 2018. Police arrested suspects in only 9 percent of the cases. According to some civil society leaders, underreporting of crimes was rampant, because many LGBTI persons were afraid they might experience discrimination or violence while seeking services from law enforcement authorities.
In May transgender woman Vick Santos was found strangled and burned in Itu, Sao Paulo. In July, Douglas Jose Goncalves and his wife, Natasha Oliveira, confessed to the crime. Goncalves told police he strangled Santos in self-defense during an altercation. He and Oliveira then burned Santos’ body in an effort to destroy forensic evidence. Both were arrested and were awaiting trial.
On July 26, two teenagers in Bahia stoned Guilherme de Souza and then took his unconscious body to an abandoned house, which they set ablaze. A few hours after the crime was committed, police arrested the suspects, one of whom confessed that he had premeditated the crime because he was offended when the victim, who was homosexual, had flirted with him.
No specific law prohibits discrimination against LGBTI persons in essential goods and services such as health care. In June 2019, however, the Supreme Court criminalized discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Offenders face sentences of one to three years’ imprisonment and a fine, or two to five years’ imprisonment and a fine if there is widespread media coverage of the incident.
NGOs cited lack of economic opportunity for LGBTI persons as a concern. According to the NGO Grupo Gay da Bahia, 33 percent of companies avoided hiring LGBTI employees, and 90 percent of transgender women survived through prostitution because they could find no employment alternative. Transgender women often paid human traffickers for protection and daily housing fees. When they were unable to pay, they were beaten, starved, and forced into commercial sex. Traffickers exploited transgender women, luring them with offers of gender reassignment surgery and later exploiting them in sex trafficking when they were unable to repay the cost of the procedure.
According to some LGBTI leaders, the COVID-19 pandemic severely limited the LGBTI population’s access to public health and mental health resources, and many were in abusive domestic situations with families that did not support them. According to some civil society sources, LGBTI workers, who were more likely to work in the informal economy, lost their jobs at a much higher rate than the general population during the pandemic.
Discrimination against persons with HIV or AIDS is punishable by up to four years in prison and a fine. On May 8, the Supreme Court overturned a Ministry of Health and National Health Surveillance Agency regulation that barred men who had sex with other men from giving blood for 12 months, ending any waiting time.
Civil society organizations and the press reported discrimination against persons with HIV or AIDS. According to one LGBTI activist, although the government provided affordable HIV treatment through the National Institute of Infectious Diseases, many HIV-positive persons did not access the service because they were unaware of its existence or did not understand the bureaucracy required to participate in the program.
Drug trafficking organizations and other groups contributed to societal violence or discrimination. There was evidence that these organizations participated in vigilante justice, holding “trials” and executing persons accused of wrongdoing. A victim was typically kidnapped at gunpoint and brought before a tribunal of gang members, who then tortured and executed the victim.
On July 16, Sao Paulo police arrested six men suspected of being part of the so-called criminal court of the militia group PCC. They were suspected of committing serial killings at the behest of the faction in the southern region of the capital. According to media reports, police believed the suspects killed four persons and buried them in unmarked graves.
In Rio de Janeiro’s favelas, so-called militia groups, often composed of off-duty and former law enforcement officers, reportedly took policing into their own hands. Many militia groups intimidated residents and conducted illegal activities such as extorting protection money and providing pirated utility services. The groups also exploited activities related to the real estate market and the sale of drugs and arms.
In March members of a drug trafficking gang that controlled the Cidade de Deus favela in the city of Rio de Janeiro ordered residents to remain indoors after 8 p.m., in an attempt to prevent the spread of COVID-19. They posted a video on social media saying, “anyone found walking around outside would be punished.” The gang told residents that they had imposed the curfew “because nobody was taking [coronavirus] seriously.” In areas controlled by militia groups such as Praca Seca, in the western part of the city, militia members also prohibited small bars in the area to operate and informed residents they were to remain indoors.
China (Includes Hong Kong, Macau, and Tibet)
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were numerous reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. In many instances few or no details were available.
In Xinjiang there were reports of custodial deaths related to detentions in the internment camps. There were multiple reports from Uyghur family members who discovered their relatives had died while in internment camps or within weeks of their release. For example, in October the government formally confirmed to the United Nations the death of Abdulghafur Hapiz, a Uyghur man detained in a Xinjiang internment camp since 2017. The government claimed Hapiz died in 2018 of “severe pneumonia and tuberculosis.” His daughter said she last heard from Hapiz in 2016; sources reported he disappeared no later than 2017 and was held without charges in an internment camp.
Authorities executed some defendants in criminal proceedings following convictions that lacked due process and adequate channels for appeal. Official figures on executions were classified as a state secret. According to the U.S.-based Dui Hua Foundation, the number of executions stabilized after years of decline following the reform of the capital punishment system initiated in 2007. Dui Hua reported that an increase in the number of executions for bosses of criminal gangs and individuals convicted of “terrorism” in Xinjiang likely offset the drop in the number of other executions.
There were multiple reports authorities disappeared individuals and held them at undisclosed locations for extended periods.
The government conducted mass arbitrary detention of Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and members of other Muslim and ethnic minority groups in Xinjiang. China Human Rights Defenders alleged these detentions amounted to enforced disappearance, since families were often not provided information about the length or location of the detention.
The exact whereabouts of Ekpar Asat, also known as Aikebaier Aisaiti, a Uyghur journalist and entrepreneur, remained unknown. He was reportedly detained in Xinjiang in 2016 after participating in a program in the United States and subsequently sentenced to up to 15 years in prison.
Authorities in Wuhan disappeared four citizen journalists, Chen Qiushi, Li Zehua, Zhang Zhan, and Fang Bin, who had interviewed health-care professionals and citizens and later publicized their accounts on social media in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak and subsequent lockdown in Wuhan. While Li Zehua was released in April, Fang Bin’s and Chen Qiushi’s whereabouts were unknown at year’s end. Zhang Zhan was indicted on charges of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” and authorities tried and convicted her on December 28, sentencing her to four years’ imprisonment. She was the first known person to be tried and convicted for her coverage of the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan.
Human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, who has been disappeared on multiple occasions, has been missing since 2017.
The government still had not provided a comprehensive, credible accounting of all those killed, missing, or detained in connection with the violent suppression of the 1989 Tiananmen demonstrations. Many activists who were involved in the 1989 demonstrations and their family members continued to suffer official harassment. The government made no efforts to prevent, investigate, or punish such harassment.
The law prohibits the physical abuse and mistreatment of detainees and forbids prison guards from coercing confessions, insulting prisoners’ dignity, and beating or encouraging others to beat prisoners. The law excludes evidence obtained through illegal means, including coerced confessions, in certain categories of criminal cases. There were credible reports that authorities routinely ignored prohibitions against torture, especially in politically sensitive cases.
Numerous former prisoners and detainees reported they were beaten, raped, subjected to electric shock, forced to sit on stools for hours on end, hung by the wrists, deprived of sleep, force fed, forced to take medication against their will, and otherwise subjected to physical and psychological abuse. Although prison authorities abused ordinary prisoners, they reportedly singled out political and religious dissidents for particularly harsh treatment.
In December 2019 human rights lawyer Ding Jiaxi was detained on suspicion of “inciting subversion of state power” for participating in a meeting in Xiamen, Fujian Province, to organize civil society activities and peaceful resistance to Chinese Communist Party (CCP) rule. Ding’s wife posted on Twitter that Ding was tortured in a detention center in Beijing, including being subjected to sleep deprivation tactics such as shining a spotlight on him 24 hours per day. As of December 2020, Ding remained in pretrial detention at Linshu Detention Center in Shandong Province.
Following her June 6 arrest, Zhang Wuzhou was tortured in the Qingxin District Detention Center in Qingyuan (Guangdong Province), according to her lawyer’s July 22 account reported by Radio Free Asia. Zhang said that detention center authorities handcuffed her, made her wear heavy foot shackles, and placed her in a cell where other inmates beat her. The Qingyuan Public Security Bureau detained Zhang on charges of “provoking quarrels and stirring up troubles” two days after she held banners at Guangzhou Baiyun Mountains to mark the anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre.
In August an attorney for detained human rights activist and lawyer Yu Wensheng reported that Yu had been held incommunicado for 18 months before and after his conviction in June of “inciting subversion of state power” for which he received a four-year sentence. Yu reported he was repeatedly sprayed with pepper spray and was forced to sit in a metal chair for an extended period of time.
On October 22, human rights lawyer Chang Weiping, known for his successful representation of HIV/AIDS discrimination cases, was put into “residential surveillance in a designated location” in Baoji City, Shanxi Province, after posting a video to YouTube detailing torture he suffered during a January detention. As of December, Chang was still under these restrictions and denied access to his family and lawyer.
Members of the minority Uyghur ethnic group reported systematic torture and other degrading treatment by law enforcement officers and officials working within the penal system and the internment camps. Survivors stated that authorities subjected individuals in custody to electric shock, waterboarding, beatings, rape, forced sterilization, forced prostitution, stress positions, forced administration of unknown medication, and cold cells (see section 6, Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities).
There was no direct evidence of an involuntary or prisoner-based organ transplant system; however, activists and some organizations continued to accuse the government of forcibly harvesting organs from prisoners of conscience, including religious and spiritual adherents such as Falun Gong practitioners and Muslim detainees in Xinjiang. An NGO research report noted that public security and other authorities in Xinjiang have collected biometric data–including DNA, fingerprints, iris scans, and blood types–of all Xinjiang residents between 12 and 65 years of age, which the report said could indicate evidence of illicit organ trafficking. Some Xinjiang internment camp survivors reported that they were subjected to coerced comprehensive health screenings including blood and DNA testing upon entering the internment camps. There were also reports from former detainees that authorities forced Uyghur detainees to undergo medical examinations of thoracic and abdominal organs. The government continues to claim that it had ended the long-standing practice of harvesting the organs of executed prisoners for use in transplants in 2015.
The treatment and abuse of detainees under the liuzhi detention system, which operates outside the judicial system as a legal tool for the government and CCP to investigate corruption, featured custodial treatment such as extended solitary confinement, sleep deprivation, beatings, and forced standing or sitting in uncomfortable positions for hours and sometimes days, according to press reports (see section 4).
The law states psychiatric treatment and hospitalization should be “on a voluntary basis,” but the law also allows authorities and family members to commit persons to psychiatric facilities against their will and fails to provide meaningful legal protections for persons sent to psychiatric facilities. The law does not provide for the right to a lawyer and restricts a person’s right to communicate with those outside the psychiatric institution.
Impunity was a significant problem in the security forces, including the Ministry of Public Security, the Ministry of State Security, and the Ministry of Justice, which manages the prison system.
Conditions in penal institutions for both political prisoners and criminal offenders were generally harsh and often life threatening or degrading.
Physical Conditions: Authorities regularly held prisoners and detainees in overcrowded conditions with poor sanitation. Food often was inadequate and of poor quality, and many detainees relied on supplemental food, medicines, and warm clothing provided by relatives when allowed to receive them. Prisoners often reported sleeping on the floor because there were no beds or bedding. In many cases provisions for sanitation, ventilation, heating, lighting, and access to potable water were inadequate.
The lack of adequate, timely medical care for prisoners remained a serious problem, despite official assurances prisoners have the right to prompt medical treatment. Prison authorities at times withheld medical treatment from political prisoners. Multiple nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and news agencies reported detainees at “re-education” centers or long-term extrajudicial detention centers became seriously ill or died.
Political prisoners were sometimes held with the general prison population and reported being beaten by other prisoners at the instigation of guards. Some reported being held in the same cells as death row inmates. In some cases authorities did not allow dissidents to receive supplemental food, medicine, and warm clothing from relatives.
Conditions in administrative detention facilities were similar to those in prisons. Deaths from beatings occurred in administrative detention facilities. Detainees reported beatings, sexual assaults, lack of proper food, and limited or no access to medical care.
In Xinjiang authorities expanded existing internment camps for Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, and other Muslims. In some cases authorities used repurposed schools, factories, and prisons to hold detainees. According to Human Rights Watch, these camps focused on “military-style discipline and pervasive political indoctrination of the detainees.” Detainees reported pervasive physical abuse and torture in the camps and overcrowded and unsanitary conditions.
In August, Qelbinur Sedik, a former teacher at a women’s internment camp, reported approximately 10,000 women had their heads shaved and were forced to live in cramped, unsanitary conditions, injected with unknown substances without their permission, and required to take contraceptive pills issued by a birth-control unit. She reported women were raped and sexually abused on a daily basis by camp guards and said there was a torture room in the camp basement.
In October the government charged Yang Hengjun, an Australian author and blogger who encouraged democratic reform in China, with espionage. He was detained in January 2019 then formally arrested in August 2019. In a September message to his family, Yang said he had been interrogated more than 300 times, at all hours of day and night, for four to five hours at a time.
Administration: The law states letters from a prisoner to higher authorities of the prison or to the judicial organs shall be free from examination; it was unclear to what extent the law was implemented. While authorities occasionally investigated credible allegations of inhuman conditions, their results were not documented in a publicly accessible manner. Authorities denied many prisoners and detainees reasonable access to visitors and correspondence with family members. Some family members did not know the whereabouts of their relatives in custody. Authorities also prevented many prisoners and detainees from engaging in religious practices or gaining access to religious materials.
Independent Monitoring: Authorities considered information about prisons and various other types of administrative and extralegal detention facilities to be a state secret, and the government did not permit independent monitoring.
Arbitrary arrest and detention remained serious problems. The law grants public security officers broad administrative detention powers and the ability to detain individuals for extended periods without formal arrest or criminal charges. Lawyers, human rights activists, journalists, religious leaders and adherents, and former political prisoners and their family members continued to be targeted for arbitrary detention or arrest.
The law provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, but the government generally did not observe this requirement.
The National Supervisory Commission-Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (NSC-CCDI; see section 4) official detention system, known as liuzhi, faced allegations of detainee abuse and torture. Liuzhi detainees are held incommunicado and have no recourse to appeal their detention. While detainee abuse is proscribed by the law, the mechanism for detainees to report abuse is unclear.
Although liuzhi operates outside the judicial system, confessions given while in liuzhi were used as evidence in judicial proceedings. According to 2019 press reports and an August 2019 NGO report, liuzhi detainees were subjected to extended solitary confinement, sleep deprivation, beatings, and forced standing or sitting in uncomfortable positions for hours and sometimes days.
There were no statistics available for the number of individuals in the liuzhi detention system nationwide. Several provinces, however, publicized these numbers, including Hubei with 1,095 and Zhejiang with 931 detained, both in 2019. One provincial official head of the liuzhi detention system stated suspects averaged 42.5 days in detention before being transferred into the criminal justice system.
On January 8, Guangzhou police detained Kwok Chun-fung, a Hong Kong student enrolled at the Guangzhou University of Chinese Medicine, on charges of “soliciting prostitution.” The university issued a statement on January 15 stating that Kwok was under suspicion of soliciting prostitution after being caught in a hotel room with a woman and outlined charges on two additional related offenses that allegedly occurred between November and December 2019. Kwok was cofounder of FindCMed, which provided medical help to injured protesters during Hong Kong’s antigovernment protests. A Hong Kong Baptist University instructor and Kwok’s associates said that the CCP habitually used “soliciting prostitution” as a charge to target opponents since police could detain a suspect administratively without court review. Local media and Kwok’s associates implied his detention was the People’s Republic of China (PRC) government’s retaliation against him for his role in the protests.
In September following her diagnosis with terminal lung cancer, authorities allowed Pu Wenqing, mother of Sichuan-based human rights activist Huang Qi, detained since 2016, to speak to her son in a 30-minute video call, the first contact with her son allowed to her after four years of trying. Pu remained under house arrest with no charges filed as of December. She had been disappeared in 2018 after plainclothes security personnel detained her at a Beijing train station. She had petitioned central authorities earlier in 2018 to release her detained son for health reasons and poor treatment within his detention center.
In a related case, Beijing authorities arbitrarily detained Zhang Baocheng, who had assisted and escorted the elderly Pu Wenqing around Beijing in 2018 as she sought to petition central authorities over her son’s detention. In December 2019 Beijing police charged Zhang, a former member of the defunct New Citizens Movement that campaigned for democracy and government transparency, with “picking quarrels, promoting terrorism, extremism, and inciting terrorism.” A Beijing court convicted him of “picking quarrels” and sentenced him in November to three and one-half years in prison, using his posts on Twitter as evidence against him.
In September, Hursan Hassan, an acclaimed Uyghur filmmaker, was sentenced to 15 years on the charge of “separatism.” Hassan had been held since 2018 arbitrarily without any contact with his family.
Following local resistance to a policy announced on August 26 mandating Mandarin be used for some school courses in Inner Mongolia in place of the Mongolian language, several prominent dissidents were either detained or held incommunicado. Ethnic Mongolian writer Hada, who had already served a 15-year jail term for “espionage” and “separatism” and was under house arrest, was incommunicado as of December. His wife and child’s whereabouts were also unknown. Ethnic Mongolian musician Ashidaa, who participated in protests against the new language policy, was also detained, and family members and lawyers were not permitted to visit him.
Criminal detention beyond 37 days requires approval of a formal arrest by the procuratorate, but in cases pertaining to “national security, terrorism, and major bribery,” the law permits up to six months of incommunicado detention without formal arrest. After formally arresting a suspect, public security authorities are authorized to detain a suspect for up to an additional seven months while the case is investigated.
After the completion of an investigation, the procuratorate may detain a suspect an additional 45 days while determining whether to file criminal charges. If charges are filed, authorities may detain a suspect for an additional 45 days before beginning judicial proceedings. Public security officials sometimes detained persons beyond the period allowed by law, and pretrial detention periods of a year or longer were common.
The law stipulates detainees be allowed to meet with defense counsel before criminal charges are filed. The criminal procedure law requires a court to provide a lawyer to a defendant who has not already retained one; is blind, deaf, mute, or mentally ill; is a minor; or faces a life sentence or the death penalty. This law applies whether or not the defendant is indigent. Courts may also provide lawyers to other criminal defendants who cannot afford them, although courts often did not do so. Lawyers reported significant difficulties meeting their clients in detention centers, especially in cases considered politically sensitive.
Criminal defendants are entitled to apply for bail (also translated as “a guarantor pending trial”) while awaiting trial, but the system did not operate effectively, and authorities released few suspects on bail.
The law requires notification of family members within 24 hours of detention, but authorities often held individuals without providing such notification for significantly longer periods, especially in politically sensitive cases. In some cases notification did not occur. Under a sweeping exception, officials are not required to provide notification if doing so would “hinder the investigation” of a case. The criminal procedure law limits this exception to cases involving state security or terrorism, but public security officials have broad discretion to interpret these provisions.
Under certain circumstances the law allows for residential surveillance in the detainee’s home, rather than detention in a formal facility. With the approval of the next-higher-level authorities, officials also may place a suspect under “residential surveillance at a designated location” for up to six months when they suspect crimes of endangering state security, terrorism, or serious bribery and believe surveillance at the suspect’s home would impede the investigation. Authorities may also prevent defense lawyers from meeting with suspects in these categories of cases. Human rights organizations and detainees reported the practice of residential surveillance at a designated location left detainees at a high risk for torture, since being neither at home nor in a monitored detention facility reduced opportunities for oversight of detainee treatment and mechanisms for appeal.
Authorities used administrative detention to intimidate political and religious advocates and to prevent public demonstrations. Forms of administrative detention included compulsory drug rehabilitation treatment (for drug users), “custody and training” (for minor criminal offenders), and “legal education” centers for political activists and religious adherents, particularly Falun Gong practitioners. The maximum stay in compulsory drug rehabilitation centers is two years, including commonly a six-month stay in a detoxification center. The government maintained similar rehabilitation centers for those charged with prostitution and with soliciting prostitution.
Arbitrary Arrest: Authorities detained or arrested persons on allegations of revealing state secrets, subversion, and other crimes as a means to suppress political dissent and public advocacy. These charges, as well as what constitutes a state secret, remained ill defined, and any piece of information could be retroactively designated a state secret. Authorities also used the vaguely worded charges of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” broadly against many civil rights advocates. It is unclear what this term means. Authorities also detained citizens and foreigners under broad and ambiguous state secret laws for, among other actions, disclosing information on criminal trials, commercial activity, and government activity. A counterespionage law grants authorities the power to require individuals and organizations to cease any activities deemed a threat to national security. Failure to comply could result in seizure of property and assets.
There were multiple reports authorities arrested or detained lawyers, religious leaders or adherents, petitioners, and other rights advocates for lengthy periods, only to have the charges later dismissed for lack of evidence. Authorities subjected many of these citizens to extralegal house arrest, denial of travel rights, or administrative detention in different types of extralegal detention facilities, including “black jails.” In some cases public security officials put pressure on schools not to allow the children of prominent political detainees to enroll. Conditions faced by those under house arrest varied but sometimes included isolation in their homes under guard by security agents. Security officials were frequently stationed inside the homes. Authorities placed many citizens under house arrest during sensitive times, such as during the visits of senior foreign government officials, annual plenary sessions of the National People’s Congress (NPC), the anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre, and sensitive anniversaries in Tibetan areas and Xinjiang. Security agents took some of those not placed under house arrest to remote areas on so-called forced vacations.
In February a Ningbo court sentenced Swedish citizen bookseller and Hong Kong resident Gui Minhai to 10 years’ imprisonment for “providing intelligence overseas;” the court said Gui pled guilty. Gui went missing from Thailand in 2015, was released by Chinese authorities in 2017, and was detained again in 2018 while traveling on a train to Beijing, initially for charges related to “illegal business operations.” The Ningbo court said that Gui’s PRC citizenship had been reinstated in 2018 after he allegedly applied to regain PRC nationality.
In May, Nanning authorities tried Qin Yongpei behind closed doors, not allowing his lawyer to attend; as of December there was no update on the trial’s outcome. Qin was detained in October 2019 then formally arrested on charges of “inciting subversion of state power.” He remained in Nanning No. 1 Detention Center. His lawyer, who was not allowed to see Qin until shortly before the trial, said Qin had suffered poor conditions in detention–no bed, insufficient food, sleep deprivation, and extreme indoor heat and humidity in the summers. Authorities continued to block Qin’s wife from communicating or visiting him in prison while local police intimidated their daughters. Qin had worked on several human rights cases, including those of “709” lawyers (the nationwide government crackdown on human rights lawyers and other rights advocates that began on July 9, 2015) and Falun Gong practitioners, assisted many indigent and vulnerable persons, and publicized misconduct by high-level government and CCP officials. He was disbarred in 2018 after having practiced law since the mid-1990s. After being disbarred, Qin founded the China Lawyers’ Club to employ disbarred lawyers.
Pretrial Detention: Pretrial detention could last longer than one year. Defendants in “sensitive cases” reported being subjected to prolonged pretrial detention. From 2015 to 2018, authorities held many of the “709” detainees and their defense attorneys in pretrial detention for more than a year without access to their families or their lawyers. Statistics were not published or made publicly available, but lengthy pretrial detentions were especially common in cases of political prisoners.
At year’s end Beijing-based lawyer Li Yuhan, who defended human rights lawyers during the “709” crackdown, remained in detention at the Shenyang Detention Center; she has been held since 2017 and charged with “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” Due to her poor health, Li’s attorney submitted multiple requests to Shenyang authorities to release her on medical parole, but each time her request was denied without reason or hearing. Following a January 8 meeting, Li’s lawyer said she was suffering from various medical conditions and applied for bail, but the court rejected her application. Since their January 8 meeting, authorities blocked the lawyer’s access to Li citing COVID-19 concerns. Li’s trial was postponed repeatedly.
On August 14, the Shenyang Tiexi District Court sentenced human rights advocate Lin Mingjie to a total of five years and six months in prison and a 20,000 renminbi (almost $3,000); an appeal was pending at year’s end. Lin had been detained in 2016 for assembling a group of demonstrators in front of the Ministry of Public Security in Beijing to protest Shenyang Public Security Bureau Director Xu Wenyou’s abuse of power. In 2018 Lin was sentenced to two years and six months in prison, including time served, and was reportedly released in April 2019, although his attorney had neither heard from him nor knew his whereabouts. In September 2019 police reportedly detained Lin again for “picking quarrels and provoking disturbance.” Police also detained Lin Mingjie’s brother, Lin Minghua, for “provoking disturbance” in 2016. The Tiexi District Court sentenced Lin Minghua to three years in prison. The authorities did not disclose the details of the case, including the types of “disturbance” of which the two brothers were accused.
Although the law states the courts shall exercise judicial power independently, without interference from administrative organs, social organizations, and individuals, the judiciary did not exercise judicial power independently. Judges regularly received political guidance on pending cases, including instructions on how to rule, from both the government and the CCP, particularly in politically sensitive cases. The CCP Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission have the authority to review and direct court operations at all levels of the judiciary. All judicial and procuratorate appointments require approval by the CCP Organization Department.
Corruption often influenced court decisions, since safeguards against judicial corruption were vague and poorly enforced. Local governments appointed and paid local court judges and, as a result, often exerted influence over the rulings of those judges.
A CCP-controlled committee decided most major cases, and the duty of trial and appellate court judges was to craft a legal justification for the committee’s decision.
Courts are not authorized to rule on the constitutionality of legislation. The law permits organizations or individuals to question the constitutionality of laws and regulations, but a constitutional challenge may be directed only to the promulgating legislative body. Lawyers had little or no opportunity to rely on constitutional claims in litigation.
Media sources indicated public security authorities used televised confessions of lawyers, foreign and domestic bloggers, journalists, and business executives in an attempt to establish guilt before their criminal trial proceedings began. In some cases these confessions were likely a precondition for release. NGOs asserted such statements were likely coerced, perhaps by torture, and some detainees who confessed recanted upon release and confirmed their confessions had been coerced. No provision in the law allows the pretrial broadcast of confessions by criminal suspects.
In July the United Kingdom broadcasting regulator found in its formal investigation that China Global Television Network, the international news channel of China Central Television, broadcast in 2013 and 2014 a confession forced from a British private investigator imprisoned in China. China Global Television Network faced potential statutory sanctions in the United Kingdom. “Judicial independence” remained one of the subjects the CCP reportedly ordered university professors not to discuss (see section 2.a., Academic Freedom and Cultural Events).
“Judicial independence” remained one of the subjects the CCP reportedly ordered university professors not to discuss (see section 2.a., Academic Freedom and Cultural Events).
Although the law reaffirms the presumption of innocence, the criminal justice system remained biased toward a presumption of guilt, especially in high-profile or politically sensitive cases.
Courts often punished defendants who refused to acknowledge guilt with harsher sentences than those who confessed. The appeals process rarely reversed convictions, and it failed to provide sufficient avenues for review; remedies for violations of defendants’ rights were inadequate.
Regulations of the Supreme People’s Court require trials to be open to the public, with the exception of cases involving state secrets, privacy issues, minors, or on the application of a party to the proceedings, commercial secrets. Authorities used the state secrets provision to keep politically sensitive proceedings closed to the public, sometimes even to family members, and to withhold a defendant’s access to defense counsel. Court regulations state foreigners with valid identification should be allowed to observe trials under the same criteria as citizens, but in practice foreigners were permitted to attend court proceedings only by invitation. As in past years, authorities barred foreign diplomats and journalists from attending several trials. In some instances authorities reclassified trials as “state secrets” cases or otherwise closed them to the public.
Regulations require the release of court judgments online and stipulate court officials should release judgments, with the exception of those involving state secrets and juvenile suspects, within seven days of their adoption. Courts did not post all judgments. They had wide discretion not to post if they found posting the judgment could be considered “inappropriate.” Many political cases did not have judgments posted.
Individuals facing administrative detention do not have the right to seek legal counsel. Criminal defendants are eligible for legal assistance, but the vast majority of criminal defendants went to trial without a lawyer.
Lawyers are required to be members of the CCP-controlled All China Lawyers Association, and the Ministry of Justice requires all lawyers to pledge their loyalty to the leadership of the CCP upon issuance or annual renewal of their license to practice law. The CCP continued to require law firms with three or more party members to form a CCP unit within the firm.
Despite the government’s stated efforts to improve lawyers’ access to their clients, in 2017 the head of the All China Lawyers Association told China Youth Daily that defense attorneys had taken part in less than 30 percent of criminal cases. In particular, human rights lawyers reported authorities did not permit them to defend certain clients or threatened them with punishment if they chose to do so. Some lawyers declined to represent defendants in politically sensitive cases, and such defendants frequently found it difficult to find an attorney. In some instances authorities prevented defendant-selected attorneys from taking the case and instead appointed their own attorney.
The government suspended or revoked the business licenses or law licenses of some lawyers who took on sensitive cases, such as defending prodemocracy dissidents, house-church activists, Falun Gong practitioners, or government critics. Authorities used the annual licensing review process administered by the All China Lawyers Association to withhold or delay the renewal of professional lawyers’ licenses. In August the Hunan provincial justice department revoked the license for human rights lawyer Xie Yang for his 2017 conviction for “inciting subversion of state power.” Xie said the revocation did not follow proper administrative processes and the complaint against was without proper merits. Xie was a “709” detainee and restarted his law practice soon after his release from prison in 2017.
Other government tactics to intimidate or otherwise pressure human rights lawyers included unlawful detention, vague “investigations” of legal offices, disbarment, harassment and physical intimidation, and denial of access to evidence and to clients.
The law governing the legal profession criminalizes attorneys’ actions that “insult, defame, or threaten judicial officers,” “do not heed the court’s admonition,” or “severely disrupt courtroom order.” The law also criminalizes disclosing client or case information to media outlets or using protests, media, or other means to influence court decisions. Violators face fines and up to three years in prison.
Regulations also state detention center officials should either allow defense attorneys to meet suspects or defendants or explain why the meeting cannot be arranged at that time. The regulations specify that a meeting should be arranged within 48 hours. Procuratorates and courts should allow defense attorneys to access and read case files within three working days. The time and frequency of opportunities available for defense attorneys to read case files shall not be limited, according to the guidelines. In some sensitive cases, lawyers had no pretrial access to their clients and limited time to review evidence, and defendants and lawyers were not allowed to communicate with one another during trials. In contravention of the law, criminal defendants frequently were not assigned an attorney until a case was brought to court. The law stipulates the spoken and written language of criminal proceedings shall be conducted in the language common to the specific locality, with government interpreters providing language services for defendants not proficient in the local language. Observers noted trials were predominantly conducted in Mandarin Chinese, even in non-Mandarin-speaking areas, with interpreters provided for defendants who did not speak the language.
Mechanisms allowing defendants to confront their accusers were inadequate. Only a small percentage of trials reportedly involved witnesses. Judges retained significant discretion over whether live witness testimony was required or even allowed. In most criminal trials, prosecutors read witness statements, which neither the defendants nor their lawyers had an opportunity to rebut through cross-examination. Although the law states pretrial witness statements cannot serve as the sole basis for conviction, prosecutors relied heavily on such statements. Defense attorneys had no authority to compel witnesses to testify or to mandate discovery, although they could apply for access to government-held evidence relevant to their case.
In May labor activists Wu Guijun, Zhang Zhiru, He Yuancheng, Jian Hui, and Song Jiahui were released after being sentenced to suspended jail terms of two to four years in a closed-door trial. They were detained in January 2019 on the charge of “disrupting social order;” according to media Zhang and Wu were prevented from hiring lawyers.
In September, three public interest lawyers–Cheng Yuan, Liu Yongze, and Wu Gejianxiong, also known as the “Changsha Three”–were tried without notice to family or their lawyers on suspicion of “subversion of state power.” The lawyers worked for Changsha Funeng, an organization that litigated cases to end discrimination against persons with disabilities and carriers of HIV and hepatitis B. Cheng Yuan had also worked on antitorture programs, litigation to end the country’s one-child policy, and reform for household registration laws. The details of the trial and its outcome remained unknown as year’s end.
Government officials continued to deny holding any political prisoners, asserting persons were detained not for their political or religious views but because they had violated the law. Authorities, however, continued to imprison citizens for reasons related to politics and religion. Human rights organizations estimated tens of thousands of political prisoners remained incarcerated, most in prisons and some in administrative detention. The government did not grant international humanitarian organizations access to political prisoners.
Authorities granted political prisoners early release at lower rates than other prisoners. Thousands of persons were serving sentences for political and religious offenses, including for “endangering state security” and carrying out “cult activities.” The government neither reviewed the cases of those charged before 1997 with counterrevolution and hooliganism nor released persons imprisoned for nonviolent offenses under repealed provisions.
Many political prisoners remained either in prison or under other forms of detention after release at year’s end, including writer Yang Maodong (pen name: Guo Feixiong); Uyghur scholars Ilham Tohti and Rahile Dawut; activists Wang Bingzhang, Chen Jianfang, and Huang Qi; Taiwan prodemocracy activist Lee Ming-Che; pastors Zhang Shaojie and Wang Yi; Falun Gong practitioner Bian Lichao; Catholic Auxiliary Bishop of Shanghai Thaddeus Ma Daqin; rights lawyers Xia Lin, Gao Zhisheng, Xu Zhiyong, and Yu Wensheng; blogger Wu Gan; and Shanghai labor activist Jiang Cunde.
Criminal punishments included “deprivation of political rights” for a fixed period after release from prison, during which an individual could be denied rights of free speech, association, and publication. Former prisoners reported their ability to find employment, travel, obtain residence permits and passports, rent residences, and access social services was severely restricted.
Authorities frequently subjected former political prisoners and their families to surveillance, telephone wiretaps, searches, and other forms of harassment or threats. For example, security personnel followed the family members of detained or imprisoned rights activists to meetings with foreign reporters and diplomats and urged the family members to remain silent about the cases of their relatives. Authorities barred certain members of the rights community from meeting with visiting dignitaries.
There were credible reports the government attempted to misuse international law enforcement tools for politically motivated purposes as a reprisal against specific individuals located outside the country. There also were credible reports that for politically motivated purposes, the government attempted to exert bilateral pressure on other countries aimed at having them take adverse action against specific individuals.
Reports continued throughout the year regarding PRC pressure on Xinjiang-based relatives of persons located outside China who spoke publicly about the detentions and abusive policies underway inside Xinjiang. In Kazakhstan media reported that Kazakh authorities temporarily detained Aqiqat Qaliolla and Zhenis Zarqyn for their protests in front of the PRC embassy regarding lost family members in Xinjiang “re-education” camps.
PRC state media also released videos of Xinjiang-based ethnic and religious minorities to discredit their overseas relatives’ accounts to foreign media. The persons in the videos urged their foreign-based family members to stop “spreading rumors” about Xinjiang. The overseas relatives said they had lost communication with their Xinjiang relatives until the videos were released.
In July, the PRC state publication China Daily, which targets foreign audiences, challenged the account of a foreign citizen, Ferkat Jawdat, who was called by his mother in May 2019 after having lost contact with her because she was in an internment camp and urged to stop his activism and media interviews; the article said Ferkat’s mother was “living a normal life in Xinjiang and has regular contact with him.” In July, China Daily also contradicted the 2019 account of another Uyghur individual, Zumrat Dawut, regarding her elderly father’s death, saying he was not detained and interrogated but died in a hospital beside her older brothers and other family members. Relatives of Dawut joined in a video in November 2019 urging her to stop “spreading rumors.” Overseas-based relatives said the PRC government coerced their family members to produce such videos.
In July a Chinese activist living in Australia on a temporary work visa told SBS World News that the government tracked and harassed her and her family in an attempt to silence her. The activist, who goes by Zoo or Dong Wuyuan, ran a Twitter account that made fun of Xi Jinping and previously had organized rallies in memory of Li Wenliang, the doctor who died after being one of the first to warn the world about COVID-19. She reported her parents were taken to a police station in China on a weekly basis to discuss her online activities. A video showed a police officer in the presence of Zoo’s father telling her, “Although you are [in Australia], you are still governed by the law of China, do you understand?”
In September an Inner Mongolian living in Australia on a temporary visa reported receiving a threatening call from Chinese officials stating that he would be removed from Australia if he spoke openly about changes to language policy in China.
Even those not vocal about Xinjiang faced PRC pressure to provide personal information to PRC officials or return to Xinjiang. Yunus Tohti was a student in Egypt when PRC police contacted him through social media, asked when he would return to Xinjiang, and ordered him to provide personal details such as a copy of his passport. Yunus then fled from Egypt to Turkey and later arrived in the Netherlands. Police in Xinjiang called Yunus’ older brother in Turkey, told him they were standing next to his parents, and said he should return to Xinjiang, which he understood to be threat against his parents’ safety. Yunus Tohti subsequently lost contact with his family in Xinjiang and worried that they may have been detained.
Courts deciding civil matters faced the same limitations on judicial independence as criminal courts. The law provides administrative and judicial remedies for plaintiffs whose rights or interests government agencies or officials have infringed. The law also allows compensation for wrongful detention, mental trauma, or physical injuries inflicted by detention center or prison officials.
Although historically citizens seldom applied for state compensation because of the high cost of bringing lawsuits, low credibility of courts, and citizens’ general lack of awareness of the law, there were instances of courts overturning wrongful convictions. Official media reported that in October, Jin Zhehong was awarded 4.96 million renminbi ($739,000) in compensation for 23 years spent behind bars following an overturned conviction for intentional homicide. The Jilin High People’s Court in an appeal hearing ruled the evidence was insufficient to prove the initial conviction. Jin had originally applied for more than 22 million renminbi (three million dollars) in total compensation after he was freed.
The law provides for the right of an individual to petition the government for resolution of grievances. Most petitions address grievances regarding land, housing, entitlements, the environment, or corruption, and most petitioners sought to present their complaints at local “letters and visits” offices. The government reported approximately six million petitions were submitted every year; however, persons petitioning the government continued to face restrictions on their rights to assemble and raise grievances.
While the central government prohibits blocking or restricting “normal petitioning” and unlawfully detaining petitioners, official retaliation against petitioners continued. Regulations encourage handling all litigation-related petitions at the local level through local or provincial courts, reinforcing a system of incentives for local officials to prevent petitioners from raising complaints to higher levels. Local officials sent security personnel to Beijing to force petitioners to return to their home provinces to prevent them from filing complaints against local officials with the central government. Such detentions often went unrecorded and often resulted in brief periods of incarceration in extralegal “black jails.”
In September relatives of Guo Hongwei, a resident of Jilin City, visited him in prison and reported that Hongwei was physically abused, poorly fed, and suffering unfair mistreatment by prison authorities. He was first arrested and jailed in 2004 for engaging in an “economic dispute” with the Jilin Electronic Hospital. After his release, Hongwei complained to authorities regarding the “unjust treatment” he suffered from the courts and others involved in his case, and he petitioned officials to expunge his prison records and allow him to return to his previous employment. His father said Hongwei appealed his case for years after being released, but authorities ignored his request and at times violently beat Hongwei in their attempt to stop him from appealing, leaving him physically disabled and unable to walk. Despite severe harassment by Jilin security authorities, Hongwei continued to press his case with help from his mother. In 2015 Siping city police reportedly arrested Hongwei and his mother Yunling for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” and “blackmailing the government.” Hongwei was sentenced to 13 years and Yunling to six years and four months in prison. After Yunling and Hongwei were imprisoned, Hongwei’s sister and Yunling’s daughter–Guo Hongying–began to appeal their cases to the authorities. After being detained in 2018, in April 2019 Hongying was sentenced to four years in prison for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” and 18 months for “hindering public affairs.” Yunling was released at the end of 2019; Hongwei and Hongying remained in prison.
The law states the “freedom and privacy of correspondence of citizens are protected by law,” but authorities often did not respect the privacy of citizens. On May 28, the government passed a new civil code scheduled to enter into force on January 1, 2021, that introduces articles on the right to privacy and personal information protection. Although the law requires warrants before officers can search premises, officials frequently ignored this requirement. The Public Security Bureau and prosecutors are authorized to issue search warrants on their own authority without judicial review. There continued to be reports of cases of forced entry by police officers.
Authorities monitored telephone calls, text messages, faxes, email, instant messaging, and other digital communications intended to remain private. Authorities also opened and censored domestic and international mail. Security services routinely monitored and entered residences and offices to gain access to computers, telephones, and fax machines. Foreign journalists leaving the country found some of their personal belongings searched. In some cases, when material deemed politically sensitive was uncovered, the journalists had to sign a statement stating they would “voluntarily” leave these documents in the country.
According to Civil Rights and Livelihood Watch, a website focusing on human rights in China, Lin Xiaohua began appealing the case for the bribery conviction of his older brother Lin Xiaonan, the former mayor of Fu’an City, Fujian Province. In June, Xiaohua tried to send petition letters and case files to the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, the Supreme People’s Court, and the National Commission of Supervision-CCP Central Discipline Inspection Commission, but the post office opened all the letters then refused to deliver them. In July the Xiamen Culture and Tourism Administration confiscated the letters and files, stating they were “illegal publications.”
According to Freedom House, rapid advances in surveillance technology–including artificial intelligence, facial recognition, and intrusive surveillance apps–coupled with growing police access to user data helped facilitate the prosecution of prominent dissidents as well as ordinary users. A Carnegie Endowment report in 2019 noted the country was a major worldwide supplier of artificial-intelligence surveillance technology, such as facial recognition systems, smart city/safe city platforms, and smart policing technology.
According to media reports, the Ministry of Public Security used tens of millions of surveillance cameras throughout the country to monitor the general public. Human rights groups stated authorities increasingly relied on the cameras and other forms of surveillance to monitor and intimidate political dissidents, religious leaders and adherents, Tibetans, and Uyghurs. These included facial recognition and “gait recognition” video surveillance, allowing police not only to monitor a situation but also to quickly identify individuals in crowds. December media reports said Chinese technology companies developed artificial intelligence, surveillance, and other technological capabilities to help police identify ethnic minorities, especially Uyghurs. The media sources cited public-facing websites, company documents, and programming language from firms such as Huawei, Megvii, and Hikvision related to their development of a “Uyghur alarm” that could alert police automatically. Huawei denied its products were designed to identify ethnic groups. The monitoring and disruption of telephone and internet communications were particularly widespread in Xinjiang and Tibetan areas. The government installed surveillance cameras in monasteries in the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) and Tibetan areas outside the TAR (see Special Annex, Tibet). The law allows security agencies to cut communication networks during “major security incidents.”
According to Human Rights Watch, the Ministry of State Security partnered with information technology firms to create a “mass automated voice recognition and monitoring system,” similar to ones already in use in Xinjiang and Anhui, to help with solving criminal cases. According to one company involved, the system was programmed to understand Mandarin Chinese and certain minority languages, including Tibetan and Uyghur. In many cases other biometric data such as fingerprints and DNA profiles were being stored as well. This database included information obtained not just from criminals and criminal suspects but also from entire populations of migrant workers and all Uyghurs applying for passports.
Forced relocation because of urban development continued in some locations. Protests over relocation terms or compensation were common, and authorities prosecuted some protest leaders. In rural areas infrastructure and commercial development projects resulted in the forced relocation of thousands of persons.
Property-related disputes between citizens and government authorities sometimes turned violent. These disputes frequently stemmed from local officials’ collusion with property developers to pay little or no compensation to displaced residents, combined with a lack of effective government oversight or media scrutiny of local officials’ involvement in property transactions, as well as a lack of legal remedies or other dispute resolution mechanisms for displaced residents. The problem persisted despite central government claims it had imposed stronger controls over illegal land seizures and taken steps to standardize compensation.
Government authorities also could interfere in families’ living arrangements when a family member was involved in perceived sensitive political activities. In August, Lu Lina, wife of dissident and rights activist Liu Sifang, used Liu’s Twitter account to document how her landlord in Chancheng District, Foshan city, Guangdong Province, under an order from local police, asked her to move out of the apartment. Approximately 10 days prior, her child had been expelled from school. Liu Sifang joined the “Xiamen meeting” at the end of 2019 with other citizen activists and organizers. In January police arrested many of the individuals who attended that meeting. Liu was abroad at year’s end.
The government at various levels and jurisdictions continued to implement two distinct types of social credit systems. The first, the corporate social credit system, is intended to track and prevent corporate malfeasance. The second, the personal social credit system, is implemented differently depending on geographic location. Although often generically referred to as the country’s “social credit system,” these two systems collect vast amounts of data from companies and individuals in an effort to address deficiencies in “social trust,” strengthen access to financial credit instruments, and reduce corruption. As such, the social credit system often collected information on academic records, traffic violations, social media presence, friendships, adherence to birth control regulations, employment performance, consumption habits, and other topics.
Although the government’s goal is to create a unified government social credit system, there continued to be dozens of disparate social credit systems, operated distinctly at the local, provincial, and the national government levels, as well as separate “private” social credit systems operated by several technology companies. For example, there were reports in which individuals were not allowed to ride public transportation for periods of time because they allegedly had not paid for train tickets.
Industry and business experts commented that in its present state, the social credit system was not used to target companies or individuals for their political or religious beliefs, noting the country already possessed other tools outside of the social credit system to target companies and individuals. The collection of vast amounts of personal data combined with the prospect of a future universal and unified social credit system, however, could allow authorities to control further the population’s behaviors.
In a separate use of social media for censorship, human rights activists reported authorities questioned them about their participation in human rights-related chat groups, including on WeChat and WhatsApp. Authorities monitored the groups to identify activists, which led to users’ increased self-censorship on WeChat as well as several separate arrests of chat group administrators.
The government continued to use the “double-linked household” system in Xinjiang developed through many years of use in Tibet. This system divides towns and neighborhoods into units of 10 households each, with the households in each unit instructed to watch over each other and report on “security issues” and poverty problems to the government, thus turning average citizens into informers. In Xinjiang the government also continued to require Uyghur families to accept government “home stays,” in which officials or volunteers forcibly lived in Uyghurs’ homes and monitored families’ observance of religion for signs of “extremism.” Those who exhibited behaviors the government considered to be signs of “extremism,” such as praying, possessing religious texts, or abstaining from alcohol or tobacco, could be detained in “re-education camps.”
The government restricted the right to have children (see section 6, Women).
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape of women is illegal and carries a sentence that ranges from three years in prison to death. The law does not safeguard same-sex couples or victims of marital rape. A separate law on sexual assault includes male victims but has a lesser maximum penalty of five years in prison. Of the reported cases, most allegations of rape were closed through private settlement rather than prosecution. Some persons convicted of rape were executed.
Domestic violence remained a significant problem. Some scholars said victims were encouraged to attempt to resolve domestic violence through mediation. Societal sentiment that domestic violence was a personal, private matter contributed to underreporting and inaction by authorities when women faced violence at home. The law defines domestic violence as a civil, rather than a criminal, offense. The web publication Sixth Tone reported in 2019 that 25 percent of families had experienced domestic violence. In July the city of Yiwu, Zhejiang Province, launched an inquiry service where engaged couples can look up whether their prospective partner has a history of violence, “either between family members or during cohabitation;” however, as of the end of August, there were no requests to use this database.
In September internet celebrity Lhamo was burned to death during a livestream broadcast by her former husband, who attacked her and lit her on fire with gasoline. Police detained the former husband, surnamed Tang, but at year’s end no further information was available on their investigation into the case. Observers said her death showed how domestic violence remained a serious and prevalent issue in the country.
The government supported shelters for victims of domestic violence, and some courts provided protections to victims, including through court protective orders prohibiting a perpetrator of domestic violence from coming near a victim. Nonetheless, official assistance did not always reach victims, and public security forces often ignored domestic violence. Legal aid institutions working to provide counseling and defense to victims of domestic violence were often pressured to suspend public activities and cease all forms of policy advocacy, an area that was reserved only for government-sponsored organizations.
According to women’s rights activists, a recurring problem in the prosecution of domestic violence cases was a failure by authorities to collect evidence, including photographs, hospital records, police records, or children’s testimony. Witnesses seldom testified in court.
Courts’ recognition of domestic violence improved, making spousal abuse a mitigating factor in crimes committed in self-defense.
Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment against women. In May the civil code expanded and clarified what conduct can be considered sexual harassment. The law expands the behaviors included in the definition of harassment, eliminates the statute of limitations of minors seeking to sue on sexual harassment grounds, and requires employers to make affirmative efforts to prevent and address sexual harassment in the workplace. It remained difficult for victims to file a sexual harassment complaint and for judges to reach a ruling on such cases. Many women remained unwilling to report incidents of sexual harassment, believing the justice system was ineffectual, according to official media. Several prominent media reports of sexual harassment went viral on social media, helping to raise awareness of the problem, particularly in the workplace.
In July a plaintiff won the country’s first-ever sexual harassment lawsuit, which began in 2018 when a social worker at a Chengdu-based NGO, One Day for Social Service Center, sued her prominent former boss, Liu Meng, for his unwelcome advances. The court, however, neither awarded damages to the plaintiff nor held the NGO accountable. The Ginkgo Foundation, a well known public charity organization, revoked the “Ginkgo Fellow” award it gave to Liu in 2011 in a show of respect for “the plaintiff’s courage and persistence.”
On April 15, a hospital department director in Sichuan was suspended for “inappropriate behavior” after a nurse claimed the director had sexually harassed her. In April a Shanghai-based employee of the German supermarket Aldi sued her supervisor, a foreign national, for repeated sexual harassment.
Human Rights Watch cited one statistic showing nearly 40 percent of women said they experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. Many incidents of workplace sexual harassment, however, were unreported.
The law allows victims to file a sexual harassment complaint with their employer, authorities, or both. Employers who failed to take effective measures to prevent sexual harassment could be fined.
Some women’s NGOs that sought to increase public awareness of sexual harassment reported harassment by public security and faced challenges executing their programs.
Reproductive Rights: In 2016 the government partially liberalized the one-child policy enacted in 1979 and raised the birth limit imposed on the vast majority of its citizens from one to two children per married couple. Prior to this change, only select ethnic minorities and certain qualifying couples could exceed the one-child limit. Outside of Xinjiang, citizens have a varied amount of autonomy with their reproductive health and access to contraception. Birth control information and measures were readily available.
Government targeting of ethnic and religious minorities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region resulted in plummeting birth rates since 2018, following reports of intensified government-enforced, coercive family-planning measures. Most Xinjiang prefectures reported large increases in female sterilizations and implantation of intrauterine devices (IUD), with Hotan Prefecture alone more than doubling its female sterilization numbers from 2017 to 2018, according to the most recent figures available. These numbers existed against a backdrop of widespread reports of coercive population control measures–including forced abortions, forced sterilizations, involuntary IUD insertions, and pregnancy checks–occurring at detention centers in the region and targeting minority groups, primarily Uyghurs and ethnic Kazaks. Parents judged to have exceeded the government limit on the number of children (three or more) risk being sent to detention centers unless they pay exorbitant fines.
Penalties for exceeding the permitted number of children were not enforced uniformly; the mildest penalties ranged from fees or administrative penalties, while the most severe were forced abortions, contraceptives, and sterilizations. The law as implemented requires each woman with an unauthorized pregnancy to abort or pay a “social compensation fee,” which can reach 10 times a person’s annual disposable income. Children born to single mothers or unmarried couples were considered “outside of the policy” and under the law could be subject to the social compensation fee and the denial of legal documents, such as birth documents and the hukou residence permit. In practice, however, local governments rarely enforced these regulations.
There was no government information available on sexual or reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence.
Coercion in Population Control: Under the two-child policy, the government imposes childbirth restrictions and often coerced women and girls into abortions and sterilizations for exceeding birth quotas. Statistics on the percentage of abortions that were coerced during the year were not released by the government. The CCP restricts the rights of parents to choose the number of children they have and utilizes family planning units from the provincial to the village level to enforce population limits and distributions. The Population and Family Planning Law permits married couples to have two children and allows couples to apply for permission to have a third child if they meet conditions stipulated in local and provincial regulations. Unmarried women are not authorized to have children and have enormous social maintenance fees imposed on them if they give birth.
According to a June 8 report on the governmental Xinjiang Web news site, approximately eight million “extra pregnancies” are aborted in the country every year, although the site did not indicate whether these abortions were voluntary or not. Citizens were subject to hefty fines for violating the law, while couples who had only one child received a certificate entitling them to collect a monthly incentive payment and other benefits that varied by province–from approximately six to 12 renminbi (one to two dollars) per month up to 3,000 renminbi ($450) for farmers and herders in poor areas. Couples in some provinces were required to seek approval and register before a child was conceived. The National Health Commission rejected calls to eliminate legal references to family planning, citing the country’s constitutional provision that “the state promotes family planning so that population growth may fit the plans for economic and social development.”
Starting in 2016, the PRC began relaxing birth control measures for the Han majority. Sterilization procedures plummeted nationwide as the Chinese government began encouraging more births among the Han. At the same time, however, birth control policies directed toward Uyghurs became more stringent. Ethnic and religious minority women were often subject to coercive population control measures. According to a Jamestown Foundation report and other sources that analyzed Chinese government statistics, natural population growth in Uyghur areas had fallen dramatically, with some areas reporting a greater than 80 percent drop in birth rates. Birth rate reduction targets were common in Xinjiang; one area reportedly set a birth rate target of near zero, intending to accomplish this through “family planning work.” Violations could be punished by detention in an internment camp. The government also funded sterilization campaigns targeting Uyghur women; these were reportedly enforced by quarterly “IUD checks” and bimonthly pregnancy tests. There were indications that Uyghur women who had been put in internment camps were injected with drugs that cause a temporary or permanent end to their menstrual cycles and fertility.
Under the law and in practice, there are financial and administrative penalties for births that exceed birth limits or otherwise violate regulations. The law as implemented requires each woman with an unauthorized pregnancy to abort or pay the social compensation fee, which can reach 10 times a person’s annual disposable income. The exact amount of the fee varied widely from province to province. Those with financial means often paid the fee so that their children born in violation of the birth restrictions would have access to a wide array of government-provided social services and rights. Some parents avoided the fee by hiding children born in violation of the law with friends or relatives. Minorities in some provinces were entitled to higher limits on their family size.
The law maintains “citizens have an obligation to practice birth planning in accordance with the law” and also states “couples of child-bearing age shall voluntarily choose birth planning contraceptive and birth control measures to prevent and reduce unwanted pregnancies.”
Since the national family planning law mentions only the rights of married couples, local implementation was inconsistent, and unmarried persons were required to pay for contraception. Although under both civil law and marriage law, the children of single women are entitled to the same rights as those born to married parents, in practice children born to single mothers or unmarried couples were considered “outside of the policy” and subject to the social compensation fee and the denial of legal documents, such as birth documents and the hukou residence permit. Single women could avoid those penalties by marrying within 60 days of the baby’s birth.
As in prior years, population control policy continued to rely on social pressure, education, propaganda, and economic penalties, as well as on measures such as mandatory pregnancy examinations and, less frequently, coerced abortions and sterilizations. Officials at all levels could receive rewards or penalties based on whether or not they met the population targets set by their administrative region. With the higher birth limit, and since many persons wanted to have no more than two children, it was easier to achieve population targets, and the pressure on local officials was considerably less than before. Those found to have a pregnancy in violation of the law or those who helped another to evade state controls could face punitive measures, such as onerous fines or job loss.
Regulations requiring women who violate the family planning policy to terminate their pregnancies still exist and were enforced in some provinces, such as Hubei, Hunan, and Liaoning. Other provinces such as Guizhou and Yunnan maintained provisions that require “remedial measures,” an official euphemism for abortion, to deal with pregnancies that violate the policy.
Although many local governments encouraged couples to have a second child, families with three or more children still must pay a “social compensation fee.” In previous years those who did not pay the fee were added to a “personal credit blacklist,” restricting their ability to request loans, take public transportation, purchase items, educate their children, and join tours. The compensation fees were estimated to be 15 to 30 percent of some local governments’ discretionary spending budgets.
The law mandates family planning bureaus administer pregnancy tests to married women of childbearing age and provide them with basic knowledge of family planning and prenatal services. Some provinces fined women who did not undergo periodic state-mandated pregnancy tests.
Family planning officials face criminal charges and administrative sanctions if they are found to violate citizens’ human or property rights, abuse their power, accept bribes, misappropriate or embezzle family planning funds, or falsely report family planning statistics in the enforcement of birth limitation policy. Forced abortion is not specifically listed as a prohibited activity. By law citizens could submit formal complaints about officials who exceed their authority in implementing birth-planning policy, and complaints are to be investigated and dealt with in a timely manner.
Discrimination: The constitution states “women enjoy equal rights with men in all spheres of life.” The law provides for equality in ownership of property, inheritance rights, access to education, and equal pay for equal work. Nonetheless, women reported discrimination, unfair dismissal, demotion, and wage discrepancies were significant problems.
On average women earned 35 percent less than men who did similar work. This wage gap was greater in rural areas. Women were underrepresented in leadership positions, despite their high rate of participation in the labor force.
Authorities often did not enforce laws protecting the rights of women. According to legal experts, it was difficult to litigate sex discrimination suits because of vague legal definitions. Some observers noted the agencies tasked with protecting women’s rights tended to focus on maternity-related benefits and wrongful termination due to pregnancy or maternity leave rather than on sex discrimination, violence against women, or sexual harassment.
Women’s rights advocates indicated that in rural areas women often forfeited land and property rights to their husbands in divorce proceedings. The May 28 civil code included a provision for a 30-day “cooling off” period in cases of uncontested divorce; some citizens expressed concern this could leave those seeking escape from domestic violence liable to further abuse. Rural contract law and laws protecting women’s rights stipulate women enjoy equal rights in cases of land management, but experts asserted this was rarely the case due to the complexity of the law and difficulties in its implementation.
Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from parents. Parents must register their children in compliance with the national household registration system within one month of birth. Children born outside of two-child policy quotas often cannot be registered. Unregistered children could not access public services, including education, health care, identity registration, or pension benefits.
Education: Although the law provides for nine years of compulsory education for children, many children in poor rural areas did not attend school for the required period, and some never attended. Public schools were not allowed to charge tuition, but many schools continued to charge miscellaneous fees because they received insufficient local and central government funding. Such fees and other school-related expenses made it difficult for poorer families and some migrant workers to send their children to school. The gap in education quality for rural and urban youth remained extensive, with many children of migrant workers attending unlicensed and poorly equipped schools.
Child Abuse: The physical abuse of children is grounds for criminal prosecution, and the law protects children. Sexual abuse of minors, particularly of rural children, was a significant problem.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 22 for men and 20 for women. Child marriage was not known to be a problem.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum legal age for consensual sex is 14. Persons who forced girls younger than 14 into prostitution could be sentenced to 10 years to life in prison in addition to a fine or confiscation of property. In especially serious cases, violators could receive a life sentence or death sentence, in addition to having their property confiscated. Those who visited girls forced into prostitution younger than 14 were subject to five years or more in prison in addition to paying a fine.
Pornography of any kind, including child pornography, is illegal. Under the criminal code, those producing, reproducing, publishing, selling, or disseminating obscene materials with the purpose of making a profit could be sentenced to up to three years in prison or put under criminal detention or surveillance in addition to paying a fine. Offenders in serious cases could receive prison sentences of three to 10 years in addition to paying a fine.
According to the law, persons broadcasting or showing obscene materials to minors younger than 18 are to be “severely punished.”
Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: The law forbids infanticide, although NGOs reported that female infanticide due to a traditional preference for sons and coercive birth limitation policies continued. Parents of children with disabilities frequently left infants at hospitals, primarily because of the anticipated cost of medical care. Gender-biased abortions and the abandonment and neglect of baby girls were believed to be in decline but continued to be a problem in some circumstances.
Displaced Children: The detention of an estimated one million or more Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and other Muslims in Xinjiang left many children without caregivers. While many of these children had other relatives willing to care for them, the government began placing the children of detainees in orphanages, state-run boarding schools, or “child welfare guidance centers,” where they were forcibly indoctrinated with Communist Party ideology and forced to learn Mandarin Chinese, reject their religious and cultural beliefs, and answer questions about their parents’ religious beliefs and practices. The number of such children was unknown, especially as many of these facilities were also used for orphans and regular students, but one media outlet reported that, based on a 2017 government planning document, at least 500,000 children were separated from their parents and put into these “care” centers. Government policy aims to provide such children with state-sponsored care until they reach age 18. In Hotan some boarding schools were topped with barbed wire.
Institutionalized Children: See “Displaced Children” section above.
International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.
The government does not recognize Judaism as an ethnicity or religion. The World Jewish Congress estimated the Jewish population at 2,500. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts during the year.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
The law protects the rights of persons with disabilities and prohibits discrimination, but in many instances conditions for such persons lagged behind legal requirements, and the government failed to provide persons with disabilities access to programs intended to assist them.
According to the law, persons with disabilities “are entitled to enjoyment of equal rights as other citizens in political, economic, cultural, and social fields, in family life, and in other aspects.” Discrimination against, insult of, and infringement upon persons with disabilities is prohibited. The law prohibits discrimination against minors with disabilities and codifies a variety of judicial protections for juveniles.
The Ministry of Education reported there were more than 2,000 separate education schools for children with disabilities, but NGOs reported only 2 percent of the 20 million children with disabilities had access to education that met their needs.
Individuals with disabilities faced difficulties accessing higher education. Universities often excluded candidates with disabilities who would otherwise be qualified. A regulation mandates accommodations for students with disabilities when taking the national university entrance exam.
Unemployment among adults with disabilities, in part due to discrimination, remained a serious problem. The law requires local governments to offer incentives to enterprises that hire persons with disabilities. Regulations in some parts of the country also require employers to pay into a national fund for persons with disabilities when employees with disabilities do not make up a statutory minimum percentage of the total workforce.
Standards adopted for making roads and buildings accessible to persons with disabilities are subject to the Law on the Handicapped, which calls for their “gradual” implementation; compliance was limited.
The law forbids the marriage of persons with certain mental disabilities, such as schizophrenia. If doctors find a couple is at risk of transmitting congenital disabilities to their children, the couple may marry only if they agree to use birth control or undergo sterilization. In some instances officials continued to require couples to abort pregnancies when doctors discovered possible disabilities during prenatal examinations. The law stipulates local governments are to employ such practices to eliminate the births of children with disabilities.
Government policy called for members of recognized minority groups to receive preferential treatment in birth planning, university admission, access to loans, and employment. The substance and implementation of ethnic minority policies nonetheless remained poor, and discrimination against minorities remained widespread. The government “sinicization” campaign resulted in ethnically based restrictions on movement, including curtailed ability to travel freely or obtain travel documents; greater surveillance and presence of armed police in ethnic minority communities; and legislative restrictions on cultural and religious practices.
Despite laws that local languages should be used in schools, government authorities in Inner Mongolia announced on August 26 changes to school instruction that require instructors to use Mandarin to teach Chinese language, history, and politics, replacing the Mongolian language and traditional Mongolian script, which reportedly is used only in Inner Mongolia and is viewed as a key part of Mongolian culture. The PRC implemented similar policies in Xinjiang and Tibet as a means to encourage a “national common language,” but which observers viewed as a means to erode unique languages and cultures. The announcement was followed by protests in several cities in Inner Mongolia, as well as parents pulling their children out of schools. International media sources estimated 8,000-10,000 persons were detained because of the protests.
According to the most recent government census (2015), 9.5 million, or 40 percent, of Xinjiang’s official residents were Han Chinese. Uyghur, Hui, ethnic Kazakh, Kyrgyz, and other ethnic minorities constituted 14.1 million Xinjiang residents, or 60 percent of the total population. Official statistics understated the Han Chinese population because they did not count the more than 2.7 million Han residents on paramilitary compounds (bingtuan) and those who were long-term “temporary workers,” an increase of 1.2 percent over the previous year, according to a 2015 government of Xinjiang report.
The government’s policy to encourage Han Chinese migration into minority areas significantly increased the population of Han in Xinjiang. Han Chinese officials continued to hold the majority of the most powerful CCP and many government positions in minority autonomous regions, particularly Xinjiang. The rapid influx of Han Chinese into Xinjiang in recent decades, combined with the government’s discrimination in employment, cultural marginalization, and religious repression, provoked Uyghur resentment.
In 2017 the Xinjiang government implemented “Deradicalization Regulations,” codifying efforts to “contain and eradicate extremism.” The government used this broad definition of extremism to detain, since 2017, more than one million Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and other Muslims in “transformation through education” centers, or detention centers, designed to instill patriotism and erase their religious and ethnic identities. This included many of those ordered to return to China from studying or working abroad. International media reported security officials in the centers abused, tortured, and killed some detainees (see sections 1.a., 1.b., 1.c., 1.d., and 2.d.).
Outside the internment camps, the government implemented severe restrictions on expressions of minorities’ culture, language, and religious identity, including regulations prohibiting behaviors the government considered signs of “extremism” such as growing “abnormal” beards, wearing veils in public places, and suddenly stopping smoking and drinking alcohol, among other behaviors. The regulations banned the use of some Islamic names when naming children and set punishments for teaching religion to children. Authorities conducted “household surveys” and “home stays” in which officials or volunteers forcibly lived in Uyghurs’ homes and monitored families for signs of “extremism.” There were media reports that male officials would sleep in the same bed as the wives of men who were detained in internment camps, as part of the “Pair Up and Become Family” program, and also bring alcohol and pork for consumption during the home stay. Authorities also used a vast array of surveillance technology designed to specifically target and track Uyghurs.
Xinjiang government “de-extremification” regulations state that county-level governments “may establish occupational skills education and training centers and other such education and transformation bodies and management departments to conduct education and transformation for persons influenced by extremism.” Some observers noted that despite this regional law, the “re-education centers” were illegal under the constitution.
Minority groups in border and other regions had less access to education than their Han Chinese counterparts, faced job discrimination in favor of Han Chinese migrants, and earned incomes well below those in other parts of the country. Government development programs and job provisions disrupted traditional living patterns of minority groups and in some cases included the forced relocation of persons and the forced settlement of nomads. Han Chinese benefited disproportionately from government programs and economic growth in minority areas. As part of its emphasis on building a “harmonious society” and maintaining social stability, the government downplayed racism and institutional discrimination against minorities and cracked down on peaceful expressions of ethnic culture and religion. These policies remained a source of deep resentment in Xinjiang, the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, the TAR, and other Tibetan areas.
The law states “schools (classes and grades) and other institutions of education where most of the students come from minority nationalities shall, whenever possible, use textbooks in their own languages and use their languages as the medium of instruction.” Despite provisions to ensure cultural and linguistic rights, measures requiring full instruction in Mandarin beginning in preschool and banning the use of Uyghur in all educational activities and management were implemented throughout Xinjiang, according to international media.
Many of the security raids, arbitrary detentions, and judicial punishments appeared to target groups or individuals peacefully seeking to express their political or religious views. Detention and punishment extended to expression on the internet and social media, including the browsing, downloading, and transmitting of banned content. Officials continued to use the threat of violence as justification for extreme security measures directed at the local population, journalists, and visiting foreigners. According to Xinhua, officials used surveillance and facial recognition software, biodata collection, and big data technology to create a database of Uyghurs in Xinjiang for the purpose of conducting “social-instability forecasting, prevention, and containment.” Security forces frequently staged large-scale parades involving thousands of armed police in cities across Xinjiang, according to state media.
Uyghurs and members of other religious and ethnic minority groups continued to be sentenced to long prison terms and were in some cases executed without due process on spurious charges of separatism and endangering state security.
The law criminalizes discussion of “separatism” on the internet and prohibits use of the internet in any way that undermines national unity. It further bans inciting ethnic separatism or “harming social stability” and requires internet service providers and network operators to set up monitoring systems to detect, report, and delete religious content or to strengthen existing systems and report violations of the law. Authorities searched cell phones at checkpoints and during random inspections of Uyghur households, and persons in possession of alleged terrorist material, including pictures of general religious or cultural importance, could be arrested and charged with crimes. International media reported security officials at police checkpoints used a surveillance application to download and view content on mobile phones.
Ethnic Kazakhs were also targeted. In June outside the Chinese embassy in Kazakhstan’s capital Nur-Sultan, ethnic Kazakh and former Xinjiang resident Akikat Kalliola (alternate spelling Aqiqat Qaliolla) protested the forced detention, “re-education,” and blocked international communications for his Xinjiang-based immediate family members, namely his parents and two brothers. Authorities seized the Xinjiang-based family members’ passports, preventing them from traveling to Kazakhstan to see Kalliola. In December, Kalliola reported his father had died in prison, but by the end of the year, authorities had yet to issue a death certificate or allow access to the body. Kazakhs were also prevented from moving freely between China and neighboring Kazakhstan, and some were detained in internment camps upon their return to China.
The government pressured foreign countries to repatriate or deny visas to Uyghurs who had left China, and repatriated Uyghurs faced the risk of imprisonment and mistreatment upon return. Some Uyghurs who were forcibly repatriated disappeared after arriving in China. Family members of Uyghurs studying overseas were also pressured to convince students to return to China, and returning students were detained or forced to attend “re-education camps,” according to overseas media. Overseas ethnic Uyghurs, whether they were citizens of the PRC or their countries of residence, were sometimes pressured to provide information about the Uyghur diaspora community to agents of the PRC government.
Freedom of assembly was severely limited in Xinjiang. For information about abuse of religious freedom in Xinjiang, see the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
For specific information on Tibet, see the Tibet Annex.
No laws criminalize private consensual same-sex conduct between adults. Individuals and organizations working on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) issues continued to report discrimination and harassment from authorities similar to that experienced by other organizations that accept funding from overseas.
LGBTI individuals reported incidents of violence, including domestic violence; however, they encountered difficulties in seeking legal redress, since regulations on domestic violence do not include recognition of same-sex relations. Accessing redress was further limited by societal discrimination and traditional norms, resulting in most LGBTI persons refraining from publicly discussing their sexual orientation or gender identity. Nonetheless, the May 28 civil code includes a provision that protects certain tenancy rights for designated partners of deceased property owners without officially defined family relationships.
NGOs working on LGBTI issues reported that although public advocacy work became more difficult for them due to laws governing charities and foreign NGOs, they made some progress in advocating for LGBTI rights through specific antidiscrimination cases.
Discrimination against persons with HIV remained a problem, impacting individuals’ employment, education, and housing opportunities and impeding access to health care. In some instances laws protecting persons with HIV from discrimination contradict laws restricting the rights of persons with HIV. During the year state media outlets reported instances of persons with HIV or AIDS who were barred from housing, education, or employment due to their HIV status. According to the National Health Commission, as of the end of 2019, an estimated 950,000 persons in the country had HIV or AIDS.
According to the law, companies may not demand HIV antibody tests nor dismiss employees for having HIV. Nonetheless, regulations also stipulate that HIV-positive individuals shall not engage in work that is prohibited by laws, administrative regulations, and the Department of Health under the State Council.
In October 2019 a 32-year-old temporary worker named Liu, who had worked for Mao Tai Liquor Company in Guizhou for two years, was fired after he tested positive for HIV. The Mao Tai staff hospital did not inform him of his HIV test result during his routine medical exam.
Early in the year, a retired worker named Wang Ming in Xi’an was “persuaded” by the president of a local public hospital to return home, citing his coughing as a chronic disease. Wang Ming stated his belief the public hospital declined him service after finding out he was HIV positive, infected earlier during a dental operation at a private clinic.
In March an 11-year-old girl named Shasha whose HIV was transmitted via her mother was forced to drop out of school due to extensive discrimination at Chiduanwan Elementary School in Hunan.
In an effort to justify the detention of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang and elsewhere, official state media outlets published numerous articles describing members of minority ethnic or religious groups as violent and inferior. Such propaganda emphasized the connection between religious beliefs, in particular belief in Islam, and acts of violence. Moreover, many articles described religious adherents as culturally backward and less educated, and thus in need of government rectification.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were no credible reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
The law prohibits such practices, but there were several reports police physically abused or degraded detainees. In March, Amnesty International reported interviews with multiple alleged victims of police brutality. Police denied these allegations. Protests associated with the lead-up to the implementation of the National Security Law featured multiple clashes between police and protesters, some of which involved physical violence.
In the week of May 25, police arrested approximately 400 protesters, including some 100 minors. During their arrest and detention, officials made no effort to address health concerns created by the COVID-19 pandemic. In a September case demonstrating the more aggressive tactics adopted by police, police were recorded tackling a 12-year-old girl, who fled after police stopped her for questioning.
There were reports of prison or detention center conditions that raised human rights concerns.
Physical Conditions: According to activists, detained protesters were held at the Castle Peak Immigration Center under unacceptable hygienic conditions and subjected to verbal and mental abuse. In response to a 2019 police brutality allegation and after the September 2019 closure of the San Uk Ling Holding Center, in May the Hong Kong Police Force border commissioner convened a task force to investigate the accusations made by protesters.
Administration: The government investigated allegations of problematic conditions and documented the results in a publicly accessible manner. There was an external Office of the Ombudsman. Activists and legislators, however, urged the government to establish an independent prisoner complaint and monitoring mechanism for prisons and detention centers.
Independent Monitoring: The government generally permitted legislators and justices of the peace to conduct prison visits. Justices of the peace may make suggestions and comments on matters, such as physical conditions, overcrowding, staff improvement, training and recreational programs and activities, and other matters affecting the welfare of inmates.
The Independent Police Complaints Council is the police watchdog, responsible for investigating alleged corruption or abuses. In a November 19 ruling, a court of first instance (trial court) declared the complaints council incapable of effective investigation, as it lacked necessary investigative powers and was insufficient to fulfill the Special Administrative Region (SAR) government’s obligations under the Basic Law to provide an independent mechanism to investigate complaints against police. The SAR government was appealing the ruling.
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. Several claims of arbitrary arrest were made in connection with the protests and alleged National Security Law (NSL) violations.
At the time of its passage, the Hong Kong SAR and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) claimed the NSL was not retroactive.
On July 1, within hours of the NSL’s passage, police detained individuals based on their attire, searched their belongings, and arrested them for violating the NSL if the items in their possession were deemed to be against the PRC or the local government.
On August 10, police arrested 16 more individuals, including Agnes Chow, one of the cofounders of the former opposition party Demosisto, although Chow and the other two cofounders, Nathan Law and Joshua Wong, disbanded Demosisto the day before the NSL became effective. Chow refrained from political activity after the law was passed. She and human rights activist concluded that her arrest meant that the national security forces were retroactively applying the NSL.
During a protest on October 1, Chinese National Day, police reportedly indiscriminately rounded up persons in a popular shopping district, despite having no evidence that those individuals participated in the protest.
The Hong Kong Police Force maintains internal security and reports to the SAR’s security bureau. The People’s Liberation Army is responsible for foreign defense. The immigration department of the security bureau controls passage of persons into and out of the SAR as well as the documentation of local residents. All Hong Kong security services, in theory, ultimately report to the chief executive, but following the implementation of the NSL imposed by Beijing, the SAR established an Office of Safeguarding National Security, a National Security Committee, and a National Security branch of the Hong Kong police. Because these organs ultimately report to the Chinese central government and mainland security personnel are present in some or all of these bodies, the ability of SAR civilian authorities to maintain effective control over the security force was no longer clear.
Multiple sources reported suspected members of the Chinese central government security services in the SAR monitoring political activists, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and academics who criticized the Chinese central government’s policies.
Although the Independent Police Complaints Council is supposed to be an independent investigatory body responsible for addressing accusations of police corruption or abuses, activists expressed concern that the chief executive appointed all council members and noted that its lack of power to conduct independent investigations limited its oversight capacity. There was wide public support for the establishment of a commission of inquiry into alleged police abuses in handling the protests. In May the council released its report on the police response to the 2019 protests and claimed that while there was room for improvement, and acknowledging some specific flaws in police operations, such as excessive and indiscriminate use of tear gas, there were no systematic abuses and the police force acted in accordance with the law. The report did not address any specific cases of alleged abuse; the council chose to address police actions “thematically” by looking at major incidents during the period of protest.
Police generally apprehended suspects openly when they observed suspects committing a crime or with warrants based on sufficient evidence and issued by a duly authorized official. Police must promptly charge arrested suspects. The government respected this right and generally brought arrested persons before a judicial officer within 48 hours. Detainees were generally informed promptly of charges against them. There was a functioning bail system that allowed persons not charged to put up bail to be released from detention pending the filing of charges. Activists argued that the bail system left the arrested in purgatory–not officially charged but with a monthly check-in requirement and no defined period under the law within which the government is required to file charges. During routine check-ins, activists and protesters have been rearrested, often having new charges brought against them.
For example, in August 2019, Joshua Wong was arrested, charged with organizing an illegal assembly, and released on bail. Following his release, during a routine bail check-in held in September, Wong was rearrested and charged for a nearly one-year-old violation of the 2019 antimask emergency regulation. Wong was convicted of the initial charge of organizing an illegal assembly and sentenced to 13.5 months’ imprisonment on December 2.
Democracy activists were increasingly denied bail. In December during a routine bail check-in, media owner and democracy activist Jimmy Lai was arrested on fraud charges related to the use of office space and denied bail. Legal scholars noted bail denial is unusual in civil suits; Lai was subsequently charged on December 11 under the NSL. The NSL sets a higher standard for bail than do other laws, and in one case, activists alleged that this higher standard violated the presumption of innocence. The court, however, found that the defendant in that case would have been denied bail even under the pre-existing standards of Hong Kong law.
Authorities allowed detainees access to a lawyer of their choice, although the Hong Kong Bar Association reported that lawyers experienced obstruction at police stations and delays in seeing clients arrested during protests. Suspects were not detained incommunicado or held under house arrest. Interviews of suspects are required to be videotaped.
Although the law generally provides for an independent judiciary, there were indications that this independence was being challenged. As it did for the police force, the Department of Justice set up a separate office that deals with NSL prosecutions. There were media reports that this office also managed certain prosecutions against opposition activists not charged under the NSL. Activists voiced concern that those charged under the NSL may be denied a fair and public trial, as the NSL allows extradition to the mainland for trial. Chinese Communist Party mouthpieces in Hong Kong put pressure on the judiciary to accept more “guidance” from the government and called for extradition to the mainland in at least one high-profile case; they also criticized sentences deemed too lenient. Arrests made by police and the prosecutions pursued by the Justice Department appeared to be increasingly politically motivated in nature.
The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary largely enforced this right. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them and the right to a trial without undue delay.
Defendants are presumed innocent, except in official corruption cases: Under the law a sitting or former government official who maintains a standard of living above that commensurate with an official income or who controls monies or property disproportionate to an official income is considered guilty of an offense unless the official can satisfactorily explain the discrepancy. The courts upheld this ordinance. Trials are by jury except at the magistrate and district court level. An attorney is provided at public expense if defendants cannot afford counsel. Defendants have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. The government conducted court proceedings in either Cantonese or English, the SAR’s two official languages. The government provided interpretation service to those not conversant in Cantonese or English during all criminal court proceedings. Defendants could confront and question witnesses testifying against them and present witnesses to testify on their own behalf. Defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt, the right to be present at their trial, and the right of appeal.
The SAR’s courts are charged with interpreting those provisions of the Basic Law that address matters within the limits of the SAR’s autonomy. SAR courts also interpret provisions of the Basic Law that relate to central government responsibilities or the relationship between the central authorities and the SAR. The Court of Final Appeal may seek an interpretation of relevant provisions from the PRC central government’s Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC). SAR courts must by law follow the standing committee’s interpretations in cases involving central government jurisdiction, although judgments previously rendered are not affected. The standing committee has issued five interpretations of the Basic Law since 1997. The most recent, issued in 2016, requires lawmakers “to accurately, completely, and solemnly” swear an oath to uphold the Basic Law and recognize the Hong Kong SAR as a part of China before taking office. This ruling was the basis, in 2017, for disqualifying six opposition figures from taking their Legislative Council seats.
Under the NSL the chief executive provides a list of judges eligible to hear NSL cases. The NPC Standing Committee determines how the NSL is interpreted, not a SAR-based judiciary or elected body. The standing committee has the power in certain cases to extradite the accused to the mainland and hold trials behind closed doors. As of November, no cases have come to trial to validate or negate apprehensions about the NSL trial mechanisms.
Activists claimed the SAR increasingly used legal tools, such as denial of bail and pursuing minor charges, to detain prodemocracy figures. In one such case, the courts denied Jimmy Lai bail for fraud charges, which is a civil offense. While in custody, security forces charged Lai with “foreign collusion” under the NSL, a provision that is not well defined.
The NSL is not restricted to the SAR or its residents, but instead claims jurisdiction over any individual, regardless of location, deemed to be engaged in one of the four criminal activities under the NSL: secession, subversion, terrorist activities, or collusion with a foreign country or external elements to endanger national security. In August the national security forces purportedly issued arrest warrants for six individuals, all residing abroad, and one of whom had foreign citizenship and had resided outside the SAR and mainland China for more than 20 years. Although reported in state-controlled media, the government refused to acknowledge the existence of the warrants.
There is an independent and impartial judiciary for civil matters and access to a court to bring lawsuits seeking damages for human rights violations by SAR agencies or persons, with the possible exception of employees of the National Security division, as well as Central Government Liaison Office, depending on interpretations of the law.
The law prohibits such actions, but there were reports the SAR government failed to respect these prohibitions, including credible reports that Chinese central government security services and the Beijing-mandated Office for Safeguarding National Security monitored prodemocracy and human rights activists and journalists in the SAR. In October the national security police force arrested Tony Chung near a foreign diplomatic office and charged him with violating the NSL. Media reports claimed Chung intended to request asylum but was arrested before making his request. In a June statement to the South China Morning Post, SAR security chief John Lee stated that PRC security services would operate in Hong Kong “as needed.” There were also reports central government security services detained, questioned, and intimidated Hong Kong-based activists visiting the mainland. Hong Kong authorities also reportedly froze bank accounts for former lawmakers, civil society groups, and other political targets. Media reports indicated that thousands of persons, primarily police officers, protesters, and protest movement leaders, had their personal information publicly revealed online.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape against women, including spousal rape. The Hong Kong Federation of Women Centers stated that in the first quarter of the year, the number of survivors seeking support was more than double the number who sought help in the first quarter of 2019, most likely due to the COVID-19 pandemic and related lockdown measures lowering the visibility of potential victims and increasing their stress. Activists expressed concern that rape was underreported, especially within ethnic minority communities.
The law does not directly criminalize domestic violence, but the government regarded domestic violence against women as a serious concern. Abusers may be liable for criminal charges under offenses against the person, sexual assault, and child mistreatment laws, depending on which act constituted the domestic violence. The government effectively prosecuted violators under existing criminal violations.
The law allows survivors to seek a three-month injunction, extendable to six months, against an abuser. The ordinance covers abuse between spouses, heterosexual and homosexual cohabitants, former spouses or cohabitants, and immediate and extended family members. It protects victims younger than 18, allowing them to apply for an injunction in their own right, with the assistance of an adult guardian, against abuse by parents, siblings, and specified immediate and extended family members. The law also empowers courts to require that an abuser attend an antiviolence program. In cases in which the abuser caused bodily harm, the court may attach an arrest warrant to an existing injunction and extend the validity of both injunctions and arrest warrants to two years.
The government maintained programs that provided intervention, counseling, and assistance to domestic violence victims and abusers.
Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment or discrimination based on sex, marital status, and pregnancy. The law applies to both men and women, and police generally enforced the law effectively. There were multiple reports, however, of sexual harassment in housing, the workplace, and in universities.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of children; to manage their reproductive health; and to have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence.
There are no legal, cultural, or social barriers, or government policies that limit access to contraception or skilled health care during pregnancy and childbirth. The government provides access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence.
The Department of Health and government-supported organizations offer full support services for family planning needs.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
Discrimination: Women enjoy the same legal status and rights as men. The SAR’s sexual discrimination ordinance prohibits discrimination based on sex or pregnancy status, and the law authorizes the Equal Opportunities Commission to work towards the elimination of discrimination and harassment as well as to promote equal opportunity for men and women. Although the government generally enforced these laws, women reportedly faced some discrimination in employment, salary, welfare, inheritance, and promotion.
Birth Registration: All Chinese nationals born in the SAR, on the mainland, or abroad to parents, of whom at least one is a Chinese national and Hong Kong permanent resident, acquire both Chinese citizenship and Hong Kong permanent residence. Children born in the SAR to non-Chinese parents, at least one of whom is a Hong Kong permanent resident, acquire SAR permanent residence and qualify to apply for naturalization as Chinese citizens. Authorities routinely registered all such statuses.
Child Abuse: The law mandates protection for victims of child abuse (battery, assault, neglect, abandonment, and sexual exploitation), and the SAR government enforced the law. The law allows for the prosecution of certain sexual offenses, including against minors, committed outside the territory of the SAR.
The government provided parent education programs through its maternal and child-health centers, public education programs, clinical psychologists, and social workers. Police maintained a child abuse investigation unit and, in collaboration with the Social Welfare Department, operated a child witness support program.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 16 for both girls and boys; however, parents’ written consent is required for marriage before age 21.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The age of consent is effectively 16. Under the law a person having “unlawful sexual intercourse” with a person younger than 16 is subject to five years’ imprisonment, while unlawful sexual intercourse with a victim younger than 13 carries a sentence of life imprisonment. The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children and procuring children for prostitution. The law makes it an offense to possess, produce, copy, import, or export pornography involving a child or to publish or cause to be published any advertisement that conveys, or is likely to be understood as conveying, the message that a person has published, publishes, or intends to publish any child pornography. Authorities enforced the law. The penalty for creation, publication, or advertisement of child pornography is eight years’ imprisonment, while possession carries a penalty of five years’ imprisonment.
International Child Abductions: The SAR is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.
The Jewish community numbered approximately 2,500 persons. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities, and the government generally enforced these provisions. The government took action to investigate and punish those responsible for violence or abuses against persons with disabilities. The government generally implemented laws and programs to provide persons with disabilities access to education, employment, the judicial system, and health services. The law on disabilities states that children with separate educational needs must have equal opportunity in accessing education. Some human rights groups reported the SAR’s disability law was too limited and that its implementation did not promote equal opportunities. The Social Welfare Department provided training and vocational rehabilitation services to assist persons with disabilities, offered subsidized resident-care services for persons deemed unable to live independently, offered preschool services to children with disabilities, and provided community support services for persons with mental disabilities, their families, and other local residents.
The government generally implemented laws and programs to provide persons with disabilities access to information, communications, and buildings, although there were reports of some restrictions. The law calls for improved building access and provides for sanctions against those who discriminate.
Although ethnic Chinese account for most of the population, the SAR is a multiethnic society, with persons from a number of ethnic groups recognized as permanent residents with full rights under the law. The law prohibits discrimination, and the Equal Opportunities Commission oversees implementation and enforcement of the law. The commission maintained a hotline for inquiries and complaints concerning racial discrimination. Although the SAR government took steps to reduce discrimination, there were frequent reports of discrimination against ethnic minorities; the law does not clearly cover racial discrimination occurring during law enforcement activity.
Advocates stated there were indications of racism in COVID-19 testing and quarantine measures. Returning South and Southeast Asian SAR minority residents complained of poor quarantine facilities, wait times, and diet, and accused the SAR of discrimination.
Persons born in mainland China also experienced frequent discrimination. Nonpermanent residents did not receive SAR cash subsidies to help with the COVID-19-related economic downturn until eight months after the pandemic began in the SAR.
No laws criminalize consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults. While the SAR has laws that ban discrimination on the grounds of race, sex, disability, and family status, no law prohibits companies or individuals from discriminating on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity. There are also no laws that specifically aid in the prosecution of bias-motivated crimes against members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex community. In March the high court ruled in favor of a gay man who sued the government for disqualifying his and his same-sex partner’s public housing application.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were several reports government entities or their agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, often with impunity. The National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) is responsible for independently investigating security force abuses, including killings, and can issue formal recommendations for prosecution. State human rights commissions investigate state police forces and can issue similar recommendations. State and federal prosecutors are independent of the executive branch and have the final authority to investigate and prosecute security force abuses. Organized criminal groups were implicated in numerous killings, acting with impunity and at times in collusion with corrupt federal, state, local, and security officials.
On May 4, Giovanni Lopez died in police custody after police allegedly beat him for three hours. Municipal police officers from Ixtlahuacan de los Membrillos, Jalisco, arrested Lopez for resisting arrest and transported him to their precinct after witnesses said he intervened when police attempted to arrest his neighbor. On June 5, the governor announced three municipal police officers had been arrested for Lopez’ death.
On July 3, the newspaper and website El Universal presented a video of soldiers in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, which showed them approaching a truck after a gun battle with suspected cartel members. One of the soldiers discovered a combatant still alive and subsequently received orders to kill the wounded person. A total of 12 persons died in the encounter: nine suspected cartel members who allegedly initiated the gun battle with the army patrol and three bound and gagged kidnapped victims the cartel members were transporting in their trucks when the firefight broke out. The Prosecutor General’s Office and the Secretariat of National Defense launched separate investigations into the incident.
As of September the six federal police agents accused of murder and attempted murder of 16 unarmed civilians in Apatzingan, Michoacan, in 2015 remained in pretrial detention, pending conclusion of the trial.
Environmental activists, the majority from indigenous communities, continued to be targets of violence. In January, Homero Gomez, an indigenous and environmental rights defender, went missing and was later found dead (see section 6, Indigenous People). As of October 15, no suspects had been arrested.
Criminal organizations carried out widespread killings and other illegal activities throughout the country. On April 3, a clash between La Linea cartel and the Sinaloa cartel left 19 persons dead in Madera, Chihuahua.
There were reports of numerous forced disappearances by organized crime groups, sometimes with allegations of state collusion. In its data collection, the government often merged statistics on forcibly disappeared persons with missing persons not suspected of being victims of forced disappearance, making it difficult to compile accurate statistics on the extent of the problem.
Investigations, prosecutions, and convictions for the crime of forced disappearance were rare. According to the Attorney General’s Office, from October 2013 to August 2018, courts issued eight convictions and 17 acquittals for forced disappearance, and another 18 sentences were in the appeals process.
At the federal level, the Specialized Prosecutor’s Office for Forced Disappearances was investigating 980 cases of disappeared persons, while other federal offices were investigating 1,000 additional cases as of August, according to the human rights organization SERAPAZ. Some states made progress investigating this crime. From January to July 2019, prosecutors in Veracruz State opened 573 investigations into disappearances, but family members alleged the prosecutors undercounted the actual number of cases.
In February a federal judge in Monterrey sentenced five marines to 22 years in prison and ruled the secretary of the navy should publicly apologize for the 2013 forced disappearance of Armando Humberto del Bosque Villarreal in Colombia, Nuevo Leon. Hunters found the body of del Bosque in a forest outside the naval base two months after he disappeared. The sentences were the first against the armed forces in Nuevo Leon. On December 2, a judge reversed the sentence for failures in the formulation of the accusation, finding that the marines should have been tried according to the General Law on Forced Disappearances of Persons approved in 2017 and not the federal penal code, which was repealed with the passing of the previous rule.
The federal government and states continued to implement the 2017 General Law on Forced Disappearances. By December all 32 states had met the requirement to create state search commissions, according to the National Search Commission (CNB). Through a nationwide assessment process, the CNB revised the government’s official number of missing or disappeared persons repeatedly during the year as additional data became available. As of December the CNB reported there were 79,658 missing or disappeared persons in the country. Some cases dated back to the 1960s, but the vast majority occurred since 2006. The year 2019 had the second-highest number of cases on record, with 8,345 reported missing or disappeared, up from 7,267 cases reported in 2018. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) commended the government for providing a more accurate accounting and urged the government to strengthen efforts to investigate and prosecute cases.
Nationwide, the CNB reported the exhumation of the remains of at least 2,361 persons in 1,413 clandestine graves between December 1, 2018, and November 30, 2020. In July the CNB reported that between January 2006 and June 2020, officials located 3,978 clandestine graves and exhumed 6,625 bodies. The same report noted that between December 1, 2018, and November 2020, of the 894 bodies identified, 506 were returned to families.
In July the CNB launched a public version of the National Registry of Disappeared and Missing Persons. Between January and June, it received 5,905 reports of missing persons and located 3,078 alive and 215 deceased. In December 2019 the government created the Extraordinary Mechanism for Forensic Identification to bring together national and international forensic experts to help identify 37,000 unidentified remains held in government facilities, but as of September it was not fully operational.
During the year the government raised the CNB’s budget to $32.8 million, a 55 percent increase over the 2019 budget. Nonetheless, according to NGOs, the state search committees often lacked the human and financial resources to fulfill their mandate. For example, those in Campeche, Sonora, Tabasco, and Tlaxcala had fewer than five employees on staff, according to an NGO assessment of human rights in the country. Civil society and families of the disappeared stated the government’s actions to prevent and respond to disappearances were largely inadequate and lacked sufficient resources to address the scale of the problem.
On June 26, the bodies of 14 persons were found in Fresnillo, Zacatecas. The state prosecutor general’s office transferred the remains to the Zacatecan Institute of Forensic Sciences, but as of October no arrests had been made.
Jalisco disappearances data remained under scrutiny as more mass graves were discovered. The NGO Mexican Center for Justice for Peace and Development criticized Jalisco’s recordkeeping practices for complaints related to disappeared persons, accusing the Jalisco Prosecutor General’s Office of lacking a methodology for data collection and not being transparent in information sharing. The NGO tallied 2,100 unsolved disappearances from July 2019 to August 2020 (and 9,286 persons unaccounted for overall since the 1960s). The Jalisco Prosecutor General’s Office and the Jalisco Forensics Institute were unable to process increasing numbers of cases, with dozens of sets of human remains discovered during the year.
In November authorities announced the discovery of 113 bodies in a mass grave in El Salto, Jalisco. As of December relatives were able to identify 30 of the bodies. Another mass grave was being excavated in Ixtlahuacan de los Membrillos, Jalisco, where 25 bodies were found.
The federal government created a National System for the Search of Missing Persons as required by law but as of August had not established the required National Forensic Data Bank. The Prosecutor General’s Office owned a previous genetics database, which consisted of 63,000 profiles, and was responsible for the new database. The previous platform lacked interconnectivity between states and failed to connect family members effectively to the remains of their missing relatives.
Investigations continued into the disappearances of 43 students from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ College in Iguala, Guerrero, in 2014. Victims’ relatives and civil society continued to criticize handling by the Attorney General’s Office of the original investigation, noting there had been no convictions related to the disappearances of the 43 students. On July 7, the Prosecutor General’s Office announced forensic scientists at the University of Innsbruck conclusively identified the remains of one of the 43 disappeared students, Christian Alfonso Rodriguez Telumbre. This was the first identification made in the case in more than five years.
In June 2019 the Prosecutor General’s Office created the Special Unit for the Investigation and Litigation of the Ayotzinapa case. As of October the unit brought charges against former officials for failing to conduct an adequate investigation and using torture to coerce confessions but had not charged anyone for the disappearances of the students.
In March a federal judge issued an arrest warrant for Tomas Zeron, who led the investigation of the case by the former criminal investigations unit in the Attorney General’s Office at the time of the students’ disappearances. Zeron was wanted on charges related to his conduct of the investigation, including torturing alleged perpetrators to force confessions, conducting forced disappearances, altering the crime scene, manipulating evidence, and failing to perform his duties. He was believed to be in Israel, and the government requested that the Israeli government issue an arrest warrant and extradite him.
Also in March a federal judge issued arrest warrants against four government officials and a marine for torturing detainee Carlos Canto Salgado and obstruction of justice in the investigation of the Ayotzinapa case. In June the Prosecutor General’s Office arrested Jose Angel Casarrubias, also known as “El Mochomo,” a leader of the Guerreros Unidos cartel that allegedly collaborated with security forces to disappear the students. A judge later ordered his release due to lack of evidence, but the Prosecutor General’s Office detained him again shortly thereafter on separate organized-crime-related charges. As of September the Prosecutor General’s Office detained the head of the Federal Investigative Police, Carlos Gomez Arrieta, who handed himself in, and another high-level official, Blanca Alicia “N” from the Public Ministry, who allegedly tampered with evidence. On November 12, authorities arrested Captain Jose Martinez Crespo, the first arrest of a soldier in the case and one of the officers in charge of the army battalion in Iguala the night of the disappearances. Prosecutors charged him with forced disappearance and colluding with the Guerrero Unidos cartel. By December the Federal Prosecutor’s Office had requested 101 arrest warrants related to the case, of which 63 were issued and 47 carried out, leading to 78 arrests.
In August 2019 a judge dismissed charges against Gildardo Lopez Astudillo for his alleged role in the Ayotzinapa case after finding the evidence collected against him was obtained through torture and arbitrary detention. The Prosecutor General’s Office appealed the dismissal, and as of October the decision was pending.
As of November no alleged perpetrators of the disappearances had been convicted, and 78 of those initially accused were released due to lack of evidence, generally due to irregularities in their detention, including confessions obtained through torture.
Federal law prohibits torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, as well as the admission of confessions obtained through illicit means as evidence in court. Despite these prohibitions, there were reports of security forces torturing suspects.
In November 2019 the NGO Mexican Commission for the Defense and Promotion of Human Rights released a 12-year study on torture, which registered 27,342 investigations from 2006 to 2018. There were 10,787 federal investigations and 16,555 state-level investigations, of which 50 resulted in sentences, 15 of which were later exonerated.
Between January and August 20, the CNDH registered 25 complaints of torture and 132 for arbitrary detention. The majority of these complaints were against authorities in the Prosecutor General’s Office, Federal Police, Interior Ministry, and the navy. As of April, 20 of 32 states had specialized prosecutor’s offices for torture as called for by law.
On July 27, Adolfo Gomez was found dead in his jail cell in Chiapas. Authorities declared Gomez hanged himself, but his family said his body showed signs of torture. Gomez was arrested with his wife Josefa in an operation that authorities stated uncovered a trafficking ring of 23 children, but later evidence showed the children were all members of the same extended family and were with their relatives. In August the Chiapas State Prosecutor General’s Office confirmed Gomez committed suicide and announced the arrest of the director and two penitentiary center employees accused of flagrant omission in their duty of care. The accused were released shortly after.
Impunity for torture was prevalent among the security forces. NGOs stated authorities failed to investigate torture allegations adequately. As of January 2019 the Prosecutor General’s Office was investigating 4,296 torture-related inquiries under the previous inquisitorial legal system (initiated prior to the 2016 transition to an accusatorial system) and 645 investigations under the accusatorial system. A 2019 report by the Prosecutor General’s Office stated it brought charges in one torture case during that year. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) signed an agreement with the government in April 2019 to provide human rights training to the National Guard, but as of October the OHCHR reported no training had been carried out.
Conditions in prisons and detention centers were often harsh and life threatening.
Physical Conditions: According to the Federal Prison System, as of June there were 210,287 inmates in 295 state and federal facilities with a designed capacity of 221,574. Some prisons were undersubscribed while others were overcrowded. According to online media El Economista, 46 percent of prisoners shared a cell with five or more other inmates and 13 percent shared a cell with 15 or more inmates. The state of Baja California had the highest number of overcrowded cells.
The CNDH’s 2019 National Diagnostic of Penitentiary Supervision reported that state prisons were understaffed and suffered from poor sanitary conditions as well as a lack of opportunities for inmates to develop the skills necessary for social reintegration. The report singled out Guerrero, Tamaulipas, and Veracruz as the states with the worst prison conditions. The CNDH noted significant understaffing at all levels in federal prisons, which affected access to programs, activities, and medical services and promoted segregation of inmates.
Organized criminal groups reportedly continued to oversee illicit activities from within penitentiary walls. The National Prison Administration reported that during an enforcement operation from May to July, it detected nearly 15,000 cell phones in use in 21 prisons around the country and cancelled 16,500 cell phone numbers. On February 20, authorities transferred 27 inmates from Nuevo Laredo’s state prison to Altamiro Federal Prison, according to the Ministry of Public Security in Tamaulipas. This followed an earlier transfer of seven prisoners from Nuevo Laredo to federal prison on January 29. Experts believed the transfers were likely an attempt to break cartel control of Nuevo Laredo’s prisons.
According to civil society groups, migrants at some detention centers faced abuse when commingled with gang members and other criminals.
As of August 17, a total of 2,686 prisoners had contracted COVID-19, 263 had died of the disease, and 3,755 were released to prevent further contagion, according to the NGO Legal Assistance for Human Rights. In response to a civil society organization lawsuit, a Mexico City court ruled authorities must implement COVID-19 detection and preventive health protocols for detainees and their families in prisons in Mexico City and psychiatric wards nationwide. As of September only three states had complied with all or nearly all the court-mandated health measures, according to the NGO Documenta.
The CNDH, in its report on COVID-19 measures in holding facilities, found most detention facilities could not comply with social distancing measures or several other health recommendations due to lack of space, personnel, or equipment.
NGOs alleged the National Migration Institute (INM) failed to take effective steps to stop the spread of COVID-19 among migrants. After initial criticism the INM released or repatriated migrants in its detention facilities to mitigate the spread of infection.
Administration: Authorities did not always conduct investigations into credible allegations of mistreatment. In September the NGOs Citizens in Support of Human Rights and Human Rights Watch sent a letter to the governor of Nuevo Leon urging investigations into reports of abusive conditions in the state’s prisons as well as the deaths of three inmates during the year. The NGOs noted only one of the three deaths was being investigated. As of October the governor had not responded to the letter.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions by the International Committee of the Red Cross, CNDH, and state human rights commissions.
In January more than 20 NGOs and international organizations stated the INM denied them entry to migratory stations to access migrants who arrived in a caravan on January 18-21, preventing independent oversight and denying information to the NGOs. The INM resumed granting access after public criticism.
Improvements: Federal and state facilities continued to seek or maintain international accreditation from the American Correctional Association. As of August, six state facilities received accreditation, raising the total number of state and federal accredited facilities to 98. The six states demonstrated compliance with numerous standards, including written policies and procedures ensuring continual staff training and increased accountability of staff and inmates.
Federal law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, but the government sometimes failed to observe these requirements. Between January and August, the CNDH recorded 132 complaints of arbitrary detention.
The constitution allows any person to arrest another if the crime is committed in his or her presence. A warrant for arrest is not required if an official has direct evidence regarding a person’s involvement in a crime, such as having witnessed the commission of a crime. In a 2018 report, Mexico Evalua, a domestic think tank, determined 90 percent of all arrests fell under this category. This arrest authority, however, is applicable only in cases involving serious crimes in which there is risk of flight. Bail is available for most crimes, except for those involving organized crime and a limited number of other offenses. In most cases the law requires detainees to appear before a judge for a custody hearing within 48 hours of arrest, during which authorities must produce sufficient evidence to justify continued detention. This requirement was not followed in all cases, particularly in remote areas of the country. In cases involving organized crime, the law allows authorities to hold suspects up to 96 hours before they must seek judicial review.
The procedure known in Spanish as arraigo (a constitutionally permitted form of pretrial detention employed during the investigative phase of a criminal case before probable cause is fully established) allows, with a judge’s approval, for certain suspects to be detained prior to filing formal charges. Following the introduction of the accusatorial justice system, however, there was a significant reduction in the number of persons detained in this manner, falling from more than 1,900 in 2011 to 21 in 2018.
Some detainees complained of a lack of access to family members and to counsel after police held persons incommunicado for several days and made arrests arbitrarily without a warrant. Police occasionally failed to provide impoverished detainees access to counsel during arrests and investigations as provided for by law, although the right to public defense during trial was generally respected. Authorities held some detainees under house arrest.
Arbitrary Arrest: Allegations of arbitrary detentions persisted throughout the year. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, and NGOs expressed concerns regarding arbitrary detention and the potential for it to lead to other human rights abuses.
The Jalisco State Commission for Human Rights reported at least 118 complaints against police for arbitrary detention, forced disappearance, and abuse of power after statewide protests on June 4-9 following the death of Giovanni Lopez, who died in municipal police custody in Ixtlahuacan de los Membrillos.
Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention was a problem, and authorities did not always release promptly those detained unlawfully. The accusatorial justice system allows for a variety of pretrial measures, including electronic monitoring, travel restrictions, and house arrest, that reduced the use of the prison system overall, including the use of pretrial detention. The law provides time limits and conditions on pretrial detention, but federal authorities sometimes failed to comply with them, since caseloads far exceeded the capacity of the federal judicial system. Violations of time limits on pretrial detention were endemic in state judicial systems. The OHCHR documented cases in the states of Mexico and Chiapas in which detainees remained for more than 12 years in pretrial detention. A constitutional reform passed in February 2019 increased the number of crimes for which pretrial detention is mandatory and bail is not available, including armed robbery, electoral crimes, fuel theft, and weapons possession.
Reports indicated women suffered disproportionately from pretrial detention. As of June, 54 percent of women in federal prison and 46 percent in municipal and state prisons were in pretrial detention, while 39 percent of men in the federal and local judicial system were in pretrial detention, according to a report from the Secretariat of Security and Civilian Protection. In October authorities announced they would comply with the recommendation of the OHCHR’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and release Brenda Quevedo Cruz, who had spent 11 years in prison without trial. Quevedo Cruz remained in detention at year’s end.
Although the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, court decisions were susceptible to improper influence by both private and public entities, particularly at the state and local level, as well as by transnational criminal organizations. Authorities sometimes failed to respect court orders, and arrest warrants were sometimes ignored. Across the criminal justice system, many actors lacked the necessary training and resources to carry out their duties fairly and consistently in line with the principle of equal justice.
In 2016 all civilian and military courts officially transitioned from an inquisitorial legal system based primarily upon judicial review of written documents to an accusatorial trial system reliant upon oral testimony presented in open court. In most states alternative justice centers employed mechanisms such as mediation, negotiation, and restorative justice to resolve minor offenses outside the court system.
Under the accusatorial system, judges conduct all hearings and trials and follow the principles of public access and cross-examination. Defendants have the right to a presumption of innocence and to a fair and public trial without undue delay. Defendants have the right to attend the hearings and to challenge the evidence or testimony presented. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. The law also provides for the rights of appeal and of bail in most categories of crimes. Defendants have the right to an attorney of their choice at all stages of criminal proceedings. By law attorneys are required to meet professional qualifications to represent a defendant. Not all public defenders were qualified, however, and often the state public defender system was understaffed. The administration of public defender services was the responsibility of either the judicial or the executive branch, depending on the jurisdiction. According to the Center for Economic Research and Teaching, most criminal suspects did not receive representation until after their first custody hearing, thus making individuals vulnerable to coercion to sign false statements prior to appearing before a judge.
Defendants have the right to free assistance of an interpreter, if needed, although interpretation and translation services into indigenous languages were not always available. Indigenous defendants who did not speak Spanish sometimes were unaware of the status of their cases and were convicted without fully understanding the documents they were instructed to sign.
The lack of federal rules of evidence caused confusion and led to disparate judicial rulings.
On July 29, legislators approved a law making all judicial sentences public. The increased transparency could discourage discriminatory and arbitrary sentences, according to various NGOs.
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
Citizens have access to an independent judiciary in civil matters to seek civil remedies for human rights violations. For a plaintiff to secure damages against a defendant, authorities first must find the defendant guilty in a criminal case, a significant barrier due to the relatively low number of criminal convictions.
The law prohibits such practices and requires search warrants. There were some complaints of illegal searches or illegal destruction of private property. By law the government legally collected biometric data from migrants.
According to the NGO Freedom House, “Researchers continued to document cases of journalists, human rights lawyers, activists, and political figures targeted with Pegasus spy software. After denying they existed, in February 2019 the Prosecutor General’s Office provided evidence of Pegasus licensing contracts in 2016 and 2017.” Freedom House also reported that by March 2019 Citizen Lab and domestic NGOs had documented at least 25 cases of journalists, human rights lawyers, activists, and political figures being targeted with the Pegasus software, which is sold exclusively to governments. A 2019 study by WhatsApp and the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab found the government continued to use Pegasus.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: Federal law criminalizes rape of men and women, including spousal rape, and conviction carries penalties of up to 20 years’ imprisonment. Spousal rape is criminalized in 24 of the 32 states. There were high rates of impunity for these crimes, consistent with high impunity rates for all crimes.
On April 30, authorities arrested Jesus Guerra Hernandez, mayor of Ruiz, Nayarit, for rape of a minor. As of October 20, there was no further information on this case.
Federal law prohibits domestic violence and stipulates penalties for conviction of between six months’ and four years’ imprisonment. Of the 32 states, 29 stipulate similar penalties, although sentences were often more lenient. Federal law criminalizes spousal abuse. State and municipal laws addressing domestic violence largely failed to meet the required federal standards and often were unenforced.
The Executive Secretariat of the National Public Security System reported more than 1,600 killings of women, including 375 femicides, from January to June. April set a new record with 263 killings of women in one month. The 911 hotline received almost 108,800 calls reporting incidents of violence against women from January to May, an increase of 20.5 percent over the same months in 2019. The 26,000 calls to the hotline in March (the first month of the quarantine) were the highest number since the creation of the hotline. Calls included reports of relationship aggression, sexual assault, sexual harassment, rape, and intrafamily violence. The National Shelter Network reported the network sheltered more than 12,000 women and children, a 77 percent increase, compared with 2019. Nationwide 69 shelters were at maximum capacity, a 70 percent increase, compared with 2019.
In the first six months of the year, during COVID-19 stay-at-home orders, domestic violence cases in Nuevo Laredo increased by 10 percent, according to information published by the state prosecutor’s office.
In March thousands of women participated in a nationwide strike to protest gender-based violence and femicide, demanding government action. The government did not impede participation in the strike by government employees. In September feminist collectives occupied the CNDH’s headquarters in Mexico City, converting it into a shelter for victims. The collectives’ leaders claimed the CNDH had failed to defend women’s rights and provide adequate assistance to those in need. As of December the collectives continued to occupy CNDH headquarters.
Killing a woman because of her gender (femicide) is a federal offense punishable by 40 to 70 years in prison. It is also a criminal offense in all states. The law describes femicide as a gender-based murder under the following seven circumstances: signs of sexual violence, previous violence, emotional connection to the perpetrator, previous threats, harassment history, victim held incommunicado prior to deprivation of life, or victim’s body exposure. According to National Security Secretariat statistics, in the first eight months of the year, prosecutors and attorneys general opened 549 investigations into cases of femicide throughout the country. (Statistics from state-level reports often conflated femicides with all killings of women.) The civil society group, Movement of Nonconforming Citizens, considered 279 of these cases met one or more of these characteristics.
The Special Prosecutor’s Office for Violence against Women and Trafficking in Persons in the Prosecutor General’s Office is responsible for leading government programs to combat domestic violence and prosecuting federal human trafficking cases involving three or fewer suspects. The office had 30 prosecutors, of whom nine were exclusively dedicated to federal cases of violence against women.
In addition to shelters, women’s justice centers provided services including legal, psychological, and protective; however, the number of cases far surpassed institutional capacity. According to multiple NGOs, due to COVID-19’s impact on the economy, funding sources for women’s shelters decreased. The government disbursed funding in March to more than 40 shelters and 30 attention centers, but in August shelter managers reported funding was running out. As a result some NGOs consolidated shelters, limited capacity, and predicted negative long-term impacts.
Sexual Harassment: Federal law prohibits sexual harassment and provides for fines from 250 to 5,000 times the minimum daily wage, but the law was not effectively enforced. Of the 32 states, 16 criminalize sexual harassment, and all states have provisions for punishment when the perpetrator is in a position of power. According to the National Women’s Institute, the federal institution charged with directing national policy on equal opportunity for men and women, sexual harassment in the workplace was a significant problem. Mexico City and the states of Chihuahua, Jalisco, Puebla, and Yucatan criminalize the distribution of “revenge pornography” and “sextortion.” Individuals may be prosecuted if they publish or distribute intimate images, audio, videos, or texts without the consent of the other party. The sentence ranges from six months to four years in prison.
Reproductive Rights: By law couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children. The right of individuals to manage their reproductive health and to gain access to information and means to do so free from discrimination, coercion, or violence varies by state.
Federal authorities supported access to contraceptive methods, but states’ efforts varied widely. Barriers to accessing contraceptives stemmed from lack of knowledge, poverty, lack of access to health services, and sexual violence from family members, strangers, or friends. An Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation study on the use of contraceptives in Chiapas (Mexico’s poorest state) found older women were less likely to use family planning methods (13 percent of women ages 35 and up, versus 18 percent of women ages 20-34), while 23 percent of indigenous women opposed birth control for religious, cultural, or social reasons. The National Population Council estimated that between 2020-2021, a total of 1,172,000 women had limited access to contraceptives due to COVID-19, leading to 145,000 pregnancies (20 percent above average), including 21,000 teenage pregnancies. The National Institute of Statistics and Geography found 53 percent of women of reproductive age used modern contraception in 2018 (latest study).
By law Mexican government health providers are obliged to offer sexual and reproductive emergency health services for survivors of sexual violence within 120 hours of the sexual assault. Emergency contraception was available including for survivors of sexual assault. Nevertheless, women nationwide faced obstacles to accessing emergency services due to health providers’ misunderstanding of their legal obligations to provide services or personal objections to contraception. The Information Group on Reproductive Choice NGO assisted 71 victims of rape who were denied legal abortions between 2012 and 2021.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no confirmed reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
Discrimination: The law provides women the same legal status and rights as men and “equal pay for equal work performed in equal jobs, hours of work, and conditions of efficiency.” The law establishes penalties of one to three years in prison or 150 to 300 days of work for discrimination based on gender, race, ethnicity, color, religion, language, pregnancy, political belief, or any other nature that violates human dignity. The government did not enforce the law effectively. Women tended to earn substantially less than men did for the same work. Women were more likely to experience discrimination in wages, working hours, and benefits.
Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship both by birth within the country’s territory and from their parents. Citizens generally registered the births of newborns with local authorities. Failure to register births could result in the denial of public services, such as education or health care.
Child Abuse: There were numerous reports of child abuse. The National Program for the Integral Protection of Children and Adolescents, mandated by law, is responsible for coordinating the protection of children’s rights at all levels of government.
On February 11, seven-year-old Fatima Aldrighetti Anton was abducted from school. On February 15, her body was found in a plastic bag near Mexico City, showing signs of physical and sexual abuse. On February 19, authorities arrested the couple Mario Reyes and Giovana Cruz in connection with the killing. In November a judge suspended five officials from the Mexico City Attorney General’s Office for failing to search for Fatima within 72 hours after she went missing.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum marriage age is 18. Enforcement, however, was inconsistent across the states. Excluding Baja California, all states prohibit marriage of persons younger than age 18 by law. With a judge’s consent, children may marry at younger ages.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children, and authorities generally enforced the law. Nonetheless, NGOs and media reported on sexual exploitation of minors, as well as child sex tourism in resort towns and northern border areas.
Statutory rape is a federal crime. If an adult is convicted of having sexual relations with a minor, the penalty is between three months’ and 30 years’ imprisonment depending on the age of the victim. Conviction for selling, distributing, or promoting pornography to a minor stipulates a prison term of six months to five years. For involving minors in acts of sexual exhibitionism or the production, facilitation, reproduction, distribution, sale, and purchase of child pornography, the law mandates seven to 12 years’ imprisonment and a fine.
Perpetrators convicted of promoting, publicizing, or facilitating sexual tourism involving minors face seven to 12 years’ imprisonment and a fine. Conviction for sexual exploitation of a minor carries an eight- to 15-year prison sentence and a fine.
Institutionalized Children: Government and civil society groups expressed concerns regarding abuse of children with mental and physical disabilities in orphanages, migrant centers, and care facilities.
On May 19, the CNDH reported that children were subjected to abuses such as torture, sexual violence, and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment at Ciudad de los Ninos, a private institution in Salamanca, Guanajuato. Despite a 2017 injunction issued by a state district judge to prevent further grave abuses at the institution, the CNDH reported state authorities failed to supervise the conditions in Ciudad de los Ninos.
The NGO Disability Rights International reported various instances of abuse, including the use of prolonged restraints and isolation rooms for children with disabilities in both public and private institutions. According to the NGO, institutional staff in Baja California reported four children with disabilities died within days of each other with no known investigations. The NGO also reported the existence of multiple unregistered private institutions without licenses operating as orphanages.
International Child Abductions: The country is party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.
The 67,000-person Jewish community experienced low levels of anti-Semitism, but there were reports of some anti-Semitic expressions through social media. Jewish community representatives reported good cooperation with the government and other religious and civil society organizations in addressing rare instances of such acts.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
Federal law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The government did not effectively enforce the law. The law requires the Secretariat of Health to promote the creation of long-term institutions for persons with disabilities in distress, and the Secretariat of Social Development must establish specialized institutions to care for, protect, and house poor, neglected, or marginalized persons with disabilities. NGOs reported authorities had not implemented programs for community integration.
In February 2019 the federal government introduced pensions for persons with disabilities in a state of poverty. As of May, of the approximately seven million persons with disabilities in the country, 837,428 persons received the pension, according to the OHCHR. On May 8, a constitutional amendment established the disability pension as a constitutional right, prioritizing children, indigenous, and Afro-Mexican persons with disabilities younger than age 64 who live in poverty.
NGOs reported no changes in the mental health system to create community services nor any efforts by authorities to have independent experts monitor human rights violations in psychiatric institutions. Public buildings and facilities often did not comply with the law requiring access for persons with disabilities. The education system provided education for students with disabilities nationwide. Children with disabilities attended school at a lower rate than those without disabilities. In October the Supreme Court of Justice agreed to hear the case of Elvia, a 10-year-old girl with disabilities. Elvia sued her school in Yucatan for failing to provide reasonable accommodation and discriminating against her. According to Elvia’s legal team, this was the first case of discrimination the Supreme Court was to consider concerning a person of short stature.
Abuses occurred in institutions and care facilities housing persons with mental disabilities, including those for children. Abuses of persons with disabilities included the use of physical and chemical restraints; physical and sexual abuse; human trafficking, including forced labor; disappearance; and the illegal adoption of institutionalized children. They were vulnerable to abuse from staff members, other patients, or guests at facilities where there was inadequate supervision. Documentation supporting the person’s identity and origin was lacking. Access to justice was limited.
Institutionalized persons with disabilities often lacked adequate medical care and rehabilitation services, privacy, and clothing; they often ate, slept, and bathed in unhygienic conditions. For example, Felipe Orozco, hospitalized multiple times for mental health conditions, reported mental health professionals from a psychiatric hospital in Puebla shackled him naked with a padlock during the nights for two and one-half weeks. As a result he was forced to urinate and defecate in his bed, according to Human Rights Watch.
Voting centers for federal elections were generally accessible for persons with disabilities, and ballots were available with a braille overlay for federal elections in Mexico City, but these services were inconsistently available for local elections elsewhere in the country.
The constitution provides all indigenous persons the right to self-determination, autonomy, and education. Conflicts arose from interpretation of the self-governing “normative systems” laws used by indigenous communities. Uses and customs laws apply traditional practices to resolve disputes, choose local officials, and collect taxes, with limited federal or state government involvement. Communities and NGOs representing indigenous groups reported the government often failed to consult indigenous communities adequately when making decisions regarding development projects intended to exploit energy, minerals, timber, and other natural resources on indigenous lands. The CNDH maintained a formal human rights program to inform and assist members of indigenous communities.
On September 3, the federal government agreed to reparations for the government’s role in the killing of 45 members of the Tzotzil tribe in Acteal, Chiapas, in 1997. Prosecutors found local government officials and police officers permitted the killings to occur and tampered with the crime scene.
Several indigenous communities denounced the government’s plan to build the Mayan Train, an estimated $7.5 billion dual cargo-passenger railroad to run across the Yucatan Peninsula, through indigenous lands. Several indigenous communities brought legal actions to oppose the construction, many of which were dismissed or denied. In December a judge suspended construction on the second section of the railroad until the conclusion of legal cases.
The CNDH reported indigenous women were among the most vulnerable groups in society. They often experienced racism and discrimination and were frequently victims of violence. Indigenous persons generally had limited access to health care and education services.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, indigenous persons faced additional hardships in accessing educational services. Due to low internet penetration and television ownership in indigenous communities, distance learning was often inaccessible. Additionally, some indigenous students did not receive the breakfasts and lunches normally included in the full-time school meal program, according to a UNESCO study.
Some 18 environmental activists were killed in 2019, compared with 14 in 2018, according to a Global Witness report. A majority of the victims came from indigenous communities.
In January prominent indigenous and environmental rights defender Homero Gomez disappeared and was later found killed. Gomez had advocated against illegal logging and the destruction of the Michoacan monarch butterfly habitat. As of October no arrests had been made in the case.
According to the OHCHR, in the first six months of the year, there were 25 hate-crime homicides committed against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons.
Federal law prohibits discrimination against LGBTI individuals. A Mexico City municipal law provides increased penalties for hate crimes based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Civil society groups claimed police routinely subjected LGBTI persons to mistreatment while in custody.
Discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity was prevalent, despite a gradual increase in public acceptance of LGBTI individuals, according to public opinion surveys. There were reports the government did not always investigate and punish those complicit in abuses, especially outside Mexico City. On July 24, Mexico City passed a local law to ban LGBTI conversion therapy. A CNDH poll conducted in 2019 found six of every 10 members of the LGBTI community reported experiencing discrimination in the past 12 months, and more than half suffered hate speech and physical aggression. In July the federal government’s National Commission to Prevent Discrimination wrote a letter condemning the Roman Catholic diocese of Mexicali for inciting homophobia by calling for anti-LGTBI protests.
The Catholic Multimedia Center (CMC) reported criminal groups harassed priests and other religious leaders in some parts of the country and subjected them to extortion, death threats, and intimidation. During the year two evangelical pastors died, one during a home invasion and the other after being kidnapped, according to the NGO Christian Solidarity Worldwide. According to the CMC, in January a group of assailants kidnapped, tortured, and attempted to kill a priest in Puebla. Another Catholic priest received death threats against himself, his family, and his congregation from a presumed cartel member to pressure the priest into accepting the cartel’s authority, according to the CMC. Government officials stated the harassment of Catholic priests and evangelical Protestant pastors reflected high levels of generalized violence throughout the country and not targeted attacks based on religious faith.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. The Office of the Attorney General investigates whether security force killings were justifiable and pursues prosecutions.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
The constitution and law prohibit such practices. There were isolated reports that individual police officers used excessive force while making arrests and that prison staff engaged in degrading treatment of detainees. Impunity was not a significant problem in the security forces. According to the Federal Statistical Office, the country’s courts convicted 11 persons for abuse of authority in 2019.
In June the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that the state had violated the right to life of a 40-year-old man who hanged himself in 2014 after being left alone in solitary confinement for 40 minutes despite having made suicidal statements.
In May the Federal Supreme Court ruled the detention conditions in the Champ-Dollon prison in Geneva violated the prohibition of torture according to the constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights. The court found that a prisoner was held in a small cell for 234 days between 2014 and 2016. The prisoner was only allowed to walk for one hour a day and to exercise for three-to-four hours a week.
Notwithstanding some inadequate and overcrowded facilities, prison and detention center conditions generally met international standards. There were no significant reports regarding prison or detention center conditions that raised human rights concerns.
Physical Conditions: Prison overcrowding in the western part of the country remained a problem. As of June 2019, Geneva’s Champ-Dollon Prison was the most crowded facility, with a population exceeding 160 percent of its design capacity. In March the prison’s population was reported to be 650 inmates, although the Champ-Dollon institution only offers space for 400 inmates.
In April prisons canceled visits, special leave, sporting activities, work, and school lessons due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In its Activity Report 2019, the National Commission for the Prevention of Torture (NCPT) found in several district prisons that “the critical air and light conditions in cells” were “particularly problematic.” The report also criticized the “very long cell confinement times” for all inmates. The commission considered “that the material concern of conditions, especially with regard to the size of the cells and other in view of the lack of light and fresh air, for a storage of more than 48 hours are unsustainable.” The NGO Humanrights.ch reported that “often prisoners sit in their small cells 23 hours a day, and there is not always enough daylight. The cells are often dark, narrow and spartan.”
In June the Swiss Competence Center for Human Rights (SCHR) released a study on applying the United Nations Nelson Mandela Rules to improve prison conditions in the country. The study found that solitary confinement was widely used in pretrial detention and in prison and that external contacts of detainees were too restricted.
Humanrights.ch noted the biggest concerns in detention centers are the high suicide rate, lengthy pretrial detention, and the increasing use of preventive detention. According to Humanrights.ch, three quarters of convicted persons are sent to detention facilities rather than psychiatric clinics due to a lack of treatment options.
In May the Federal Court ruled that detention conditions must be assessed as a whole, regardless of any change in the status of pretrial or posttrial detention and that personal space of less than 43 square feet for more than three months violates the European Convention on Human Rights.
In May the SCHR released a study on administrative detention under immigration law which found that specialized facilities in the country lacked capacity.
Administration: There was no ombudsman or comparable authority available at the national level to respond to complaints, but a number of cantons maintained cantonal ombudsmen and mediation boards that acted on behalf of prisoners and detainees to address complaints related to their detention. Such resources were more readily available in the larger, more populous cantons than in smaller, less populated ones.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent monitoring of conditions in prisons and asylum reception centers by local and international human rights groups, media, and the International Committee of the Red Cross. In 2019 the NCPT visited 23 detention centers. The Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) carried out its latest periodic visit to the country in 2015.
The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. The government generally observed these requirements.
By law police must apprehend criminal suspects based on warrants issued by a duly authorized official unless responding to a specific and immediate danger. In most instances, authorities may not hold a suspect more than 24 hours before bringing the suspect before a prosecutor or investigating magistrate, who must either formally charge a detainee or order his or her release. Authorities respected these rights. Immigration authorities may detain asylum seekers and other foreigners without valid documents up to 96 hours without an arrest warrant.
There is a functioning bail system, and courts granted release on personal recognizance or bail unless the magistrate believed the person charged to be dangerous or a flight risk. Alternatives to bail include having suspects report to probation officers and imposing restraining orders on suspects. Authorities may deny a suspect legal counsel at the time of detention or initial questioning, but the suspect has the right to choose and contact an attorney before being charged. The state provides free legal assistance for indigents charged with crimes carrying a possible prison sentence.
The law allows police to detain minors between ages 10 and 18 for a “minimal period” but does not explicitly state the length. Without an arraignment or arrest warrant, police may detain young offenders for a maximum of 24 hours (48 hours during weekends).
Pretrial Detention: Humanrights.ch claimed that lengthy pretrial detention was a problem. Approximately 27.5 percent of all prisoners were in pretrial detention. The average length of time was 2.1 months. The country’s highest court ruled pretrial detention must not exceed the length of the expected sentence for the crime for which a suspect is charged.
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality.
The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right.
Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence. They have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges, with free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals. Trials are public and held without undue delay. Defendants are entitled to be present at their trial. They have the right to consult with an attorney of their choice in a timely manner, and the courts may provide an attorney at public expense if a defendant faces serious criminal charges. Defendants have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. They have the right to confront and question witnesses, and to present witnesses and evidence. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. They have the right to appeal, ultimately to the Federal Tribunal, the country’s highest court. Prison sentences for youths up to age 15 cannot exceed one year. For offenders between the ages of 16 and 18, sentences may be up to four years. Authorities generally respected these rights and extended them to all citizens.
Military courts may try civilians charged with revealing military secrets, such as divulging classified military documents or classified military locations and installations. There were no reports that military courts tried any civilians during the year.
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
There is an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters. Citizens have access to a court to bring lawsuits seeking damages for or cessation of a human rights violation. Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic decisions to the European Court of Human Rights.
The government reported that Holocaust-era restitution is no longer a significant issue and that no litigation or restitution claims regarding real or immovable property covered by the Terezin Declaration, to which the government is signatory, were pending before authorities; Jewish communities in the country confirmed that no such claims regarding real or immovable property covered by the Terezin Declaration were pending. There remained much art in the country with unresearched provenance as many museums and art collections were under the purview of cantons rather than the federal government, or were maintained by private organizations and private individuals.
The Department of State’s Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act report to Congress, released publicly on July 29, 2020, can be found on the Department’s website: https://www.state.gov/reports/just-act-report-to-congress/.
The constitution prohibits such actions, and there were no reports that the government failed to respect these prohibitions.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape of women, including spousal rape, and domestic violence, are statutory offenses for which penalties range from one to 10 years in prison. The government effectively enforced the law and prosecuted individuals accused of such crimes. The rape of a man is considered “sexual assault.” As with the rape of women, the courts may hand down maximum prison sentences of up to 10 years against those convicted of sexual abuse of men, but a minimum sentence of 12 months is only applicable in cases of rape against women. According to the Federal Statistics Office, police registered 287 reports of rape in 2019, a 16 percent increase over 2018.
In March the Violetta women’s shelter in Zurich temporarily closed and underwent a 14-day quarantine after a resident tested positive to COVID-19. The shelter’s closure added to growing concerns that the coronavirus crisis could lead to increased cases of domestic violence as a result of government advisories to stay home. In April the Federal Council announced a task force to work with the cantons on this issue.
A 2019 survey by gfs.berne on behalf of Amnesty International revealed that 22 percent of women in the country experienced unwanted sexual acts during their lives, 12 percent had suffered rape, and only 8 percent of those affected by sexual violence reported it to police afterwards. In 2019 police recorded 679 rape offenses and 626 cases of sexual assault.
In 2019 the Federal Statistics Office showed that police registered 19,669 domestic violence offenses in 2019, which included 79 attempted homicides, a six percent increase over 2018. Some 29 percent of the domestic violence cases involved a fatality.
The law penalizes domestic violence and stalking. A court may order an abusive spouse to leave the family home temporarily.
In March the Federal Office for Gender Equality established a task force to examine suitable measures in the event of an increase in domestic violence during the COVID-19 pandemic. In April the task force began a poster campaign against domestic violence in 13 languages. In June the task force found that in some cantons, the victim support centers noticed an increase in consultations about domestic violence since mid-May. The task force reported, however, that cases of domestic violence during the pandemic remained stable compared to the previous year.
There were media reports almost every two weeks that someone died due to domestic violence, and women are almost always the victims. In June the Bern Higher Court convicted a 36-year-old Tunisian man who stabbed his wife to death in 2016 in their home, and sentenced him to 15 years in prison.
In July amendments to civil and criminal laws came into effect to bring more accountability for domestic violence. Criminal authorities can only suspend legal proceedings if the victim’s situation has stabilized or improved. If suspicion exists that violence will reoccur, authorities may no longer discontinue an investigation.
Specialized government agencies, numerous NGOs, including 17 women’s shelters, and nearly a dozen private or government-sponsored hotlines provided help, counseling, and legal assistance to survivors of domestic violence. The canton of Zurich prioritized addressing domestic violence in the legislature and committed additional financial support to women’s shelters and counseling centers. Most cantonal police forces included specially trained domestic violence units.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): FGM/C is illegal and punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment. While FGM/C was not a practice in the country, approximately 14,700 women and girls, primarily from Somalia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan, and Egypt, had undergone FGM/C. According to the Federal Statistics Office, police registered no reports of FGM/C in 2019. A 2019 study by Caritas Switzerland estimated that 22,000 girls and women in the country were likely to be affected by FGM/C.
In November the Federal Council adopted a report entitled “Measures against the circumcision of girls,” which provides for better protection of girls and women. The report outlines a comprehensive approach to combatting FGM/C, including law enforcement and prevention, interdisciplinary networking, strengthening national and international cooperation, and improving healthcare for affected girls and women.
In June the Network against Female Circumcision announced a federally funded project that opened three new regional centers in the cantons of Lucerne, St. Gallen, and Graubünden to advise and support women and girls affected by FGM.
Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment of men and women and facilitates legal remedies for those claiming discrimination or harassment in the workplace. Special legal protection against the dismissal of a claimant expires after six months. Employers failing to take reasonable measures to prevent sexual harassment are liable for damages up to the equivalent of six months’ salary.
According to the Federal Statistics Office, police registered 61 reports of sexual harassment in 2019, down from 70 reports in 2018. According to an NGO, almost one in three women and one in 10 men had experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. Zurich city police maintained a counseling center on offenses against sexual integrity. Lausanne city officials maintained an online platform for victims to record instances of sexual harassment and provided extra training to police officers and teachers on the matter. In August the Unia Trade Union Group launched an online site to combat sexual harassment of apprentices after its 2019 study found that 80 percent of female and nearly 50 percent of male apprentices surveyed said they had experienced sexual harassment.
Reproductive Rights: The government recognized the right of couples and individuals to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children. Individuals have the right to manage their reproductive health and had access to the information and the means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence.
No legal, social, or cultural barriers would adversely affect access to contraception.
The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
Discrimination: The constitution and law provide for the same legal status and rights for women as for men under family, religious, personal status, labor, property, nationality, and inheritance laws. Authorities generally enforced the law effectively but did not sufficiently address employment discrimination and pay disparities affecting women.
In March the girls’ rights organization Plan International Switzerland released a report stating that 42 percent of women between the ages of 24 and 40 had experienced discrimination in the workplace. The report also found that six out of 10 girls and women between the ages of 14 and 24 and seven out of 10 women between the ages of 24 and 40 had experienced gender-based discrimination at some point in their lives.
The World Economic Forum’s 2020 Global Gender Gap Report noted that women faced unequal career opportunities, with only 34.5 percent of leadership positions in the labor market occupied by women.
In July a new provision to the Equal Opportunities Act came into force requiring companies with at least 100 employees to complete an analysis of pay equity between genders within one year and to show every four years whether men and women earn the same amount in comparable positions and inform their employees of the results. Private companies have to communicate the results to their employees and investors. Public administrations must disclose this to all interested parties.
On July 1, the federal government launched Logib, a free web-based tool to provide confirmed third-party information on equal pay analyses. The UN awarded Logib the Public Service Award and the Equal Pay International Coalition labeled it a best practice. In July the Federal Commission for Women’s Issues published an animated film explaining the UN Women’s Rights Convention to the public.
Birth Registration: Citizenship derives from one’s parents; either parent may convey citizenship. Authorities registered births immediately.
Child Abuse: The law prohibits parents from using corporal punishment to discipline their children, and the constitution states that all children have the right to special protection of their integrity. The law provides penalties for child abuse of up to three years in prison.
In May the Swiss Society of Pediatrics released 2019 statistics from surveying 21 of the 31 children’s clinics in the country. The clinics reported 1,568 cases of child abuse, of which 486 involved physical abuse, 321 involved psychological abuse, 470 were cases of neglect, and 279 were cases of sexual abuse.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 18. The law prohibits forced marriage and provides penalties of up to five years in prison for violations. The federal government supports the NGO Center for Competence against Forced Marriage’s prevention activities, including a website where at-risk individuals could declare their unwillingness to be married while on foreign travel. The website enabled authorities either to stop vulnerable individuals from leaving the country or to pronounce the marriages as invalid upon their return.
In June the Center for Competence against Forced Marriage published an article on its website about a woman, originally from Turkey, who the organization helped to leave Switzerland for Germany to avoid a forced marriage to her cousin shortly after her 18th birthday. The agency reported it advised 123 young persons in 2019 who were married as children.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation, including child sex trafficking and practices related to child pornography. The production, possession, distribution, or downloading of pornography that involves children is illegal and punishable by fines or a maximum sentence of one year in prison. The law prohibits prostitution of persons under the age of 18 and punishes pimps of children subjected to child sex trafficking with prison sentences of up to 10 years. It provides for sentences of up to three years in prison for persons engaging in sex trafficking with a child victim. Authorities enforced the law.
With few exceptions, the law designates 16 as the minimum age for consensual sex. The maximum penalty for statutory rape is imprisonment for 10 years.
The mandate of the federal police Cybercrime Coordination Unit included preventing and prosecuting crimes involving the sexual exploitation of children online. According to the Federal Statistics Office, the police registered 383 reports of sexual acts involving children, 10 fewer cases than the previous year.
In September the Bernese Oberland regional court sentenced a 53-year-old man to a 10-month conditional prison sentence and fines for child abuse, exploitation of an emergency situation, and pornography. The court also awarded the victim 5,000 Swiss francs ($5,450). The president of the court ruled on the conditional sentence based on the convicted person’s willingness to continue therapy.
On September 11, the Federal Council adopted a report by the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences on prevention of sexual exploitation of children. The council agreed to expand financial assistance to the Say No counseling service in French-speaking Switzerland and to subsidize additional counseling services in other regions in Switzerland.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.
According to the Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities (SIG/FSCI), approximately 18,000 Jewish individuals resided in the country.
The 2019 Anti-Semitism Report, produced jointly by the SIG/FSCI and the Foundation against Racism and Anti-Semitism (GRE), cited 523 anti-Semitic incidents, including 485 cases of anti-Semitic online hate speech, in the German-speaking part of the country in 2019. Of the 485 online incidents, 90 percent were found on Facebook and Twitter. The SIG/FSCI and GRE assessed that the number of anti-Semitic incidents in the country was stable and that violent anti-Semitic incidents remained rare. The SIG/FSCI and GRE attributed the slight decrease in recorded anti-Semitic statements and acts to fewer events throughout the year that triggered online anti-Semitic hate speech and anti-Semitic incidents, such as news reports and the release of anti-Semitism reports as well as efforts by media outlets to moderate their comments columns. The report documented one incident in July, in which a landlord told a Jewish family who wanted to rent a vacation home that she no longer rented to Jews. The report detailed how a Jewish soldier reported anti-Semitic comments among soldiers in recruit school to the SIG; the army took the incidents seriously and conducted an investigation immediately.
In 2019 the Geneva-based Intercommunity Center for Coordination against Anti-Semitism and Defamation (CICAD) reported 114 anti-Semitic incidents, including approximately 100 cases of online anti-Semitic hate speech, including insults and Holocaust denials on social media sites such as YouTube, in the French-speaking region. The report noted a drastic reduction in postings by far-right and far-left extremist groups on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media networks, resulting in a decrease in comments from their supporters on these same platforms. The report also found that media outlets in the French-speaking region had made a significant effort to moderate anti-Semitic content. The SIG report found no reports of assaults against Jews or damage to Jewish property in the German-speaking part of Switzerland; however, the CICAD found physical and verbal assaults against Jews in French-speaking areas increased and several synagogues were vandalized in 2019.
A federal report on racial discrimination released in April found that extreme right-wing incidents increased in 2019, particularly among young persons, including the Hitler salute. The report also highlighted a campaign calling for a boycott of an Israeli music competition to protest against Israel’s policies that included Nazi symbolism, which were removed following media protests.
In July a study published by the Zurich University of Applied Sciences of 500 Jews in the country found that one in two respondents had experienced anti-Semitic harassment in recent years. The most common form of harassment was offensive or threatening comments.
In January the president invited all surviving Holocaust survivors in the country to a lunch in their honor. Approximately 40-50 survivors attended.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
The constitution and law prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities, including access to education, employment, health services, information, communications, buildings, transportation, the judicial system, or other state services, and the government generally enforced the prohibition. The umbrella organization for disability NGOs, Inclusion Handicap, stated however that the Federal Court maintained a “very narrow interpretation” of discrimination, which required plaintiffs to prove malicious intent in discrimination complaints, resulting in insufficient legal protection for disabled persons.
The Federal Equal Opportunity Office for Persons with Disabilities promoted awareness of the law and respect for the rights of individuals with disabilities through counseling and financial support for projects to facilitate their integration in society and the labor market.
A 2019 SCHR study on the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in Switzerland found that implementation was inconsistent across the cantons. In March the SCHR launched a website that highlighted projects in six cantons aimed to assist with implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in the areas of housing, work and training, access to services and facilities, and codetermination.
Effective July 1, a new regulation came into force by which automatic door entrances to apartment buildings and stair lifts at home can be financed by the government.
In September parliament’s lower house, the National Council, took several measures to assist persons with disabilities, including a motion to extend identification cards, which entitle users to discounts and serve as proof of a disability, to persons who receive an allowance from the government.
Extremists, including skinheads, who expressed hostility toward foreigners, ethnic and religious minorities, and immigrants, continued to be active based on media and police reports.
In February the St. Gallen Cantonal Council approved a ban on extremist events, described as events “not compatible with the basic democratic and constitutional order and which significantly impair the population’s sense of security.”
In April the Consulting Network for Racism Victims, a partnership between Humanrights.ch and the Federal Commission against Racism, released its report for 2019, recording 352 cases of discrimination and documenting an increase in racism against dark-skinned individuals and persons of Arab background. Anti-Muslim incidents were the third-most recorded cases of racism, after general xenophobia and racism against persons with dark skins. The report found increased incidents involving right-wing extremism. The report attributed this sharp increase in reported cases to those affected being more aware of counseling centers and more willing to report incidents. The report also found that incidents with an extreme right-wing background increased noticeably in 2019 for the first time. The report also found that while reported incidents of discrimination in public space increased, reported cases of workplace discrimination decreased.
In April the Federal Council released an evaluation report on racial discrimination, which included 575 reported incidents, of which 352 cases were evaluated by 22 counseling centers from across the country. The report found a sharp increase in the number of reported and considered racist cases of discrimination in 2019. The most frequent forms were discrimination and verbal abuse; the most common motive was xenophobia. The report mentions a survey by the Federal Statistical Office finding that 60 percent of the respondents surveyed said racism is a serious social problem in the country. The report also found that incidents with an extreme right-wing background increased noticeably for the first time in 2019.
In June the SCHR released a study on the prevention of atrocities in Switzerland, which noted the numerous institutions that victims of discrimination can use in the country. The report found, however, that no systematic data collection on discrimination exists.
In July the Federal Office of Police announced 500,000 Swiss francs ($545,000) in federal funding to 11 organizations that service minorities as defined by their way of life, culture, religion, tradition, language, or sexual orientation to assist in their protection.
According to Romani interest groups, including the Romano Dialogue and the Roma Foundation, discrimination against Roma in the housing and labor markets persisted, with many Roma routinely concealing their identity to prevent professional and private backlash. According to the Society for Threatened Peoples, itinerant Roma, Sinti, and Yenish regularly faced arbitrary stops by police.
In February, Bern residents voted to create a transit place along the A1 highway in Seeland for foreign travelers, including Roma, who come to Switzerland for seasonal work between spring and fall each year.
In March the NGO Human Rights Platform Switzerland presented a report to the UN Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination which found that the country must do more to ensure prevention and eradication of racism, xenophobia, and intolerance from its society and institutions. The report cited a severe lack of appropriate camping sites and that two-thirds of existing sites are inadequate as nearly half of the sites are parking lots.
In April the Federal Supreme Court ruled against provisions in Bern law which stipulated that persons who use property without the permission of the owner may be evicted without a right to be heard within 24 hours. As a result, traveling minorities may not be quickly turned away without a corresponding order and legal hearing.
The Society for Threatened Peoples called on the government in April to provide economic support and adequate infrastructure for Sinti, Roma, and Yenish people, stating the lack of camp sites made it challenging for these groups to comply with government health recommendations.
In May the Frauenfeld Higher Court convicted Roland Schoeni, parliamentary group president of the Arbon city parliament, for racist speech based on anti-Roma comments he made in 2018.
In a February 9 referendum, 63.1 percent of voters approved antidiscrimination legislation, which will make discrimination based on sexual orientation illegal. In the same month, parliament approved the new law, although the NGO Transgender Network noted it did not include transgender individuals.
There were multiple reports of violence or discrimination based on the victim’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) status. In February for example, police arrested a 15-year-old from Syria for allegedly attacking three men with a knife in Zurich. Several eyewitnesses claimed it was a targeted attack on gays, as the perpetrator bullied and insulted the men not far from a gay club before stabbing one of the victims. Police increased their presence outside the club and other locations. An investigation continued.
The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) Europe’s 2020 annual report for the country alleged an increased number of violent incidents against gay men in 2019, including a May 17 attack against an information stand at the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, and an attack against a gay couple on their way home from a Pride event in June. The Pink Cross received on average two reports per week regarding attacks against LGBTI persons, including harassment, hate speech on the Internet, tangible threats, and physical violence.
Pink Cross and the NGO Transgender Network reported that bullying in the workplace remained a problem for LGBTI persons. Both organizations noted isolated cases of discrimination against LGBTI individuals over the past year, including in the housing market. The organizations stated that in the past year, the cities of Bern, Biel, and Zurich have implemented LGBTI action plans for ensuring tolerance and measures to prevent discrimination. In Biel these measures include widening an existing hotline to report violence for LGBTI concerns and training opportunities for city employees on gender diversity, gender identity, and sexual orientation.
The Transgender Network stated a cantonal court granted a minor the right to gender self-determination this year, the first such ruling in the country.
There were occasional reports of discrimination against persons with HIV or AIDS. To combat harassment and unfair behavior, the Swiss AIDS Federation conducted multiple campaigns to sensitize the public to the problem. Most discrimination cases recorded by the federation involved private data violations, insurance discrimination, and discrimination in the provision of health services.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were no public reports or credible allegations the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. There were no reports that officials investigated or punished those responsible for unlawful killings in previous years.
Unlike in previous years, there were no public reports or credible allegations of new disappearances carried out by authorities or their agents.
Derung Tsering Dhundrup, a senior Tibetan scholar who was also the deputy secretary of the Sichuan Tibet Studies Society, was reportedly detained in June 2019, and his whereabouts remained unknown as of December. Gen Sonam, a senior manager of the Potala Palace, was reportedly detained in July 2019, and his whereabouts were unknown as of December.
The whereabouts of the 11th Panchen Lama, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, the second most prominent figure after the Dalai Lama in Tibetan Buddhism’s Gelug school, remained unknown. Neither he nor his parents have been seen since People’s Republic of China (PRC) authorities disappeared them in 1995, when he was six years old. In May shortly after the 25th anniversary of his abduction, a PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson stated the Panchen Lama was a college graduate with a job and that neither he nor his family wished to be disturbed in their “current normal lives.” The spokesperson did not provide any further specifics.
According to credible sources, police and prison authorities employed torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment in dealing with some detainees and prisoners. There were reports that PRC officials severely beat some Tibetans who were incarcerated or otherwise in custody. Lhamo, a Tibetan herder, was reportedly detained by police in June for sending money to India; in August she died in a hospital after being tortured in custody in Nagchu Prefecture, Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR).
Reports from released prisoners indicated some were permanently disabled or in extremely poor health because of the harsh treatment they endured in prison. Former prisoners also reported being isolated in small cells for months at a time and deprived of sleep, sunlight, and adequate food. In April, Gendun Sherab, a former political prisoner in the TAR’s Nakchu Prefecture died, reportedly due to injuries sustained while in custody. Gendun Sherab was arrested in 2017 for sharing a social media message from the Dalai Lama.
Physical Conditions: Prison conditions were harsh and potentially life threatening due to inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care. According to individuals who completed their prison terms in recent years, prisoners rarely received medical care except in cases of serious illness.
Administration: There were many cases in which officials denied visitors access to detained and imprisoned persons.
Independent Monitoring: There was no evidence of independent monitoring or observation of prisons or detention centers.
Arbitrary arrest and detention remained serious problems. Legal safeguards for detained or imprisoned Tibetans were inadequate in both design and implementation.
Public security agencies are required by law to notify the relatives or employer of a detained person within 24 hours of their detention but often failed to do so when Tibetans and others were detained for political reasons. Public security officers may legally detain persons for up to 37 days without formally arresting or charging them. Further detention requires approval of a formal arrest by the prosecutor’s office; however, in cases pertaining to “national security, terrorism, and major bribery,” the law permits up to six months of incommunicado detention without formal arrest.
When a suspect is formally arrested, public security authorities may detain him/her for up to an additional seven months while the case is investigated. After the completion of an investigation, the prosecutor may detain a suspect an additional 45 days while determining whether to file criminal charges. If charges are filed, authorities may then detain a suspect for an additional 45 days before beginning judicial proceedings.
Pretrial Detention: Security officials frequently violated these legal requirements, and pretrial detention periods of more than a year were common. Individuals detained for political or religious reasons were often held on national security charges, which have looser restrictions on the length of pretrial detention. Many political detainees were therefore held without trial far longer than other types of detainees. Authorities held many prisoners in extrajudicial detention centers without charge and never allowed them to appear in public court.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: This right does not exist in the TAR or other Tibetan areas.
The judiciary was not independent of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) or government in law or practice. In March for example, officials in Mangkhang County, TAR, announced that the local prosecutor’s office would hire five court clerks. Among the job requirements were loyalty to the CCP leadership and a critical attitude toward the 14th Dalai Lama. The November establishment of “Xi Jinping Thought on the Rule of Law” sought to strengthen this party control over the legal system.
Soon after an August meeting of senior CCP officials about Tibet during which President Xi Jinping stated the people must continue the fight against “splittism,” the Dui Hua Foundation reported that the Kandze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture Intermediate People’s Court in Sichuan Province had convicted nine Tibetans of “inciting splittism” during the year. Little public information was available about their trials.
Criminal suspects in the PRC have the right to hire a lawyer or other defense representation, but many Tibetan defendants, particularly those facing politically motivated charges, did not have access to legal representation while in pretrial detention. In rare cases, defendants were denied access to legal representation entirely, but in many cases lawyers are unwilling to take clients due to political risks or because Tibetan families often do not have the resources to cover legal fees. For example, Tibetan language activist Tashi Wangchuk, arrested in 2016 and convicted in 2018, has been denied access to his lawyer since his conviction. Access was limited prior to his trial, and the government rejected petitions and motions appealing the verdict filed by his lawyer and other supporters, although PRC law allows for such appeals.
While some Tibetan lawyers are licensed in Tibetan areas, observers reported they were often unwilling to defend individuals in front of ethnic Han judges and prosecutors due to fear of reprisals or disbarment. In cases that authorities claimed involved “endangering state security” or “separatism,” trials often were cursory and closed. Local sources noted trials were predominantly conducted in Mandarin, with government interpreters provided for defendants who did not speak Mandarin. Court decisions, proclamations, and other judicial documents, however, generally were not published in Tibetan.
An unknown number of Tibetans were detained, arrested, or sentenced because of their political or religious activities.
Credible outside observers examined publicly available information and, as of late 2019, identified records of 273 Tibetans known or believed to be detained or imprisoned by PRC authorities in violation of international human rights standards. Of the 115 cases for which there was available information on sentencing, punishment ranged from 15 months’ to life imprisonment. This data was believed to cover only a small fraction of the actual number of political prisoners.
In January official media reported that in 2019 the TAR prosecutor’s office approved the arrest and prosecution of 101 individuals allegedly part of “the Dalai Lama clique” for “threatening” China’s “political security.” Details, including the whereabouts of those arrested, were unknown.
Approximately 150,000 Tibetans live outside Tibet, many as refugees in India and Nepal. There were credible reports that the PRC continued to put heavy pressure on Nepal to implement a border systems management agreement and a mutual legal assistance treaty, as well as to conclude an extradition treaty, that could result in the refoulement of Tibetan refugees to the PRC. Nepal does not appear to have implemented either proposed agreement and has postponed action on the extradition treaty.
In January in its annual work report, the TAR Higher People’s Court noted that in 2019 the first TAR fugitive abroad was repatriated. The fugitive reportedly was charged with official-duty-related crimes. The report stated the repatriation was part of the TAR’s effort to deter corruption and “purify” the political environment; no other details were available.
The Tibetan overseas community is frequently subjected to harassment, monitoring, and cyberattacks believed to be carried out by the PRC government. In September media outlets reported PRC government efforts to hack into the phones of officials in the Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and of several leaders in the Central Tibetan Administration, the governance organization of the overseas Tibetan community. The PRC government at times compelled Tibetans located in China to pressure their family members seeking asylum overseas to return to China.
Authorities electronically and manually monitored private correspondence and searched, without warrant, private homes and businesses for photographs of the Dalai Lama and other forbidden items. Police routinely examined the cell phones of TAR residents in random stops or as part of other investigations to search for “reactionary music” from India or photographs of the Dalai Lama. Authorities also questioned and detained some individuals who disseminated writings and photographs over the internet or listened to teachings of the Dalai Lama on their mobile phones.
The “grid system,” an informant system also known as the “double-linked household system,” facilitated authorities’ efforts to identify and control persons considered “extremist” or “splittist.” The grid system groups households and other establishments and encourages them to report problems to the government, including financial problems and political transgressions, in other group households. Authorities rewarded individuals with money and other forms of compensation for their reporting. The maximum reward for information leading to the arrests of social media users deemed disloyal to the government increased to 300,000 renminbi ($42,800), according to local media. This amount was six times the average per capita GDP of the TAR.
According to sources in the TAR, Tibetans frequently received telephone calls from security officials ordering them to remove from their cell phones photographs, articles, and information on international contacts the government deemed sensitive. Security officials visited the residences of those who did not comply with such orders. Media reports indicated that in some areas, households were required to have photographs of President Xi Jinping in prominent positions and were subject to inspections and fines for noncompliance. In a July case, international media reported local officials detained and beat a number of Tibetan villagers from Palyul in Sichuan’s Tibetan autonomous prefecture’s Kardze County for possessing photographs of the Dalai Lama found after raids on their residences.
The TAR regional government punished CCP members who followed the Dalai Lama, secretly harbored religious beliefs, made pilgrimages to India, or sent their children to study with Tibetans in exile.
Individuals in Tibetan areas reported they were subjected to government harassment and investigation because of family members living overseas. Observers also reported that many Tibetans traveling to visit family overseas were required to spend several weeks in political education classes after returning to China.
The government also interfered in the ability of persons to find employment. Media reports in June noted that advertisements for 114 positions of different types in Chamdo City, TAR, required applicants to “align ideologically, politically, and in action with the CCP Central Committee,” “oppose any splittist tendencies,” and “expose and criticize the Dalai Lama.” The advertisements explained that all applicants were subject to a political review prior to employment.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: See section 6, Women, in the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2020 for China.
Sexual Harassment: See section 6, Women, in the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2020 for China.
Coercion in Population Control: As in the rest of China, there were reports of coerced abortions and sterilizations, although the government kept no statistics on these procedures. The CCP restricts the right of parents to choose the number of children they have and utilizes family planning units from the provincial to the village level to enforce population limits and distributions.
Discrimination: See section 6, Women, in the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2020 for China.
Birth Registration: See section 6, Children, in the Country Reports on Human R9ights Practices for 2020 for China.
Education: The PRC’s nationwide “centralized education” policy was in place in many rural areas. The policy forced the closure of many village and monastic schools and the transfer of students to boarding schools in towns and cities. Media reports indicated the program was expanding. This, and aspects of education policy generally, led many Tibetan parents to express deep concern about growing “ideological and political education” that was critical of the “old Tibet,” and taught Tibetan children to improve their “Chinese identity” in elementary schools. In August, PRC President Xi Jinping personally urged local officials in the TAR and other Tibetan areas to further ideological education and sow “loving-China seeds” into the hearts of children in the region.
Authorities enforced regulations limiting traditional monastic education to monks older than 18. Instruction in Tibetan, while provided for by PRC law, was often inadequate or unavailable at schools in Tibetan areas.
The number of Tibetans attending government-sponsored boarding school outside Tibetan areas increased, driven by PRC government policy that justified the programs as providing greater educational opportunities than students would have in their home cities. Tibetans and reporters, however, noted the program prevented students from participating in Tibetan cultural activities, practicing their religion, or using the Tibetan language. Media reports also highlighted discrimination within government boarding school programs. Tibetans attending government-run boarding schools in eastern China reported studying and living in ethnically segregated classrooms and dormitories justified as necessary security measures, although the government claimed cultural integration was one purpose of these programs.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: See section 6, Children, in the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2020 for China.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: See section 6, Children, in the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2020 for China.
International Child Abductions: See section 6, Children, in the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2020 for China.
See section 6, Anti-Semitism, in the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2020 for China.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report.
See section 6, Persons with Disabilities, in the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2020 for China.
Although observers believe that ethnic Tibetans made up the great majority of the TAR’s permanent, registered population–especially in rural areas–there was no accurate data reflecting the large number of long-, medium-, and short-term Han Chinese migrants, such as officials, skilled and unskilled laborers, military and paramilitary troops, and their dependents, in the region.
Observers continued to express concern that major development projects and other central government policies disproportionately benefited non-Tibetans and contributed to the considerable influx of Han Chinese into the TAR and other Tibetan areas. Large state-owned enterprises based outside the TAR engineered or built many major infrastructure projects across the Tibetan plateau; Han Chinese professionals and low-wage temporary migrant workers from other provinces, rather than local residents, generally managed and staffed the projects.
Economic and social exclusion was a major source of discontent among a varied cross section of Tibetans.
There were reports in prior years that some employers specifically barred Tibetans and other minorities from applying for job openings. There were, however, no media reports of this type of discrimination during the year.
See section 6, Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, in the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2020 for China.
Government propaganda against alleged Tibetan “pro-independence forces” contributed to Chinese social discrimination against ordinary Tibetans. Many Tibetan monks and nuns chose to wear nonreligious clothing to avoid harassment when traveling outside their monasteries. Some Tibetans reported that taxi drivers outside Tibetan areas refused to stop for them, hotels refused to provide lodging, and Han Chinese landlords refused to rent to them.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were credible allegations that the government contributed to civilian deaths in connection with its fight against the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) organization in the southeast, although at a markedly reduced level compared with previous years (see section 1.g.). The PKK continued to target civilians in its attacks; the government continued to work to block such attacks. The law authorizes the Ombudsman Institution, the National Human Rights and Equality Institution, prosecutors’ offices, criminal courts, and parliament’s Human Rights Commission to investigate reports of security force killings, torture, or mistreatment, excessive use of force, and other abuses. Civil courts, however, remained the main recourse to prevent impunity.
According to the International Crisis Group, from January 1 to December 10, a total of 35 civilians, 41 security force members, and 235 PKK militants were killed in eastern and southeastern provinces in PKK-related clashes. Human rights groups stated the government took insufficient measures to protect civilian lives in its fight with the PKK.
The PKK continued its nationwide campaign of attacks on government security forces and, in some cases, civilians. For example, on May 14, PKK terrorists attacked aid workers in Van, killing two and injuring one. On June 18, PKK terrorists reportedly attacked a truck carrying fuel for roadwork in Sirnak province by planting an improvised explosive device (IED). The IED explosion killed four truck passengers.
There were credible reports that the country’s military operations outside its borders led to the deaths of civilians. On June 25, a Turkish air strike against the Kurdistan Free Life Party terrorist group reportedly wounded at least six civilians in Iraq. On June 19, Turkish air strikes against PKK targets killed three civilians in the same region of Iraq, according to Human Rights Watch.
Eyewitnesses, a local human rights monitor, and local media reported that an attack carried out by Turkish forces or Turkish-supported Syrian opposition groups on October 16 struck a rural area killing a young boy and injuring others in Ain Issa, Syria; the circumstances of this event are in dispute. Official Turkish government sources reported responding to enemy fire on the date in question and in the area that corresponds with this event, with four to six People’s Protection Units (YPG) fighters reportedly “neutralized,” a term Turkish authorities use to mean killed, captured, or otherwise removed from the battlefield. The government of Turkey considers the YPG the Syrian branch of the United States-designated foreign terrorist organization the PKK. According to media, YPG forces have also reportedly fired on Turkish and TSO forces following Turkey’s October 2019 incursion into northeast Syria and in November and December 2020, including near civilian infrastructure.
Following the launch of the Turkish armed forces’ offensive in northern Syria in October 2019 the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch continued to report claims from local and regional human rights activists and media organizations that Turkish-supported Syrian opposition groups committed human rights abuses, reportedly targeting Kurdish and Yezidi residents and other civilians, including arbitrary arrests and enforced disappearance of civilians; torture and sexual violence; forced evacuations from homes; looting and property seizures in areas under Turkish control; transfer of detained civilians across the border into Turkey; restricting water supplies to civilian populations; recruitment of child soldiers; and looting and desecrating religious shrines. Reports by the UN Commission of Inquiry into Syria similarly suggested that Turkish-supported opposition groups may have been responsible for attacks against civilians (for more information, see the Syria section of Department of State Country Reports on Human Rights). The government rejected these reports as flawed and biased, including by an October 6 note verbale to the UN high commissioner for human rights, but acknowledged the need for investigations and accountability related to such reports. The government relayed that the Turkish-supported Syrian National Army had established mechanisms for investigation and discipline in 2019. The government claimed the military took care to avoid civilian casualties throughout the operation.
According to the Baran Tursun Foundation, an organization that monitors police brutality, police have killed 403 individuals for disobeying stop warnings since 2007. According to the report, 93 were children. In April police shot and killed a 19-year-old Syrian refugee who ran from an enforcement stop connected with anti-COVID-19 measures that at the time prohibited minors younger than age 20 from leaving their residences. On May 28, a police officer involved in the shooting was arrested for the killing. Human rights groups documented several suspicious deaths of detainees in official custody, although reported numbers varied among organizations. In November the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (HRFT) reported 49 deaths in prison related to illness, violence, or other causes. Of these 15 were allegedly due to suicide. In August a 44-year-old man convicted of having ties to the Gulen movement died in a quarantine cell in Gumushane Prison after displaying COVID-19 symptoms. Press reports alleged the prisoner had requested medical treatment multiple times, but the prison failed to provide it. Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Member of Parliament (MP) Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu called on the Ministry of Justice to investigate the case.
By law National Intelligence Organization (MIT) members are immune from prosecution as are security officials involved in fighting terror, making it harder for prosecutors to investigate extrajudicial killings and other human rights abuses by requiring that they obtain permission from both military and civilian leadership prior to pursuing prosecution.
Domestic and international human rights groups reported disappearances during the year that they alleged were politically motivated.
In February the Ankara Bar Association filed a complaint with the Ankara prosecutor on behalf of seven men reportedly “disappeared” by the government, who surfaced in police custody in 2019. One of the men, Gokhan Turkmen, a civil servant dismissed under state of emergency powers following the 2016 coup attempt, alleged in a pretrial hearing that intelligence officials visited him in prison, threatened him and his family, and urged him to retract his allegations that he was abducted and tortured while in custody. In April the Ankara prosecutor declined to investigate Turkmen’s complaints. Six of the seven men were in pretrial detention on terrorism charges at year’s end. The whereabouts of the seventh were unknown.
In May former HDP MP Tuma Celik asserted that the disappearance of an Assyrian Chaldean Catholic couple in the village of Kovankaya (Syriac: Mehri), reported missing since January, was “a kidnapping carried out with the ones who lean on the state or groups within the state,” likely alluding to nonstate armed groups aligned with the government. Others, including witnesses on the scene, asserted that the PKK was responsible. The husband, Hurmuz Diril, remained missing at year’s end, while in March relatives found the dead body of the wife, Simoni Diril, in a river near the village.
The government declined to provide information on efforts to prevent, investigate, and punish such acts.
The constitution and law prohibit torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, but domestic and international rights groups reported that some police officers, prison authorities, and military and intelligence units employed these practices. Domestic human rights organizations, the Ankara Bar Association, political opposition figures, international human rights groups, and others reported that government agents engaged in threats, mistreatment, and possible torture of some persons while in custody. Human rights groups asserted that individuals with alleged affiliation with the PKK or the Gulen movement were more likely to be subjected to mistreatment or abuse.
In June, Emre Soylu, an adviser to ruling alliance member Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) Mersin MP Olcay Kilavuz, shared photos on his Twitter account showing a man allegedly being tortured by police at the Diyarbakir Antiterror Branch. A short video shared widely on social media included the screams of a man at the same facility in Diyarbakir. Kurdish politicians and civil society organizations, including the Human Rights Association of Turkey (HRA), condemned the incident and called on authorities to investigate.
In July, Human Rights Watch reported there was credible evidence that police and community night watchmen (bekcis) committed serious abuses against at least 14 persons, including violent arrests and beatings, in six incidents in Diyarbakir and Istanbul from May through July. In four of the cases, authorities refuted the allegations and failed to commit to investigate. In one case on June 26, masked police allegedly raided former mayor and HDP member Sevil Cetin’s home in Diyarbakir city, setting attack dogs on her while beating her. On June 28, the Diyarbakir Governor’s Office released a statement refuting the allegations and stating authorities did not intend to investigate.
In September news reports claimed that Jandarma forces apprehended, detained for two days, tortured, and threw out of a helicopter two farmers in Van province as part of an anti-PKK operation. One of the men died from his injuries. The Van Governor’s Office denied the allegations and stated that the injuries resulted from of the men falling in a rocky area while trying to escape from the officers. A court approved a ban on all news reports on the case, as requested by the Van Prosecutor’s Office. On November 27, Minister of Interior Suleyman Soylu stated one of the villagers, Osman Siban, was aiding PKK terrorists and that authorities therefore apprehended him.
In 2019 public reports alleged that as many as 100 persons, including former members of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs dismissed under the 2016-18 state of emergency decrees due to suspected ties to the Gulen movement, were mistreated or tortured while in police custody. The Ankara Bar Association released a report that detailed its interviews with alleged victims. Of the six detainees the association interviewed, five reported police authorities tortured them. In August the Ankara Prosecution Office decided not to pursue prosecution based on the allegations, citing insufficient evidence.
Reports from human rights groups indicated that police abused detainees outside police station premises and that mistreatment and alleged torture was more prevalent in some police facilities in parts of the southeast. The HRA reported receiving complaints from 573 individuals alleging they were subjected to torture and other forms of mistreatment while in custody or at extracustodial locations from January through November. The HRA reported that intimidation and shaming of detainees by police were common and that victims hesitated to report police abuse due to fear of reprisal. In June, responding to a parliamentary inquiry, the minister of interior reported the ministry had received 396 complaints of torture and maltreatment since October 2019. Opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) human rights reports alleged that from May to August, 223 individuals reported torture or inhuman treatment.
The government asserted it followed a “zero tolerance” policy for torture and has abolished statute of limitations for cases of torture. On August 5, the Council of Europe released two reports on visits to the country by its Committee for the Prevention of Torture’s (CPT) in 2017 and 2019. The 2019 report stated that the delegation received “a considerable number of allegations of excessive use of force or physical ill-treatment by police and gendarmerie officers from persons who had recently been taken into custody (including women and juveniles). The allegations consisted mainly of slaps, kicks, punches (including to the head and face), and truncheon blows after the persons concerned had been handcuffed or otherwise brought under control.” The CPT noted, “A significant proportion of the allegations related to beatings during transport or inside law enforcement establishments, apparently with the aim of securing confessions or obtaining other information, or as a punishment. Further, numerous detained persons claimed to have been subjected to threats, and/or severe verbal abuse.” The CPT found that the severity of alleged police mistreatment diminished in 2019 compared with the findings of the 2017 CPT visit, although the frequency of the allegations remained worrying.
In its World Report 2020, Human Rights Watch stated: “A rise in allegations of torture, ill-treatment and cruel and inhuman or degrading treatment in police custody and prison over the past four years has set back Turkey’s earlier progress in this area. Those targeted include Kurds, leftists, and alleged followers of Fethullah Gulen. Prosecutors do not conduct meaningful investigations into such allegations and there is a pervasive culture of impunity for members of the security forces and public officials implicated.” According to Ministry of Justice 2019 statistics, the government opened 2,767 investigations into allegations of torture and mistreatment. Of those, 1,372 resulted in no action being taken by prosecutors, 933 resulted in criminal cases, and 462 in other decisions. The government did not release data on its investigations into alleged torture.
Some military conscripts reportedly endured severe hazing, physical abuse, and torture that sometimes resulted in death or suicide. Human rights groups reported that suspicious deaths in the military were widespread. The government did not systematically investigate them or release data. The HRA and HRFT reported at least 18 deaths as suspicious during the year. In September a Kurdish soldier serving in Edirne reported being beaten by other soldiers because of his ethnic identity. Turkish Land Forces Command opened an investigation into the incident.
The government did not release information on its efforts to address abuse through disciplinary action and training.
Prisons generally met standards for physical conditions (i.e., infrastructure and basic equipment), but significant problems with overcrowding resulted in conditions in many prisons that the CPT found could be considered inhuman and degrading. While detention facilities were generally in a good state of repair and well ventilated, many facilities had structural deficiencies that made them unsuitable for detention lasting more than a few days.
Physical Conditions: Prison overcrowding remained a significant problem. CPT reports from 2017 and 2019 stated, “The problem of prison overcrowding remained acute, and the steady increase in the size of the prison population already observed in the mid-2000s continued.” According to the Ministry of Justice, as of July, the country had 355 prisons with a capacity for 233,194 inmates and an estimated total inmate population of 281,000, prior to the ministry’s granting of COVID-19 amnesty for 90,000 prisoners.
In April, Minister of Justice Gul announced that three prisoners had died of COVID-19. The same month, to alleviate conditions in prisons due to the pandemic, parliament approved a bill to modify the sentences of 90,000 prisoners by allowing for their release, including those convicted of organized crime and attempted murder. The bill did not include any provisions for persons held under provisional or pretrial detention and explicitly excluded anyone convicted under antiterror charges, including journalists, lawyers, and human rights defenders. The Ministry of Justice has not released updated figures on prisoner deaths due to COVID-19 since April.
If separate prison facilities for minors were not available, minors were held in separate sections within separate male and female adult prisons. Children younger than six were allowed to stay with their incarcerated mothers. The HRA estimated that as of December, 300 children were being held with their mothers. HRA noted that authorities released many mothers and children as a result of the COVID-19 amnesty. Pretrial detainees were held in the same facilities as convicted prisoners.
The government did not release data on inmate deaths due to physical conditions or actions of staff members. The HRA reported that 49 inmates died in prison from January to November. The HRA noted that prisoners were unlikely to report health issues and seek medical care since a positive COVID-19 result would lead to a two-week quarantine in solitary confinement. Human rights organizations and CPT reports asserted that prisoners frequently lacked adequate access to potable water, proper heating, ventilation, lighting, food, and health services. Human rights organizations also noted that prison overcrowding and poor sanitary conditions exacerbated the health risks for prisoners from the COVID-19 pandemic. Civil Society in the Penal System Association reported that prison facilities did not allow for sufficient social distancing due to overcrowding and did not provide cleaning and disinfection services on a regular basis. Prisons also did not provide disinfectant, gloves, or masks to prisoners, but instead sold them at commissaries.
The Ministry of Justice’s Prison and Correctional Facilities official reported to parliament that, as of October, more than 1,900 health workers were serving the prison population. Of the health workers, there were seven medical doctors, 144 dentists, 84 nurses, and 853 psychologists. Human rights associations expressed serious concern regarding the inadequate provision of health care to prisoners, particularly the insufficient number of prison doctors. According to HRA statistics, in September there were 1,605 sick prisoners in the country’s prisons, 604 of whom were in serious condition.
Reports by human rights organizations suggested that some doctors would not sign their names to medical reports alleging torture due to fear of reprisal. As a result victims were often unable to get medical documentation that would help prove their claims.
In December, Amnesty International reported that prison guards in Diyarbakir severely beat prisoner Mehmet Siddik Mese, but the prison doctor stated that the prisoner was not beaten in the official report. Mese did not receive an independent medical examination. The prosecutor decided not to prosecute the suspected perpetrators based on the prison doctor’s report.
Chief prosecutors have discretion, particularly under the wide-ranging counterterrorism law, to keep prisoners whom they deem dangerous to public security in pretrial detention, regardless of medical reports documenting serious illness.
Administration: Authorities at times investigated credible allegations of abuse and inhuman or degrading conditions but generally did not document the results of such investigations in a publicly accessible manner or disclose publicly whether actions were taken to hold perpetrators accountable. Some human rights activists and lawyers reported that prisoners and detainees were sometimes arbitrarily denied access to family members and lawyers.
Independent Monitoring: The government allowed prison visits by some observers, including parliamentarians. The Ministry of Interior reported that under the law prisons were to be monitored by domestic government entities including the Human Rights and Equality Institution of Turkey and the Parliamentary Commission for Investigating Human Rights. International monitors included the CPT, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, and the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.
HDP MP Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu stated that in response to his June inquiry, the Parliamentary Commission for Investigating Human Rights reported it had received 3,363 reports of human rights violations from detainees and prisoners since June 2018 but found no violations in any of the cases.
The government did not allow nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to monitor prisons. In October, HRA Balikesir chairman Rafet Fahri Semizoglu was detained under charges stemming from his visits to prisons. The Civil Society Association in the Penal System published periodic reports on prison conditions based on information provided by parliamentarians, correspondence with inmates, lawyers, inmates’ family members, and press reports.
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of arrest or detention in court, but numerous credible reports indicated the government did not always observe these requirements.
Human rights groups noted that, following the 2016 coup attempt, authorities continued to detain, arrest, and try hundreds of thousands of individuals for alleged ties to the Gulen movement or the PKK, often with questionable evidentiary standards and without the full due process provided for under law (see section 2.a.).
On the four-year anniversary of the 2016 coup attempt in July, the government announced that authorities had opened legal proceedings against 597,783 individuals, detained 282,790, and arrested 94,975 since the coup attempt on grounds of alleged affiliation or connection with the Gulen movement. During the year the government started legal proceedings against 39,719 individuals, detained 21,000, and arrested 3,688. In July the Ministry of Justice reported that the government had conducted nearly 100,000 operations targeting Gulenists since the coup attempt. The government reportedly detained and investigated a majority of the individuals for alleged terror-related crimes, including membership in and propagandizing for the Gulen movement or the PKK. Domestic and international legal and human rights experts questioned the quality of evidence presented by prosecutors in such cases, criticized the judicial process, asserted that the judiciary lacked impartiality, and that defendants were sometimes denied access to the evidence underlying the accusations against them (see section 1.e., Trial Procedures).
The courts in some cases applied the law unevenly, with legal critics and rights activists asserting court and prosecutor decisions were sometimes subject to executive interference. In January an Ankara court of appeals reversed a lower court ruling for life imprisonment of a former three-star general, Metin Iyidil, accused of participation in the coup attempt. Two days after Iyidil’s release, another court reordered his detention. After President Erdogan publicly criticized the Ankara appeals court decision to acquit, the court ruled for Iyidil to be rearrested. The Council of Judges and Prosecutors opened an investigation into the acquittal decision, suspending the three judges who ruled for acquittal from their posts.
The law requires that prosecutors issue warrants for arrests, unless the suspect is detained while committing a crime. The period for arraignment may be extended for up to four days. Formal arrest is a measure, separate from detention, which means a suspect is to be held in jail until and unless released by a subsequent court order. For crimes that carry potential prison sentences of fewer than three years’ imprisonment, a judge may release the accused after arraignment upon receipt of an appropriate assurance, such as bail. For more serious crimes, the judge may either release the defendant on his or her own recognizance or hold the defendant in custody (arrest) prior to trial if there are specific facts indicating the suspect may flee, attempt to destroy evidence, or attempt to pressure or tamper with witnesses or victims. Judges often kept suspects in pretrial detention without articulating a clear justification for doing so.
While the law generally provides detainees the right to immediate access to an attorney, it allows prosecutors to deny such access for up to 24 hours. In criminal cases the law also requires that the government provide indigent detainees with a public attorney if they request one. In cases where the potential prison sentence for conviction is more than five years’ imprisonment or where the defendant is a child or a person with disabilities, a defense attorney is appointed, even absent a request from the defendant. Human rights observers noted that in most cases authorities provided an attorney if a defendant could not afford one.
Under antiterror legislation adopted in 2018, the government may detain without charge (or appearance before a judge) a suspect for 48 hours for “individual” offenses and 96 hours for “collective” offenses. These periods may be extended twice with the approval of a judge, amounting to six days for “individual” and 12 days for “collective” offenses. Human rights organizations raised concerns that police authority to hold individuals for up to 12 days without charge increased the risk of mistreatment and torture. According to a statement by Minister of Justice Gul, 48,752 persons were in pretrial detention in the country as of July.
The law gives prosecutors the right to suspend lawyer-client privilege and to observe and record conversations between accused persons and their legal counsel. Bar associations reported that detainees occasionally had difficulty gaining immediate access to lawyers, both because government decrees restricted lawyers’ access to detainees and prisons–especially for those attorneys not appointed by the state–and because many lawyers were reluctant to defend individuals the government accused of ties to the 2016 coup attempt. Human rights organizations reported the 24-hour attorney access restriction was arbitrarily applied and that in terrorism-related cases, authorities often did not inform defense attorneys of the details of detentions within the first 24 hours, as stipulated by law. In such cases rights organizations and lawyers groups reported attorneys’ access to the case files for their clients was limited for weeks or months pending preparations of indictments, hampering their ability to defend their clients.
Some lawyers stated they were hesitant to take cases, particularly those of suspects accused of PKK or Gulen movement ties, because of fear of government reprisal, including prosecution. Government intimidation of defense lawyers also at times involved nonterror cases. The international NGO Freedom House in its 2020 Freedom in the World report stated, “In many cases, lawyers defending those accused of terrorism offenses were arrested themselves.” According to human rights organizations, since 2016 authorities prosecuted more than 1,500 lawyers, arrested 605, and sentenced 441 to lengthy prison terms on terrorism-related charges. Of the arrested lawyers, 14 were presidents of provincial bar associations. This practice disproportionately affected access to legal representation in the southeast, where accusations of affiliation with the PKK were frequent and the ratio of lawyers to citizens was low. In a September speech, the president suggested that lawyers who are “intimate” with terrorist organizations should be disbarred.
Arbitrary Arrest: Although the law prohibits holding a suspect arbitrarily or secretly, there were numerous reports that the government did not observe these prohibitions. Human rights groups alleged that in areas under curfew or in “special security zones,” security forces detained citizens without official record, leaving detainees at greater risk of arbitrary abuse.
In September the HDP released a statement detailing allegations that police kidnapped, physically assaulted, and later released six HDP youth assembly members in separate incidents in Diyarbakir, Istanbul, and Agri province. The HDP also stated that on May 4 police abducted HDP assembly member Hatice Busra Kuyun in Van province, forced her into a car, and threatened her. Police released Kuyun on the same day.
Pretrial Detention: The maximum time an arrestee can be held pending trial with an indictment is seven years, including for crimes against the security of the state, national defense, constitutional order, state secrets and espionage, organized crime, and terrorism-related offenses. Pretrial detention during the investigation phase of a case (before an indictment) is limited to six months for cases that do not fall under the purview of the heavy criminal court–referred to by the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL) as the central criminal court–and one year for cases that fall under the heavy criminal court. The length of pretrial detention generally did not exceed the maximum sentence for the alleged crimes. For other major criminal offenses tried by high criminal courts, the maximum detention period remained two years with the possibility of three one-year extensions, for a total of five years.
For terror-related cases, the maximum period of pretrial detention during the investigation phase is 18 months, with the possibility of a six-month extension.
Rule of law advocates noted that broad use of pretrial detention had become a form of summary punishment, particularly in cases that involved politically motivated terrorism charges.
The trial system does not provide for a speedy trial, and trial hearings were often months apart, despite provisions in the code of criminal procedure for continuous trial. Trials sometimes began years after indictment, and appeals could take years more to reach conclusion.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Detainees’ lawyers may appeal pretrial detention, although antiterror legislation imposed limits on their ability to do so. The country’s judicial process allows a system of lateral appeals to criminal courts of peace for arrest, release, judicial control, and travel ban decisions that substitutes appeal to a higher court with appeal to a lateral court. Lawyers criticized the approach, which rendered ambiguous the authority of conflicting rulings by horizontally equal courts. In addition since 2016 sentences of less than five years’ imprisonment issued by regional appellate courts were final and could not be appealed. Since 2019 the law provides for defendants in certain types of insult cases or speech-related cases to appeal to a higher court.
Detainees awaiting or undergoing trial prior to the 2016-18 state of emergency had the right to a review in person with a lawyer before a judge every 30 days to determine if they should be released pending trial. Under a law passed in 2018, in-person review occurs once every 90 days with the 30-day reviews replaced by a judge’s evaluation of the case file only. Bar associations noted this element of the law was contrary to the principle of habeas corpus and increased the risk of abuse, since the detainee would not be seen by a judge on a periodic basis.
In cases of alleged human rights violations, detainees have the right to apply directly to the Constitutional Court for redress while their criminal cases are proceeding. Nevertheless, a backlog of cases at the Constitutional Court slowed proceedings, preventing expeditious redress.
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) noted that detention center conditions varied and were often challenging due to limited physical capacity and increased referrals. Refugee-focused human rights groups alleged authorities prevented migrants placed in detention and return centers from communicating with the outside world, including their family members and lawyers, creating the potential for refoulement as migrants accept repatriation to avoid indefinite detention.
The law provides for an independent judiciary, but there were indications the judiciary remained subject to influence, particularly from the executive branch.
The executive branch exerts strong influence over the Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSK), the judicial body that assigns and reassigns judges and prosecutors to the country’s courts nationwide and is responsible for their discipline. Out of 13 total judges on the board, the president directly appoints six: The executive branch and parliament appoint 11 members (seven by parliament and four by the president) every four years; the other two members are the presidentially appointed justice minister and deputy justice minister. The ruling party controlled both the executive and the parliament when the existing members were appointed in 2017. Although the constitution provides tenure for judges, the HSK controls the careers of judges and prosecutors through appointments, transfers, promotions, expulsions, and reprimands. Broad leeway granted to prosecutors and judges challenges the requirement to remain impartial, and judges’ inclination to give precedence to the state’s interests contributed to inconsistent application of laws. Bar associations, lawyers, and scholars expressed concern regarding application procedures for prosecutors and judges described as highly subjective, which they warned opened the door to political litmus tests in the hiring process.
The judiciary faced a number of problems that limited judicial independence, including intimidation and reassignment of judges and allegations of interference by the executive branch. Following the 2016 coup attempt, the government suspended, detained, or fired nearly one-third of the judiciary accused of affiliation with the Gulen movement. The government in the intervening years filled the vacancies, but the judiciary continued to experience the effects of the purges. A Reuters international news organization analysis of Ministry of Justice data showed that at least 45 percent of the country’s prosecutors and judges have three years of legal professional experience or less.
Observers raised concerns that the outcome of some trials appeared predetermined or pointed to judicial interference. In February an Istanbul court ruled to acquit philanthropist Osman Kavala and eight others on charges of attempting to use the 2013 Gezi Park protests to overthrow the state. Kavala, the founder of Anadolu Kultur, an organization dedicated to cross-cultural and religious dialogue, had been in pretrial detention since 2017. The presiding judge permitted Kavala’s lawyer to argue on his client’s behalf but refused to allow any other defendant’s lawyers to do likewise. Without pausing for deliberation following final statements from the defendants, the presiding judge produced a paper that appeared to have the verdict already written. The court acquitted Kavala of the charges and ordered him released immediately, but authorities detained Kavala the same day upon exit from prison on new charges of espionage and attempting to overthrow the state order in connection with the 2016 failed coup. In March authorities issued an order of arrest for Kavala while he was in detention. In October prosecutors filed a new indictment against Kavala seeking three aggravated life sentences for espionage and renewed charges of “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order” and organizing the Gezi Park protests and supporting the Gulen movement. In December the Constitutional Court found that the government did not violate Kavala’s rights when he was re-arrested following acquittal in February. Kavala remained in detention at year’s end.
The government also targeted some defense attorneys representing a number of high-profile clients. In September authorities issued detention orders for 48 lawyers and seven legal trainees in Ankara on charges related to terrorism due to alleged links to the Gulen movement. Prominent bar associations, including those of Ankara, Istanbul, Izmir, and Gaziantep, condemned the arrests and reported that investigators’ questions to the lawyers, as well as presented evidence, were related to their professional activities.
The country has an inquisitorial criminal justice system. The system for educating and assigning judges and prosecutors fosters close connections between the two groups, which some legal experts claimed encouraged impropriety and unfairness in criminal cases.
There are no military courts, and military justice is reserved for disciplinary action, not criminal cases.
Lower courts at times ignored or significantly delayed implementation of decisions reached by the Constitutional Court. The government rarely implemented European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) decisions, despite the country’s obligation to do so as a member of the Council of Europe.
The government acknowledged problems in the judicial sector, and in 2019 parliament passed a Judicial Reform Strategy for 2019-23 reportedly designed to protect legal rights and freedoms and strengthen the independence of the judiciary while fostering more transparency, efficiency, and uniformity in legal procedures. Human rights groups criticized the strategy for focusing on cosmetic rather than structural changes; lacking a clear implementation plan, including timeline; failing to identify responsible government bodies and budget; and failing to address judicial independence concerns. Under the strategy the parliament in July adopted a legislative package amending trial procedures to streamline civil case processing and expanding use of arbitration and the scope of cases where trials may be closed to the public. Human rights organizations noted the effort to reduce trial durations was positive but voiced concern that the law may reduce trial transparency.
The constitution provides for the right to a fair public trial, although bar associations and rights groups asserted that increasing executive interference with the judiciary and actions taken by the government through state of emergency provisions jeopardized this right.
The law provides defendants a presumption of innocence and the right to be present at their trials, although in a number of high-profile cases, defendants increasingly appeared via video link from prison, rather than in person. Judges may restrict defense lawyers’ access to their clients’ court files for a specific catalogue of crimes (including crimes against state security, organized crime, and sexual assault against children) until the client is indicted.
A single judge or a panel of judges decides all cases. Courtroom proceedings were generally public except for cases involving minors as defendants. The state increasingly used a clause allowing closed courtrooms for hearings and trials related to security matters, such as those related to “crimes against the state.” Court files, which contain indictments, case summaries, judgments, and other court pleadings, were closed except to the parties to a case, making it difficult for the public, including journalists and watchdog groups, to obtain information on the progress or results of a case. In some politically sensitive cases, judges restricted access to Turkish lawyers only, limiting the ability of domestic or international groups to observe some trials.
Defendants have the right to be present at trial and to consult an attorney of their choice in a timely manner, although legal advocates have asserted the government coerced defendants to choose government-appointed lawyers. Observers and human rights groups noted that in some high-profile cases, these rights were not afforded to defendants. Individuals from the southeast were increasingly held in prisons or detention centers far from the location of the alleged crime and appeared at their hearing via video link systems. Some human rights organizations reported that hearings sometimes continued in the defendant’s absence when video links purportedly failed.
Defendants have the right to legal representation in criminal cases and, if indigent, to have representation provided at public expense. Defendants or their attorneys could question witnesses for the prosecution, although questions must usually be presented to the judges, who are expected to ask the questions on behalf of counsel. Defendants or their attorneys could, within limits, present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Defendants have the right not to testify or confess guilt and the right to appeal. The law provides for court-provided language interpretation when needed. Human rights groups alleged interpretation was not always provided free of charge, leaving some poor, non-Turkish-speaking defendants disadvantaged by the need to pay for interpretation.
Observers noted the prosecutors and courts often failed to establish evidence to sustain indictments and convictions in cases related to supporting terrorism, highlighting concerns regarding respect for due process and adherence to credible evidentiary thresholds. In numerous cases authorities used secret evidence or witnesses to which defense attorneys and the accused had no access or ability to cross-examine and challenge in court, particularly in cases related to national security. The government occasionally refused to acknowledge secret witnesses.
In April court authorities released from judicial control (parole) Turkish dual national Serkan Golge. In 2018 a court sentenced Golge to seven-and-a-half years in prison on charges of “membership in a terrorist organization,” referring to the Gulen movement. An appeals court later reduced the charges and sentence to “support of a terrorist organization” and five years’ imprisonment. Authorities arrested Golge in 2016 based on specious evidence, including witness testimony that was later recanted. Golge served nearly three years in prison before he was released; he was permitted to leave the country in June.
The number of political prisoners remained a subject of debate at year’s end. In July the Ministry of Interior reported the government had detained 282,790 persons in connection with the coup attempt since 2016. Of those, 25,912 were in prison awaiting trial. NGOs estimated there were 50,000 individuals in prison for terror-related crimes. Some observers considered some of these individuals political prisoners, a charge the government disputed.
Prosecutors used a broad definition of terrorism and threats to national security and in some cases, according to defense lawyers and opposition groups, used what appeared to be legally questionable evidence to file criminal charges against and prosecute a broad range of individuals, including journalists, opposition politicians (primarily of the HDP), activists, and others critical of the government.
At year’s end eight former HDP parliamentarians and 17 HDP comayors were in detention following arrest. According to the HDP, since July 2015 at least 5,000 HDP lawmakers, executives, and party members were in prison for a variety of charges related to terrorism and political speech. The government had suspended from office using national security grounds 48 locally elected opposition politicians in Kurdish-majority areas, and subsequently arrested 37. The government suspended from office the elected village leaders of 10 villages in the southeast in May. By August 2019 the government had suspended most of the mayors elected in the southeast in March 2019, including the HDP mayors of major southeastern cities Diyarbakir, Mardin, and Van. The government suspended an additional 16 mayors during the year. The government suspended the majority of mayors for ongoing investigations into their alleged support for PKK terrorism, largely dating to before their respective elections.
In September authorities arrested both comayors of Kars, Ayhan Bilgen and Sevin Alaca, as part of detention orders for 101 persons across seven provinces, including former HDP members of parliament and senior HDP officials, for their alleged involvement in the 2014 Kobane protests in the country regarding perceived government inaction in response to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria takeover of the majority Kurdish town of Kobane, Syria. The prosecutor’s office also issued a secrecy injunction, citing terror charges, which prevented lawyers from accessing their clients’ files. In total authorities arrested 17 HDP officials. On December 30, the Ankara Prosecutor’s Office filed an indictment containing 37 counts of homicide and charges of “disrupting the unity and territorial integrity of the state” against 108 individuals, including the arrested HDP officials, in relation to the Kobane protests.
Former HDP cochair and former presidential candidate Selahattin Demirtas remained in prison on terrorism charges since 2016 despite 2018 and 2020 ECHR rulings for his release. In June the Constitutional Court ruled that Demirtas’ lengthy pretrial detention violated his rights, but the government did not release him from prison because of a second detention order stemming from a separate investigation related to the 2014 antigovernment Kobane protests. In September the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office issued a new indictment against Demirtas under counterterrorism statutes for his criticism of the Ankara chief prosecutor at a hearing in January. On the same day, an Ankara court also ruled for the continuation of Demirtas’ imprisonment based on the Kobane protests investigation. On December 22, the ECHR ruled that Turkey violated Demirtas’ rights, including freedom of expression, liberty, and security; speedy decision on lawfulness of detention; and free elections, and it called for his immediate release. Following the ruling, President Erdogan accused the ECHR of “defending a terrorist” and making a hypocritical, politically motivated ruling. The president also stated that only Turkish courts could rule on the case and that Turkey would “evaluate” the ECHR decision. On December 30, authorities indicted Demirtas for his involvement in the Kobane protests as part of the mass indictment of 108 individuals.
Authorities used antiterror laws broadly against opposition political party members, human rights activists, media outlets, suspected PKK sympathizers, and alleged Gulen movement members or groups affiliated with the Gulen movement, among others, including to seize assets of companies, charities, or businesses. Human rights groups alleged many detainees had no substantial link to terrorism and were detained to silence critical voices or weaken political opposition to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), particularly the HDP or its partner party, the Democratic Regions Party.
In June the government expelled MPs Leyla Guven and Musa Farisogulları of the HDP and Enis Berberoglu of the main opposition CHP from parliament and arrested them after appeals courts upheld charges against them on terrorism and espionage, respectively. The Constitutional Court ruled that the government had violated Berberoglu’s rights because it did not renew the lifting of his legal immunity following his re-election in 2018. In October the criminal court in Istanbul, which reviewed Berberoglu’s case, rejected the Constitutional Court ruling for a retrial. Berberoglu remained on release from prison due to COVID-19 precautions. In December a Diyarbakir court sentenced Guven to 22 years and three months in prison on three separate terrorism charges. Authorities transferred Guven to prison following sentencing; they had released her earlier in the year based on time served in a separate case.
Students, artists, and association members faced criminal investigations for alleged terror-related activities, primarily due to their social media posts. The government did not consider those in custody for alleged PKK or Gulen movement ties to be political prisoners and did not permit access to them by human rights or humanitarian organizations.
Credible reports claimed that authorities subjected some persons jailed on terrorism-related charges to abuses, including long solitary confinement, unnecessary strip and cavity searches, severe limitations on outdoor exercise and out-of-cell activity, denial of access to prison library and media, slow medical attention, and in some cases the denial of medical treatment. Reports also alleged that authorities subjected visitors of prisoners accused of terrorism-related crimes to abuse, including limited access to family and degrading treatment by prison guards, including strip searches.
The government engaged in a worldwide effort to apprehend suspected members of the Gulen movement. There were credible reports that the government exerted bilateral pressure on other countries to take adverse action against specific individuals, at times without due process. According to a report by several UN special rapporteurs in May, the government reportedly coordinated with other states to transfer more forcibly than 100 Turkish nationals to Turkey since the 2016 coup attempt, of which 40 individuals were subjected to enforced disappearance. In January, Albania deported Turkish citizen Harun Celik, a teacher at a school associated with the Gulen movement, to Turkey after arresting him for traveling on false documents in 2019. Celik’s lawyer reported Celik requested asylum while detained in Albania and that Albania repatriated him to Turkey without giving him an opportunity to appeal the decision. Authorities detained Celik upon arrival in Istanbul. Turkish media hailed the repatriation as a successful operation by Turkish state intelligence. Individuals returned to the country under such circumstances usually faced legal proceedings based on their association with the Gulen movement. In September, Isa Ozer, a Turkish national who had been an elected local deputy in Dogubeyazit in eastern Anatolia for the left-wing HDP, was brought to Turkey from Ukraine in what the Turkish state press described as an intelligence operation.
There were also credible reports that the government attempted to use INTERPOL red notices to target specific individuals located outside the country, alleging ties to terrorism connected to the 2016 coup attempt or to the PKK, based on little evidence. Freedom House reported that, since the 2016 coup attempt, the country had uploaded tens of thousands of requests in INTERPOL for persons the government designated as affiliated with the Gulen movement. There were also reports that individuals faced complications related to erroneous lost or stolen passport reports the government filed against suspected Gulen movement supporters in the years directly following the coup attempt. Targeted individuals often had no clearly identified role in the attempted coup but were associated with the Gulen movement or had spoken in favor of it. The reports to INTERPOL could lead to individuals’ detention or prevent them from traveling.
In September press reported that the Diyarbakir Chief Prosecutor’s Office requested the extradition of former HDP MP and Diyarbakir mayor Osman Baydemir, who resides in the United Kingdom, as part of a terrorism investigation. Authorities also petitioned an INTERPOL red notice for Baydemir. He was previously convicted for insulting police and stripped of MP status in 2018.
The government used property seizure orders to pressure individuals living in exile abroad. In October a court seized all assets, including property and bank accounts, of exiled opposition journalist Can Dundar and declared him a fugitive after he did not attend trial proceedings for the case against him and other former Cumhuriyet journalists who reported on alleged illicit arms shipments by Turkish intelligence officers to Syria. On December 23, an Istanbul court sentenced Dundar in absentia to 27 years’ imprisonment. The court also upheld the asset seizure and began an extradition request from Germany, where Dundar resides.
The government continued to refuse to renew the passports of some citizens with temporary residency permits in other countries on political grounds, claiming they were members of “Gulenist” organizations; these individuals were unable to travel outside of their countries of residence.
The constitution provides for an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters, although this differed in practice. Citizens and legal entities such as organizations and companies have the right to file a civil case for compensation for physical or psychological harm, including for human rights violations. On constitutional and human rights issues, the law also provides for individuals to appeal their cases directly to the Constitutional Court, theoretically allowing for faster and simpler high-level review of alleged human rights violations within contested court decisions. Critics complained that, despite this mechanism, the large volume of appeals of dismissals under the state of emergency and decreased judicial capacity caused by purges in the judiciary resulted in slow proceedings.
As of September 30, the Constitutional Court has received 30,584 applications and found rights law violations in 20 percent of applications, according to official statistics. Of the 2019 applications, 30 percent remained pending. Citizens who have exhausted all domestic remedies have the right to apply for redress to the ECHR; however, the government rarely implemented ECHR decisions. According to the NGO European Implementation Network, Turkey has not implemented 60 percent of ECHR decisions from the last 10 years. For example, the country has not implemented the ECHR decision on the illegality of pretrial detention of former Constitutional Court judge Alparslan Altan, arrested and convicted following the coup attempt in 2016. Altan was serving an 11-year prison sentence at year’s end.
The government established the Inquiry Commission on the State of Emergency Measures, in 2017 to adjudicate appeals of wrongfully dismissed civil servants and began accepting cases that July. The commission reported that, as of the end of the year, it had received 126,630 applications, adjudicated 112,310 cases, approved 13,170, and rejected 99,140. Critics complained the appeals process was opaque, slow, and did not respect citizens’ rights to due process, including by prohibiting defendants from seeing the evidence against them or presenting exculpatory evidence in their defense.
In multiple parts of the southeast, many citizens continued efforts to appeal the government’s 2016 expropriations of properties to reconstruct areas damaged in government-PKK fighting (see section 1.g, Other Conflict-related Abuse).
According to the Savings Deposit Insurance Fund of Turkey, as of July the government had seized 796 businesses worth an estimated 61.2 billion lira ($7.85 billion) since the 2016 coup attempt. A March NGO report estimated that $32.2 billion in businesses and business assets, including from media outlets, schools, universities, hospitals, banks, private companies, and other holdings were confiscated since the 2016 coup attempt in breach of domestic regulations.
In July the government completed the flooding of a valley in Batman province for a new hydroelectric dam. Residents displaced by the use of eminent domain reported the government’s payment for their property would not cover the cost of the apartment buildings intended to replace their former homes and complained that animal husbandry was not allowed in the new city, a practice residents had until then relied upon for income and sustenance.
The Department of State’s Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act Report to Congress, released publicly on July 29, may be found on the Department’s website: https://www.state.gov/reports/just-act-report-to-congress/.
While the constitution provides for the “secrecy of private life” and states that individuals have the right to demand protection and correction of their personal information and data, the law provides MIT with the authority to collect information while limiting the ability of the public or journalists to expose abuses. Oversight of MIT falls within the purview of the presidency, and checks on MIT authorities are limited. MIT may collect data from any entity without a warrant or other judicial process for approval. At the same time, the law establishes criminal penalties for conviction of interfering with MIT activities, including data collection or obtaining or publishing information concerning the agency. The law allows the president to grant MIT and its employees’ immunity from prosecution.
Police possess broad powers for personal search and seizure. Senior police officials may authorize search warrants, with judicial permission required to follow within 24 hours. Individuals subjected to such searches have the right to file complaints; however, judicial permission occurring after a search had already taken place failed to serve as a check against abuse.
Security forces may conduct wiretaps for up to 48 hours without a judge’s approval. As a check against potential abuse of this power, the State Inspection Board may conduct annual inspections and present its reports for review to parliament’s Security and Intelligence Commission. Information on how often this authority was used was not available. Human rights groups noted that wiretapping without a court order circumvented judicial control and potentially limited citizens’ right to privacy. Some citizens asserted that authorities tapped their telephones and accessed their email or social media accounts. There was evidence the government monitored private online communications using nontransparent legal authority.
The Ministry of Interior disclosed that in the first seven months of this year, it examined 14,186 social media accounts and took legal action against more than 6,743 users whom it accused of propagandizing or promoting terror organizations, inciting persons to enmity and hostility, or insulting state institutions. The law allows courts to order domestic internet service providers to block access to links, including to websites, articles, or social media posts, and was routinely used to block access to news sites. The editor of one such news website, Sendika, reported that his site has been blocked 63 times since 2015. The HRFT reported that in the first eight months of the year, the government detained at least 485 persons and arrested six for social media posts, including but not limited to posts on COVID-19.
Human rights groups asserted that self-censorship due to fear of official reprisal accounted in part for the relatively low number of complaints they received regarding allegations of torture or mistreatment.
Using antiterror legislation, the government targeted family members to exert pressure on wanted suspects. Government measures included cancelling the passports of family members of civil servants suspended or dismissed from state institutions, as well as of those who had fled authorities. In some cases the government cancelled or refused to issue passports for the minor children of individuals outside the country who were wanted for or accused of ties to the Gulen movement. In June the Ministry of Interior announced it would lift restrictions on the passports of 28,075 persons in addition to the 57,000 reported in 2019.
Government seizure and closure during the previous three years of hundreds of businesses accused of links to the Gulen movement created ambiguous situations for the privacy of client information.
Clashes between security forces and the PKK and its affiliates in the country continued throughout the year, although at a reduced level relative to previous years, and resulted in the injury or deaths of security forces, PKK terrorists, and civilians. The government continued security operations against the PKK and its affiliates in various areas of the east and southeast. Authorities issued curfews of varying duration in certain urban and rural areas and also decreed “special security zones” in some areas to facilitate counter-PKK operations, which restricted access of visitors and, in some cases, residents. While portions of Hakkari province and rural portions of Tunceli Province remained “special security zones” most of the year, the government imposed curfews and “special security zones” less frequently overall than in 2019. PKK attacks claimed the lives of noncombatant civilians, as did kidnappings. Residents of these areas reported they occasionally had very little time to leave their homes prior to the launch of counter-PKK security operations. Those who remained faced curfews of varying scope and duration that at times restricted their movement and complicated living conditions.
Killings: According to the International Crisis Group, from mid-2015 to December, at least 1,265 security force members, 3,166 PKK terrorists, 5,539 civilians, and 226 individuals of unknown affiliation died in PKK-related fighting in the country and the surrounding region.
The HRA reported that in the first 10 months of the year, 14 security officers, 15 civilians, and 78 PKK terrorists were killed during clashes; 15 security officers and 23 civilians were reportedly injured.
PKK attacks resulted in civilian deaths. For example, on April 8, a roadside bomb attack killed five forestry workers in Diyarbakir province. Government data on casualty tolls were unavailable.
PKK tactics included targeted killings and assault with conventional weapons, vehicle-borne bombs, and IEDs. At times IEDs or unexploded ordnance, usually attributed to the PKK, killed or maimed civilians and security forces. According to news reports, in April an 11-year-old boy died as a result of an explosion of unexploded ordnance in Diyarbakir. Since 2016, unexploded ordnance killed at least 22 civilians, 21 of whom were children.
Abductions: The PKK abducted or attempted to abduct civilians (see Child Soldiers, below).
Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: Human rights groups alleged that police, other government security forces, and the PKK abused some civilian residents of the southeast. There was little accountability for mistreatment by government authorities. In April a Gevas court acquitted a police officer who was accused of torturing four village residents in 2017. Although victims identified seven police officers, the prosecutor pressed charges against only one.
Child Soldiers: The government and some members of Kurdish communities alleged the PKK recruited and forcibly abducted children for conscription. A group of mothers continued a sit-in protest they began in Diyarbakir in September 2019 alleging the PKK had forcibly recruited or kidnapped their children and demanding their return. According to the Directorate of Communications of the Presidency, 438 children escaped and left the PKK from January 2014 to June.
Other Conflict-related Abuse: Extensive damage stemming from government-PKK fighting led authorities in 2016 to expropriate certain properties in specific districts of the southeast to facilitate postconflict reconstruction. Many of these areas remained inaccessible to residents at year’s end due to reconstruction. In Diyarbakir’s Sur District, the government had not returned or completed repairs on many of the expropriated properties, including the historic and ancient sites inside Sur, such as Surp Giragos Armenian Church and the Mar Petyun Chaldean Church. The government allocated 30 million lira ($3.8 million) to renovate four churches; renovations on two of them were completed. Some affected residents filed court challenges seeking permission to remain on expropriated land and receive compensation; many of these cases remained pending at year’s end. In certain cases courts awarded compensation to aggrieved residents, although the latter complained awards were insufficient. The overall number of those awarded compensation was unavailable at year’s end.
In May press reported the discovery of plastic boxes containing the remains of 261 bodies of PKK terrorists from the Kurdish-dominated southeastern province of Bitlis; the boxes were buried under the sidewalks in Istanbul’s Kilyos Cemetery. Authorities reportedly removed the bodies from a cemetery in Bitlis during a construction project in 2017 and moved them without the knowledge of families of the buried.
Government actions and adverse security conditions impacted democratic freedoms, including limiting journalists’ and international observers’ access to affected areas, which made monitoring and assessing the aftermath of urban conflicts difficult. Since 2019 the Ministry of Interior suspended 48 of 65 elected HDP mayors in the southeast based on allegations of support for terrorism related to the PKK. Because the mayors were suspended but not removed, pursuant to 2018 antiterror legislation, local residents did not have the opportunity to elect other representatives. The government appointed officials to govern these 48 municipalities in lieu of the removed elected mayors.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: The government and independent monitoring groups reported with concern that rates of violence against women remained high although the number of femicides decreased slightly from 2019. The We Will Stop Femicide Platform, an NGO dedicated to monitoring violence against women since 2008, reported a record 421 femicides in 2019. The NGO estimated that men killed at least 407 women during the year. Between April 15 and May 19, the Ministry of Family, Labor, and Social Services received a record 2,506 complaints of domestic violence following the release of 90,000 convicts from prisons as part of the country’s COVID-19 countermeasures.
The law criminalizes violence against women and sexual assault, including rape and spousal rape, with penalties of two to 10 years’ imprisonment for conviction of attempted sexual violation and at least 12 years’ imprisonment for conviction of rape or sexual violation. The government did not effectively or fully enforce these laws or protect victims. In one example in July, authorities found the body of Pinar Gultekin, a university student who had been missing for five days. Police alleged that a former boyfriend strangled her after an argument and placed her body in a barrel, which was then burned and filled with concrete. In October police apprehended and arrested the suspect. The brutal crime generated extensive negative media and social media coverage and led to protests in several cities. On July 22, the president issued a tweet that condemned the crime and violence against women and promised that the killer would receive the maximum punishment.
In April, Muslum Aslan beat his 11-year-old daughter to death only days after being released from prison. Authorities released Aslan, who had been arrested for stabbing his wife in the neck with scissors and had a history of abusing his children, during the COVID-19 amnesty after he had served only five months of his sentence. Police re-arrested Aslan, and he committed suicide in prison in May.
The law covers all women and requires police and local authorities to grant various levels of protection and support services to survivors of violence or those at risk of violence. It also mandates government services, such as shelter and temporary financial support, for victims and provides for family courts to impose sanctions on perpetrators.
The law provides for the establishment of violence prevention and monitoring centers to offer economic, psychological, legal, and social assistance. There were 81 violence prevention centers throughout the country, one in each province. There were 145 women’s shelters nationwide with capacity for 3,482 persons. As of July, 42,396 individuals, including 26,347 women and 16,049 children received services from women’s shelters. Women’s rights advocates asserted there were not enough shelters to meet the demand for assistance and that shelter staff did not provide adequate care and services, particularly in the southeast. Some NGOs noted shelters in multiple southeastern provinces closed during the 2016-18 state of emergency and COVID-19 lockdowns and that others faced difficulty following the removal of elected mayors and appointment of government trustees, some of whom cut funding and ended partnerships with the local NGOs. Lack of services was more acute for elderly women and LGBTI women as well as for women with older children. The government operated a nationwide domestic violence hotline and web application called the Women Emergency Assistance Notification System (KADES). In November the Ministry of Interior stated that since its inception in 2018, the KADES app has received more than 48,686 reports and that authorities had responded to each, but it did not specify types of response. NGOs asserted the quality of services provided in calls was inadequate for victims of domestic violence and that women were at times directed to mediation centers or told to reconcile with their husbands.
Violence against women, including spousal abuse, remained a serious and widespread problem both in rural and urban areas. Pandemic lockdowns for COVID-19 during the year coincided with increased reports of domestic violence. Spousal rape is a criminal offense, and the law also provides criminal penalties for conviction of crimes such as assault, deprivation of liberty, or threats. Despite these measures, killings and other forms of violence against women continued.
The government sparked controversy across the political spectrum during the summer when some senior members of the ruling AKP called for the country’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention, a Council of Europe convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, which the country ratified in 2012. Critics of the convention alleged its commitment to equal implementation without discrimination based on “sexual orientation” or “gender identity” violated Turkish values and that the convention damaged family structures. The calls for withdrawal generated a significant domestic backlash, including from within the ruling party, and women’s rights groups organized in support of the convention. In July and August, protests against withdrawal and for improved government response in combatting violence against women took place nationwide regularly. Some protests resulted in scuffles between police and protesters. Police detained demonstrators at several of the protests, including those in Ankara and Istanbul in August. At the end of the year, the government had not taken any steps to withdraw from the convention.
Courts regularly issued restraining orders to protect victims, but human rights organizations reported police rarely enforced them effectively. Women’s associations also charged that government counselors and police sometimes encouraged women to remain in abusive marriages at their own personal risk rather than break up families.
In June, Sevtap Sahin was killed by her husband in Ankara. According to her family, Sahin had filed 60 domestic violence and restraining order violations complaints with police prior to her murder. In October, Istanbul resident Gul Gulum was killed by her husband, against whom she had obtained a restraining order. In both cases police arrested the husbands following the killings.
Courts in some cases gave reduced sentences to men found guilty of committing violence against women, citing good behavior during the trial or “provocation” by women as an extenuating circumstance of the crime.
For example, in July the Court of Cassation reduced the sentence for Lutfu Sefa Berberoglu, convicted of murdering his wife in 2013 after seeing her in a car with two men, from life imprisonment for murder to 15 years’ imprisonment. The court cited unjust provocation and lack of spousal loyalty as reasons for the reversal.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Human rights activists and academics reported the practice of “honor killings” of women continued across the country. The prevalence of killings was most severe in the southeast.
Individuals convicted of honor killings may receive life imprisonment, but NGOs reported that courts often reduced actual sentences due to mitigating factors. The law allows judges, when establishing sentences, to take into account anger or passion caused by the “misbehavior” of the victim.
Sexual Harassment: The law provides for up to five years’ imprisonment for sexual harassment. If the victim is a child, the recommended punishments are longer; however, women’s rights activists reported that authorities rarely enforced these laws. For example, in October a man previously sentenced to eight years in prison for sexually harassing a teacher, but never arrested since an appeals court did not confirm the verdict, shot a woman who rejected his proposal of marriage.
Gender equality organizations indicated that incidents of verbal harassment and physical intimidation of women in public occurred with regularity and cited as the cause a permissive social environment in which harassers were emboldened.
Some women’s rights NGOs asserted that weak legal enforcement of laws to protect women and light sentencing of violent perpetrators of crimes against women contributed to a climate of permissiveness for potential offenders. According to Ministry of Justice statistics, there were 15,842 sexual harassment cases in 2019. Courts ruled for acquittal in 17 percent of cases, in 40 percent of cases the perpetrator was found guilty and sentenced, and in 25 percent of cases, courts suspended the sentence through a verdict postponement judgement. The high rate of verdict postponement contributed to perceptions of impunity for sexual harassment.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children and to manage their reproductive health, and most had access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. Cultural barriers to access of contraception exist in religiously conservative communities. According to a 2017 UN World Family Planning report, 6 percent of women between 15 and 49 years of age reported an unmet need for family planning methods. Access to family planning methods and information on managing reproductive health was more difficult for many of the four million refugees in the country. During the year the Reproductive Health Journal published a review on the sexual and reproductive health of Syrian refugee women that stated the rate of postnatal care was inadequate. The review reported a 24-percent rate of modern contraceptive method use among all age groups of Syrian girls and women, with estimated rates of unmet family planning needs at 35 percent and only 20 percent of Syrian women having regular gynecological examinations.
The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or forced sterilization on the part of government authorities.
Discrimination: Women enjoy the same rights as men by law, but societal and official discrimination were widespread. Women faced discrimination in employment.
The constitution permits measures, including positive discrimination, to advance gender equality. To encourage the hiring of women, the state paid social services insurance premiums on behalf of employers for several months for any female employee older than 18. Laws introduced as a gender justice initiative provided for maternity leave, breastfeeding time during work hours, flexibility in work hours, and required childcare by large employers. Rights organizations contended, however, that these changes in the legal framework discouraged employers from hiring women and negatively affected their promotion potential.
Birth Registration: There was universal birth registration, and births were generally registered promptly. A child receives citizenship from his or her parents, not through birth in the country. Only one parent needs to be a citizen to convey citizenship to a child. In special cases in which a child born in the country may not receive citizenship from any other country due to the status of his or her parents, the child is legally entitled to receive citizenship.
Education: Human rights NGOs and others expressed concern that despite the law on compulsory education and the progress made by the nationwide literacy campaign launched in 2018, some families were able to keep female students home, particularly in religiously conservative rural areas, where girls often dropped out of school after completing their mandatory primary education. The reliance on online education platforms during COVID-19 lockdowns negatively affected both boys and girls from socioeconomically disadvantaged families lacking internet access and further exacerbated learning inequalities. In March an evaluation by the think tank Education Reform Initiative following the first two weeks of distance learning noted heavy workloads for teachers, low motivation of children, and lack of access to distance learning of many students. Education organizations reported similar issues following the start of the school year in September. In November the education union Egitim Sen estimated that four million children did not have access to remote education. According to the Turkish Statistical Institute 2019 data, 96 percent of men and 86 percent of women attained primary education and 49 percent of men and 36 percent of women attained secondary education.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, in its Education at a Glance 2019 report, stated the number of young adults who attained a postsecondary education had doubled in the last decade, although it noted that nearly half of them did not complete upper secondary education.
Child Abuse: Child abuse was a problem. The law authorizes police and local officials to grant various levels of protection and support services to victims of violence or to those at risk of violence. Nevertheless, children’s rights advocates reported failed implementation. The law requires the government to provide services to victims, such as shelter and temporary financial support, and empowers family courts to impose sanctions on those responsible for the violence.
By law if the victim of abuse is between ages 12 and 18, molestation results in a sentence of three to eight-year prison sentence, sexual abuse in a sentence of 8 to 15 years’ imprisonment, and rape in a sentence of at least 16 years’ imprisonment. If the victim is younger than 12, conviction of molestation results in a minimum sentence of five years’ imprisonment, conviction of sexual abuse a minimum of 10 years’ imprisonment, and conviction of rape a minimum of 18 years’ imprisonment.
Government authorities increased attention on the problem of child abuse. According to Ministry of Justice statistics, courts opened 28,360 legal cases related to child sexual abuse and imposed 15,651 imprisonment sentences for child sexual abuse in the country in 2019. Child rights experts reported that the increased attention on the problem had led to greater awareness and reporting. While some activists stated that sexual abuse of children spiked during COVID-19 quarantines in May, the Istanbul, Izmir, Diyarbakir and Gaziantep Bar Associations reported that during the COVID-19 lockdowns, requests for legal representation for child abuse survivors dropped significantly. The bar associations cautioned that the drop may indicate an underreporting of child abuse cases and increased barriers to survivors’ accessing legal counseling.
Official statistics on child abuse and maltreatment have been unavailable since 2017, when the government stopped releasing data on the issue. According to Ministry of Justice statistics, 16,348 child sex abuse cases were filed in 2017.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The law defines 18 as the minimum age for marriage, although children may marry at 17 with parental permission and at 16 with court approval. The law acknowledges civil and religious marriages, but the latter were not always registered with the state.
NGOs reported children as young as 12 married in unofficial religious ceremonies, particularly in poor and rural regions and among the Syrian community in the country. According to Ezgi Yaman, the secretary general of the NGO End Child Prostitution and Trafficking (ECPAT), the number of Syrian refugee families who married off their underage daughters to Turkish men as an “economic coping mechanism” increased in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Statistics were unavailable because the marriages often took place unofficially. The government’s 2018 Demographic and Health Survey showed that 12 percent of Syrian girls in the country married before age 15, and 38 percent married before age 18. Early and forced marriage was particularly prevalent in the southeast, and women’s rights activists reported the problem remained serious. According to the Turkish Statistical Institute, in 2019, 5 percent of women between ages of 20 and 24 married before age 18. Local NGOs worked to educate and raise awareness among individuals in the Turkish and Syrian populations in major southeast provinces.
Women’s rights groups stated that forced marriages and bride kidnapping persisted, particularly in rural areas, although it was not as widespread as in previous years.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The constitution requires the state to take measures to protect children from exploitation. The law criminalizes sexual exploitation of children and mandates a minimum sentence of eight years in prison. The penalty for conviction of encouraging or facilitating child prostitution is up to 10 years’ imprisonment; if violence or pressure is involved, a judge may double the sentence. The government did not publish data on rates of sexual exploitation of children.
NGOs like ECPAT noted that young Syrian female refugees were particularly vulnerable to being exploited by criminal organizations and pressured into sex work, and this practice was particularly prevalent among adolescent girls.
The age of consent for sex is 18. The law prohibits producing or disseminating child pornography and stipulates a prison sentence of up to two years as well as a fine for violations. The law provides prison sentences of up to five years for incest.
Displaced Children: Many women’s and migrant rights NGOs reported that displaced children, mostly Syrian, remained vulnerable to economic and sexual abuse.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.
According to the Chief Rabbinate in Istanbul, approximately 16,000 Jews lived in the country. Some members of the community continued to emigrate or seek to obtain citizenship in a second country, in part due to concerns regarding anti-Semitism.
Jewish citizens expressed concern regarding anti-Semitism and security threats. Anti-Semitic rhetoric continued in print media and on social media throughout the year and included conspiracy theories blaming Jews and Israel for the spread of COVID-19. In March mainstream television channel A Haber featured an interview regarding the spread of COVID-19 where both the program guest and anchorman claimed that Israel intentionally spread the virus. Also in March a video showing bus passengers in Istanbul blaming Jews for COVID-19 circulated widely on social media. The same month unelected politician Fatih Erbakan stated in an interview that Zionists might be behind the pandemic.
In September the progovernment daily newspaper Sabah published an opinion piece criticizing the agreements on normalization of relations between Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain that included several anti-Semitic tropes.
According to a Hrant Dink Foundation report on hate speech, in 2019 there were 676 published instances of anti-Jewish rhetoric in the press depicting Jews as violent, conspiratorial, and enemies of the country.
To combat anti-Semitism, the government continued to commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day in January, holding an event at Ankara University with participation of the minister of culture, Ministry of Foreign Affairs representatives, and members of the Jewish community. In February the government for the fifth year in a row commemorated the nearly 800 Jewish refugees who died aboard the Struma, a ship that sank off the coast of Istanbul in 1942. The governor of Istanbul, Chief Rabbi Haleva, other members of the Jewish community, and members of the diplomatic community attended the commemoration. As in 2019 President Erdogan issued public messages in celebration of the Jewish holidays of Passover, Rosh Hashanah, and Hanukkah.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities, but NGOs that advocate for persons with disabilities asserted the government did not enforce the law effectively.
The law requires all governmental institutions and businesses to provide persons with disabilities access to public areas and public transportation and allows for the establishment of review commissions and fines for noncompliance. The president declared 2020 the “year of accessibility,” with particular focus on mass transit and building entrances. The government, however, made limited progress implementing the law, and access in many cities remained restricted.
The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated service accessibility problems for individuals with disabilities. In a September survey conducted by the Women with Disabilities Association, respondents identified lack of access to physical therapy; lack of access to medicine; closure of rehabilitation centers; and an increase in anxiety as major issues related to the pandemic.
The Ministry of Family, Labor, and Social Services is responsible for protecting persons with disabilities. The ministry maintained social service centers assisting marginalized individuals, including persons with disabilities. The majority of children with disabilities were enrolled in mainstream public schools; others attended special education centers.
The law requires all public schools to accommodate students with disabilities, although activists reported instances of such students being refused admission or encouraged to drop out of school. According to disability activists, a large number of school-age children with disabilities did not receive adequate access to education, a situation aggravated by distance learning implemented as a COVID-19 precaution. NGOs reported that public distance education programs created to enable distance learning under COVID-19 did not provide sign interpretation or subtitles for hearing impaired students. According to a March report by the Ministry of Family, Labor, and Social Services, during the 2018 school year (the latest for which data is available), 398,815 students with disabilities were in school, with 295,697 studying in regular schools and the remainder in either state-run or privately owned special education schools or classes. There were more than 14,000 teachers working in special education schools. A Ministry of Family, Labor, and Social Services program allowed individuals with autism to stay in government-run houses and offered state resources to families who were unable to attend to all the needs of their autistic children.
On December 3, the minister of family, labor, and social services announced the total number of persons with disabilities employed in the public sector was 57,000. The private sector employed around 118,000 of the two million citizens with disabilities qualified for work. An employment quota requires private-sector companies with more than 50 employees to include in their workforce at least 3 percent employees with disabilities. The public-sector quota is 4 percent. There was no information available on the implementation of fines for accountability.
The constitution provides a single nationality designation for all citizens and does not expressly recognize national, racial, or ethnic minorities except for three non-Muslim minorities: Armenian Apostolic Christians, Jews, and Greek Orthodox Christians. Other national, religious, or ethnic minorities, including Assyrians, Jaferis, Yezidis, Kurds, Arabs, Roma, Circassians, and Laz, were not permitted to exercise their linguistic, religious, and cultural rights fully.
More than 15 million citizens were estimated to be of Kurdish origin and spoke Kurdish dialects. Security force efforts against the PKK disproportionately affected Kurdish communities in rural areas throughout much of the year. Some predominantly Kurdish communities experienced government-imposed curfews, generally in connection with government security operations aimed at clearing areas of PKK terrorists (see section 1.g.).
Kurdish and pro-Kurdish civil society organizations and political parties continued to experience problems exercising freedoms of assembly and association (see section 2.b.). Hundreds of Kurdish civil society organizations and Kurdish-language media outlets closed by government decree in 2016 and 2017 after the coup attempt remained shut.
The law allows citizens to open private institutions to provide education in languages and dialects they traditionally use in their daily lives, on the condition that schools are subject to the law and inspected by the Ministry of National Education. Some universities offered elective Kurdish-language courses, and four universities had Kurdish-language departments, although several instructors in these departments were among the thousands of university personnel fired under official decrees, leaving the programs unstaffed. In July the Ministry of Education also banned students from writing theses and dissertations in Kurdish, affecting students studying in Kurdish-language departments.
The law allows reinstatement of former non-Turkish names of villages and neighborhoods and provides political parties and their members the right to campaign and use promotional material in any language; however, this right was not protected.
The law restricts the use of languages other than Turkish in government and public services. In March a trustee mayor of Batman province, appointed by the government after the arrest of elected HDP comayors on terrorism charges, removed Kurdish-language information from the municipality website and replaced bilingual pedestrian crossing signs. Batman Province’s population is more than 80 percent Kurdish, and the information removed included guidance on the city and the national government’s COVID-19 preparations. This raised some health concerns, as elderly Kurdish citizens in the southeast are less likely to speak Turkish. All tweets on the official Batman municipality Twitter feed, shared in both Turkish and Kurdish in an attempt to reach the community’s sizeable Kurdish-speaking population, were also deleted, including information on assistance to needy residents and efforts to mitigate economic concerns caused by COVID-19.
In May assailants stabbed and killed Baris Cakan in Ankara, allegedly because he was listening to Kurdish music in his car during the call to prayer. Police detained and later arrested three suspects for the killing.
On International Mother Language Day, February 21, members of parliament from the opposition CHP and HDP parties submitted questions to government officials in the Arabic, Zazaki, Kurmanchi, and Syriac languages. The parliament’s speaker’s office accepted only the Turkish-language submissions.
In October, Istanbul authorities banned a theater company for putting on a Kurdish-language adaptation of the Italian play Trumpets and Raspberries at an Istanbul municipal theater. Company members reported the theater was under police surveillance during stage preparations. The governor of Istanbul, Ali Yerlikaya, wrote on Twitter that authorities banned the play because it contained pro-PKK propaganda and that an investigation had been opened. In November the governor of Sanliurfa province also banned the play.
Although the government officially allows the use of Kurdish in private education and in public discourse, it did not extend permission for Kurdish-language instruction to public education.
Romani communities reported being subjected to disproportionate police violence and housing loss due to urban transformation projects that extended into their traditional areas of residence. Members of the Romani community also reported problems with access to education, housing, health care, and employment. Roma reported difficulty in utilizing government offers to subsidize rent on apartments due to discriminatory rental practices. In June municipality workers tore down 60 tents housing approximately 300 Roma in Cesme, Izmir. The Izmir Bar Association, which visited the site, reported that Romani families were left in destitute conditions. According to community representatives, the municipality promised to deliver trailers to replace the tents but failed to do so. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, community representatives reported that Romani children living in tent cities did not have access to education. Community representatives indicated that 96 percent of Roma were unemployed, although many had jobs in the informal economy.
The government adopted a national Romani strategy in 2016 but underfunded the initiative. Romani advocates complained there was little concrete advancement for Roma. They also reported that Romani communities were particularly hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and that the national government did little to provide economic assistance to the communities, particularly since most Roma worked in the informal economy as garbage collectors, flower vendors, and musicians who perform at restaurants or social events. With the imposition of restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19 by enforcing social distancing precautions, many Roma found themselves cut off from their livelihoods and without access to the social safety net available to those who could apply for unemployment benefits.
In a statement marking International Romani Day on April 8, a group of 48 Romani organizations in the country asserted that continuing “deep discrimination and serious obstacles” prevented Roma from accessing services during the pandemic. Although national efforts largely missed the Romani community, some municipalities, notably Izmir, worked with Romani advocacy groups and made special efforts to deliver aid including food parcels, masks, and hygiene supplies.
Armenian minority groups reported a rise in hate speech and coded language directed against the Armenian community, including from high-level government officials. In a speech on May 4, President Erdogan stated, “We will not give in to terrorists, who are the leftovers of the sword.” Armenian groups noted “leftovers of the sword” is a term that had been used to indicate those who survived the mass deportation and massacre of Armenians in the final years of the Ottoman Empire.
On May 29, the widow of ethnic Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, who was murdered in 2007, and a Hrant Dink Foundation lawyer received death threats by email urging them to leave the country. Turkish police arrested two suspects in the case who were released from detention on September 21, pending trial.
After the outbreak of hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan on September 27, members of the Armenian minority reported increased anti-Armenian rhetoric, including in traditional and social media. Supporters of Azerbaijan staged car convoys featuring Azerbaijani flags in Istanbul near the Armenian Patriarchate and in districts with large Armenian populations. The Hrant Dink Foundation recorded a threefold increase in hate speech targeting Armenians in the week of September 27-October 5, citing more than 1,000 news reports and commentary featuring anti-Armenian language meeting the organization’s criteria for hate speech. On October 5, HDP MP and ethnic Armenian Turk Garo Paylan stated he had been threatened and noted that a progovernment think tank had placed newspaper ads calling him a spy for supporting Armenia. Government officials strongly condemned intimidation of ethnic Armenians and committed to protect the minority. Police increased presence in Istanbul neighborhoods with significant ethnic Armenian populations.
During the year LGBTI individuals experienced discrimination, intimidation, and violent crimes. Human rights groups reported that police and prosecutors frequently failed to pursue cases of violence against LGBTI persons or accepted justification for perpetrators’ actions. Police rarely arrested suspects or held them in pretrial detention, as was common with other defendants. When arrests were made, defendants could claim “unjustifiable provocation” under the penal code and request a reduced sentence. Judges routinely applied the law to reduce the sentences of persons who killed LGBTI individuals. Courts of appeal previously upheld these verdicts based in part on the “immoral nature” of the victim. LGBTI advocates reported that police detained transgender individuals engaged in sex work to extract payoffs and that courts and prosecutors created an environment of impunity for attacks on transgender persons involved in sex work.
In June the LGBTI advocacy organization Kaos Gay and Lesbian Cultural Research and Solidarity Association (KAOS-GL) released information regarding 150 self-reported attacks on LGBTI individuals in 2019. The number of reports collected via an online survey increased from 62 the previous year. According to available data, 129 attacks took place in public space, and 41 included multiple attackers. In one-half of the incidents, bystanders did not get involved, and in one-quarter, onlookers sided with the attackers. Only 26 attacks were reported to police, reportedly due to victims’ lack of confidence in effective action and fears of discrimination by police.
In July the Mersin-based LGBTI-rights NGO 7 Color Association, as part of its yearly report on LGBTI human rights abuses in the southeast, indicated that public servants perpetrated 30 percent of the 132 hate speech and discriminatory incidents against LGBTI individuals reported in the cities of Adana, Mersin, Hatay, Antep, and Antalya.
In April a transgender woman, Ajda Ender, reported she was forced to flee her residence because of death threats and physical assaults from her neighbors. Ender reported that police refused to accept her complaint and used transphobic speech when she applied for help. Ender fled to a friend’s apartment where neighbors also reacted with transphobic threats.
While the law does not explicitly criminalize LGBTI status or conduct, provisions of law concerning “offenses against public morality,” “protection of the family,” and “unnatural sexual behavior” sometimes served as a basis for abuse by police and discrimination by employers.
Numerous LGBTI organizations reported a continued sense of vulnerability as restrictions on their freedom of speech, assembly, and association continued. LGBTI advocates also described a “frightening” rise in hate speech of a “fundamentally different character” following controversial remarks by the president of the Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) and subsequent support for the Diyanet president from high-ranking government officials, including the president. On April 24, during a sermon to mark the beginning of Ramadan, the head of the Diyanet, Ali Erbas, said, “Islam cursed homosexuality” as ‘a great sin’ that “causes diseases and decays lineages.” Erbas also called on followers to unite to “fight this kind of evil.” Supportive segments of the populace posted on social media under the top-trending hashtag #AliErbasYalnizdegildir (Ali Erbas is not alone). Several rights groups and bar associations filed criminal complaints and criticized the remarks, drawing a strong reaction from ruling AKP officials. The Ankara Prosecutor’s Office launched an investigation against the Ankara Bar Association for “insulting religious values” after it condemned Erbas’ remarks in a statement. The prosecutor’s office declined to investigate the bar association’s complaint against the Diyanet.
Anti-LGBTI rhetoric also featured prominently in public debates around the country’s potential withdrawal from the Council of Europe Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. Commentators in favor of withdrawal generally pointed to the convention’s reference to equal protection for victims regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity as being inconsistent with Turkish values.
High-level government officials employed anti-LGBTI speech. In June the director of communications of the Presidency, Fahrettin Altun, wrote on Twitter, “LGBT propaganda poses a great threat to freedom of speech.” President Erdogan warned against “those who exhibit all kinds of perversion that our God prohibits” during a television interview the same month.
In July the Radio and Television Supreme Council refused to grant a license to a Turkish television drama featuring an LGBTI character in development by Netflix. Netflix cancelled the production.
In November the Malatya municipality cancelled the planned 10th Malatya International Film Festival after festival organizers announced they would award a “gender-neutral” best performance award instead of best actor and actress awards. The municipality stated that the term “gender-neutral” offended its values.
In December press reported that the Ministry of Trade Board of Advertisement notified Turkish online retailers via letter that companies must label LGBTI pride products featuring rainbows or other LGBTI pride symbols with an 18+ warning to protect “children’s mental, moral, psychologic, and social development.”
The criminal code does not include specific protections based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The law allows for up to three years in prison for hate speech or injurious acts related to language, race, nationality, color, gender, disability, political opinion, philosophical belief, religion, or sectarian differences. Human rights groups criticized the law’s failure to include protections based on gender identity and noted it was sometimes used to restrict freedom of speech and assembly rather than to protect minorities. LGBTI definitions were not included in the law, but authorities reported a general “gender” concept in the constitution provides for protections for LGBTI individuals. KAOS-GL maintained that, due to the law’s failure to recognize the existence of LGBTI individuals, authorities did not provide them social protection.
KAOS-GL reported that some LGBTI individuals were unable to access health services or faced discrimination. Some LGBTI individuals reported they believed it necessary to hide their identities, faced mistreatment by health-service providers (in many cases preferring not to request any service), and noted that prejudice against HIV-positive individuals negatively affected perceptions of the LGBTI community. In August press reports alleged that an LGBTI individual was refused treatment at a hospital in Istanbul by the doctor on duty, who employed homophobic comments. Multiple sources reported discrimination in housing, since landlords refused to rent to LGBTI individuals or charged them significantly higher prices.
During the year LGBTI groups held virtual pride month events in keeping with safe social-distancing practices due to the COVID-19 outbreak. In previous years governors banned pride marches in Ankara, Antalya, Istanbul, Izmir, Gaziantep, and Mersin, citing public safety concerns. In 2019 the Constitutional Court found that Ankara’s blanket ban on LGBTI events, in place since 2017, was illegal. In August a court in Mersin rejected a legal challenge launched by KAOS-GL to the governor’s ban on the 2019 pride march.
Some LGBTI groups reported harassment by police, government, and university authorities. University groups complained that rectors denied them permission to organize, and some indicated they faced administrative investigations or other sanctions for participating in events. In July an Ankara administrative court found that the ban on the 2019 pride march imposed by the rector of Middle East Technical University was unlawful. The university had not challenged the decision at year’s end. Criminal cases against the 18 students and one faculty member arrested for organizing the pride march in 2019 continued; the defendants faced up to three years in prison. The court held a hearing on December 10, but the court declined to issue a ruling and scheduled another hearing for April 2021. Organizers reported that the arrested students were ineligible for scholarship and educational loans while the case continued.
LGBTI organizations reported the government used regular and detailed audits against them to create administrative burdens and threatened the possibility of large fines.
Dating and social networking sites catering to the LGBTI community faced content blocks. In August an Ankara court imposed an access ban on the social networking site Hornet and in September on the dating site Gabile.com. Authorities have blocked the dating site and application Grindr since 2013.
Many persons with HIV and AIDS reported discrimination in access to employment, housing, public services, benefits, and health care. Rights organizations noted that the country lacked sufficient laws protecting persons with HIV and AIDS from discrimination and that there were legal obstacles to anonymous HIV testing. Due to pervasive social stigma against persons with HIV and AIDS, many individuals avoided testing for HIV due to fear the results would be used against them. Human rights advocates reported that some employers required HIV/AIDS testing prior to employment to screen positive applicants. In September the Pozitif-iz Association reported that it received 89 complaints of human rights violations in 2018-19, the majority related to health service provider discrimination. The NGO also observed that HIV-positive individuals faced systemic discrimination in the workplace.
The government launched an HIV/AIDS control program for 2019-24 to raise awareness and combat risk factors. The government also implemented HIV/AIDS education into the national education curriculum.
Alevis and Christians, including Armenian Apostolics, remained the subject of hate speech and discrimination. The term “Armenian” remained a common slur. Attacks on minority places of worship, however, were rare.
According to the Hrant Dink Foundation’s 2019 Media Watch on Hate Speech Report, an analysis of national and local newspapers found 5,515 instances of published hate speech that targeted national, ethnic, and religious groups. The most targeted groups were Armenians, Syrians, Greeks, and Jews.
Atheists also remained the subject of intimidation in media, albeit at a lower level relative to other religious minorities.
Conditional refugees and displaced Syrians under temporary protection also faced increased societal discrimination and violence during the year (see section 2.d.).