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Angola

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings

The government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. The national police and Angolan Armed Forces (FAA) have internal mechanisms to investigate security force abuses, and the government provided some training to reform the security forces.

Several killings occurred after the government enacted measures to combat COVID-19, referred to by presidential decree as the “state of emergency” in May and “state of calamity” in June, which required police and the armed forces to guarantee compliance with measures including wearing masks, physical distancing, and restrictions on citizens’ movements. Credible reports between May and July documented that security forces killed at least seven persons while enforcing COVID-19 restrictions.

On August 22, a team of police officers and Angolan army soldiers approached a group of young men in Zango 3, in the Viana municipality of the capital of Luanda, for failure to wear masks. One of the young men tried to escape to his home 30 feet away, and a soldier shot him in the back and killed him. According to the Luanda Provincial Command, the Criminal Investigation Service and the Military Judiciary detained the soldier and summoned the team to provide testimony regarding the shooting.

On September 1, pediatric doctor Silvio Dala died while in police custody after his arrest for driving his car without wearing a face mask. According to police, Dala was driving alone when stopped by police and taken to a police station where he fainted and hit his head. Police stated the trauma from the fall caused extensive bleeding and Dala died en route to the hospital. The autopsy concluded that Dala died of natural causes.

Police declared Dala was arrested because he violated the requirement to wear a face mask inside vehicles and because the police wanted to ensure Dala would pay a token fine at the site of his arrest. The Angolan Medical Union, several members of parliament, and numerous social media postings objected to the official police version of Dala’s death. The subsequent public outcry after Dala’s death contributed to the government ending the requirement to wear face masks inside vehicles when the driver is alone.

On November 11, during a protest in Luanda to demand better living conditions and local elections, Inocencio de Matos, age 26, was killed when police attempted to disperse demonstrators. Police took him to the hospital where he was treated by a medical team but subsequently died. Witnesses said that police shot and killed him. According to the autopsy report, he died of “physical aggression with a nonspecified object.”

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The constitution and law prohibit all forms of torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, but the government did not always enforce these prohibitions.

Periodic reports continued of beatings and other abuses both on the way to and inside police stations during interrogations. The government acknowledged that at times members of the security forces used excessive force when apprehending individuals. Police authorities openly condemned some acts of violence or excessive force against individuals and asked that victims report abuses to the national police or the Office of the Public Defender (Ombudsman).

Several reports indicated that police used excessive force to enforce the state of emergency implemented to combat COVID-19. On March 30, a video shared widely on social media showed police beating several men with nightsticks while the men laid prostrate on the ground inside a police station.

On October 24, a peaceful demonstration against the government demanding employment and local elections was violently repressed with several persons injured, 103 persons detained on charges of disobedience, and unsubstantiated reports of two persons killed. According to one human rights lawyer, Salvador Freire, some of the detainees, in particular the organizers of the demonstration, were subjected to harsh and violent treatment while in custody.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions were harsh and life threatening due to overcrowding, a lack of medical care, corruption, and violence.

Physical Conditions: The director of the Institutional and Press Communication Office of the Ministry of Interior, Waldemar Jose, said the country’s 40 prisons are overcrowded. Prisons have a total capacity for 21,000 inmates but hold more than 26,000 inmates, with half of those inmates held in pretrial detention. Jose said the prison system holds an excessive number of prisoners in pretrial detention due to a backlog of criminal cases in the court system.

Authorities frequently held pretrial detainees with sentenced inmates. Authorities also held short-term detainees with those serving long-term sentences for violent crimes, especially in provincial prisons. Inmates who were unable to pay court-ordered fines remained in prison after completing their sentence or while awaiting release warrants issued by higher courts. Many prisoners were held in pretrial detention longer than permitted under law, which ranges from four to 14 months depending on the severity and complexity of the alleged crime.

On June 23, a sub-attorney general said that in Malanje province, many criminal files sit on judges’ desks awaiting a court hearing, while higher court judges delay issuing a release warrant, leading to overcrowding in local prisons.

The director of Luzia jail in Saurimo in Lunda Sul province, said the jail held two inmates in pretrial detention for more than five years. The jail also held many prisoners who had served their sentence and awaited a release warrant.

Prison conditions varied widely between urban and rural areas. Prisons in rural areas were less crowded and had better rehabilitation, training, and reintegration services. There were no reports of cases of deaths in prisons related to the physical conditions of jails. Prisons did not always provide adequate medical care, sanitation, potable water, or food, and it was customary for families to bring food to prisoners. Local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) stated prison services were insufficient.

One human rights lawyer described the conditions at the Cabinda civil jail, where three of his constituents are in pretrial detention, as terrible. He said prisoners had no potable water for drinking or bathing; prisoners defecated in the same location where they ate; eight inmates shared a single cell, and others were obliged to sleep in the corridors. There was no social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Administration: The government investigated and monitored prison and detention center conditions. Some offenders, including violent offenders, reported paying fines and bribes to secure their freedom, but it was unclear how prevalent this practice was.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted visits to prisons by independent local and international human rights observers and foreign diplomats. Nevertheless, civil society organizations faced difficulties in contacting detainees, and prison authorities undermined civil society work in the prisons by impeding their ability to enter the prisons.

Members of opposition parties visited prisons around the country on a regular basis and reported uneven improvements in living conditions and rehabilitation programs. According to the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, ministry representatives made monthly visits to detention centers with representatives of the Office of the Public Defender, the Attorney General’s Office (PGR), and members of the National Assembly to assess prisoners’ living conditions. Members of the National Assembly conducted independent visits to prisons. On February 27, parliamentarians visited the Peu-Peu jail in Cunene province.

Improvements: Following the “state of emergency” for COVID-19 that took effect on March 27, the PGR released approximately 1,000 detainees held in pretrial detention who did not present a danger to the community. The PGR said the release was conducted to improve prison conditions that had deteriorated due to the overcrowding of inmates in the prison system.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention; however, security forces did not always respect these prohibitions. The constitution provides the right of habeas corpus to citizens to challenge their detention before a court.

According to several NGO and civil society sources, police arbitrarily arrested individuals without due process and routinely detained persons who participated, or were about to participate, in antigovernment protests, although the constitution protects the right to protest. While they often released detainees after a few hours, police at times charged them with crimes.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law requires a magistrate or judge to issue a warrant before an arrest may be made, although a person caught committing an offense may be arrested immediately without a warrant. Authorities, however, did not always procure warrants before making an arrest.

By law, prosecutors must inform detainees of the legal basis for their detention within 48 hours. NGO sources reported authorities often did not respect the law. If prosecutors are unable to determine whether there is a legal basis for the detention within 48 hours, prosecutors have the authority to release the person from detention. Depending on the seriousness of the case, prosecutors may require the detained person to submit to one or more pretrial procedures prescribed by law, such as posting bail, periodic appearance before authorities, or house arrest.

If prosecutors determine a legal basis exists for the detention, a detained person may be held in pretrial detention for up to four months without charge and up to 12 months before a judge is required to rule on the case. Cases of special complexity regarding crimes for which conviction is punishable by eight or more years allow for pretrial detention without charge for up to six months, and up to 14 months before a judge is required to rule on the case. By law the period of pretrial detention counts as time served in fulfillment of a sentence of imprisonment.

The law states that all detainees have the right to a lawyer, either chosen by them or appointed by the government on a pro bono basis. The lack of lawyers in certain provinces at times impeded the right to a lawyer. There was an insufficient number to handle the volume of criminal cases, and the geographical distribution of lawyers was a problem, since most lawyers were concentrated in Luanda. Lawyers and NGOs noted that even in Luanda, most poor defendants did not have access to lawyers during their first appearance before a judicial authority or during their trial. When a lawyer is unavailable, a judge may appoint a clerk of the court to represent the defendant, but clerks of the court often lacked the necessary training to provide an adequate defense.

A functioning but ineffective bail system, widely used for minor crimes, existed. Prisoners and their families reported that prison officials demanded bribes to release prisoners.

The law allows family members prompt access to detainees, but prison officials occasionally ignored this right or made it conditional upon payment of a bribe. The law requires detainees be held incommunicado for up to 48 hours until being presented to a public prosecutor, except they may communicate with their lawyer or a family member.

On March 27, prison authorities suspended all visits to detainees and inmates due to the “state of emergency” for COVID-19. Prison officials allowed lawyers to visit clients and allowed relatives to receive information about family members in custody. The suspension of visits continued through May 25 when the subsequent “state of calamity” entered into force. Presidential Decree 142/20 published on May 25 provided that visits to inmates were allowed on June 29, July 13, and July 27 for separate classes of inmates. Subsequent updates to the “state of calamity” on July 7, August 9, and September 9 did not mention visits to prisons. As of December there were no additional provisions that allowed families to visit their relatives in prison.

The wife of an inmate in the Kakila prison said that since the “state of emergency” began she could no longer visit or contact her husband and that she was only able to leave food at the front gate of the jail to be delivered to her husband. She said prisoners at Kakila jail lacked running water for more than one month.

Arbitrary Arrest: During the year there were instances in which security forces reacted violently to public demonstrations against the government. The visible presence of security forces was enough to deter significantly what the government deemed unlawful demonstrations. Government authorities claimed known agitators, who sought to create social instability, organized many of the public demonstrations.

On August 5, in the Dande municipality of Bengo province, police arrested four activists (Domingos Periquito, Domingos Jaime, Gomes Hata, and Manuel Lima) who attempted to organize a protest against the lack of potable water. Domingos Jaime, a rapper known as Jaime MC, was hit by a police vehicle and later taken to the hospital. Police charged the activists for failure to wear face masks, but a judge dismissed the charges. Following the dismissal, Criminal Investigation Services returned the activists to the police who filed new charges for disobedience to authorities. The activists were convicted and given a one month suspended sentence converted to a fine. The activists had no money to pay the fine and remained in police custody until they were able to collect the fine amount.

On October 24, 103 persons were arrested in Luanda during a peaceful demonstration demanding improved employment conditions and local elections. Among those detained were persons from the surrounding area who were forcibly taken into custody without having participated in the demonstration. Of the 103 persons detained, six were released before trial, 26 were acquitted, and 71 were convicted of disobedience and fined.

Pretrial Detention: Excessively long pretrial detention continued to be a serious problem. An inadequate number of judges and poor communication among authorities contributed to the problem. In some cases authorities held inmates in prison for up to five years in pretrial detention. The government often did not release detainees confined beyond the legal time limit, claiming previous releases of pretrial detainees had resulted in an increase in crime.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent and impartial judiciary. The judicial system was effected by institutional weaknesses including political influence in the decision-making process. The Ministry of Justice and Human Rights and the PGR worked to improve the independence of prosecutors and judges. The National Institute for Judicial Studies conducted capacity-building programs to foster the independence of the judicial system.

There were long trial delays at the Supreme Court, in part because the court remained the only appellate court in the country. A 2015 law established another level of appellate courts to reduce delays. Two of these courts were inaugurated in Benguela and Lubango but were not operating at year’s end. Criminal courts also had a large backlog of cases that resulted in major delays in hearings.

Informal courts remained the principal institutions through which citizens resolved civil conflicts in rural areas, such as disputes over a bartering deal. Each community in which informal courts were located established local rules, creating disparities in how similar cases were resolved from one community to the next. Traditional community leaders (known as sobas) also heard and decided local civil cases. Sobas do not have the authority to resolve criminal cases, which only courts may hear.

Both the national police and the FAA have internal court systems that generally remained closed to outside scrutiny. Although members of these organizations may be tried under their internal regulations, cases that include violations of criminal or civil laws may also fall under the jurisdiction of provincial courts. Both the PGR and the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights have civilian oversight responsibilities over military courts.

Trial Procedures

Although the law provides all citizens the right to a fair trial, authorities did not always respect this right. Defendants enjoy the right to a presumption of innocence until proven guilty. Authorities must inform defendants of the charges levied against them in detail within 48 hours of their detention. Defendants have the right to free language interpretation during all legal proceedings, from the moment of being charged through the close of all appeals.

In July the National Assembly unanimously approved a new procedural penal code to clarify the roles of each party in the judicial process, introduce rules that speed up judicial processes, and provide new procedural rules for both claimants and defendants.

By law trials are usually public, although each court has the right to close proceedings. Defendants have the right to be present and consult with an attorney, either chosen by them or appointed by the state, in a timely manner. According to the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights all public defenders are licensed lawyers. Defendants do not have the right to confront their accusers. They may question witnesses against them and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Defendants have the right to sufficient time and facilities to prepare a defense. The law protects defendants from providing self-incriminating testimony. Individuals have the right to appeal their convictions. Authorities did not always respect these trial procedure rights.

A separate juvenile court hears cases of minors between the ages of 12 and 16 accused of committing a criminal offense. Minors older than 16 accused of committing a criminal offense are tried in regular courts. In many rural municipalities, there is no provision for juvenile courts, so offenders as young as 12 may be tried as adults. In many cases traditional leaders have state authority to resolve disputes and determine punishments for civil offenses, including offenses committed by juveniles. The constitution defines traditional authorities as ad hoc units of the state.

The president appoints Supreme Court justices for life terms without confirmation by the National Assembly. The Supreme Court generally hears cases concerning alleged political and security crimes.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

In Cabinda province authorities detained three activists of the Cabinda Independence Union on June 28 and 29. Authorities detained Mauricio Gimbi, Andre Bonzela, and Joao Mampuela and accused the men of carrying pamphlets with the slogans, “Down to arms, down to the war in Cabinda”; “Cabinda is not Angola”; and “We want to talk”. The men appeared before a government attorney on June 30 who ordered their pretrial detention. Authorities subsequently charged the men with rebellion and criminal association.

The lawyer for the men, Arao Tempo, appealed the pretrial detention. On August 21, the Provincial Court of Cabinda decided to hold Gimbi and Mampuela in pretrial detention and release Bonzela pending the payment of a substantial fine. Tempo said the fine would be an impossible sum to pay due to the poor social and economic conditions of the Cabindan people. The three activists remained in jail. On November 15, human rights lawyer and head of the pro bono organization Associacao Maos Livres, demanded their release.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Damages for human rights abuses may be sought in provincial courts and appealed to the Supreme Court. During the year the National Assembly approved a new procedural penal code that allowed victims of human rights abuses to seek compensation from the state. The rules provide that the state must compensate victims who are illegally detained or arrested, are under excessively long pretrial detention, are not released in due time against a legal provision or a court decision, or are victim of a gross judicial error. Public agents responsible for actions that abuse human rights should in turn compensate the state.

SOS Habitat brought a lawsuit alleging that the government failed to comply with a judicial decision to compensate a victim of an unlawful killing. The NGO sued on behalf of the family of Rufino Antonio, age 14, who was killed by soldiers in August 2016 while protesting against the demolition of a neighborhood in the Zango area of Luanda province. The Luanda Military Court sentenced four soldiers to prison terms ranging between one and 18 years in prison, and ordered each soldier to pay a compensation fee to Rufino’s family of 1,000,000 kwanzas ($1,740). The family has not received the payments from the government or the convicted soldiers.

Property Restitution

The constitution recognizes the right to housing and quality of life, and the law states that persons relocated should receive fair compensation. The constitution recognizes the right to private property and establishes that the state protects the property rights of all citizens, including of local communities, only allowing expropriation for reasons of public use. The constitution also provides that all untitled land belongs to the state, with no exceptions for pastoralists or traditional societies.

In the municipality of Quipungo in Huila province, farmers and herders of the Kakoi-Mangango community said their land was taken by the communal administrator of Cainda without notice and given to farmer Fernando Abilio Lumbamba. The local farmers tried to protest to the municipal authorities but were threatened with arrest by the communal administrator, who said the land in question belonged to the state. One local NGO wrote a letter on behalf of the local farmers to the Huila governor Luis Nunes denouncing the expropriation of the land.

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The constitution and law prohibit the arbitrary or unlawful interference of privacy, family, home, or correspondence, but the government did not always respect these prohibitions. Civil organizations and politically active individuals, including government critics, members of opposition parties, and journalists, complained that the government maintained surveillance of their activities and membership. These groups also frequently complained of threats and harassment based on their affiliations with groups that were purportedly or explicitly antigovernment.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press. State media continued to be the primary source for news and generally reflected a progovernment view. Individuals were increasingly able to use private media and social media platforms to openly criticize government policies and practices.

Freedom of Speech: Individuals reported practicing self-censorship but generally were able to criticize government policies without fear of direct reprisal. Social media was widely used in the larger cities and provided an open forum for discussion.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Private television, radio, and print media operated in the country, although coverage continued to be more extensive in Luanda and in provincial capitals, including Benguela, Huambo, and Lubango, than in the rest of the country.

Online media outlets increased their number of viewers. Private media criticized the government openly. In July and August following the results of an ongoing corruption investigation into the owners of two major private media groups, the state seized two major private media groups and transferred them to state control.

Several important private media outlets returned to state control after a state corruption investigation concluded that the outlets had been illegally funded with public funds through individuals with strong ties to former president Eduardo dos Santos. On July 31, the PGR’s National Service on Assets Recovery seized the Media Nova Group that owned TV Zimbo, Radio Mais, and the newspaper O Pais and returned the outlets to state control. On August 28, the Interative, Empreendimentos e Multimedia group that owned TV Palanca and Radio Global was also seized by the state. On September 4, the government announced that TV Palanca would become a specialized sports channel.

Journalists and opposition parties said the seizure of the media outlets was worrying and would limit independent journalism leading up to national elections in 2022. The government argued that the seized companies were in poor economic shape and needed to be restructured before offering the companies for sale to investors under the government’s privatization program.

Transmission licenses are granted by the minister of telecommunication, technology, and social communication. Journalists criticized the cost of licenses and said high costs impeded media pluralism and the emergence of new players. The base license to operate a television station is $1.4 million, while a radio license costs $136,000. Journalists also criticized the opacity of the process used by the government to grant transmission licenses.

Journalists routinely complained of lack of transparency and communication from government press offices and other government officials.

The president appoints the leadership of all major state-owned media outlets, and state control of these outlets often led to one-sided reporting. State news outlets, including Angolan Public Television (TPA), Radio Nacional, and the Jornal de Angola newspaper, favored the ruling party but increased coverage of opposition political parties’ perspectives, as well as of social problems reflecting poor governance. TPA broadcasted plenary sessions of the National Assembly live, including interventions by opposition parties. TPA also invited opposition politicians and civil society members to comment live on stories featured on nightly newscasts, but private stations were prohibited from filming parliament. Opposition parties also received less overall coverage on state media than the ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) party, and it was often difficult to distinguish between communications of the government and those of the ruling party.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists reported more incidents of violence or harassment compared with the previous year.

On January 23, police arrested two journalists from the Portuguese news agency Lusa near the National Assembly in Luanda. The journalists were covering a protest that demanded local elections in all municipalities of the country. Police said the protest was illegal and journalists were not allowed to cover the protest. Police detained 10 additional protesters. After their arrest the two Lusa journalists were taken to the fourth precinct police station, transferred to the second precinct police station, and then released after one hour with no further explanation. Lusa delivered a formal protest to the government after the release of the journalists.

On February 19, police assaulted two journalists from TV Palanca who were covering a protest against the inauguration of the new president of the National Electoral Commission at the National Assembly. Journalist Jose Kiabolo said five police officers beat him and his cameraman and destroyed their video camera.

During an October 24 demonstration in Luanda, six journalists were detained while covering the protest. Two journalists from TV Zimbo were released after being forced to delete all footage of the demonstration. Four journalists from Radio Essencial and Valor Economico remained in custody for more than 50 hours without any charges. Two journalists from Agence France-Press claimed they were beaten by police and were ordered to carry a special permit to cover the protest. Later that week, President Joao Lourenco criticized the arrests of the journalists and stated it was not a situation he wished to be repeated.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The Regulatory Entity for Social Communication (ERCA) is a regulatory body comprised of 11 counselors designated by political parties represented in the parliament, the government, and journalists. ERCA aims to safeguard press freedom and lawful media activity and issues regulations and decisions on those issues. Journalists and opposition political parties criticized ERCA for being controlled by the MPLA ruling party and for issuing regulations that favored the government.

The Ethics and Credentialing Commission (ECC) is a body exclusively comprised of journalists that is authorized to license and delicense journalists. The ECC remained largely inactive due to the lack of funds allocated to ECC operations in the 2020 National Budget. In July the Ministry of Telecommunications, Technology, and Social Communication launched an office to support ECC operations and stated the credentialing of journalists would begin in October.

Journalists reported practicing self-censorship for political and financial reasons.

The minister of social communication, the spokesperson of the presidency, and the national director of information maintained significant decision-making authority over media. It was commonly understood these individuals actively vetted news stories in the state-controlled print, television, and radio media and exercised considerable authority over some privately owned outlets. State-controlled media rarely published or broadcast stories critical of the ruling party, government officials, or government policies. Coverage critical of the previous government of Jose Eduardo dos Santos and of senior-level officials who had been dismissed on allegations of corruption increased significantly during the year.

The newspaper Novo Jornal reported that well-known singer Dog Murras, known as an open critic of the government, was hired by TV Zimbo to host a daily show on societal issues called Angola Speak Out. (Novo Jornal and TV Zimbo were owned by the same parent company.) The report said that TV Zimbo shareholders were warned before Murras’s first show that his presence could bring negative consequences to their business. TV Zimbo broke the contract with Murras and withdrew promotional videos for the show released on April 11.

On August 30, two days after the PGR’s National Service on Assets Recovery seized TV Palanca, the show Angola Urgent, which discussed societal issues, left the airwaves. On September 4, the government announced that TV Palanca would become a specialized sports channel. Following the seizure, several of the seized outlets, including TV Zimbo and Novo Jornal, continued to feature articles critical of the government.

Libel/Slander Laws: Defamation is a crime punishable by imprisonment or a fine. Unlike cases in which defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty, defendants in defamation cases have the burden of proving their innocence by providing evidence of the validity of the allegedly damaging material.

Several journalists in print media, radio, and political blogs faced libel and defamation lawsuits. Journalists complained the government used libel laws to limit their ability to report on corruption and nepotistic practices, while the government assessed that some journalists abused their positions and published inaccurate stories regarding government officials without verifying the facts or providing the accused with the right of reply.

Internet Freedom

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

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The constitution and law provide for the right of peaceful assembly, and the government sometimes respected this right.

The law requires written notification to the local administrator and police three days before public assemblies are to be held. The law does not require government permission to hold public assemblies, but it permits authorities to restrict or stop assemblies in public spaces within 109 yards of public, military, detention, diplomatic, or consular buildings for security reasons. The law also requires public assemblies to start after 7 p.m. on weekdays and 1 p.m. on Saturdays.

Several civil rights groups challenged the 1991 law on freedom of assembly by holding unannounced protests. The groups said the law restricts the fundamental right to assembly granted by the 2010 constitution and refused to inform the authorities in advance about the time and location of protests and public assemblies.

The number of antigovernment protests increased and the government at times prohibited events based on perceived or claimed security considerations. Police and administrators did not interfere with progovernment gatherings. Politically unaffiliated groups intending to criticize the government or government leaders often encountered the presence of police who prevented them from holding their event or limited their march route. In such cases, authorities claimed the timing or venue requested was problematic or that proper authorities had not received notification.

On January 19, a protest against the inauguration of the new president of the National Electoral Commission at the National Assembly resulted in police violence and the detention of more than 30 protesters. The provincial command of the Angolan National Police said the protesters acted violently and organized an illegal protest without the proper legal procedures. Police also detained two journalists from TV Palanca.

At the Luanda October 24 protest (see section 2.a., Violence and Harassment), police also arrested 97 protesters and six journalists. A total of 71 protesters received a suspended one-month prison sentence for rioting and disobedience and 26 protesters were acquitted. All six journalists were released, and President Lourenco rebuked their arrest. The government stated the protest was unauthorized and that when police tried to disperse the protest, some protestors threw stones and erected road blocks.

Freedom of Association

The constitution and law provide for the right of association, but the government did not always respect this right. Extensive delays in the NGO registration process continued to be a problem. NGOs that had not yet received registration were allowed to operate. At times, the government arbitrarily restricted the activities of associations it considered subversive by refusing to grant permits for projects and other activities. Authorities generally permitted opposition parties to organize and hold meetings.

A 2012 law and a 2002 presidential decree regulated NGOs. Despite civil society complaints that requirements were vague, the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights actively provided information on registration requirements.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government at times restricted these rights.

In-country Movement: Document checkpoints in domestic airports and on roads throughout the country were common. Reports by local NGOs suggested that, in spite of an incremental drop in cases, some police officers continued to extort money from civilians at checkpoints and during regular traffic stops. Reports from the diamond-mining provinces of Lunda Norte and Lunda Sul indicated some government agents restricted the movements of local communities.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not Applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

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

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: There were reports throughout the year that Lunda Norte provincial authorities exerted pressure on irregular migrants and refugees to return to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The government failed to provide adequate protection for asylum seekers and urban refugees in this area.

In May illegal immigrants at a Luanda migrant detention facility posted video footage to social media platforms complaining about their lengthy detention, the facility’s substandard conditions, and their heightened risk of COVID-19 infection due to the facility’s tight quarters. The footage depicted the accommodations and complained about a shortage of food, water, hygiene supplies, and face masks, which are required by Ministry of Health officials when physical distancing is not feasible.

In response, UN agencies and diplomatic missions engaged Ministry of Interior officials, who denied the detainees’ claims but did not provide access to the facility. Government officials said the detainees used the pandemic as a pretext to secure their release and broadcasted a video presentation countering the complaints with footage of spacious facilities and interviews with detainees and community leaders praising the accommodations. Subsequently, most of the detainees were released on a temporary order and were expected to be required to report to Immigration Services until their situations are resolved.

In 2018 security forces launched Operation Rescue, a nationwide law enforcement campaign to address violent crime, illegal migration, unlicensed commercial and religious activity, and road accidents. The campaign affected both legal and undocumented migrants, refugees, and stateless persons who rely on the informal markets to make a living, as job opportunities were limited and the law prohibits refugees from operating businesses. One NGO said the Operation Rescue has not ended and the problems associated with the operation continue.

Under the law authorities issued refugee cards with a five-year validity period. UN agencies advised that the refugee cards expired in July since the government never renewed the cards. The Minister of Interior told UN officials that the government would begin to fully implement the law when COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status but the government has not fully implemented the law. The law provides specific procedures for the submission of an asylum application and guidance on the determination of asylum and refugee cases. UNHCR and several NGOs, however, reported that asylum seekers and urban refugees did not have a mechanism to apply for or resolve their status. A 2015 law changed the role of the Committee for the Recognition of the Right to Asylum, the prior implementing mechanism to identify, verify, and legalize asylum seekers, to that of an advisory board. The government had not put into practice an alternative mechanism to adjudicate asylum and refugee cases in the committee’s place. The law also authorized the creation of reception centers for refugees and asylum seekers where they were to receive assistance until the government makes a decision on their cases, but the government had not yet established these centers.

Freedom of Movement: UNHCR, NGOs, and refugees reported restrictions on freedom of movement in Lunda Norte Province. Police arbitrarily arrested or detained refugees and confiscated or destroyed their registration documents during periodic roundups, particularly in Dundo, the provincial capital. Refugees also reported periodic restrictions on freedom of movement from their resettlement site in Lovua, Lunda Norte province, and cited such restrictions as a factor motivating them to return to the DRC.

Employment: Formal restrictions on a refugee’s ability to seek employment existed. Regulation 273/13 restricted refugees from obtaining the business license required to own and operate a business. Refugees often faced difficulty obtaining employment due to their inability to obtain legal documents required to work in the formal sector. Refugees reported a general lack of acceptance of the refugee card and lack of knowledge concerning the rights it was intended to safeguard. Authorities continued to harass asylum seekers and refugees working in the informal market.

Access to Basic Services: Persons with recognized refugee status could at times obtain public services. The government has not implemented key elements of the 2015 asylum law, which included refugee and asylum seekers’ access to basic services and issuance of documents, including new or renewed refugee cards and birth certificates for refugees’ children born in the country. UNHCR, NGOs, and refugees, however, reported that urban refugees in particular were unable to obtain legal documents following passage of the asylum law and at times faced difficulty accessing public services such as health care and education. Corruption by officials compounded these difficulties.

Durable Solutions: In January and February the government cooperated with UNHCR and supported an organized voluntary repatriation of 2,912 refugees from Lunda Norte to the DRC. UNHCR estimated that 6,381 refugees remained at its Lovua, Lunda Norte, resettlement camp.

g. Stateless Persons

There is no study or census related to the number of stateless persons in the country. The government estimated that there are more than 12 million unregistered citizens in the country. Children of undocumented foreign parents born in the country may fall into a stateless status if the parents are unable to register them.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2017 the government held presidential and legislative elections, which the ruling MPLA won with 61 percent of the vote and the country inaugurated MPLA party candidate Joao Lourenco as its third president since independence. The MPLA retained its 68 percent supermajority in the National Assembly in the 2017 elections; however, opposition parties increased their representation by winning 32 percent of parliamentary seats, up from 20 percent in the 2012 elections.

Domestic and international observers reported polling throughout the country was peaceful and generally credible, although the ruling party enjoyed advantages due to state control of major media and other resources. Opposition parties complained to the Constitutional Court about aspects of the electoral process, including the National Electoral Commission’s lack of transparent decision making on key election procedures and perceived irregularities during the provincial-level vote count.

The central government appoints provincial governors. The constitution does not specify a timeline for implementing municipal-level elections. In 2018 the administration of President Lourenco promised municipal-level elections would take place by 2022. The government declared municipal elections would not take place in 2020 because the government had not completed the electoral laws needed to prepare for the elections. The government also stated that COVID-19 had hindered the preparations needed to implement municipal elections. Opposition parties and civil society criticized the government for failing to provide a prospective date when municipal elections were expected to occur.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The ruling MPLA party dominated all political institutions. Political power was concentrated in the presidency and the Council of Ministers, through which the president exercised executive power. The council may enact laws, decrees, and resolutions, assuming most functions normally associated with the legislative branch. The National Assembly consists of 220 deputies elected under a party list proportional representation system. The National Assembly has the authority to draft, debate, and pass legislation, but the executive branch often proposed and drafted legislation for the assembly’s approval. The MPLA retained its 68 percent supermajority in the National Assembly in the 2017 elections; however, opposition parties increased their representation by winning 32 percent of parliamentary seats, up from 20 percent in the 2012 elections.

Political parties must be represented in all 18 provinces, but only the MPLA, UNITA, and the Broad Convergence for the Salvation of Angola Electoral Coalition (CASA-CE), to a lesser extent, had truly national constituencies. By law no political party may limit party membership based on ethnicity, race, or gender.

On August 27, the Constitutional Court denied the request by CASA-CE founder Abel Chivukuvuku to form the Angolan Renaissance Party. Chivukuvuku accused the ruling MPLA party of repression and political interference in the court’s decision.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Of the 220 deputies in the national assembly, 65 or 30 percent were women, up from 27 percent for the last three years. Four of 18, or 22 percent, of provincial governors were women which is double the number from both 2018 and 2019, and seven of 21, or 33 percent, of cabinet ministers were women, down from 37.5 percent in 2018 and 2019. Some observers believed traditional and cultural factors prevented women from participating in political life to the same extent as men. The country has multiple linguistic groups, many of which were represented in government.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

On January 27, a new law on prevention and combatting of money laundering, financing of terrorism and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction was published. A new penal code was also published on November 11 directly regulating modern financial crimes and increasing penalties for corrupt officials, and will go into effect 90 days after the publication.

President Lourenco dismissed cabinet ministers, provincial governors, senior military officers, and other high-level government officials due to alleged corrupt practices. The PGR launched significantly more corruption investigations and brought criminal charges against several officials. Nonetheless, official impunity and the uniform application of anticorruption legislation remained a serious problem.

In August President Lourenco requested that the National Assembly review the new penal code to ensure it adequately penalizes corrupt activities. In a letter sent to the president of the National Assembly, Lourenco wrote that the penal code “may not be aligned with the current vision and pass a wrong message concerning crimes committed in the exercise of public functions.” Lourenco said he was concerned the new penal code could establish lower penalties for economic crimes, influence peddling, and public sector corruption.

Corruption: Government corruption at all levels was widespread, but accountability improved due to increased focus on developing better checks and balances and institutional capacity. In August the criminal chamber of the Supreme Court convicted Valter Filipe, the former governor of the National Bank of Angola, Jose Filomeno dos Santos (“Zenu”), the former chairman of Angola’s Sovereign Wealth Fund and son of former president Jose Eduardo Dos Santos, and two other partners of influence peddling, money laundering, and fraud. The court gave them sentences ranging from five to eight years in prison. Zenu and his codefendants transferred $500 million from the National Bank of Angola to a private bank account in the United Kingdom. All the defendants’ appeals to the plenary of the Supreme Court were denied.

In December 2019 the Luanda Provincial Court preemptively froze all in-country accounts and several assets owned by former first daughter Isabel dos Santos, her husband Sindika Dokolo, and businessman Mario Leite da Silva on suspicion that the assets, amounting to more than $1 billion, originated from state funds obtained unlawfully. Isabel dos Santos considered the seizure order to be “politically motivated” and said she would use “all the instruments of Angolan and international laws” to fight the order. To date she remains in exile and subsequently demonstrated willingness to negotiate with the Angolan government, something that President Lourenco denied would be an option.

The government commenced legal proceedings against Isabel dos Santos and her associates that aim to recover more than $1 billion in allegedly misappropriated state assets. In December 2019 the Luanda provincial court preemptively froze assets belonging to Isabel and her associates at Unitel, the country’s largest mobile-phone company, and in Banco de Fomento Angola (BFA), one of the largest private banks. In May the government filed criminal charges against Isabel dos Santos on suspicion of embezzlement of state funds while she was head of state-owned oil company Sonangol.

In July the PGR, through its National Service on Assets Recovery, seized three private commercial buildings in Luanda built with funds from state-owned oil company Sonangol. The PGR said the buildings belonged to the Riverstone Oaks Corporation, which is controlled by former vice president and president of Sonangol, Manuel Vicente, and the former director of Sonangol Real Estate and Properties, Orlando Veloso.

Government ministers and other high-level officials commonly and openly owned interests in public and private companies regulated by, or doing business with, their respective ministries. Laws and regulations regarding conflict of interest exist, but they were not enforced. Petty corruption among police, teachers, and other government employees was widespread. Police extorted money from citizens and refugees, and prison officials extorted money from family members of inmates.

Financial Disclosure: The law on public probity requires senior government officials, magistrates and public prosecutors as well as managers of public companies to declare their assets held domestically and abroad to the attorney general. The president and vice president were the first to submit their declarations in 2018. Asset declarations are only disclosed for criminal, disciplinary, and administrative purposes and require a judicial warrant.

According to the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, the financial information of government officials was provided to the appropriate government office. The law treats these reports as confidential. Government officials are to make a declaration within 30 days of assuming a post and every two years thereafter. The law does not stipulate a declaration be made upon leaving office but states that officials must return all government property within 60 days.

Penalties for noncompliance with the law vary depending on which section of the law was violated, but they include removal from office, a bar from government employment for three to five years, a ban on contracting with the government for three years, repayment of the illicitly gained assets, and a fine of up to 100 times the value of the accepted bribe. The National Office of Economic Police is responsible for investigating violations of this law, as well as other financial and economic crimes, and then referring them to the financial court for prosecution. There were no known cases related to this law during the year.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups operated throughout the country. Some groups investigating government corruption and human rights abuses alleged government interference in their activities particularly in provinces outside of Luanda. Civil society organizations faced fewer difficulties in contacting detainees than in previous years, and prison authorities permitted civil society work in the prisons.

The Law of Associations requires NGOs to specify their mandate and areas of activity. The government used this provision to prevent or discourage established NGOs from engaging in certain activities, especially those that the government deemed politically sensitive.

The government allowed local NGOs to carry out human-rights-related work, but many NGOs reported they were forced to limit the scope of their work because they faced problems registering, were subjected to subtle forms of intimidation, and risked more serious forms of harassment and closure.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The state-funded Interministerial Commission for the Writing of Human Rights Reports included representatives from various government ministries. Leading civil society members decided not to participate on the commission because they did not believe the Commission was independent or effective.

The 10th Commission on Human Rights of the National Assembly is charged with investigating citizen complaints of alleged human rights violations and makes recommendations to the National Assembly.

An Office of the Ombudsman, with a national jurisdiction, existed to mediate between an aggrieved public, including prisoners, and an offending public office or institution. The office had representative offices open in the provinces of Cabinda, Kwanza-Sul, Cunene, Huambo, and Luanda, and had neither decision-making nor adjudicative powers, but helped citizens obtain access to justice, advised government entities on citizen rights, and published reports. These reports are presented annually to the National Assembly. The ombudsman is elected by the majority of the members of the National Assembly.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape and intimate partner rape, is illegal and punishable by up to eight years’ imprisonment if convicted. Limited investigative resources, poor forensic capabilities, and an ineffective judicial system prevented prosecution of most cases. The Ministry of Justice and Human Rights worked with the Ministry of Interior to increase the number of female police officers and to improve police response to rape allegations.

The law criminalizes domestic violence and penalizes offenders with prison sentences of up to eight years and monetary fines, depending on the severity of their crime. The Ministry of Justice and Human Rights maintained a program with the Angolan Bar Association to give free legal assistance to abused women and established counseling centers to help families cope with domestic abuse.

The government reported that cases of domestic violence increased during the period of confinement due to COVID-19. According to a Ministry of Social Action, Family and Promotion of Women (MASFAMU) report between March and May, 567 cases of domestic violence were reported in the second trimester of 2020 versus 444 reported cases in the first trimester. The NGO Gender Observatory started a campaign called “Quarantine without Violence” and urged the National Police to create a hotline for cases of domestic violence. In May MASFAMU launched a partnership with the UN to support a crisis hotline to help victims of gender-based violence.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: There were anecdotal reports that some communities abused women and children due to accusations the latter practiced witchcraft. The Ministry of Culture and the National Institute for Children (INAC) had educational initiatives and emergency programs to assist children accused of witchcraft.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment was common and not illegal. It may be prosecuted, however, under assault and battery and defamation statutes.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to freely decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. Persons living in rural areas faced more barriers to access of sexual and reproductive health services than urban dwellers due to a lack of resources and health programs in those areas. According to 2015-16 World Health Organization (WHO) data, 62 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 49 made their own informed decisions regarding reproductive health care, contraceptive use, and sexual relations. Some cultural views, such as the view that women have a responsibility to have children, and religious objections to using contraception, limited access to reproductive health services. According to the UN Population Fund, the country has favorable laws relating to contraceptive services and access to emergency contraception with no restrictions. The WHO reported there were four nursing and midwifery personnel per 10,000 inhabitants in the country (2010-2018 data). For survivors of sexual violence, the law on domestic violence provides for legal and medical assistance, access to shelter spaces, and priority care assistance to obtain legal evidence of the crime. A specific department of the Angolan National Police investigates crimes against women and children.

According to a 2017 WHO report, the country’s maternal mortality rate was 241 deaths per 100,000 live births, which was a significant reduction from 431 deaths in 2007 and 827 deaths in 2000. High maternal mortality was due to inadequate access to health facilities before, during, and after giving birth, a lack of skilled obstetric care, and early pregnancy. The WHO data reported a high adolescent birth rate of 163 births per 1,000 women between the ages of 15 and 19. According to 2010-19 data, 30 percent of women of reproductive age had their need for family planning satisfied with modern methods. No known instances of female genital mutilation have been reported in the country in recent years. UNICEF reported in 2016 that 50 percent of births in the country were attended by skilled health personnel.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. During the year the Angolan branch of Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (IURD) had a public split with the church’s Brazilian leadership. On June 23, a group of Angolan IURD pastors took control over some of the 230 IURD temples in the country after accusing the Brazilian leadership of racism and harassment, including forced vasectomies of Angolan IURD pastors or mandatory abortions if an IURD pastor’s wife became pregnant. Both groups pressed charges against each other, which led to the closure and seizure of at least seven temples in Angola by the attorney general’s office on charges of money laundering. At year’s end, criminal investigations continued.

Discrimination: Under the constitution and law, women enjoy the same rights and legal status as men. The government, however, did not enforce the law effectively as societal discrimination against women remained a problem, particularly in rural areas. Customary law prevailed over civil law, particularly in rural areas, and at times had a negative effect on a woman’s legal right to inherit property.

The law provides for equal pay for equal work, although women generally held low-level positions. There were legal restrictions on women’s employment in occupations and industries compared to men, including in jobs deemed hazardous, factory jobs, and those in the mining, agriculture, and energy sectors. The Ministry of Social Assistance, Family, and Promotion of Women led an interministerial information campaign on women’s rights and domestic abuse, and hosted national, provincial, and municipal workshops and training sessions.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth within the country or from one’s parents. The government does not register all births immediately. According to the 2014 census, approximately 13.7 million citizens (46 percent of the population) lacked birth registration documents. During the year the government continued programs to improve the rate of birth registration through on-site registries located in maternity hospitals in all 18 provinces with a campaign called “Born with Registration.” The government also trained midwives in rural areas to complete temporary registration documents for subsequent conversion into official birth certificates. The government permitted children to attend school without birth registration, but only through the sixth grade. The government implemented a mass registration process to issue identification (ID) cards with the goal of providing government-issued IDs to all citizens by the end of 2022.

Education: Education is tuition free and compulsory for documented children through the ninth grade. Students in public schools often faced significant additional expenses such as books or irregular fees paid directly to education officials in order to guarantee a spot. When parents were unable to pay the fees, their children were often unable to attend school. The Ministry of Education estimated that one to two million children did not attend school, because of a shortage of teachers and schools. Due to the “state of emergency” that went into effect on March 27, the government closed schools as a preventive measure against the spread of COVID-19, and provided some classes as television programs. The government began to reopen schools in October.

There were reports that parents, especially in more rural areas, were more likely to send boys to school rather than girls. According to UNESCO, enrollment rates were higher for boys than for girls, especially at the secondary level.

Child Abuse: Child abuse was widespread. Reports of physical abuse within the family were commonplace, and local officials largely tolerated abuse due to lack of capacity within institutions to provide appropriate care. The Ministry of Social Affairs, Family and Promotion of Women offers programs for child abuse victims and other vulnerable children. Nevertheless, nationwide implementation of such programs remained a problem.

In June the government launched a hotline called “SOS Child” to report violence against children. In fewer than two weeks, government officials stated the hotline received 19,753 calls relating cases of violence against children.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal age for marriage with parental consent is 15 for girls and 16 for boys. The government did not enforce this restriction effectively, and the traditional age of marriage among lower income groups coincided with the onset of puberty. According to UNICEF, 6 percent of men between the ages of 20 and 24 were married or in union before the age of 18, 30 percent of women between the ages of 20 and 24 were married or in union by the age of 18, and 7 percent of women between the age of 20 and 24 were married or in union by the age of 15.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: All forms of prostitution, including child prostitution, are illegal. Police did not actively enforce laws against prostitution, and local NGOs expressed concern regarding the commercial sexual exploitation of children, which remained a problem. The law prohibits the use of children for the production of pornography; however, it does not prohibit the procuring or offering of a child for the production of pornography, or the use, procuring, or offering of a child for pornographic performances.

Sexual relations between an adult and a child younger than 12 are considered rape, and conviction carries a potential penalty of eight to 12 years’ imprisonment. Sexual relations with a child between the ages of 12 and 17 are considered sexual abuse, and convicted offenders may receive sentences from two to eight years in prison. The legal age for consensual sex is 18. Limited investigative resources and an inadequate judicial system prevented prosecution of most cases. There were reports of prosecutions during the year.

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.

Anti-Semitism

There is a Jewish community of approximately 350 persons, primarily resident Israelis. 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/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities, but the government did not effectively enforce these prohibitions. The constitution grants persons with disabilities full rights without restriction and calls on the government to adopt national policies to prevent, treat, rehabilitate, and integrate persons with disabilities to support their families; remove obstacles to their mobility; educate society regarding disability; and encourage learning and training opportunities for persons with disabilities.

The law requires changes to public buildings, transportation, and communications to increase accessibility for persons with disabilities. The law also institutes a quota system to encourage the public and private sectors to employ more persons with disabilities, with the public sector quota at 4 percent of total employees and the private sector set at 2 percent. Civil society organizations and persons with disabilities, however, reported the government failed to enforce the law, and significant barriers to access remained.

The government official responsible for overseeing programs to promote inclusion for persons with disabilities acknowledged that both the private and public sectors fail to meet the quota system established by law. ANDA, an NGO that promotes the rights of persons with disabilities, said in a March interview that discrimination, physical, and psychological barriers impede persons with disabilities from having access to work, education, and public transportation.

Persons with disabilities included more than 80,000 survivors of land mines and other explosive remnants of war. The NGO Handicap International estimated that as many as 500,000 persons had disabilities. Because of limited government resources and uneven availability, only 30 percent of such persons were able to take advantage of state-provided services such as physical rehabilitation, schooling, training, or counseling.

Persons with disabilities found it difficult to access public or private facilities, and it was difficult for such persons to find employment or participate in the education system. Women with disabilities were reported to be vulnerable to sexual abuse and abandonment when pregnant. The Ministry of Social Assistance, Families, and Women’s Promotion sought to address problems facing persons with disabilities, including veterans with disabilities, and several government entities supported programs to assist individuals disabled by landmine incidents.

Indigenous People

The constitution does not specifically refer to the rights of indigenous persons, and no specific law protects their rights and ecosystems. One NGO estimated that 14,000 members of the San indigenous group scattered among the southern provinces of Huila, Cunene, Kuando Kubango, and Moxico suffered discrimination and lacked adequate access to basic government services, including medical care, education, and identification cards.

Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The constitution prohibits all forms of discrimination but does not specifically address sexual orientation or gender identity. The new penal code decriminalizes same-sex sexual relations and makes it illegal to discriminate based on sexual orientation.

Local NGOs reported that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals faced violence, discrimination, and harassment. The government, through its health agencies, instituted a series of initiatives to decrease discrimination against LGBTI individuals.

Discrimination against LGBTI individuals was rarely reported, and when reported, LGBTI individuals asserted that sometimes police refused to register their grievances. The association continued to collaborate with the Ministry of Health and the National Institute to Fight HIV/AIDS to improve access to health services and sexual education for the LGBTI community.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Discrimination against those with HIV/AIDS is illegal, but lack of enforcement allowed employers to discriminate against persons living with HIV. There were no news reports of violence against persons living with HIV. Reports from local and international health NGOs suggested discrimination against persons living with HIV was common. The government’s National Institute to Fight HIV/AIDS includes sensitivity and antidiscrimination training for its employees when they are testing and counseling HIV patients.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers, except members of the armed forces, police, firefighters, members of sovereign bodies, and public prosecutors to form and join independent unions. To establish a trade union, at least 30 percent of workers in an economic sector in a province must follow a registration process and obtain authorization from government officials. The law provides for the right to collective bargaining except in the civil service. The law prohibits strikes by members of the armed forces, police, prosecutors and magistrates of the PGR, prison staff, fire fighters, public-sector employees providing “essential services,” and oil workers. Essential services are broadly defined, including the transport sector, communications, waste management and treatment, and fuel distribution. In exceptional circumstances involving national interests, authorities have the power to requisition workers in the essential services sector. The law does not explicitly prohibit employer interference with union activity.

While the law allows unions to conduct their activities without government interference, it also places some restrictions on their ability to strike. Before engaging in a strike, workers must negotiate with their employer for at least 20 days prior to a work stoppage. Should they fail to negotiate, the government may deny the right to strike. The government may intervene in labor disputes that affect national security and energy sectors. Collective labor disputes are to be settled through compulsory arbitration by the Ministry of Public Administration, Labor and Social Security. The law prohibits employer retribution against strikers, but it permits the government to force workers back to work for “breaches of worker discipline” or participation in unauthorized strikes. Nonetheless, the law prohibits antiunion discrimination and stipulates that worker complaints should be adjudicated in the labor court. The Ministry of Public Administration, Labor and Social Security had a hotline and two service centers in Luanda for workers who believed their rights had been violated. By law employers are required to reinstate workers who have been dismissed for union activities.

During the year there were several strikes in the public and private sector over disputes between employers and workers. There were also allegations of retribution against strikers during the year.

In June, three taxi unions agreed to strike and refused to circulate in the municipality of Cacuaco in Luanda province citing lack of designated stopping areas and poor road maintenance. The governor of Luanda, Joana Lina, demanded that the strike be lifted and gave the unions four days to resolve the situation.

The government generally did not effectively enforce applicable labor laws. Labor courts functioned but were overburdened by a backlog of cases and inadequate resources. The law provides for penalties for violations of the law and labor contracts, which are commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, but the penalties were not an effective deterrent due to the inefficient functioning of the courts.

Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining were not generally respected. Government approval is required to form and join unions, which were hampered by membership and legalization issues. Labor unions, independent of those run by the government, worked to increase their influence, but the ruling MPLA party continued to dominate the labor movement due to historical connections between the party and labor, and also the superior financial base of the country’s largest labor union (which also constitutes the labor wing of the MPLA). The government is the country’s largest employer, and the Ministry of Public Administration, Labor and Social Security mandated government worker wages with no negotiation with the unions.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor and sets penalties commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes. The government did not effectively enforce the law due in part to an insufficient number of inspectors and to systemic corruption.

Forced labor of men and women occurred in fisheries, agriculture, construction, domestic service, and artisanal diamond-mining sectors, particularly in Lunda Norte and Lunda Sul provinces. Migrant workers were subject to seizure of passports, threats, denial of food, and confinement. Forced child labor occurred (see section 7.c).

See also the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits children younger than 14 from working. To obtain an employment contract, the law requires youth to submit evidence they are 14 or older. Children can work from age 14 to age 16 with parental permission, or without parental consent if they are married, and the work does not interfere with schooling or harm the physical, mental, and moral development of the minor. The law also allows orphan children who want to work to get official permission in the form of a letter from “an appropriate institution,” but it does not specify the type of institution. The Ministry of Public Administration, Labor and Social Security; the Ministry of Social Assistance, Families, and Women’s Promotion; the Ministry of Interior; the Ministry of Labor; INAC; and the national police are the entities responsible for enforcement of child labor laws.

The Ministry of Public Administration, Labor and Social Security continued to implement its National Action Plan for the Eradication of Child Labor for 2018-22, which aims to identify the most prevalent areas and types of child labor and to strengthen coordination of child labor investigations, prosecutions, and the imposition of criminal penalties. The government did not effectively monitor the large informal sector, where most child labor occurred.

Penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes. The government did not consistently enforce the law, and child labor, especially in the informal sector, remained a problem. Through March, INAC registered 573 cases of hazardous child labor on farms involving the handling of chemicals, stones, and bricks and reported the cases to law enforcement. The Ministry of Public Administration, Employment, and Social Security had oversight of formal work sites in all 18 provinces, but it was unknown whether inspectors checked on the age of workers or conditions of work sites. If the ministry determined a business was using child labor, it transferred the case to the Ministry of Interior to investigate and possibly press charges. It was not known whether the government fined any businesses for using child labor.

Child labor occurred in agriculture on family and commercial farms as well as in fishing, brick making, artisanal diamond mining, charcoal production, domestic labor, construction, and street vending. Exploitive labor practices included involvement in the sale, transport, and offloading of goods in ports and across border posts. Children were forced to work as couriers in the illegal cross-border trade with Namibia. Adult criminals sometimes used children for forced criminal activity, since the justice system prohibits youths younger than 12 from being tried in court.

Street work by children was common, especially in the provinces of Luanda, Benguela, Huambo, Huila, and Kwanza Sul. Investigators found children working in the streets of Luanda. Most of these children shined shoes, washed cars, carried water and other goods, or engaged in other informal labor, but some resorted to petty crime and begging. Commercial sexual exploitation of children occurred as well (see section 6).

The incidence of child labor increased in the southern provinces due to a severe drought. In Cunene province, children were forced to leave school and to work as herders or to dig wells and fetch water. The drought and the accompanying economic devastation increased the risk of exploitation of vulnerable persons in the province; one NGO in Cunene said the drought led many boys to seek work in urban areas and led girls to engage in prostitution.

The government, through INAC, worked to create, train, and strengthen child protection networks at the provincial and municipal levels in all 18 provinces. No central mechanism existed to track cases or provide statistics. The government also dedicated resources to the expansion of educational and livelihood opportunities for children and their families.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings  and the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The labor law prohibits discrimination in employment and occupation based on race, sex, religion, disability, or language, and the government in general effectively enforced the law in the formal sector. The International Labor Organization noted the law did not clearly define discrimination, however. The constitution prohibits all forms of discrimination, although it does not specifically address HIV/AIDS status, sexual orientation, or gender identity (see section 6). The law provides for equal pay for equal work, but gender pay disparities in the country still exist. There were legal restrictions on women’s employment in occupations considered dangerous, in factories, and in industries such as mining, agriculture, and energy. Women held ministerial posts.

The government did not effectively enforce the law, although penalties, when applied, were commensurate with those for other laws related to civil rights. There were no known prosecutions of official or private-sector gender-based discrimination in employment or occupation. Persons with disabilities found it difficult to gain access to public or private facilities, and it was difficult for such persons to participate in the education system and thus find employment. Reports during the year indicated that persons with albinism also experienced discrimination in employment and access to public services. In the past, there have also been complaints of discrimination against foreign workers. There were no known prosecutions for discrimination in employment. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

A minimum wage for the formal sector exists and varies by sector. The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights raised concerns about the wide disparities of minimum wage by sector and the possibility this may undervalue work in female-dominated sectors. The lowest minimum wage was for agricultural work and was set below the UN Development Program’s official line of poverty. The minimum wage for the formal sector may be updated annually or when the government assesses economic conditions warrant. The minimum wage law does not cover workers in informal sectors, such as street vendors and subsistence farmers.

The standard workweek in the private sector is 44 hours, while in the public sector it is 37 hours. In both sectors the law mandates at least one unbroken period of 24 hours of rest per week. In the private sector, when employees engage in shift work or a variable weekly schedule, they may work up to 54 hours per week before the employer must pay overtime. In the formal sector, there is a prohibition on excessive compulsory overtime, defined as more than two hours a day, 40 hours a month, or 200 hours a year. The law also provides for paid annual holidays. By law employers must provide, at a minimum, a bonus amounting to 50 percent of monthly salary to employees each year in December and an annual vacation. The law did not cover domestic workers, but a 2016 presidential decree extended some protections and enforcement standards to domestic workers. Workweek standards were not enforced unless employees filed a formal complaint with the Ministry of Public Administration, Labor and Social Security. The law protected foreign workers with permanent legal status or a temporary work visa.

The government effectively enforced the minimum wage law within the formal labor sector, and penalties were commensurate with those for similar infractions. Most workers in the informal sector were not covered by wage or occupational safety standards. An estimated 60 percent of the economy derived from the informal sector, and most wage earners held second jobs or depended on the agricultural or other informal sectors to augment their incomes.

The Ministry of Public Administration, Labor and Social Security is charged with implementing and enforcing the law. An insufficient number of adequately trained labor inspectors hampered enforcement efforts. Inspectors have the authority to conduct unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions but some companies received advance warning of impending labor inspections.

Occupational safety and health standards are required for all sectors of the economy. Employees have the right to remove themselves from hazardous working conditions without jeopardy to their employment. The government did not always proactively enforce occupational safety and health standards nor investigate private company operations unless complaints were made by NGOs and labor unions. Inspections were reduced due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2019 there were 241 major industrial accidents that caused the death or serious injury of workers.

Uzbekistan

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 reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. In January a man died as a result of beatings suffered while in detention at the Chirakchi District Ministry of the Interior branch office in the Kashkardarya Region, and on September 21, two officers who had been charged in the case received from four to nine years in prison. The first deputy chief of the police department resigned his position following the death.

In a separate case on May 30, press reported that Alijon Abdukarimov suffered critical wounds from the Andijan police while in detention on May 29 over charges of theft. After allegedly being beaten at a police station, Abdukarimov was taken to a hospital, where he died on June 11. The Prosecutor General’s Office launched an investigation into his case, leading to the June 13 arrest of six police officers. The Prosecutor’s Office subsequently filed charges against them, and an additional 19 law enforcement officers faced disciplinary measures. On November 27, the Andijan regional criminal court announced that the six police officers were sentenced from one to 10 years in prison.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The country has laws governing the conduct of law enforcement officers and addressing torture, including language that states, “Employees of the Internal Affairs Ministry may not employ torture, violence, or other cruel or degrading treatments. The employee of the Internal Affairs Ministry is obliged to prevent intentional acts causing pain, physical, or moral suffering to the citizen.” The law bans the use of evidence obtained by torture in court proceedings. In addition, an antitorture law includes liability for the use of torture and other inhuman or degrading treatment. Prior to the adoption of the law, there were formal obstacles to the prosecution of persons involved in torture. These restrictions were eliminated.

During the year the UN Committee Against Torture concluded “that torture and ill-treatment continue to be routinely committed by, at the instigation of and with the consent of the State party’s law enforcement, investigative and prison officials, principally for the purpose of extracting confessions or information to be used in criminal proceedings.” In addition, a number of criminal trials during which defendants raised torture allegations, as well as several trials of persons charged with committing torture under Article 235 of the criminal code, including the 2018 trial of six National Security Service officers and others charged with torturing Ilhom and Rahim Ibodov, were closed to the public. Court decisions in those cases were not publicly available.

In September 2019 local officials in Khorezm detained blogger Nafosat “Shabnam” Ollashkurova after she criticized local government corruption on Facebook, including posts about illegal demolitions. Ollashkurova served 10 days of administrative detention, following which the Urgench District Civil Court ordered authorities to place her in the Khorezm regional psychiatric center for six months of evaluation and treatment against her will. Ollashkurova was released from the regional psychiatric center on December 28, 2019. In mid-January she reported authorities continued to harass her, claiming officials were visiting her apartment building and reminding family members her classification as a mental patient meant she could be detained without a court order at any time. Fearing for her safety, Ollashkurova fled the country on January 18 and sought political asylum in another country.

According to Forbes and other media sources, Farrukh Khidirov, a prisoner in penal colony #11 in the Navoi Region, died on June 27 after officials beat and burned him with boiling water. According to human rights activists, a few days before his death, Khidirov called home and said penal colony officials were demanding money from him. The officials provided him with their bank account information so that he could transfer funds. When they did not receive the money, they tortured him, human rights activists reported. Khidirov spent eight days in the hospital before succumbing to his injuries. After the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Ezgulik published accounts of his case, the Main Directorate of Corrections of the Ministry of Internal Affairs published a refutation in local online media. The message stated, “The body was examined by the Prosecutor’s Office, no bodily injuries were detected, and an appropriate examination was appointed regarding the incident. The redness that appeared on the video is a cadaveric stain and has nothing to do with bodily harm.”

In June a resident of the Surkhandarya Region told local media that “National Guard officers strangled me for not wearing a mask.” The officers allegedly approached him near his home and reported they had photographed him without a mask, which national directives required be worn in public at all times due to the COVID-19 state of emergency. One officer allegedly tried to force the victim into a police van, strangling him in the process.

On July 12, the Analytical Center for Central Asia and other media reported that police officers and National Guard officers beat a judge at a checkpoint by the entrance to the Jarkurgan District of the Surkhandarya Region. Following a traffic jam, police eventually closed the entrance to the city due to COVID-19 restrictions. The judge, who had been waiting in traffic for an hour to enter the city, spoke with the officers, who then pulled him from his vehicle and beat him, causing a concussion. On July 15, the General Prosecutor’s Office declared it had instituted criminal proceedings under Article 206 against employees who had worked at the checkpoint.

Media reported that on December 1 Zhanabay Ismayilov of Chimbay was severely beaten in the Karalkalpakstan Region–suffering cuts, bruises, and a broken arm–after two drunken Ministry of Interior officers assaulted him when he tried to get into their taxi, which he believed was free. Despite appeals by the victim’s family, at year’s end authorities had not opened a case against the two officers.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were in some circumstances harsh and life threatening due to food shortages, gross overcrowding, physical abuse, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care.

Physical Conditions: Reports of overcrowding, severe abuse, and shortages of medicine were common. On August 17, the government reported there were 22,867 prisoners in the penal system, held in 43 prisons and 11 pretrial detention facilities. Of the 43 prisons, 18 were “closed colonies” and 25 were open, “resettlement” colonies. According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the prison capacity was at 56 percent.

Officials generally provided inmates access to poor quality potable water and food. Visiting family members often brought provisions to detained family members. Upon release, political prisoners in the last two to three years reported to Human Rights Watch and others of being beaten and otherwise tortured, including being held in stress positions, while in prison.

According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, prisoners are entitled to outdoor exercise during nonworking hours, psychological treatment, and safe working conditions. In addition, prisoners are eligible for salaries and other work benefits. In the event of serious illness, prisoners can receive additional telephone privileges and family visits upon a physician’s advice. The rules also state that prisoners should undergo a medical examination upon request and at intervals of not more than six months. No information on implementation of these rules was publicly available.

Prison administration officials reported an active World Health Organization tuberculosis program in the prisons and an HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention program. International experts noted, however, that the rate of infectious diseases in prisons was not public knowledge and believed that the rates of tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS were very likely higher in prisons than in the general population. Poor compliance with treatment plans and other implementation issues undermined government efforts to lower infection rates.

Civil society activists raised concerns that prison officials were not adequately addressing COVID-19-related safety measures and specifically noted that older and medically compromised prisoners were at a higher infection risk due to lack of such measures.

On May 11, the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office, along with the government-run NGO Yuksalish, announced it would begin conducting public monitoring in penal institutions to assess the level of protection against COVID-19. According to human rights activists, during the COVID quarantine and restrictive movement measures instituted in March, family members of prisoners stopped receiving mail, were restricted from visiting the prisons, and were denied telephone calls.

On May 22, the Cabinet of Ministers published a decree instructing the Ministry of Internal Affairs to publish information regarding the number of persons detained in penitentiary institutions and pretrial detention institutions; the number of penitentiaries and pretrial detention institutions; information on types of manufactured goods and monetary value of such goods produced in the penitentiary facilities; information on the number of deaths among persons detained in penitentiary institutions and pretrial detention facilities; and information on the number of convicts kept in penitentiary institutions that are subject to compulsory medical measures.

One human rights activist reported that prison administrators continued to charge current prisoners, often those convicted on religiously based charges, with new offenses, such as organizing criminal communities or participating in banned organizations. Such charges served as grounds for extending their prison terms. According to the law, prison officials are allowed to file new charges against prisoners resulting in new prison terms. Activists often referred to this as an “extension” of a term, but in reality it was a new sentence imposed on a current prisoner. For example, during the year 11 religious prisoners (each serving 20 year sentences) received an additional prison term of 10 years under this practice.

Administration: The Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office and the Prosecutor General’s Office may investigate complaints from detainees and the public. The Ombudsman’s Office may make recommendations on behalf of specific prisoners, including changes to the sentences of nonviolent offenders to make them more appropriate to the offense. Some family members of detained or released prisoners said the ombudsman did not respond to their complaints. On June 17, media reported that volunteers of the “Open Line Initiative” group held a protest to demand the resignation of the ombudsman. The protesters, family members of prisoners, contended that prisoners were routinely harassed, bullied, beaten, humiliated, and psychologically tortured by prison officials, including senior officials, and that the ombudsman routinely ignored family pleas for assistance.

Some human rights activists reported that lawyers had no problems meeting with their clients, although others disputed this, saying access was both limited and monitored.

Prison officials typically allowed family members to visit prisoners for up to four hours two to four times per year. Officials also permitted longer visits of one to three days two to four times per year, depending on the type of prison facility, as well as overnight stays. In March officials instituted COVID-19 restrictions on visitations. Authorities relocated some religious and political prisoners to housing in prison colonies rather than formal prisons. The colonies often allowed prisoners to come and go regularly and to have more family contact. Some prisoners were allowed to work and earn money inside or outside the colony.

The government stated that prisoners have the right to practice any religion, but some prisoners complained to family members that prison authorities did not permit them to observe religious rituals that conflicted with the prison’s schedule. Such rituals included traditional Islamic morning prayers. While some activists reported this situation has improved, others said the restriction continued. Authorities forbid all prisoners to observe religious holidays, such as Ramadan, with no fasting allowed. Although some prison libraries had copies of the Quran and the Bible, family members continued to complain that authorities did not allow all religious prisoners access to religious materials.

According to official government procedures, prisoners have the right to “participate in religious worship and family relations, such as marriage.” Close relatives also have the right to receive oral and written information from prison officials regarding the health and disciplinary records of their family members. Families continued to report that the government provided limited to no information or withheld information contained in health and prison records.

Independent Monitoring: Some independent observers had limited access to some parts of the penitentiary system, including pretrial detention facilities, women’s prisons, and prison settlements. Ezgulik, however, reported it had no problems accessing any prisoner. UNICEF regularly visited the country’s four juvenile offenders’ colonies. The International Committee for the Red Cross had not visited detainees since 2013.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and the law prohibit 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 did not always observe these requirements.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

By law a judge must review any decision to arrest accused individuals or suspects. Judges granted arrest warrants in most cases. Defendants have the right to legal counsel from the time of arrest. State-appointed attorneys are available for those who do not hire private counsel. Officials did not always respect the right to counsel and occasionally forced defendants to sign written statements declining the right. Authorities’ selective intimidation and disbarment of defense lawyers produced a chilling effect that also compromised political detainees’ access to legal counsel.

Some defense lawyers noted difficulty in accessing clients, the lack of private meeting spaces at law enforcement facilities to meet with detainees, and the lack of access to information about their client’s case.

The law authorizes the use of house arrest as a form of pretrial detention. The law allows detainees to request hearings before a judge to determine whether they should remain incarcerated or released before trial. Authorities often granted these hearings but typically granted detention requests from prosecutors, thereby undermining the spirit of judicial oversight. The arresting authority is required to notify a relative of a detainee of the detention and to question the detainee within 24 hours of arrest.

On April 1, compulsory procedures to protect detainees, including video recording of actions involving detainees and explanation of procedural rights to detainees, were introduced. The new procedures also stipulate that police are required to notify either family members or other designated persons regarding the arrest and location of a detainee within 24 hours. According to media reports and human rights activists, these protective measures had not been well implemented and reports of police abuse following detention were common.

Civil society reported that authorities physically abused or tortured suspects before notifying either family members or attorneys of their arrest in order to obtain a confession. In February the Ombudsman’s Office released its 2019 annual report, which noted that cameras in interrogation rooms at law enforcement facilities were frequently turned off or detainees were tortured and interrogated within camera blind spots. The report called for the creation of a special investigative committee to look into such cases. The ombudsman stated publicly on May 29 that 80 to 90 percent of the complaints of torture received by the office occurred at pretrial detention facilities rather than in the prison system.

On August 10, President Mirziyoyev signed a decree aimed at introducing mechanisms to eliminate the torture of detainees by ensuring the right of detainees to meet privately with defense lawyers upon arrest, ensuring the presence of defense lawyers during witness interrogation, outlawing the use of illegally obtained evidence; and introducing the use of plea agreements.

Suspects have the right to remain silent and must be informed of the right to counsel. Detention without formal charges is limited to 48 hours, although a prosecutor may request that a judge extend detention an additional 48 hours, after which the person must be charged or released. Judges typically grant such requests, and the judge who issues such an extension is often the same one that presides over the trial, which creates incentives to cover up violations. Authorities typically held suspects after the allowable period of detention, according to human rights advocates. After formal charges are filed, the prosecutor decides whether a suspect is released on bail (or on the guarantee of an individual or public organization acting as surety), stays in pretrial detention, or is kept under house arrest. The judge conducting the arrest hearing is allowed to sit on the panel of judges during the individual’s trial.

The law requires authorities at pretrial detention facilities to arrange a meeting between a detainee and a representative from the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office upon the detainee’s request. Officials allowed detainees in prison facilities to submit confidential complaints to the Ombudsman’s Office and the Prosecutor General’s Office.

Once authorities file charges, suspects may be held in pretrial detention for up to three months while investigations proceed. The law permits an extension of the investigation period for as much as seven months at the discretion of the appropriate court upon a motion by the relevant prosecutor, who may also release a prisoner on bond pending trial. Those arrested and charged with a crime may be released without bail until trial on the condition they provide assurance of “proper behavior” and that they would appear at trial.

A decree requires that all defense attorneys pass a comprehensive relicensing examination. In past years several experienced and knowledgeable defense lawyers who had represented human rights activists and independent journalists lost their licenses after taking the relicensing examination or because of letters from the bar association under the control of the Ministry of Justice claiming that they violated professional ethical norms.

The country had relatively few defense lawyers per capita, and activists said this likely was due to lower levels of pay, prestige, and influence in comparison to judges and prosecutors.

On November 30, the president signed a law that allows the National Guard, the Prosecutor General’s Office, and police the right to surveil electronically attorneys’ communications with clients. With the consent of the prosecutor or an investigator, officials (including prosecutors, investigators, and state bodies) can have access to conversations, messages, and other forms of information conveyed between a defendant and his or her lawyer by telephone and other telecommunications devices. Officials may also record these conversations. In some cases, authorities detained suspects and required them to sign a nondisclosure agreement that prevents them from discussing their case publicly. Human rights lawyers complained authorities used this tactic as a way to prevent lawyers and clients from receiving outside assistance or boosting publicity about their cases.

Arbitrary Arrest: Bloggers and activists were occasionally detained arbitrarily. In July local police illegally detained and interrogated journalists in Karakalpakstan without a court summons and seized their phones and laptops due to claims of “false” reporting about the health of a local government official. The Prosecutor General’s Office criticized the local police for what it termed “illegal acts.”

In contrast with previous years, religious groups reported that arbitrary detention of their members no longer occurred.

The government phased out the use of preventive watch lists, which contained the names of those convicted for religious crimes or crimes against the regime. In 2019 Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov announced that since 2016, authorities removed more than 20,000 prisoners convicted on religious grounds from the watch list. It was unknown how many individuals remained on the watch list. Previously, authorities compelled named individuals on the watch list to submit to police for interrogation, denied issuance of passports and travel visas, and in some cases, prohibited the purchase and use of smartphones.

The law provides for a commission to review the prison profiles of convicts sentenced on charges of religious extremism. On August 26, the Ministry of Interior press service released a video announcing that some prisoners would be pardoned or released in honor of Independence Day. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs noted that a large number of the pardons included those convicted on “religious extremism” charges. The video and accompanying press declared the government had released or pardoned 4,500 prisoners since the death of former president Karimov in 2016, including 1,584 religious prisoners (of these, 1,215 were released and 369 received reduced sentences). On August 27, in advance of the country’s Independence Day, an additional 113 prisoners received pardons, including 105 religious prisoners. On December 7, to mark Constitution Day, the government released 104 prisoners, including 21 religious prisoners, bringing the total number of religious prisoners released since 2016 to 1,710. Another commission reviews the petitions of persons “who mistakenly became members of banned organizations.” While the commission has the power to exonerate citizens from all criminal liability, observers reported it did not exercise this power in the majority of cases the commission reviewed.

Pretrial Detention: Prosecutors generally exercised discretion regarding most aspects of criminal procedures, including pretrial detention. Authorities did not provide access to detainees to a court to challenge the length or validity of pretrial detention, despite the law granting detainees the right to do so. Even when authorities did not file charges, police and prosecutors frequently sought to evade restrictions on the length of time that persons could be held without charges by holding them as witnesses rather than as suspects. The Ministry of the Interior, which oversees the prison system, did not provide information regarding the number of persons held in pretrial detention centers or allow access to independent organizations.

Detainees Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: By law detainees or former detainees are able to challenge the lawfulness of their detention before a court. Appeals were sometimes open to the public by request of the applicant. New evidence was rarely heard. Appeal courts generally reviewed previous trial records and asked applicants to declare for the record their innocence or guilt. Appeals rarely resulted in the courts overturning their original decisions.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for a judiciary; however, the judiciary does not operate with complete independence and impartiality. The Prosecutor General’s Office and other law enforcement bodies occasionally exerted inappropriate pressure on members of the judiciary to render desired verdicts. Regardless of the length of their term, judges can still be arbitrarily dismissed by the Supreme Judicial Council, making them vulnerable to political pressure.

Judges are appointed by the Supreme Judicial Council, subject to concurrence by the Senate. According to the law, lifetime appointments are possible under certain circumstances. The law states, “A judge shall be appointed or elected in accordance with the established procedure for an initial five-year term, a regular 10-year term, and a subsequent indefinite period of tenure.” Regardless of the term of appointment, the Supreme Judicial Council may dismiss judges. On August 20, the council invited media representatives to a first-ever meeting during which council members discussed the appointment of 19 new judges.

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, but in practice this was not always the case. The criminal code specifies a presumption of innocence. Judicial authorities officially opened most trials to the public and generally permitted international observers at proceedings, but judges or other officials arbitrarily closed some proceedings to observers, even in civil cases. Judges may close trials in exceptional cases, such as those involving state secrets or to protect victims and witnesses. Authorities generally announce trials only one or two days before they begin, and they frequently postponed hearings.

A panel of one professional judge and two lay assessors, selected by committees of worker collectives or neighborhood committees, generally presided over trials. Lay assessors rarely speak. The professional judge usually accepts the prosecutors’ recommendations on procedural rulings and sentencing.

Defendants have the right to attend court proceedings, confront witnesses, and present evidence, but judges often declined defense motions to summon additional witnesses or to enter evidence supporting the defendant into the record.

While the overwhelming majority of criminal cases brought to trial resulted in guilty verdicts, the number of acquittals has risen. According to the Supreme Court’s website, the number of acquittals increased from six in 2016, to 263 in 2017, to 867 in 2018, and to 859 in 2019 (compared to 27,603 convictions in 2019).

Following his September 2019 visit to the country, UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers Diego Garcia-Sayan highlighted the 2019 creation of the Supreme Judicial Council, the increase in acquittals, and the establishment of a process to improve the public’s access to court rulings, as key steps toward promoting judiciary independence in the country. His formal report, issued in June, noted that corruption remained a concern and a number of forms of interferences continued to undermine both the independence of the judiciary from other branches of government (affecting institutional independence) and the independence of individual judges to adjudicate the cases before them impartially and autonomously (affecting personal independence). The report noted that “prosecutors retain a prominent role in criminal proceedings, and the proceedings for the appointment and dismissal of the prosecutor general do not provide sufficient guarantees to prevent undue political influence from the legislative and executive branches of power, raising considerable concerns as to the institutional independence of the whole prosecution service.”

The UN special rapporteur’s report also noted that, “the shortage of lawyers severely affects access to justice, especially outside of Tashkent, and lawyers continue to encounter several obstacles in obtaining access to clients, in particular during pretrial detention.” It stated that some lawyers, for example, those defending persons who charged with terrorist offenses or who are political prisoners, reported harassment and illegal searches prior to meetings with clients in detention facilities. Further, it stated lawyers also experienced a lack of access to information, files, and documents in the possession of government authorities. The report found that lawyers were frequently denied access to case files prior to indictments or were prevented from summoning or cross-examining witnesses. In cases involving state security, lawyers did not have access to the indictment or the final ruling. The report concluded that this constituted a serious violation of the principle of equality of arms, since defendants were de facto deprived of any effective legal assistance.

The government provided legal counsel and interpreters without charge when necessary. According to credible reports, state-appointed defense attorneys routinely acted in the interest of the government rather than of their clients because of their reliance on the state for a livelihood and fear of possible recrimination.

In 2019 the Ministry of Justice registered the nongovernmental, nonprofit organization Madad, whose purpose is to help increase legal awareness and provide free legal advice and practical legal assistance, including through the operation of an online portal Advice.uz (e-maslahat.uz).

By law a prosecutor must request an arrest order from a court, and courts rarely denied such requests. Prosecutors have considerable power after obtaining an arrest order. They direct investigations, prepare criminal cases, recommend sentences to judges, and may appeal court decisions, including sentences. After formal charges are filed, the prosecutor decides whether a suspect is released on bail, stays in pretrial detention, or is kept under house arrest. Although the criminal code specifies a presumption of innocence, a prosecutor’s recommendations generally prevail. If a judge’s sentence does not correspond with the prosecutor’s recommendation, the prosecutor may appeal the sentence to a higher court. Judges often based their verdicts solely on confessions and witness testimony that authorities in some cases allegedly extracted through abuse, threats to family members, or other means of coercion. Authorities commonly used these practices in religious extremism cases in particular. Both defense lawyers and prosecutors may call on judges to reject confessions and investigate claims of torture.

The government continued to broadcast live coverage of court hearings when both parties consent, limiting such broadcasts to minor cases typically involving administrative offenses or economic cases. Despite the Supreme Court’s efforts to publish its rulings on its website, lower-level courts generally did not publish their rulings, making it difficult for defense lawyers to build arguments based on legal precedent.

The law provides a right of appeal to defendants, but appeals rarely resulted in reversal of convictions. In some cases, appeals resulted in reduced or suspended sentences.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

In August the government released four high-profile prisoners. Three of these (Rustam Abdumannopov, Iskandar Khudaiberganov, and Akrom Malikov) were considered by Tashkent-based human rights organization Ezgulik and other domestic human rights activists to be the only three remaining political prisoners in the country. The fourth prisoner released was Rukhitdin Fakhrutdinov, a well known religious prisoner. It was unknown how many other religious prisoners remained in custody.

In years past the government targeted peaceful political dissidents and convicted them of engaging in terrorist and extremist activities or for belonging to what the government called religious fundamentalist organizations. NGO representatives stated they could not independently verify the numbers of such individuals who remained in detention. There were no reports of such detentions during the year.

Authorities sometimes did not provide political prisoners and detainees the same protections as other detainees, including by holding some incommunicado for prolonged periods of time, limiting their access to lawyers of their choosing, and psychologically intimidating some of them. The government sometimes did not permit access to such persons by human rights or humanitarian organizations, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross.

According to numerous former political prisoners, the government provides released prisoners with an allowance upon parole to help them reintegrate into society, although some reported not receiving all promised benefits. Such allowances include travel expenses to one’s place of residence, health benefits, and the issuance of an internal passport, which is the primary form of identification in the country. Upon release, convicts sign a document acknowledging they understand the terms of their parole. This document typically includes a prohibition on travel abroad for up to one year. In years past, several former prisoners reported that authorities levied a fine against them as a condition of their parole. Failure to abide by the terms of payment may result in the termination of parole. One former prisoner, for example, was reportedly required to pay 20 percent of his monthly salary to the government for 18 months following his release.

In 2019 high-level government officials periodically visited different regions of the country to conduct outreach to vulnerable social groups, such as former prisoners, and the government said it maintained this policy. COVID-19-related movement restrictions and strict quarantine protocols issued throughout the country likely affected the ability of officials to conduct such visits. In years past, former prisoners expressed concerns regarding the difficulty of placing children into kindergartens, obtaining assistance in securing housing, and receiving medical treatment, as well as concerns over their parole terms.

Some former political prisoners pointed out that they were still considered criminals because authorities did not fully exonerate them upon their release from prison. Three former political prisoners, including Azam Farmonov, whom authorities released in 2017 after serving 11 years of a 13-year sentence, attempted to register an NGO named Restoration of Justice three times in 2019, without success. On March 9, the Ministry of Justice registered the NGO under a new name, Hoquqiy Tayanc (Legal Pillar); the NGO sought redress for the unlawful detention of political prisoners, including clearing their records through exoneration, expungement, or other means.

Amnesty: Authorities annually grant amnesty and release individuals imprisoned for religious extremism or other crimes. In five separate instances during the year, President Mirziyoyev released or reduced the sentences of 243 prisoners detained on religious extremism or other grounds.

Politically Motivated Reprisal against Individuals Located Outside the Country

Kyrgyzstan authorities extradited journalist Bobomurod Abdullayev to Tashkent on August 9 at the request of Uzbekistan authorities. The Uzbekistan government charged the journalist on two counts of crimes against the government, reportedly based on accusations that he had published allegations of corruption against Uzbekistan officials. After Abdullayev signed a nondisclosure agreement, he was released, and the charges were eventually dropped (see section 2.a.).

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Citizens may file suit in civil courts for alleged human rights violations by officials, excluding investigators, prosecutors, and judges. Civil society reported in the past that bribes accepted by judges influenced their court decisions in these cases.

Property Restitution

Government urban renewal campaigns to demolish older, Soviet-era apartment blocks and private homes in both Tashkent and other regions continued to displace citizens from their homes or businesses, often without due process.  On February 14, a fight broke out between police and residents of a village in the southern region of Surkhondaryo due to news this campaign would demolish their homes.  Also in February, a woman was severely burned in Qarshi after she set herself on fire in front of the regional prosecutor’s office to protest the illegal demolition of her home.  On August 28, more than 100 residents in a Tashkent neighborhood began protesting the demolition of their private garages where a builder planned to construct an apartment building.  The residents had been fighting the planned construction for months.

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

Although the constitution and law forbid arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy, family, home, or correspondence, authorities did not respect these prohibitions. The law requires that prosecutors approve requests for search warrants for electronic surveillance, but there is no provision for judicial review of such warrants.

On August 6, unknown assailants simultaneously hacked the Telegram accounts (a popular social messaging app) of several bloggers and journalists, including the owners of Telegram channels https://t.me/nobody_cares_but (10,000 subscribers) https://t.me/insider_uz (7,000 subscribers), https://t.me/kurbanoffnet (7,000 subscribers), and journalists Zafarbek Solizhonov and Anora Sodikova. Bloggers and journalists later posted online their belief that the aim was not only to attack freedom of speech but also to obtain personal information that could later be used against them. “We know that this attack was aimed at specific individuals, so it can be said that the main target was not money,” wrote journalist and blogger Eldar Asanov on his Telegram channel (8,000 subscribers).

The government adopted a unified statute addressing matters related to personal data protection and processing in 2019. Previously, numerous laws and resolutions regulated the government’s protection of and processing procedures for individuals’ personal data, which complicated compliance requirements. This law was the country’s first attempt to unify personal data regulations in line with international standards.

There were no reports of raids of the homes of religious groups’ members and unregistered congregations.

The government continued to use an estimated 12,000 mahalla (neighborhood) committees as a source of information on potential “extremists.” The committees provide various social support functions, including the distribution of social welfare assistance to the elderly, single parents, or families with many children; intervention in cases of domestic violence; and adjudication of disputes between residents, but they also serve as a way to feed information about local community members to the government and law enforcement entities. Mahallas in rural areas tended to be more influential than those in cities.

In February, President Mirziyoyev issued a decree that established the Ministry for the Support of the Mahalla and the Family. The new ministry is tasked with ensuring close cooperation between the state level government and the local mahallas on issues of women, family, and social structures.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, but the government restricted these rights for both online and offline media.

Freedom of Speech: The government exercises official and unofficial restrictions on the ability of individuals to criticize the government or to discuss matters of general public interest. The law restricts criticism of the president, and publicly insulting the president is a crime for which conviction is punishable by up to five years in prison. The law specifically prohibits publication of articles that incite religious conflict and ethnic discord or that advocate subverting or overthrowing the constitutional order.

On August 9 in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, local authorities arrested Uzbekistani journalist Bobomurod Abdullayev at the request of the Uzbekistan government. Abdullayev was charged under Articles 158 (Offense against the President) and 159 (Attempt to Overthrow the Constitutional Order) of Uzbekistan’s Criminal Code. The charges stemmed from authorities’ accusation Abdullayev was writing under the pen name “Qora Mergan,” (Black Sniper), an author that publishes allegations of corruption against Uzbekistan government officials, which Abdullayev denied. On August 22, Kyrgyz officials forcibly repatriated Abdullayev to Uzbekistan. He was released after signing a nondisclosure agreement, and after several weeks authorities dropped the charges.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media did not operate freely because the state exercises control over media coverage. All media entities, foreign and domestic, must register with authorities and provide the names of their founder, chief editor, and staff members. Print media must also provide hard copies of publications to the government. The law holds all foreign and domestic media organizations accountable for the accuracy of their reporting, prohibits foreign journalists from working in the country without official accreditation, and subjects foreign media outlets to domestic mass media laws. The government used accreditation rules to deny some foreign journalists and media outlets the opportunity to work in the country. For example, the government continued to deny Radio Free Europe/Radio Libertys accreditation request. Others, such as BBC, Voice of America, and Eurasianet, were accredited.

In January the government’s Public Fund for Support and Development of National Mass Media began operating. The main purpose of the Public Fund is to help media outlets develop and maintain equal rights in the media market and to promote the rights of journalists and bloggers.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, print newspapers and magazines could not be published for several months. In their place was increased reporting from popular online media outlets, such as Kun.uz and Daryo.uz, as well as through channels on the social messaging app Telegram.

On November 20, the Agency of Information and Mass Communications (AIMC) sent warning letters to leading news websites Kun.uz, Gazeta.uz, and Podrobno.uz, for questioning the legitimacy of official COVID-19 statistics reported by the Ministry of Health. The letter from AIMC noted: “the publication of information based on unverified data and the attitude expressed in this regard led to the formation of the wrong opinion among the public.” AIMC’s letter warned that “publication of such unverified information in the future may lead to serious legal consequences.” Subsequently, AIMC Director-General Asadjon Khodjayev accused several media outlets such as Kun.uz, Daryo.uz, and Gazeta.uz on November 26 of bias and again threatened “serious legal consequences.”

On December 29, President Mirziyoyev supported media freedom in his annual address to parliament, saying, “It should be especially noted that the mass media, along with objective coverage of the large-scale changes taking place in our country, draw the attention of government agencies and the public to the urgent problems on the ground and encourage leaders at all levels to solve these problems. Today they are increasingly becoming the ‘fourth power.’”

The law holds bloggers legally accountable for the accuracy of what they post and prohibits posts potentially perceived as defaming an individual’s “honor and dignity.”

The government prohibited the promotion of religious extremism, separatism, and fundamentalism as well as the instigation of ethnic and religious hatred.

Articles in state-controlled newspapers reflected the government’s viewpoint. The main government newspapers published selected international wire stories. The government prohibited legal entities with more than 30 percent foreign ownership from establishing media outlets. The government allowed publication of a few private newspapers with limited circulation containing advertising, horoscopes, and some substantive local news, including infrequent stories critical of the government’s socioeconomic policies. Some government-controlled print media outlets published articles that openly criticized local municipal administrations.

A few purportedly independent websites consistently reported the government’s viewpoint. The government-run Ozbekistan is a 24-hour news channel that broadcasts current affairs and news in Uzbek, Russian, and English.

Violence and Harassment: Police and security services subjected print and broadcast journalists to increased arrest, harassment, and intimidation.

Even before and during the COVID-19 pandemic, some journalists reported a “negative trend” in terms of media freedom, citing daily reports of harassment of journalists and bloggers. Some journalists said they believed the security services used the pandemic as a way to remind media that “they are still in charge,” despite the president’s public claims that journalists and bloggers are a vital part of the country’s reform process.

In April authorities detained Sharifa Madrahimova, a correspondent of Marifat newspaper, after she filmed a documentary video in local bazaars to report on price gouging on basic food items during the COVID-19 quarantine.

In May, following the collapse of a dam in Sardoba that displaced hundreds of villagers, two journalists at a popular sports channel were fired after publicly criticizing how a state-run news channel covered the story. Bobur Akmalov (editor) and Jamoliddin Babajanov (producer), at “Sport,” made their remarks during a radio program broadcast on May 18.

On July 26, the Prosecutor’s Office summoned the chief editors from three Karakalpakstan news websites after printing unconfirmed reports about the death of Karakalpakstan parliament’s chairman, Senator Musa Yerniyazov, who tested positive for COVID-19. In addition, the Ministry of Interior summoned a blogger in Karakalpakstan who posted the same story. The three online outlets, as well as the blogger, all later retracted their reports about the senator’s death. A Tashkent-based website also published the news, only to claim later that “this unconfirmed information was published as a result of hacking.” Bloggers and journalists in Karakalpakstan reported that the dissemination of information in the region in general was “severely restricted” and the local authorities were covering up the real number of COVID-19 cases and deaths.

On August 22, police arrested a popular vlogger who frequently called for changes in the local leadership in Fergana (where the governor is widely seen as corrupt). Authorities detained Dadakhon Haydarov, a 22-year-old from Sokh District of the Fergana Region and who had a large YouTube following, and detained him for 10 days. According to his father, officials took Haydarov from his parent’s home and transferred him by helicopter to Fergana City.

In May unknown assailants attacked the cameraman accompanying a journalist from the internet publication “Effect Uz” while investigating a story in the Fergana Region. The journalist told media that “unknown persons sprayed a gas canister into the (camera) operator’s eyes and broke the car windows. In addition, the attackers stole a video camera, which is the property of the publication.” The cameraman suffered injuries from the attack.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists and senior editorial staff in state media organizations reported that some officials’ responsibilities included censorship. In many cases the government placed individuals as editors in chief with the expressed intent that they serve as the main censor for a particular media outlet. Continuing the past trend of moderate criticism of the government, online publications such as Kommersant.uz and Nuz.uz published some critical stories on issues such as demolitions, ecological problems, electricity outages, currency, trade, and the black market. In addition, Adobiyat Gazetesi, a literary journal, published stories by authors who were still on a “black list” that limited their ability to publish elsewhere.

In 2019 the government unblocked the website of privately owned Kun.uz, which had been blocked in 2018. The outlet published articles critical of the government, including about regional and district officials’ involvement in illegal demolitions.

There was often little distinction between the editorial content of government and privately owned newspapers. Journalists engaged in limited investigative reporting. Widely read tabloids occasionally published articles that presented mild criticism of government policies or discussed problems that the government considered sensitive, such as trafficking in persons.

Libel/Slander Laws: The criminal and administrative codes impose significant fines for libel and defamation. The government used charges of libel, slander, and defamation to punish journalists, human rights activists, and others who criticized the president or the government. Some bloggers and activists nonetheless openly criticized the government on social media without legal reprisal.

Internet Freedom

The government generally allowed access to the internet, including news and social media sites. In the initial months of the COVID-19 pandemic, when citizens began to complain about the government’s response in online social forums, the government restricted access to social media, Facebook in particular, with frequent service interruptions. Users noted that while the government did not block the site, it became extremely difficult to load pages and view content. Users noted improvement of Facebook functionality only in August, once the nationwide quarantine was lifted. The media law defines websites as media outlets, requiring them to register with authorities and provide the names of their founder, chief editor, and staff members. The government blocked the website of Forum 18, a human rights news site.

Several active online forums allowed registered users to post comments and read discussions on a range of social problems. To become a registered user in these forums, individuals must provide personally identifiable information. It was not clear whether the government attempted to collect this information, although provisions of the law require internet cafe proprietors to log customers’ browser history.

In March the government amended the criminal code to include prohibitions against spreading “false” information regarding COVID-19. On March 31, Dr. Alimardon Sultonov, a trauma surgeon at Ellikkala Central State Hospital in Karakalpakstan Region, called the local medical emergency service to ask whether there were any coronavirus cases in Karakalpakstan. Five officials then came to the hospital to question Sultonov, known for publicly discussing freedom of religion and belief on his social media pages. The officials asked Sultonov if he had any religious texts on his person. He said he had Muslim texts on his computer, so officials confiscated it. Authorities opened a criminal case against him for allegedly spreading false information on lockdown measures under the new criminal code. On November 23, the court of the Ellikalansky District of Karakalpakstan sentenced him to 14 months’ of restrictions on his freedom of movement, including time served since March, for the “Illegal Manufacturing, Storage, Importation, or Distribution of Materials of Religious Content” as well as for “Distribution of Information about the Dissemination of Quarantine and Other Hazardous Infections.”

A decree requires all websites seeking the “.uz” domain to register with the government’s Agency for Press and Information. The decree generally affected only government-owned or government-controlled websites. Opposition websites and those operated by international NGOs or media outlets tended to have domain names registered outside the country.

The government implemented procedures for restricting access to websites that include “banned information.” Based on these regulations, a website or blog could be blocked for calling for the violent overthrow of the constitutional order and territorial integrity of the country; spreading ideas of war, violence, and terrorism, as well as religious extremism, separatism, and fundamentalism; disclosing information that is a state secret or protected by law; or disseminating information that could lead to national, ethnic, or religious enmity or involves pornography, or promoting narcotic usage. According to the Ministry of Justice, the government has the authority to block websites or blogs without a court order.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

The government continued to limit academic freedom and cultural events. Authorities occasionally required department-head approval for university lectures, and university professors generally practiced self-censorship.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government sometimes restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly. While the government restricted this right, it sometimes allowed individuals to exercise this freedom without reprisal.

On March 20, an Andijan regional court sentenced Muslim scholar and human rights activist Musajon Bobojonov to 15 days’ detention for conducting a nikah ritual (an unregistered religious marriage ceremony). Although performing nikah is not itself illegal, Bobojonov was sentenced under Article 201 of the administrative code, “violation of the procedure for organizing, holding meetings, rallies, street processions, or demonstrations.” After the intervention of Bobjonov’s lawyer, human rights activists, and local bloggers, the court reduced his sentence to five days.

Authorities have the right to suspend or prohibit rallies, meetings, and demonstrations. Although the law requires demonstrators to obtain permits, most demonstrators proceeded without filing permit applications. In some incidents, authorities subjected citizens to large fines, threats, arbitrary detention, or abuse for violating procedures for organizing meetings, rallies, and demonstrations or for facilitating unsanctioned events by providing space, other facilities, or materials. Organizers of “mass events” with the potential for more than 100 participants must sign agreements with the Ministry of Interior for the provision of security prior to advertising or holding such an event. Officials broadly applied this regulation, including to private corporate functions.

Freedom of Association

While the law provides for freedom of association, the government continued to restrict this right. Authorities sought to control NGO activity, internationally funded NGOs, and unregulated Islamic and minority religious groups. The operating environment for independent civil society, in particular human rights defenders, remained restrictive, although several activists reported improved cooperation with government officials. Several independent NGOs continued to face barriers to registering locally due to earlier court orders against them or other objections by officials.

The Ministry of Justice, which oversees the registration of NGOs, requires NGOs to obtain the ministry’s approval to hold large meetings with nonmembers, including foreigners; to seek the ministry’s clearance on any event where materials are to be distributed; and to notify the ministry in writing of the content and scope of the events in question.

The government has a legal framework for public oversight of the activities of government bodies and government officials. In accordance with the law, citizens, citizens’ self-government bodies, noncommercial organizations, and mass media have the right to exercise oversight regarding activities of government bodies and officials.

There are legal restrictions on the types of groups that may be formed. The law requires that organizations with an operating budget and funds register formally with the government. The law allows for a six-month grace period for new organizations to operate while awaiting registration from the Ministry of Justice, during which time the government officially classifies them as “initiative groups.” Several NGOs continued to function as initiative groups for periods longer than six months.

In 2018 the government issued a number of regulations that affected NGO activity. The Ministry of Justice no longer requires NGOs to obtain approval in order to conduct events, but they still need to notify the ministry of plans to conduct public programs. The minimum period for informing the ministry of planned activities is 10 days before the start of an event without the participation of foreign citizens, and 20 days before the start of event with the participation of foreign citizens. The ministry provides NGOs with written notice only in cases of refusal to conduct the event. The law also requires that NGOs file annual reports to the government. In 2018 the Ministry of Justice adopted the Regulation on Monitoring and Studying Activities of Nongovernmental, Noncommercial Organizations, which establishes a separate procedure on monitoring and studying NGOs’ activities.

The law grants the Ministry of Justice authority to inspect and audit NGOs.

Due to the burdensome challenges registering NGOs, many prominent and respected organizations have not received registration from the government. As a result, civil society remains stifled and the level of regulations prevents organizations from gaining a footprint in the country.

On January 18, shortly after Ezgulik assisted blogger and activist Nafosat Olloshkurova as she fled the country, authorities seized the registration certificate, charter, computers, and other documents of the Ezgulik branch office in the Jizzakh Region. According to Ezgulik, prosecutors stated they had a warrant to conduct the search but did not produce it when asked. The next day the prosecutor’s office filed a corruption case against the head of the branch office, Zifa Umrzakova. In June the Criminal Court of Jizzakh sentenced her to two years of “restricted movement.” The case was pending appeal, with a hearing scheduled for January 11, 2021.

The administrative liability code imposes large fines for violations of procedures governing NGO activity as well as for “involving others” in “illegal NGOs.” The law does not specify whether the term refers to NGOs suspended or closed by the government or merely NGOs not officially registered. The administrative code also imposes penalties against international NGOs for engaging in political activities, activities inconsistent with their charters, or activities the government did not approve in advance.

Registered NGOs are allowed to receive grants from domestic and foreign donors. Receiving organizations must notify the Ministry of Justice of their grants and present a plan of activities to the ministry that details how the NGO would allocate the funds. If the ministry approves, no other government approvals are required. The ministry requires yearly financial reports from NGOs.

Parliament’s Public Fund for the Support of Nongovernmental, Noncommercial Organizations, and Other Civil Society Institutions continued to conduct grant competitions to implement primarily socioeconomic projects. Some civil society organizations criticized the fund for primarily supporting government-organized NGOs. The law criminalizes membership in organizations the government broadly deemed “extremist.”

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

In-country Movement: Authorities required citizens throughout the country to have a domicile registration stamp (formerly known as propiska) in their internal passport before traveling domestically or leaving the country. The government at times delayed domestic and foreign travel and emigration during the visa application process. Previously, individuals needed permission from local authorities to move to Tashkent City or the Tashkent Region from other parts of the country.

On May 13, the president signed an amended law governing residence registration in Tashkent and specifically the list of categories of citizens “subject to permanent registration in the city of Tashkent and Tashkent Region.” The new law enables citizens to register at the addresses of their relatives “in a direct line” along first and second degrees of kinship, and canceled the requirement that a couple must live together for one year after marriage in order to retain their residence permit. A new stipulation was introduced that specialists (with some exceptions) who have been working continuously for five years or more in government bodies and organizations located in the city of Tashkent and Tashkent Region, together with their family members, also have the right to permanent registration. Effective September 1, residents from other regions visiting Tashkent or Tashkent Region may stay for up to 15 days without filing for temporary registration with the police, extended from 10 days.

The government requires hotels to register foreign visitors with the government on a daily basis. The government requires foreigners staying in private homes to register their location within three days of arrival. Authorities recently simplified these registration procedures, which allow foreigners to register through an online portal.

Foreign Travel: In 2019 the government officially abolished the Soviet-era exit visa, which citizens previously needed for most foreign travel. Citizens must obtain a separate passport issued by the Ministry of Internal Affairs for the purpose of foreign travel. This passport has a 10-year validity for adults and a five-year validity for minors, as opposed to a two-year exit visa validity for all ages with previously issued passports. The government generally granted passports to travel or emigrate outside the Commonwealth of Independent States.

Girls and women living in the capital are no longer required to be interviewed by the migration and citizenship departments to obtain permission to travel abroad. In addition, girls and women no longer need permission from their spouse or a warrant from an authorized person, certificates from the mahalla, or any tests in order to qualify for foreign travel.

f. Protection of Refugees

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

Refoulement: The government provided some protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened due to their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. According to a 2018 UNHCR publication, “Uzbekistan is the only country in Central Asia and the CIS that is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol. Furthermore, there is no national legislation to deal with asylum seekers and refugees. Rather, asylum seekers are dealt with according to migration legislation.” There were no known cases of refoulement during the year.

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

During the year, there were 14 individuals (10 cases) remaining under the UNHCR mandate. UNHCR–through its regional offices, as it does not have an office in-country–undertakes the following activities in coordination with the UN Development Program (UNDP) office in Tashkent, through its staff under UNDP contract, and under the overall supervision of the UN resident coordinator: issuing mandate refugee certificates to existing refugees, monitoring their rights situations and providing counseling and making interventions for them when necessary, and providing financial assistance to some of the refugees, based on their specific vulnerability. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, most refugees lost access to their livelihoods, and in May, UNHCR provided a one-time financial assistance to all refugees in the country.

In addition, UNHCR or UNDP staff provides counselling to asylum seekers when they arrive.

g. Stateless Persons

In the past some refugees from Tajikistan were officially stateless or faced the possibility of becoming officially stateless, as many carried only old Soviet passports rather than Tajikistan or Uzbekistan passports. Children born to two stateless parents could receive Uzbekistani citizenship only if both parents had a residence permit.

On March 13, the president signed a new law on citizenship. While the new law did not come fully into effect until September 13, the provision that confers citizenship to registered stateless persons who were granted permanent residence in the country before January 1, 1995, went into effect on April 1. According to the UNHCR representative for Central Asia, of the more than 97,000 stateless persons residing in the country, 49,228 individuals benefited from the new provision and would be recognized as citizens. In a statement on March 17, UNHCR welcomed the law and noted its role in providing recommendations to national authorities during its drafting. The UN Secretary-General’s Office issued a statement on March 19 congratulating the country on passing the new law, noting it was a significant contribution toward the United Nations’ global effort to end statelessness by 2024.

On December 29, in his end-of-the-year address to parliament, President Mirziyoyev announced plans to grant Uzbekistan citizenship to stateless persons resident in the country since 2005. Media reported this would give 20,000 more persons the opportunity to become citizens.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. The government did not conduct free and fair elections, restricted freedom of expression, and suppressed political opposition.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Former president Karimov died in September 2016, and a special presidential election took place in 2016. The interim president and prime minister, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, won the election with 88 percent of the vote. Four candidates, including Mirziyoyev, campaigned for president in the election. For the 2016 special presidential elections, the government for the first time invited OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) to conduct a full-scope observation mission with both short- and long-term observers. According to OSCE/ODIHR, the 2016 presidential election demonstrated that systemic shortcomings in the election system persisted and that the dominant position of state actors and limits on fundamental freedoms continued to undermine political pluralism. Voters lacked a genuine choice of political alternatives. Only registered political parties could nominate candidates. The government declined to register new political parties, preventing candidates not affiliated with an existing registered political party from running. The candidates did not participate in debates among themselves.

These conditions resulted in a campaign that lacked genuine competition. Due to a highly restrictive and controlled media environment, voters did not have access to alternate viewpoints beyond a state-defined narrative. The OSCE/ODIHR report noted significant irregularities on election day, including indications of ballot box stuffing and widespread proxy voting.

The most recent parliamentary elections took place in December 2019. According to the OSCE’s observer mission’s preliminary conclusions, the elections took place under improved legislation and with greater tolerance of independent voices but did not demonstrate genuine competition and full respect of election-day procedures.

The government updated the election code in 2019 and combined all election-related legislation into a single document to regulate pre-election work and administration of the elections, including to local councils. In addition to combining election-related laws, the law enacts a single electronic list of voters to facilitate the principle of “one voter-one vote.” It also lifted voting rights restrictions on inmates incarcerated for misdemeanors or less serious crimes.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The law allows independent political parties. The Ministry of Justice has broad powers to oversee parties and may withhold financial and legal support to those it judges to be opposed to government policy. There were five registered political parties. The government allowed the Ecological Party, which had previously been an environmental movement that was founded in 2008, to register as a new political party in 2019. The law makes it difficult for genuinely independent political parties to organize, nominate candidates, and campaign. The law allows the Ministry of Justice to suspend parties for as long as six months without a court order. The government also exercised control over established parties by controlling their financing and media exposure.

The law prohibits judges, public prosecutors, State Security Service officials, members of the armed forces, foreign citizens, and stateless persons from joining political parties. The law prohibits parties that are based on religion or ethnicity; oppose the sovereignty, integrity, or security of the country, or the constitutional rights and freedoms of its citizens; promote war or social, national, or religious hostility; or seek to overthrow the government. The law also prohibits the Islamist political organization Hizb ut-Tahrir, stating it promotes hatred and condones acts of terrorism.

The government banned or denied registration to several political parties following the 2005 violence in Andijon. Former party leaders remained in exile, and their parties struggled to remain relevant without a strong domestic base.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minority communities in the political process, and they did participate. The parliamentary elections in December 2019 doubled the number of seats held by women, from 24 to 48. Women made up 32 percent of members of parliament. National minorities have full political rights under the constitution, and political parties made campaign materials available in minority languages. Central Election Commission regulations ensure that persons with disabilities can independently participate in the election. In addition, the Central Elections Commission can print some ballots in braille.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides for criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.

On June 29, a presidential decree established the Anti-Corruption Agency, which is mandated to develop and implement national anticorruption policies. The Agency may also: request, receive and conduct research over budget expenditures, sale of state-owned assets, public procurement, implementation of investment projects and government programs; review letters from individuals and legal entities on corruption issues and take measures to restore their violated rights and protect their interests; conduct administrative investigations of corruption offenses; and, make binding orders on the suspension of performance or annulment of decisions of executive authorities, economic management bodies, and their officials if signs of corruption are detected in them. The agency is subordinated to the President and reports to the Legislative chamber of parliament.

Corruption: On June 24, authorities detained the head of the Main Department for Capital Construction in the Khokimiyat of Chilanzar (district of Tashkent) for allegedly taking a bribe of $50,000 (after allegedly asking for $1.4 million). The bribe was reportedly intended for assistance in registering an expensive land plot. Investigators opened a criminal case against the detainee under Article 210 (Bribery) of the criminal code.

On November 19, the government’s Anti-Corruption Agency reported the damage from corruption offenses of officials in 2020 surpassed 200 billion soum, ($20 million). According to the agency, law enforcement agencies opened 838 criminal cases of corruption, in which 647 officials were prosecuted in 454 cases. Most of the officials (40.3 percent) committed crimes under embezzlement charges. Of those prosecuted, four were officials at the state level, 15 at the regional level, and 626 at the city and district levels. Further, seven were deputy mayors, 57 were employees of the Ministry of Health, eight were from the Ministry of Employment and Labor Relations, 15 were from the Ministry of Higher and Secondary Special Education, 89 were from the Ministry of Public Education, 36 from the Ministry of Preschool Education, 13 from the Bureau of Compulsory Enforcement under the Prosecutor General’s Office, 59 from the Ministry of Internal Affairs, two from the National Guard, six from the State Tax Committee, and three from the Ministry of Defense. In addition, among those accused of corruption were 34 executives of banks and 184 executives of enterprises with state shares.

On December 1, the Anti-Corruption Agency reported that judges of the Tashkent city administrative court had embezzled eight billion soum ($766,000). According to the agency, “Several judges and their assistants conspired with the officers of the Tashkent city traffic police department. They made an estimated five thousand fake decisions without initiating administrative cases on traffic violations. They reviewed cases without the participation of the parties and deliberately destroyed some administrative cases resulting in damage to the state budget.” The agency reported that the General Prosecutor’s Office had opened a criminal case against judges and other employees of the Tashkent City Administrative Court.

On December 17, media reported that a study conducted by law enforcement officials revealed 1,525 cases of corruption regarding the supply of electricity, natural gas, and coal worth 59 billion soum ($5.6 million). The report also noted the Prosecutor’s Office and tax authorities identified 110 cases related to the purchase and sale of coal.

On February 5, in response to international pressure, officials released Aramais Avakian, who had been imprisoned since 2016 on charges of “plotting anticonstitutional activities” and participating in an extremist organization. Charges against Avakian, an ethnic Armenian Christian, stemmed from the failure by local authorities to attempt to take over his successful fish farm through coercion.

Financial Disclosure: Some government officials are required by law to disclose income from outside employment, but such disclosures were not publicly available. While many officials received income from outside employment, there were no reports of an official’s disclosure being questioned or sanctions being employed for not complying with the law.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

A number of domestic human rights groups operated in the country, although the government often hampered their ability to operate, investigate, and publish their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were somewhat cooperative and responsive to their views, but at times the government harassed and intimidated human rights and civil society activists. Governmental decrees and administrative orders on civil society sought to encourage its growth and offered procedural rules and some new limitations for the actions of Ministry of Justice inspectors (see section 2.b.).

Two domestic human rights NGOs, Ezgulik and the Independent Human Rights Organization of Uzbekistan, were registered with the government. Ezgulik representatives reported improved cooperation with government officials during the year. The government continued to deny the registration requests submitted by most other domestic groups.

Harassment of activists took place. On September 4, three strangers who introduced themselves as journalists allegedly visited local human rights activist Haitboy Khaydarov at his home in Khorezm to speak to him about human rights issues. When the three men began taking photographs of him and demanding information about journalist Bobomurod Abdullayev (extradited to the country in August), Khaydarov became concerned and asked to see their documentation as journalists. The men then threatened him, telling him it would be better to “talk” about where and when he had worked with Abdullayev and suggested they could “take him” away.

International NGOs, including those that focus on human rights, continued to face obstacles in legally registering. The government did not allow unregistered international organizations to open or use local bank accounts, limited the periods of validity for international NGO workers’ visas for them to legally live and work in the country, and did not create a path to overcome previous Supreme Court rulings banning certain organizations from the country, thereby allowing them to register again.

Human rights activists and political opposition figures generally assumed that security agencies covertly monitored their telephone calls and activities. Government officials spoke informally with domestic human rights defenders, some of whom were able to resolve cases of human rights abuses through direct engagement with authorities if they did not publicize these cases.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The goals of the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office included promoting observance and public awareness of fundamental human rights, assisting in shaping legislation to bring it into accordance with international human rights norms, and resolving cases of alleged abuse. The Ombudsman’s Office is tasked with mediation of disputes among citizens who contact it and makes recommendations to modify or uphold decisions of government agencies, but its recommendations are not binding. The Ombudsman’s Office is permitted to make unannounced inspections of prisons and had a separate division to investigate government abuse of businesses.

The National Human Rights Center is a government agency responsible for educating the public and officials on the principles of human rights and democracy and for ensuring that the government complies with its international obligations to provide human rights information.

In its 2019 annual report, the Geneva-based UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances noted it still had seven outstanding cases from previous years. In its September 2019 report, the working group reiterated its request to visit the country. The request was first issued in 2011, with the most recent formal reminder was sent in January 2019.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: In 2019 President Mirziyoyev signed a domestic violence law that provides a legal definition of sexual, physical, economic, and psychological violence against women as well as defines the rights of victims of harassment and violence. It also set up an interagency framework of responsibilities, including governmental entities such as the Cabinet of Ministries, Ministries of Internal Affairs and Employment and Labor Relations, local government bodies, the mahalla committee network, and NGOs working in the area of protecting women from domestic violence. Nonetheless, the criminal and administrative codes did not yet include adequate provisions regarding punishment. Protection orders can be issued, but activists said they were of little use to the victim. One activist stated, “When issuing protection orders, ‘preventive talks’ are held and the victim is reconciled with the offender. It turns out that the protection orders help criminals to avoid the liability they should incur in the event of domestic violence.”

On May 31 in Fergana, a 22-year-old man severely beat and hospitalized a 17-year-old girl named Evelina after she ignored his advances. The story was highlighted in social media when the victim published her story on Facebook. The day after Evelina went public, the Investigative Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs publicly commented that it had just opened a criminal case to investigate the allegations, even though the assault had taken place two weeks earlier. Two days after the ministry’s comments, Evelina reported that she had signed a “peace agreement” with the assailant, which activists believed she was forced to do.

Cultural norms discouraged women and their families from speaking openly regarding rape. On March 27, journalist and founder of an independent project seeking to combat domestic violence in the country nemolchi.uz (Do Not Be Silent) Irina Matvienko received a notification from the Agency of Information and Mass Communications (AIMC) stating that “the content of her website does not meet the national mentality of Uzbekistan and can negatively affect the spiritual and educational mindset of the nation, especially young people.” The AIMC informed Matvienko that as the project’s administrator, she had violated a number of laws, such as the Law on State Youth Policy, the Law on the Protection of Children from the Information Harmful to their Health, and the Law on the Spread of Information. The AIMC specifically highlighted an anonymously published story about domestic violence that mentions rape. The case received attention from journalists and human rights groups. The AIMC then revoked the violation notification on April 14 following the intervention of the Public Fund for Support and Development of National Mass Media, an organization founded by the eldest daughter of President Mirziyoyev.

There were government-run and some NGO-run shelters for victims of domestic abuse and telephone hotlines for victims seeking assistance. Victims of domestic violence may be sheltered in Centers for Rehabilitation and Adaptation. According to the Ministry of Mahalla and Family Affairs, the hotline received 50 to 60 calls per day on average. Women in the shelters were provided with food, medicines, and hygiene products at the expense of the ministry as well as at the expense of the Public Fund under parliament.

In April the Commission on Gender Equality of Uzbekistan, together with the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Center for Support of Civil Initiatives, launched a telephone hotline service during the COVID-19 quarantine period. The aim of the hotline is to protect women’s rights and prevent harassment and violence against them.

In May the government launched a “No to Violence” Telegram channel, reaching 4,000 subscribers. The Ministry of Internal Affairs announced that between May 11 and May 18, there was an increase of new cases, received calls, and protection orders issued.

The COVID-19 lockdown increased the number of complaints of domestic violence. According to Jizzakh-based NGO Center of Rehabilitation and Adaptation of the Victims of Domestic Violence, from January to November it received three times more complaints than in 2019, which it attributed to the lockdown.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Polygamy is unofficially practiced in some parts of the country. The law punishes conviction of polygamy with up to three years of imprisonment and fines but does not penalize the women in such cases. The law does not confer the same rights, including property, inheritance, or child custody rights, to women in unregistered polygamous marriages as it does to those in registered marriages, making women in unregistered polygamous marriages particularly vulnerable to abuse and deprivation of rights when the spouse dies or ends the relationship.

Sexual Harassment: The law does not explicitly prohibit sexual harassment, but it is illegal for a male supervisor to coerce a woman who has a business or financial dependency into a sexual relationship. Social norms, lack of reporting, and lack of legal recourse made it difficult to assess the scope of the problem. Government efforts to enforce the law and prevent sexual harassment were unknown.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals generally have the right 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 means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. Unlike in years past, there were no reports that government doctors pressured women to accept birth control or employ medical measures, such as sterilization, to end the possibility of pregnancy.

The law regulates reproductive health procedures permitting voluntary and informed consent for sterilization of an adult. Citizens had access to voluntary family planning, including the ability to choose methods of contraception. Women have the legal right to receive medical assistance for individual selection of contraceptive methods, based on their medical condition, age, and individual characteristics.

In February the Ministry of Health approved procedures for in-vitro fertilization.

Contraception was generally available to men and women. In most districts, maternity clinics were available and staffed by fully trained doctors who provided a wide range of prenatal and postpartum care. Activists working on women’s issues reported that in most cases births were attended by skilled medical personnel.

The government provided medical attention to women who reported sexual violence, although activists reported the topic remained taboo and there were no official statistics on the number of cases.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: In 2019 the president signed a law on gender equality, a first for the country. The law provides for equal opportunities in the area of health care, education, science, culture, labor, and social protection.

In 2019 the government lifted the ban on female workers in heavy industries and professions, such as mining, oil and gas enterprises, and construction, as part of a presidential decree on strengthening the guarantees of women’s labor rights. The government provided little data that could be used to determine whether women experienced discrimination in access to employment or were paid less for similar work.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth within the country’s territory or from one’s parents. The government generally registered all births immediately.

Medical Care: While the government provided equal subsidized health care for boys and girls, those without an officially registered address, such as street children and children of migrant workers, did not have regular access to government health facilities.

Child Abuse: Legal protections against child abuse exist. Society generally considered child abuse to be an internal family matter. Little official information was available on the subject, including on the government’s efforts to combat it.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: In 2019 the government raised the minimum legal age for marriage of women from 17 to 18, making the age of marriage equal for both sexes. District authorities may lower the age by one year in exceptional cases. In some rural areas, girls 15 years of age or younger married men in religious ceremonies not officially recognized by the state.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law seeks to protect children from “all forms of exploitation.” Conviction of involving a child in prostitution is punishable by a monetary fine and imprisonment for up to five years.

The minimum age for consensual sex is 16. The punishment for conviction for statutory rape is 15 to 20 years’ imprisonment. Conviction for the production, exhibition, and distribution of child pornography is punishable by a fine or by imprisonment for three to five years.

Institutionalized Children: According to UNICEF, more than 20,000 children with disabilities resided in institutions. Children placed in residential care for educational purposes were overrepresented in these institutions. The most recent reports from the State Statistics Agency, published in 2017, indicated that 84 percent of all children placed in residential care were children with disabilities, with children between the ages of seven and 17 representing the largest group.

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.

Anti-Semitism

There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts or patterns of discrimination against Jews. There were eight registered Jewish congregations. Observers estimated the Jewish population at fewer than 10,000, concentrated mostly in Tashkent, Samarkand, the Fergana Valley, and Bukhara. Their numbers continued to decline due to emigration, largely for economic reasons.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities, but societal discrimination based on disability occurred.

The law allows for fines if buildings, including private shops and restaurants, are not accessible, although no information was available concerning the imposition of fines. Disability activists reported accessibility remained inadequate, noting, for example, that many of the high schools constructed in recent years had exterior ramps but no interior modifications to facilitate access by wheelchair users.

On October 16, President Mirziyoyev signed a new law on the rights of persons with disabilities. The law is based on international standards and the requirements of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Among other provisions, it introduced the term “person with disability” instead of “disabled” and “invalid.” It provides improved benefits for persons with disabilities, including a reduction in the time frame for consideration of a disability application from three months to 10 days.

The Ministry of Health controlled access to health care for persons with disabilities, and the Ministry of Employment and Labor Relations facilitated employment of persons with disabilities. No information was available regarding patterns of abuse in educational and mental health facilities.

The law obliges public institutions and private enterprises, where at least 20 individuals are employed, to reserve at least 3 percent of jobs for persons with disabilities. Activists reported this law was rarely implemented or enforced. Activists noted the amounts of disability benefits and pensions were inadequate to the needs of socially vulnerable families due to the lack of an officially established minimum subsistence level.

The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the environment for persons with disabilities, as the cessation of public and private transport during the initial lockdown created food security issues for children and adults with disabilities. Persons with disabilities therefore relied on episodic food assistance provided by mahalla committees.

Disability rights activists reported that discrimination occurred and estimated that approximately 8,500 adults with disabilities (of more than 631,000 between the ages of 16 and 60) were employed and approximately 75 percent lived below the poverty line. The city of Tashkent set aside 2,500 housing units for persons with disabilities. The government mandates that social infrastructure sites, urban and residential areas, airports, railway stations, and other facilities must provide for access to persons with disabilities, although there were no specific government programs implemented and activists reported particular difficulties with access.

Students who were blind or with vision disabilities sometimes studied dated braille books published during Soviet times, but there were some computers adapted for persons with vision disabilities, and some newer braille books were donated to schools. The number of persons with disabilities significantly increased in institutions of higher learning as the result of a government quota system. In 2017 only 50 persons with disabilities were accepted to higher education. In 2019 the number was 1,659, which increased to 2,200 by the end of the year.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

The law does not require Uzbek language ability to obtain citizenship, but language often was a sensitive issue. Uzbek is the state language, and the constitution requires that the president speak it. The law also provides that Russian is “the language of interethnic communication.”

Officials reportedly reserved senior positions in the government bureaucracy and business for ethnic Uzbeks, although there were numerous exceptions.

Complaints of societal violence or discrimination against members of ethnic minority groups were rare.

Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

Article 120 of the criminal code criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual conduct between men, which is punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment if convicted of this crime. The law does not criminalize consensual same-sex sexual conduct between women.

Society generally considered same-sex sexual conduct as a taboo subject. There were no known lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) organizations. Deeply negative social attitudes related to sexual orientation and gender identity limited the freedom of expression of the LGBTI community and led to discrimination. The law does not prohibit discrimination against LGBTI persons in housing, employment, nationality laws, and access to government services, such as health care.

Following the country’s Universal Periodic Review in 2018, the government rejected recommendations related to decriminalization of LGBTI status and called LGBTI issues “irrelevant to Uzbek society.”

LGBTI activists report continued harassment from police, which are rumored to use LGBTI persons to entrap others in blackmail schemes. On November 24, media reported that authorities arrested an assistant to the Supreme Court Chair on charges of homosexual relations. According to reports, the assistant had been in a long-term relationship with a partner who extorted $17,000 from him to keep the relationship secret. When the assistant refused to keep paying, the partner leaked videos he had filmed of the two having sex. One media outlet wrote that this was not the first case of homosexual relationships in the public sphere, asserting there were officials who were not openly gay in almost all ministries, including the security services.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The law protects those infected with HIV from discrimination and provides for free health care. As of 2019 UNAIDS estimated 50,000 individuals were living with HIV, including up to 6,000 children younger than age 14. Coverage of HIV-infected adults with antiretroviral therapy was 58 percent, while coverage of children was 91 percent. Persons known to be HIV-positive reported social isolation and discrimination by public agency workers, health personnel, law enforcement officers, landlords, and employers after their HIV status became known. The military summarily expelled recruits in the armed services found to be HIV-positive. Some LGBTI community activists reported that hospital wards reviewed the personal history of HIV-infected patients and categorized them as drug addicts, homosexuals, or engaged in prostitution. Hospital officials reportedly sometimes marked HIV-infected patients’ files as “homosexual” and referred them to police for investigation, because consensual same-sex sexual conduct between men is a criminal act.

On November 1, the director of the Republican AIDS Center reported there were 78 HIV diagnostic laboratories in the country, including 15 laboratory facilities at AIDS centers and 63 interdistrict laboratories. The state allocated more than eight billion soum ($766,000) annually to provide the laboratories with test systems and reagents.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law allows workers to form and join independent unions and bargain collectively. The government effectively enforced applicable laws. Despite their legal status, no independent labor unions operated in the country. The law neither provides for nor prohibits the right to strike, but it prohibits antiunion discrimination. The law on trade unions states that workers may not be fired due to trade union membership, but it does not clearly state whether workers fired for union activity must be reinstated. Volunteers in public works and workers employed by individuals without documented contracts do not have strong legal protections of their rights.

There was no public information available regarding government enforcement of applicable laws, since there were no known cases of attempts to form independent unions. The law provides penalties for violating freedom of association laws. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination. The government amended the law on “professional unions, rights, and guarantees of their activities.” Despite legal protections for profession unions, workers had not successfully formed or joined independent unions. Workers continued to worry that attempts to create independent alternative unions would be repressed. Unions remained centralized, controlled by, and dependent on the government.

The state-run Federation of Trade Unions of Uzbekistan included in its ranks more than 35,000 primary organizations and 14 regional trade unions, according to official reports. Regional and industrial trade unions remained state managed.

Government-organized unions did not undertake independent bargaining on behalf of their members. Government ministries, including the Ministry of Agriculture, in consultation with the Federation of Trade Unions, continued to set wages for government employees and production quotas in certain sectors. The government moved toward letting the market determine prices in a larger number of sectors than in previous years. In the emerging private sector, management established wages or negotiated them individually with persons who contracted for employment. Labor arbitration was underdeveloped.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, except as legal punishment for such offenses as robbery, fraud, or tax evasion or as specified by law. Certain sections of the criminal code allow for compulsory labor as a punishment for offenses including defamation and incitement of national, racial, ethnic, or religious enmity. The government effectively enforced the law, but penalties were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

Inspectors from the Ministry of Employment and Labor Relations (Ministry of Labor) have authority to enforce laws on forced labor. The lead for issues related to forced labor or trafficking in persons is the special rapporteur of the National Commission on trafficking in persons and forced labor. The International Labor Organization (ILO) increased the scope of its third-party monitoring on child and forced labor in the cotton harvest during the year.

Government-compelled forced labor of adults remained in other sectors as well. Despite a 2018 government prohibition, reports continued of local officials forcing teachers, students (including children), private businesses employees, and others to work in construction and other forms of noncotton agriculture and to clean parks, streets, and buildings. Officials occasionally compelled labor by labeling these tasks as hashar, voluntary work for the community’s benefit.

The government increased its efforts to combat all forms of forced labor. During the year the government informed the public of the prohibition against forced labor, including in the annual cotton harvest. Additionally, the government abolished state production quotas for the annual cotton harvest. Harvesters typically came from vulnerable groups such as impoverished families, unemployed persons, and single mothers.

The elimination of cotton production quotas was long called for by international organizations focused on the country’s forced labor issue. As a result, local officials are no longer held responsible for mobilizing sufficient labor to meet established production targets in the harvest, which in previous years had been a key driver of forced labor. The government continued to take steps towards privatizing the cotton sector by expanding so-called cotton “clusters.” Cotton clusters are private, vertically integrated enterprises (from farm to finished product) that receive land concessions from the government to either farm cotton directly or contract with cotton farmers in a given district.

The ILO found no evidence of “systemic or systematic” forced labor in the annual cotton harvest, while estimating 102,000 disparate cases of involuntary labor, a significant reduction from previous years.

Responsibility for overseeing government efforts to end forced labor and trafficking in persons resides with the National Commission on Trafficking in Persons and Forced Labor. The commission is divided into subcommittees for trafficking in persons, chaired by the minister of the interior, and for forced labor, chaired by the minister of employment and labor relations. Both act as deputy chairs to the commission itself. Tanzila Narbaeva, who also served as chair of the Senate, continued to fulfill the role of special rapporteur for the commission. The government-empowered special rapporteur reports directly to the president. Regional-level bodies report to the commission on implementation of laws and regulations related to forced labor and trafficking in persons.

On December 4, the National Commission on Trafficking in Persons and Forced Labor reported that 170 government officials were fined 654 million soum ($63,000) for violations of labor law, including five district governors (hokims), who were reprimanded for allowing forced labor to take place during the cotton harvest; the hokims were threatened with dismissal and could be subject to criminal prosecution for any repeat offenses. Of the 170 government officials, 42 officials–including business leaders, hokims, and their deputies–were prosecuted under Article 51 of the administrative code of responsibility (compulsion to labor.) The State Labor Inspectorate also identified 61 cases of failure to honor the labor contracts of more than 540 citizens, 34 cases of poor working conditions, and 17 cases of late payment of wages. Since the beginning of the cotton harvest season, the Ministry of Employment and Labor Relations received 790 complaints of forced labor. Civil society activists submitted 26 complaints, including six identifying forced labor that resulted in fines imposed on officials.

The government maintained formal prohibitions on the use of forced labor in all economic sectors and worked to enforce these provisions. Administrative penalties against the use of forced labor include a fine for first offense. Secondary offenses are criminalized.

The government allowed the ILO access in real time to its feedback mechanism for reporting labor violations to see how it responded to complaints. The government additionally made efforts to meet with international organizations, NGOs, civil society organizations, and local activists to discuss the issue of forced labor publicly and to receive feedback, including suggestions and criticism to enable it to improve its approach to forced labor in the cotton harvest. The government acknowledged its problem with forced labor and sought assistance to eliminate it.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. The law sets the minimum working age at 16 and provides that work must not interfere with the studies of those younger than 18. The law does not allow children younger than 15 to work, but this provision was not always observed. Children age 15, with permission from their parents, may work a maximum of 24 hours per week when school is not in session and 12 hours per week when school is in session. Children ages 16 through 18 may work 36 hours per week while school is out of session and 18 hours per week while school is in session. Decrees stipulate a list of hazardous activities forbidden for children younger than 18 and prohibit employers from using children to work under specified hazardous conditions, including underground, underwater, at dangerous heights, and in the manual harvesting of cotton, including cotton harvesting with dangerous equipment.

Children were employed in small-scale family agriculture; in family businesses, such as bakeries and convenience stores; and in the provision of some kinds of services.

Inspectors from the Ministry of Employment and Labor Relations have authority to enforce laws on child labor, and they effectively enforced the law. Penalties were not commensurate with those for analogous crimes, such as kidnapping. Reports indicated that child labor was not widespread, although cotton harvest monitors identified isolated instances of child labor violations in the production and harvest of cotton as well as commercial sexual exploitation.

There was no evidence of any government-compelled child labor. The government prohibition against the use of students in the cotton harvest remains in force.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings  and the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Laws and regulations prohibit discrimination with respect to employment and occupation based on race, gender, religion, and language. The labor code states that differences in the treatment of individuals deserving of the state’s protection or requiring special accommodation, including women, children, and persons with disabilities, are not to be considered discriminatory. The law prohibits women from working in 355 professions in 98 different industries, because of possible adverse effect to women’s health. The law does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, age, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, or social origin. HIV-positive individuals are legally prohibited from being employed in certain occupations, including those in the medical field that require direct contact with patients or with blood or blood products as well as in cosmetology or haircutting. There was insufficient publicly available data to determine government enforcement of these laws and regulations and no data on instances of government actions to deal with cases of illegal discrimination. Penalties were commensurate to laws related to civil rights, such as election interference.

The labor code prohibits refusing employment based on an applicant’s criminal record or the criminal record of a close relative.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law provides for a national minimum wage. In January, President Mirziyoyev publicly acknowledged that between 12 and 15 percent of the population (between four and five million persons) lived at or below the poverty level. The law establishes a standard workweek of 40 hours and requires a 24-hour rest period. The law provides for paid annual holidays. The law provides overtime compensation as specified in employment contracts or as agreed with an employee’s trade union. Such compensation may be provided in the form of additional pay or leave. The law states that overtime compensation should not be less than 200 percent of the employee’s average monthly salary rate. Additional leave time should not be less than the length of actual overtime work. An employee may not work more than 120 hours of overtime per year, but this limitation was not generally observed, particularly in the public sector. The law prohibits compulsory overtime. The government effectively enforced these laws in the formal economy. Penalties for violations of wage and overtime laws were not commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud. No data was available on enforcement of these laws in the informal economy. In an open letter to the authorities   posted on Telegram in July, medical workers said that compensation promised by President Mirziyoyev had not been delivered and that salaries were often delayed. The letter also said that testing for COVID-19 among medical workers was uneven, raising the risk that they could spread the virus.

The Ministry of Employment and Labor Relations establishes and enforces occupational health and safety standards in consultation with unions. According to the law, health and safety standards should be applied in all sectors. The government effectively enforced these laws in the formal economy. No data was available on enforcement of these laws in the informal economy. Penalties for violations of occupational health and safety laws were not commensurate with those for crimes, such as negligence.

Employers are responsible for ensuring compliance with standards, rules, and regulations on labor protection as well as obligations under collective agreements.

On October 20, thousands of workers rioted at an industrial facility under construction. The riots started after the employer, Enter Engineering Pte. Ltd., failed to provide employees with food that evening, which added to the workers’ frustration over unpaid salaries. The law provides that workers may legally remove themselves from hazardous work if an employer fails to provide adequate safety measures for the job, and the employer must pay the employee during the time of the work stoppage or provide severance pay if the employee chooses to terminate employment. Workers generally did not exercise this right because it was not effectively supported and employees feared retribution by employers. The law requires employers to protect against civil liability for damage caused to the life or health of an employee in connection with a work injury, occupational disease, or other injury to health caused by the employee’s performance on the job. In addition, a company’s employees have the right to demand, and the administration is obliged to provide them with, information on the state of working conditions and safety at work, available personal protection means, benefits, and compensations.

The number of labor inspectors increased throughout the year, and there was a rise in the number of public complaints received as well as penalties issued.

The Ministry of Employment and Labor Relations maintains protocols requiring investigation into labor complaints within five business days. The ministry or a local governor’s office could initiate a selective inspection of a business, and special inspections were conducted in response to accidents or complaints. Inspectors do have the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions. Reports suggested that enforcement was uneven because of the difficulty and size of the informal economy, where employment was usually undocumented. Despite an increase in the number of labor inspectors, the Ministry of Employment and Labor Relations lacked adequate staff to enforce compliance and prevent many violations in the informal sector.

The government continued with the extension of the ILO’s Decent Work Country Program. The most common labor violations were working without contracts, receiving lower than publicly announced payments, delayed payments, and substandard sanitary or hygienic working conditions.

Many employees had official part-time or low-income jobs and many continued to work informally. The government worked to shift more of the economy from informal to the formal economy and to provide labor and social protections to those working informally.

The most common violations committed by private sector employers were violations of wage, overtime, and occupational health and safety standards. Although regulations provide standards for workplace safety, workers reportedly worked without necessary protective clothing and equipment at some hazardous job sites. More specific information was not available on sectors in which occupational safety violations were common, as well as on specific groups of workers who worked in dangerous conditions or without needed safety equipment. In July media reported doctors, nurses, and workers at quarantine centers were being forced to sign waiver letters promising not to make claims against the government if they contracted COVID-19. In March the country joined the Commonwealth of Independent States’ Interstate Council for Industrial Safety to improve its industry safety standards. The government did not provide statistics on industrial accidents.

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