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China (includes Tibet, Hong Kong, and Macau)

Executive Summary

READ A SECTION: CHINA (BELOW) | TIBET | HONG KONG MACAU


The People’s Republic of China (PRC) is an authoritarian state in which the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is the paramount authority. CCP members hold almost all top government and security apparatus positions. Ultimate authority rests with the CCP Central Committee’s 25-member Political Bureau (Politburo) and its seven-member Standing Committee. Xi Jinping continued to hold the three most powerful positions as CCP general secretary, state president, and chairman of the Central Military Commission.

Civilian authorities maintained control of the military and internal security forces.

Repression and coercion of organizations and individuals involved in civil and political rights advocacy as well as in public interest and ethnic minority issues remained severe. As in previous years, citizens did not have the right to choose their government and elections were restricted to the lowest local levels of governance. Authorities prevented independent candidates from running in those elections, such as delegates to local people’s congresses. Citizens had limited forms of redress against official abuse. Other serious human rights abuses included arbitrary or unlawful deprivation of life, executions without due process, illegal detentions at unofficial holding facilities known as “black jails,” torture and coerced confessions of prisoners, and detention and harassment of journalists, lawyers, writers, bloggers, dissidents, petitioners, and others whose actions the authorities deemed unacceptable. There was also a lack of due process in judicial proceedings, political control of courts and judges, closed trials, the use of administrative detention, failure to protect refugees and asylum seekers, extrajudicial disappearances of citizens, restrictions on nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), discrimination against women, minorities, and persons with disabilities. The government imposed a coercive birth-limitation policy that, despite lifting one-child-per-family restrictions, denied women the right to decide the number of their children and in some cases resulted in forced abortions (sometimes at advanced stages of pregnancy). Severe labor restrictions continued, and trafficking in persons was a problem.

Although most of the more than 300 lawyers and human rights activists detained in 2015 were released, 16 remained in pretrial detention without access to attorneys or family members at year’s end. Four others were sentenced to jail terms ranging from three years to seven and one-half years in trials that foreign governments and international human rights organizations said lacked basic due process. Wang Yu, one of the most prominent lawyers detained during the crackdown, was released after her televised confession, which circumstances suggest was likely coerced. Many others remained under various restrictions, including continuous residential surveillance at undisclosed locations. Public security officials continued to harass, intimidate, and take punitive measures against the family members of rights defenders and lawyers in retaliation for their work.

A new Law on the Management of Foreign NGO Activities inside Mainland China placed foreign NGOs under the supervision of the Ministry of Public Security, a move that indicated foreign NGOs were considered a “national security” threat. Although the law was not scheduled to go into effect until January 1, 2017, many foreign NGOs and their domestic partners began to curtail operations before the year’s end, citing concerns over the law’s vaguely worded provisions. As a result, an already limited space for civil society was further constrained. Individuals and groups regarded as politically sensitive by authorities faced tight restrictions on their freedom to assemble, practice religion, and travel both within China and overseas. Authorities used extralegal measures, such as enforced disappearances and strict house arrest, to prevent public expression of critical opinions. Authorities continued to censor and tightly control public discourse on the internet, and in print and other media. There was at least one widely reported extraterritorial disappearance that occurred during the year.

Official repression of the freedoms of speech, religion, movement, association, and assembly of Tibetans in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and other Tibetan areas and of Uighurs in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR) continued and were more severe than in other areas of the country. In the XUAR officials sometimes subjected individuals engaged in peaceful expression of political and religious views to arbitrary arrest, harassment, and expedited judicial procedures without due process in the name of combatting terrorism.

Authorities prosecuted a number of abuses of power through the court system, particularly with regard to corruption, but in most cases the CCP first investigated and punished officials using opaque internal party disciplinary procedures. The CCP continued to dominate the judiciary and controlled the appointment of all judges and in certain cases directly dictated the court’s ruling. Authorities targeted citizens who promoted independent efforts to combat abuses of power.

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

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

Security forces reportedly committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. In many instances, few or no details were available.

In May environmentalist Lei Yang died under mysterious circumstances while in custody in Beijing following a brief altercation with public security officials. Authorities initially claimed 29-year-old Lei had suffered a heart attack, although an autopsy determined the cause of death was suffocation. Lei’s body also showed bruising on his arms and head. A subsequent investigation found that public security officials had blocked the inquiry into the cause of Lei’s death. In June, two public security officers were arrested on suspicion of “dereliction of duty.” Subsequent reporting on the case was censored. In late December officials announced that five law enforcement officers would not stand trial for Lei’s death.

In December, 58-year-old democracy activist Peng Ming died under suspicious circumstances in prison. His family was unable to view the body, and authorities denied his adult children permission to enter the country to collect his ashes.

In June, Tibetan Buddhist nun Yeshi Lhakdron of Kardze prefecture in the Tibetan area of Kham, now administered under Sichuan Province, died in custody due to torture, according to the Tibetan Center for Human Rights. Also in June a 40-year-old man from Kardze who was detained on suspicion of possessing a gun died in custody, reportedly due to severe torture (see the Tibet Annex for further information).

Authorities did not account for the circumstances surrounding the 2015 death of Zhang Liumao, who died suddenly in custody in Guangzhou after being detained and charged with “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” His family’s lawyer found his corpse was bruised with apparent signs of torture. He had not yet been tried at the time of his death. During the year Zhang’s sister, Zhang Wuzhou, made multiple attempts to file lawsuits against the government over the mishandling of her brother’s forensic report. Public security imposed a foreign travel ban on her and detained her outside a Guangzhou courthouse in April. The court eventually accepted the lawsuit.

A number of violent incidents in the XUAR resulted in multiple deaths. For example, media reported that at least five persons, including two public security officers, died in May as a result of violent unrest sparked when an officer allegedly shot and killed a Uighur prisoner in a juvenile detention center in Urumqi. Official accounts of these events generally blamed “terrorists” or “separatists” and portrayed incidents involving violence as terrorist attacks on community members and security personnel. The government’s control of information coming out of the XUAR, together with its increasingly tight security posture there, made it difficult to verify reports (see also the Tibet annex for incidents of abuse).

Although legal reforms in recent years decreased the use of the death penalty and improved the review process, authorities executed some defendants in criminal proceedings following convictions that lacked due process and adequate channels for appeal.

b. Disappearance

There were multiple reports of individuals detained by authorities and held at undisclosed locations.

As of the end of the year, 16 individuals detained as a result of the July 2015 “709” roundup of more than 300 human rights lawyers and legal associates remained in pretrial detention at undisclosed locations without access to attorneys or to their family members. The crackdown primarily targeted those individuals who worked as defense lawyers on prominent human rights and public interest cases, including the 2008 melamine scandal, the Beijing “feminist five” detentions, the Xu Chunhe case, and cases involving the sexual abuse of young girls. The clients of those targeted included jailed Uighur economist Ilham Tohti, members of unregistered churches, and Falun Gong practitioners. The names of those who were still detained at the end of the year are Li Heping, Xie Yanyi, Wang Quanzhang, Liu Sixin, Xie Yang, Li Chunfu, Wu Gan, Lin Bin, Yin Xu’an, Wang Fang, Zhang Wanhe, Liu Xing, Li Yanjun, Yao Jianqing, Tang Zhishun, and Xing Qianxian.

Jiang Tianyong, a lawyer who advocated on behalf of the family members of the “709” detainees, disappeared on November 21 in Henan Province. He subsequently was placed under “residential surveillance at an undisclosed location” on suspicion of “inciting subversion of state power.”

While several “709” detainees still awaited trial, some lawyers were convicted in trials lacking due process (see section 1.e.), and others were released on bail from formal custody after detentions that lasted, in many cases, more than a year. For example, in August attorney Wang Yu was released from detention after the government released a video that many observers called a forced confession. In the video Wang said she would no longer allow herself to be “used by foreign forces.” Wang’s attorney learned about her release when he saw the televised statement. Wang’s husband, law associate Bao Longjun, was released as well in August. The couple was reportedly reunited with their son, Bao Zhuoxuan, who had tried to flee the country via Burma in 2015, where he was intercepted by government agents and returned to China. The couple’s lawyer and other friends and associates were unable to contact them since their release from formal detention, and reports indicated that they remained under some form of residential surveillance and detention.

In March lawyer Zhang Kai was released from detention after seven months. Zhang was known for his work defending Wenzhou Christian churches that faced demolition or forced cross removals. He had been detained in 2015 on the eve of a planned meeting with a prominent foreign diplomat. Zhang’s release also followed a statement in which he “confessed “ on state-run television to his alleged crimes and urged other citizens “not to collude with foreigners.” In August, Zhang took to social media to recant his earlier confession, which he said was made under conditions of duress. Authorities responded by surrounding his family home and threatening to rearrest him. Zhang remained under house arrest and was not able to resume his legal duties.

A number of extraterritorial disappearances occurred during the year. Former Southern Metropolis Daily journalist Li Xin, who fled to India in 2015 after allegedly leaking documents detailing the Communist Party’s propaganda policies, went missing on a train in Thailand in January and later reappeared in China in custody of security officials. He told his wife by telephone that he had returned voluntarily, but Thai immigration officials told the media they had no exit record for Li.

Five men working in Hong Kong’s publishing industry disappeared between October and December 2015. In addition to being Hong Kong residents, Gui Minhai was a Swedish citizen and was taken while he was in Thailand; Lee Bo was a British citizen taken from Hong Kong. Media coverage of the cases noted that the men worked for Mighty Current, a publishing house, and its affiliate, Causeway Bay Bookstore, which were known for selling books critical of the CCP and its leaders. In a televised “confession” released by Chinese authorities in the spring, Gui Minhai said he had “voluntarily returned” to China to “bear the responsibility” for a traffic accident that supposedly occurred more than a decade before. Another bookseller, Hong Kong resident Lam Wing Kee, was detained at the border crossing into Shenzhen in October 2015 and released after five months. Upon his return to Hong Kong, Lam immediately recanted his televised confession, saying it was scripted and recorded under extreme pressure. He also said he was forced to sign away his legal rights when he was taken to Ningbo by men who claimed they were from a “central special unit.” With the exception of Swedish citizen Gui Minhai, the other detained booksellers were released during the year but remained under surveillance, travel restrictions, and the threat of punishment after returning to Hong Kong. At year’s end Gui remained in incommunicado detention in the mainland.

The government still had not provided a comprehensive, credible accounting of all those killed, missing, or detained in connection with the violent suppression of the 1989 Tiananmen demonstrations. The Dui Hua Foundation reported that Miao Deshun, the last known political prisoner dating from the Tiananmen era, was released during the year. Many activists who were involved in the 1989 demonstrations and their family members continued to suffer official harassment. Chen Yunfei, arrested in 2015 for visiting the grave of a Tiananmen victim, was formally brought to trial in July on charges of “picking quarrels and provoking troubles.” Chengdu authorities subsequently postponed his trial without explanation. In December a rescheduled hearing was also reportedly delayed after Chen dismissed his lawyers, citing their harassment at the hands of local security officials outside the courthouse. Others who attempted to commemorate the protests and associated deaths were themselves detained or otherwise targeted. In late May, seven activists who appeared in a photograph marking the massacre’s 27th anniversary were detained on suspicion of “picking quarrels and provoking troubles.” They were released several weeks later. In June, Chengdu activists Fu Hailu, Zhang Junyong, Luo Yufu, and Chen Bing were detained for allegedly creating and marketing a liquor whose label commemorated the 1989 crackdown. They faced charges of “inciting subversion” and were held in the Chengdu Municipal Detention Center.

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

The law prohibits the physical abuse and mistreatment of detainees and forbids prison guards from coercing confessions, insulting prisoners’ dignity, and beating or encouraging others to beat prisoners. Amendments to the criminal procedure law exclude evidence, including coerced confessions obtained through illegal means, in certain categories of criminal cases. Enforcement of these legal protections continued to be lax.

Numerous former prisoners and detainees reported they were beaten, subjected to electric shock, forced to sit on stools for hours on end, hung by the wrists, raped, deprived of sleep, force-fed, and otherwise subjected to physical and psychological abuse. Although ordinary prisoners were abused, prison authorities reportedly singled out political and religious dissidents for particularly harsh treatment. In some instances close relatives of dissidents also were singled out for abuse.

The problem of torture was systemic, according to a UN Committee against Torture report released in December 2015 that detailed the extent to which torture was embedded in the criminal justice system. While the UN committee acknowledged some improvements, such as the broader use of surveillance cameras during interrogations, the report stated that torture was “entrenched.”

A May 2015 Human Rights Watch report found continued widespread use of degrading treatment and torture by law enforcement authorities. Some courts continued to admit coerced confessions as evidence, despite the criminal procedure law, which restricts the use of unlawfully obtained evidence. After examining 158,000 criminal court verdicts published on the Supreme People’s Court website, Human Rights Watch found that judges excluded confessions in only 6 percent of the cases in which torture was alleged and that all the defendants were convicted, even in the cases when evidence such was excluded. Lawyers reported that interrogators turned to less-detectable methods of torture. Confessions were often videotaped; harsh treatment beforehand was not. Lawyers who attempted to shed light on the problem of torture in the criminal justice system themselves became targets of intimidation and harassment.

Family members asserted that rights lawyer Xie Yang was repeatedly tied up and beaten during his lengthy detention in Changsha, Hunan Province. According to reports leaked from the detention facility, at one point Xie required hospitalization after he was beaten until he lost consciousness. As of December he was still in detention. There were multiple reports that other lawyers, law associates, and activists detained in the “709” crackdown also suffered various forms of torture, abuse, or degrading treatment, including Sui Muqing, whom public security officers reportedly kept awake for days on end, and Yin Xu’an, whom security agents repeatedly tortured in an attempt to extract a confession. The lawyers of Wu Gan, another “709” detainee, also reported that Wu had been tortured following their meeting with him at the Tianjin No. 2 Detention Center. Guangdong attorney Sui Muqing, who was detained in July 2015 and held under residential surveillance at an undisclosed location until the end of the year, was reportedly tortured while in custody.

Members of the minority Uighur ethnic group reported systematic torture and other degrading treatment by law enforcement officers and the penal system (see section 6, National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities). Practitioners of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement reported systematic torture more often than other groups.

The law states that psychiatric treatment and hospitalization should be “on a voluntary basis,” but it has loopholes that allow authorities and family members to commit persons to psychiatric facilities against their will and fails to provide meaningful legal protections for persons sent to psychiatric facilities. The law does not provide for the right to a lawyer and restricts a person’s right to communicate with those outside the psychiatric institutions.

According to the Legal Daily (a state-owned newspaper covering legal affairs), the Ministry of Public Security directly administered 23 high-security psychiatric hospitals for the criminally insane (also known as ankang facilities). While many of those committed to mental health facilities had been convicted of murder and other violent crimes, there were also reports of activists and petitioners involuntarily subjected to psychiatric treatment for political reasons. Public security officials may commit individuals to ankang facilities and force treatment for “conditions” that have no basis in psychiatry. In February, one domestic NGO reported that it had tracked more than 30 cases of activists “who were forcibly committed to psychiatric institutions in 2015, often without their relatives’ knowledge or consent.” For example, Shanghai authorities dispatched agents to intercept petitioner Lu Liming when he was en route to Beijing to protest. They detained him in a psychiatric facility, tied him to a bed for days, beat him, and forcibly medicated him.

As of January 2015, the government claimed it was ending the long-standing practice of involuntarily harvesting the organs of executed prisoners for use in transplants. In August the official Xinhua News Agency reported 10,057 organ transplants from voluntary donors were performed in the country in 2015, with transplants expected to increase 40 to 50 percent in 2016. Some international medical professionals and human rights researchers questioned the voluntary nature of the system, the accuracy of official statistics, and official claims about the source of organs. The country has no tradition of organ donorship, and its organ donor system remained fledgling.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in penal institutions for both political prisoners and criminal offenders were generally harsh and often degrading.

Physical Conditions: Authorities regularly held prisoners and detainees in overcrowded conditions with poor sanitation. Food often was inadequate and of poor quality, and many detainees relied on supplemental food, medicines, and warm clothing provided by relatives. Prisoners often reported sleeping on the floor because there were no beds or bedding. In many cases provisions for sanitation, ventilation, heating, lighting, and access to potable water were inadequate.

Adequate, timely medical care for prisoners remained a serious problem, despite official assurances that prisoners have the right to prompt medical treatment. Prison authorities withheld medical treatment from political prisoners. In April prison officials refused requests to send ailing Guangdong activist Yang Maodong (better known by his pen name Guo Feixiong) to a hospital for medical tests. To protest his treatment, he went on a hunger strike, during which prison officials reportedly force-fed him. Guo was also reportedly routinely tortured. In one attempt to humiliate him, prison officials performed a rectal exam on Guo, videotaped the procedure, and threatened to post the video online. In August authorities transferred him to a different prison hospital, and he ended his hunger strike.

Political prisoners were held with the general prison population and reported being beaten by other prisoners at the instigation of guards. Some reported being held in the same cells as death row inmates. Authorities did not allow some dissidents supplemental food, medicine, and warm clothing from relatives.

Conditions in administrative detention facilities were similar to those in prisons. Beating deaths occurred in administrative detention facilities. Detainees reported beatings, sexual assaults, lack of proper food, and limited or no access to medical care.

Administration: Authorities used alternatives to incarceration for both violent and nonviolent offenders. According to the State Council’s 2016 White Paper on Legal Rights, 2.7 million individuals participated in community correction, with an estimated 689,000 individuals in the program as of September. The same source reported an annual increase of 51,000 individuals in community correction programs.

There were no prison ombudsmen per se, but prisoners and detainees are legally entitled to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and request investigation of credible allegations of inhuman conditions. The law states that letters from a prisoner to higher authorities of the prison or to the judicial organs shall be free from examination; it was unclear to what extent the law was implemented. While authorities occasionally investigated credible allegations of inhuman conditions, the results were not documented in a publicly accessible manner. Many prisoners and detainees did not have reasonable access to visitors and could not engage in religious practices.

Independent Monitoring: Information about prisons and various other types of administrative and extralegal detention facilities was considered a state secret, and the government typically did not permit independent monitoring.

Improvements: In August the Supreme People’s Procuratorate published data that favored an “education first” approach towards juvenile crime, specifically focusing on counseling over punishment, according to the Dui Hua Foundation. The same figures showed the number of juvenile arrests later dismissed by the court expanded from 26 percent in 2014 to 29 percent in 2015.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

Arbitrary arrest and detention remained serious problems. The law grants public security officers broad administrative detention powers and the ability to detain individuals for extended periods without formal arrest or criminal charges. Throughout the year lawyers, human rights activists, journalists, religious leaders, and former political prisoners and their family members continued to be targeted for arbitrary detention or arrest.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The main domestic security agencies include the Ministry of State Security, the Ministry of Public Security, and the People’s Armed Police. The People’s Liberation Army is primarily responsible for external security but also has some domestic security responsibilities. Local jurisdictions also frequently used civilian municipal security forces, known as “urban management” officials, to enforce administrative measures. Oversight of these forces was localized and ad hoc. By law officials can be criminally prosecuted for abuses of power, but such cases were rarely pursued.

The Ministry of Public Security coordinates the civilian police force, which is organized into specialized agencies and local, county, and provincial jurisdictions. Procuratorate oversight of the public security forces was limited. Corruption at every level was widespread. Public security and urban management officials engaged in extrajudicial detention, extortion, and assault.

Regulations state that officers in prisons face dismissal if found to have beaten, applied corporal punishment, or abused inmates or to have instigated such acts, but there were no reports these regulations were enforced.

In the absence of reliable data, it was difficult to ascertain the full extent of impunity for the domestic security apparatus, but anecdotal accounts of abuse were common on social media and sometimes appeared in state media reports as well. Authorities often announced investigations following cases of reported killings by police. It remained unclear, however, whether these investigations resulted in findings of police malfeasance or disciplinary action.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Criminal detention beyond 37 days requires approval of a formal arrest by the procuratorate, but in cases pertaining to “national security, terrorism, and major bribery,” the law permits up to six months of incommunicado detention without formal arrest. After formally arresting a suspect, public security authorities are authorized to detain a suspect for up to an additional seven months while the case is investigated.

After the completion of an investigation, the procuratorate can detain a suspect an additional 45 days while determining whether to file criminal charges. If charges are filed, authorities can detain a suspect for an additional 45 days before beginning judicial proceedings. Public security sometimes detained persons beyond the period allowed by law, and pretrial detention periods of a year or longer were common.

The law stipulates that detainees be allowed to meet with defense counsel before criminal charges are filed. Some criminal defense attorneys stated that under the 2013 revised criminal procedure law, their ability to meet with clients improved. In some routine cases, defense attorneys could arrange visits at any time and have private meetings with their clients in detention centers. This generally did not apply to cases considered politically sensitive.

The criminal procedure law requires a court to provide a lawyer to a defendant who has not already retained one, who has various disabilities or is a minor, or who faces a life sentence or the death penalty. This law applies whether or not the defendant is indigent. Courts may also provide lawyers to other criminal defendants who cannot afford them, although courts often did not do so.

Criminal defendants are entitled to apply for bail (also translated as “a guarantor pending trial”) while awaiting trial, but the system did not appear to operate effectively, and authorities released few suspects on bail.

The law requires notification of family members within 24 hours of detention, but authorities often held individuals without providing such notification for significantly longer periods, especially in politically sensitive cases. In some cases notification did not occur. Under a sweeping exception, officials are not required to provide notification if doing so would “hinder the investigation” of a case. The revised criminal procedure law limits this exception to cases involving state security or terrorism, but public security officials have broad discretion to interpret what is “state security.”

The law allows for residential surveillance rather than detention in a formal facility under certain circumstances. With the approval of the next higher-level authorities, officials may place a suspect under “residential surveillance” at a designated place of residence (i.e., a place other than the suspect’s home) for up to six months when they suspect crimes of endangering state security, terrorism, or serious bribery and believe that surveillance at the suspect’s home would impede the investigation. Human rights organizations and detainees themselves reported that this practice left detainees at a high risk for torture. Authorities may also prevent defense lawyers from meeting with suspects in these categories of cases.

The law provides for the right to petition the government for resolution of grievances, but many citizens who traveled to Beijing to petition the central government were subjected to arbitrary detention, often by security agents dispatched from the petitioner’s hometown. Petitioners reported harsh treatment by security officials. In February officers from the Fuyou Street Station of the Xicheng District Public Security Bureau in Beijing reportedly beat Qiao Zhigang, the leader of a group of retired and disabled members of the military, and detained many others who had gathered with Qiao to protest the government’s failure to provide promised benefits and compensation.

Authorities used administrative detention to intimidate political and religious activists and to prevent public demonstrations. Forms of administrative detention included compulsory drug rehabilitation treatment (for drug users), “custody and training” (for minor criminal offenders), and “legal education” centers for political and religious activists, particularly Falun Gong practitioners. The maximum stay in compulsory drug rehabilitation centers is two years, including what was generally a six-month stay in a detoxification center.

Arbitrary Arrest: Authorities detained or arrested persons on allegations of revealing state secrets, subversion, and other crimes as a means to suppress political dissent and public advocacy. These charges–including what constitutes a state secret–remained ill defined, and any piece of information could be retroactively designated a state secret. Authorities also used the vaguely worded charges of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” broadly against many civil rights activists. It remained unclear what this term means. Authorities also detained citizens and foreigners under broad and ambiguous state secret laws for, among other actions, disclosing information on criminal trials, meetings, commercial activity, and government activity. Authorities sometimes retroactively labeled a particular action as a violation of state secret laws. A counterespionage law grants authorities the power to require individuals and organizations to cease any activities deemed a threat to national security. Failure to comply could result in seizure of property and assets.

There were multiple reports of lawyers, petitioners, and other rights activists being arrested or detained for lengthy periods of time, only to have the charges later dismissed for lack of evidence. Many activists were subjected to extralegal house arrest, denied travel rights, or administratively detained in different types of facilities, including “black jails.” In some cases public security officials put pressure on schools not to allow the children of prominent political detainees to enroll. Conditions faced by those under house arrest varied but sometimes included isolation in their homes under guard by security agents. Security officials were frequently stationed inside the homes. Authorities placed many citizens under house arrest during sensitive times, such as during the visits of senior foreign government officials or preceding the annual plenary sessions of the National People’s Congress, the G20 summit, the anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre, and sensitive anniversaries in Tibetan areas and the XUAR. Some of those not placed under house arrest were taken by security agents to remote areas on so-called forced vacations.

In early September security officials abducted rights lawyer Li Yuhan from the hospital where she was receiving treatment for a heart condition and beat and choked her when she resisted. She was told she would need to take a “vacation” before the G20 Summit to ensure she did not cause trouble. She was held overnight at an undisclosed location, where security officials denied her access to the bathroom. She was released the next day without charges.

Despite being released from prison in 2011, activist Hu Jia remained under extrajudicial house arrest during the year. Human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, who was released from prison in 2014, remained confined under strict house arrest.

Pretrial Detention: Pretrial detention could last longer than one year. Defendants in “sensitive cases” reported being subjected to prolonged pretrial detention. Many of the “709” detainees were held in pretrial detention for more than a year without access to their families or their lawyers.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the law states that the courts shall exercise judicial power independently, without interference from administrative organs, social organizations, and individuals, the judiciary did not, in fact, exercise judicial power independently. Judges regularly received political guidance on pending cases, including instructions on how to rule, from both the government and the CCP, particularly in politically sensitive cases. The CCP Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission has the authority to review and direct court operations at all levels of the judiciary. All judicial and procuratorate appointments require approval by the CCP Organization Department.

Corruption often influenced court decisions, since safeguards against judicial corruption were vague and poorly enforced. Local governments appointed and paid local court judges and, as a result, often exerted influence over the rulings of those judges.

A CCP-controlled committee decided most major cases, and the duty of trial and appellate court judges was to craft a legal justification for the committee’s decision.

Courts are not authorized to rule on the constitutionality of legislation. The law permits organizations or individuals to question the constitutionality of laws and regulations, but a constitutional challenge may be directed only to the promulgating legislative body. Lawyers had little or no opportunity to rely on constitutional claims in litigation.

Media sources indicated public security authorities used televised confessions of lawyers, foreign and domestic bloggers, journalists, and business executives in an attempt to establish guilt before their criminal trial proceedings began or as a method of negotiating release from detention, such as the televised statements of Wang Yu, Zhang Kai, and Swedish national Peter Dahlin. NGOs asserted such statements were likely coerced, perhaps by torture, and some detainees who confessed recanted upon release and confirmed that their confessions had been coerced. No provision in the law allows the pretrial broadcast of confessions by criminal suspects.

“Judicial independence” remained one of the reportedly off-limit subjects that the CCP ordered university professors not to discuss (see section 2.a., Academic Freedom and Cultural Events).

TRIAL PROCEDURES

Although the amended criminal procedure law reaffirms the presumption of innocence, the criminal justice system remained biased toward a presumption of guilt, especially in high-profile or politically sensitive cases. According to the March work report submitted to the National People’s Congress (NPC) by the Supreme People’s Court (SPC), more than 1.2 million individuals were convicted while 1,039 were acquitted in 2015. The low acquittal rate of less than 1 percent has persisted for many years, although the overall number of acquittals during the year rose from the 778 recorded in 2014.

In many politically sensitive trials, courts announced guilty verdicts immediately following proceedings with little time for deliberation. Courts often punished defendants who refused to acknowledge guilt with harsher sentences than those who confessed. The appeals process rarely reversed convictions and failed to provide sufficient avenues for review; remedies for violations of defendants’ rights were inadequate.

Regulations of the SPC require trials to be open to the public, with the exception of cases involving state secrets, privacy issues, minors, or, on the application of a party to the proceedings, commercial secrets. Authorities used the state secrets provision to keep politically sensitive proceedings closed to the public, sometimes even to family members, and to withhold defendant’s access to defense counsel. Court regulations state that foreigners with valid identification should be allowed to observe trials under the same criteria as citizens, but foreigners were permitted to attend court proceedings only by invitation. As in past years, authorities barred foreign diplomats and journalists from attending a number of trials. In some instances the trials were reclassified as “state secrets” cases or otherwise closed to the public. During the year foreign diplomats attempted to attend at least a dozen public trials throughout the country. In many instances court officials claimed there were no available seats in the courtroom.

Portions of some trials were broadcast, and court proceedings were a regular television feature. In September, Zhou Qiang, the president of the SPC and head of the judiciary, announced the debut of a website, the Chinese Open Trial Network. It offered videos of more than 67,000 criminal, administrative, and civil proceedings, including all open SPC hearings and some select lower court hearings. The CCP leadership of the court involved, however, must approve the streaming of every case.

In keeping with the CCP Central Committee’s Fourth Plenum decision to reform certain aspects of the judicial system, the SPC issued updated regulations requiring the release of court judgments online. The regulations, which took effect on October 1, stipulate that court officials should release judgments, with the exception of those involving state secrets and juvenile suspects, within seven days of their adoption. These reforms, aimed at bringing greater transparency to the judicial system, extended to some of the most sensitive political cases. The Dui Hua Foundation reported that it obtained 117 judgments in cases involving state security as of September 30, up from 80 judgments in all of 2015.

Individuals facing administrative detention do not have the right to seek legal counsel. Criminal defendants were eligible for legal assistance, although the vast majority of criminal defendants went to trial without a lawyer. According to the State Council’s 2016 White Paper on Legal Rights, 4.7 million cases received legal aid from 2012 to 2015.

Lawyers are required to be members of the CCP-controlled All China Lawyers Association, and the Ministry of Justice requires all lawyers to pledge their loyalty to the leadership of the CCP upon issuance or renewal of their license to practice law. The CCP continued to require law firms with three or more party members to form a CCP unit within the firm.

According to Chinese legal experts and statistics reported in domestic media, defense attorneys took part in less than 20 percent of criminal cases; in some provinces it was less than 12 percent. In particular human rights lawyers reported that authorities did not permit them to effectively defend certain clients or threatened them with punishment if they chose to do so. Some lawyers declined to represent defendants in politically sensitive cases, and such defendants frequently found it difficult to find an attorney. When defendants were able to retain counsel in politically sensitive cases, government officials often prevented attorneys from organizing an effective defense. In some instances authorities prevented attorneys selected by defendants from taking the case and appointed a court attorney to the case instead.

Tactics employed by court and government officials included unlawful detentions, disbarment, harassment and physical intimidation, and denial of access to evidence and to clients. In June police beat Guangxi lawyer Wu Liangshu for refusing a body search by court police when he filed a lawsuit with the People’s Court in Nanning. Police suspected he was recording their conversations in court. Wu emerged from the courthouse partially stripped with his clothes torn.

The government suspended or revoked the business licenses or law licenses of those who took on sensitive cases, such as defending prodemocracy dissidents, house-church activists, Falun Gong practitioners, or government critics. Authorities used the annual licensing review process administered by the All China Lawyers Association to withhold or delay the renewal of professional lawyers’ licenses. In April lawyer Pu Zhiqiang was formally disbarred following the three-year suspended prison term he was given in December 2015 for his online comments critical of CCP rule.

In 2015 the NPC’s Standing Committee amended legislation concerning the legal profession. The amendments criminalize attorneys’ actions that “insult, defame, or threaten judicial officers,” “do not heed the court’s admonition,” or “severely disrupt courtroom order.” The changes also criminalize disclosing client or case information to media outlets or using protests, the media, or other means to influence court decisions. Violators face fines and up to three years in prison.

Regulations adopted in 2015 also state that detention center officials should either allow defense attorneys to meet suspects or defendants or explain why the meeting cannot be arranged at that time. The regulations specify that a meeting should be arranged within 48 hours. Procuratorates and courts should allow defense attorneys to access and read case files within three working days. The time and frequency of opportunities available for defense attorneys to read case files shall not be limited, according to the guidelines. In some sensitive cases, lawyers had no pretrial access to their clients, and defendants and lawyers were not allowed to communicate with one another during trials. In contravention of the revised criminal procedure law (see section 1.d.), criminal defendants frequently were not assigned an attorney until a case was brought to court. The law stipulates the spoken and written language of criminal proceedings shall be conducted in the language common to the specific locality, with government interpreters providing language services for defendants not proficient in the local language. Sources noted that trials were predominantly conducted in Mandarin Chinese even in minority areas with interpreters provided for defendants who did not speak the language.

Mechanisms allowing defendants to confront their accusers were inadequate. Only a small percentage of trials reportedly involved witnesses. Judges retained significant discretion over whether live witness testimony was required or even allowed. In most criminal trials, prosecutors read witness statements, which neither the defendants nor their lawyers had an opportunity to rebut through cross-examination. Although the law states that pretrial witness statements cannot serve as the sole basis for conviction, prosecutors relied heavily on such statements. Defense attorneys had no authority to compel witnesses to testify or to mandate discovery, although they could apply for access to government-held evidence relevant to their case.

In 2015 the Ministry of Justice announced a rule that requires assigning lawyers to convicted prisoners on death row who cannot afford one during the review of their sentences. The number of capital offenses in the criminal code was reduced to 46 in 2015. Official figures on executions were classified as a state secret. According to the Dui Hua Foundation, the number of executions fell to 2,400 in 2013, down from a high of 24,000 in 1983. The drop reflected the reform of the capital punishment system initiated in 2007, but the number of executions since 2013 stabilized or even increased. Dui Hua also reported that an increase in the number of Uighur executions likely offset the drop in the number of Han Chinese executed.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

Government officials continued to deny holding any political prisoners, asserting that persons were detained not for their political or religious views but because they violated the law. Authorities, however, continued to imprison citizens for reasons related to politics and religion. Tens of thousands of political prisoners remained incarcerated, most in prisons and some in administrative detention. The government did not grant international humanitarian organizations access to political prisoners.

Political prisoners were granted early release at lower rates than other prisoners. The Dui Hua Foundation estimated that more than 100 prisoners were still serving sentences for counterrevolution and hooliganism, two crimes removed from the criminal code in 1997. Thousands of others were serving sentences for political and religious offenses, including “endangering state security” and “cult” offenses covered under Article 300 of the criminal code, crimes introduced in 1997. The government neither reviewed the cases of those charged before 1997 with counterrevolution and hooliganism nor released persons jailed for nonviolent offenses under repealed provisions.

In August, four men were convicted of the political crime of “subversion of state power” as a result of the 2015 “709” crackdown on public interest legal activism. Zhou Shifeng, the founder of the Beijing Feng Rui Law Firm, was sentenced to seven years for subversion. The media reported that prosecutors stated Zhou had “conspired with foreign governments,” and Zhou reportedly confessed to his crimes in a statement that some observers interpreted as a protest of the ruling. As recently as 2012, Beijing municipal authorities honored Zhou with recognition as a “Beijing Excellent Lawyer” for three straight years. His law firm was known for its legal activism and had represented clients in high-profile cases, including the 2008 melamine milk scandal.

In August authorities sentenced democracy activist and unregistered church leader Hu Shigen to seven years in prison for “subversion of state power.” The media reported he pled guilty, and his was one of the longer sentences among those detained during the “709” crackdown. In the same week, Feng Rui associate Zhai Yanmin and Christian activist Guo Hongguo were also convicted of the same charges, although both received suspended sentences.

In September the Beijing Municipal No. 2 Intermediate Court sentenced human rights lawyer Xia Lin, who previously represented artist Ai Weiwei, to 12 years’ imprisonment on charges of fraud. Supporters said that the charges were baseless and that authorities targeted Xia for his efforts to support human rights activists.

Many political prisoners remained in prison or under other forms of detention at year’s end, including writer Yang Maodong (Guo Feixiong); Uighur scholar Ilham Tohti; anticorruption activist Xu Zhiyong; Wang Bingzhang; activist Liu Xianbin; Zhou Yongjun; online dissident Kong Youping; Roman Catholic bishops Ma Daqin and Su Zhimin; pastor Zhang Shaojie; Falun Gong practitioner Bian Lichao; lawyers or legal associates Li Heping, Wang Quanzhang, Xie Yanyi, Xie Yang, and Li Chunfu; blogger Wu Gan; and many others. Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo remained in Jinzhou Prison in Liaoning Province. His wife, Liu Xia, remained under surveillance and faced continued restrictions on her freedom of movement.

Criminal punishments included “deprivation of political rights” for a fixed period after release from prison, during which an individual could be denied rights of free speech, association, and publication. Former prisoners reported that their ability to find employment, travel, obtain residence permits and passports, rent residences, and access social services was severely restricted.

Authorities frequently subjected former political prisoners and their families to surveillance, telephone wiretaps, searches, and other forms of harassment or threats. For example, security personnel followed the family members of detained or imprisoned rights activists to meetings with foreign reporters and diplomats and urged the family members to remain silent about the cases of their relatives. Certain members of the rights community were barred from meeting with visiting dignitaries.

According to the 2015 China Law Yearbook, in 2014 authorities indicted 1,411 individuals for “endangering state security,” an increase of 2 percent from 2013. Based on figures in the report of the Supreme People’s Court to the 2016 plenary session of the National People’s Congress, the Dui Hua Foundation estimated that approximately 500 “endangering state security” trials took place in 2015, down from approximately 1,000 in 2014, a decline believed to be due to the reclassification of crimes. Offenses previously considered as “endangering state security” were, starting in 2015, increasingly dealt with as “terrorism” and “disturbing social order,” including a charge frequently used against activists called “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.”

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Courts deciding civil matters faced the same limitations on judicial independence as criminal courts. The State Compensation Law provides administrative and judicial remedies for plaintiffs whose rights or interests government agencies or officials have infringed. The law also allows compensation for wrongful detention, mental trauma, or physical injuries inflicted by detention center or prison officials. Citizens seldom applied for state compensation because of the high cost of bringing lawsuits, low credibility of courts, and citizens’ lack of awareness of the law. Victims’ claims were difficult to assess because of vague definitions in the law and difficulties in obtaining evidence of damage. Judges were reluctant to accept such cases, and government agencies seldom ruled in favor of plaintiffs.

In some cases authorities pressured plaintiffs to drop their lawsuits. On May 1, Chen Wenying dropped her suit against the Xinhua News Agency and China Central Television (CCTV) for allegedly falsely accusing her son, labor rights activist Zeng Feiyang, of committing fraud. Chen decided to withdraw the lawsuit after she and her family began to receive threats from the government.

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

The law states that the “freedom and privacy of correspondence of citizens are protected by law,” but authorities often did not respect the privacy of citizens. Although the law requires warrants before officers can search premises, officials frequently ignored this requirement. The Public Security Bureau and prosecutors are authorized to issue search warrants on their own authority without judicial review. Cases of forced entry by police officers continued to be reported.

Authorities monitored telephone calls, text messages, faxes, e-mail, instant messaging, and other digital communications intended to remain private. They also opened and censored domestic and international mail. Security services routinely monitored and entered residences and offices to gain access to computers, telephones, and fax machines. Foreign journalists leaving the country found some of their personal belongings searched. In some cases, when material deemed politically sensitive was uncovered, the journalists had to sign a statement stating they would “voluntarily” leave these documents behind in China.

In September the General Office of the CCP Central Committee and the PRC State Council issued a directive mandating the establishment of a centralized “social credit system” to evaluate the trustworthiness of all individuals and companies in the country. Each person and company is to be assigned a score on the basis of information collected from the internet as well as public records. The directive’s goal is “to construct a credit-monitoring, warning, and punishment system” that operates on the principle that “if trust is broken in one place, restrictions are imposed everywhere.” It details a wide range of privileges that could be denied and punishments that could be imposed for “trust-breaking” conduct, including subjecting individuals and companies to targeted daily monitoring, random inspections, and possible arrest and criminal prosecution. The directive requires that an individual’s score be considered when he or she attempts to establish a social organization, and it singles out lawyers and law firms for restrictions if they engage in “trust-breaking” conduct.

According to media reports, the Ministry of Public Security used tens of millions of surveillance cameras throughout the country to monitor the general public. In 2015 the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau announced it had “covered every corner of the capital with a video surveillance system.” Human rights groups stated that authorities increasingly relied on video and other forms of surveillance to monitor and intimidate political dissidents, Tibetans, and Uighurs. The monitoring and disruption of telephone and internet communications were particularly widespread in the XUAR and Tibetan areas. The Cybersecurity Law passed in November codified the authority of security agencies to cut communication networks across an entire geographic region during “major security incidents,” although they have previously exercised this authority prior to passage of the Cybersecurity Law.

Forced relocation because of urban development continued in some locations. Protests over relocation terms or compensation were common, and some protest leaders were prosecuted. In rural areas infrastructure and commercial development projects resulted in the forced relocation of thousands of persons.

Property-related disputes between citizens and government authorities sometimes turned violent. These disputes frequently stemmed from local officials’ collusion with property developers to pay little or no compensation to displaced residents, combined with a lack of effective government oversight or media scrutiny of local officials’ involvement in property transactions as well as a lack of legal remedies or other dispute resolution mechanisms for displaced residents. The problem persisted despite central government claims it had imposed stronger controls over illegal land seizures and taken steps to standardize compensation. Redevelopment in traditional Uighur neighborhoods in cities throughout the XUAR resulted in the destruction of historically or culturally important areas. Some residents expressed opposition to the lack of proper compensation by the government and the coercive measures used to obtain their agreement to redevelopment.

There were several reports of authorities confiscating traditional pastoral lands from ethnic Mongolian herders for development in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. In August authorities in Shin-Barag Left Banner forcibly evicted ethnic Mongolian herders from their pastoral lands they had grazed for generations under a legal contract with the government. Media and private sources reported that paramilitary officers placed the region under a security lockdown and detained 10 herders, charging one named Huubshalat with “separatism.”

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution states that citizens “enjoy freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration,” although authorities generally did not respect these rights, especially when they conflicted with CCP interests. Authorities continued tight control of print, broadcast, and electronic media and regularly used them to propagate government views and CCP ideology. Authorities censored and manipulated the press and the internet, particularly around sensitive anniversaries.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: Citizens could discuss many political topics privately and in small groups without official punishment. The government, however, routinely took harsh action against citizens who questioned the legitimacy of the CCP. Some independent think tanks, study groups, and seminars reported pressure to cancel sessions on sensitive topics. Those who made politically sensitive comments in public speeches, academic discussions, or in remarks to the media remained subject to punitive measures.

In late February prominent real estate developer Ren Zhiqiang criticized President Xi’s call for media outlets to display absolute loyalty to the CCP. In two social media posts, Ren urged the CCP not to waste taxpayer money and opined, “Since when did the people’s government become the party’s government?” The government consequently stripped Ren Zhiqiang of his social media accounts, which had an estimated 37 million followers. The New York Times reported on March 11 that Xinhua News Agency employee Zhou Gang issued an online letter accusing government censors of silencing critics, apparently in response to the Ren case.

Two weeks after President Xi’s visit to state media, anonymous authors posted a letter online calling for him to resign “for the future of the country and the people.” The authors claimed to be “loyal Communist Party members.” Authorities promptly shut down Wujie News, the news website that carried the letter, and detained journalists, such as Jia Jia, whom security agents apprehended at the Beijing airport en route to Hong Kong. According to contacts and news reports, all Wujie News staff were later released.

In April online commentator Tian Li (also known as Chen Qitang) was tried for “inciting subversion of state power.” His verdict was suspended for a third time, with no announcement made before the end of the year. The charges stemmed from six political commentaries Chen had posted, three of which he had personally written. The prosecution said the articles represented a “harsh attack” on the CCP.

In November, Liu Feiyue, the founder of the Civil Rights and Livelihood Watch website, was detained on charges of “inciting state subversion” in Hubei Province. He had been detained and released earlier in the year when he tried to cover the CCP Central Committee’s sixth plenary session in Beijing.

Huang Qi, founder of the Tianwang Human Rights Center, was detained on November 28 and formally charged with “illegally providing state secrets abroad” on December 16. Authorities had long taken action against Huang for his efforts to document human rights abuses in the country on his 64Tianwang.com website. Previously convicted of “inciting subversion of state power” and “illegally possessing state secrets” in 2003 and 2008, he served five and three years in prison, respectively.

Press and Media Freedoms: The CCP and government continued to maintain ultimate authority over all published, online, or broadcast material. Officially, only state-run media outlets have government approval to cover CCP leaders or other topics deemed “sensitive.” While it did not dictate all content to be published or broadcast, the CCP and the government had unchecked authority to mandate if, when, and how particular issues were reported or to order that they not be reported at all.

The government continued to strictly monitor the press and media, including film and television, via its broadcast and press regulatory body, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film, and Television (SAPPRFT). The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) regulates online news media. All books and magazines continued to require state-issued publication numbers, which were expensive and often difficult to obtain. As in the past, nearly all print and broadcast media as well as book publishers were affiliated with the CCP or government. There were a small number of print publications with some private ownership interest but no privately owned television or radio stations. There were growing numbers of privately owned online media. The CCP directed the domestic media to refrain from reporting on certain subjects, and traditional broadcast programming required government approval. The SAPPRFT announced that satellite television channels may broadcast no more than two imported television programs each year during prime-time hours and that imported programs must receive the approval of local regulators at least two months in advance.

In a well-publicized February 19 visit to the three main state and CCP news organizations–the Xinhua News Agency, CCTV, and the People’s Daily–President Xi said, “Party and state-run media are the propaganda battlefield of the party and the government, [and] must bear the surname of the party. All of the party’s news and public opinion work must embody the party’s will, reflect the party’s ideas, defend the authority of the Party Central Committee, [and] defend the unity of the party.”

In March the prominent Chinese financial magazine Caixin defied the government by highlighting censorship of its online content. On March 5, Caixin published an article pointing out how the CAC had deleted an interview with Jiang Hong, a delegate to the advisory Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, because it touched on the issue of free speech. The CAC told Caixin editors the interview contained “illegal content” and “violated laws and regulations.”

Both the SAPPRFT and CAC continued efforts to reassert control over the country’s growing world of new media. In December the SAPPRFT announced that commercial social media platforms like WeChat and Weibo are not allowed to disseminate user-generated audio or video programs about current events and are only supposed to distribute content from those that hold state-issued audiovisual online transmission licenses.

Violence and Harassment: The government frequently impeded the work of the press, including citizen journalists. Journalists reported being subjected to physical attack, harassment, and intimidation when reporting on sensitive topics. Government officials used criminal prosecution, civil lawsuits, and other punishment, including violence, detention, and other forms of harassment, to intimidate authors and journalists and to prevent the dissemination of unsanctioned information on a wide range of topics. A journalist could face demotion or job loss for publishing views that challenged the government.

Family members of journalists based overseas also faced harassment, and in some cases detention, as retaliation for the reporting of their relatives abroad. In March authorities detained the siblings of the Germany-based writer Zhang Ping after he wrote an article criticizing the government for its role in the disappearance of journalist Jia Jia. The family members, detained in Xichong County, Sichuan Province, were released several days later, and Zhang later publicly said he had “cut off ties” in order to protect them.

Uighur webmasters Dilshat Perhat and Nijat Azat continued to serve sentences for “endangering state security.” During the year additional journalists working in traditional and new media were also imprisoned.

Liu Yuxia, front-page editor of the Southern Metropolis Daily, once considered a bastion for relatively independent views, was dismissed in March after the headline of one of the newspaper’s front-page stories about the burial of a prominent reformer was seen as a veiled criticism of President Xi’s admonition that the media “bear the surname of the party.” If the Chinese characters of the headline about the sea burial were read vertically in conjunction with the headline about President Xi’s call for loyalty by the media, as both headlines appeared in proximity on the same page, the combined headline could be interpreted as “the souls of Chinese media have died because they bear the party’s name.”

Li Xin, another former editor for the Southern Metropolis Daily’s website, disappeared in Thailand and reappeared in China under detention after reportedly seeking political asylum in Thailand. Yu Shaolei, who edited the newspaper’s cultural section, also resigned in late March. Yu reportedly posted a photograph of his resignation form on Weibo, citing his “inability to bear your surname.” One Southern Metropolis Daily journalist was quoted as stating, “We think it won’t get any worse and then it does. We are being strangled.”

Four of the five Hong Kong booksellers who disappeared between October and December 2015 were released but remained under surveillance (see section 1.b.). In June, Zhu Tiezhi, the deputy editor in chief of Qiushi, the CCP’s foremost theoretical journal, reportedly hanged himself in the garage of the building where the journal was housed. Media outlets reported that Zhu had been depressed by ideological infighting within the CCP and was linked to Ling Jihua, one of former president Hu Jintao’s closest aides, who became a prime target in President Xi’s anticorruption campaign.

In December security officials in Gannan County, Heilongjiang Province, detained and beat journalists Liu Bozhi and Liu Dun from China Educational News after they investigated reports of financial irregularities in public school cafeterias.

In July the state-controlled Chinese Academy of National Arts announced on its website that it had removed the existing management of the monthly magazine Yanhuang Chunqiu, including its 93-year-old publisher and cofounder Du Daozheng. The magazine was known as an “intellectual oasis” in which topics like democracy and other “sensitive” issues could be discussed, and it had a reputation for publishing views on politics and history that challenged CCP orthodoxy. Observers saw the removal of Du along with several other senior staff including Hu Dehua, the son of late reformist CCP leader Hu Yaobang, as a threat to one of the country’s last strongholds of liberal thought. The magazine’s chief editor Yang Jisheng quit in 2015 in protest of increasing censorship. Following the forced reshuffle, Du suspended the publication on July 19, and it had not resumed operations by year’s end.

In September journalists were attacked, detained, and expelled from Wukan, a fishing village in Guangdong Province, as they tried to conduct interviews following protests over alleged land seizures and the detention of the elected village chief. Wukan was the site of protests in 2011 over land seizures and corruption, to which the provincial government responded by allowing villagers to elect their local leader.

Foreign journalists based in the country continued to face a challenging environment for reporting. According to the annual Reporting Conditions survey of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China (FCCC) conducted during the year, 98 percent of respondents did not believe reporting conditions in the country met international standards. In addition, 48 percent of respondents believed working conditions had stayed the same since the previous year, while 29 percent believed conditions had deteriorated. Fifty-seven percent said they had been subjected to some form of interference, harassment, or violence while attempting to report from the country.

Restrictions on foreign journalists by central and local CCP propaganda departments remained strict, especially during sensitive times and anniversaries. Foreign press outlets reported that local employees of foreign news agencies were also subjected to official harassment and intimidation and that this remained a major concern for foreign outlets. The FCCC’s survey reported that 26 percent of respondents described interference or obstruction by police or “unidentified individuals” while reporting. Eight percent of respondents reported being subjected to “manhandling or physical violence,” a 3 percent increase from 2015. In addition, FCCC members reported physical and electronic surveillance of their staff and premises.

Although authorities continued to use the registration and renewal of residency visas and foreign ministry press cards to pressure and punish journalists whose reporting perturbed authorities, wait times were reportedly shorter for many applicants than in previous years. Many foreign media organizations continued to have trouble expanding their operations in the country due to the difficulty of receiving visas for new positions. Government officials continued to require regular meetings with journalists at the time of their renewals or after seeing reports they deemed “sensitive,” at which officials commonly made clear to reporters they were under scrutiny for their reporting. Security personnel often visited reporters unannounced and questioned them about their reporting activities.

Authorities continued to enforce tight restrictions on citizens employed by foreign news organizations. The code of conduct for citizen employees of foreign media organizations threatens dismissal and loss of accreditation for those citizen employees who engage in independent reporting. It instructs them to provide their employers information that projects “a good image of the country.” Several FCCC members reported local assistants had been summoned for meetings with security officials that the assistants found extremely intimidating. One foreign correspondent said security officials had called her local assistant a “traitor” and asked her why she was willing to help the foreign press with its “anti-China bias.”

Media outlets that reported on commercial issues enjoyed comparatively fewer restrictions, but the system of postpublication review by propaganda officials encouraged self-censorship by editors seeking to avoid the losses associated with penalties for inadvertently printing unauthorized content.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The State Council’s Regulations on the Administration of Publishing grant broad authority to the government at all levels to restrict publications based on content, including mandating if, when, and how particular issues are reported. While the Ministry of Foreign Affairs daily press briefing was generally open, and the State Council Information Office organized some briefings by other government agencies, journalists did not have free access to other media events. The Ministry of Defense continued allowing select foreign media outlets to attend monthly press briefings.

Official guidelines for domestic journalists were often vague, subject to change at the discretion of propaganda officials, and enforced retroactively. Propaganda authorities forced newspapers to fire editors and journalists responsible for articles deemed inconsistent with official policy and suspended or closed publications. Self-censorship remained prevalent among journalists, authors, and editors, particularly with post facto government reviews carrying penalties of ranging severity.

The CCP Central Propaganda Department ordered media outlets to adhere strictly to the information provided by authoritative official departments when reporting on officials suspected of involvement in graft or bribery. Throughout the year the Central Propaganda Department issued similar instructions regarding various prominent events. Directives often warned against reporting on issues related to party and official reputation, health and safety, and foreign affairs. The orders included instructions for media outlets not to investigate or report on their own. The CAC and SAPPRFT strengthened regulations over the content online publications are allowed to distribute, reiterating long-standing rules that only state-licensed news media may conduct original reporting.

The FCCC reported that it was still largely impossible for foreign journalists to report from the TAR, other Tibetan areas, or Xinjiang without experiencing serious interference. Those who took part in government-sponsored trips to the TAR and other Tibetan areas expressed dissatisfaction with the access provided. Of those who tried to report from Tibetan areas, 60 percent reported problems, while 44 percent had trouble in Xinjiang. Foreign reporters also experienced restricted access and interference when trying to report in other sensitive areas, including the North Korean border, coal mining sites where protests had taken place, and other sites of social unrest, such as Wukan village in Guangdong Province.

Authorities continued to jam, with varying degrees of success, Chinese-, Uighur-, and Tibetan-language broadcasts of the Voice of America (VOA), the BBC, and Radio Free Asia. English-language VOA broadcasts generally were not jammed. Internet distribution of streaming radio news and podcasts from these sources was often blocked. Despite the jamming of overseas broadcasts, the VOA, the BBC, Radio Free Asia, Deutsche Welle, and Radio France International had large audiences, including human rights advocates, ordinary citizens, and government officials.

Overseas television newscasts, largely restricted to hotels and foreign residence compounds, were occasionally subject to censorship. Individual issues of foreign newspapers and magazines occasionally were banned when they contained articles deemed too sensitive.

Politically sensitive coverage in Chinese, and to a lesser extent in English, was censored more than coverage in other languages. The government prohibited some foreign and domestic films deemed too sensitive or selectively censored parts of films before they were released.

In November the NPC Standing Committee passed a Cybersecurity Law containing a provision that appeared to be aimed at deterring economists and journalists from publishing analysis that deviated from official views on the economy. Article 12 of the law criminalizes using the internet to “fabricate or spread false information to disturb economic order.” In January authorities blocked Reuters’ social media account on the Chinese platform Sina Weibo following a report that the country’s securities regulator Xiao Gang had offered to resign. The government stated that the Reuters report was not accurate, but a month later state media announced Xiao had been forced out.

Authorities continued to ban books with content they deemed inconsistent with officially sanctioned views. The law permits only government-approved publishing houses to print books. The SAPPRFT controlled all licenses to publish. Newspapers, periodicals, books, audio and video recordings, or electronic publications could not be printed or distributed without SAPPRFT approval and relevant provincial publishing authorities. Individuals who attempted to publish without government approval faced imprisonment, fines, confiscation of their books, and other sanctions. The CCP also exerted control over the publishing industry by preemptively classifying certain topics as state secrets.

Many intellectuals and scholars exercised self-censorship, anticipating that books or papers on political topics would be deemed too sensitive to be published.

Actions to Expand Press Freedom: The Ministry of Foreign Affairs began implementing a new system for journalist visa renewals and press card issuance. There were few complaints, but there was insufficient evidence to comment on the situation at the year’s end. Delays persisted in the approval process to expand foreign bureaus as well as visa applications for short-term reporting tours.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The internet continued to be widely available and used. According to an official report released in August by the China Internet Network Information Center, the country had 710 million internet users, accounting for 51.7 percent of its total population. The report noted 21.3 million new internet users in the first half of the year, with approximately 191 million going online from rural areas. Major media companies estimated that more than 500 million persons, mainly urban residents, obtained their news from social and online media sources. According to the 2016 Chinese Media Blue Book, online media organizations accounted for 47 percent of the country’s entire media industry.

Although the internet was widely available, it was heavily censored. The government continued to employ tens of thousands of individuals at the national, provincial, and local levels to monitor electronic communications and online content. The government also reportedly paid personnel to promote official views on various websites and social media and to combat those who posted alternative views. Internet companies also employed thousands of censors to carry out CCP and government injunctions.

During the year there was a steady stream of new regulatory efforts to tighten government control of the online media space that had grown rapidly in the last four years, including draft regulations on strengthening government control of internet news services and online publishing.

The government’s updated definition of “internet news information” includes all matters pertaining to politics, economics, defense, diplomacy and “other social public issues and reports and comments of breaking social events.” Draft regulations require that all news reports conform to official views, establish a “dishonesty blacklist” system, and expand criminal penalties for violators.

In June the State Internet Information Office published a Circular on Further Strengthening the Management and Control of False News, which prohibits online platforms from publishing unverified content as news reports and strengthens regulation on the editing and distribution of news on online platforms, including microblogs and WeChat. The circular prohibits websites from publishing “hearsay and rumors to fabricate news or distort facts based on speculation.”

During the year the State Internet Information Office reportedly strengthened efforts to “punish and correct” false online news, reprimanding numerous popular portals, such as Sina, iFeng, and Caijing, and calling on the public to help monitor and report on “illegal and harmful information” found online.

On June 25, the CAC released New Regulations on Internet Searches that took effect August 1. The regulations specifically ban search engines from showing “subversive” content and obscene information, longstanding prohibitions for local website operators.

On June 28, the CAC released new Regulations on the Administration of Mobile Internet App Services that also took effect on August 1. The new rules expand the application of some requirements to app stores, such as Apple’s iTunes App Store, and developers and require mobile app providers to verify users’ identities with real-name registration, improve censorship, and punish users who spread “illicit information” on their platforms. The rules prescribe broad and vaguely worded prohibitions on content that “endangers national security,” “damages the honor or interests of the state,” “propagates cults or superstition,” or “harms social ethics or any fine national culture or traditions.” At year’s end authorities required Apple to remove the New York Times English- and Chinese-language news apps from its iTunes App Store in the country. At least three apps were known to have been blocked since April.

In August the CAC called for an “editor in chief” system, ensuring that senior staff are responsible for online editorial decisions contrary to the government’s wishes or censorship guidelines. In September media outlets also reported the CAC had launched a campaign to clean up the comments sections on websites, which a CAC official described as an effort to make it easier for individuals to report illegal or harmful content.

In April, GreatFire.org, a website run by activists tracking online censorship in the country, reported that 21 percent of more than 40,000 domains, web links, social media searches, and internet protocol addresses that it monitors in the country were blocked. In addition to social media websites such as Facebook, the government continued to block almost all access to Google websites, including its e-mail service, photograph program, map service, calendar application, and YouTube.

Government censors continued to block websites or online content related to topics deemed sensitive, such as Taiwan, the Dalai Lama, Tibet, the 1989 Tiananmen massacre, and all content related to the Panama Papers. The Economist, for example, was blocked in April after it printed an article critical of President Xi’s consolidation of power. Many other websites for international media outlets, such as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and Bloomberg, remained perennially blocked, in addition to human rights websites, such as those of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

Authorities continued to jail numerous internet writers for their peaceful expression of political views. In June authorities in Yunnan Province detained citizen journalists Lu Yuyu and Li Tingyu on suspicion of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” as a result of their reporting. Li and Lu compiled and catalogued daily lists of “mass incidents”–the official term for protests, demonstrations, and riots–and disseminated their findings to the public via social media platforms, such as Weibo. Public security officials reportedly beat Lu, choked him, and twisted his arms until he was badly bruised. Reporters without Borders stated that Lu and Li were among 80 detained citizen journalists and bloggers.

In addition, there continued to be reports of cyberattacks against foreign websites, journalists, and media organizations carrying information that the government restricted internet users from accessing. As in the past, the government selectively blocked access to sites operated by foreign governments, including instances involving the website or social media platforms of health organizations, educational institutions, NGOs, and social networking sites as well as search engines.

While such censorship was effective in keeping casual users away from websites hosting sensitive content, some users circumvented online censorship through the use of various technologies. Information on proxy servers outside the country and software for defeating official censorship were available inside the country, but the government increasingly blocked access to the websites and proxy servers of commercial, academic, and other virtual private network providers.

The State Secrets Law obliges internet companies to cooperate with investigations of suspected leaks of state secrets, stop the transmission of such information once discovered, and report the crime to authorities. Furthermore, the companies must comply with authorities’ orders to delete such information from their websites; failure to do so is punishable by relevant departments, such as police and the Ministry of Public Security.

At the World Internet Conference in China in November, Ren Xianling, the vice minister for the CAC, called on participants to embrace state control of the internet and likened such controls to “installing brakes on a car before driving on the road.” Xi Jinping opened the conference with a videotaped address in which he reasserted earlier claims that the government exercised absolute control over the internet in the country through “cyber sovereignty.”

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government continued restrictions on academic and artistic freedom and on political and social discourse at colleges, universities, and research institutes. Restrictive SAPPRFT and Central Propaganda Department regulations and decisions constrained the flow of ideas and persons. In 2013 the South China Morning Post reported that the CCP issued secret instructions to university faculty identifying seven “off-limits” subjects, including universal values, freedom of the press, civil society, civil rights, an independent judiciary, elite cronyism, and the historical errors of the CCP. Some academics self-censored their publications, faced pressure to reach predetermined research results, or were unable to hold conferences with international participants during politically sensitive periods. Foreign academics claimed the government used visa denials, along with blocking access to archives, fieldwork, or interviews, to pressure them to self-censor their work.

In 2015 then minister of education Yuan Guiren restricted the use of foreign textbooks in classrooms. Domestically produced textbooks remained under the editorial control of the CCP. In January, Reuters reported that the CCP Central Commission for Discipline Inspection had set up a team at the Ministry of Education that was “increasing supervision and inspection of political discipline” with the stated purpose, among other things, of preventing CCP members on university campuses from making “irresponsible remarks about major policies.” In addition, schools at all levels were required to merge “patriotic education” into their curriculum and extracurricular activities. The government and the CCP Organization Department controlled appointments to most leadership positions at universities, including department heads. While CCP membership was not always a requirement to obtain a tenured faculty position, scholars without CCP affiliation often had fewer chances for promotion.

In July, Chen Baosheng became minister of education, and one of his first acts was to establish a Commission on University Political Education to strengthen ideological discipline within the higher education system. At a press conference in March, Yuan highlighted the centrality of political indoctrination in the education system, declaring “the goal and orientation of running schools is to make our students become people qualified to inherit and build up socialism with Chinese characteristics.” The CCP continued to require undergraduate students, regardless of academic major, to complete political ideology coursework on subjects such as Marxism, Maoism, and Deng Xiaoping thought.

In December, Xi Jinping chaired the National Ideology and Political Work Conference for Higher Education and called for turning the academy into a “stronghold that adheres to party leadership.” Xi stressed that “China’s colleges and universities are institutions of higher learning under the Party’s leadership; they are colleges and universities with Chinese socialist characteristics.” Xi further asserted that strengthening the role of Marxism in the curriculum was needed to “guide the teachers and students to become staunch believers in the socialist value system.” Xi specifically called on professors to become “staunch supporters of the Party’s rule.”

Authorities on some occasions blocked entry into the country of individuals deemed politically sensitive and frequently refused to issue passports to citizens selected for international exchange programs who were considered “politically unreliable,” singling out Tibetans, Uighurs, and individuals from other minority nationality areas. A number of other foreign government-sponsored exchange selectees who already had passports, including some academics, encountered difficulties gaining approval to travel to participate in their programs. Academics reported having to request permission to travel overseas and, in some cases, said they were limited in the number of foreign trips they could take per year.

Censorship and self-censorship of artistic works was common, particularly those artworks deemed to involve politically sensitive subjects. In addition, authorities scrutinized the content of cultural events and applied pressure to encourage self-censorship of discussions. In March a cafe was effectively prevented from a holding an event discussing online censorship in the country after security agents threatened one of the visiting Chinese participants.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

While the constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, the government severely restricted this right. The law stipulates that such activities may not challenge “party leadership” or infringe upon the “interests of the state.” Protests against the political system or national leaders were prohibited. Authorities denied permits and quickly suppressed demonstrations involving expression of dissenting political views.

The law protects an individual’s ability to petition the government, but persons petitioning the government faced restrictions on their rights to assemble and raise grievances (see section 1.d.).

While the central government reiterated prohibitions against blocking or restricting “normal petitioning” and against unlawfully detaining petitioners, official retaliation against petitioners continued. This was partly due to central government regulations that took effect in 2015 requiring local governments to resolve complaints within 60 days and stipulating that central authorities will no longer accept petitions already handled by local or provincial governments. The regulations encourage all litigation-related petitions to be handled at the local level through local or provincial courts, reinforcing a system of incentives for local officials to prevent petitioners from raising complaints to higher levels. It also resulted in local officials sending security personnel to Beijing and forcibly returning petitioners to their home provinces to prevent them from filing complaints against local officials with the central government. Such detentions often went unrecorded and often resulted in brief periods of incarceration in extralegal “black jails.”

Petitioners faced harassment, illegal detention, and even more severe forms of punishment when attempting to travel to Beijing to present their grievances.

Citizens throughout the country continued to gather publicly to protest evictions, forced relocations, and inadequate compensation, often resulting in conflict with authorities or other charges.

Although peaceful protests are legal, public security officials rarely granted permits to demonstrate. Despite restrictions, many demonstrations occurred, but those motivated by broad political or social grievances were broken up quickly, sometimes with excessive force.

In June authorities arrested Wukan’s popularly elected village mayor, Lin Zuluan, on corruption charges. On September 8, Lin was convicted and sentenced to three years in prison and fined 200,000 yuan ($29,000). Large numbers of villagers took to the streets to protest what they considered bogus charges brought against Lin because of his resistance to land confiscation by higher-level authorities. Authorities deployed large numbers of riot police and used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the protest. Public security forces reportedly beat villagers at random, forcibly entered private homes to detain individuals suspected of participating in the protests, and prevented anyone from entering or leaving the village. The authorities also reportedly detained, interrogated, and assaulted foreign journalists, offering rewards for information leading to their detention. At year’s end dozens of villagers remained in detention, and at least 13 individuals suspected of leading the protest had been charged with crimes.

In July, thousands of citizens took to the streets in Lubu to protest plans for a new incinerator plant. Local citizens were concerned the plant would contaminate drinking water. The BBC reported that 21 protest leaders were detained, and other media reports indicated that the protests turned violent.

Rights lawyers and activists who advocated for nonviolent civil disobedience were detained, arrested, and in some cases sentenced to prison terms. In January a Guangzhou court convicted Tang Jingling, Yuan Xinting, and Wang Qingying of “inciting subversion of state power,” citing their promotion of civil disobedience and the peaceful transition to democratic rule as evidence. Media outlets reported the men were also signatories of the Charter 08 manifesto advocating political reform.

In April human rights activist Su Changlan stood trial at Foshan Intermediate Court on charges of “incitement to subvert state power” for activities in support of the 2014 Hong Kong prodemocracy movement. Five activists who gathered outside the court in support of Su were detained briefly. Authorities detained Su in 2014 and had held her for more than two years without sentencing her. She was refused a request for medical parole in September. Her husband reported being under police surveillance.

Concerts, sports events, exercise classes, or other meetings of more than 200 persons require approval from public security authorities. Large numbers of public gatherings in Beijing and elsewhere were not revived during the year after being canceled at the last minute or denied government permits in 2015, ostensibly under the guise of ensuring public safety.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for freedom of association, but the government restricted this right. CCP policy and government regulations require that all professional, social, and economic organizations officially register with and receive approval from the government. These regulations prevented the formation of autonomous political, human rights, religious, spiritual, labor, and other organizations that the government believed might challenge its authority in any area.

The government maintained tight controls over civil society organizations and in some cases detained or harassed NGO workers.

In January authorities detained a Swedish NGO worker, Peter Dahlin, on charges of endangering state security. He had worked for an organization that trained and supported activists and lawyers seeking to “promote the development of the rule of law.” After being paraded on state television in what his friends and colleagues characterized as a forced confession, which included an apology for “hurting the Chinese government and the Chinese people,” authorities deported Dahlin from the country.

On April 15, police detained 15 human rights activists while they ate dinner in a restaurant in Guangzhou. The activists had planned to gather at the Guangzhou Municipal Intermediate People’s Court the next day to show support for four prominent activists who faced charges of subversion for expressing their support for Hong Kong’s 2014 prodemocracy protest movement.

The regulatory system for NGOs was highly restrictive, but specific requirements varied depending on whether an organization was foreign or domestic. Domestic NGOs were governed by the Charity Law, which went into effect in September, and a host of related regulations. Domestic NGOs could register as one of three categories: a social group, a social organization, or a foundation. All domestic NGOs were required to register under the Ministry of Civil Affairs and find an officially sanctioned sponsor to serve as their “professional supervisory unit.” Finding a sponsor was often challenging, since the sponsor could be held civilly or criminally responsible for the NGO’s activities. All organizations were also required to report their sources of funding, including foreign funding. Domestic NGOs continued to adjust to this new regulatory framework.

On August 22, the CCP Central Committee issued a directive mandating the establishment of CCP cells within all domestic NGOs by 2020. According to authorities, these CCP organizations operating inside domestic NGOs would “strengthen guidance” of NGOs in areas such as “decision making for important projects, important professional activities, major expenditures and funds, acceptance of large donations, and activities involving foreigners.” The directive also mandates that authorities conduct annual “spot checks” to ensure compliance on “ideological political work, party building, financial and personnel management, study sessions, foreign exchange, acceptance of foreign donations and assistance, and conducting activities according to their charter.” An editorial in the CCP’s official mouthpiece, the People’s Daily, explained how the CCP intends to transform social organizations into CCP affiliates: “Social organizations are important vehicles for the party to connect with and serve the masses; strengthening the party’s leadership is the basic guarantee of accelerating the healthy and orderly development of social organizations. We must fully bring into play the combat fortress function of party cells within social organizations.”

In April the NPC Standing Committee passed the Law on the Management of Foreign NGOs’ Activities within Mainland China (Foreign NGO Management Law), which was scheduled to go into effect in January 2017. The law requires foreign NGOs to register with the Ministry of Public Security and to find a state-sanctioned sponsor for their operations. NGOs that fail to comply face possible civil or criminal penalties. The law provides no appeal process for NGOs denied registration, and it stipulates that NGOs found to have violated certain provisions could be placed on a “blacklist” and barred from operating in the country.

Although the law had not yet gone into effect, some international NGOs reported that it became more difficult to work with local partners, including universities, government agencies, and other domestic NGOs, as the law codified the CCP’s perception that foreign NGOs were a “national security” threat. Finding an official sponsor was also difficult for foreign NGOs, as sponsors could be held responsible for the NGO’s conduct and had to undertake burdensome reporting requirements. Implementation guidelines and a list of permissible government sponsors were released less than a month before implementation, leaving NGOs uncertain how to comply with the law. Even after a list of sponsors was published, NGOs reported that most government agencies had no unit responsible for sponsoring foreign NGOs. The vague definition of an NGO, as well as of what activities constituted “political” and therefore illegal activities, also left many business organizations and alumni associations uncertain whether they fell under the purview of the law. The lack of clear communication from the government, coupled with harassment by security authorities, caused some foreign NGOs to suspend or cease operations in the country, even before the law took effect.

According to the Ministry of Civil Affairs, by June there were more than 670,000 legally registered social organizations, public institutions, and foundations. According to the Ministry of Public Security, in August there were more than 7,000 foreign NGOs. Many experts believed the actual number of domestic NGOs to be much higher. Domestic NGOs reported that foreign funding dropped during the year, as many domestic NGOs sought to avoid such funding for fear of being labeled as “subversive” in the face of growing restrictions imposed by new laws. NGOs existed under a variety of formal and informal guises, including national mass organizations created and funded by the CCP that are organizationally prohibited from exercising any independence, known as government-operated NGOs or GONGOs.

For donations to a domestic organization from a foreign NGO, the Foreign NGO Management Law requires foreign NGOs to maintain a representative office in the country in order to send funds or to use the bank account of a domestic NGO when conducting temporary activities. Foreign NGOs are prohibited from using any other method to send and receive funds under the law, and such funding must be reported to the Ministry of Public Security. Foreign NGOs are prohibited from fundraising and “for-profit activities” under the law.

Although all registered organizations came under some degree of government control, some NGOs, primarily service-oriented GONGOs, were able to operate with less day-to-day scrutiny. Authorities supported the growth of some NGOs that focused on social problems, such as poverty alleviation and disaster relief. Law and regulations explicitly prohibited organizations from conducting political or religious activities, and organizations that refused to comply faced criminal penalties.

Authorities continued to restrict and evict local NGOs that received foreign funding and international NGOs that provided assistance to Tibetan communities in the TAR and other Tibetan areas. Almost all were forced to curtail their activities altogether due to travel restrictions, official intimidation of staff members, and the failure of local partners to renew project agreements.

No laws or regulations specifically governed the formation of political parties. The Chinese Democracy Party (CDP) remained banned, and the government continued to monitor, detain, and imprison current and former CDP members. Activists Chen Shuqing and Lu Gengsong, who had been active with the banned CDP, were sentenced to more than 10 years’ imprisonment on charges of “subversion of state power” in June.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government at times did not respect these rights.

While seriously restricting its scope of operations, the government occasionally cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which maintained an office in Beijing, to provide protection and assistance to select categories of refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern.

The government increasingly silenced activists by denying them permission to travel, both internationally and domestically, or keeping them under unofficial house arrest.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: There were reports that North Korean agents operated clandestinely within the country to forcibly repatriate North Korean citizens. According to press reports, some North Koreans detained by Chinese authorities faced repatriation unless they could pay bribes to secure their release.

In-country Movement: Authorities heightened restrictions on freedom of movement, particularly to curtail the movement of individuals deemed politically sensitive before key anniversaries, visits by foreign dignitaries, or major political events, as well as to forestall demonstrations. Freedom of movement for Tibetans continued to be very limited in the TAR and other Tibetan areas. Public security officers maintained checkpoints in most counties and on roads leading into many towns as well as within major cities, such as Lhasa. Restrictions were not applied to Han Chinese migrants or tourists in Tibetan areas.

Although the government maintained restrictions on the freedom to change one’s workplace or residence, the national household registration system (hukou) continued to change, and the ability of most citizens to move within the country to work and live continued to expand. Rural residents continued to migrate to the cities, where the per capita disposable income was approximately three times the rural per capita income, but many could not change their official residence or workplace within the country. Most cities had annual quotas for the number of new temporary residence permits that could be issued, and all workers, including university graduates, had to compete for a limited number of such permits. It was particularly difficult for rural residents to obtain household registration in more economically developed urban areas.

A 2014 State Council legal opinion removed restrictions on rural migrants seeking household registration in small and mid-sized towns and cities. The regulations base household registrations on place of residence and employment instead of place of birth. The opinion exempts cities with large populations.

The household registration system added to the difficulties faced by rural residents, even after they relocated to urban areas and found employment. According to the Statistical Communique of the People’s Republic of China on 2015 National Economic and Social Development published by the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security, 294 million persons lived outside the jurisdiction of their household registration. Of that number, 247 million individuals worked outside their home district. Many migrant workers and their families faced numerous obstacles with regard to working conditions and labor rights. Many were unable to access public services, such as public education for their children or social insurance, in the cities where they lived and worked because they were not legally registered urban residents. Poor treatment and difficulty integrating into local communities contributed to increased unrest among migrant workers in the Pearl River Delta. Migrant workers had little recourse when abused by employers and officials. Some major cities maintained programs to provide migrant workers and their children access to public education and other social services free of charge, but migrants in some locations reported difficulty in obtaining these benefits due to onerous bureaucratic processes.

Under the “staying at prison employment” system applicable to recidivists incarcerated in administrative detention, authorities denied certain persons permission to return to their homes after serving their sentences. Some released or paroled prisoners returned home but did not have freedom of movement.

Foreign Travel: The government permitted legal emigration and foreign travel for most citizens. Government employees and retirees, especially from the military, continued to face foreign travel restrictions. The government expanded the use of exit controls for departing passengers at airports and other border crossings to deny foreign travel to some dissidents and persons employed in government posts. Throughout the year many lawyers, artists, authors, and other activists were at times prevented from exiting the country. Authorities also blocked travel of some family members of rights activists.

Border officials and police cited threats to “national security” as the reason for refusing permission to leave the country. Authorities stopped most such persons at the airport at the time of their attempted travel. In January authorities detained journalist Jia Jia at the Beijing airport as he attempted to board a flight to Hong Kong. They held him for nearly two weeks with no charges and interrogated him about an open letter published online calling for Xi Jinping to resign.

Most citizens could obtain passports, although individuals the government deemed potential political threats, including religious leaders, political dissidents, petitioners, and ethnic minorities, routinely reported being refused passports or otherwise prevented from traveling overseas. The passport of former political prisoner and Falun Gong practitioner Wang Zhiwen was physically cancelled at a border checkpoint as he attempted to leave the country.

Uighurs, particularly those residing in the XUAR, reported great difficulty in getting passport applications approved at the local level. They were frequently denied passports to travel abroad, particularly to Saudi Arabia for the Hajj, to other Muslim countries, or to Western countries for academic purposes. Since October authorities ordered residents in some areas of the XUAR to turn in their passports or told residents no new passports were available. The passport recall, however, was not limited to Uighur areas. Family members of Uighur activists living overseas were also denied visas to enter the country.

Uighurs in the XUAR also faced restrictions on movement within the XUAR itself. Although the use of “domestic passports” that called for local official approval before traveling to another area was discontinued in May, identification checks remained in place when entering cities and on public roads. Reuters reported that authorities required applicants for travel documents to provide extra information prior to the month of Ramadan. For example, residents in the Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture in the XUAR had to provide DNA samples, fingerprints, and voice recordings in order to apply for travel documents, according a local government newspaper in June.

In the TAR and Tibetan areas of Qinghai, Gansu, Yunnan, and Sichuan Provinces, Tibetans, especially Buddhist monks and nuns, experienced great difficulty acquiring passports. The unwillingness of Chinese authorities in Tibetan areas to issue or renew passports for Tibetans created, in effect, a ban on foreign travel for a large segment of the Tibetan population. Han Chinese residents of Tibetan areas did not experience the same difficulties.

Exile: The law neither provides for a citizen’s right to repatriate nor addresses exile. The government continued to refuse re-entry to numerous citizens considered dissidents, Falun Gong activists, or “troublemakers.” Although authorities allowed some dissidents living abroad to return, dissidents released on medical parole and allowed to leave the country often were effectively exiled.

Emigration and Repatriation: The government continued to try to prevent many Tibetans and Uighurs from leaving the country and detained many who were apprehended while attempting to leave (see Tibet Annex). Some family members of rights activists who tried to emigrate were unable to do so.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of refugee or asylee status. The government did not have a system for providing protection to refugees but allowed UNHCR to assist the relatively small number of non-North Korean and non-Burmese refugees. The government did not officially recognize these individuals as refugees; they remained in the country as illegal immigrants unable to work, with no access to education, and subject to deportation at any time.

Authorities continued to repatriate North Korean refugees forcibly, including trafficking victims, generally treating them as illegal economic migrants. The government detained and deported such refugees to North Korea, where they faced severe punishment or death, including in North Korean forced-labor camps. The government did not provide North Korean trafficking victims with legal alternatives to repatriation. The government continued to prevent UNHCR from having access to North Korean or Burmese refugees. Authorities sometimes detained and prosecuted citizens who assisted North Korean refugees as well as those who facilitated illegal border crossings.

In some instances the government pressured neighboring countries to return asylum seekers or UNHCR-recognized refugees to China. At year’s end India was reportedly preparing to return to China two Uighur asylum seekers who had been convicted of crimes in India.

Refoulement: The government did not provide protection against the expulsion or forcible return of vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers, especially North Korean refugees. The government continued to consider North Koreans as “illegal economic migrants” rather than refugees or asylum seekers and forcibly returned many of them to North Korea. The government continued to deny UNHCR permission to operate outside of Beijing.

Access to Basic Services: North Korean asylum seekers and North Koreans in the country seeking economic opportunities generally did not have access to health care, public education, or other social services due to lack of legal status. International media reported that as many as 30,000 children born to North Korean women in China, most of whom were married to Chinese spouses, were denied access to public services, including education and health care, despite provisions in the law that provide citizenship to children with at least one PRC citizen parent.

Durable Solutions: The government largely cooperated with UNHCR when dealing with the resettlement in China of Han Chinese or ethnic minorities from Vietnam and Laos living in the country since the Vietnam War era. The government and UNHCR continued discussions concerning the granting of citizenship to these long-term residents and their children, many of whom were born in China. The government worked with UNHCR in granting exit permission for a small number of non-Burmese and non-North Korean refugees to resettle to third countries.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution states that “all power in the People’s Republic of China belongs to the people” and that the organs through which the people exercise state power are the NPC and the people’s congresses at provincial, district, and local levels. In practice the CCP dictated the legislative agenda to the NPC. While the law provides for elections of people’s congress delegates at the county level and below, citizens could not freely choose the officials who governed them. The CCP controlled all elections and continued to control appointments to positions of political power. The CCP used various intimidation tactics, including house arrest, to block independent candidates from standing for local elections.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2013 the NPC’s nearly 3,000 delegates elected the president and vice president, the premier and vice premiers, and the chairman of the Central Military Commission. The NPC Standing Committee, which consisted of 175 members, oversaw the elections and determined the agenda and procedures for the NPC. The selection of NPC members takes place every five years, and the process is controlled by the CCP.

The NPC Standing Committee remained under the direct authority of the CCP, and all important legislative decisions required the concurrence of the CCP’s seven-member Politburo Standing Committee. Despite its broad authority under the state constitution, the NPC did not set policy independently or remove political leaders without the CCP’s approval.

According to Ministry of Civil Affairs’ statistics, almost all of the country’s more than 600,000 villages had implemented direct elections for members of local subgovernmental organizations known as village committees. The direct election of officials by ordinary citizens remained narrow in scope and strictly confined to the lowest rungs of local governance. Corruption, vote buying, and interference by township-level and CCP officials continued to be problems. The law permits each voter to cast proxy votes for up to three other voters.

The election law governs legislative bodies at all levels, although compliance and enforcement varied across the country. Under the law citizens have the opportunity every five years to vote for local people’s congress representatives at the county level and below, although in most cases higher-level government officials or CCP cadres controlled the nomination of candidates. At higher levels legislators selected people’s congress delegates from among their ranks. For example, provincial-level people’s congresses selected delegates to the NPC. Local CCP secretaries generally served concurrently within the leadership team of the local people’s congress, thus strengthening CCP control over legislatures.

In September the NPC Standing Committee expelled 45 deputies from Liaoning Province for violations of the electoral law, including vote buying and bribery. Official media described the case as “unprecedented since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949.” More than 500 of the 617 members of the Liaoning Provincial People’s Congress were implicated in the scandal and either resigned or were expelled from the body. The NPC Standing Committee also disbanded the Liaoning Provincial People’s Congress Standing Committee and established a preparatory panel to function on its behalf until convening of a new provincial people’s congress.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Official statements asserted that “the political party system [that] China has adopted is multiparty cooperation and political consultation” under CCP leadership. The CCP, however, retained a monopoly on political power, and the government forbade the creation of new political parties. The government officially recognized nine parties founded prior to 1949, and parties other than the CCP held 30 percent of the seats in the NPC. These non-CCP members did not function as a political opposition. They exercised very little influence on legislation or policymaking and were allowed to operate only under the direction of the CCP United Front Work Department.

No laws or regulations specifically govern the formation of political parties. The Chinese Democracy Party (CDP) remained banned, and the government continued to monitor, detain, and imprison current and former CDP members. Activists attempting to create or support unofficial parties were arrested, detained, or confined.

Participation of Women and Minorities: While the government placed no special restrictions on the participation of women or minority groups in the political process, women held few positions of significant influence in the government or CCP structure. Among the 2,987 appointed delegates to the 12th NPC in 2013, 699 (23 percent) were women. Following the 18th CCP Congress in 2013, two women were members of the CCP Central Committee’s 25-member Politburo. There were no women in the Politburo Standing Committee.

The election law provides a general mandate for quotas for female and ethnic minority representatives, but achieving these quotas often required election authorities to violate the election law.

A total of 409 delegates from 55 ethnic minorities were members of the 12th NPC, accounting for 14 percent of the total number of delegates. All of the country’s officially recognized minority groups were represented. The 18th Communist Party Congress in 2013 elected 10 members of ethnic minority groups as members of the 205-person Central Committee. There was no ethnic minority member of the Politburo and only one ethnic minority was serving as a party secretary of a provincial-level jurisdiction, although a handful of ethnic minority members were serving as leaders in provincial governments. In March an ethnic Mongolian woman, Bu Xiaolin, became chair of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, equivalent to a provincial governor. In July an ethnic Hui woman, Xian Hui, also became chair of the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

Although officials faced criminal penalties for corruption, the government and the CCP did not implement the law consistently or transparently. Corruption remained rampant, and many cases of corruption involved areas heavily regulated by the government, such as land-usage rights, real estate, mining, and infrastructure development, which were susceptible to fraud, bribery, and kickbacks. Court judgments often could not be enforced against powerful special entities, including government departments, state-owned enterprises, military personnel, and some members of the CCP.

In January the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), the CCP’s investigative body that enforces political discipline among its members, including countering corruption, reported that in 2015 it received more than 2.8 million allegations of corruption, investigated 330,000 corruption-related cases, and disciplined 336,000 officials, 44 percent more than in 2014. Among those investigated, 42 senior officials at the vice-ministerial level or above in the CCP, government, and state-owned enterprises were eventually removed from their posts. In addition, 34,000 officials were punished for violating one or more of the “eight rules” that serve as the mandate for the anticorruption campaign, 52 percent less than 2014. The CCDI continued to operate outside the judicial system, and in many cases it punished CCP members and officials in the absence of a judicial process.

The CCP internal disciplinary system used to investigate party members suspected of corruption and other violations of party rules–known as “shuanggui”–continued to operate without legal oversight and with widespread allegations of torture. Many officials accused of corruption or other discipline violations were interrogated and in some cases tortured while under investigation by the CCP, often to extract a confession of wrongdoing. Some were later turned over to the judicial system for criminal prosecution.

Corruption: In numerous cases public officials and leaders of state-owned enterprises, who generally held high CCP ranks, were investigated for corruption. In March, Procurator General Cao Jianming reported to the 12th NPC that in 2015 the government investigated 4,568 public servants above the county level for corruption, including 41 at the provincial and ministerial levels or above, in 4,490 cases of graft, bribery, and embezzlement of public funds, each involving more than one million yuan ($145,000). While the tightly controlled state media apparatus publicized some notable corruption investigations, as a general matter, there were very few details regarding the process by which CCP and government officials were investigated for corruption.

In January the CCP announced it was investigating National Bureau of Statistics head Wang Bao’an. Wang was expelled from the CCP in August for accepting bribes, and his case was turned over to judicial officials for prosecution.

In March the CCP announced it was investigating former Liaoning provincial CCP secretary Wang Min. Wang was expelled from the party in August for his association with a bribery and vote-buying scheme involving members of the Liaoning Provincial People’s Congress and Liaoning deputies to the NPC.

On July 4, a court sentenced Ling Jihua, a former member of the Politburo and head of the CCP General Office, to life in prison for extorting 77.1 million yuan ($11.2 million), abuse of power, and illegally obtaining state secrets. Ling was one of former president Hu Jintao’s closest advisors.

In some cases individuals who tried to report corruption faced reprisal and retribution. In July a real estate developer in Hunan Province, Wu Zhengge, was arrested after he hired a private investigator to find evidence of corruption by several local judges. The judges were presiding over a criminal case against Wu, who hoped to use the evidence to blackmail the judges into dismissing the case. Although the judges were placed under investigation for public corruption, Wu was later arrested and charged with disclosing personal information.

Financial Disclosure: A regulation requires officials in government agencies or state-owned enterprises at the county level or above to report their ownership of property, including that in their spouse’s or children’s names, as well as their families’ investments in financial assets and enterprises. The regulations do not require that declarations be made public. Instead, they are submitted to a higher administrative level and a human resource department. Punishments for not declaring information vary from training on the regulations, warning talks, and adjusting one’s work position to being relieved of one’s position. Regulations further state that officials should report all income, including allowances, subsidies, and bonuses as well as income from other jobs, such as giving lectures, writing, consulting, reviewing articles, painting, and calligraphy. Officials, their spouses, and the children who live with them also should report their real estate properties and financial investments, although these reports are not made public. They must report whether their children live abroad as well as the work status of their children and grandchildren (including those who live abroad). Officials are required to file reports annually and must report changes of personal status within 30 days.

Public Access to Information: Open-government information regulations allow citizens to request information from the government. The regulations require government authorities to create formal channels for information requests and to include an appeals process if requests are rejected or not answered. They stipulate that administrative agencies should reply to requests immediately to the extent possible. Otherwise, the administrative agency should provide the information within 15 working days, with the possibility of a maximum extension of an additional 15 days. According to the regulations, administrative agencies may collect only cost-based fees (as determined by the State Council) for searching, photocopying, postage, and similar expenses when disclosing government information on request. The regulations include exceptions for state secrets, commercial secrets, and individual privacy.

Publicly released provincial- and national-level statistics for open-government information requests showed wide disparities across localities, levels of government, and departments regarding the number of requests filed and official documents released in response.

If information requesters believed that an administrative agency violated the regulations, they could report it to the next higher-level administrative agency, the supervision agency, or the department in charge of open-government information.

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

The government sought to maintain control over civil society groups, halt the emergence of independent NGOs, and hinder the activities of civil society and rights’ activist groups. The government harassed independent domestic NGOs and did not permit them to openly monitor or comment on human rights conditions. The government made statements expressing suspicion of independent organizations and closely scrutinized NGOs with financial and other links overseas. The government took significant steps during the year to bring all domestic NGOs under its direct regulatory control, thereby curtailing the space for independent NGOs to exist. Most large NGOs were quasi-governmental, and government agencies had to sponsor all official NGOs.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: In August the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, visited the country. Alston said that the government restricted his activities and that security agents followed him throughout his visit. Many of his meeting requests were declined, and although he submitted a list of academics he wanted to meet prior to his visit, he was told that many of them had been advised they should be on vacation during his visit. Security agents detained one person en route to a meeting with Alston. Alston’s request to visit was first made in 2005, according to the UN Office of the Human Rights Commissioner. A dozen other requests for visits to the country by UN experts remained outstanding.

The government remained reluctant to accept criticism of its human rights record by other nations or international organizations. It criticized reports by international human rights monitoring groups, claiming that such reports were inaccurate and interfered in the country’s internal affairs.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The government maintained that each country’s economic, social, cultural, and historical conditions determined its approach to human rights. The government claimed that its treatment of suspects, considered to be victims of human rights abuses by the international community, was in accordance with national law. The government did not have a human rights ombudsman or commission.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is illegal, and some persons convicted of rape were executed. The penalties for rape range from three years in prison to death. The law does not address spousal rape.

Cases of rape were unreported, and most cases were closed through private settlement. From 2013 to 2015, courts adjudicated 66,736 rape cases in which 62,551 defendants were given criminal convictions. Scholars pointed out that performance indicators for public security officers and prosecutors disincentivized prosecution of rape cases, as private settlement of cases minimized the risk that the records of prosecutors and public security officials would be tarnished by mishandled cases. The government, however, acknowledged the need to include the reporting of rape, domestic violence, sexual harassment, and other gender-related cases in annual judicial statistics.

Domestic violence remained a significant problem, but the government took a significant step to protect women from domestic abuse through the passage of the Family Violence Law, which took effect March 1. The law defines domestic violence as physical and mental violence between family members. NGOs reported that, as a result of the law, more women were willing to report domestic violence incidents to police. Nevertheless, implementation of the law remained inconsistent during its first year, largely due to authorities’ lack of awareness of the law’s implementing measures. Societal sentiment that domestic violence was a personal, private matter also contributed to underreporting and inaction by authorities when women faced violence at home.

According to reports, at least one-quarter of families suffered from domestic violence and more than 85 percent of the victims were women. The government supported shelters for victims of domestic violence, and some courts provided protections to victims, including through restraining orders prohibiting a perpetrator of domestic violence from coming near a victim. Nonetheless, official assistance did not always reach victims, and public security forces often ignored domestic violence. Legal aid institutions working to provide counseling and defense to victims of domestic violence were often pressured to suspend public activities and cease all forms of policy advocacy, an area that was reserved only for government-sponsored organizations. During the year several domestic violence service-oriented organizations were unable to register formally as nonprofit organizations, as authorities rejected their applications.

While domestic violence tended to be more prevalent in rural areas, it also occurred among the highly educated urban population. Women in rural areas, however, often lacked access to protection due to the perception that domestic violence was a lesser crime. In one case in Henan Province, a man was sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve–instead of immediate execution–after murdering his wife. In its written judgement, the court cited the fact that the murder was a “domestic case” in its reasoning for a reduced penalty.

During the year the government began to open dedicated shelters for domestic violence survivors, a change from previous years when survivors could only go to homeless shelters providing domestic violence-related services. Such shelters opened in Chengdu, Dazhou, Nanjing, and Zhengzhou municipalities, offering psychological counseling for victims of domestic abuse, including women and children. The shelters reported they were underutilized due to the public shame associated with domestic violence.

According to women’s rights activists, a recurring problem in the prosecution of domestic violence cases was a lack of evidence–including photographs, hospital records, police records, or children’s testimony–which hindered their prosecution. Witnesses seldom testified in court.

Courts’ recognition of domestic violence improved, making spousal abuse a mitigating factor in crimes committed in self-defense. In 2015 the SPC issued guidelines for dealing with cases of domestic violence to improve the unified application of laws, according to the Information Office of the State Council.

Sexual Harassment: The law bans sexual harassment. Offenders are subject to a penalty of up to 15 days in detention, according to the Beijing Public Security Bureau. Nonetheless, because laws lacked a clear definition of sexual harassment, it remained difficult for victims to file a sexual harassment complaint and for judges to reach a ruling on such cases.

Many women remained unwilling to report incidents of sexual harassment, believing that the justice system was ineffectual, according to official media. Several prominent media reports of sexual harassment went viral on social media, helping to raise awareness of the problem, particularly in the workplace.

The Law on the Protection of Women’s Rights and Interests empowers victims to file a sexual harassment complaint with their employer and/or with authorities. If employers failed to take effective measures to prevent sexual harassment, they could be fined.

Sexual harassment was not limited to the workplace. According to a 2014 survey by the All China Women’s Federation (ACWF), 57 percent of female students at 15 universities reported having been sexually harassed. Some of them experienced such harassment repeatedly. Many students said they were unaware of formal procedures to report incidents of harassments. At Beijing Normal University, one student documented 60 instances of sexual harassment over the past decade, prompting online debate and the university to start an antiharassment awareness campaign.

The ACWF and universities worked to improve awareness on sexual harassment by offering seminars and classes; however, NGOs that sought to increase public awareness of sexual harassment came under increasing scrutiny. Some women’s NGOs reported harassment by public security and faced challenges executing their programs. In September women’s rights activist Shan Lihua was found guilty by the Gangzha District People’s Court in Nantong, Jiangsu Province, of “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble.” The indictment specifically cited Shan’s activism on a rape case in Hainan Province as evidence, according to media reports.

Reproductive Rights: On January 1, the government raised the birth limit imposed on its citizens from one to two children per married couple, thereby ending the “one-child policy” first enacted in 1979. The revised law permits married couples to have two children and allows couples to apply for permission to have a third child if they meet conditions stipulated in local and provincial regulations. The revised law did not, however, eliminate state-imposed birth limitations or the penalties that citizens face for violating the law. The government considers intrauterine devices (IUDs) and sterilization to be the most reliable form of birth control and compelled women to accept the insertion of IUDs by officials. The National Health and Family Planning Commission reported that all provinces eliminated an earlier requirement to seek approval for a birth before a first child was conceived, but provinces could still require parents to “register pregnancies” prior to giving birth, which could be used as a de facto permit system in some provinces.

Under the law and in practice, there continued to be financial and administrative penalties for births that exceed birth limits or otherwise violate regulations. The National Health and Family Planning Commission announced it would continue to impose fines, called “social compensation fees,” for policy violations. The law as implemented requires each woman with an unauthorized pregnancy to abort or pay the social compensation fee, which can reach 10 times a person’s annual disposable income. The exact level of the fee varied widely from province to province. Those with financial means often paid the fee so that their children born in violation of the birth restrictions would have access to services. Some parents avoided the fee by hiding a child born in violation of the law with friends or relatives.

The revised law maintains previous language indicating that “citizens have an obligation to practice birth planning in accordance with the law” and also states that “couples of child-bearing age voluntarily choose birth planning contraceptive and birth control measures to prevent and reduce unwanted pregnancies.” Regulations pertaining to single women and unmarried couples remain unchanged. Children born to single mothers or unmarried couples are considered “outside of the policy” and subject to the social compensation fee and the denial of legal documents, such as birth documents and the “hukou” residence permit. Single women can avoid those penalties by marrying within 60 days of the baby’s birth. In localities with large populations of migrant workers, officials specifically targeted migrant women to ensure that they did not exceed birth limitations.

Government statistics on the percentage of abortions during the year that were nonelective were not available. State media claimed the number of coerced abortions had declined in recent years in the wake of looser regulations, including the implementation of the two-child policy.

As in prior years, population control policy continued to rely on social pressure, education, propaganda, and economic penalties as well as on measures such as mandatory pregnancy examinations and coercive abortions and sterilizations. Those found to have a pregnancy in violation of the law or those who helped another to evade state controls could face punitive measures, such as onerous fines, job loss, demotion, and loss of promotion opportunity (for those in the public sector or state-owned enterprises), expulsion from the CCP (membership is an unofficial requirement for many jobs), and other administrative punishments. In July the state-funded news outlet Sixth Tone reported that officials in Guangdong Province threatened a remarried couple with termination of their employment unless the wife had an abortion. Both individuals were government employees and each had a child from a prior marriage. Regulations in Guangdong Province do not permit such couples to have a child.

Regulations requiring women who violate the family-planning policy to terminate their pregnancies still exist and were enforced in some provinces, such as Hubei, Hunan, and Liaoning. For example, Hunan provincial regulations that were revised in March stipulate: “Pregnancies that do not conform to the conditions established by the law should promptly be terminated. For those who have not promptly terminated the pregnancy, the township people’s government or subdistrict office shall order that the pregnancy be terminated by a deadline.” Other provinces, such as Jilin, removed previous requirements to terminate pregnancies that violate the policy but retained provisions that require local officials to “promptly report” to higher authorities when such pregnancies are discovered without specifying what measures will be taken thereafter. Other provinces, such as Guizhou, Jiangxi, Qinghai, and Yunnan, maintained provisions that require “remedial measures,” an official euphemism for abortion, to deal with pregnancies that violate the policy. Some provinces, such as Guangdong, removed provisions from provincial-level regulations requiring “remedial measures” but inserted them instead into the revised regulations of major municipalities, such as Shenzhen. In the provinces where provincial regulations do not explicitly require termination of pregnancy or remedial measures, some local officials still coerced abortions to avoid surpassing population growth quotas.

The law mandates that family planning bureaus administer pregnancy tests to married women of childbearing age and provide them with unspecified “follow-up” services. Some provinces fined women who did not undergo these periodic state-mandated pregnancy tests. Officials at all levels could receive rewards or penalties based on whether or not they met the population targets set by their administrative region. Promotions for local officials depended in part on meeting population targets.

Although the population and birth planning law states that officials should not violate citizens’ “lawful rights” in the enforcement of birth limitation policy, these rights are not clearly defined nor are the penalties for violating them. The law lists seven activities that authorities are prohibited from undertaking when enforcing birth control regulations, which include beating individuals and their families, destroying property or crops, confiscating property to cover the amount of the fee, detaining relatives, and conducting pregnancy tests on unmarried women. Forced abortion is not listed. By law citizens may sue officials who exceed their authority in implementing birth-planning policy, but few protections exist for citizens against retaliation from local officials.

Discrimination: The constitution states that “women enjoy equal rights with men in all spheres of life.” The law provides for equality in ownership of property, inheritance rights, access to education, and equal pay for equal work. Despite this, many activists and observers expressed concern that discrimination remained a problem. Women reported that discrimination, unfair dismissal, demotion, and wage discrepancies were significant problems.

On average, women earned 35 percent less than men doing similar work. This wage gap was greater in rural areas. Women also continued to be underrepresented in leadership positions, despite their high rate of participation in the labor force. In 2015 women constituted 17 percent of legislators, senior officials, and managers.

Authorities often did not enforce laws protecting the rights of women. According to legal experts, it was difficult to litigate sex discrimination suits because of vague legal definitions. Some observers noted that the agencies tasked with protecting women’s rights tended to focus on maternity-related benefits and wrongful termination during maternity leave rather than on sex discrimination, violence against women, and sexual harassment.

In April a Guangzhou court sided with a female plaintiff, Gao Xiao, who had sued a restaurant for refusing to hire her as a cook after she was told the job was only open to men. The court ordered that Gao be paid 2,000 yuan ($290) in compensation. This was reportedly Guangzhou’s first gender-discrimination lawsuit.

Women’s rights advocates indicated that in rural areas women often forfeited land and property rights to their husbands in divorce proceedings. Rural contract law and laws protecting women’s rights stipulate that women enjoy equal rights in cases of land management, but experts asserted that this was rarely the case due to the complexity of the law and difficulties in its implementation.

Gender-biased Sex Selection: According to the National Bureau of Statistics of China, the sex ratio at birth was 113 males to 100 females in 2016, a decline from 2013, when the ratio was 116 males for every 100 females. Sex identification and sex-selective abortion are prohibited, but the practices continued because of traditional preference for male children and the birth-limitation policy.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from parents. Parents must register their children in compliance with the national household registration system within one month of birth. Unregistered children could not access public services, including education. No data was available on the number of unregistered births. In 2010 the official census estimated there were 13 million individuals without official documentation, many of whom likely were “ghost” children whose births were concealed from local officials because they violated the population control policy. Some local officials denied such children household registration and identification documents, particularly if their families could not pay the social compensation fees.

Education: Although the law provides for nine years of compulsory education for children, many children did not attend school for the required period in economically disadvantaged rural areas, and some never attended. Although public schools were not allowed to charge tuition, many schools continued to charge miscellaneous fees because they received insufficient local and central government funding. Such fees and other school-related expenses made it difficult for poorer families and some migrant workers to send their children to school.

Denied access to state-run schools, most children of migrant workers who attended school did so at unlicensed and poorly equipped schools.

Child Abuse: The physical abuse of children is ground for criminal prosecution. Kidnapping, buying, and selling children for adoption existed, particularly in poor rural areas, but there were no reliable estimates of the number of children kidnapped. Government authorities regularly estimated that fewer than 10,000 children were abducted per year, but media reports and experts sources noted that as many as 70,000 may be kidnapped every year. Most children kidnapped internally were sold to couples unable to have children. Those convicted of buying an abducted child could be sentenced to three years’ imprisonment. In the past most children abducted were boys, but increased demand for children reportedly drove kidnappers to focus on girls as well. In an effort to reunite families, the Ministry of Public Security maintained a DNA database of parents of missing children and of children recovered in law enforcement operations. During the year the government adopted a telephone system similar to the Amber Alert system in the United States.

Between 2013 and 2015, courts adjudicated 7,610 child molestation cases, sentencing 6,620 individuals. The number of convictions in child molestation cases consistently increased between 2013 and 2015. In a report during the year, the SPC acknowledged there had been a high number of cases involving the sexual abuse of minors. The People’s Public Security University of China estimated that, for every reported case of sexual abuse, as many as seven cases went unreported.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 22 for men and 20 for women. Child marriage was not known to be a problem.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Persons who forced girls under the age of 14 into prostitution could be sentenced to seven years to life in prison in addition to a fine or confiscation of property. In especially serious cases, violators could receive a life sentence or death sentence, in addition to having their property confiscated. Those who visited girls forced into prostitution under age 14 were subject to five years or more in prison in addition to paying a fine.

The minimum legal age for consensual sex is 14.

Pornography of any kind, including child pornography, is illegal. Under the criminal code, those producing, reproducing, publishing, selling, or disseminating obscene materials with the purpose of making a profit could be sentenced up to three years in prison or put under criminal detention or surveillance in addition to paying a fine. Offenders in serious cases could receive prison sentences of three to 10 years in addition to paying a fine.

Persons broadcasting or showing obscene materials to minors under the age of 18 are to be “severely punished.”

Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: The law forbids infanticide, but there was evidence that the practice continued. According to the National Health and Family Planning Commission, at least one doctor was charged with infanticide. No other statistics on the practice were available. Female infanticide, gender-biased abortions, and the abandonment and neglect of baby girls were declining but continued to be a problem in some circumstances due to the traditional preference for sons and the birth-limitation policy.

Displaced Children: There were approximately 1.5 million street children, according to the UN Development Program. There were between 150,000 and one million urban street children, according to state media. This number could be even higher if the children of migrant workers who spent the day on the streets were included. In 2013 the ACWF estimated that more than 61 million children under the age of 17 were left behind by their migrant-worker parents in rural areas.

Institutionalized Children: The law forbids the mistreatment or abandonment of children. The vast majority of children in orphanages were girls, many of whom were abandoned. Boys in orphanages usually had disabilities or were in poor health. Medical professionals sometimes advised parents of children with disabilities to put the children into orphanages.

The government denied that children in orphanages were mistreated or refused medical care but acknowledged that the system often was unable to provide adequately for some children, particularly those with serious medical problems. Adopted children were counted under the birth-limitation regulations in most locations. As a result, couples who adopted abandoned infant girls were sometimes barred from having additional children. The law was changed during the year to allow children who are rescued to be made available for adoption within one year if their family is not identified.

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 travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

The government does not recognize Judaism as an ethnicity or religion. According to information from the Jewish Virtual Library, the country’s Jewish population was 2,500 in 2014. In September the New York Times reported that members of the Kaifeng Jewish community in Henan Province came under pressure from authorities. Approximately 1,000 Kaifeng citizens claimed Jewish ancestry. Media reports stated that authorities forced the only Jewish learning center in the community to shut down.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law protects the rights of persons with disabilities and prohibits discrimination, but in many instances conditions for such persons lagged behind legal requirements and failed to provide persons with disabilities access to programs intended to assist them. The Ministry of Civil Affairs and the China Disabled Persons Federation (CDPF), a government-organized civil association, are the main entities responsible for persons with disabilities.

According to the law, persons with disabilities “are entitled to enjoyment of equal rights as other citizens in political, economic, cultural, and social fields, in family life, and in other aspects.” Discrimination against, insult of, and infringement upon persons with disabilities is prohibited. The law prohibits discrimination against minors with disabilities and codifies a variety of judicial protections for juveniles.

Publicly available statistics showed conflicting information about the education rate for children with disabilities. The Ministry of Education reported that there were more than 2,000 special education schools for children with disabilities and that 83,000 children remained outside the state education system, mostly in rural areas. In August the CDPF reported that more than 140,000 school-age children with disabilities were in need of suitable education. NGOs reported that only 2 percent of the 20 million children with disabilities had access to education that met their needs.

Individuals with disabilities faced difficulties accessing higher education. The law permits universities to exclude candidates with disabilities who would otherwise be qualified. In 2015, of the country’s 7.4 million college freshman, only 8,508 had disabilities. A regulation mandates accommodations for students with disabilities when taking the national university entrance exam.

Nearly 100,000 organizations existed, mostly in urban areas, to serve those with disabilities and protect their legal rights. The government, at times in conjunction with NGOs, sponsored programs to integrate persons with disabilities into society.

Misdiagnosis, inadequate medical care, stigmatization, and abandonment remained common problems. Parents who chose to keep children with disabilities at home generally faced difficulty finding adequate medical care, day care, and education for their children. Government statistics reported that four million persons with disabilities lived in poverty.

Unemployment among adults with disabilities, in part due to discrimination, remained a serious problem. In April the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security reported that, of the country’s 85 million reported persons with disabilities, 4.3 million were employed in urban areas and 16.7 million were employed in rural areas. The law requires local governments to offer incentives to enterprises that hire persons with disabilities. Regulations in some parts of the country also require employers to pay into a national fund for persons with disabilities when employees with disabilities do not make up a statutory minimum percentage of the total workforce. In some parts of the country, billboard advertisements informed companies that they needed to pay a disability “tax” rather than encouraging them to hire persons with disabilities. In some cases otherwise qualified candidates were denied jobs because of physical disabilities. In August the government reported that at least four million persons with disabilities lived in poverty.

Standards adopted for making roads and buildings accessible to persons with disabilities are subject to the Law on the Handicapped, which calls for their “gradual” implementation. Compliance with the law was limited.

The law forbids the marriage of persons with certain mental disabilities, such as schizophrenia. If doctors found that a couple was at risk of transmitting congenital disabilities to their children, the couple could marry only if they agree to use birth control or undergo sterilization. In some instances officials continued to require couples to abort pregnancies when doctors discovered possible disabilities during prenatal examinations. The law stipulates that local governments must employ such practices to raise the percentage of births of children without disabilities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Most minority groups resided in areas they had traditionally inhabited. Government policy called for members of recognized minorities to receive preferential treatment in birth planning, university admission, access to loans, and employment. The substance and implementation of ethnic minority policies nonetheless remained poor, and discrimination against minorities remained widespread.

Minority groups in border and other regions had less access to education than their Han Chinese counterparts, faced job discrimination in favor of Han Chinese migrants, and earned incomes well below those in other parts of the country. Government development programs often disrupted traditional living patterns of minority groups and in some cases included the forced relocation of persons and the forced settlement of nomads. Han Chinese benefited disproportionately from government programs and economic growth in minority areas. Some job advertisements in the XUAR made clear that Uighur applicants would not be considered for employment. As part of its emphasis on building a “harmonious society” and maintaining social stability, the government downplayed racism and institutional discrimination against minorities, which remained the source of deep resentment in the XUAR, the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, the TAR, and other Tibetan areas.

Ethnic minorities represented approximately 13.7 percent of delegates to the NPC and more than 15 percent of NPC Standing Committee members, according to an official report issued in 2014. Han Chinese officials continued to hold the majority of the most powerful CCP and government positions in minority autonomous regions, particularly the XUAR.

The government’s policy to encourage Han Chinese migration into minority areas significantly increased the population of Han in the XUAR. In recent decades, the Chinese-Uighur ratio in the capital of Urumqi reversed from 20/80 to approximately 80/20 and continued to be a source of Uighur resentment. Discriminatory hiring practices gave preference to Han Chinese and reduced job prospects for ethnic minorities. Arable land in the XUAR’s Hotan Prefecture was appropriated from Uighur residents and distributed to Han Chinese migrants, Radio Free Asia reported in April.

According to a November 2015 government census, 9.5 million, or 40 percent, of the XUAR’s official residents were Han Chinese. Uighur, Hui, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, and other ethnic minorities constituted 14.1 million XUAR residents, or 60 percent of the total population. Official statistics understated the Han Chinese population because they did not count the more than 2.7 million Han residents on paramilitary compounds (bingtuan) and those who were long-term “temporary workers,” an increase of 1.2 percent over the previous year, according to a 2015 government of Xinjiang report. As the government continued to promote Han migration into the XUAR and filled local jobs with domestic migrant labor, local officials coerced young Uighur men and women to participate in a government-sponsored labor transfer program to cities outside the XUAR, according to overseas human rights organizations. In April, Radio Free Asia reported that local authorities in Hotan Prefecture ordered Uighur men and women to take part in a labor program to prevent their involvement in “illegal activities” and promote stability in the area.

The law states that “schools (classes and grades) and other institutions of education where most of the students come from minority nationalities shall, whenever possible, use textbooks in their own languages and use their languages as the medium of instruction.” Despite guarantees of cultural and linguistic rights, many primary, middle, and high school students in the XUAR had limited access to Uighur-language instruction and textbooks. There were reports that private Uighur-language schools were shut by authorities without any transparent investigation under the pretense that they promoted radical ideologies. Uighur students were often provided insufficient Uighur-language resources and instruction to maintain the integrity of their culture and traditions.

Officials in the XUAR continued to implement a pledge to crack down on the government-designated “three evil forces” of religious extremism, ethnic separatism, and violent terrorism, and they outlined efforts to launch a concentrated re-education campaign to combat what it deems to be separatism. The government in December 2015 adopted a counterterrorism law defining terrorism broadly in a way that could include religious, political, and ethnic expression. In August the XUAR government adopted a provincial-level interpretation of the national legislation, expanding the definition of terrorism to include the use of cell phones to spread terrorist ideology and “twisting” the concept of halal to apply to nonfood aspects of life. Some security raids, arbitrary detentions, and judicial punishments, ostensibly directed at individuals or organizations suspected of promoting the “three evil forces,” appeared to target groups or individuals peacefully seeking to express their political or religious views. Officials continued to use the threat of violence as justification for extreme security measures directed at the local population, journalists, and visiting foreigners.

Uighurs continued to be sentenced to long prison terms and in some cases executed without due process on charges of separatism and endangering state security. Economist Ilham Tohti remained in prison, where he was serving a life sentence, after being convicted on separatist-related charges in 2014. Many governments continued to call for his release, and Tohti was awarded the Martin Ennals Foundation’s human rights award.

In January, Xinjiang-based activist Zhang Haitao was sentenced to 19 years in prison on charges of “inciting subversion of state power” and “probing and supplying intelligence abroad.” Haitao, who is Han Chinese, had been publicly critical of the government’s policies toward Uighurs. In November a Xinjiang court upheld the sentence.

Authorities detained Uighur social activists and the web administrators of popular Uighur language websites, including the website Misranim, in the weeks leading up to Ramadan, Radio Free Asia reported in June. Ababekri Muhtar, the founder of Misranim and a disabled social activist, was also detained between April and June.

Authorities employed show trials, mass arrests, and sentencing to convict large numbers of Uighurs for state security and other suspected crimes. Seventeen Uighurs, including four women, were reportedly arrested in connection with a September incident that resulted in the death of a public security chief in Hotan prefecture, but there was no information on their alleged crimes or place of custody, according to NGOs.

Eleven Uighurs convicted of endangering state security and terrorism saw their sentences reduced or commuted by the Xinjiang High People’s Court in February following lobbying efforts by the Dui Hua Foundation.

The government pressured foreign countries to repatriate or deny visas to Uighurs who had left the country, and repatriated Uighurs faced the risk of imprisonment and mistreatment upon return. There were accusations that government pressure led to India’s cancellation of exiled Uighur leader Dolkun Isa’s visa to attend a conference there, according to Reuters. Some Uighurs who were forcibly repatriated disappeared after arrival. The international community was still unable independently to confirm the welfare of the 109 Uighurs forcibly repatriated from Thailand in July 2015. Uighurs residing in Canada indicated that Xinjiang authorities detained and interrogated them during visits to the region, pressuring them to spy on other Uighurs living abroad for Chinese authorities.

Freedom of assembly was severely limited during the year in the XUAR. For information about abuse of religious freedom in Xinjiang, see the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

Authorities did not permit possession of publications or audiovisual materials discussing independence, autonomy, or other politically sensitive subjects. Uighur Abduhelil Zunun remained in prison for his peaceful expression of ideas the government found objectionable.

The law criminalizes discussion of “separatism” on the internet and prohibits use of the internet in any way that undermines national unity. It further bans inciting ethnic separatism or “harming social stability” and requires internet service providers and network operators to set up monitoring systems or to strengthen existing ones and report violations of the law. Authorities reportedly searched cell phones at checkpoints and during random inspections of Uighur households, and those in possession of alleged terrorist material, including digital pictures of the East Turkistan flag, could be arrested and charged with crimes. When their use was detected, authorities forced individuals to delete messaging software and software used to circumvent internet filters. In some areas authorities restricted the use of cell phones and internet access. In February authorities in Chaghraq Township in Aksu Prefecture sentenced a resident to seven years in prison for allegedly watching a film on Muslim migration, according to a Radio Free Asia report.

For specific information on Tibet, see the Tibet Annex.

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

No laws criminalize private consensual same-sex activities between adults. Due to societal discrimination and pressure to conform to family expectations, most lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons refrained from publicly discussing their sexual orientation or gender identity. Individuals and organizations working on LGBTI issues continued to report discrimination and harassment from authorities similar to that experienced by other organizations that accept funding from overseas.

Despite reports of domestic violence among LGBTI couples, the regulations on domestic violence and the Family Violence Law do not include same-sex partnerships, giving LGBTI victims of domestic violence less legal recourse than heterosexual victims.

Although homosexual activity is no longer officially pathologized, some mental health practitioners offered “corrective treatment” to LGBTI persons at “conversion therapy” centers or hospital psychiatric wards, sometimes at the behest of family members.

NGOs reported that although public advocacy work became more difficult for them in light of the Foreign NGO Management Law, they made some progress in advocating for LGBTI rights through specific antidiscrimination cases.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Public health authorities reported there were more than 600,000 persons diagnosed with HIV in the country. New HIV diagnoses reported in 2015 numbered 115,465, up 11.5 percent from the 2014 total. During the year the government put significant efforts toward raising awareness of the risks of HIV/AIDS transmission, particularly among the college-age population, and Peng Liyuan made this problem a cornerstone of her platform as the country’s “first lady.”

Discrimination against persons with HIV remained a problem, impacting individuals’ employment, educational, and housing opportunities and impeding access to health care. The law allows employers and schools to bar persons with infectious diseases and did not afford specific protections based on HIV status. During the year state media outlets reported instances of persons with HIV/AIDS who were barred from housing, education, or employment due to their HIV status.

A 2013 study by the Joint UN Program on HIV/AIDS conducted across seven provinces found that 53 percent of HIV-infected respondents who had recently been to a doctor were denied immediate treatment, often either being referred to an infectious disease hospital less equipped to handle ordinary medical problems or given alternate treatments. Some respondents said they chose to forgo medical treatment altogether rather than navigate obstacles imposed by the health-care system.

Inadequate protection for health-care workers exposed to HIV in the workplace was cited as a reason persons with HIV/AIDS faced challenges in the health-care system. In 2015 the National Health and Family Planning Commission sought to address the problem by issuing a regulation recognizing HIV exposure as an occupational hazard in certain professions, including medicine and public security. State media characterized the regulation in part as an effort to protect the rights of health workers better while curbing AIDS-related discrimination.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

The law prohibits discrimination against persons carrying infectious diseases and allows such persons to work as civil servants. The law does not address some common types of discrimination in employment, including discrimination based on height, physical appearance, or ethnic identity.

Despite provisions in the law, discrimination against hepatitis B carriers (including 20 million chronic carriers) remained widespread in many areas, and local governments sometimes tried to suppress their activities.

Despite a 2010 nationwide rule banning mandatory hepatitis B virus tests in job and school admissions applications, many companies continued to use hepatitis B testing as part of their pre-employment screening.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law does not provide for freedom of association, and workers are not free to organize or join unions of their own choosing. Independent unions are illegal, and the right to strike is not protected in law. The law allows for collective wage bargaining for workers in all types of enterprises. The law further provides for industrial sector-wide or regional collective contracts, and enterprise-level collective contracts were generally compulsory throughout the country. Regulations require the government-controlled union to gather input from workers prior to consultation with management and to submit collective contracts to workers or their congress for approval. There is no legal obligation for employers to negotiate or to bargain in good faith, and some employers refused to do so.

The law provides legal protections against antiunion discrimination and specifies that union representatives may not be transferred or terminated by enterprise management during their term of office. The law provides for the reinstatement of workers dismissed for union activity as well as for other enterprise penalties for antiunion activities. The law does not protect workers who request or take part in collective negotiations with their employers independent of the officially recognized union. In several cases reported during the year, these workers faced reprisals including forced resignation, firing, and detention.

Only one union is recognized in law, the All China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU). All union activity must be approved by and organized under ACFTU, a CCP organ chaired by a member of the Politburo. The ACFTU and its provincial and local branches continued aggressively to establish new constituent unions and add new members, especially among migrant workers, in large, multinational enterprises. The law gives the ACFTU financial and administrative control over constituent unions empowered to represent employees in negotiating and signing collective contracts with enterprises and public institutions. The law does not mandate the ACFTU to represent the interests of workers in disputes.

The law provides for labor dispute resolution through a three-stage process: mediation between the parties, arbitration by officially designated arbitrators, and litigation. A key article of the law requires employers to consult with labor unions or employee representatives on matters that have a direct bearing on the immediate interests of their workers.

The law does not expressly prohibit work stoppages, and it is not illegal for workers to strike spontaneously. Authorities appeared most tolerant of strikes protesting unpaid or underpaid wages. Authorities rarely released statistics for labor disputes, but in November 2015 the official Xinhua News Agency reported a growing number of wage arrears cases totaling 11,007 in the first three quarters of 2015, an increase of 34 percent over the same period in 2014. Unofficial records from the Hong Kong-based labor rights NGO China Labor Bulletin (CLB) showed that at least 1,050 strikes and collective protests by workers occurred between December 2014 and February 2015, 90 percent relating to unpaid wages.

In some cases local authorities cracked down on such strikes, sometimes charging leaders with vague criminal offenses, such as “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” “disturbing public order,” “damaging production operations,” or detaining them without any charges at all. The only legally specified role for the ACFTU in strikes is to participate in investigations and assist the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security in resolving disputes. There were, however, reports of cases in which ACFTU officials joined police in suppressing strikes.

Despite the appearances of a strong labor movement and relatively high levels of union registration, genuine freedom of association and worker representation did not exist. ACFTU constituent unions were generally ineffective in representing and protecting the rights and interests of workers. Workers generally did not see the ACFTU as an advocate, especially migrant workers who had the least interaction with union officials.

There were no publicly available official statistics on inspection efforts to enforce labor laws, and enforcement was generally insufficient to deter wide-scale violations. Labor inspectors lacked authority and resources to compel employers to correct violations. While the law outlines general procedures for resolving disputes, including mediation, arbitration, and recourse to the courts, procedures were lengthy and subject to delays. Local authorities in some areas actively sought to limit efforts by independent civil society and legal practitioners to offer organized advocacy, and some areas maintained informal quotas on the number of cases allowed to proceed beyond mediation.

The ACFTU and the CCP used a variety of mechanisms to influence the selection of trade union representatives. Although the law states that trade union officers at each level should be elected, most factory-level officers were appointed by ACFTU-affiliated unions, often in coordination with employers. Official union leaders often were drawn from the ranks of management. Direct election by workers of union leaders continued to be rare, occurred only at the enterprise level, and was subject to supervision by higher levels of the union or the CCP. In enterprises where direct election of union officers took place, regional ACFTU officers and local CCP authorities retained control over the selection and approval of candidates. Even in these cases, workers and NGOs expressed concern about the credibility of elections.

Employers often circumvented legal provisions allowing for collective consultation over wages, hours, days off, and benefits through such tactics as forcing employees to sign blank contracts and failing to provide workers with copies of their contracts.

There continued to be reports of workers throughout the country engaging in wildcat strikes, work stoppages, and other protest actions. Although the government restricted the release of statistics on the number of strikes and protests each year, the frequency of “spontaneous” strikes remained high, especially in Guangdong and other areas with developed labor markets and large pools of sophisticated, rights-conscious workers.

Coordinated efforts by governments at the central, provincial, and local levels, including harassment, detention, and the imposition of travel restrictions on labor rights defenders and restrictions on funding sources for NGOs, disrupted labor rights advocacy. In December 2015 police in Guangdong arrested Zeng Feiyang, director of the Panyu Workers’ Center, for “gathering a crowd to disturb social order.” Police also detained on similar charges six other workers’ rights defenders: Zhu Xiaomei, Meng Han, and Tang Beiguo of the Panyu Dagongzu Service Center; Deng Xiaoming, a volunteer with the Haige Service Center; He Xiaobo of the Foshan Nanfeiyang Social Work Service Center; and Peng Jiayong of the Labor Mutual-aid Center. On September 26, a Guangdong court convicted Zeng Feiyang, Zhu Xiaomei, and Tang Beiguo of gathering a crowd to disturb social order and accepting funds from “foreign forces.” They were given suspended prison sentences of between one and one-half and three years. On November 3, Meng Han was convicted and given a 21-month prison sentence. A local labor NGO said the court was sending a clear signal that the only way to resolve labor disputes was through government entities.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced and compulsory labor, and where there were reports that forced labor of adults and children occurred, the government reportedly enforced the law. Although the domestic media rarely reported forced labor cases and the penalties imposed, the law provides a penalty of imprisonment of not more than three years or criminal detention and a fine or, if the circumstances are serious, imprisonment of not less than three years but not more than 10 years and a fine. Men, women, and children were subjected to forced labor in coalmines and factories. In September, six men with mental disabilities were reportedly freed from a brick factory in Yunnan Province where they had been forced to work without pay. The brick kiln was shut down.

In 2013 the NPC abolished the Re-education Through Labor system, an arbitrary system of administrative detention without judicial review. Some media outlets and NGOs reported that forced labor continued in some drug rehabilitation facilities where individuals continued to be detained without judicial process. It was not possible independently to verify these reports.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the employment of children under the age of 16. It refers to workers between the ages of 16 and 18 as “juvenile workers” and prohibits them from engaging in certain forms of dangerous work, including in mines.

The law specifies administrative review, fines, and revocation of business licenses of enterprises that illegally hire minors and provides that underage children found working be returned to their parents or other custodians in their original place of residence. The penalty for employing children under age 16 in hazardous labor or for excessively long hours ranges from three to seven years’ imprisonment, but a significant gap remained between legislation and implementation. For example, in April media outlets reported that Wang Ningpan, a 15-year-old migrant worker from Hunan, died after working on the production line in an underwear garment factory in Foshan, Guangdong. Wang’s normal work schedule was from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. The garment factory gave Wang’s family 155,000 yuan ($22,470) compensation. Official reports stated that Wang’s mother had told the employer that her son was 17. Guangdong’s provincial government launched an inspection to crack down on child labor, and the company was fined 10,000 yuan ($1,450) for hiring child labor.

Abuse of the student-worker system continued as well; as in past years, there were allegations that schools and local officials improperly facilitated the supply of student laborers.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The Employment Promotion Law provides some basis for legal protection against employment discrimination. Article 3 states “no worker seeking employment shall suffer discrimination on the grounds of ethnicity, race, gender, or religious belief.” Article 30 outlines employment protections available to carriers of infectious diseases. Enforcement clauses include the right to pursue civil damages through the courts. Other laws provide similar protections for women and persons with disabilities. The Labor Contract Law includes a provision limiting the circumstances under which employers could terminate the contracts of employees suspected of suffering from an occupational disease and those within five years of the statutory retirement age. The Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security and the local labor bureaus were responsible for verifying that enterprises complied with the labor laws and the employment promotion law.

Discrimination in employment was widespread, including in recruitment advertisements that discriminated based on gender, age, height, and physical appearance and health status (see section 6).

Some employers lowered the effective retirement age for female workers to 50. This reduced overall pension benefits, which were generally based on the number of years worked. Many employers preferred to hire men to avoid the expense of maternity leave.

Courts were generally reluctant to accept discrimination cases, and authorities at all levels emphasized negotiated settlements to labor disputes. As a result there were few examples of enforcement actions that resulted in final legal decisions. One example came from the Dongguan Municipal Intermediate People’s Court’s decision in May, which declared illegal a local department store’s decision to revoke a female employee’s paid maternity leave for a second child. The court ordered the company to restore the employee’s position and to compensate her with 108 days of paid leave.

According to a study released in March, 50 percent of more than 10,000 female survey respondents working in 60 cities said they often experienced discrimination at the workplace, while 47 percent had encountered occasional discrimination and only 3 percent had never faced discrimination against them.

In 2015 authorities issued the Provisional Regulations for Residency. Effective from January, the provisional regulations require local authorities to establish a streamlined process for migrants to register as urban residents, renewable annually, and to provide and pay for a package of limited social service benefits for these new residents. The most important of the benefits would be the inclusion of compulsory education for the children of legal residents, meaning that children of migrant workers would be eligible to relocate with their parents and attend local urban schools. While the regulations would benefit many of the estimated 270 million migrant workers residing in urban centers, the unaltered half-century-old hukou system remained the most pervasive form of employment-related discrimination, denying migrant workers access to the full range of social benefits, including health care, pensions, and disability programs, on an equal basis with local residents.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

There was no national minimum wage, but the law generally requires local and provincial governments to set their own minimum wage rates for both the formal and informal sectors according to standards promulgated by the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security. The law mandates a 40-hour standard workweek, excluding overtime, and a 24-hour weekly rest period. It also prohibits overtime work in excess of three hours per day or 36 hours per month and mandates premium pay for overtime work.

The State Administration for Work Safety sets and enforces occupational health and safety regulations. The law requires employers to provide free health checkups for employees working in hazardous conditions and to inform them of the results. The law also provides workers the right to report violations or remove themselves from workplace situations that could endanger their health without jeopardy to their employment.

Regulations state that labor and social security bureaus at or above the county level are responsible for enforcement of labor laws. The law also provides that, where the ACFTU finds an employer in violation of the regulation, it has the power to demand that the relevant local labor bureaus deal with the case. Companies that violate occupational, safety, and health regulations face various penalties, including suspension of business operations or rescission of business certificates and licenses.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties were not adequate to deter violations and were seldom enforced. The 230,000 inspectors were insufficient to monitor working conditions and did not operate in the informal sector. Despite many labor laws and regulations on worker safety, there were a number of workplace accidents during the year. Media and NGO reports attributed them to a lack of safety checks, weak enforcement of laws and regulations, ineffective supervision, and inadequate emergency responses.

Nonpayment of wages remained a problem in many areas. Governments at various levels continued efforts to prevent arrears and to recover payment of unpaid wages and insurance contributions. It remained possible for companies to relocate or close on short notice, often leaving employees without adequate recourse for due compensation.

Unpaid wages have been an acute problem in the construction sector for decades. Construction projects were often subcontracted several times until eventually a construction team composed of low-wage migrant workers was formed. This informal hiring scheme made rural laborers susceptible to delayed or unpaid payment for their work, prompting them to join in collective action. Workers occasionally took drastic measures to demand payment. In January the State Council issued guidance asking all government sectors to strengthen their efforts to solve the problem of migrant workers’ unpaid wages and ordering the elimination of wage arrearage problems by 2020.

Workers in the informal sector often lacked coverage under labor contracts, and even with contracts, migrant workers in particular had less access to benefits, especially social insurance. Workers in the informal sector worked longer hours and earned one-half to two-thirds as much as comparable workers in the formal sector.

According to government sources, only an estimated 10 percent of eligible employees received regular occupational health services. Small and medium-sized enterprises, the country’s largest group of employers, often failed to provide the required health services. They also did not provide proper safety equipment to help prevent disease and were rarely required to pay compensation to victims and their families.

Instances of pneumoconiosis, or black lung disease, and silicosis remained high. Official figures released in December 2015 showed the country recorded 26,873 new pneumoconiosis cases in 2014, a 16 percent increase from the previous year. The mining and processing of coal and nonferrous metals were the sectors most vulnerable to occupational diseases, responsible for 62.5 percent of all cases in 2015. In January the National Health and Family Planning Commission and 10 other ministry-level government organizations jointly issued a statement expressing concern over this workplace hazard. The statement noted that individuals were diagnosed with the disease at an increasingly younger age in recent years and that industries in central and western regions had become prone to the illness, mainly in jobs related to mining and handling construction materials and nonferrous metals.

On August 11, an explosion at a power plant in Dangyang, Hubei Province, killed 21 workers and severely injured five others. The blast, caused by the rupture of a steam pipe undergoing testing, came just a few hours before the first anniversary of the massive 2015 Tianjin warehouse explosion that killed 173 persons, including 104 firefighters. The CLB logged 37 explosions that were reported in the local media during the year, although major explosions, such as the one in Dangyang, were a small proportion of the overall number of workplace accidents.

Accidents tended to occur at the year-end, when employers and employees tended to overlook safety procedures to meet production goals. In the last quarter of the year, in addition to a November 24 scaffolding collapse in Jiangxi Province that killed 74 workers, media outlets reported a number of coal mine accidents, including an October 31 explosion at Chongqing that killed 33 workers, a December 1 accident at Qitaihe, Heilongjiang Province, that killed 21 miners, and a December 3 disaster in Inner Mongolia that left 32 persons dead.

Despite negative publicity surrounding the year-end increase, the number of workplace accidents and fatalities in the country decreased on a year-over-year basis. According to State Administration of Work Safety data, from 2010 to 2015, the number of accidents dropped from 363,383 to 281,576 and fatalities declined from 79,552 to 66,182. From January to October, 45,000 accidents occurred and 27,000 workers were killed, representing declines of 6.2 percent and 3.3 percent, respectively, from the same period in 2015. In addition, 23 major workplace accidents took place in the first eight months of the year, leaving 348 individuals dead or missing. The data represented year-over-year decreases of 11.5 percent and 32.8 percent, respectively.

READ A SECTION: CHINA (ABOVE) | TIBET | HONG KONG MACAU

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

Executive Summary

READ A SECTION: CHINA | TIBET | HONG KONG (BELOW) | MACAU


Hong Kong is a special administrative region (SAR) of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration on the Question of Hong Kong and the SAR’s charter, the Basic Law of the SAR (also known as the Basic Law), specify that the SAR will enjoy a high degree of autonomy under the “one country, two systems” framework except in matters of defense and foreign affairs. In September, Hong Kong residents elected the 70 representatives who comprise the SAR’s Legislative Council (LegCo). In accordance with the Basic Law, voters directly elected 40 representatives, while limited franchise functional constituencies that generally supported the government in Beijing elected the remaining 30.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

The most important human rights problem reported was the central government’s encroachment on Hong Kong’s autonomy. The National People’s Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC) on November 7 issued an unnecessary and unsolicited interpretation of the Basic Law that preempted the ability of Hong Kong’s independent judiciary to rule on the matter. It marked the first time it had issued such an interpretation while a Hong Kong judge was deliberating the case in question and the second time it had done so in the absence of a request from Hong Kong authorities. As a result, Hong Kong’s courts subsequently disqualified two opposition legislators-elect, who used their oath-swearing ceremony as an occasion to make proindependence gestures, and on December 2, the Hong Kong government filed a similar legal challenge to the legitimacy of four additional opposition legislators over the manner in which they took their oaths of office. Media outlets and local observers raised concerns that the government had attempted to curtail residents’ right to run for office. Hong Kong residents also remain concerned by the breach of Hong Kong’s autonomy that occurred in the late 2015 disappearances of five publishers of books critical of the Communist Party leadership and the continued lack of transparency regarding their cases. Although the 2016 elections were largely conducted in a free and fair manner, Hong Kong’s system of government limits the ability of Hong Kong voters to choose their government.

Other human rights problems included trafficking in persons, and societal prejudice against certain ethnic minorities and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community.

The government took steps to prosecute and punish officials who committed abuses.

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

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

There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings; nor were there reports of such killings by narcotics traffickers or other criminal groups.

b. Disappearance

Five men working in Hong Kong’s publishing industry disappeared between October and December 2015 from Thailand, Hong Kong, and mainland China. In addition to being Hong Kong residents, one of the men was a Swedish national and another was a UK national. Media coverage of these cases noted the men worked for Mighty Current, a publishing house, and the affiliated Causeway Bay Bookstore, which were known for selling books critical of the Chinese Communist Party and its leaders. Credible reports gave rise to widespread suspicions that PRC security officials were involved in their disappearances.

Mainland authorities eventually allowed four of the five booksellers to return to Hong Kong between March and July, while continuing to detain Gui Minhai, a Swedish national, on the mainland at year’s end in the absence of any charges or judicial process. According to local media reports, mainland security agencies continued to exert pressure on the four booksellers whom they had allowed to return to Hong Kong through periodic questioning, ongoing surveillance, escorting by security agents, and threats of retaliation against mainland-based family members. Causeway Bay Books manager Lam Wing-kee returned to Hong Kong in July and held a press conference at the LegCo compound in which he disclosed details about his abduction and subsequent eight-month detention. Lam said several security agents took him into custody at the Hong Kong-Shenzhen border crossing and held him overnight. According to Lam’s account, mainland authorities confiscated his identity documents and refused to answer his questions or explain why he was detained. The next day officials blindfolded and handcuffed Lam on central authorities’ orders, following which Lam was transported by train from Shenzhen to Ningbo. Upon arrival in Ningbo, security officials forced Lam to sign a document promising to not contact his family or seek legal counsel, he told the press. He was told he was being held under “residential surveillance,” a form of detention frequently used by PRC security agents to hold incommunicado activists and others suspected of political crimes. Lam said he was held under constant surveillance in a small space, and told the press he was only released to return to the SAR in order to collect additional materials for use in testifying against another bookseller.

The Hong Kong Government said it took steps to investigate the booksellers’ abductions and detentions, including engaging central government authorities from the security and justice ministries to improve the notification mechanism governing cross-border cases. The Chief Executive, Secretary for Justice, Police Commissioner, and Central Government Liaison Officials, in addition to other key officers, spoke publicly following UK national Lee Bo’s disappearance. They all stated unequivocally that mainland security officials had no legal ability to enforce mainland laws in Hong Kong. Top officials, including the Chief Executive, said if mainland officials had acted in Hong Kong, it would be a violation of the Basic Law.

Despite the Hong Kong authorities’ efforts to pursue the case, police eventually dropped their investigation following the Lee family’s cancellation of its missing person report and the family’s request for closure of the investigation.

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

The Basic Law prohibits torture and other forms of abuse, and there were no reports that government officials employed them.

There were some reports of the use of excessive force by police officers. In a six-month period last year, the police force’s Complaints against Police Office reported 913 allegations of excessive use of force by police. Data on allegations of excessive use of force pending investigation and endorsement by the Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC), assault by police officers on persons not in custody and in custody, and the results of those investigations were not available at year’s end. There were no reports of death in custody due to excessive police force.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions generally met international standards, and the Correctional Services Department (CSD) permitted visits by independent human rights observers, the media, and religious groups.

The government does not have separate detention facilities for migrants or asylum seekers. The Immigration Department maintains detention facilities in Ma Tau Kok and in Castle Peak Bay for those who have violated the SAR’s immigration laws and/or those pending deportation from Hong Kong. Human rights activists voiced concern over the government’s detention of asylum claimants at such immigration detention facilities, charging that the SAR’s immigration laws require asylum claimants to be in violation of their immigration status before they can file an asylum claim. There are no private detention facilities in the SAR.

Physical Conditions: During the year the CSD managed 24 penal institutions (comprising minimum-, medium-, and maximum-security prisons; a psychiatric center; and training, detention, rehabilitation, and drug addiction treatment centers).

The CSD acknowledged overcrowding was a problem in certain types of penal institutions, such as remand (pretrial detention) facilities and maximum-security institutions. Transferred remand prisoners made complaints of prison guards treating them as convicted prisoners as well as of wait times of one week to make private telephone calls, and reported a decrease in attorney visits for prisoners relocated to some of the SAR’s more remote prison locations. The CSD adopted a strategy of renovating existing institutions to increase space and modernize facilities.

The Coroner’s Court, aided by a jury, conducted death inquests. Data on deaths of prisoners in CSD custody and inquest results had not been reported by year’s end.

Administration: Judicial authorities investigated credible allegations of problematic conditions and documented the results in a publicly accessible manner. The government investigated and monitored prison and detention center conditions, and there was an external Office of the Ombudsman. The government kept adequate records of prisoners.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted media outlets and human rights groups to conduct prison visits. Justices of the peace may make suggestions and comments on matters such as the physical environment of facilities, overcrowding, staff improvement, training and recreational programs and activities, and other matters affecting the welfare of inmates. Justices of the peace made over 200 unannounced visits to penal institutions in a six-month period last year.

Improvements: As of year’s end, there was no available information on improvements to prison or detention center conditions.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest or detention, and the government generally observed these prohibitions.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Hong Kong Police Force maintains internal security and reports to the Security Bureau. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is responsible for external security. The Immigration Department controls the entry of persons into and out of the SAR as well as the documentation of local residents. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the police force, and the government had effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. The 2015 reported involvement of mainland security forces in the disappearances of five Hong Kong book publishers; however, raised concerns about the activities of mainland security forces in Hong Kong throughout the year. For further information on the publishers’ cases, see section 1.b.

International and local media reported that mainland PRC operatives in Hong Kong surveilled some prodemocracy movement figures, political activists, lawyers, academics, businesspersons, and religious leaders that have expressed criticism of the central government’s policies. In January, Guangdong province security agents reportedly visited 65-year-old veteran publisher Lau Tat-man in Hong Kong on three occasions over the course of one month to interrogate him about the five booksellers who were abducted from various locations and detained in the mainland. In July bookseller Lam Wing-kee and prodemocracy legislator James To alleged that mainland agents had surveilled Lam after he returned to Hong Kong and disclosed the details of his abduction to the press. In response to concerns for his safety, Hong Kong police later placed Lam under police protection. There were no reports of impunity involving the security forces during the year.

Human rights activists and some legislators expressed concern that the CE appointed all Independent Police Complaints Committee members and that the IPCC’s lack of power to conduct independent investigations limited its oversight capacity. The IPCC cannot compel officers to participate in its investigations, and the media reported cases of police officers declining to cooperate fully.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Suspects generally were apprehended openly with warrants based on sufficient evidence and issued by a duly authorized official. They must be charged within 48 hours or released, and the government respected this right. Interviews of suspects are required to be videotaped. The law provides accused persons with the right to a prompt judicial determination, and authorities respected this right effectively.

Detainees were generally informed promptly of charges against them. There was a functioning bail system, and authorities allowed detainees access to a lawyer of their choice. Suspects were not detained incommunicado or held under house arrest.

Arbitrary Arrest: The Department of Justice maintained political considerations did not factor into its decision to charge several activists with crimes related to the 2014 protests; the Hong Kong judiciary heard these cases from May to August. Pro-democracy activists and participants in the fall 2014 prodemocracy protests claimed they were subject to incidents of politically motivated arbitrary arrest.

In May, Joshua Wong, the convener of the prodemocracy student activist group Scholarism, and Hong Kong Federation of Students (HKFS) secretary-general Nathan Law, along with two other prodemocracy activists, were acquitted on charges related to obstructing police officers during a June 2014 protest against the release of the State Council’s White Paper on Hong Kong.

In July, Wong and HKFS former secretary-general Alex Chow were found guilty on one charge of participating in an illegal assembly related to the start of the 2014 Occupy Central protests, while Law was found guilty of inciting an illegal assembly. In August, Wong and Law were sentenced to perform 80 and 120 hours of community service respectively, while Chow was given a suspended sentence of three weeks imprisonment. In delivering the verdicts, district court Judge June Cheung noted: “The court believes the three defendants are expressing their views and demands genuinely out of their political beliefs or their concern for society. Their aim and motive is not for their own interest or to hurt other people.”

The Department of Justice in September requested the court review the sentences, with the prosecution alleging the sentences were too lenient. The magistrate reviewed and upheld the sentences, which fell well within sentencing guidelines.

Many experts assessed the police use of force during the protests in the fall of 2014 as generally professional and appropriate. Some prodemocracy activists, nongovernmental organization (NGO) observers, and journalists expressed concerns about certain police actions, and the court cases reviewing police use of force continued.

The District Court on December 8 announced it would hand down a ruling in February 2017 on an assault case brought by Ken Tsang, a prodemocracy activist. Video footage taken during October 2014 protests showed plainclothes police officers abusing Tsang. Seven police officers were subsequently suspended, arrested, and charged with the crime of “wounding or striking with intent to do grievous bodily harm.” Prosecutors separately charged Tsang with assaulting and obstructing police officers, which carries a maximum possible sentence of two years’ imprisonment. The court finished hearing the case in May, and Tsang was found guilty of assaulting a police officer and resisting arrest; he was sentenced to five weeks in prison.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Persons arrested or detained on criminal or other grounds are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention and obtain prompt release and compensation if found to have been unlawfully detained.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the SAR government generally respected judicial independence. The judiciary provided citizens with a fair and efficient judicial process.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Trials were by jury except at the magistrate and district court level. An attorney is provided at the public’s expense if defendants cannot afford counsel. Defendants had adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them and the right to a public trial without undue delay, and defendants could confront and question witnesses testifying against them and present witnesses to testify on their behalf. Defendants and their attorneys had access to government-held evidence relevant to their cases. Defendants have the right of appeal and the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt, and have the right to be present at their trial.

Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence except in official corruption cases. Under the law a current or former government official who maintained a standard of living above that commensurate with his or her official income, or who controls monies or property disproportionate to his official income, is guilty of an offense unless he can satisfactorily explain the discrepancy. The courts upheld this ordinance. The government conducted court proceedings in either Chinese or English, the SAR’s two official languages.

Hong Kong’s unique, common law judicial system operates within the PRC; the SAR’s courts are charged with interpreting those provisions of the Basic Law that address matters within the limits of the SAR’s autonomy. The courts also interpret provisions of the Basic Law that touch on central government responsibilities or on the relationship between the central authorities and the SAR. Before making its final judgments on these matters, which are not subject to appeal, the Court of Final Appeal may seek an interpretation of the relevant provisions from the Standing Committee of the PRC’s National People’s Congress (NPCSC). The Basic Law requires that courts follow the NPCSC’s interpretations where cases intersect with central government jurisdiction, although judgments previously rendered are not affected. On four occasions in the past and once in November this year, described below, the NPCSC issued interpretations of the Basic Law.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

There is an independent and impartial judiciary for civil matters and access to a court to bring lawsuits seeking damages for, or the cessation of, human rights violations. The SAR’s courts continued to exercise a high degree of autonomy under the Basic Law, but many Hong Kong residents questioned the durability of this autonomy in the wake of the November NPCSC interpretation of the Basic Law that interrupted the judicial process in Hong Kong. Activists and other observers expressed concerns that the SAR government and central government had encroached on the judiciary’s independence.

The Basic Law’s Article 158 grants the NPCSC the power to interpret the Basic Law. On November 7, the NPCSC issued an interpretation on the Basic Law’s language requiring all government officials to take an oath in order to enter office. The NPCSC issued its interpretation while the Court of First Instance was considering the Hong Kong Government’s judicial review petitions against two proindependence legislators-elect. On November 9, Court of First Instance Justice Thomas Au ruled in favor of the government to disqualify the legislators-elect, noting he would have reached the same decision even if the NPCSC had not issued its interpretation. Legal scholars, the Hong Kong Bar Association, and the Law Society characterized the interpretation as unnecessary. They also voiced concern that the issuance of the interpretation might damage perceptions about the SAR’s independent judiciary and the reputation of its courts, as well as the SAR’s overall autonomy. The November 7 interpretation marked the first time the NPCSC had rendered an interpretation of the Basic Law while the matter in question was pending a judge’s ruling and the second time it had done so in the absence of a request from Hong Kong authorities, which some legal experts viewed as inconsistent with the judicial reference process outlined in Article 158 of the Basic Law. Following issuance of the interpretation, hundreds of lawyers dressed in black and staged a silent protest against the NPCSC’s failure to respect the autonomy of Hong Kong’s judiciary.

Under Article 158, as originally enacted in 1997, the NPCSC’s consults its Committee for the Basic Law, composed of six mainland and six Hong Kong members, before it issues an interpretation of the Basic Law. The Chief Executive, the LegCo president, and the chief justice nominate the Hong Kong members. Human rights and lawyers’ organizations expressed concern that the lack of Hong Kong representation on the NPCSC (among the 175 current members, only one is a Hong Kong resident) and the limited power of the Basic Law Committee, could be used to limit the independence of the judiciary or degrade the Hong Kong courts’ authority, as the NPCSC’s decisions can supersede the Court of Final Appeal’s power of final adjudication.

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

The law prohibits such actions, and the government generally respected these prohibitions.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law provides for freedom of speech and press, and the government generally respected these rights. An independent press, an effective judiciary, an unfettered internet, and a generally supportive government combined to promote freedom of speech and of the press on most matters. During the year, however, media groups complained about what they viewed as increasing challenges in this area. (For further detail, please see Press and Media Freedoms section below).

Freedom of Speech and Expression: There were no legal restrictions on the ability of individuals to criticize the government publicly or privately or to discuss matters of general public interest without reprisal. However, free speech advocates and educators voiced concern in August following the Education Secretary’s public comments warning teachers who “advocate” Hong Kong independence on campus must “bear responsibility and consequences,” including the loss of their teaching licenses. Subsequently, in September Chief Executive Leung said schools in Hong Kong had “no space to discuss independence.” Educators, media outlets, and free speech advocates also voiced concern over comments made by Central Government officials based at Hong Kong’s Central Government Liaison Office (CGLO). CGLO officials suggested publicly that discussion of Hong Kong’s independence amounted to “a violation of laws in Hong Kong” and suggested it could be considered sedition and/or treason under Hong Kong’s Crimes Ordinance if such speech was deemed to occur in the context of a “large-scale discussion in the hopes of gathering a large group to act together.”

The Education Bureau made no formal changes to its policy following the Chief Executive’s and Education Secretary’s public comments. Members of the Professional Teachers Union reported there had been no changes to the guidance about how the union certifies its teachers.

Prospective candidates for public office reported Hong Kong’s Electoral Affairs Commission implemented changes to its established procedures for filing legislative candidacy that limited free speech in the political arena. On July 12, the Electoral Affairs Commission instituted a new requirement that all LegCo candidates sign a pledge stating that Hong Kong is an “inalienable part” of China in order to run for office. Despite signing the required form and fulfilling other eligibility requirements, an Electoral Affairs Commission officer disqualified Hong Kong Indigenous convener Edward Leung and several other candidates for standing for election. The Electoral Affairs Commission said Leung’s disqualification was due to Leung’s proindependence comments earlier in the year, which the returning officer said was evidence that Leung was insincere in his loyalty pledge to the SAR. Leung’s supporters voiced concern the new procedures infringed on freedom of speech and the right of Hong Kongers to stand for public office, rights guaranteed in the Basic Law.

On July 20, Zhang Xiaoming, the director of the CGLO, warned the Hong Kong government against allowing the LegCo elections in September to be used to promote “proindependence remarks and activities.” Zhang suggested that allowing free speech on the matter violated the Basic Law and warned of “calamity” if proindependence views continued to spread in Hong Kong. While the CGLO Director has no legal standing, many local observers and free speech advocates said his public comments had a chilling effect on Hong Kong society.

Hong Kong residents also expressed concern about the potential implications of the November 7 NPCSC interpretation of Basic Law Article 104 on the SAR’s free speech protections. The interpretation barred legislators-elect from taking office if they refused to take the oath, altered the wording of the oath, or failed to demonstrate sufficient “sincerity” or “solemnity” when taking the oath. Some observers and legal experts voiced concern that the NPCSC’s interpretation could subject sitting legislators to legal sanctions if they “engage in conduct in breach of the oath” at any point in their respective terms. Prodemocracy advocates, particularly those who identify as “localists”, expressed fears that the interpretation created a mechanism for the central government to exclude from office, or potentially evict from office, those who espoused or were suspected of harboring political views that the central government found objectionable. The interpretation stated that the requirements and preconditions contained within it applied to legislators-elect and all other public officers and candidates for public office referred to in Article 104. Some legal experts downplayed these concerns, noting the Basic Law’s Article 77 protects legislators from legal recourse stemming from any speeches they deliver in the normal course of their representative duties, while other legal experts have noted that the central government’s powers over Hong Kong are not subject to any legal supervision, which manifests in the NPCSC’s continued assertion of a power to interpret the Basic Law at its discretion.

Many in the media and civil society organizations further alleged the central government exerted indirect pressure on media organizations to mute criticism of its policy priorities in the SAR. They also voiced concern about increasing self-censorship among the local and regional press corps.

Press and Media Freedoms: In July the Hong Kong Journalists Association in its yearly report on press freedoms in Hong Kong said its Press Freedom Index indicators declined for the second straight year, from 38.9 to 38.2 points for journalists and from 48.4 to 47.4 for the general public. Nearly 85 percent of surveyed Hong Kong journalists thought that press freedom had worsened over the previous year. The report, which this year focused on increasing mainland influence on Hong Kong media outlets, cited as challenges continuing violence against journalists by police and protestors related to media coverage of local riots, lack of government transparency, the government’s “questionable” policy on granting of television and radio licenses, and refusal to accredit online and student reporters (online reporters have since been granted accreditation). The Association called on the government to undertake a number of actions, including to “take a strong approach to protect the one country, two systems principle given the threats to Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy as promised in the Basic Law.”

Violence and Harassment: No violent attacks on media-related personalities took place during the year.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Reports of media self-censorship continued during the year. Most media outlets were owned by companies with business interests on the mainland, which led to claims that they were vulnerable to self-censorship, with editors deferring to the perceived concerns of publishers regarding their business interests. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, more than half of Hong Kong’s media owners held official roles in the PRC political system, either as delegates to the NPC or to the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.

Mainland companies and those with significant business dealings on the mainland reportedly boycotted advertising in the Next Media Group publications, known for its criticisms of the central government and the SAR government. Next Media Group’s popular newspaper Apple Daily said it took special measures to circumvent regular hacking attacks, including the use of sophisticated email security software and asking its lawyers to use couriers instead of email. A private cybersecurity company that works with Next Media Group told Reuters in late 2015 that it had connected denial of service attacks against Apple Daily with professional cyber spying attacks that bore the hallmarks of a common source and suggested the hacker’s apparent objectives matched the central government’s.

Libel/Slander Laws: There were no reports the government or individual public figures used laws against libel, slander, defamation, or blasphemy to restrict public discussion.

National Security: There were no reports of restrictive media distribution to protect national security. Following the November 7 NPCSC interpretation of the Basic Law, Chief Executive Leung and some presumptive Chief Executive candidates indicated that the government would again consider national security legislation. No such legislation was under consideration by LegCo at year’s end.

INTERNET FREEDOM

There were no government restrictions on access to the internet, although prodemocracy activists, legislators, lawyers, religious leaders, and protesters claimed central government authorities closely monitored their e-mails and internet use. The internet was widely available and used extensively.

There were reports of politically motivated cyberattacks against private persons and organizations.

In late 2015 the head of Hong Kong’s Democratic Party said his party had repeatedly faced sophisticated cyberattacks on its website and against members’ personal email accounts that appeared to originate from the central government. Before district council elections in November 2015, Reuters found that hackers had broken into at least 20 Gmail accounts belonging to the Democratic Party. Private cybersecurity company FireEye said attacks launched on Dropbox, in which specific victims were trapped into downloading infected files, targeted “precisely those whose networks Beijing would seek to monitor.” The company said half its customers in Hong Kong, or two and a half times the global average, were attacked by government and professional hackers in the first half of 2015.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were some restrictions on academic freedom and cultural events. Some scholars suggested Hong Kong-based academics practiced self-censorship in their China-related work to preserve good relations and research and lecturing opportunities in the mainland.

In July, Hong Kong’s Tiananmen Museum closed after two years of operation. The museum had been the only museum on PRC soil commemorating the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. According to CNN and Time, the Hong Kong Alliance, a prodemocracy group that operated the museum, said the closure was due to pressure from the owners’ committee of the building, which made it difficult for the museum to operate by restricting visitor numbers, filing a lawsuit disputing the usage of the space as a museum, and forcing visitors to provide their names and personal information–a requirement that discouraged visitors from the mainland. The museum operators also cited high rent and other fundraising challenges, but said they kept the museum’s exhibits and hoped to move to a new and bigger location in the future.

In August and September, the Education Secretary and the Chief Executive warned educators against the discussion of independence in schools. In September, Chief Executive Leung said schools in Hong Kong had “no space to discuss independence.” However, at the year’s end, the Education Bureau had made no policy changes in response to their comments, and members of the Professional Teachers’ Union reported their union had made no changes to the regulations governing the accreditation of teachers and the issuance of teaching credentials. For further information, please see section 2.a.

On October 1, the national holiday marking the PRC’s founding in 1949, students at eight universities in Hong Kong hung banners in support of Hong Kong independence. Media reports indicated that school officials promptly removed the banners.

Hong Kong-based international NGOs voiced concern about pro-Beijing media outlets’ sustained criticism of their activities, which the newspapers characterized as interference by foreign forces. NGO staff members reported that these efforts to discredit their work in the SAR made it difficult for the groups to continue their existing partnerships with academic institutions and their public outreach. NGOs also voiced concern about the mainland’s Foreign NGO Management Law, slated to enter into effect on January 1, 2017, noting the law would impose onerous restrictions on the ability to operate and implement social services delivery, advocacy work, and aid services. The law specifically defines Hong Kong-based organizations as covered by the law’s requirements. In April the New York-based broadcaster New Tang Dynasty Television (NTD-TV) leased the Heung Yee Kuk Grand Theater in Hong Kong to hold a dance competition. NTD-TV received a notice from the theater in May stating that the Hong Kong Government requested the theater for the same date for use in association with the September Hong Kong LegCo election. The theater canceled NTD-TV’s lease in June and offered a full refund for the contract, as well as assistance in identifying an alternative venue. NTD-TV then arranged to hold the competition at another venue, the government-subsidized Macpherson Stadium, in August, but the second venue also later revoked permission to use its premises. NTD-TV ultimately relocated the competition to Taiwan. NTD-TV is associated with the Falun Gong spiritual movement, which is banned in mainland China, but not in Hong Kong. Falun Gong advocates allege that the Hong Kong Government and the CGLO pressured these venues not to allow the dance competition to be held on their premises because of NTD-TV’s association with Falun Gong.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

The law provides for freedom of assembly, and the government generally respected this right. The police routinely issued the required “letter of no objection” for public meetings and demonstrations–including those critical of the SAR and central governments–and the overwhelming majority of protests occurred without serious incident. On June 4, tens of thousands of persons peacefully gathered without incident in Victoria Park to commemorate the 27th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown. The annual vigil and a smaller annual event in Macau were reportedly the only sanctioned events in China to commemorate the Tiananmen Square anniversary.

Figures vary for participation in the annual July 1 prodemocracy demonstration, held on the anniversary of the 1997 transfer of sovereignty over Hong Kong to the PRC. Police estimated 19,300 protesters; an independent polling organization estimated 29,000, and organizers claimed 110,000. Participants voiced concern over the Mighty Current booksellers’ detentions, called for CE Leung to resign, supported a relaunch of Hong Kong’s electoral reform process aimed at extending universal suffrage for all residents to vote in elections for the Chief Executive, encouraged abolition of LegCo’s Functional Constituencies in favor of directly electing all legislators; and demanded democratic amendments to the Basic Law. Police deployed hundreds of officers, and did not interfere with the legally permitted rally.

Government statistics indicated police arrested 125 persons in connection with public order events in the first half of last year; statistics were not yet available for 2016.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The law provides for freedom of association, and the government generally respected it.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

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

Under the “one country, two systems” framework, the SAR continued to administer its own immigration and entry policies and make determinations regarding claims under the UN Convention against Torture (CAT) independently. Hong Kong is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention or the 1969 Protocol. As such, the SAR only accepts asylum claims on the basis of torture in a claimant’s home country. The most recently available government statistics indicated that there were over 11,000 nonrefoulement claims, including those based on claims under the CAT, pending Immigration Department processing. Applicants and activists continued to complain about the slow processing of claims and limited government subsidies available to applicants. Activists and refugee rights groups also voiced concerns about the very low rate of approved claims (0.6 percent for a recent 15 month period), suggesting the government’s bar for approving claims of torture was far higher than other developed jurisdictions.

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

There continued to be claims that the Immigration Department refused entry to a small number of persons traveling to the SAR for political reasons that did not appear to contravene the law. The Immigration Department, as a matter of policy, declined to comment on individual cases. Activists, some legislators, and other observers contended that the refusals, usually of persons holding views critical of the central government, were made at the behest of PRC authorities. The Security Bureau maintained that the Immigration Department exchanged information with other immigration authorities, including on the mainland, but made its decisions independently.

Foreign Travel: Most residents easily obtained travel documents from the SAR government; however, central government authorities did not permit some human rights activists, student protesters, and prodemocracy legislators to visit mainland China. Some of the students who participated in the protest movement in the fall of 2014 alleged the central government security agencies surveilled the protests and blacklisted them.

The central government took steps to restrict the foreign travel of prominent prodemocracy leaders, according to civil society representatives. In October, Thai immigration authorities blocked democracy activist Joshua Wong from entering the country to speak at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University and detained him at the airport for 12 hours without explanation. Wong was to attend an event to commemorate the 40th anniversary of a massacre on the campus of Bangkok’s Thammaset University. Upon his return to Hong Kong, Wong told the press he believed Thai authorities were responding to pressure from the central government. A senior immigration official told a Thai newspaper that Wong was denied entry in response to a request from the PRC government. The Thai organizer who invited Wong to speak at the university also said Thai police had informed him that they had received a letter about Wong from PRC authorities.

Emigration and Repatriation: Government policy was to repatriate undocumented migrants who arrived from mainland China, and authorities did not consider them for refugee status.

The government did not recognize the Taiwan passport as valid for visa endorsement purposes, although convenient mechanisms existed for Taiwan passport holders to visit. As of 2013 most Taiwan visitors have been able to register online and stay for one month if they hold a mainland travel permit.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The SAR has a policy of not granting asylum or refugee status and has no temporary protection policy. The government’s practice was to refer refugee and asylum claimants to a lawyer or to UNHCR. Persons wishing to file a claim cannot do so while they have legally entered the SAR, and must instead wait until they have overstayed the terms of their entry before they can file such a claim.

Refoulement: The government’s Unified Screening Mechanism, introduced last year, consolidated the processing of claims based on risk of return to persecution, torture, or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. Claimants continued to receive publicly funded legal assistance, including translation services, as well as small living subsidies. The children of refugee claimants can usually attend Hong Kong’s public schools, if the Director of Immigration deems adjudication of a claim will take several months. The number of substantiated cases of torture and nonrefoulement is less than one percent of the total determinations made since 2009. According to the HKSAR Immigration Department, between the commencement of the enhanced administrative mechanism in late 2009 and September 2016, determinations were made in 10,172 torture/nonrefoulement claims, among which only 65 were substantiated.

Employment: The government defines CAT claimants and asylum seekers as illegal immigrants or “overstayers” in the SAR, and as such they have no legal right to work in the SAR while claims are under review. Those granted either refugee status by UNHCR or relief from removal under the CAT could work only with approval from the director of immigration. They were also ineligible for training by either the Employees Retraining Board or the Vocational Training Council.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The Basic Law limits the ability of residents to change their government through free and fair elections. Article 45 of the Basic Law establishes as the “ultimate aim” direct election of the chief executive through “universal suffrage upon nomination by a broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures.” Since 2007 the people of Hong Kong, the SAR government, and the PRC central government have vigorously debated the nature, scope, and pace of democratic and electoral reforms.

Voters directly elect 40 of LegCo’s 70 seats by secret ballot. Thirty-five seats are designated as “geographic constituencies” (GCs) and 35 as “functional constituencies” (FCs). All 35 GCs are directly elected, while only five of the FCs are directly elected. The remaining 30 FC seats are selected by a subset of voters from FCs representing various economic and social sectors, which typically hold proestablishment views. Under this structure a limited number of individuals and institutions were able to control multiple votes for LegCo members. In 2016, the constituencies that elected these 30 FC LegCo seats consisted of 232,498 registered individual and institutional voters, of which some 172,820 voted, according to the SAR’s election affairs office statistics. The five FC seats in the district council sector, known as “super seats” were directly elected by the approximately five million registered voters who were not otherwise represented in another FC and therefore represented larger constituencies than any other seats in LegCo. The government has previously acknowledged the method of selecting FC legislators did not conform to the principle of universal suffrage, but it took no steps to eliminate the FCs in 2016.

In addition to strong showings from traditional prodemocracy parties, seven self-proclaimed “localists” won seats for the first time. The “localists” represent a range of political views, with campaign platforms variously focused on a referendum on self-determination after 2047; Hong Kong-first-focused policies; reforms for land development policies; and proindependence. The platform for the top vote-getter for the geographical constituency with the largest electorate, Chu Hoi-dick, touted self-determination in addition to land reform and environmental concerns. The “localists” in some cases won legislative seats over more traditional prodemocracy parties, leading to a wide range of views expressed within the LegCo.

Under the Basic Law, LegCo members may not introduce bills that affect public expenditure, the political structure, or government policy; only the government may introduce these types of bills. The SAR sends 36 deputies to the mainland’s NPC and had approximately 250 delegates in the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference–bodies that operate under the direction of the CCP and do not exercise legislative independence. The approval of the CE, two-thirds of LegCo, and two-thirds of the SAR’s delegates to the NPC are required to place an amendment to the Basic Law on the agenda of the NPC, which has the sole power to amend the Basic Law.

Voters directly elected all 431 of Hong Kong’s district council seats in November 2015 following the government’s elimination of appointed district council seats. Previously, the CE used his authority to appoint 68 of the 534 members of the district councils, the SAR’s most grassroots-level elected bodies.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2012, in a process widely criticized as undemocratic, the 1,193-member CE Election Committee, dominated by proestablishment electors and their allies, selected C.Y. Leung to be the SAR’s chief executive. Leung received 689 votes. The PRC’s State Council formally appointed him, and then President Hu Jintao swore in Leung.

The next chief executive election is scheduled for March 2017 under an electoral process identical to the 2012 process, because the LegCo rejected an electoral reform package in June 2015 that prodemocracy legislators considered insufficiently democratic on the grounds that it did not allow voters directly to nominate the candidates for chief executive. On December 11, representatives of various commercial sectors, professions, religious organizations, and social service providers, as well as political representatives, elected the 1,194 electors who will cast ballots in the next chief executive election. Residents voiced concern that these small-circle elections were open to participation by a very small number (230,000) of the SAR’s 7.5 million residents. Additionally, while the 2016 Election Committee elections saw historically high turnout of 46 percent and a record number of contested seats across industrial, professional, grassroots, and political sectors, local political observers noted 300 members–approximately 25 percent–of the committee were elected without a poll or other transparent election process to represent 12 uncontested subsectors and one sub-subsector.

In September SAR residents elected representatives to the 70-member LegCo. The election, which saw record high turnout of 2.2 million voters, or over 58 percent, was considered generally free and fair according to the standards established in the Basic Law. The government acknowledged election observers and other residents had filed approximately 1,200 petitions about election misconduct with the Elections Affairs Committee following the conclusion of the LegCo election. Pro-PRC and proestablishment candidates won 40 of 70 LegCo seats, while prodemocracy candidates won 30, an increase over the 27 the opposition camp held from 2012 to 2016.

In July, for the first time the government announced all LegCo candidates would have to sign a Confirmation Form pledging their allegiance to the SAR and their intent to uphold the Basic Law, including three provisions that stated Hong Kong is an inalienable part of the PRC. Legal scholars and prodemocracy activists criticized the government’s use of the Confirmation Form, noting the LegCo had not approved this change to the election procedures or the requirements for candidates to stand for legislative office. In August the government disqualified proindependence LegCo candidate Edward Leung, of the Hong Kong Indigenous party, from running in the election in the New Territories East district. An elections officer refused Leung’s candidacy, even though Leung had signed the Confirmation Form and said he would drop his proindependence stance. Leung and another candidate filed judicial review applications charging that the use of the Confirmation Form was not in accordance with the SAR’s laws. Leung also filed an elections petition in September alleging his disqualification from the race was unlawful.

Some observers expressed concern that the interpretation could restrict the right to stand for office guaranteed in Article 26 of the Basic Law for those who espouse proindependence views, and possibly for those who support self-determination as well. At the end of the year, the Hong Kong high court had disqualified two proindependence legislators-elect, Yau Wai-ching and Sixtus Leung, from taking office. The September election of proindependence legislators followed a July poll of public opinion conducted by the Chinese University of Hong Kong that found that while only 4 percent of respondents thought independence was possible for Hong Kong, 17 percent of them, including 39 percent of respondents aged 15 to 24, supported independence when the current political arrangement expires in 2047.

At a press conference announcing the NPCSC interpretation, NPCSC Legal Committee Chair Li Fei suggested that support for self-determination would be treated the same as promoting independence, and could thus disqualify legislators under the new interpretation. On December 2, Chief Executive Leung and Secretary for Justice Yuen filed a legal challenge to the legitimacy of four other opposition legislators–veteran activist “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung, former Occupy Central student leader Nathan Law, lecturer Lau Siu-lai, and university professor Edward Yiu–over the manner in which they took their oaths. The courts accepted the government’s judicial review application on December 15, and initial hearings for the cases are expected to be held in February 2017. Support for “localist” platforms, including self-determination (generally understood to refer to a referendum on Hong Kong’s status in 2047) was a key component of several elected legislators’ platforms, including those of Law and Lau.

The Independent Commission against Corruption (ICAC) was estimated to have received well over 200 complaints concerning alleged breaches of provisions under the Elections (Corrupt and Illegal Conduct) Ordinance. Media reported the complaints included allegations of fraudulently registering voters without their consent, bribing voters, voting after giving false or misleading information to an elections officer, incurring election expenses by persons other than the candidate or his agent, publishing false or misleading statements about a candidate, publishing election advertisements that did not meet certain requirements, failing to file election returns, and providing others with refreshments and entertainment at elections.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Pandemocratic parties faced a number of institutional challenges, which hampered them from securing a majority of the seats in the LegCo or having one of their members become CE. Of LegCo’s 70 seats, 30 were elected by FCs, most of whom are supportive of the central government; representatives from 12 of these constituencies ran unopposed, while over 150 parties contested the SAR’s 35 GC seats. The law does not permit tax-exempt contributions to political parties. The voting process helped ensure that proestablishment allies controlled a majority of seats in LegCo. Additionally, the central government and its business supporters provided generous financial resources to parties that supported the central government’s political agenda in the SAR, ensuring that these organizations would control the levers of government and senior positions. According to local press reports, several political groups voiced concern that the Central Government Liaison Office (CGLO) interfered with legislative campaigns, lobbying for pro-Beijing candidates and threatening or harassing others. In August, Liberal Party candidate Ken Chow suspended his campaign for a LegCo seat, alleging CGLO affiliates had harassed him and threatened the safety of his family. At year’s end, the ICAC, the Liberal Party, and the HKG had undertaken investigations into Chow’s allegations. Chow subsequently quit the Liberal Party.

Participation of Women and Minorities: Five of the 30 members of the Executive Council (cabinet-level secretaries and “nonofficial” councilors who advise the CE) were women. Eleven of the 40 directly-elected LegCo members were women, and a woman held one of the 35 FC seats. Fourteen of the 45 most senior government officials (secretaries, undersecretaries, and permanent secretaries) were women.

There is no legal restriction against non-Chinese running for electoral office, serving as electoral monitors, or participating in the civil service, although most elected or senior appointed positions require that the officeholder have a legal right of abode only in the SAR. There were no members of ethnic minorities in the LegCo. The government regarded ethnic origin as irrelevant to civil service appointment and did not require applicants to declare their ethnicity or race in their applications for government jobs. Some observers criticized this practice as preventing the government from monitoring hiring and promotion rates for individuals who were not ethnically Chinese. In March, citing underrepresentation of ethnic minorities in the government, a local foundation published a list of 16 ethnic minority candidates who had relevant experience and Cantonese language, encouraging the government to appoint these candidates to serve on government advisory committees.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, and the government generally implemented it effectively. The SAR continued to be viewed as relatively uncorrupt.

Corruption: In July controversy erupted over the independence and impartiality of the ICAC after a senior official leading a corruption investigation of Chief Executive Leung was mysteriously demoted. Prior to the demotion, Rebecca Li, who led the ICAC operations department, had a distinguished career spanning three decades. In 2015, she became the agency’s most senior career official, a first for a woman. Li’s department was responsible for conducting an investigation into whether Mr. Leung properly disclosed U.S. $6.4 million in payments he received from an Australian company that does business with the city. Li resigned following the demotion. Her sudden departure reportedly led one of her top investigators to resign in protest, and ICAC employees collectively refused to attend the annual staff dinner in protest and forced its cancellation. ICAC had not yet provided its perspective by year’s end.

In October the prosecution in an existing case charging former chief executive Donald Tsang with two counts of misconduct in public office in connection with a below-market lease and hiring of an architect for a luxury apartment in Shenzhen added an additional bribery charge related to the redecoration of the penthouse. Together, the charges carry a maximum HK$500,000 fine and seven years imprisonment. Tsang remained free on bail while the cases proceeded; his trial reopened in January 2017.

Financial Disclosure: The SAR requires the 27 most senior civil service officials to declare their financial investments annually and the approximately 3,100 senior working-level officials to do so biennially. Policy bureaus may impose additional reporting requirements for positions seen as having a greater risk of conflict of interest. The Civil Service Bureau monitors and verifies disclosures, which are available to the public. There are criminal and administrative sanctions for noncompliance.

Public Access to Information: There is no freedom of information law. An administrative code on access to information serves as the framework for the provision of information by government bureaus and departments and the ICAC.

Under the code authorities may refuse to disclose information if doing so would cause or risk causing harm or prejudice in several broad areas: national security and foreign affairs (which are reserved to the central government); immigration issues; judicial and law enforcement issues; direct risks to individuals; damage to the environment; improper gain or advantage; management of the economy; management and operation of the public service; internal discussion and advice; public employment and public appointments; research, statistics, and analysis; third-party information; business affairs; premature requests; and information on which legal restrictions apply. Political inconvenience or the potential for embarrassment were not justifiable bases for withholding information.

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

A wide variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials generally were cooperative and responsive to their views. Prominent human rights activists critical of the central government also operated freely and maintained permanent resident status in the SAR.

Government Human Rights Bodies: There is an Office of the Ombudsman and an Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC). The government recruits commissioners to represent both offices through a professional search committee, which solicits applications and vets candidates. Commissioners were independent in their operations. Both organizations operated without interference from the government and published critical findings in their areas of responsibility. In January the EOC, under the supervision of Commissioner Dr. York Chow, published a list of 77 recommendations for how to update the SAR’s existing antidiscrimination legislation to better protect Hong Kong’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals, improve access to public and commercial buildings for persons with disabilities, and other issues within the EOC’s responsibility. In March, Lingnan University professor Alfred Chan replaced Chow as EOC Commissioner; Chan continues to serve the EOC as an advocate for LGBTI rights, the ethnic minority community, and persons with disabilities.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, including spousal rape, and police enforced the law effectively. Activists voiced concerns that rape was underreported, especially within the ethnic minority community, but acknowledged the police responded appropriately in reported cases.

The government regarded domestic violence against women as a serious concern and took measures to prevent and prosecute offenses. The law allows victims to seek a three-month injunction, extendable to six months, against an abuser. Although the law does not criminalize domestic violence directly, abusers may be liable for criminal charges under other ordinances. The government effectively enforced the law and prosecuted violators, but sentences typically consisted only of injunctions or restraining orders.

The law covers molestation between married couples, homosexual and heterosexual cohabitants, former spouses or cohabitants, and immediate and extended family members. It protects victims under age 18, allowing them to apply for an injunction in their own right, with the assistance of an adult guardian, against molestation by their parents, siblings, and specified immediate and extended family members. The law also empowers the court to require that the abuser attend an antiviolence program. In cases in which the abuser caused bodily harm, the court may attach an authorization of arrest to an existing injunction and extend both injunctions and authorizations for arrest to two years.

The government maintained programs that provided intervention, counseling, and assistance to domestic violence victims and batterers. The government continued its public information campaign to strengthen families and to prevent violence.

Activists reported domestic violence was more prevalent against ethnic minority women.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment or discrimination on the basis of sex, marital status, and pregnancy. The law applies to both men and women, and police enforced the law effectively.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of children; manage their reproductive health; and have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence.

Discrimination: Women enjoy the same legal status and rights as men. The SAR’s sexual discrimination ordinance prohibits discrimination on the grounds of sex or pregnancy status, and the government generally enforced this antidiscrimination law.

According to gender-rights activists and public policy analysts, while the law treats men and women equally in terms of property rights in divorce settlements and inheritance matters, women faced discrimination in employment, salary, welfare, inheritance, and promotion.

The law authorizes the EOC to work towards the elimination of discrimination and harassment as well as to promote equal opportunity between men and women. A Women’s Commission served as an advisory body for policies related to women, and a number of NGOs were active in raising problems of societal attitudes and discrimination against women.

Children

Birth Registration: All Chinese nationals born in the SAR, on the PRC mainland, or abroad to parents of whom at least one is a PRC-national Hong Kong permanent resident acquire both PRC citizenship and Hong Kong permanent residence, the latter allowing the right of abode in the SAR. Children born in the SAR to non-Chinese parents, at least one of whom is a Hong Kong permanent resident, acquire SAR permanent residence and qualify to apply for naturalization as PRC citizens. Registration of all such statuses was routine.

Child Abuse: The law mandates protection for victims of child abuse (battery, assault, neglect, abandonment, and sexual exploitation), and the government enforced the law. The law allows for the prosecution of certain sexual offenses, including against minors, committed outside the territory of the SAR.

The government provided parent-education programs through its maternal and child health centers, public education programs, clinical psychologists for its clinical psychology units, and social workers for its family and child protective services units. Police maintained a child abuse investigation unit and in collaboration with the Social Welfare Department ran a child witness support program. A law on child-care centers helped prevent unsuitable persons from providing childcare services.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 16, and parents’ written consent is required for marriage before the age of 21. There was no evidence of early or forced marriage in the SAR.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: There were reports of girls under the age of 18 from some countries in Asia being subjected to sex trafficking in the SAR.

The legal age of consent is 16. Under the law a person having “unlawful sexual intercourse” with a victim under 16 is subject to five years’ imprisonment, while having unlawful sexual intercourse with a victim under 13 carries a sentence of life imprisonment.

The law makes it an offense to possess, produce, copy, import, or export pornography involving a child under the age of 18 or to publish or cause to be published any advertisement that conveys or is likely to be understood as conveying the message that a person has published, publishes, or intends to publish any child pornography. Authorities generally enforced the law. The penalty for creation, publication, or advertisement of child pornography is eight years’ imprisonment, while possession carries a penalty of five years’ imprisonment.

International Child Abductions: The SAR is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community numbered 5,000 to 6,000 persons and reported few acts of anti-Semitism during the year. There were concerns within the Jewish community about some religious rhetoric heard from the otherwise moderate Muslim community.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, access to health care, air travel and other transportation, and the provision of other state services, including access to the judicial system and the government generally enforced these provisions. The government generally implemented laws and programs to ensure that persons with disabilities have access to buildings, information, and communications, although there were reports of some restrictions.

The Disability Discrimination Ordinance states that children with special education needs must have equal opportunity in accessing education. It is against the law for a school to discriminate against a student with a disability. According to the government, students with significant or multiple disabilities are, with parental consent, placed in special segregated schools, while students with less significant disabilities are enrolled in mainstream schools. There were occasional media reports about alleged abuses in education and mental health facilities; the most recent court case involving such abuses was in 2011.

The SAR implemented a range of legislative, administrative, and other measures to enhance the rights of persons with disabilities. Some human rights groups reported that the SAR’s Disability Discrimination Ordinance was too limited and did not oblige the government to promote equal opportunities.

The Social Welfare Department provided training and vocational rehabilitation services to assist persons with disabilities, offered subsidized resident-care services for persons considered unable to live independently and offered places for preschool services to children with disabilities, and provided community support services for persons with mental disabilities, their families, and other local residents.

Persons with disabilities filed legal cases indicating instances of discrimination against persons with disabilities persisted in employment, education, and the provision of some public services. The law calls for improved building access and sanctions against those who discriminate. Access to public buildings (including public schools) and transportation remained a serious problem for persons with disabilities.

Some persons with disabilities protested that the government discriminated against them with respect to social security assistance.

According to the EOC, the SAR lagged in providing equal opportunities for students with disabilities, despite having operated an integrated education policy since 1997.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Although 94 percent ethnic Chinese, Hong Kong is a multi-ethnic society with persons from a number of ethnic groups recognized as permanent residents with full rights under the law. The law prohibits discrimination, and the EOC oversees implementation and enforcement of the law. The EOC maintained a hotline for inquiries and complaints concerning racial discrimination. The EOC’s code of practice (along with selected other EOC materials) was available in Hindi, Thai, Urdu, Nepali, Indonesian, and Tagalog, in addition to Chinese and English.

The government has a policy to integrate non-Chinese students into the SAR’s schools and provided a special grant for some schools to develop their own programs, share best practices with other schools, develop supplementary curriculum materials, and set up Chinese-language support centers to provide after-school programs. Activists and scholars noted that programs encouraging predominantly Chinese schools to welcome minority students backfired, turning certain schools into “segregated institutions.” These schools reportedly did not teach Chinese to the non-ethnic Chinese students. Students who did not learn Chinese had significant difficulty entering university and the labor market, according to government and NGO reports.

Activists continued to express concern that there was no formal government-sponsored course to prepare students for the General Certificate for Secondary Education examination in Chinese, a passing grade from which is required for most civil service employment. The government provided funds to subsidize the cost of these examinations. The government began accepting alternate credentials for Hong Kong students to enter the SAR’s universities, though scholars assessed ethnic minority students faced a tough choice between either preparing for the General Certificate examination, which would enable entry into many civil service jobs, or preparing for alternate tests, which might enable entry into the SAR’s universities.

Activists and the government disputed whether new immigrants from the mainland should be considered as a population of concern under antidiscrimination laws. While concerns were raised that new immigrants do not qualify to receive social welfare benefits until they have resided in the SAR for seven years, the courts upheld this legal standard. Such immigrants could apply on a case-specific basis for assistance.

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

No laws criminalize consensual same-sex sexual activity. While the SAR has laws that ban discrimination on the grounds of race, sex, disability, and family status, no law prohibits companies or individuals from discriminating on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity; there are also no laws that specifically aid in the prosecution of bias-motivated crimes against members of the LGBTI community.

The government claimed public education and existing civil and criminal laws were sufficient to protect the rights of the LGBTI community and that legislation was not necessary. A small community of religious organizations continued to lobby the government and campaign actively to prevent the SAR’s recognition of same-sex marriage. LGBTI professionals are permitted to bring foreign partners to the SAR only on a “prolonged visitor visa.” Successful applicants, however, cannot work, obtain an identification card, or qualify for permanent residency.

LGBTI persons were able to arrange large scale activities, including pride marches and other community events.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions without previous authorization or excessive requirements and to conduct legal strikes, but it does not protect the right to collective bargaining or obligate employers to bargain. Trade unions claimed the law allows employers simply to refuse to bargain. The law explicitly prohibits civil servants from bargaining collectively; the International Labor Organization (ILO) advised this restriction was too broad and not in line with international standards.

Trade unions must register with the government’s Registry of Trade Unions and must have a minimum membership of seven persons for registration. Workers were not prevented from unionizing, but only Hong Kong residents could join unions or serve as union officers. The law allows the use of union funds for political purposes, provided a union has the authorization of the majority of its voting members at a general meeting.

The law provides for the right to strike, although there are some restrictions on this right for civil servants. The Commissioner of police has broad authority to control and direct public gatherings in the interest of national security or public safety. According to the Employment Ordinance, an employer cannot fire, penalize, or discriminate against an employee who exercises his or her union rights and cannot prevent or deter the employee from exercising such rights. Under the Employment Ordinance, an employee unreasonably and unlawfully dismissed (including on the grounds of the employee exercising trade union rights) is entitled to reinstatement or reengagement, subject to mutual consent of the employer and the employee, or compensation up to a maximum of HK$150,000 ($19,300) for unreasonable and unlawful dismissal.

Penalties for violations of laws providing for freedom of association and collective bargaining laws included fines payable to the government as well as legal damages paid to workers and were sufficient to deter violations. Under the Employment Ordinance, employers who violated antiunion laws were liable to a fine of HK$100,000 ($13,000). Administrative and judicial procedures were not subject to lengthy delays.

The government effectively enforced the law. The Workplace Consultation Promotion Division in the Labor Department facilitated communication, consultation, and voluntary negotiation between employers and employees. Tripartite committees for each of the nine sectors of the economy included representatives from some trade unions, employers, and the Labor Department. During a labor dispute, the Labor Relations Division of the Labor Department facilitates conciliation so that the dispute can be settled with minimum friction and disruption.

Worker organizations were independent of the government and political parties. Prodemocracy labor activists alleged, however, that only progovernment unions were able to participate substantively in the tripartite process, while the prodemocracy Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions was consistently excluded. Trade Unions are prohibited from using funds for “political purposes.”

Although there is no legislative prohibition against strikes and the right and freedom to strike are enshrined in the Basic Law, most workers had to sign employment contracts that typically stated walking off the job was a breach of contract and could lead to summary dismissal, though there were no incidents in 2016 that tested this legal contradiction. Various sections of the Employment Ordinance prohibit firing an employee for striking and void any section of an employment contract that would punish a worker for striking. As in past years, approximately 5,000 participated in the annual May 1 Labor Day march calling for standard working hours and a universal pension program. According to the government, there were no reports that employers fired workers for participating in a strike last year. The government reported that as of September last year, two strikes involving 106 workers had occurred. Activists claimed more strikes took place but that the government did not want to tarnish the SAR’s business-friendly image by acknowledging them.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law does not prohibit all forms of forced or compulsory labor, nor do laws specifically criminalize forced labor. Hong Kong does not have a specific law explicitly banning labor trafficking. Instead, the SAR uses its Employment and Theft Ordinances to prosecute labor violations and related offenses.

NGOs voiced concerns some migrant workers faced high levels of indebtedness assumed as part of the recruitment process, creating a risk they could fall victim to debt bondage. The SAR allows for the collection of placement fees up to 10 percent of the first month’s wages, but some recruitment firms required large up-front fees in the country of origin that workers struggled to repay even after arriving and working in Hong Kong for some time. Some locally licensed employment agencies were suspected of colluding with agencies in the Philippines and Indonesia to profit from a debt scheme, and some local agencies illegally confiscated the passports, employment contracts, and automatic teller machine cards of domestic workers and withheld them until their debt had been repaid. The government conveyed its concerns about these cases to a number of foreign missions.

There also were reports that some employers illegally forbade domestic workers from leaving the residence of work for non-work-related reasons, effectively preventing them from reporting exploitation to authorities. SAR authorities claimed they encouraged aggrieved workers to lodge complaints and make use of government conciliation services, as well as actively pursued reports of any labor violations.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

Regulations prohibit employment of children under age 15 in any industrial establishment. Other regulations limit work hours in the manufacturing sector for persons ages 15-17 to eight hours per day and 48 hours per week between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. The law prohibits overtime in industrial establishments with employment in dangerous trades for persons under the age of 18.

Children aged 13-14 may work in certain nonindustrial establishments, subject to conditions aimed at ensuring a minimum of nine years of education and protection of their safety, health, and welfare.

The Labor Department effectively enforced these laws and regularly inspected workplaces to enforce compliance with the regulations. Penalties for violations of child labor laws include fines and legal damages up to HK$50,000 ($6,500) and were sufficient to deter violations. In the first eight months of the year, the Labor Department detected no violations of child labor regulations.

There were some reports that girls from some countries in Asia were subjected to commercial sexual exploitation (see section 6, Children).

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law and regulations prohibit employment discrimination on the grounds of race or ethnicity, disability, family status (marital status and/or pregnancy), or sex. The law stipulates employers must prove that proficiency in a particular language is a justifiable job requirement if they reject a candidate on these grounds. Regulations do not prohibit employment discrimination on the grounds of color, religion, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, sexual orientation and/or gender identity, HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases, or social status.

The government generally enforced these laws and regulations. In cases in which employment discrimination occurred, the SAR’s courts had broad powers to levy penalties on those who violated these laws and regulations. Penalties included ordering reinstatement of employees as well as the awarding of damages for loss or emotional damages. These penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

Women reported they faced discrimination in employment, salary, welfare, inheritance, and promotion, and some victims filed lawsuits on these grounds. NGOs assessed gender discrimination was more widespread, but many women preferred not to file discrimination cases. Women reportedly formed the majority of the working poor and those who fell outside the protection of labor laws. Instances of discrimination against persons with disabilities persisted in employment and access. The government estimated approximately 81,000 persons with disabilities were economically active throughout the SAR, of whom 76,200 were employed. LGBTI persons reported discrimination in finding and keeping employment if they disclosed their sexual orientation or sexual identity.

Human rights activists and local scholars continued to raise concerns about job prospects for minority students, who are more likely to hold low-paying, low-skilled jobs and earn below-average wages. Academics assessed the lack of Chinese language skills were the greatest barriers to employment. Minority group leaders and activists reported government requirements for all job applicants to speak Chinese kept nonnative Chinese speakers out of civil service and law enforcement positions. The police force reportedly employed 100 non-ethnic-Chinese constables as of the beginning of the year.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The statutory minimum hourly wage was readjusted last year to HK$32.50 ($4.18). On October 1, the SAR increased domestic workers’ minimum monthly wage from HK$4,210 ($542) to HK$4,310 ($555) and increased their minimum monthly food allowance from HK$995 ($128) to HK$1,037 ($134).

The official poverty line was half of the median monthly household income before tax and welfare transfers, based on household size. For a one-person household, the poverty line was set at HK$3,600 ($463), for a two-person household HK$7,700 ($990), for a three-person household HK$11,500 ($1,480), and so on. According to this definition, more than 1.3 million persons (in a population of approximately 7.2 million) were living in poverty.

There is no law concerning working hours, paid weekly rest, rest breaks, or compulsory overtime for most employees. For certain groups and occupations, such as security guards and certain categories of drivers, there are regulations and guidelines on working hours and rest breaks. The law stipulates that employees are entitled to 12 days of statutory holidays and employers must not make payment in lieu of granting holidays. Local union groups and the government continued to debate standard working hours legislation, differing in whether the weekly standard should be set at 40, 44, or 48 hours. In the absence of such legislation, labor rights groups reported most Hong Kong residents work approximately 56 hours a week.

The government’s Standard Employment Contract requires employers to provide foreign domestic workers with housing, worker’s compensation insurance, travel allowances, and food or a food allowance in addition to the monthly minimum wage of approximately U.S. $542, which together provided a decent standard of living. In its explanation of why live-in domestic workers (both local and foreign) would not be covered by the statutory minimum wage, the government explained “the distinctive working pattern–round-the-clock presence, provision of service-on-demand, and the multifarious domestic duties expected of live-in domestic workers–made it impossible to ascertain the actual hours worked so as to determine the wages to be paid.”

Foreign domestic workers could be deported if dismissed. After leaving one employer, workers have two weeks to secure new employment before they must leave the SAR. Activists contended this restriction left workers vulnerable to abuse by employers. Workers who pursued complaints through legal channels could be granted leave to remain in the SAR but could not work, leaving them either to live from savings or depend on charitable assistance. The government contended the “two-week rule” was necessary to maintain effective immigration control and prevent migrant workers from overstaying and taking unauthorized work.

The government enforced the law. The Labor Tribunal received employment cases and convicted employers in disputes involving foreign domestic workers, most of which the government said were related to nonpayment or underpayment of wages and wrongful dismissal. Domestic workers could also be subject to physical and verbal abuse, poor living and working conditions, and limitations on freedom of movement.

In late December a High Court judge ruled that the government failed to protect adequately the human rights and safety of a Pakistani man trafficked to Hong Kong and forced into unpaid labor for several years. At year’s end, the government had not indicated if it planned to file an appeal of the case. The government stated the rules on labor protections and time off cover local and migrant workers.

Laws exist to provide for health and safety of workers in the workplace. Workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. No laws restrict work during typhoon or rainstorm warnings. The Labor Department issued a “code of practice” on work arrangements in times of severe weather, which includes a recommendation that employers require only essential staff to come to work during certain categories of typhoon or rainstorm warnings. Both progovernment and pandemocratic unions called for a review of protections for workers during inclement weather, including legal protections.

Data on the number of labor inspectors working for the Department of Labor during the year were unavailable. Penalties for violations of minimum wage or occupational safety and health violations included fines, payments of damages, and worker’s compensation payments. These penalties were sufficient to deter violations. The Occupational Safety and Health Branch of the Labor Department is responsible for safety and health promotion, enforcement of safety management legislation, and policy formulation and implementation; it enforced occupational safety and health laws effectively.

Employers and employer associations often set wages. Additionally, some activists claimed that employers used employment contracts that defined workers as “self-employed” to avoid employer-provided benefits, such as paid leave, sick leave, medical insurance, workers’ compensation, or Mandatory Provident Fund payments. According to the Labor Department, there were cases in which employers faced heavy court fines for such behavior. The department held that it was seeking to promote public awareness, consultation, conciliation services, and tougher enforcement to safeguard employees’ rights.

According to the General Household Survey conducted by the Census and Statistics Department during last year, approximately 17 percent of employees worked 60 hours or more per week. In the first quarter of last year, the Labor Department recorded 7,786 occupational injuries, including 2,404 classified as industrial accidents, most of which occurred in the construction, manufacturing, and transportation sectors. In the same period, there were five fatal industrial accidents. Employers are required to report any injuries sustained by their employees in work-related accidents. Labor activists continued to raise concerns about fatal industrial accidents, which primarily occurred in construction and infrastructure industries.

READ A SECTION: CHINA | TIBET | HONG KONG (ABOVE) | MACAU

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

Executive Summary

READ A SECTION: CHINA | TIBET | HONG KONG | MACAU (BELOW)


Macau is a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and enjoys a high degree of autonomy, except in defense and foreign affairs, under the SAR’s constitution (the Basic Law). A 400-member Election Committee reelected Chief Executive, Fernando Chui Sai-On, in 2014.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Prominent human rights problems reported during the year were limits on citizens’ ability to change their government, constraints on press and academic freedom, and concerns regarding extradition of criminals to jurisdictions with harsher criminal punishments.

Trafficking in persons remained a problem, although authorities were building capacity to pursue trafficking cases. While there were continuing concerns that national security legislation passed in accordance with article 23 of the Basic Law in 2009 could compromise various civil liberties, from July 2015-June, the Macao SAR Government filed no cases against individuals or organizations in relation to this article.

The government took steps to prosecute and punish officials who committed abuses.

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

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

There were no reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

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

The law prohibits such practices, and there were no reports government officials employed them.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions generally met international standards, and the government permitted monitoring visits by independent human rights observers.

Physical Conditions: The Macau Prison, the SAR’s only prison, has a maximum capacity of 1,565 persons, and the occupancy rate as of June was approximately 84 percent of capacity. As of June there were 1,317 inmates who were 16 years old (the age of criminal responsibility) and older; of these 1,116 were men and 201 were women. Offenders between the ages of 12 and 16 years old were subject to an “education regime” that, depending on the offense, could include incarceration. Between July 2015 and June, authorities held 16 juveniles at the Youth Correctional Institution, 15 male and one female.

Administration: The government’s recordkeeping procedures were adequate. The government continued to use alternative sentencing for nonviolent offenders. Ombudsmen were able to serve prisoners and detainees. Authorities allowed prisoners and detainees reasonable access to visitors. Inmates are eligible for a weekly one-hour visit, with video visits arranged when necessary. Inmates with children may apply for weekend visits in a designated family room. Authorities permitted religious observance, including organized activities held within the prison. The law allows prisoners and detainees to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and to request investigation of alleged deficiencies, and judges and prosecutors made monthly visits to prisons to hear prisoner complaints.

Independent Monitoring: According to the government, no independent human rights observers requested or made any visit to the Macau Prison. Judges and prosecutors visited the prison at least monthly.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, and the government generally observed these prohibitions. Activists expressed concern that the Macau Government abused prosecutorial procedures to target political dissidents, while police said they charged those they arrested with violations of the law.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the Public Security Police (general law enforcement) and the Judiciary Police (criminal investigations), and the government had effective mechanisms to investigate and punish official abuse and corruption. There were no reports of impunity involving the security forces.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Authorities detained persons openly with warrants issued by a duly authorized official based on sufficient evidence. Detainees had access to a lawyer of their choice or, if indigent, to one provided by the government. Detainees had prompt access to family members. Police must present persons in custody to an examining judge within 48 hours of detention. Detainees were promptly informed of charges against them. The examining judge, who conducts a pretrial inquiry in criminal cases, has wide powers to collect evidence, order or dismiss indictments, and determine whether to release detained persons. According to the government, courts should try defendants within the “shortest period of time.” Investigations by the prosecuting attorney should end with charges or dismissal within eight months, or six months when the defendant is in detention. The pretrial inquiry stage must conclude within four months, or two months if the defendant is detained. By law the maximum limits for pretrial detention range from six months to three years, depending on the charges and progress of the judicial process; there were no reported cases of lengthy pretrial detentions. There is a functioning bail system; however, judges often refused bail in cases where sentences could exceed three years.

From June 2015-July, there were five complaints of police mistreatment reported to the Commission for Disciplinary Control of the Security Forces and Services of the Macao SAR and two complaints lodged with the Commission Against Corruption. All complaints were dismissed for lack of evidence. Authorities reported there was one case of death while in police custody during the second half of 2015. According to police the case concerned a Filipino man who was brought to a police station after illegally consuming narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances. Police said during their investigation, the man reported feeling ill, and police accompanied him to Conde S. Januario Hospital for treatment where he died of suspected myocardial infarction despite efforts to resuscitate him.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence.

Macau’s unique, civil-code law judicial system, which is derived from the judicial framework of the Portuguese legal system, operates within the PRC. The courts may rule on matters that are the responsibility of the PRC government or concern the relationship between central authorities and the SAR, but before making their final judgment, which is not subject to appeal, the courts must seek an interpretation of the relevant provisions from the National People’s Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC). Macau’s Basic Law requires that courts follow the NPCSC’s interpretations when cases intersect with central government jurisdiction, although judgments previously rendered are not affected, and when the Standing Committee makes an interpretation of the provisions concerned, the courts, in applying those provisions, “shall follow the interpretation of the Standing Committee.” As the final interpreter of the Basic Law, the NPCSC also has the power to initiate interpretations of the Basic Law.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. A case may be presided over by one judge or a group of judges, depending on the type of crime and the maximum penalty involved.

Under the law defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence, have access to government-held evidence relevant to their cases, and have a right to appeal. The law provides that trials be public except when the court rules otherwise to “safeguard the dignity of persons, public morality, or to provide for the normal functioning of the court.” Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges (with free interpretation), be present at their trials, confront witnesses, have adequate time to prepare a defense, not be compelled to testify or confess guilt, and consult with an attorney in a timely manner. The government provides public attorneys for those financially incapable of engaging lawyers or paying expenses of proceedings. The law extends these rights to all residents.

The judiciary provided citizens with a fair and efficient judicial process. Under the provisions of the civil procedural law, courts schedule hearings in civil cases after a series of procedural acts have been met to provide for the parties’ rights at different stages of the judicial process. According to the government, as of June 30, the longest average waiting time for civil cases to be heard by a collegial panel of the Court of First Instance was 86 working days, while the average waiting time for cases to be heard officially by a sole judge was 29 working days. The average waiting time for criminal cases was less than one year, 84 working days involving someone on remand, and 210 working days in cases without remand. The average waiting time for cases to be heard by a sole judge was 56 working days. Activists said a lack of administrative capacity delayed the adjudication of both civil and criminal cases during the year.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

There is an independent and impartial judiciary for civil matters, and citizens have access to a court to bring lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, a human rights violation. Due to an overloaded court system, a period of up to a year often passed between the filing of a civil case and its scheduled hearing.

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

The law prohibits such actions, and the government generally respected these prohibitions. The Office for Personal Data Protection acknowledged a continuing increase in complaints and inquiries regarding data protection.

Activists critical of the government reported the government monitored their telephone conversations and internet usage.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law provides for freedom of speech and expression, and the government generally respected these rights.

The law criminalizes treason, secession, subversion of the PRC government, and theft of “state secrets,” as well as “acts in preparation” to commit these offenses. The crimes of treason, secession, and subversion specifically require the use of violence, and the government stated it would not use the law to infringe on peaceful political activism or media freedom.

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

During the year there were no arrests or convictions under this article.

Press and Media Freedoms: Independent media were active and expressed a wide range of views, and international media operated freely. The government heavily subsidized major newspapers, which tended to follow closely the PRC government’s policy on sensitive political issues, such as Taiwan; however, they generally reported freely on the SAR, including criticism of the SAR government. Two independent media websites known to be critical of the Macau government alleged cyberattacks and intrusions prior to PRC Premier Li Keqiang’s October visit to the Macau SAR.

Violence and Harassment: Activists alleged that authorities misused criminal proceedings to target government critics. There were no significant instances of violence or harassment directed at journalists.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Activists raised concerns of media self-censorship, particularly because news outlets and journalists worried certain types of coverage critical of the government might limit government funding. Activists also reported the government had co-opted senior media managers to serve in various consultative committees, which also resulted in self-censorship. Journalists expressed concern the government’s limitation on news releases about its own activities and its publishing of legal notices only in preferred media outlets influenced editorial content.

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

According to the Statistics and Census Service, as of July there were 317,981 internet subscribers of a population of 646,800. This total did not take into account multiple internet users for one subscription, nor did it include those who accessed the internet through mobile devices.

The law criminalizes a range of cybercrimes and empowers police, with a court warrant, to order internet service providers to retain and provide authorities with a range of data. Some legislators expressed concern the law granted police authority to take these actions without a court order under some circumstances.

Twitter, which the PRC banned on the mainland, was available on the government-provided free Wi-Fi service. Activists reported they freely used Facebook and Twitter to communicate. Activists also reported the government had installed enterprise-grade software capable of censoring, decrypting, and scanning secured transmissions on its free Wi-Fi service without notifying users.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

The law provides for freedom of assembly, and the government generally respected this right. The law requires prior notification, but not approval, of demonstrations involving public roads, public places, or places open to the public. In cases where authorities tried to restrict access to public venues for demonstrations or other public events, the courts generally ruled in favor of the applicants. Police may redirect demonstration marching routes, but organizers have the right to challenge such decisions in court.

Activists alleged authorities were making a concerted effort to use both intimidation and criminal proceedings against participants in peaceful demonstrations to discourage their involvement. Activists reported police routinely attempted to intimidate demonstrators by ostentatiously taking videos of them and advising bystanders not to participate in protests. Activists also stated authorities gave orders to demonstrators verbally rather than through written communication, which made it difficult to challenge their decisions in court. Activists reported the use of internal circulars and “rumors” threatening civil servants not to join politically sensitive events and demonstrations.

Further, activists alleged the Macau High Court had begun to adjudicate against defendants in freedom of assembly cases. In March, Macau police shrank the area requested by an antigovernment political organization to host an assembly in the Senado Square. The court upheld the restriction and dismissed the applicant’s citation of law that “any restriction on the exercise of the right of peaceful assembly must conform to the strict tests of necessity and proportionality.” In June approximately 400 persons participated in a vigil at Senado Square to mark the 27th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The law provides for freedom of association, and the government generally respected it. No authorization is required to form an association, and the only restrictions on forming an organization are that it not promote racial discrimination, violence, crime, or disruption of public order, or be military or paramilitary in nature. The SAR registered 570 new organizations from July 2015 to June.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

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

The Internal Security Law grants police the authority to deport or deny entry to nonresidents whom they regard under the law as unwelcome, as a threat to internal security and stability, or as possibly implicated in transnational crimes.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status under the UN Convention Against Torture, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. Persons granted refugee status ultimately enjoy the same rights as other SAR residents. The head of the SAR’s Refugee Commission made clear that resource shortages and other priorities meant resolution of the cases would likely take several years.

Pending final decisions on their asylum claims, the government registered asylum seekers and provided protection against their expulsion or return to their countries of origin. Persons with pending applications were eligible to receive government support, including basic needs such as housing, medical care, and education for children.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law limits citizens’ ability to change their government through free and fair periodic elections, and citizens did not have universal suffrage. Only a small fraction of citizens played a role in the selection of the Chief Executive, who was chosen in August 2014 by a 400-member Election Committee consisting of 344 members elected from four broad societal sectors (which themselves have a limited franchise) and 56 members chosen from among the SAR’s legislators and representatives to the National People’s Congress and Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2014 a 400-member selection committee reelected Chief Executive Fernando Chui Sai-On. Chui ran unopposed and won 97 percent of the vote. The most recent general election for the 14 directly elected seats in the 33-member Legislative Assembly occurred in 2013. A total of 145 candidates on 20 electoral lists competed for the seats. The election for these seats was generally free and fair.

There are limits on the types of bills legislators may introduce. The law stipulates that legislators may not initiate legislation related to public expenditure, the SAR’s political structure, or the operation of the government. Proposed legislation related to government policies must receive the chief executive’s written approval before it is introduced. The Legislative Assembly also has no power of confirmation over executive or judicial appointments.

A 10-member Executive Council functions as an unofficial cabinet, approving draft legislation before it is presented in the Legislative Assembly. The Basic Law stipulates that the chief executive appoint members of the Executive Council from among the principal officials of the executive authorities, members of the legislature, and public figures.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The SAR has no laws on political parties. Politically active groups registered as societies or limited liability companies were active in promoting their political agendas. Those critical of the government generally did not face restrictions. Such groups participated in protests over government policies or proposed legislation without restriction.

Participation of Women and Minorities: There were no laws or practices preventing women or members of minorities from voting, running for office, serving as election monitors, or otherwise participating in political life on the same basis as men or nonminority citizens, and women and minorities did so. According to the Public Administration and Civil Service Bureau, as of June, there were 12,619 women working for the Macao SAR Government, 389 at the judicial organs and 60 at the Legislative Assembly. Women also held a number of senior positions throughout the government, including the secretary for justice and administration, the second-highest official in the SAR government. The Public Administration and Civil Service Bureau stated women were 43 percent of the SAR government, 56 percent of the judiciary, and 48 percent of the senior staff of the Legislative Assembly. One Executive Council member was from an ethnic minority, as was the police commissioner general. As of June, 38 female judges worked in the judiciary.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, and there were few reported cases of officials engaging in corrupt acts.

Corruption: The government’s Commission Against Corruption (CAC) investigated the public and private sectors and had the power to arrest and detain suspects. The Ombudsman Bureau within the CAC reviewed complaints of mismanagement or abuse by the CAC. There was also an independent committee outside the CAC entitled the Monitoring Committee on Discipline of CAC Personnel, which accepted and reviewed complaints about CAC personnel. According to Macau government statistics, in the second half of 2015 there were two complaints lodged at the CAC; however, no illegality was found. No complaints were lodged in the first half of the year.

Financial Disclosure: By law the chief executive, cabinet, judges, members of the Legislative Assembly and Executive Council, and executive agency directors must disclose their financial interests upon appointment, promotion, retirement, and at five-year intervals while in the same position. The information is available to the public on the website of the Macau Courts. The law states that if the information contained in the declaration is intentionally incorrect, the declarant shall be liable to imprisonment not exceeding three years or a fine, the amount of which shall not be less than 6 months of the remuneration of the position held. Additionally the declarant may be prohibited from being appointed to public office or performing public duties for up to 10 years.

Public Access to Information: The law does not provide for public access to government information. Nevertheless, the executive branch published online, in both Portuguese and Chinese, extensive information on laws, regulations, ordinances, government policies and procedures, and biographies of principal government officials. The government also issued a daily press release on topics of public concern. The information provided by the legislature was less extensive.

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

Domestic and international groups monitoring human rights generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials often were cooperative and responsive to their views.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, including spousal rape, and the government effectively enforced the law. From July 2015-June, police received 25 complaints of rape and made 17 arrests.

In May, Macau’s Legislative Assembly adopted the Law on Preventing and Combating Domestic Violence, but same-sex couples are not under its purview. Under the new law, a victim can decide whether to pursue charges if the consequences of the violence are “mild.” The new law provides avenues for victims of domestic violence to leave dangerous environments as soon as possible and provides them with social services. Under the new law, the Social Welfare Bureau (SWB) is responsible for coordinating the application of protective and assistance measures to victims, such as temporary shelters, access to legal aid, financial assistance, health care, individual and family counseling, and assistance in access to education or employment. The law stipulates that a judge may order urgent coercive measures imposed upon the defendant individually or cumulatively, which can include: removing the offender from the victim’s family residence; forbidding the offender to contact, harass, or pursue the victim; barring the offender from owning weapons, objects, or tools that can be used for perpetrating acts of domestic violence; or other measures aimed at preventing the reoccurrence of domestic violence. According to the government, the application of these measures does not preclude the possibility of prosecuting the perpetrators for criminal responsibilities as stipulated in the criminal code. From June 2015- July, police received 322 reports of domestic violence. Various NGOs and government officials considered domestic violence against women to be a growing problem.

The government made referrals for victims to receive medical treatment, and medical social workers counseled victims and informed them of social welfare services. During the first half of the year, the SWB handled 90 domestic violence cases. The government funded NGOs to provide victim support services, including medical services, family counseling, and housing, until their complaints were resolved. The government also supported two 24-hour hotlines, one for counseling and the other for reporting domestic violence cases.

NGOs and religious groups sponsored programs for victims of domestic violence, and the government supported and helped fund these organizations and programs. The Bureau for Family Action, a government organization subordinate to the Department of Family and Community of the SWB, helped female victims of domestic violence by providing a safe place for them and their children and by providing advice regarding legal actions against perpetrators. A range of counseling services was available to persons who requested them at social service centers. Two government-supported religious programs also offered rehabilitation programs for female victims of violence.

Sexual Harassment: There is no law specifically addressing sexual harassment, unless it involves the use of a position of authority to coerce the performance of physical acts. Harassment in general is prohibited under laws governing equal opportunity, employment and labor rights, and labor relations. From July 2015- June, authorities received 13 complaints of sexual coercion and made 13 arrests.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children and the right to both fertility and contraceptive treatment, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. Access to information on family planning, contraception, and prenatal care was widely available, as was skilled attendance at delivery and postpartum care.

Discrimination: Equal opportunity legislation mandates that women receive equal pay for equal work. Discrimination in hiring practices based on gender or physical ability is prohibited by law, and penalties exist for employers who violate these guidelines. The law allows for civil suits, but few women took cases to the Labor Affairs Bureau (LAB) or other entities. Gender differences in occupation existed, with women concentrated in lower-paid sectors and lower-level jobs. Observers estimated there was a significant difference in salaries between men and women, particularly in unskilled jobs. The CAC received no complaints of gender discrimination during the first six months of the year.

Children

Birth Registration: According to the Basic Law, children of Chinese national residents of Macau who were born in or outside the SAR and children born to non-Chinese national permanent residents inside the SAR are regarded as permanent residents. There is no differentiation between these categories in terms of access to registration of birth. Most births were registered immediately.

Child Abuse: Four cases of child abuse were reported to the authorities from June 2015-July. The SAR’s Health Bureau handled 15 suspected child abuse cases during the year, all of which were transferred to appropriate governmental or nongovernmental institutions for follow up after hospitalization. In addition to providing measures to combat abuse, neglect, and violence against children by criminal law, the law establishes relief measures for children at risk. In this regard the SWB reported it handled 27 cases of abuse or neglect during the year.

Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum age of marriage is 16 years old. Children between ages 16 and 18 years old who wish to marry must get approval from their parents or guardians.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law specifically provides for criminal punishment for sexual abuse of children and students, statutory rape, and procurement involving minors. The criminal code sets 14 years as the age of sexual consent and 16 years old as the age for participation in the legal sex trade. The law prohibits child pornography. From July 2015-June, there were nine reported cases of child sexual abuse and five reported cases of rape of a minor. Police arrested seven suspects in reported cases of child sexual abuse and three suspects in cases of rape of a minor. Police received eight complaints and arrested seven in cases of sex with a minor during the same period.

International Child Abductions: The SAR is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish population was extremely small. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, access to health care, or the provision of other state services, and the government generally enforced these provisions. The law mandates access to buildings, public facilities, information, and communications for persons with disabilities. The government enforced the law effectively. The government provides a variety of services to persons with disabilities, including discounted fares on wheelchair-accessible public transportation. The SWB was primarily responsible for coordinating and funding public assistance programs to persons with disabilities. There was a governmental commission to rehabilitate persons with disabilities, with part of the commission’s scope of work addressing employment. There were no reports of children with disabilities encountering obstacles to attending school.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Although the government has made efforts to address the complaints of individuals of Portuguese descent and the Macanese (Macau’s Eurasian minority), members of these two groups continued to claim that they were not treated equally by the Chinese majority.

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

There are no laws criminalizing sexual orientation or same-sex sexual contact and no prohibition against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex (LGBTI) persons forming organizations or associations. There were no reports of violence against persons based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. LGBTI groups openly held several public events, and one registered LGBTI group openly lobbied the government and international organizations for an extension of protections to same-sex couples in a draft law on domestic violence.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS and limits the number of required disclosures of an individual’s HIV status. Employees outside medical fields are not required to declare their status to employers. There were no reported incidents of violence or discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides workers the right to form and join unions or “labor associations” of their choice. The law does not provide that workers can collectively bargain, and, while workers have the right to strike, there is no specific protection in the law from retribution if workers exercise this right. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination, stating employees or job seekers shall not be prejudiced, deprived of any rights, or exempted from any duties based on their membership in an association. The law does not require reinstatement of workers dismissed for union activity.

Workers in certain professions, such as the security forces, are forbidden to form unions, take part in protests, or to strike. Such groups had organizations that provided welfare and other services to members and could speak to the government on behalf of members. Vulnerable groups of workers, including domestic workers and migrant workers, could freely associate and form and join unions, as could public servants.

In order to register as an official union, the government requires an organization to provide the names and personal information of its leadership structure. There is no law specifically defining the status and function of labor unions, nor are employers compelled to negotiate with them. The law provides that agreements between employers and workers shall be valid, but there is no specific statutory provision giving workers, resident or foreign, the right to collective bargaining. The government asserted striking employees are protected from retaliation by provisions of the law requiring an employer to have justified cause to dismiss an employee.

The government generally enforced the relevant legislation. The law imposes penalties ranging from MOP 20,000 to 50,000 ($2,500 to $6,300) for antiunion discrimination. Observers noted this may not be sufficient to deter discriminatory activity.

Workers who believed they were dismissed unlawfully could bring a case to court or lodge a complaint with the LAB or the CAC, which also has an Ombudsman Bureau to handle complaints over administrative violations. The bureau makes recommendations to the relevant government departments after its investigation.

Even in the absence of formal collective bargaining rights, companies often negotiated with unions, although the government regularly acted as an intermediary. There were no indications that disputes or appeals were subjected to lengthy delays. Pro-PRC unions traditionally have not attempted to engage in collective bargaining. The Macau Federation of Trade Unions acts as an adviser and assistant to those filing complaints to the LAB, which is responsible for adjudicating labor disputes.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor. Penalties range from three to 12 years’ imprisonment with the minimum and maximum sentences increased by one-third if the victim is under the age of 14 years old. Observers noted these penalties generally were considered sufficient to deter the use of forced labor. The government has a special, interagency unit to fight human trafficking, the Human Trafficking Deterrent Measures Concern Committee. In addition to holding seminars to raise awareness about human trafficking, the committee operates two 24-hour telephone hotlines, one for reporting trafficking and another to assist trafficking victims.

There were reports forced labor occurred in conjunction with commercial sexual exploitation of migrant women.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

A chief executive order prohibits minors under the age of 16 years old from working, although minors between ages 14 and 16 years old may work in “exceptional circumstances” if they obtain a health certificate to prove they have the “necessary robust physique to engage in a professional activity.” Under the Labor Relations Law, “exceptional circumstances” are defined as: the minor (under the age of 16) has completed compulsory education and has the authorization of the Labor Affairs Bureau after hearing the Education and Youth Affairs Bureau’s opinions; minors between 14 and 16 years of age may work for public or private entities during school summer holidays; minors of any age may be employed for cultural, artistic or advertising activities upon authorization of the Labor Affairs Bureau after hearing the Education and Youth Affairs Bureau’s opinions and when such employment does not adversely affect their school attendance. Local laws do not establish specific regulations governing the number of hours children under 16 can work. The law governing the number of working hours (eight hours a day, 40 hours a week) was equally applicable to adults and legal working minors, but the law prohibits minors from working overtime hours. According to the civil code, minors 16 years old can acquire full legal capacity by emancipation if they get married, so they can deal with their personal matters and dispose their properties by themselves.

Minors below 16 years old are forbidden from certain types of work, including but not limited to domestic work, employment between 9:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m., and employment at places where admission of minors is forbidden, such as casinos. The government requires employers to conduct an assessment of the nature, extent, and duration of risk exposure at work before recruiting or employing a minor. These regulations are intended to protect children from physically hazardous work, including exposure to dangerous chemicals, and jobs deemed inappropriate due to the child’s age.

The LAB enforced the law through periodic and targeted inspections, and prosecuted violators. Regulations stipulate LAB inspectors shall be trained to look for child labor in order to carry out their responsibilities. Information on the penalties for violations was not available. Employers are obligated to provide professional training and working conditions appropriate to a minor’s age to prevent situations that undermine his/her education and could endanger health, safety, and physical and mental development.

Child labor occurred, with some children reportedly working in family-operated or small businesses, while others were subject to commercial sexual exploitation (see section 6, Children).

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The Basic Law and the Labor Relations Law provides that all residents shall be equal before the law and shall be free from discrimination, irrespective of their nationality descent, race, sex, language, religion, political persuasion or ideological belief, educational level, economic status, or social conditions. The Labor Relations Law expands on this list to include discrimination based on national or social origin, descent, race, color, gender, sexual orientation, age, marital status, language, religion, political or ideological beliefs, membership of associations, education, or economic background (see section 6, Women). The law also states that all residents have a right to privacy as it relates to access to and disclosure of information related to their family life, emotional and sexual life, state of health, and their political and religious convictions. Local law requires employers to provide equal pay for equal work, regardless of gender. Between July 2015 and June, there were no cases of termination of employment due to HIV/AIDS infection.

There were no reports of the government failing to enforce the relevant laws but some discrimination occurred. For example, under the law migrant workers enjoy treatment equal to that of local workers, including the same rights, obligations, and remuneration. According to official statistics, at the end of July, there were 182,459 nonresident workers who accounted for approximately 28 percent of the population. They frequently complained of discrimination in the workplace. Most worked in the restaurant and hotel industry, but others are employed as domestic servants, in the hotel and hospitality industry, or in construction and retail trade.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Local labor laws establish the general principle of fair wages and mandate compliance with wage agreements. Effective January 1, the mandatory minimum wage for security guards and cleaners was raised to MOP 30 ($3.75). The SAR does not calculate an official poverty line, and its median monthly income is MOP 13,000 ($1,625). The law provides for a 48-hour workweek (many businesses operated on a 40-hour workweek), an eight-hour workday, paid overtime, annual leave, and medical and maternity care. The law provides for a 24-hour rest period each week. The law does not define “temporary contract” or “short-term contract.” It states only that a labor contract may be either for a defined term or of indefinite duration. All workers employed in the SAR, whether under a term contract or an indefinite contract, are entitled to such benefits as specified working hours, weekly leave, statutory holidays, annual leave, and sick leave. At the end of September, there were 10,822 part-time workers, accounting for 5.5 percent of total worker population. No data on the number temporary contract workers is available. The law does not apply to part-time workers and workers on temporary contracts.

The law includes a requirement that employers provide a safe working environment, and the LAB sets occupational safety and health standards. The law prohibits excessive overtime but permits legal overtime (up to eight hours, and irrespective of workers’ consent) in force majeure cases or as a response to external shocks, at the discretion of the employer.

All workers, including migrants, have access to the courts in cases in which an employee is unlawfully dismissed, an employer fails to pay compensation, or a worker believes his/her legitimate interests were violated. Employers can dismiss staff “without just cause” if they provide economic compensation indexed to an employee’s length of service.

The LAB provides assistance and legal advice to workers upon request, and cases of labor-related malpractices are referred to the LAB. From July 2015-June, the LAB provided assistance for 6,417 cases. Additionally, the LAB could charge the worker or union a fee to process such complaints.

The LAB enforced occupational safety and health regulations, and failure to correct infractions could lead to prosecution. There were approximately 140 labor inspectors in the country, which was adequate to enforce compliance; almost all inspectors held university degrees and most had more than five years’ experience. Health Bureau guidelines protect pregnant workers and those with heart and lung diseases from exposure to secondhand smoke by exempting them from work in smoking areas, such as casinos.

Local employers favored unwritten labor contracts of indefinite duration, except in the case of migrant workers, who were issued written contracts for specified terms. Labor groups reported employers increasingly used temporary contracts to circumvent obligations to pay for worker benefits such as pensions, sick leave, and paid holidays. The short-term nature of written contracts made it easier to dismiss workers through nonrenewal. The law provides for workers to remove themselves from hazardous conditions without jeopardy to their employment, but some workers reported being dismissed for refusing to work in unhealthy environments.

The SAR recorded 7,499 workplace accidents from July 2015-June. Authorities recorded 17 workplace fatalities, of which seven were judged to have possible links to the individuals’ preexisting health conditions. Most workplace injuries reported were minor, with one in seven injured workers returning to their duties the same day. Workplace injuries permanently incapacitated 22 persons.

READ A SECTION: CHINA | TIBET | HONG KONG | MACAU (ABOVE)

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

Executive Summary

READ A SECTION: CHINA | TIBET (BELOW) | HONG KONG | MACAU


The United States recognizes the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and Tibetan autonomous prefectures (TAPs) and counties in Sichuan, Qinghai, Yunnan, and Gansu Provinces to be a part of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) Central Committee oversees Tibet policies. As in other predominantly minority areas of the PRC, ethnic Chinese CCP members held the overwhelming majority of top party, government, police, and military positions in the TAR and other Tibetan areas. Ultimate authority rests with the 25-member Political Bureau (Politburo) of the CCP Central Committee and its seven-member Standing Committee in Beijing, neither of which has any Tibetan members.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces.

The government’s respect for, and protection of, human rights in the TAR and other Tibetan areas remained poor. Under the professed objectives of controlling border areas, maintaining social stability, combating separatism, and extracting natural resources, the government engaged in the severe repression of Tibet’s unique religious, cultural, and linguistic heritage by, among other means, strictly curtailing the civil rights of the Tibetan population, including the freedoms of speech, religion, association, assembly, and movement. The government routinely vilified the Dalai Lama and blamed the “Dalai [Lama] clique” and “other outside forces” for instigating instability.

Other serious human rights abuses included extrajudicial detentions, disappearances, and torture. Many Tibetans and other observers believed that authorities systemically targeted Tibetans for political repression, economic marginalization, and cultural assimilation, as well as educational and employment discrimination. The presence of the paramilitary People’s Armed Police (PAP) and other security forces remained at high levels in many communities on the Tibetan Plateau, particularly in the TAR. Repression was severe throughout the year but increased in the periods before and during politically and religiously sensitive anniversaries and events. Authorities detained individuals in Tibetan areas after they reportedly protested against government or business actions or expressed their support for the Dalai Lama.

The government strictly controlled information about, and access to, the TAR and some key Tibetan areas outside the TAR, making it difficult to determine fully the scope of human rights problems. The Chinese government severely restricted free travel by foreign journalists to Tibetan areas. In addition, the Chinese government harassed or detained Tibetans who spoke to foreign reporters, attempted to provide information to persons abroad, or communicated information regarding protests or other expressions of discontent through cell phones, e-mail, or the internet. The few visits to the TAR by diplomats and journalists that were allowed were tightly controlled by local authorities. Because of these restrictions, many of the incidents and cases mentioned in this report could not be verified independently.

Disciplinary procedures were opaque, and there was no publicly available information to indicate that security personnel or other authorities were punished for behavior defined under PRC laws and regulations as abuses of power and authority.

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. There were no reports that officials investigated or punished those responsible for such killings.

In June Phayul.com reported that Yudruk Nyima, a villager from Derge (Chinese: Dege) County, Kardze TAP in the Tibetan Region of Kham (Sichuan Province), was detained for reportedly “possessing a gun” and died in custody from injuries sustained through torture. According to local contacts, security forces in the local area raided many villages and monasteries and detained people to prevent them from celebrating the birthday of the Dalai Lama in early July.

Tibetan exiles and other observers believed Chinese authorities released Tibetan political prisoners in poor health to avoid deaths in custody. Lobsang Yeshi, a former village leader, died in a Lhasa hospital after enduring torture, mistreatment, and negligence at the hands of prison authorities, according to a July report by the Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy. Authorities detained Lobsang Yeshi in 2014 after he protested against mining operations near his hometown.

In March Chinese authorities abruptly released Jigme Gyatso, a monk of Labrang Monastery who was serving a five-year criminal sentence on separatism charges, and moved him to a hospital in Lanzhou. According to Radio Free Tibet eyewitness reports, the monk was extremely frail due to repeated instances of severe torture, beatings, and poor conditions in the detention facilities.

b. Disappearance

Authorities in Tibetan areas continued to detain Tibetans arbitrarily for indefinite periods.

On June 30, according to the Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy, Yeshi Lhakdron, a nun from Dragkar Nunnery in Kardze (Chinese: Ganzi) TAP in the Tibetan Region of Kham (Sichuan Province), who had been missing since her detention in 2008, reportedly died in police custody due to the effects of torture. Yeshi staged a peaceful protest in 2008 raising slogans such as “long live the Dalai Lama” and “freedom in Tibet.”

The whereabouts of the 11th Panchen Lama, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, Tibetan Buddhism’s second-most prominent figure after the Dalai Lama, remained unknown. Neither he nor his parents have been seen since they were taken away by Chinese authorities in 1995 when he was only six years old.

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

Police and prison authorities employed torture and degrading treatment in dealing with some detainees and prisoners. There were many reports during the year that Chinese officials severely beat, even to the point of death, some Tibetans who were incarcerated or otherwise in custody.

On April 1, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported that Tashi, a man from Chamdo TAP in the Tibetan Region of Kham, now administered by the TAR, was detained for unknown reasons just days before the March 10 anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan uprising. Sources reported that Tashi was driven to suicide due to being severely beaten and tortured while in detention.

On April 4, Phayul.com reported that Yeshi Dolma, a Tibetan political prisoner serving a 15-year sentence at the TAR’s Drapchi Prison, was transferred to a hospital in Lhasa for urgent treatment. Yeshi was unable to stand without assistance, and sources say her disability was caused by torture and a lack of proper health care in prison. Authorities prohibited Yeshi’s family and friends from meeting her at the hospital.

On May 13, Phayul.com reported that Lobsang Choedhar, a monk from Kirti Monastery in the Tibetan Region of Amdo located in Sichuan’s Ngaba TAP, was in critical condition after enduring torture in prison. He was serving a 13-year sentence for calling for the return of the Dalai Lama and release of the Panchen Lama, Gendun Choekyi Nyima. According to local contacts, calls for the Chinese authorities to release him for medical treatment have been ignored.

In December Jigme Guri, a Tibetan political prisoner who had recently been released from prison, was admitted to a local government hospital in Sangchu County (Xiahe) in the Amdo Region of Tibet (Gansu Province). He had reportedly been subjected on four separate occasions to torture while in prison.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

The number of prisoners in the TAR and Tibetan areas was unknown. There were reports of recently released prisoners permanently disabled or in extremely poor health because of the harsh treatment they endured in prison. Former prisoners reported being isolated in small cells for months at a time and deprived of sleep, sunlight, and adequate food. According to individuals who completed their prison terms during the year, prisoners rarely received medical care except in cases of serious illness. In April the TAR government stated that prisons in the region were tasked with re-educating prisoners who have endangered “state security” to strengthen the fight against separatism. There were many cases of detained and imprisoned persons being denied visitors. As elsewhere in the PRC, authorities did not permit independent monitoring of prisons.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

Arbitrary arrest and detention was a problem in Tibetan areas. Public security agencies are required by law to notify the relatives or employer of a detained person within 24 hours of the detention, but they often failed to do so when Tibetans and others were detained for political reasons. With a detention warrant, public security officers may legally detain persons throughout the PRC for up to 37 days without formally arresting or charging them. Following the 37-day period, public security officers must either formally arrest or release the detainee. Security officials frequently violated these requirements. It was unclear how many Tibetan detainees were held under forms of detention not subject to judicial review.

In May authorities in Kardze TAP in the Tibetan Region of Kham (Sichuan Province), detained 23-year-old Jampa Gelek after removing him from his monastery. According to RFA, authorities gave no reason for his detention, and he remained incarcerated at year’s end.

In June authorities in Qinghai Province detained for a second time Choesang Gyatso, a monk from Lutsang monastery in the Tibetan Region of Amdo, just one day after authorities had freed him from a month of unexplained detention. Authorities provided no reason for the second detention, and he appeared to remain in detention at the end of the year. He started a civil organization to promote education among young Tibetan nomads and also edited a Tibetan cultural journal.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Legal safeguards for detained or imprisoned Tibetans were inadequate in both design and implementation. Prisoners in China have the right to request a meeting with a government-appointed attorney, but many Tibetan defendants, particularly political defendants, did not have access to legal representation. In cases that authorities claimed involved “endangering state security” or “separatism,” trials often were cursory and closed. Local sources noted that trials were predominantly conducted in Mandarin with government interpreters providing language services for Tibetan defendants who did not speak Mandarin. Court decisions, proclamations, and other judicial documents, however, were generally not published in Tibetan script.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

In its annual work report, the TAR High People’s Court stated it firmly fought against separatism and cracked down on the followers of “the 14th Dalai (Lama) clique,” by, among other things, sentencing those who instigated protests, promoted separatism, and supported “foreign hostile forces.”

According to a 2015 report in the government-controlled Tibet Daily, only 15 percent of the cadres (government and party officials) working for courts in the TAR had passed the National Legal Qualification Examination with a C grade certificate or higher. The report concluded that judges in the TAR were “strong politically, but weak professionally.” In its 2016 annual work report, the TAR High People’s Court stated that strengthening “political ideology” was the top priority of the court.

Security forces routinely subjected political prisoners and detainees known as “special criminal detainees” to “political re-education” sessions.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

An unknown number of Tibetans were detained, arrested, and sentenced because of their political or religious activity. Authorities held many prisoners in extrajudicial detention centers and never allowed them to appear in public court.

Based on information available from the political prisoner database of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC), as of August 1, 650 Tibetan political prisoners were known to be detained or imprisoned, most of them in Tibetan areas. Observers believed the actual number of Tibetan political prisoners and detainees to be much higher, but the lack of access to prisoners and prisons, as well as the dearth of reliable official statistics, made a precise determination difficult. An unknown number of persons continued to be held in detention centers rather than prisons. Of the 650 Tibetan political prisoners tracked by the CECC, 640 were detained in or after March 2008, and 10 were detained prior to March 2008. Of the 640 Tibetan political prisoners who were detained in or after March 2008, 276 were believed or presumed to be detained or imprisoned in Sichuan Province, 201 in the TAR, 95 in Qinghai Province, 67 in Gansu Province, and one in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. There were 156 persons serving known sentences, which ranged from two years to life imprisonment. The average sentence length was eight years and seven months. Of the 156 persons serving known sentences, 69 were monks, nuns, or Tibetan Buddhist reincarnate teachers.

Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, an influential reincarnate lama and social activist, died in prison in 2015. Authorities immediately cremated the body without an autopsy or traditional religious funeral rites. According to local sources, the top priority for the followers of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche was to seek to identify his reincarnation, but officials prohibited his monasteries from conducting the search.

TIBETAN SELF-IMMOLATIONS

Three Tibetans reportedly self-immolated during the year, including one Tibetan Buddhist monk and two laypersons, fewer than the seven self-immolations reported in 2015 and significantly fewer than the 83 self-immolations reported in 2012, bringing the total of self-immolations to at least 140 since 2009. Non-Chinese media reports stated that the declining number of reported self-immolations was due to tightened security by authorities and the collective punishment of self-immolators’ relatives and associates, as well as the Dalai Lama’s public plea to his followers to find other ways to protest against Chinese government repression. Chinese officials in some Tibetan areas withheld public benefits from the family members of self-immolators and ordered friends and monastic personnel to refrain from participating in religious burial rites or mourning activities for self-immolators. According to a RFA report, security officials detained, beat, and tortured the wife and two daughters of Tashi Rabtan after he self-immolated in Gansu Province in December.

Self-immolators reportedly viewed their acts as protests against the government’s political and religious oppression. The Chinese government implemented policies that punished friends, relatives, and associates of self-immolators. The Supreme People’s Court, the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, and the Ministry of Public Security’s joint 2012 Opinion on Handling Cases of Self-immolation in Tibetan Areas According to Law criminalize various activities associated with self-immolation, including “organizing, plotting, inciting, compelling, luring, instigating, or helping others to commit self-immolation,” each of which may be prosecuted as “intentional homicide.” In September, 10 public security officers reportedly raided the home of Sangdak Kyab in Sangchu County (Xiahe) in the Amdo Region of Tibet (Gansu Province) and detained him in connection with the role he allegedly played in 2013, transporting the remains of a self-immolator to his family’s home to prevent security agents from seizing the corpse.

On September 20, RFA reported that two monks of Labrang Monastery, Jinpa Gyatso and Kelsang Monlam, were sentenced to 18 months in prison in a secret trial by a court in Sangchu (Chinese: Xiahe) County in the Tibetan Region of Amdo (Gansu Province) for involvement in a 2015 self-immolation of another monk. The monks were arrested in June for sharing information and pictures of the self-immolation. Their families were not informed of the charges or of the monks’ location after the arrests.

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

Since 2015 the TAR has strengthened the punishment of Communist Party members who follow the Dalai Lama, secretly harbor religious beliefs, make pilgrimages to India, or send their children to study with Tibetans in exile. Authorities continued to monitor private correspondence and search private homes and businesses for photographs of the Dalai Lama and other politically forbidden items. Police examined the cell phones of TAR residents to search for “reactionary music” from India and photographs of the Dalai Lama. Authorities also questioned and detained some individuals who disseminated writings and photographs over the internet.

On November 15, TAR CCP secretary Wu Yingjie outlined his plan to protect “social stability” that included a vow to “strictly implement a real-name user identification system for landline telephones, mobile phones, and the internet and continuously intensify the launching of attacks and specialized campaigns to counter and ferret out ‘Tibetan independence’ and promote the proliferation of party newspaper, journals, broadcasts, and television [programs] into every home in every village in order to completely stop infiltration by the hostile forces and the Dalai clique.”

On February 24, Phayul.com reported that Gomar Choephel, a Tibetan monk from Rongwo Monastery in the Tibetan Region of Amdo (Qinghai Province), was sentenced to two years in prison in January for possessing a photograph of the Dalai Lama and sharing it on social media.

On December 6, a court in the Ngaba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture in the Tibetan Region of Amdo (Sichuan province) sentenced nine Tibetans to prison for terms ranging from five to 14 years for involvement in celebrations of the Dalai Lama’s 80th birthday in 2015. Three of the nine, who were senior monks from Kirti Monastery, received the longest sentences of between 12 and 14 years each.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

Freedom of Speech and Expression: Tibetans who spoke to foreign reporters, attempted to provide information to persons outside the country, or communicated information regarding protests or other expressions of discontent through cell phones, e-mail, or the internet were subject to harassment or detention under “crimes of undermining social stability and inciting separatism.” During the year authorities in the TAR and other Tibetan areas sought to strengthen control over electronic media and to punish individuals for the ill-defined crime of “creating and spreading of rumors.” According to official news reports in January, TAR officials punished 141 individuals for “creating and spreading rumors” online between June 2015 and January.

In March public security authorities charged Tashi Wangchuk, an entrepreneur and education advocate from Jyekundo in the Tibetan Region of Kham, now part of the Yushu TAP in Qinghai Province, with “inciting separatism,” according to The New York Times. Tashi’s lawyer told the Times in August that public security case files he had reviewed indicated that the charge was based on Tashi’s participation in a late 2015 Times report about the lack of Tibetan language education in Tibetan areas. Tashi was detained in January, but his family members were not informed until late March, and he remained in detention awaiting trial at the year’s end. Tashi had no known record of advocating Tibetan independence or separatism, according to the Times, and has denied the charges against him.

On May 9, the Wenchuan County People’s Court sentenced Jo Lobsang Jamyang, a monk at Kirti Monastery and a popular writer who addressed issues such as environmental protection and self-immolation protests, to seven years and six months in prison on charges of “leaking state secrets” and “engaging in separatist activities.” The trial was closed, and his family and lawyers were barred from attending. Soon after he was detained in April 2015, 20 Tibetan writers jointly called for his release and praised his writings. Authorities held Jamyang incommunicado and reportedly tortured him during more than a year of pretrial detention.

On May 14, authorities detained Jamyang Lodroe, a monk from Tsinang Monastery in Ngaba TAP, without providing any information about his whereabouts or the reason for his detention to the monastery or to his family. Local sources told RFA reporters that it was widely believed that authorities detained Lodroe on account of his online publications.

Press and Media Freedoms: The government continued to severely restrict travel by foreign journalists. Foreign journalists may visit the TAR only after obtaining a special travel permit from the government, and this permission was rarely granted. The Foreign Correspondents Club of China’s annual report stated that reporting from “Tibet proper remains off-limits to foreign journalists.” This same report noted that many foreign journalists were also told that reporting in Tibetan areas outside the TAR was “restricted or prohibited.”

Authorities tightly controlled journalists who worked for the domestic press and could hire and fire them on the basis of political reliability. In February TAR Television announced job vacancies with one of the listed job requirements to “be united with the regional party committee in political ideology and fighting against separatism.” CCP propaganda authorities remained in charge of local journalist accreditation in the TAR and required journalists working in the TAR to display “loyalty to the Party and motherland.” The deputy head of the TAR Propaganda Department simultaneously holds a prominent position in the TAR Journalist Association, a state-controlled professional association to which local journalists must belong.

Violence and Harassment: Chinese authorities arrested and sentenced many Tibetan writers, intellectuals, and singers for “inciting separatism.” In February the Malho (Hainan) Prefecture Intermediate People’s Court in Qinghai Province sentenced Druklo (pen name: Shokjang), a writer and blogger from Labrang in the Tibetan Region of Amdo, to three years in prison for “inciting separatism.” According to various sources, Shokjang wrote poetry and prose about Chinese government policies in Tibetan areas that enjoyed significant readership among Tibetans. Chinese security officials took Shokjang from the monastic center of Rebkong in March 2015, and no information was known about his welfare or whereabouts until the sentencing almost a year later.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Domestic journalists were not allowed to report on repression in Tibetan areas. Authorities promptly censored the postings of bloggers who did so, and the authors sometimes faced punishment.

Since the establishment of the CCP’s Central Leading Small Group for Internet Security and Informatization in 2014, the TAR Party Committee Information Office has further tightened the control of a full range of social media platforms. According to multiple contacts, security officials often cancelled WeChat accounts carrying “sensitive information,” such as discussions about Tibetan language education, and interrogated the account owners. Many sources also reported that it was almost impossible to register websites promoting Tibetan culture and language in the TAR.

The Chinese government continued to jam radio broadcasts of Voice of America and RFA’s Tibetan and Chinese-language services in some Tibetan areas as well as the Voice of Tibet, an independent radio station based in Norway. As part of a regular campaign cracking down on unauthorized radio and television channels, the TAR Department of Communications conducted an investigation in the Lhasa area in June and found zero “illegal radio programs.”

According to multiple sources, authorities in Qinghai Province confiscated or destroyed “illegal” satellite dishes in many Tibetan areas. In addition to maintaining strict censorship of print and online content in Tibetan areas, Chinese authorities sought to censor the expression of views or distribution of information related to Tibet in countries outside the PRC. In February the PRC ambassador to Bangladesh pressured organizers of the Dhaka Art Summit to remove an exhibit that displayed the handwritten final writings of five Tibetans who had self-immolated in protest of Chinese government repression.

National Security: In 2015 China enacted a new National Security Law that includes provisions regarding the management of ethnic minorities and religion. The PRC frequently blamed “hostile foreign forces” for creating instability in Tibetan areas and cited the need to protect “national security” and “fight against separatism” as justifications for its policies, including censorship policies, in Tibetan areas.

INTERNET FREEDOM

Authorities curtailed cell phone and Internet service in the TAR and other Tibetan areas, sometimes for weeks or even months at a time, during periods of unrest and political sensitivity, such as the March anniversaries of the 1959 and 2008 protests, “Serf Emancipation Day,” and around the Dalai Lama’s birthday in July. When Internet service was restored, authorities closely monitored the Internet throughout Tibetan areas. Reports of authorities searching cell phones they suspected of containing suspicious content were widespread. Many individuals in the TAR and other Tibetan areas reported receiving official warnings after using their cell phones to exchange what the government deemed to be sensitive information.

In February the head of the TAR Party Committee Internet Information Office asserted that “the Internet is the key ideological battlefield between the TAR Party Committee and the 14th Dalai (Lama) clique.”

In November the National People’s Congress Standing Committee passed a cybersecurity law that further strengthened the legal mechanisms available to security agencies to surveil and control content online. Some observers noted that provisions of the law, such as Article 12, could disproportionally affect Tibetans and other ethnic minorities. Article 12 criminalizes using the internet to commit a wide range of ill-defined crimes of a political nature, such as “harming national security,” “damaging national unity,” “propagating extremism,” “inciting ethnic hatred,” “disturbing social order,” and “harming the public interest.” The law also codifies the practice of large-scale internet network shutdowns in response to “major [public] security incidents,” which public security authorities in Tibetan areas have done for years without a clear basis in law. A work conference held in Lhasa on November 8 urged the TAR and other provinces with Tibetan areas to step up coordination in managing the internet.

Throughout the year, authorities blocked users in China from accessing foreign-based, Tibet-related websites critical of official government policy in Tibetan areas. Well-organized computer-hacking attacks originating from China harassed Tibet activists and organizations outside China.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

Authorities in many Tibetan areas required professors and students at institutions of higher education to attend regular political education sessions, particularly during politically sensitive months, in an effort to prevent “separatist” political and religious activities on campus. Authorities frequently encouraged Tibetan academics to participate in government propaganda efforts, such as making public speeches supporting government policies. Academics who refused to cooperate with such efforts faced diminished prospects for promotion.

Academics in the PRC who publicly criticized CCP policies on Tibetan affairs faced official reprisal. The government controlled curricula, texts, and other course materials as well as the publication of historically or politically sensitive academic books. Authorities frequently denied Tibetan academics permission to travel overseas for conferences and academic or cultural exchanges. Authorities in Tibetan areas regularly banned the sale and distribution of music they deemed to have sensitive political content.

In May senior officials of the state-run TAR Academy of Social Science encouraged scholars to maintain “a correct political and academic direction” and held a conference to “improve scholars’ political ideology” and “fight against separatists.”

Policies promoting planned urban economic growth, rapid infrastructure development, the influx of non-Tibetans to traditionally Tibetan areas, expansion of the tourism industry, forced resettlement of nomads and farmers, and the weakening of both Tibetan language education in public schools and religious education in monasteries continued to disrupt traditional living patterns and customs.

Tibetan and Mandarin Chinese are official languages in the TAR, and both languages appeared on some, but not all, public and commercial signs. Inside official buildings and businesses, including banks, post offices, and hospitals, signage in Tibetan was frequently lacking, and in many instances forms and documents were available only in Mandarin. Mandarin was used for most official communications and was the predominant language of instruction in public schools in many Tibetan areas. Private printing businesses in Chengdu needed special government approval to print in the Tibetan language.

A small number of public schools in the TAR continued to teach mathematics in the Tibetan language, but in June the Tibet Postreported that TAR officials have replaced Tibetan language mathematics textbooks in all regional schools with Mandarin versions. Sources reported that WeChat users in the TAR discussing the issue were subsequently visited by public security officers and given warnings.

According to sources, there were previously 20 Tibetan language schools or workshops for local children operated by Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in Sichuan Province’s Kardze TAP. After the 2015 release of the Kardze TAP Relocation Regulation for Minors in Monasteries, authorities forced 15 of these schools to close and relocated their students to government-run schools.

The Kardze TAP has the highest illiteracy rate (above 30 percent) in Sichuan Province, compared with a national rate of 4 to 5 percent. Despite the illiteracy problem, in late April the central government ordered the destruction of much of Larung Gar, the largest Tibetan Buddhist education center, a focal point for promoting both Tibetan and Chinese literacy.

China’s Regional Ethnic Autonomy Law states that “schools (classes and grades) and other institutions of education where most of the students come from minority nationalities shall, whenever possible, use textbooks in their own languages and use their languages as the media of instruction.” Despite guarantees of cultural and linguistic rights, many primary, middle, high school, and college students had limited access to Tibetan language instruction and textbooks, particularly in the areas of modern education.

China’s most prestigious universities provided no instruction in Tibetan or other ethnic minority languages, although classes teaching the Tibetan language were available at a small number of universities. “Nationalities” universities, established to serve ethnic minority students and ethnic Chinese students interested in ethnic minority subjects, offered Tibetan language instruction only in courses focused on the study of the Tibetan language or culture. Mandarin was used in courses for jobs that required technical skills and qualifications.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Even in areas officially designated as “autonomous,” Tibetans generally lacked the right to organize and play a meaningful role in the protection of their cultural heritage and unique natural environment. Tibetans often faced intimidation and arrest if they protested against policies or practices they found objectionable. A 2015 RFA report stated that authorities in Rebkong County in the Tibetan Region of Amdo, now administered under Qinghai Province, circulated a list of unlawful activities. The list included “illegal associations formed in the name of the Tibetan language, the environment, and education.” Sources in the area reported that this list remained in force and no new associations have been formed since the list was published.

In February 2015 public security officials in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province, detained a group of Tibetans who were peacefully protesting the government’s seizure of land in Zoige County in the Tibetan Region of Amdo, now administered by Sichuan, outside a meeting of the Sichuan Provincial People’s Congress. In April four of these Tibetans were sentenced to prison terms of two to three years.

On June 23, a protest by Tibetans on Qinghai Lake over the demolition of unregistered restaurants and guest houses was violently dispersed by security forces, leading to the arrest of five demonstrators and the injury of at least eight others. Authorities decreed that these small businesses were illegal and needed to be torn down and that residents should leave the area, which was a popular tourist location. Local Tibetans likened it to a “land grab” meant to benefit ethnic Chinese at their expense.

At the Sixth Tibet Work Forum in August 2015, the CCP ordered a large-scale campaign to expel students and demolish living quarters at Larung Gar, the world’s largest center for the study of Tibetan Buddhism. The expulsion and demolition campaign commenced in July. According to a local CCP directive, authorities must reduce the resident population to no more than 5,000 by September 2017. Before the campaign began, the population at Larung Gar was estimated to range between 10,000 and 30,000. In July authorities banned foreign tourists from visiting the area.

In August authorities in the Kardze TAP in the Tibetan Region of Kham reportedly prevented Tibetans from holding a religious gathering and traditional horse race festival after Dargye Monastery, the organizer of the events, and local residents refused a government order to fly the PRC national flag at the two events, at the monastery, and from residents’ homes.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

Chinese law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation; however, the government severely restricted travel and freedom of movement for Tibetans, particularly Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns.

In-country Movement: Freedom of movement for all Tibetans, but particularly for monks and nuns, remained severely restricted throughout the TAR, as well as in other Tibetan areas. The PAP and local public security bureaus set up roadblocks and checkpoints on major roads, in cities, and on the outskirts of cities and monasteries, particularly around sensitive dates. Tibetans traveling in monastic attire were subject to extra scrutiny by police at roadside checkpoints and at airports.

Authorities sometimes banned Tibetans, particularly monks and nuns, from going outside the TAR and from traveling to the TAR without first obtaining special permission from multiple government offices. Many Tibetans reported encountering difficulties in obtaining the required permissions. This not only made it difficult for Tibetans to make pilgrimages to sacred religious sites in the TAR, but also obstructed land-based travel to India through Nepal. Tibetans from outside the TAR who traveled to Lhasa also reported that authorities there required them to surrender their national identification cards and notify authorities of their plans in detail on a daily basis. These requirements were not applied to ethnic Chinese visitors to the TAR.

Even outside the TAR, many Tibetan monks and nuns reported that it remained difficult to travel beyond their home monasteries for religious and traditional Tibetan education, with officials frequently denying permission for visiting monks to stay at a monastery for religious education. Implementation of this restriction was especially rigorous in the TAR, and it undermined the traditional Tibetan Buddhist practice of seeking advanced teachings from a select number of senior teachers based at major monasteries scattered across the Tibetan Plateau.

Foreign Travel: Many Tibetans continued to report difficulties in obtaining new or renewing existing passports. Sources reported that Tibetans and other minorities had to provide far more extensive documentation than other Chinese citizens when applying for a Chinese passport. In the TAR, a scholar needs to get about seven stamps with signatures from various government offices to apply for a passport, in addition to other standard required documentation. For Tibetans, the passport application process could take years and frequently ended in rejection. Some Tibetans reported they were able to obtain passports only after paying substantial bribes. Tibetans continued to encounter substantial difficulties and obstacles in traveling to India for religious, educational, and other purposes. Individuals also reported instances of local authorities revoking their passports after they had returned to China.

In November Chinese officials in the Tibetan Regions of Kham and Amdo under the administration of Qinghai, Sichuan, and Gansu Provinces visited the homes of Tibetan passport holders and confiscated their documents, according to an RFA report. Officials claimed the passports were collected in order to affix new seals on them, but Tibetans suspected the timing was intended to make it impossible for them to attend an important religious ceremony known as the Kalachakra, which the Dalai Lama planned to conduct in India in January 2017. Additional reports in December indicated that travel agencies in China were told explicitly by local authorities to cancel trips to India and Nepal during this same period. The apparent travel ban also reportedly extended to ethnic Chinese travelers. Tibetans who had traveled to Nepal and planned to continue on to India reported that Chinese officials visited their homes in Tibet and threatened their relatives if they did not return immediately. Sources reported that explicit punishments included placing family members on a blacklist, which could lead to the loss of a government job or difficulty in finding employment; expulsion of children from the public education system; and revocation of national identification cards, thereby preventing access to other social services, such as health care and government aid.

Tight border controls sharply limited the number of persons crossing the border into Nepal and India. In 2015, 89 Tibetan refugees transited Nepal through the Tibetan Reception Center, run by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Kathmandu, en route to permanent settlement in India. This compared with 80 in 2014, down from 171 in 2013 and 242 in 2012.

The government restricted the movement of Tibetans in the period before and during sensitive anniversaries and events and increased controls over border areas at these times. In February there were reports that travel agents in Chengdu were forbidden to sell package overseas tours to Tibetans for the months of March and July, the periods of time around Tibet Uprising Day (March 10) and the Dalai Lama’s birthday (July 6).

The government regulated travel by foreigners to the TAR, a restriction not applied to any other provincial-level entity in the PRC. In accordance with a 1989 regulation, foreign visitors had to first obtain an official confirmation letter issued by the TAR government before entering the TAR. Most tourists obtained such letters by booking tours through officially registered travel agencies. In the TAR, a government-designated tour guide had to accompany foreign tourists at all times. It was rare for foreigners to obtain permission to enter the TAR by road. In what has become an annual practice, authorities banned many foreign tourists from the TAR in the period before and during the March anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan uprising. Foreign tourists sometimes also faced restrictions traveling to Tibetan areas outside the TAR.

The decline in the number of foreign tourists to the TAR was more than offset by an increase in domestic ethnic Chinese visitors to the TAR. Unlike foreign tourists, Chinese tourists did not need special permits to visit the TAR.

Officials continued to tightly restrict the access of foreign diplomats and journalists to the TAR. Foreign officials were able to travel to the TAR only with the permission of the TAR Foreign Affairs Office, and even then only on closely chaperoned trips arranged by that office. With the exception of a few highly controlled trips, authorities repeatedly denied requests for international journalists to visit the TAR and other Tibetan areas (see section on Freedom of Speech and Press).

In September The Washington Post reported that “the Tibet Autonomous Region, as China calls central Tibet, is harder to visit as a journalist than North Korea. There were only a handful of government tours organized for journalists in the past decade, all closely controlled.”

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

According to the law, Tibetans and other Chinese citizens have the right to vote in some local elections. In practice the Chinese government severely restricted its citizens’ ability to participate in any meaningful elections.

In 2015 RFA reported that security forces in Kyangchu Village in Qinghai Province detained nearly 70 Tibetans who had protested against local officials’ insistence that villagers vote for the local government’s preferred candidate in a village election. Sources reported that those detainees were subsequently released, but they were prohibited from voting in village elections.

Since 2015 the TAR and many Tibetan areas have reinforced implementation of the Regulation for Village Committee Management, which stipulates that the primary condition for participating in any local election is the “willingness to resolutely fight against separatism;” in some cases, this condition is interpreted to require candidates to denounce the Dalai Lama. Many villagers in Tibetan areas of Sichuan and Qinghai Provinces expressed frustration that the best candidates for village heads were unwilling to run under those conditions. According to many scholars, the regulation led to high turnover during the year: As a result, 90 percent of TAR township and village-level leaders as well as delegates to the local People’s Congress, were new; the same was true for 70 percent of those in Qinghai Province.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corrupt acts by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively in Tibetan areas, and officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption in Tibetan areas during the year.

Cuba

Executive Summary

Cuba is an authoritarian state led by Raul Castro, who is president of the Council of State and Council of Ministers, Communist Party (CP) first secretary, and commander in chief of security forces. The constitution recognizes the CP as the only legal party and the leading force of society and of the state. The government conducted the April 2015 municipal elections with relative administrative efficiency, but they were neither free nor fair; a CP candidacy commission prescreened all candidates and the government treated non-CP candidates differently.

The national leadership, including members of the military, maintained effective control over the security forces.

The principal human rights abuses included the abridgement of the ability of citizens to choose their government; the use of government threats, physical assault, intimidation, and violent government-organized counter protests against peaceful dissent; and harassment and detentions to prevent free expression and peaceful assembly.

The following additional abuses continued: harsh prison conditions; arbitrary, short-term, politically motivated detentions and arrests; selective prosecution; denial of fair trial; and travel restrictions. Authorities interfered with privacy by engaging in significant monitoring and censoring of private communications. The government did not respect freedoms of speech and press, restricted internet access, maintained a monopoly on media outlets, circumscribed academic freedom, and maintained some restrictions on the ability of unregistered religious groups to gather. The government refused to recognize independent human rights groups or permit them to function legally. In addition, the government continued to prevent workers from forming independent unions and otherwise exercising their labor rights.

Government officials, at the direction of their superiors, committed most human rights abuses. Impunity for the perpetrators remained widespread.

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

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

There were no confirmed reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings during the year.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated long-term disappearances during the year, although there were several reports of detained activists whose whereabouts were temporarily unknown because the government did not register these detentions. On August 1, the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and Reconciliation (CCDHRN), an independent human rights nongovernmental organization (NGO), reported human rights activist Carlos Manuel Figueroa could not be located. The NGO later reported that he was detained for five days and then placed under house arrest until August 13 for filming the detentions of members of the independent civil society group Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White).

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

The law prohibits abusive treatment of detainees and prisoners. There were reports, however, that members of the security forces intimidated and physically assaulted human rights and prodemocracy advocates, dissidents, and other detainees and prisoners during detention and imprisonment, and that they did so with impunity. Some detainees and prisoners endured physical abuse, sometimes by other inmates, with the acquiescence of guards.

There were reports of police assaulting detainees or being complicit in public harassment of and physical assaults on peaceful demonstrators (see section 2.b.).

On January 10, activists Antonio Rodiles and Ailer Gonzalez reported state security officers injected them with an unknown substance when they participated in a public march calling for the release of political prisoners. Medical evaluations in Miami produced inconclusive results about the nature of the substance.

On March 27, police officers allegedly beat two members of the Damas de Blanco with cables, and one Dama suffered an arm sprain. Members of the Damas de Blanco reported receiving head injuries, bites, bruises, and other injuries during government-sponsored counter protests and detentions.

On July 20, Guillermo “Coco” Farinas, president of the United Anti-Totalitarian Forum (FANTU), complained of a beating by police officers that caused injuries to his ribs, abdomen, and tongue when he tried to visit a police station to check on a fellow FANTU activist.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions continued to be harsh. Prisons were overcrowded, and facilities, sanitation, and medical care were deficient. There were reports of prison officials assaulting prisoners.

Physical Conditions: The government provided no information regarding the number, location, or capacity of detention centers, which included not only prisons but also work camps and other kinds of detention facilities.

Prison and detention cells reportedly lacked adequate water, sanitation, space, light, ventilation, and temperature control. Although the government provided basic food and some medical care, many prisoners relied on family for food and other basic supplies. Potable water was often unavailable. Prison cells were overcrowded. Prisoners often slept on concrete bunks without a mattress, with some reports of more than one person sharing a narrow bunk. Where available, mattresses were thin and often infested with vermin and insects. Women also reported lack of access to feminine hygiene products and inadequate prenatal care.

Prisoners, family members, and NGOs reported inadequate health care, which led to or aggravated multiple maladies. Prisoners also reported outbreaks of dengue, tuberculosis, hepatitis, and cholera. There were reports of prison deaths from heart attacks, asthma, HIV/AIDS, and other chronic medical conditions, as well as from suicide.

Political prisoners and the general prison population were held in similar conditions. Political prisoners who refused to wear standard prison uniforms were denied certain privileges, such as access to prison libraries and standard reductions in the severity of their sentence (for example, being transferred from a maximum-security to a medium-security prison). Political prisoners also reported that fellow inmates, who they believed were acting on orders of prison authorities, threatened or harassed them.

Prisoners reported that solitary confinement was a common punishment for misconduct and that some prisoners were isolated for months at a time.

The government subjected prisoners who criticized the government or engaged in hunger strikes and other forms of protest to extended solitary confinement, assaults, restrictions on family visits, and denial of medical care.

Administration: There was no publicly available information about prison administration or recordkeeping.

A legal department within the Attorney General’s Office is empowered to investigate allegations of abuse in the prison system. The results of these investigations were not publicly accessible. By law prisoners and detainees may seek redress regarding prison conditions and procedural violations, such as continued incarceration after a prison sentence has expired. Prisoners reported that government officials refused to allow or accept complaints, or failed to respond to complaints.

Prisoners and pretrial detainees had access to visitors, although some political prisoners’ relatives reported that prison officials arbitrarily canceled scheduled visits. Some prisoners were able to communicate information about their living conditions through telephone calls to human rights observers and family members.

The Cuban Council of Churches, the largest Protestant religious organization, reported that it organized weekly chaplain services for all prisons in the country. There were isolated reports that prison authorities did not inform inmates of their right to access religious services, delayed months before responding to such requests, and limited visits by religious groups to a maximum of two or three times per year.

Independent Monitoring: The government did not permit monitoring of prison conditions by independent international or domestic human rights groups and did not permit access to detainees by international humanitarian organizations. Although the government pledged in previous years to allow a visit by the UN special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment, no visit occurred during the year. The government allowed foreign journalists to tour specific prisons, but others have been off-limits since 2013.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

Arbitrary arrests and short-term detentions continued to be a common government method for controlling independent public expression and political activity. By law police have wide discretion to stop and question citizens, request identification, and carry out arrests and searches. Police used laws against public disorder, contempt, lack of respect, aggression, and failing to pay minimal or arbitrary fines as ways to detain civil society activists. Police officials routinely conducted short-term detentions, at times assaulting detainees. The law provides that police officials furnish suspects a signed “act of detention,” noting the basis, date, and location of any detention in a police facility and a registry of personal items seized during a police search, but this law was not always followed. Arbitrary stops and searches were most common in urban areas and at government-controlled checkpoints at the entrances to provinces and municipalities.

Police and security officials continued to use short-term and sometimes violent detentions to prevent independent political activity or free assembly. Such detentions generally lasted from several hours to several days. The CCDHRN counted 9,940 detentions through the end of the year, compared with 8,616 in 2015. Members of the #TodosMarchamos campaign, which included Damas de Blanco, reported weekly detentions of members to prevent demonstrations. The largest opposition group, Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), also reported an increase in short-term detentions. Long-term imprisonment of peaceful government critics, while rare, sometimes occurred. In December UNPACU published a list of 46 political prisoners throughout the country serving more than one month in prison for reported peaceful protests or assemblies.

The law allows a maximum four-year preventive detention of individuals not charged with an actual crime, with a subjective determination of “potential dangerousness,” defined as the “special proclivity of a person to commit crimes, demonstrated by conduct in manifest contradiction of socialist norms.” Mostly used as a tool to control “antisocial” behaviors, such as substance abuse or prostitution, authorities also used such detention to silence peaceful political opponents. On March 14, authorities charged UNPACU activist Luis Bello Gonzalez with precriminal social dangerousness and sentenced him to three years in prison. UNPACU leaders alleged authorities arrested and charged Gonzalez because of his regular participation in protests alongside other UNPACU members.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Ministry of Interior exercises control over police, internal security forces, and the prison system. The ministry’s National Revolutionary Police is the primary law enforcement organization. Specialized units of the ministry’s state security branch are responsible for monitoring, infiltrating, and suppressing independent political activity. The police supported state security agents by carrying out house searches, arresting persons of interest to the ministry, and providing interrogation facilities.

The police routinely violated procedural laws with impunity and at times failed or refused to provide citizens with legally required documentation, particularly during arbitrary detentions and searches. Security force members also committed civil rights and human rights abuses with impunity.

Although the law on criminal procedure prohibits the use of coercion during investigative interrogations, police and security forces at times relied on aggressive and physically abusive tactics, threats, and harassment during questioning. Detainees reported that officers intimidated them with threats of long-term detention, loss of child custody rights, denial of permission to depart the country, and other punishments.

There were no official mechanisms readily available to investigate government abuses.

Undercover police and Ministry of Interior agents were often present and directed activities to disrupt efforts at peaceful assembly (see section 2.b.).

According to independent reports, state-orchestrated counter protests directed against independent civil society groups and individuals, including the Damas de Blanco and other organizations, were organized to prevent meetings or to shame participants publicly (see section 2.a.). The Damas de Blanco and other members of the #TodosMarchamos campaign experienced weekly government-sponsored counter protests at their usual gathering place in Havana from January until March, when the government shut down the demonstrations altogether. Government-sponsored counter protests continued for several months outside of the Damas de Blanco headquarters to prevent large demonstrations by activists.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Under criminal procedures, police have 24 hours after an arrest to present a criminal complaint to an investigative police official. The investigative police have 72 hours to investigate and prepare a report for the prosecutor, who in turn has 72 hours to recommend to the appropriate court whether to open a criminal investigation.

Within the 168-hour detention period, detainees must be informed of the basis for the arrest and criminal investigation and have access to legal representation. Those charged may be released on bail, placed in home detention, or held in continued investigative detention. Once the accused has an attorney, the defense has five days to respond to the prosecution’s charges, after which a court date usually is set. Prosecutors may demand summary trials “in extraordinary circumstances” and in cases involving crimes against state security.

There were reports that defendants met with their attorneys for the first time only minutes before their trials and were not informed of the basis for their arrest within the required 168-hour period.

Reports suggested bail was available, although typically not granted to those arrested for political activities. Time in detention before trial counted toward time served, if convicted.

Detainees may be interrogated at any time during detention and have no right to request the presence of counsel during interrogation. Detainees have the right to remain silent, but officials do not have a legal obligation to inform them of that right.

By law investigators must complete criminal investigations within 60 days. Prosecutors may grant investigators two 60-day extensions upon request, for a total of 180 days of investigative time. The supervising court may waive this deadline in “extraordinary circumstances” and upon special request by the prosecutor. In that instance no additional legal requirement exists to complete an investigation and file criminal charges, and authorities may detain a person without charge indefinitely.

Arbitrary Arrest: Officials often disregarded legal procedures governing arrest, detaining suspects longer than 168 hours without informing them of the nature of the arrest or affording them legal counsel.

Pretrial Detention: The government held detainees for months or years in investigative detention, in both political and nonpolitical cases. In nonpolitical cases delays were often due to bureaucratic inefficiencies and a lack of checks on police.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Detainees are able to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention, but these challenges were rarely successful, especially regarding detentions alleged to have been politically motivated. On December 6, the mother of graffiti artist Danilo Maldonado, known as “El Sexto,” petitioned the court for a writ of habeas corpus after authorities detained her son on November 26; El Sexto had painted graffiti on an exterior wall of a Havana hotel. The court denied the petition, and his mother submitted a second petition on December 13, which remained pending at year’s end.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

While the constitution recognizes the independence of the judiciary, the judiciary is directly subordinate to the National Assembly and the CP, which may remove or appoint judges at any time. Political considerations thoroughly dominated the judiciary, and there was virtually no separation of powers between the judicial system, the CP, and the Council of State.

Civilian courts exist at the municipal, provincial, and national levels. Special tribunals convene behind closed doors for political (“counterrevolutionary”) cases and other cases deemed “sensitive to state security.” Officials denied entry to trials by some observers during the year. Military tribunals may also have jurisdiction over civilians if any of the defendants are members of the military, police force, or other law enforcement agency.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

Due process rights apply equally to all citizens as well as foreigners, but courts regularly failed to protect or observe these rights. The law presumes defendants to be innocent until proven guilty, but authorities often ignored this, placing the burden on defendants to prove innocence.

Defendants generally have the right to a public trial, but politically motivated trials were at times held in secret, with authorities citing exceptions for crimes involving “state security” or “extraordinary circumstances.” Many cases were concluded quickly and were closed to the press. Interpretation was sometimes provided during trials, but the government claimed that limited resources prevented interpreters from always being available.

The law requires that defendants be represented by an attorney, at public expense, if necessary. Defendants’ attorneys may cross-examine government witnesses and present witnesses and evidence. Only state attorneys are licensed to practice in criminal courts.

Criteria for admitting evidence were arbitrary and discriminatory. According to reports, prosecutors routinely introduced irrelevant or unreliable evidence to prove intent or testimony about the revolutionary credentials of a defendant.

Defense attorneys have the right to review the investigation files of a defendant, but not if the charges involve “crimes against the security of the state.” In these cases defense attorneys were not allowed access until charges were filed. Many detainees, especially political detainees, reported their attorneys had difficulties accessing case files due to administrative obstacles.

In trials where defendants are charged with “potential dangerousness” (see section 1.d.), the state must show only that the defendant has “proclivity” for crime, so an actual criminal act need not have occurred. Penalties may be up to four years in prison. Authorities normally applied this provision to prostitutes, alcoholics, young persons who refused to report to work centers; repeat offenders of laws restricting change of domicile; and political activists who participated in public protests.

The law recognizes the right of appeal in municipal courts but limits it in provincial courts to cases involving lengthy prison terms or the death penalty.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

The government continued to deny holding any political prisoners but refused access to its prisons and detention centers by international humanitarian organizations and the United Nations.

The number of political prisoners was difficult to determine. Lack of governmental transparency and systemic violations of due process rights obfuscated the true nature of criminal charges, investigations, and prosecutions, allowing government authorities to prosecute and sentence peaceful human rights activists for criminal violations or “dangerousness.” The government used the designation of “counterrevolutionary” for inmates deemed to be political opposition, but it did not release those numbers. The government continued to deny access to its prisons and detentions centers by independent monitors who could help determine the size of the political prisoner population. At least two independent organizations estimated there were 75 to 95 political prisoners. The government closely monitored these organizations, which often faced harassment from state police.

On September 23, authorities arrested independent lawyer Julio Alfredo Ferrer Tamayo during a police raid on the legal aid center Cubalex (see section 1.f.). Although police released all other detained employees in less than 24 hours, Ferrer remained in detention through the end of the year. According to Cubalex, Ferrer received a suspended three-year sentence in February for allegedly falsifying documents in relation to the attempted establishment of a civil society organization in 2010, and police cited this earlier arrest as a reason for refusing his release.

Political prisoners reported the government held them in isolation for extended periods. They did not receive the same protections as other prisoners or detainees. The government also frequently denied political prisoners access to home visits, prison classes, telephone calls, and, on occasion, family visits.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Although it is possible to seek judicial remedies through civil courts for violations of administrative determinations, independent legal experts noted that general procedural and bureaucratic inefficiencies often delayed or undermined the enforcement of administrative determinations and civil court orders. Civil courts, like all courts in the country, lacked independence and impartiality as well as effective procedural guarantees. No courts allowed claimants to bring lawsuits seeking remedies for human rights violations.

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

The constitution protects citizens’ privacy rights in their homes and correspondence, and police must have a warrant signed by a prosecutor or magistrate before entering or conducting a search. Nevertheless, there were reports that government officials routinely and systematically monitored correspondence and communications between citizens, tracked their movements, and entered homes without legal authority and with impunity. Additionally, in August civil society organizations complained that text messages containing specific words including “democracy” and “dissident” were systematically blocked.

Police searched homes and seized personal goods without legally required documentation.

In May, and again in November, UNPACU reported major search and seizure operations at private homes used as headquarters in Santiago de Cuba and Havana. In both cases police confiscated printed materials, cameras, computers, printers, flash drives, and money.

On September 23, the Center for Legal Information (Cubalex), an independent legal aid center, reported a large search and seizure operation of its headquarters. Police seized five computers, four laptops, multiple hard drives, USB drives, cell phones, and more than 300 records of legal cases. Police also strip-searched Cubalex lawyers, threatened the employees with prison time, and opened an investigation into their alleged illicit activities.

The Ministry of Interior employed a system of informants and neighborhood committees, known as “Committees for the Defense of the Revolution,” to monitor government opponents and report on their activities. Agents from the ministry’s General Directorate for State Security subjected foreign journalists, visiting foreign officials and diplomats, academics, and businesspersons to frequent surveillance, including electronic surveillance.

The CP is the only legally recognized political party, and the government actively suppressed attempts to form other parties (see section 3). The government encouraged mass political mobilization and favored citizens who actively participated (see section 2.b.).

Family members of government employees who leave international work missions without official permission at times faced government harassment or loss of employment, access to education, or other public benefits.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press only insofar as it “conforms to the aims of socialist society.” Laws banning criticism of government leaders and distribution of antigovernment propaganda carry penalties ranging from three months to 15 years in prison.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: The government had little tolerance for public criticism of government officials or programs and limited public debate of issues considered politically sensitive. State security regularly harassed the organizers of independent fora for debates on cultural and social topics to force them to stop discussing issues deemed controversial. Forum organizers reported assaults by state security, video surveillance installed outside of venues, and detention of panelists and guests on the days they were expected to appear.

Several government workers reported being fired for expressing dissenting opinions or affiliating with independent organizations. For example, in August local radio station journalist Jose Ramirez Pandoja was fired for publishing a controversial speech by the deputy director of the CP’s official newspaper, Granma, on his personal blog. The speech cited young journalists leaving traditional media outlets due to censorship policies and low salaries.

Several university professors and researchers reported they were forced from their positions or demoted for expressing ideas or opinions outside of government-accepted norms.

During the year some religious groups reported greater latitude to express their opinions during sermons and at religious gatherings, although most members of the clergy continued to exercise self-censorship. Religious leaders in some cases criticized the government, its policies, and even the country’s leadership without reprisals. The Roman Catholic Church operated a cultural and educational center in Havana that hosted debates featuring participants expressing different opinions about the country’s future. On January 8, the government closed open-air churches in Camaguey and Las Tunas and detained three pastors associated with the Apostolic movement, an unregistered network of Protestant churches. The government claimed that the pastors erected the churches without permission, but the pastors denied that claim. One of the pastors was later charged and convicted of violating neighborhood noise ordinances related to his Sunday sermons.

Press and Media Freedoms: The government directly owned all print and broadcast media outlets and all widely available sources of information. News and information programming was generally uniform across all outlets, with the exception of broadcasts of Venezuelan government news programming. The government also controlled nearly all publications and printing presses, and the CP must give prior approval for printing of nearly all publications. The party censored public screenings and performances. The government also limited the importation of printed materials. Foreign correspondents in the country had limited access to and often were denied interviews with government officials. They also struggled to gather facts and reliable data for stories. Despite meeting government vetting requirements, official journalists who reported on sensitive subjects did so at personal risk, and the government restricted the ability of official journalists to work for unofficial media outlets in addition to their official duties. Granma correspondent Jose Antonio Torres remained in prison at the end of the year; he was sentenced in 2012 to 14 years’ imprisonment on charges of espionage for articles he wrote.

Violence and Harassment: The government does not recognize independent journalism, and independent journalists sometimes faced government harassment, including detention and physical abuse. Most detentions involved independent journalists who filmed arrests and harassment of #TodosMarchamos activists. Several journalists were detained, had their equipment confiscated, and were harassed for covering the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew. Some independent journalists reported interrogations by state security agents for publishing articles critical of government institutions.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law prohibits distribution of printed materials considered “counterrevolutionary” or critical of the government. Foreign newspapers or magazines were generally unavailable outside of tourist areas. Distribution of material with political content–interpreted broadly to include the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, foreign newspapers, and independent information on public health–was not allowed and could result in harassment and detention.

The government sometimes barred independent libraries from receiving materials from abroad and seized materials donated by foreign governments, religious organizations, and individuals. Government officials also confiscated or destroyed cameras and phones of individuals to prevent them from distributing photographs and videos deemed objectionable, such as those taken during arrests and detentions. Activists reported interrogations and confiscations at the airport when arriving from the United States. On August 1, human rights activist Ivan Hernandez Carillo reported being detained and beaten when he arrived at the airport in Havana after he refused to go to a small room to have his belongings searched. On August 12, independent lawyer Laritza Diversent was briefly questioned when she returned from testifying on freedom of expression before the UN special rapporteur. Security officials confiscated all materials related to this event. Independent think tank Convivencia reported nine police citations and interrogations in September and October during which state security questioned members about their participation in international conferences.

Libel/Slander Laws: The government uses defamation of character laws to arrest or detain individuals critical of the country’s leadership.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government restricted or disrupted access to the internet and censored some online content, and there were credible reports that the government monitored without appropriate legal authority the limited e-mail and internet chat rooms and browsing that were permitted. The government controlled all internet access, except for limited facilities provided by a few diplomatic missions and a small but increasing number of black market facilities.

While the International Telecommunication Union reported that 31 percent of citizens used the internet in 2015, access often was limited to a national intranet that offered only e-mail or highly restricted access to the World Wide Web. Other international groups reported lower internet penetration, with approximately 5 percent of the population having access to open internet.

The government selectively granted internet access to certain areas in the city and sectors of the population consisting mostly of government officials, established professionals, some professors and students, journalists, and artists. Others could access e-mail and internet services through government-sponsored “youth clubs,” internet cafes, or Wi-Fi hot spots approved and regulated by the Ministry for Information, Technology, and Communications. Users were required to purchase prepaid cards and provide personal information in order to access the internet in these centers.

During the year the government increased the number of Wi-Fi hot spots at computer centers to more than 200 countrywide. The government also expanded Wi-Fi hot spots in areas outside computer centers and proposed a pilot program to install internet in the homes of a limited number of persons in Old Havana. Authorities reviewed the browsing history of users, reviewed and censored e-mail, employed internet search filters, and blocked access to websites considered objectionable. Access cost approximately two convertible pesos (CUC) ($2) per hour, still beyond the means of many citizens, whose average official income was approximately 23 CUC ($23) per month.

While the law does not set specific penalties for unauthorized internet use, it is illegal to own a satellite dish that would provide uncensored internet access. The government restricted the importation of wireless routers, reportedly actively targeted private wireless access points, and confiscated equipment.

The use of encryption software and transfer of encrypted files are also illegal. Despite poor access, harassment, and infrastructure challenges, a growing number of citizens maintained blogs in which they posted opinions critical of the government, with help from foreign supporters who often built and maintained the blog sites. The government blocked local access to many of these blogs. In addition, a small but growing number of citizens could use Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and other social media channels to report independently on developments in the country, including observations critical of the government. Like other government critics, bloggers faced government harassment, including detention and physical abuse.

Foreigners could buy internet access cards from the national telecommunications provider and use hotel business centers, where internet access could be purchased only in hard currency. Access usually cost between five and 10 CUC ($5 to $10) an hour, a rate well beyond the means of most citizens. Citizens usually could purchase internet access at the national telecommunications provider and use hotel business centers.

Human rights activists reported frequent government monitoring and disruption of cell phone and landline services prior to planned events or key anniversaries related to human rights. The government-owned telecommunications provider ETECSA often disconnected service for human rights organizers, often just before their detention by state security, or to disrupt planned activities.

During the 54-day hunger strike of activist Guillermo “Coco” Farinas, the government reportedly disrupted Farinas’ telephone service and intercepted calls to provide false information.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government restricted academic freedom and controlled the curricula at all schools and universities, emphasizing the importance of reinforcing “revolutionary ideology” and “discipline.” Some academics refrained from meeting with foreigners, including diplomats, journalists, and visiting scholars, without prior government approval and, at times, the presence of a government monitor. Those permitted to travel abroad were aware that their actions, if deemed politically unfavorable, could negatively affect them and their relatives back home. During the year the government allowed some religious educational centers greater space to operate.

Outspoken artists and academics faced some harassment and criticism orchestrated by the government. For example, in April academic Omar Everleny Perez Villanueva was expelled from the Center for the Study of the Cuban Economy at the University of Havana for “indiscipline” and for having “unauthorized conversations with foreign institutions,” which included talking to foreign press and criticizing the government’s slow pace of economic reforms.

In June art historian Yanelys Nunez Leyva was fired from a cultural magazine for contributing to a developing online platform called the Cuban Museum of Dissent featuring leaders in Cuban history who had rebelled against political doctrines.

Public libraries required citizens to complete a registration process before the government granted access to books or information. Citizens could be denied access if they could not demonstrate a need to visit a particular library. Libraries required a letter of permission from an employer or academic institution for access to censored, sensitive, or rare books and materials. Religious institutions organized small libraries. Independent libraries remained illegal but continued to exist and faced harassment and intimidation.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

Although the constitution grants a limited right of assembly, the right is subject to the requirement that it may not be “exercised against the existence and objectives of the socialist state.” The law requires citizens to request authorization for organized meetings of three or more persons, and failure to do so could carry a penalty of up to three months in prison and a fine. The government tolerated some gatherings, and many religious groups reported the ability to gather without registering or facing sanctions.

Independent activists faced greater obstacles, and state security forces often suppressed attempts to assemble, even for gatherings in private dwellings and in small numbers. This trend was particularly pronounced in the eastern part of the country. For example, on March 27, UNPACU reported that state security forces forcibly detained more than 150 activists in the provinces of Santiago de Cuba, Las Tunas, and Guantanamo during a peaceful protest.

The government also continued to organize repudiation acts in the form of mobs organized to assault and disperse those who assembled peacefully. Participants arrived in government-owned buses or were recruited by government officials from nearby workplaces or schools. Participants arrived and departed in shifts, chanted revolutionary slogans, sang revolutionary songs, and verbally taunted the targets of the protest. The targets of this harassment at times suffered physical assault or property damage. Government security officials at the scene, often present in overwhelming numbers, did not arrest those who physically attacked the victims or respond to victims’ complaints and instead frequently orchestrated the activities. Officials reportedly took direct part in physical assaults.

The government did not grant permission to independent demonstrators or approve public meetings by human rights groups or others critical of any government activity.

In July police began blocking private UNPACU meetings in eastern provinces. On September 22, police detained 24 activists who were attempting to participate in a routine UNPACU meeting. Separately, in Havana, on September 22, police detained three labor union activists and placed five under house arrest to stop a meeting organized by human rights activist Ivan Hernandez Carrillo. The government also blocked meetings for independent academic and cultural organizations. For example, on September 23, Dagoberto Valdes, founder and director of the think tank Convivencia, suspended a course in Pinar del Rio on civic learning after two civil society participants from Cienfuegos were barred from entering the province.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The government routinely denied citizens freedom of association and did not recognize independent associations. The constitution proscribes any political organization not officially recognized. A number of independent organizations, including opposition political parties and professional associations, operated as NGOs without legal recognition.

Recognized churches (including the Roman Catholic humanitarian organization Caritas), the Freemason movement, and a number of fraternal and professional organizations were the only associations legally permitted to function outside the formal structure of the state, the CP, and government-organized groups. Religious groups are under the supervision of the CP’s Office of Religious Affairs, which has the authority to deny permits for religious activities and exerted pressure on church leaders to refrain from including political topics in their sermons.

Nonreligious groups must register through the Ministry of Justice to receive official recognition. Authorities continued to ignore applications for legal recognition from new groups, including several new religious groups as well as women’s rights and gay rights organizations, thereby subjecting members to potential charges of illegal association.

The government continued to afford preferential treatment to those who took an active part in CP activities and mass demonstrations in support of the government, especially when awarding valued public benefits, such as admissions to higher education, fellowships, and job opportunities.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

There continued to be restrictions on freedom of movement within the country, foreign travel, and migration with the right of return. The government also controlled internal migration from rural areas to Havana.

In-country Movement: Although the constitution allows all citizens to travel anywhere within the country, changes of residence to Havana were restricted. The local housing commission and provincial government authorities must authorize any change of residence. The government may fine persons living in a location without authorization from these bodies and send them back to their legally authorized place of residence. There were reports that authorities limited social services to persons who lived in Havana illegally. Police occasionally threatened to prosecute for “dangerousness” anyone who returned to Havana after expulsion.

The law permits authorities to bar an individual from a certain area within the country, or to restrict an individual to a certain area, for a maximum of 10 years. Under this provision authorities may internally exile any person whose presence in a given location is determined to be “socially dangerous.” Some dissidents reported that authorities prevented them from leaving their home provinces or detained and returned them to their homes.

Foreign Travel: The government continued to require several classes of citizens to obtain permission for emigrant travel, including highly specialized medical personnel; military or security personnel; many government officials, including academics; and some former political prisoners or well-known activists. In December 2015 the government reimposed exit permit requirements on medical personnel for nonimmigrant travel, reversing a 2012 law that simplified the process by only requiring a supervisor’s permission. In March the government allowed former political prisoners arrested during the 2003 Black Spring–and released in 2010 and 2011 on parole–one opportunity to travel outside the country for the first time since their arrest. Government authorities barred a second attempt when two of these activists requested permission to travel in July.

Emigration and Repatriation: Individuals seeking to migrate legally stated they also faced police interrogation, fines, harassment, and intimidation, including involuntary dismissal from employment. Government employees who applied to migrate legally to the United States reportedly sometimes lost positions when their plans became known. Some family members of former government employees who emigrated from the island lost public benefits or were denied passports to travel and join their family members abroad.

The law provides for imprisonment of up to three years or a fine of 500 nonconvertible pesos (CUP) ($20) for first-time “rafters” (those who attempted to depart using clandestinely constructed vessels). The largest fine reported during the year was 3,000 CUP ($120) for an unauthorized departure from the country. Most persons caught attempting unauthorized departures via sea were detained briefly. In the case of military or police defectors, or those traveling with children, the punishment could be more severe. Prison terms were also more common for persons attempting to flee to the United States through the Guantanamo U.S. Naval Station.

Under the terms of the 1994 U.S.-Cuba Migration Accord, the government agreed not to prosecute or retaliate against migrants returned from international or U.S. waters, or from the U.S. Naval Station at Guantanamo, after attempting to emigrate illegally if they had not committed a separate criminal offense. The government prevented independent trips to monitor repatriated Cubans outside of Havana. Some would-be migrants alleged harassment and discrimination, such as fines, expulsion from school, and job loss, and others reported more severe punishment.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The constitution provides for the granting of asylum to individuals persecuted for their ideals or actions involving a number of specified political grounds. The government has no formal mechanism to process asylum for foreign nationals.

Temporary Protection: On the small number of cases of persons seeking asylum, the government worked with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations to provide protection and assistance, pending third-country resettlement. In addition, the government allowed foreign students who feared persecution in their home countries to remain in the country after the end of their studies, until their claims could be substantiated or resolved.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

While a voting process to choose candidates exists, citizens do not have the ability to choose their government through the right to vote in free and fair elections or run as candidates from outside the CP, and the government retaliated against those who sought peaceful political change.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Government-run bodies prescreened all candidates in the April 2015 municipal elections, and once approved by the CP, candidates ran for office mostly uncontested. There were reports that the government altered the public biographies of non-CP candidates who attempted to run in the elections by labeling them as “counterrevolutionaries.”

Political Parties and Political Participation: Government-run commissions preapproved all CP candidates for office and rejected independent candidacies without explanation or the right of appeal. Dissident candidates reported the government tampered with their candidate biographies and organized protests to besmirch their names. The government routinely used propaganda campaigns in the state-owned media to criticize its opponents.

Participation of Women and Minorities: There were no official restrictions on women or minorities, and the government actively promoted participation of both in government. According to Granma, women constituted 30 percent of the Council of Ministers, 39 percent of the Council of State, 49 percent of the National Assembly, and more than half of the provincial presidents. Women remained underrepresented in the most powerful decision-making bodies; there were no women on the executive committee of the Council of Ministers, or in positions of military leadership.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption, and the government was highly sensitive to corruption allegations and often conducted anticorruption crackdowns.

Corruption: The law provides for three to eight years’ imprisonment for “illegal enrichment” by authorities or government employees. The government did not implement the law effectively, and officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of law enforcement and other official corruption in enforcement of a myriad of economic restrictions and government services. There were widespread reports of police corruption. Multiple sources reported that when searching homes and vehicles, police sometimes took the owner’s belongings or sought bribes in place of fines or arrests.

Financial Disclosure: The law does not require appointed and elected officials to disclose their assets.

Public Access to Information: The law provides for public access to government information, but requests for information routinely were rejected. The government engaged in limited public outreach activities.

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

The government did not recognize domestic human rights groups or permit them to function legally. Several human rights organizations continued to function outside the law, including the CCDHRN, UNPACU, the Christian Liberation Movement, the Assembly to Promote Civil Society, and the Lawton Foundation for Human Rights. The government subjected domestic human rights advocates to intimidation, harassment, and periodic short-term detention.

No officially recognized, independent NGOs monitored human rights. The government refused to recognize or meet with any unauthorized NGOs that monitored human rights. Furthermore, there were reports of explicit government harassment of individuals who met with unauthorized NGOs.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government continued to deny international human rights organizations, the United Nations and its affiliate organizations, and the International Committee of the Red Cross access to prisoners and detainees.

Government Human Rights Bodies: For the first time, the Cuban government hosted a structured bilateral dialogue in which Cuban authorities provided substantive comments about human rights problems in the country.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, including spousal rape, and the government enforced the law. Penalties for rape are at least four years’ imprisonment, with longer prison terms or death as possible penalties, depending on the circumstances of the rape.

The law does not recognize domestic violence as a distinct category of violence but prohibits threats and violence, including those associated with domestic violence. Penalties for domestic violence are covered by provisions against assault and range from fines to prison sentences of varying lengths, depending on the severity of the offense.

To raise awareness about domestic violence, the government continued to carry out media campaigns. Official television, radio, and print media occasionally discussed issues pertaining to women, including domestic violence. In addition, a few government-organized groups held conferences and worked with local communities to improve services. The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reported that the government ran counseling centers for women and children in most municipalities, with staff trained in assisting victims of abuse.

Sexual Harassment: The law provides penalties for sexual harassment, with potential prison sentences of three months to five years. The government did not release any statistics on arrests, prosecutions, or convictions for offenses related to sexual harassment during the year. Civil society groups noted sexual harassment was underreported.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. Access to information on modern contraception and skilled health attendance during pregnancy, at delivery, and in postpartum care was available, but access to information and contraception to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS was limited.

Discrimination: The law accords women and men equal rights, the same legal status, and the same responsibilities with regard to marriage/divorce, parental duties, home maintenance, and professional careers. The law grants working mothers preferential access to goods and services and provides for equal pay for equal work.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is normally derived by birth within the country’s territory, and births were generally registered promptly. Those who emigrate abroad and have children must request a Cuban passport for the child before re-entering Cuba. Children born outside of Cuba to parents on official business are granted Cuban citizenship.

Child Abuse: There was no apparent pattern of violence against or abuse of children. The government operated 174 guidance centers for women and families, charged with providing family counseling services and other assistance to individuals harmed by intrafamilial violence.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of consent for marriage is 18. Marriage for girls as young as 14 and for boys as young as 16 is permitted with parental consent. According to UNICEF, 40 percent of women ages 20-24 were married before age 18, and 9 percent of women ages 20-24 were married before 15. There was no available information on the government’s efforts to prevent or mitigate early marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Prostitution is legal for those age 16 and older. While there were numerous reports of underage prostitution, there were no reliable statistics available regarding its extent. In October 2015 the government reported that 2,122 children were victims of sexual abuse in 2014. The minimum age of consent is 16. There is no statutory rape law, although penalties for rape increase as the age of the victim decreases. The law imposes seven to 15 years’ imprisonment for involving minors under 16 in pornographic acts. The punishment may increase to 20 to 30 years or death under aggravating circumstances. The proposal to participate in such acts is punishable with two to five years’ imprisonment. The law does not criminalize the possession of pornography, but it punishes the production or circulation of any kind of obscene graphic material with three months’ to one year’s imprisonment and a fine. The offer, provision, or sale of obscene or pornographic material to minors under 16 is punishable with two to five years in prison. International trafficking of minors is punishable with seven to 15 years’ imprisonment.

The government maintained centers in Havana, Santiago de Cuba, and Santa Clara for the treatment of child sexual abuse victims. The centers employed some modern treatment techniques, including the preparation of children to be witnesses in criminal prosecutions.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of Child Abduction. See the Department of States Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/elgal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

There were between 1,000 and 1,500 members of the Jewish community. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

No known law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities in employment, education, access to health care, or the provision of other state services. The Ministry of Labor and Social Security is in charge of the Employment Program for Persons with Disabilities. A ministry resolution accords persons with disabilities the right to equal employment opportunities and equal pay for equal work. No information was available on compliance with this resolution. The law recommends that buildings, communication facilities, air travel, and other transportation services accommodate persons with disabilities, but these facilities and services were rarely accessible to persons with disabilities, and information for persons with disabilities was limited.

The Special Education Division of the Ministry of Education is responsible for the education and training of children with disabilities. Children with disabilities attended school; no information was available on whether there were patterns of discriminatory abuse in educational facilities or in mental health facilities during the year. Some religious organizations reported they were permitted to help provide educational programs for children with disabilities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Although the government’s declared policy favors racial integration and inclusiveness, Afro-Cubans often suffered racial discrimination, including disproportionate stops for identity checks and searches, and some were subject to racial epithets while undergoing unlawful beatings at the hands of security agents in response to political activity. Afro-Cubans also reported employment discrimination, particularly in sought-after positions within the tourism industry and at high levels within the government. Afro-Cubans were represented disproportionately in neighborhoods with the worst housing conditions and were economically disadvantaged.

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

The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing, statelessness, or access to education or health care. Nonetheless, societal discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity persisted.

Mariela Castro, President Castro’s daughter, headed the National Center for Sexual Education and continued to be outspoken in promoting the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons. Throughout the year the government promoted the rights of LGBTI persons, including nonviolence and nondiscrimination in regional and international fora. In May the government sponsored a march and an extensive program of events to commemorate the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.

Several unrecognized NGOs promoted LGBTI issues and faced some government criticism, not for their promotion of such topics, but for their independence from official government institutions. In June several independent organizations attempted to organize an LGBTI march in Havana to celebrate LGBTI Pride Month. According to independent reports, authorities detained several activists to prevent their participation in the march and reportedly asked others not to leave their homes that day, limiting participation to fewer than five activists.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

There were reports that some persons with HIV/AIDS suffered job discrimination. The government operated four prisons exclusively for inmates with HIV/AIDS; some inmates were serving sentences for “propagating an epidemic.” Special diets and medications for HIV patients were routinely unavailable.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law, including related regulations and statutes, severely restricts worker rights by recognizing only the CP-controlled Workers’ Central Union of Cuba (CTC) as the paramount trade union confederation. All trade groups must belong to the CTC to operate legally. The law does not provide for the right to strike. The law also does not provide for collective bargaining, instead setting up a complicated process for reaching collective agreements. The International Labor Organization continued to raise concerns regarding the trade union monopoly of the CTC, the prohibition on the right to strike, and restrictions to collective bargaining and agreements, including that government authorities and CTC officials have the final say on all such agreements.

The government continued to prevent the formation of independent trade unions in all sectors. The CP chose the CTC’s leaders. The CTC’s principal responsibility is to manage government relations with the workforce. The CTC does not bargain collectively, promote worker rights, or advocate for the right to strike. The CTC led information dissemination regarding the government’s planned large-scale layoffs of government workers and in defending the government’s decision to do so.

Several small, independent labor organizations operated without legal recognition, including the National Independent Workers’ Confederation of Cuba, the National Independent Laborer Confederation of Cuba, and the Unitarian Council of Workers of Cuba; together they comprise the Independent Trade Union Association of Cuba, which was created in October to replace the Coalition of Independent Unions of Cuba. These organizations worked to advance the rights of workers by offering an alternative to the state-sponsored CTC, and by advocating for the rights of small business owners and employees who represent 29 percent of the country’s labor force. The independent unions were reportedly harassed by police and infiltrated by government agents, limiting their capacity to represent workers effectively or work on their behalf.

The government may determine that a worker is “unfit” to work, resulting in job loss and the denial of job opportunities. Persons were deemed unfit because of their political beliefs, including their refusal to join the official union, and for trying to depart the country illegally. The government also penalized professionals who expressed interest in emigrating by limiting job opportunities or firing them.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law does not appear to prohibit forced labor explicitly. It prohibits unlawful imprisonment, coercion, and extortion, with penalties ranging from fines to imprisonment, but there was no evidence that these provisions were used to prosecute forced labor cases. The use of minors in forced labor, drug trafficking, prostitution, pornography, or organ trade is punishable by seven to 15 years’ incarceration.

Compulsory military service of young men was occasionally fulfilled by assignment to an economic entity controlled by the military or by assignment to other government services. Allegations of forced or coerced labor in foreign medical missions persisted, although the government denied these allegations.

The government continued to use some high school students in rural areas to harvest agricultural products (also see section 7.c.).

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The legal minimum working age is 17, although the law permits the employment of children ages 15 and 16 to obtain training or fill labor shortages with parental permission and a special authorization from the municipal labor director. The law does not permit children ages 15 and 16 to work more than seven hours per day or 40 hours per week or on holidays. Children ages 15 to 18 cannot work in specified hazardous occupations, such as mining, or at night.

There were no known government programs to prevent child labor or remove children from such labor. Antitruancy programs, however, aimed to keep children in school. Inspections and penalties appeared adequate to enforce the law, as inspections for child labor were included in all other regular labor inspections. The government reported more than 700 such inspections of state-run and private-sector enterprises during 2015. The government penalizes unlawful child labor with fines and suspension of work permits. There were no credible reports that children under the age of 17 worked in significant numbers.

The government used some high school students in rural areas to harvest agricultural products for government cooperatives during peak harvest time. Student participants were not paid but received school credit and favorable recommendations towards university admission. Failure to participate or obtain an excused absence reportedly could result in unfavorable grades or university recommendations, although students were reportedly able to participate in other activities (instead of the harvest) to support their application for university admission. There were no reports of abusive or dangerous working conditions.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits workplace discrimination based on skin color, gender, religious belief, sexual orientation, nationality, “or any other distinction harmful to human dignity,” but it does not explicitly protect political opinion, social origin, disability, age, language, gender identity, or HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases. No information was available on government enforcement of these provisions during the year.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to persons with HIV and members of the Afro-Cuban population. Leaders within the Afro-Cuban community noted that some Afro-Cubans could not get jobs in sectors such as tourism and hospitality because they were “too dark.” Afro-Cuban leaders explained that fairer-skinned citizens filled jobs in sectors that deal with tourists, and these jobs were often among the best-paying positions available. Afro-Cubans more frequently obtained lower-paying jobs, including cleaning and garbage disposal, which prevented them from interacting with tourists, a major source of hard currency.

There were no statistics stating whether the government effectively enforced applicable laws.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The monthly minimum wage was fixed at 225 CUP ($9). The minimum wage requirement does not apply to the non-state sector, including the self-employed. The government supplemented the minimum wage with free education, subsidized medical care (daily wages are reduced by 40 percent after the third day of a hospital stay), housing, and some food. Even with subsidies, the government acknowledged that the average wage of 600 CUP ($24) per month did not provide a reasonable standard of living.

The standard workweek is 44 hours, with shorter workweeks in hazardous occupations, such as mining. The law provides workers with a weekly minimum 24-hour rest period and 24 days of paid annual holidays. These standards apply to state workers as well as to the non-state sector, but not to the self-employed. The law does not provide for premium pay for overtime or prohibit obligatory overtime, but it generally caps the number of overtime hours at 12 hours per week, or 160 per year. The law provides little grounds for a worker to refuse to work overtime. Refusal to work overtime can result in a notation in the employee’s official work history that could imperil subsequent requests for vacation time. The Ministry of Labor has the authority to establish different overtime caps as needed. Compensation for overtime is paid in cash at the regular hourly rate or in additional rest time, particularly for workers directly linked to production or services, and it does not apply to management. Workers complained that overtime compensation was either not paid or not paid in a timely manner.

The government set workplace safety standards and received technical assistance from the International Labor Organization to implement them. The Ministry of Labor enforced the minimum wage and hours-of-work standards through offices at the national, provincial, and municipal levels, but the government lacked mechanisms to adequately enforce occupational safety and health standards. There was no information available about the number of labor inspectors. Reports from recent years suggested there were very few inspectors and that health and safety standards frequently were ignored or subject to corrupt practices.

According to government statistics, 518,479 workers were self-employed during the year, an increase of 5 percent from 2015; the total workforce in the private sector increased from approximately 25 percent to 29 percent. Self-employed and private-sector workers obtained licenses by applying to the Ministry of Labor and were subject to inspection by the government. The government maintained a list of 201 trades that may be plied privately and allowed the self-employed to hire labor. Despite criminal penalties for doing so, a significant number of workers participated in the informal economy, including individuals who actively traded on the black market and those performing professional activities not officially permitted by the government. There were no reliable reports or statistics about the informal economy.

Foreign companies operated in a limited number of sectors, such as hotels, tourism, and mining. Such companies operated on the basis of a joint venture in which the government contracted and paid company workers in pesos an amount that was a small fraction of what the company remitted to the state for labor costs. Most formal employment took place only through government employment agencies. Employers, including international businesses and organizations, were generally prohibited from contracting or paying workers directly, although many reportedly made supplemental payments under the table. The Ministry of Labor enforces labor laws on any business, organization, or foreign governmental agency based in the country, including wholly owned foreign companies operating in the country, joint-stock companies involving foreign investors operating in the country, the United Nations, international NGOs, and embassies. Cuban workers employed by these entities are subject to a number of labor regulations common to most state and non-state workers, together with some regulations specific for these kinds of entities. Government bodies, including the tax collecting agency, the Ministry of Finance and Prices, enforced regulations. There were no reports about protections for migrant workers’ rights.

Past reports from an independent union cited some violations of health and safety standards at worksites throughout the country, including inadequate and poorly maintained equipment and protective gear. Official government reports cited 3,432 workplace accidents in 2015 (a reduction of 357 compared with 2014) and 70 workplace deaths (the same as 2014). The CTC provided limited information to workers about their rights and at times did not respond to or assist workers who complained about hazardous workplace conditions. It was generally understood that workers could not remove themselves from dangerous situations without jeopardizing their employment, and authorities did not effectively protect workers facing this dilemma.

Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

Executive Summary

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea) is an authoritarian state led by the Kim family for more than 60 years. Shortly after Kim Jong-il’s death in late 2011, his son Kim Jong Un was named marshal of the DPRK and supreme commander of the Korean People’s Army. Kim Jong Un’s grandfather, the late Kim Il-sung, remains “eternal president.” The most recent national elections, held in 2014, were neither free nor fair.

Authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Citizens did not have the ability to choose their government. The government subjected citizens to rigid controls over many aspects of their lives, including denial of the freedoms of speech, press, assembly, association, religion, movement, and worker rights. The government operated a network of political prison camps in which conditions were often harsh, life threatening, and included forced and compulsory labor.

Defectors continued to report extrajudicial killings, disappearances, arbitrary detention, arrests of political prisoners, and torture. The judiciary was not independent and did not provide fair trials. There were reports of female victims of trafficking among refugees and workers crossing the border into China. Domestic forced labor occurred, through mass mobilizations and as a part of the re-education system. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) noted that DPRK foreign contract workers also faced conditions of forced labor.

The government made no known attempts to prosecute officials who committed human rights abuses. Impunity continued to be a widespread problem.

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

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

There were numerous reports that the government committed arbitrary and unlawful killings.

Defector and refugee reports noted instances in which the government executed political prisoners, opponents of the government, repatriated defectors, government officials, and others accused of crimes. The law prescribes the death penalty for the most “serious” or “grave” cases of “antistate” or “antination” crimes, which included: participation in a coup or plotting to overthrow the state; acts of terrorism for an antistate purpose; treason, which includes defection or handing over of state secrets, broadly interpreted to include providing information about economic, social, and political developments routinely published elsewhere; suppressing the people’s movement for national liberation; and “treacherous destruction.” Additionally, the law allows for capital punishment in less serious crimes such as theft, destruction of military facilities and national assets, fraud, kidnapping, distribution of pornography, and trafficking in persons.

NGOs and press reports indicated that border guards had orders to shoot to kill individuals leaving the country without permission, and prison guards were under orders to shoot to kill those attempting to escape from political prison camps.

In August, the Republic of Korea (ROK or South Korea) press announced that DPRK authorities executed Kim Yong Jin, a 63-year-old vice premier for education, in July by firing squad. South Korean media reported that government officials executed Hwang Min, former agricultural minister, and another education ministry official, Ri Yong-jin, by means of an antiaircraft gun in July, on orders by Kim Jong Un. According to press reports, the state carried out 15 executions in the first four months of 2015 as part of a continuing purge of senior government officials. In April 2015 the NGO Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK) published a report supported by satellite imagery of a public execution in the country using antiaircraft machine guns.

The state also subjected private citizens to public executions. In October, Kyodo News reported that the state held 64 public executions in the first nine months of the year.

b. Disappearance

NGO, think tank, and press reports indicated that the government was responsible for disappearances.

In September 2015 the DPRK announced it had completed its reinvestigation into the whereabouts of 12 Japanese citizens believed to have been abducted by the DPRK and had no new information to report. The DPRK suspended bilateral negotiations on the abductions issue in April 2015, citing Japan’s move to raise the issue in a UN Human Rights Council resolution.

ROK government and media reports noted that the DPRK also kidnapped other foreign nationals from locations abroad in the 1970s and 1980s. The DPRK continued to deny its involvement in the kidnappings. The ROK Ministry of Unification reported that an estimated 517 of its civilians, abducted or detained by DPRK authorities since the end of the Korean War, remained in the DPRK. South Korean NGOs estimated that during the Korean War the DPRK abducted 20,000 civilians who remained in the North or who had died.

HRNK’s Hidden Gulag IV: Gender Repression & Prisoner Disappearances reported that the state demolished Sorimchon/Kumchon-ri zone within Yodok political penal-labor camp (Camp 15) in South Hamkyung Province in late 2014. The whereabouts of the former prisoners of this section of the camp remained unknown.

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

The penal code prohibits torture or inhuman treatment, but many sources reported these practices continued. Numerous defector accounts and NGO reports described the use of torture by authorities in several detention facilities. Methods of torture and other abuse reportedly included severe beatings; electric shock; prolonged periods of exposure to the elements; humiliations such as public nakedness; confinement for up to several weeks in small “punishment cells” in which prisoners were unable to stand upright or lie down; being forced to kneel or sit immobilized for long periods; and being hung by the wrists or forced to stand up and sit down to the point of collapse. Mothers were in some cases reportedly forced to watch the infanticide of their newborn infants. Defectors continued to report many prisoners died from torture, disease, starvation, exposure to the elements, or a combination of these causes.

The 2016 White Paper on Human Rights in North Korea, published by the Korea Institute for National Unification (KINU), a South Korean government-affiliated think tank, and the 2014 UN Commission of Inquiry (COI) report stated that officials had in some cases prohibited live births in prison and ordered forced abortions as recently as 2013. Detainees in re-education through labor camps reported the state forced them to perform difficult physical labor under harsh conditions (see section 7.b.).

The KINU white paper found that, in some cases of live birth, the prison guards killed the infant or left the baby to die, and it reported cases of guards sexually abusing or exploiting female prisoners.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

NGO, refugee, and press reports noted there were several types of prisons, detention centers, and camps, including forced labor camps and separate camps for political prisoners. NGO reports documented six types of detention facilities: kwanliso (political penal-labor camps), kyohwaso (correctional or re-education centers), kyoyangso (labor-reform centers), jipkyulso (collection centers for low-level criminals), rodong danryeondae (labor-training centers), and kuryujang or kamok (interrogation facilities or jails). According to the 2015 KINU white paper, the Ministry of State Security administered kwanliso camps and either it or the Ministry of People’s Security administered the other detention centers.

There were reportedly between 5,000 and 50,000 prisoners per kwanliso. Defectors claimed the kwanliso camps contained unmarked graves, barracks, worksites, and other prison facilities. NGOs reported the existence of five kwanliso facilities, including Kaecheon (Camp 14), Hwaseong (Camp 16), Pukchang (Camp 18), and Chongjin (Camp 25). During the year reports continued to indicate that areas of Yodok (Camp 15) in South Hamkyung Province were closed or operating at a reduced capacity.

Kwanliso camps are comprised of total control zones, where incarceration is for life, and “rerevolutionizing zones,” from which prisoners may be released. Reports indicated the state typically sent those sentenced to prison for nonpolitical crimes to re-education prisons where authorities subjected prisoners to intense forced labor. Those the state considered hostile to the government or who committed political crimes reportedly received indefinite sentencing terms in political prison camps. In many cases the state also detained all family members if one member was accused or arrested. The government continued to deny the existence of political prison camps.

Reports indicated that conditions in the prison camp and detention system were harsh and life threatening and that systematic and severe human rights abuse occurred. Defectors noted they did not expect many prisoners in political prison camps and the detention system to survive. Detainees and prisoners consistently reported violence and torture. Defectors described witnessing public executions in political prison camps. According to defectors prisoners received little to no food or medical care in some places of detention. Sanitation was poor, and former labor camp inmates reported they had no changes of clothing during their incarceration and were rarely able to bathe or wash their clothing. The South Korean and international press reported that the kyohwaso held populations of up to thousands of political prisoners, economic criminals, and ordinary criminals.

Both the kyo-hwa-so re-education camps and kwan-li-so prison camps host extremely brutal conditions, according to HRNK’s 2016 report North Korea: Kyo-hwa-so No. 12, Jongo-ri. The report noted that “the brutality affects both those convicted of actual offenses and those sentenced for essentially political offenses.”

According to the Hidden Gulag IV report, since late 2008 Jongo-ri (formerly referred to as Camp 12) in North Hamkyung Province was expanded to include a women’s annex. Jongno-ri’s women’s annex held approximately 1,000 women, most of whom the state imprisoned after repatriating them from China. Satellite imagery and defector testimony corroborated the existence of this women’s annex. Defector testimony also cited food rations below subsistence levels, forced labor, and high rates of death due to starvation at Jongno-ri.

According to HRNK’s 2016 report North Korea: Flooding at Kyo-hwa-so No. 12, Jongo-ri, the kyohwaso or re-education center No. 12, Jongo-ri is located approximately 300 miles northeast of Pyongyang and 15 miles south of Hoeryong City. The report estimated the prison population at Kyo-hwa-so No. 12 had ranged from 1,300 in the late 1990s to approximately 5,000 in recent years. The report highlighted the acute vulnerability of prisoners at this facility in northeastern North Korea, ravaged by heavy flooding as a result of Typhoon Lionrock. “This vulnerability has been exacerbated by the historically limited resources expended on civil infrastructure in this area by the central government in Pyongyang,” the report stated.

Physical Conditions: Estimates of the total number of prisoners and detainees in the prison and detention system ranged between 80,000 and 120,000. Physical abuse by prison guards was systematic. Anecdotal reports from the NGO Database Center for North Korean Human Rights and the 2014 COI report stated that in some prisons authorities held women in separate units from men and often subjected the women to sexual abuse. The COI report added, “Cases of rape are a direct consequence of the impunity and unchecked power that prison guards and other officials enjoy.”

There were no statistics available regarding deaths in custody, but defectors reported deaths were commonplace as the result of summary executions, torture, lack of adequate medical care, and starvation. The COI report cited “extremely high rate of deaths in custody,” due to starvation and neglect, arduous forced labor, disease, and executions. The 2016 KINU white paper said that the decrease in the number of inmates from previous years could be the result of numerous deaths from harsh circumstances rather than any change in government policy.

Defectors also report that in Camp 14, prisoners worked 12 hours a day during the summer and 10 hours a day during the winter, with one day off a month. The camps observed New Year’s Day and the birthdays of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il. Children age 12 or older worked, and guards gave light duty to prisoners over 65 years of age. Prisoners provided supervision over other prisoners and worked even when they were sick. Prisoners who failed to meet work quotas reportedly faced reduced meals and violence. Those caught stealing faced arbitrary and serious violence.

NGO and press reports estimated there were between 182 and 490 detention facilities in the country.

By law the state dismisses criminal cases against a person under age 14. The state applies public education in case of a crime committed by a person above age 14 and under age 17, but little information was available regarding how the law is actually applied. Authorities often detained juveniles along with their families and reportedly subjected them to torture and abuse in detention facilities.

During the year the Database Center for North Korea Unified Human Rights indicated 953 cases of violations of the right to adequate food, highlighting these violations at various detention facilities. The data showed prisons had the highest level of these violations, with a percentage of 36.7 percent (350 cases), followed by investigation and detention facilities of the Ministry of State Security and the Ministry of Public Security with 26.4 percent (252 cases), police holding camps with 14.7 percent (140 cases), labor training camps with 12.8 percent (122 cases), and political prison camps with 6.6 percent (63 cases).

Administration: No information on recordkeeping processes was publicly available. There was little evidence to suggest prisoners and detainees had reasonable access to visitors. In past years defectors reported that authorities subjected Christian inmates to harsher punishment if the prisoners made their faith public, but no information was available regarding religious observance. No information was available on whether prisoners or detainees could submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship or request investigation of credible allegations of inhuman conditions.

Independent Monitoring: There was no publicly available information on whether the government investigated or monitored prison and detention conditions. The 2015 HRNK Imagery Analysis of Camp 15 noted officials, especially those within the Korean People’s Army and the internal security organizations, clearly understand the importance of implementing camouflage, concealment, and deception procedures to mask their operations and intentions. The government did not allow the UN special rapporteur on the human rights situation in the DPRK into the country to assess prison conditions. The government did not permit other human rights monitors to inspect prisons and detention facilities.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but reports pointed out that the government did not observe these prohibitions.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The internal security apparatus includes the Ministries of People’s Security, State Security, and the Military Security Command. Impunity was pervasive. The security forces do not investigate possible security force abuses. The government did not take action to reform the security forces. These organizations all played a role in the surveillance of citizens, maintaining arresting power, and conducting special purpose nonmilitary investigations. A systematic and intentional overlap of powers and responsibilities existed between these organizations. Kim Jong Un continued to enforce this overlap to prevent any potential subordinate consolidation of power and assure that each unit provides a check and balance on the other.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Revisions to the criminal code and the criminal procedure code in 2004, 2005, and 2009 added shortened periods of detention during prosecution and trial, arrest by warrant, and prohibition of collecting evidence by forced confessions. Confirmation that the state applied these changes has not been verified.

Members of the security forces arrested and reportedly transported citizens suspected of committing political crimes to prison camps without trial. According to a South Korean NGO, beginning in 2008 the People’s Safety Agency received authorization to handle criminal cases directly without the approval of prosecutors. Prosecutorial corruption reportedly necessitated the change. An NGO reported that investigators could detain an individual for the purpose of investigation for up to two months. No functioning bail system or other alternatives for considering release pending trial exists.

There were no restrictions on the government’s ability to detain and imprison persons at will or to hold them incommunicado. Family members and other concerned persons reportedly found it virtually impossible to obtain information on charges against detained persons or the lengths of their sentences. Judicial review or appeals of detentions did not exist in law or practice. According to an opinion adopted in 2014 by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, family members have no recourse for petitioning for the release of detainees accused of political crimes, as the state may deem any such advocacy for political prisoners an act of treason against the state. No known information on a bail system and no information on detainees receiving a lawyer were available.

Arbitrary Arrest: Arbitrary arrests reportedly occurred.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: According to defectors there was no mechanism for persons to challenge the lawfulness of detention before a court.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution states that courts are independent and that courts will carry out judicial proceedings in strict accordance with the law; however, an independent judiciary did not exist.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The MPS dispensed with trials in political cases and referred prisoners to the MSS for punishment. Little information was available on formal criminal justice procedures and practices, and outside access to the legal system was limited to trials for traffic violations and other minor offenses.

The constitution contains elaborate procedural protections, providing that cases should be public, except under circumstances stipulated by law. The constitution also states that the accused has the right to a defense, and when the government held trials, they reportedly assigned lawyers. Some reports noted a distinction between those accused of political, as opposed to nonpolitical, crimes and claimed that the government offered trials and lawyers only to the latter. The MSS conducted “pretrials” or preliminary examinations in all political cases but the court system conducted the trial. Some defectors testified that the MSS also conducted trials. There was no indication that independent, nongovernmental defense lawyers existed. According to the 2013 Hidden Gulag report, the state sent most inmates to prison camps without trial, without knowing the charges against them, and without having legal counsel. The 2010 Witness to Transformation study reported that only 13 percent of the 102 respondents surveyed whom the state had incarcerated in the country received a trial. There were no indications authorities respected the presumption of innocence. According to the UN COI report, “the vast majority of inmates are victims of arbitrary detention, since they are imprisoned without trial or on the basis of a trial that fails to respect the due process and fair trial guarantees set out in international law.”

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

While the total number of political prisoners and detainees remained unknown, the current year’s KINU white paper reported that the state detained between 80,000 and 120,000 in the kwanliso. Guards held political prisoners separately from other detainees. NGOs and the media reported that political prisoners were subject to harsher punishments and fewer protections than other prisoners and detainees. The government considered critics of the regime to be political criminals. The government did not permit access to persons by international humanitarian organizations or religious organizations resident in China. Reports from past years described political offenses as including attempting to defect to South Korea, sitting on newspapers bearing Kim Il-sung’s or Kim Jong-il’s picture, mentioning Kim Il-sung’s limited formal education, or defacing photographs of the Kims. The UN COI report noted that many “ordinary” prisoners are, in fact, political prisoners, “detained without a substantive reason compatible with international law.”

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

According to the constitution, “…citizens are entitled to submit complaints and petitions. The state shall fairly investigate and deal with complaints and petitions as fixed by law.” Under the Law on Complaint and Petition, citizens are entitled to submit complaints to stop encroachment upon their rights and interests or seek compensation for the encroached rights and interests. Reports noted that government officials did not respect these rights. Individuals and organizations do not have the ability to appeal adverse domestic decisions to regional human rights bodies.

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

The constitution provides for the inviolability of person and residence and the privacy of correspondence; however, the government did not respect these provisions. The regime subjected its citizens to rigid controls. The government reportedly relied upon a massive, multilevel system of informants to identify critics and potential troublemakers. Authorities sometimes subjected entire communities to security checks, entering homes without judicial authorization.

The government appeared to monitor correspondence, telephone conversations, e-mail, text messages, and other digital communications. Private telephone lines operated on a system that precluded making or receiving international calls; international telephone lines were available only under restricted circumstances.

The 2016 KINU white paper, citing South Korean press, estimated there were 3.8 million cell phone users at the end of 2015. Authorities strictly monitored mobile phone use. Press reports indicated that DPRK authorities attempted to jam cellular phone signals along the China-DPRK border to block the use of the Chinese cell network to make international phone calls. Authorities arrested those caught using such cell phones with Chinese SIM cards and required violators to pay a fine or face charges of espionage or other crimes with harsh punishments, including lengthy prison terms. Testimonies recorded by NGOs indicated that prisoners could avoid punishment through bribery of DPRK officials.

The Worker’s Party of Korea (WPK) is the key governing body in the country; with party membership dictated by social and family background and remaining the key determinant of social mobility. The government divided citizens into strict loyalty-based classes known as “songbun,” which determined access to employment, higher education, place of residence, medical facilities, certain stores, marriage prospects, and food rations.

Authorities placed citizens into one of 51 songbun categories based on the perceived loyalty of their family to the government.

Numerous reports noted that authorities practiced collective punishment. The state imprisoned entire families, including children, when one member of the family was accused of a crime. Collective punishment reportedly can extend to three generations.

NGOs reported the eviction of families from their places of residence without due process.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, but the government prohibited the exercise of these rights.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: There were numerous instances of persons interrogated or arrested for saying something construed as negative towards the government.

The constitution provides for the right to petition, but the government did not respect this right. For example, when individuals submitted anonymous petitions or complaints about state administration, the Ministries of People’s Security and State Security sought to identify the authors and subject them to investigation and punishment.

Press and Media Freedoms: The government sought to control virtually all information. The government tightly controlled print media, broadcast media, book publishing, and online media. Independent media did not exist. The Propaganda and Agitation Department controls all media in the country. Within the department the Publication and Broadcasting Department controls all media content, including content used on television, in newspapers, and on the radio. The government carefully managed visits by foreigners, especially journalists. The Associated Press (AP) operated an all-format news bureau in Pyongyang, but international AP reporters were not resident in country. Numerous media sources reported that Agence France-Presse inaugurated its Pyongyang bureau on Sept 6. Government officials deported a foreign British Broadcasting Corporation journalist and his team, who received an invitation to cover the Workers Party Congress in May, after the government reportedly took offense at their reports highlighting aspects of life in Pyongyang.

Violence and Harassment: Domestic journalists had little freedom to investigate stories or report freely. During visits by foreign leaders, authorities permitted groups of foreign journalists to accompany official delegations and file reports. In all cases the state strictly monitored journalists. Government officials generally prevented journalists from talking to officials or to persons on the street.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Strict enforcement of domestic media censorship continued, with no toleration for deviation from the official government line. The government prohibited listening to foreign media broadcasts except by the political elite, and violators were subjected to severe punishment. Radios and television sets, unless altered, are set to receive only domestic programming; officials similarly altered radios obtained from abroad. Elite citizens and facilities for foreigners, such as hotels, had access to international television broadcasts via satellite. The government continued to attempt to jam all foreign radio broadcasts. Officials imprisoned and punished citizens for listening to foreign radio or watching foreign television broadcasts, and, in some cases, for simply owning radio or television sets able to receive nongovernment broadcasts.

INTERNET FREEDOM

Internet access for citizens was limited to high-ranking officials and other designated elites, including selected university students. A tightly controlled and regulated “intranet” was reportedly available to a slightly larger group of users, including an elite grade school; selected research institutions, universities, and factories; and a few individuals. The Korea Computer Center, which acts as the gatekeeper to the intranet, granted access only to information it deemed acceptable. The NGO Reporters Without Borders reported that some e-mail access existed through this internal network. Government employees sometimes had closely monitored access to the internet and had limited, closely monitored access to e-mail accounts.

In June 2015 press reported that foreign visitors in Pyongyang began receiving mobile alerts when they attempted to access Instagram, a social media app. Some experts speculated the state blocked the app in response to leaked photos of a fire in a luxury hotel in Pyongyang shared online through the app. In April North Korea formally announced it would block foreigners from visiting Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and South Korean websites. Foreign visitors reported Facebook and Twitter had been blocked for months prior to the announcement.

South Korean media reports indicated an increase in cyber hacking by North Korea during the year. Specifically, a South Korean website that focuses on North Korean issues, said, “To date, more than 50 defectors residing in South Korea have had their personal computers attacked by North Korean hackers.”

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government restricted academic freedom and controlled artistic works. Curriculum was highly controlled by the state. The government severely restricted academic travel. The primary function of plays, movies, operas, children’s performances, and books was to buttress the cult of personality surrounding the Kim family and support the regime.

The state carried out systematic indoctrination through the mass media, schools, and worker and neighborhood associations. Indoctrination continued to involve mass marches, rallies, and staged performances, sometimes including hundreds of thousands of persons.

The government continued its attempt to limit foreign influence on its citizens. Listening to foreign radio and watching foreign films are illegal. Individuals accused of viewing or possessing foreign films were reportedly subjected to imprisonment and possibly execution. According to the 2016 KINU white paper, a 2015 survey revealed that defectors witnessed proclamations posted indicating that that those caught watching South Korean movies or listening to South Korean music would be sentenced to death, in accordance with instructions announced by the regime in 2013.

Based on defector interviews conducted in 2015, the independent consulting firm InterMedia estimated that as many as 29 percent of defectors listened to foreign radio broadcasts while inside North Korea and that approximately 92 percent of defectors who were interviewed had seen foreign DVDs in North Korea.

The government intensified its focus on preventing the import of South Korean popular culture, especially television dramas. According to media and NGO reports, in enforcing restrictions on foreign films, authorities authorized police to search homes for contraband DVDs. Daily NK reported that Kim Jong Un created a special police unit to restrict and control the flow of outside information into the country.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

While the constitution provides for freedom of assembly, the government did not respect this provision and continued to prohibit public meetings not previously authorized and not under government control.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for freedom of association, but the government failed to respect this provision. There were no known organizations other than those created by the government. Professional associations existed primarily to facilitate government monitoring and control over organization members.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The law provides for the “freedom to reside in or travel to any place”; however, the government did not respect this right. The government continued to control internal travel carefully. The government did not cooperate with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees or other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons.

In-country Movement: The government continued to restrict freedom of movement for those lawfully within the state. Only members of a very small elite class and those with access to remittances from overseas reportedly had access to personal vehicles. A lack of infrastructure hampered movement, as did security checkpoints on main roads at entry and exit points from every town.

The government strictly controlled permission to reside in, or even to enter, Pyongyang, where food availability, housing, health, and general living conditions were much better than in the rest of the country. Foreign officials visiting the country observed checkpoints on the highway leading into Pyongyang.

Foreign Travel: The government also restricted foreign travel. The government limited issuance of exit visas for foreign travel to officials and trusted businesspersons, artists, athletes, academics, and workers. Short-term exit papers were available on a very limited basis for some residents to visit with relatives, for short-term work opportunities, or to engage in small-scale trade.

Exile: The government reportedly forced the internal exile of some citizens. In the past it forcibly resettled tens of thousands of persons from Pyongyang to the countryside. Sometimes this occurred as punishment for offenses and included those judged to be politically unreliable based on the social status of their family members.

Emigration and Repatriation: The government did not allow emigration, and reports stated that it continued severe, tight security on the border, dramatically limiting the flow of persons crossing into China without required permits. NGOs reported strict patrols and surveillance of residents of border areas and a crackdown on border guards who may have been aiding border crossers in return for bribes.

In September international press reported that China constructed a new facility to detain North Koreans without proper documentation. News reports in May 2015 stated that the DPRK had erected additional barbed-wire fencing on the North Korean side of the Tumen River.

The South Korean press reported that the government issued orders for guards to shoot to kill those attempting to leave without official sanction. NGOs reported that Kim Jong Un called for stricter punishments for those suspected of illegal border crossing. The law criminalizes defection and attempted defection, including the attempt to gain entry to a foreign diplomatic facility for the purpose of seeking political asylum. Individuals who cross the border with the purpose of defecting or seeking asylum in a third country are subject to a minimum of five years of “labor correction.” In “serious” cases the state subjects defectors or asylum seekers to indefinite terms of imprisonment and forced labor, confiscation of property, or death. Many would-be refugees returned involuntarily for foreign states received imprisonment under harsh conditions. Some sources indicated that authorities reserved particularly harsh treatment for those who had extensive contact with foreigners, including those with family members resettled in South Korea.

Past reports from defectors noted that the government differentiated between persons who crossed the border in search of food (who might be sentenced only to a few months of forced labor or in some cases merely issued a warning) and persons who crossed repeatedly for political purposes (who were sometimes sentenced to harsh punishment, including death). This included persons who had alleged contact with religious organizations based on the Chinese border. The law stipulates a sentence of up to two years of “labor correction” for the crime of illegally crossing the border.

The government subjected repatriated refugees to harsh punishments, including imprisonment. The government reportedly continued to enforce the policy that all border crossers be sent to prison or re-education centers.

On December 7, the ROK Unification Ministry said that the number of North Korean defectors coming to the ROK had increased 16.7 percent year-on-year, as more elites and overseas workers chose to flee their home country. According to the Unification Ministry, the total number of North Korean defectors resettled in the ROK exceeded 30,000. As of November, the number of North Koreans admitted during the year was expected to reach 1,400 by year’s end–the highest number since 2011. Observers attributed this increase to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s reign of terror and toughened sanctions on the North. According to South Korean media reports, the National Intelligence Service disclosed in October 2015 to the Intelligence Committee of the National Assembly that 46 members of the North Korean elite fled from North Korea in the past three years.

According to Seoul’s Ministry of Unification, North Korea’s second-highest diplomat at their embassy in London, Thae Yong Ho, defected to South Korea with his family in August. Media also widely reported that 13 North Korean restaurant workers defected from China to South Korea in April, one of the largest group defections in the past few years.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection for refugees. The government did not grant refugee status or asylum. The government had no known policy or provision for refugees or asylees and did not participate in international refugee fora.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

Citizens do not have the ability to choose their government peacefully.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The most recent national elections to select representatives to the Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA) occurred in 2014. These elections were neither free nor fair. The government openly monitored voting, resulting in a reported 100 percent participation rate and 100 percent approval of the preselected government candidates. Local elections on July 2015 were likewise neither free nor fair. The government reported a 99.97 percent turnout, with 100 percent approval for the government candidates.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The government has created several “minority parties.” Lacking grassroots organizations, the parties existed only as rosters of officials with token representation in the SPA. The government regularly criticized the concept of free elections and competition among political parties as an “artifact of capitalist decay.”

Participation of Women and Minorities: Women constituted approximately 4.5 percent of the membership of the Central Committee of the WPK but held few key WPK leadership positions.

The country is racially and ethnically homogenous. There are officially no minorities.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

We cannot verify whether the law provides criminal penalties for official corruption. While international organizations widely report that senior officials engage in corrupt practices with impunity, this year Kim Jong Un presided over a rare high-level government meeting to address rampant corruption by authorities.

Corruption: Foreign press outlets reported that Kim Jong Un’s high-level corruption meetings marked perhaps the first public recognition of systemic abuse of power believed to run rampant within the ruling party. While corruption was reportedly widespread in all parts of the economy and society and endemic in the security forces, this meeting was rare in publically acknowledging and criticizing these practices. Specifically it addressed the practice of senior officials who sought privileges, misused authority, abused power, and manifested bureaucratism in the party. Additionally, reports of diversion of food to the military and government officials and bribery were indicative of corruption in the government and security forces. Multiple ministries and party offices were responsible for handling issues of corruption.

Financial Disclosure: We do not know whether the state subjects public officials to financial disclosure laws and whether a government agency is responsible for combating corruption.

Public Access to Information: There are no known laws that provide for public access to government information.

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

There were no independent domestic organizations to monitor human rights conditions or comment on the status of such rights. The country reported that many organizations, including the Democratic Lawyers’ Association, General Association of Trade Unions, Agricultural Workers Union, and Democratic Women’s Union, engaged in human rights activities, but observers could not verify the activities of these organizations.

The international NGO community and numerous international experts continued to testify to the grave human rights situation in the country. The government decried international statements about human rights abuses in the country as politically motivated interference in internal affairs. The government asserted that criticism of its human rights record was an attempt by some countries to cover up their own abuses and that such hypocrisy undermined human rights principles.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government emphasized that it had ratified a number of UN human rights instruments, but it continued to refuse to cooperate with UN representatives. The government prevented the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DPRK from visiting the country to carry out his mandate, which it continued to refuse to recognize.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The government’s DPRK Association for Human Rights Studies denied the existence of any human rights violations.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The government appeared to criminalize rape, but no information was available on details of the law or how effectively it was enforced. According to the 2016 KINU white paper, the North Korean Law for the Protection of Women’s Rights includes a provision prohibiting domestic violence, but no legal provisions stipulating penalties for domestic violence. Defectors report that violence against women is a significant problem both inside and outside the home. According to the 2015 KINU survey of defectors conducted from 2011-15, 81 percent of respondents believed domestic violence was “common.” The UN COI report found the subjugation of inmates and a general climate of impunity created an environment in which guards and other prisoners in privileged positions raped female inmates. When cases of rape came to light, the perpetrator often escaped with mere dismissal or no punishment.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): FGM/C was not practiced in DPRK.

Sexual Harassment: Women who left the country reported that while citizens understood “sexual violation,” they did not define the term “sexual harassment” in the country. Despite the 1946 Law on Equality of the Sexes, defectors reported that the populace generally accepted sexual harassment of women due to patriarchal traditions. Defectors reported that there was little recourse for women who had been harassed.

Reproductive Rights: Obtaining accurate information regarding reproductive rights was difficult. The country’s initial report to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, submitted in 2002, claimed “family planning is mapped out by individual families in view of their actual circumstances and in compliance with laws, regulations, morality, and customs…women have the decision of the spacing of children in view of their own wish, health condition, and the like. But usually the spacing of children is determined by the discussion between the wife and the husband.” Independent sources were not able to substantiate this claim.

According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), a sociodemographic health survey conducted in 2014 estimated the contraceptive prevalence rate among married women was approximately 77 percent, up from 65 in 2010. The intrauterine device dominated almost all available methods of contraception. While 92 percent of demand for family planning was reportedly satisfied, contraceptive choice and access to counseling services were limited. Defector interviews indicate that those in prison camps or not in the privileged class do not share the same access as UNFPA respondents.

In 2014 more than 90 percent of pregnant women attended at least four antenatal clinic visits. While more than 90 percent of women delivered in health facilities, health infrastructure and the quality of services remain a concern. A needs assessment of emergency obstetric and neonatal care jointly undertaken by UNFPA and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in 2013 indicated that lower-level hospitals lacked sufficient medical instruments, equipment, and supplies. Surveyors identified a lack of knowledge and skills of health workers, as were gaps in the commodity logistics management system. The World Food Program found that 31 percent of women surveyed suffered from anemia, which increases the likelihood of maternal mortality and morbidity. A 2015 KINU survey of defectors found that 86 percent of respondents stated the family doctor system was “useless.”

The 2015 KINU white paper also cited very high levels of maternal and infant mortality. The state reportedly subjected pregnant women sentenced to detention centers following their repatriation to forced abortions.

Discrimination: The constitution states that “women hold equal social status and rights with men”; however, few women reached high levels of the party or the government. KINU reported that discrimination against women emerged in the form of differentiated pay scales, promotions, and types of work assigned to women.

The foreign press and think tanks reported that, while women were less likely than men to be assigned full-time jobs, they had more opportunity to work outside the socialist economy.

According to the KINU 2015 white paper, officials did not approve divorces without bribes.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship from one’s parents and, in some cases, birth within the country’s territory.

Education: The law provides for 12 years of free compulsory education for all children. Reports indicated that authorities denied some children educational opportunities and subjected them to punishments and disadvantages as a result of the loyalty classification system and the principle of “collective retribution” for the transgressions of family members. NGO reports also noted some children were unable to attend school regularly because of hidden fees or insufficient food. NGOs reported that children in the total control zones of political prisons did not receive the same curriculum or quality of education.

Foreign visitors and academic sources reported that from the fifth grade, schools subjected children to several hours a week of mandatory military training and that all children received political indoctrination.

Medical Care: We cannot confirm whether boys and girls had equal access to state-provided medical care. Access to health care largely depended on loyalty to the government.

Child Abuse: Information about societal or familial abuse of children remained unavailable. The law states that a man who has sexual intercourse with a girl under age 15 shall be “punished gravely.” There was no reporting on whether the government upheld this law.

Early and Forced Marriage: The law provides that the minimum age for marriage is 18 years old for men and 17 years old for women.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: As many girls and young women attempt to flee repressive and malnourished conditions for their own survival or the betterment of their family, the 2014 Commission of Inquiry noted they often become subjected to sexual exploitation by traffickers. Traffickers promised these young girls jobs in other parts of North Korea or in neighboring countries, but then sold them into forced marriages, domestic servitude, or made to work as prostitutes after being smuggled out of the country. Other traffickers waited across the North Korean border for women and girls to cross, abducting them and forcing them into exploitative situations. Girls trapped in these relationships are routinely subjected to sexual and physical violence and rape. One trafficking survivor stated that after being sold to a man in China, she spent the first six months locked in his house and was forced to have sex with him. Despite having begged every time not to have sex, he beat her when she tried to resist.

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: The 2016 KINU report said there were forced abortions of pregnant midget persons, as well as testimonies of a “program of sterilization of midget persons.”

Displaced Children: According to NGO reports, there were numerous street children, many of them orphans, who had inconsistent access to education.

Institutionalized Children: There were reports of children born into kwanliso political prison camps as a result of “reward marriages” between inmates. Guards subjected children living in prison camps to torture if they or a family member violated the prison rules. Reports noted that authorities subjected children to forced labor for up to 12 hours per day and did not allow them to leave the camps. Prisons offered them limited access to education.

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 travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

There was no known Jewish population, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

In 2013 the country announced that it modified its Person with Disability Protection Law in order to meet the international standards of rights for persons with disabilities. In the national report it presented during the May 2015 Universal Periodic Review, the government estimated persons with disabilities constituted 5.8 percent of the population.

While a 2003 law mandates equal access to public services for persons with disabilities, the state has not enacted the implementing legislation. Traditional social norms condone discrimination against persons with disabilities, including in the workplace (also see section 7.d.). While the state treated veterans with disabilities well, they reportedly sent other persons with physical and mental disabilities from Pyongyang to internal exile, quarantined within camps, and forcibly sterilized. Persons with disabilities experienced discrimination in accessing public life.

The Korean Federation for the Protection of the Disabled coordinated work with persons with disabilities countrywide. State media reported in July that the government launched a website for the protection of persons with disabilities, and they improved educational content in schools for children with disabilities to provide professional skills training. Independent observers were unable to verify the report.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child repeatedly expressed concern about de facto discrimination against children with disabilities and insufficient measures taken by the state to ensure these children had effective access to health, education, and social services.

The Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights 2013 report on the Status of Women’s Rights in the Context of Socio-Economic Changes in the DPRK found that the birth of a baby with disabilities–regardless of circumstances–was considered a “curse,” and doctors lacked training to diagnose and treat such persons. The report stated there were no welfare centers with specialized protection systems for those born with disabilities. Citizens’ Alliance also cited reports that the country maintained a center (Hospital 8.3) for abandoned individuals with disabilities, where officials subjected residents to chemical and biological testing.

UNICEF noted that very high levels of malnutrition indicated serious problems for both the physical growth and psychosocial development of young children. Final results from the 2012 National Nutrition Survey estimated 475,868 children (28 percent) were stunted and 68,225 children (4 percent) acutely malnourished. The report concluded that the acute nutritional status of children had improved moderately since they last carried out a nationwide survey including nutrition indicators in 2009.

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

There are no laws against consensual same-sex activity, but little information was available on discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. In April 2014 the Korean Central News Agency, the state news agency, denied the existence of consensual same-sex activity in the country and reported, “The practice can never be found in the DPRK boasting of sound mentality and good morals.” In February defector Jang Yeong-jin published a memoir entitled “A Mark of Red Honor” in which he provided a first-person account of a homosexual person living in the DPRK. He noted there is no concept of homosexuality and no awareness of the issue among the populace. He could not enjoy an ordinary, regular life.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

No information was available regarding discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The constitution provides for freedom of association, but workers do not have the right to form or join independent unions, strike, or bargain collectively. Unlawful assembly may result in five years of correctional labor. While the law stipulates that employees working for foreign companies may form trade unions and that foreign enterprises must provide conditions for union activities, the law does not protect workers who might attempt to engage in union activities from employer retaliation, nor does it provide penalties for employers who interfere in union activities.

There were no known labor organizations other than those created and controlled by the government. The WPK purportedly represents the interests of all labor. The central committee of the WPK directly controls several labor organizations in the country, including the General Federation of Trade Unions of Korea and the Union of Agricultural Workers of Korea. Operating under this umbrella, unions functioned according to a classic Stalinist model, with responsibility for mobilizing workers to support production goals and for providing health, education, cultural, and welfare facilities.

The government controlled all aspects of employment, including assigning jobs and determining wages. Joint ventures and foreign-owned companies were required to hire their employees from government-vetted lists. The government organized factory and farm workers into councils, which had an effect on management decisions. They established the first special economic zone (SEZ) in the Rajin-Sonbong area in 1991. The same labor laws that apply in the rest of the country apply in the Rajin-Sonbong SEZ. The government selected the workers permitted to work in the SEZ. The government announced the establishment of 13 new SEZs in 2013, six additional SEZs in 2014, and two more SEZs in 2015.

In February the ROK government closed the Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC), citing North Korea’s “extremely provocative act” of launching a satellite using ballistic missile technology. Under a special law the KIC, located close to the demilitarized zone between the ROK and the DPRK, operated under special regulations covering labor issues that did not contain provisions that stipulate freedom of association or the right to bargain collectively. The government reportedly selected worker representatives in KIC workplaces, subject to the approval of South Korean company management (also see sections 7.b. and 7.e.).

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor. Nonetheless, the government mobilized the population for construction and other labor projects. “Reformatory labor” and “re-education through labor,” sometimes of entire families, have traditionally been common punishments for political offenses. Forced and compulsory labor in such activities as logging, mining, tending crops, and manufacturing continued to be the common fate of political prisoners. Re-education involved memorizing speeches by Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il.

The law requires all citizens of working age to work and “strictly observe labor discipline and working hours.” There were numerous reports that farms and factories did not pay wages or provide food to their workers. Forced labor continued to take place in brick making, cement manufacturing, coal mining, gold mining, logging, iron production, agriculture, and textile industries. NGOs reported authorities ordered some university students to abandon their studies to work on campus beautification projects early in 2015.

According to reports from an NGO, during the implementation of short-term economic plans, factories and farms increased workers’ hours and asked workers for contributions of grain and money to purchase supplies for renovations and repairs. By law failure to meet economic plan goals may result in two years of “labor correction.” There were reports that workers were required to work at enterprises to which the government assigned them and then failed to compensate or undercompensated them for their work. Additionally, in the Kaesong Industrial Complex, South Korean employers paid wages for North Korean workers directly to DPRK authorities. Workers were reportedly aware of their monthly earnings as companies required them to sign time records acknowledging salaries paid to North Korean managers on their behalf, yet it remained unclear how much of these earnings were transferred to individual workers (also see section 7.e.).

The NGO Human Rights Watch reported that the government operated regional, local, or subdistrict level “labor training centers” and forced detainees to work for short periods doing hard labor, receiving little food, and subject to abuse, including regular beatings. Authorities reportedly sent individuals to such centers if suspected of engaging in simple trading schemes or unemployed.

There were an estimated 50,000 to 80,000 North Korean citizens working as overseas laborers, primarily in Russia and China. The UN special rapporteur on the DPRK noted that while the state sent most to Russia and China to work, they were also reportedly found in Algeria, Angola, Bangladesh, Burma, Cambodia, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Ghana, Indonesia, Kyrgyzstan, Kuwait, Libya, Malta, Malaysia, Mongolia, Mozambique, Nepal, Nigeria, Oman, Poland, Qatar, Singapore, South Sudan, Tanzania, and the United Arab Emirates. Numerous NGOs noted that these citizens were in conditions of forced labor. NGO reports indicated the government managed these laborers as a matter of state policy and were under constant and close surveillance by DPRK security agents. Laborers worked between 12 and 16 hours per day, and sometimes up to 20 hours per day, with only one or two rest days per month. Employers stated the average wage as 270,000 to 900,000 won per month ($300 to $1,000), but in most cases employing firms paid salaries directly to the DPRK government, which took between 70 percent and 90 percent of the total earnings, leaving approximately 90,000 won ($100) per month for worker take home pay. The government reportedly received in the $100s of millions (more than a trillion won) from this system per year. The state reportedly withheld some wages in certain instances until the laborers returned home after the completion of their three-year contracts, making them vulnerable to deception and exploitation by authorities. On June 8, the DPRK forced laborers in Kuwait went on strike after failing to receive their salaries in a rare display of defiance against the government. The workers took this action after a state construction company operating in Kuwait informed them they would be paid with checks rather than in cash for their monthly salary. In the aftermath of the protest, DPRK officials summoned the workers back to the DPRK. A similar strike took place in Qatar in March when employers forced workers to increase their hours without additional pay.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

By law the state prohibits work by children under age 16. Neither the general labor law nor Kaesong Industrial Complex labor law prohibits hazardous child labor. The law criminalizes forced child labor, but there were reports that such practices occurred.

Officials occasionally sent schoolchildren to work in factories or fields for short periods to assist in completing special projects, such as snow removal on major roads or meeting production goals. The NGO Human Rights Watch reported in 2015 that the government required students to work without pay on farms twice a year, for one month at a time, during ploughing and seeding and again at harvest time. The effects of such forced labor on students included physical and psychological injuries, malnutrition, exhaustion, and growth deficiencies. NGOs reported government officials held thousands of children and forced them to work in labor camps with their parents.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

While the law provides that all citizens “may enjoy equal rights in all spheres of state and public activities” and all “able-bodied persons may choose occupations in accordance with their wishes and skills,” the law does not prohibit discrimination with respect to employment or occupation on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, social status, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, language, HIV-positive status, or other communicable diseases. There is no direct reference to employment discrimination in the law, yet classification based on the songbun system has a bearing on equal employment opportunities and equal pay.

Despite the law according women equal social status and rights, societal and legal discrimination against women continued. The 2014 UN COI report noted that, despite the economic advancement of women, the state continued to discriminate against them and imposed many restrictions on the female-dominated market. Persons with disabilities also faced employment discrimination.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

No reliable data were available on the minimum wage in state-owned industries. Monthly wages in some enterprises in the heavy industrial sectors as well as in the textile and garment sector reportedly increased from 3,000 to 4,000 won ($0.30 to$0.40) to 30,000 won ($30) in 2013, with approximately one-third of the wage paid in cash and the remainder in kind.

The law stipulates an eight-hour workday; however, some sources reported that laborers worked longer hours, perhaps including additional time for mandatory study of the writings of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il. The law provides all citizens with a “right to rest,” including one day’s rest per week (Sunday), paid leave, holidays, and access to sanitariums and rest homes funded at public expense; however, the state’s willingness and ability to provide these services were unknown. Foreign diplomats reported that workers had 15 days of paid leave plus paid national holidays.

The law recognizes the state’s responsibility for providing modern and hygienic working conditions. The law criminalizes the failure to heed “labor safety orders” pertaining to worker safety and workplace conditions, but only if the conditions result in the loss of lives or other “grave loss.” Workers themselves do not have a designated right to remove themselves from hazardous working conditions.

Mandatory participation in mass events on holidays and practice sessions for such events sometimes compromised leave or rest from work. Workers were often required to “celebrate” at least some part of public holidays with their work units and were able to spend an entire day with their families only if the holiday lasted two days. Failures to pay wages were common and reportedly drove some workers to seek income-generating activity in the informal or underground economy.

Many worksites were hazardous, and the industrial accident rate was high. Citizens labored under harsh conditions while working abroad for state-owned firms and under arrangements between the government and foreign firms (see section 7.b.).

Endnote: Note on Sourcing

The United States does not have diplomatic relations with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The DPRK does not allow representatives of foreign governments, journalists, or other invited guests the freedom of movement that would enable them to assess fully human rights conditions or confirm reported abuses.

Iran

Executive Summary

The Islamic Republic of Iran is a theocratic republic with a Shia Islamic political system based on “velayat-e faqih” (“guardianship of the jurist” or “rule by the jurisprudent”). Shia clergy, most notably the “Rahbar” (“supreme jurisprudent” or “supreme leader”) and political leaders vetted by the clergy dominated key power structures. While mechanisms for popular election existed within the structure of the state, the supreme leader held significant influence over the legislative and executive branches of government through unelected councils under his authority and held constitutional authority over the judiciary, the government-run media, and the armed forces. The supreme leader also indirectly controlled the internal security forces and other key institutions. Since 1989 the supreme leader has been Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. In 2013 voters elected Hassan Rouhani president who, on December 19, issued a 120 article Charter on Citizens’ Rights. In the last parliamentary and Assembly of Experts elections held this year, candidate vetting by the unelected Guardian Council and restrictions on the media limited the freedom and fairness of these elections.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

The most significant human rights (HR) problems were severe restrictions on civil liberties, including the freedoms of assembly, association, speech, religion, and press. Other HR problems included abuse of due process combined with use of capital punishment for crimes that do not meet the requirements of due process, as well as cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; and disregard for the physical integrity of persons, whom authorities arbitrarily and unlawfully detained, tortured, or killed.

Other reported human rights problems included politically motivated violence and repression; disappearances; limitations on citizens’ ability to choose their government peacefully through free and fair elections. Of additional concern were harsh and life-threatening conditions in detention facilities, including lengthy solitary confinement, with instances of deaths in custody. Also of concern were arbitrary arrest and lengthy pretrial detention, sometimes incommunicado; continued impunity of the security forces; denial of fair public trial; the lack of an independent judiciary; arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home, and correspondence. Additionally there were severe restrictions on academic freedom; restrictions on freedom of movement; official corruption and lack of government transparency; constraints on investigations by international and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) into alleged violations of human rights; legal and societal discrimination. There was also violence against women, ethnic and religious minorities, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons. Lastly, there were significant HR problems with trafficking in persons and severe restrictions on the exercise of labor rights.

The government took few steps to investigate, prosecute, punish, or otherwise hold accountable officials, in the security services or elsewhere in government, who committed these abuses. Impunity remained pervasive throughout all levels of the government and security forces.

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 and its agents reportedly committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, including, most commonly, by execution after arrest and trial without due process, or for crimes that did not meet the threshold of most serious crimes. The government made few and limited attempts to investigate allegations of deaths that occurred after or during reported torture or other physical abuse or after denying detainees medical treatment.

There were numerous reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. According to unofficial reports, the government executed 469 persons by December 15, often after trials that did not adhere to basic principles of due process. These included individuals charged with crimes committed while under 18 years old. The government officially announced 114 executions by August, but it did not release further information for many, such as the dates of executions, the names of those executed, or the crimes for which they were executed.

The law provides for the death penalty in cases of murder, “attempts against the security of the state,” “outrage against high-ranking officials,” “moharebeh” (enmity towards or waging war against God or “drawing a weapon on the life, property, or chastity of persons or to cause terror as it creates the atmosphere of insecurity”), “fisad fil-arz” (corruption on earth–including apostasy or heresy), rape, adultery, drug possession and trafficking, recidivist alcohol use, consensual same-sex sexual activity, and “insults against the memory of Imam Khomeini (the previous supreme leader) and against the supreme leader of the Islamic Republic.” Prosecutors frequently used moharebeh as a criminal charge against political dissidents and journalists, accusing them of struggling against the precepts of Islam and against the state, which upholds those precepts. Authorities have expanded the scope of this to include “working to undermine the Islamic establishment” and “cooperating with foreign agents or entities,” according to academics. The judiciary is required to review and validate death sentences.

On August 2, the government executed 20 Iranian Sunni Kurds in Rajai Shahr prison, including Shahram Ahmadi for “enmity towards God.” The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran (ICHRI) reported Ahmadi was held in solitary confinement for 34 months of his sentence and executed based on a forced confession he had tried to appeal.

While the death sentence on charges of “corruption on earth” for spiritual leader Mohamed Ali Taheri was annulled in December 2015 and he was scheduled for release after serving a five-year sentence, new charges alleging his membership in a Marxist party were added on May 2. Although he was acquitted of all charges in June, he remained in prison at year’s end on a hunger strike he began on September 30 protesting his detention. As of October 16, his family reportedly was not allowed to see him.

In his March 10 report to the UN Human Rights Council, Ahmed Shaheed, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, reported that the penal code retained the death penalty for consensual same-sex sexual activity. According to Amnesty International (AI), Hassan Afshar, arrested in 2014 when he was 17 and charged with sodomy in July 2015, was executed by hanging on July 18.

Authorities carried out many executions in public. According to a September report by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, at least 10 executions were carried out publicly in the first six months of the year, including some in the presence of minors. NGO reports suggested that the actual figure was significantly higher.

There were also deaths in custody. Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) reported that Nader Dastanpour died in custody at the Narmak 127 Police Station in Tehran after he and his brother were arrested in the morning of June 23. Dastanpour had visible signs of beating when he appeared before the Branch Seven Judicial Court judges, but authorities denied his request for a hospital transfer. He died several days later, according to his brother, after a cerebral hemorrhage caused by excessive beatings.

The penal code allows for the execution of juvenile offenders starting at age nine for girls and age 13 for boys. According to AI the government executed at least one juvenile offender, Hassan Afshar, on July 18. AI reported on October 11 that Zainab Sekaanvand, arrested at age 17 in 2012 for the murder of her husband, whom she had married at 15, was at risk of imminent execution.

Adultery remained punishable by death by stoning. According to the NGO Justice for Iran, provincial authorities have been ordered not to provide public information about stoning sentences since 2001. Justice for Iran reported there were two unnamed women sentenced to stoning in the past year, but there were no confirmed reports of death by stoning during the year.

Impunity for past unlawful killings continued. Family members of Sattar Beheshti, who died in police custody in 2012, were arrested on August 26 after visiting police and prison offices in Tehran to press for information about his death, according to HRANA.

b. Disappearance

There were reports of politically motivated abductions during the year attributed to government officials. The government made no effort to prevent or investigate such acts and punish those responsible. Plainclothes officials often seized journalists and activists without warning, and government officials refused to acknowledge custody or provide information on them. In other cases authorities held persons incommunicado for lengthy periods before permitting them to contact family members.

Hashem Zeinali, the father of missing student activist Saeed Zeinali, was sentenced to 91 days in prison and 74 lashes by the Tehran Criminal Court on February 22 for “disturbing the public order by participating in an illegal gathering,” after he staged a protest at Evin Prison holding a photo of his missing son. Saeed Zeinali has been missing since his arrest in 1999 after student protests in Tehran. ICHRI Judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei said in January, “so far no document has been found showing that [Saeed Zeinali] was arrested.”

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

The constitution prohibits all forms of torture “for the purpose of extracting confession or acquiring information,” but there were credible reports that security forces and prison personnel tortured and abused detainees and prisoners. Commonly reported methods of torture and abuse in prisons included prolonged solitary confinement or “white” torture, threats of execution or rape, forced virginity tests, sexual humiliation, sleep deprivation, electroshock, burnings, the use of pressure positions, and severe and repeated beatings. Human rights organizations, including Iran Human Rights, reported that authorities also used denial of medical care as a form of punishment for prisoners.

Some prison facilities, including Evin Prison in Tehran and Rajai Shahr Prison in Karaj, were notorious for the use of cruel and prolonged torture of political opponents of the government, particularly Wards 209 and Two of Evin Prison, which were reportedly controlled by the IRGC. Authorities also allegedly maintained unofficial secret prisons and detention centers outside the national prison system where abuse reportedly occurred.

Judicially sanctioned corporal punishment included flogging, blinding, and amputation, which the government defended as “punishment,” not torture. According to Iran Human Rights, authorities amputated four fingers of the right hands of Faramarz and Majid Bigham on December 25 as punishment for their 2011 robbery convictions. Under the penal code, 149 offenses are punishable by flogging. According to Reporters Without Borders, journalist Mohammad Reza Fathi was sentenced to 459 lashes for “defamation” and “publishing false information” on April 13 in Saveh for his writings about local government officials. Media reported on May 27 that 30 students were arrested and given 99 lashes each for attending a mixed gender gathering in Qazvin where women were not dressed in legally required attire and members of the party were “dancing and jubilating” together. International media reported that authorities blinded a man on November 8 as punishment for assaulting a child in a 2009 acid attack that left her blind.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions reportedly were often harsh and life threatening. Prisoner hunger strikes in protest of their treatment were common. Prisoners were often denied adequate medical treatment. Overcrowding was a problem. Refugee detainees were sometimes held in separate facilities and in some cases deported.

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding remained a problem in prisons with many prisoners forced to sleep on floors, in hallways, or in prison yards. HRANA reported that Mahabad Prison housed 700 prisoners, while its capacity was only 400.

Authorities occasionally held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners and juvenile offenders with adult offenders. According to HRANA juvenile detainees were held alongside adult prisoners in some prisons, including specifically Saghez Central Prison in the province of Kurdistan. Authorities held women separately from men. According to the online media outlet, IranWire, infants under two years old are required to remain in prison with their mothers, and government statistics put the number of infant children currently in prison at 426. IranWire reported that multiple prisons across the country housed older children who lived with their incarcerated mothers without access to medical care or educational and recreational facilities.

Authorities often held political prisoners in separate prisons, wards, or in solitary confinement for long periods. Human rights activists and the international media also reported cases of political prisoners confined with accused and convicted violent criminals. Former prisoners reported that authorities often threatened political prisoners with transfer to criminal wards, where attacks were likely. HRANA reported that two political prisoners in Evin had been transferred to Ward Seven of the prison where they were attacked by nonpolitical prisoners on February 10.

There were reports of prisoner suicides. According to HRANA Mohsen Marzban committed suicide by ingesting pills on July 8 and died in Rajai Shahr Prison clinic. According to other prisoners, Marzban committed suicide because of continued harassment by the ward manager who routinely moved him to wards with violent prisoners where he was repeatedly attacked with knifes and other sharp objects.

Prison authorities often refused medical treatment for pre-existing conditions, injuries that prisoners suffered at the hands of prison authorities, and for illness due to the poor sanitary conditions in prison. According to ICHRI Kurdish women’s activist Zeinab Jalalian, serving a life sentence for “enmity against God,” was denied medical treatment or furlough despite the need for surgery for pterygium of the eye and boils on her tongue.

According to AI, Kurdish political prisoner, Afshin Sohrabzadeh, was denied medical care for intestinal cancer that resulted in recurring gastrointestinal bleeding. Originally arrested in Sanandaj in 2000 for membership in the banned Communist Party of Iran, he was sentenced to 25 years in prison and attempted suicide in 2013. He was granted brief medical leave on June 25 but was required to pay all his medical expenses in full, although he had coverage under Iran’s national health care system. He has since been returned to detention.

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) ruled Bahareh Hedayat’s imprisonment since 2009 was arbitrary and against international law on June 14 and expressed “grave concern about Hedayat’s deteriorating health since her detention in December 2009, particularly the allegations made by the source that she has not been provided with adequate medical care and that this may result in irreparable harm to her health and leave her permanently sterile.” Hedayat, a women’s and students’ rights defender, was sentenced in 2010 to seven and a half years in prison for “interviews with foreign media,” “insulting the supreme leader,” “insulting the president,” and “disrupting public order through participating in illegal gatherings.” She was released on bail on September 3.

Omid Kokabee, a postdoctoral student imprisoned in 2011 and sentenced to 10 years for charges including “communicating with a hostile government,” underwent kidney surgery in May where he remained chained to his hospital bed throughout treatment. Iranian media reported he had been granted conditional release by the Tehran Appeals Court on August 29.

According to IranWire, security officials routinely raided prison wards. During these raids guards beat both political and nonpolitical prisoners, performed nude body searches in front of other prisoners, and threatened prisoners’ families. In some instances according to HRANA, guards singled out political prisoners for harsher treatment. On June 10, ICHRI published accounts of women prisoners reporting abusive behavior on the part of female prison guards aimed at humiliating them. This included verbal abuse, rough handling, and inappropriate and unnecessary physical contact.

Administration: Official public statistics on the prison population were limited. There were no reports on steps to improve recordkeeping or confirmation whether the penal system employed prison ombudspersons to respond to complaints. Authorities sometimes used alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent offenders, including probation, house arrest, employment bans, religious rehabilitation study, internal exile from their province of residence, and foreign travel bans.

Prisoners generally had access to visitors and telephone and other correspondence privileges weekly, but authorities often revoked these privileges. It was not known whether prisoners could practice religions other than Shia Islam while incarcerated. Prisoners were able to submit complaints to judicial authorities but often faced censorship and retribution for doing so (see section 1.a.). Authorities did not initiate credible investigations into allegations of inhuman conditions. Families of executed prisoners did not always receive notification of their deaths, and authorities frequently denied them the ability to perform funeral rights. HRANA reported that authorities of Uremia Central Prison refused to deliver the body of Kurdish political prisoner Mohammad Abdollahi to his family after his execution on August 8 and prohibited them from holding his funeral in a mosque.

Independent Monitoring: The government did not permit independent monitoring of prison conditions. Prisoners and their families often wrote letters to authorities and, in some cases, to UN bodies to highlight and protest their treatment. The UN Special Rapporteur reported that authorities sometimes subjected prisoners to threats after accusing them of contacting his office.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

Although the constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, they occurred frequently during the year. On December 19, authorities announced the publication of a Citizen’s Rights Charter that enumerated various freedoms, including “security of their person, property, dignity, employment, legal and judicial process, social security, and the like.” Its provisions were not implemented by year’s end.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Several agencies shared responsibility for law enforcement and maintaining order, including the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) and law enforcement forces under the Interior Ministry, which report to the president, and the IRGC, which reports directly to the supreme leader. The Basij, a volunteer paramilitary group with local organizations across the country, sometimes acted as an auxiliary law enforcement unit subordinate to IRGC ground forces. Basij units often engaged in repression of political opposition elements or intimidation of civilians accused of violating the country’s strict moral code without formal guidance or supervision from superiors. The supreme leader holds ultimate authority over all security agencies.

Corruption and impunity remained problems within police forces. Human rights groups frequently accused regular and paramilitary security forces, such as the Basij, of committing numerous human rights abuses, including acts of violence against protesters and participants in public demonstrations. According to July remarks from the Tehran Prosecutor General, Abbas Jafari-Dolatabadi, the attorney general is responsible for investigating and punishing security force abuses, but the process was not transparent, and there were few reports of government actions to discipline abusers.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The constitution and penal code require a warrant or subpoena for an arrest and state that an arrested person should be informed of the charges against them within 24 hours. In a July meeting between the deputies of the General and Revolutionary Courts of Tehran, Tehran Prosecutor General, Jafari-Dolatabadi, stated, “regardless of the type of charge and positive evidences, the rights of the inmate must be taken into consideration in all respected cases, the judges should try to avoid infringement of the rights of the accused.” Despite this statement, authorities often violated these procedures by holding some detainees, at times incommunicado, for weeks or months without charge or trial and frequently denying them contact with family or timely access to legal representation. The law obligates the government to provide indigent defendants with attorneys only for certain types of crimes. The courts set prohibitively high bail, even for lesser crimes and, in many cases, courts did not set bail. Authorities often compelled detainees and their families to submit property deeds to post bail, effectively silencing them due to fear of losing their families’ property.

The government placed persons under house arrest without due process to restrict their movement and communication. At year’s end former presidential candidates Mehdi Karroubi and Mir Hossein Mousavi, as well as Mousavi’s wife Zahra Rahnavard, remained under house arrest imposed in 2011 without formal charges. Security forces restricted their access to visitors and limited their access to information.

Arbitrary Arrest: Authorities commonly used arbitrary arrests to impede alleged antiregime activities. Plainclothes officers arrived unannounced at homes or offices, arrested persons, conducted raids, and confiscated private documents, passports, computers, electronic media, and other personal items without warrants or assurances of due process. Individuals often remained in detention facilities for long periods without charges or trials, and authorities sometimes prevented them from informing others of their whereabouts for several days. Authorities often denied detainees’ access to legal counsel during this period and imposed travel bans on individuals released on bail or pending trial.

Newspaper editor Sadra Mohaghegh was arrested on September 19 by security forces, which did not identify which security agency they represented or what he charges authorities placed against him. They raided his home and confiscated laptops and phones belonging to him and his family. He was released on bail on October 1.

Prominent political cartoonist Hadi Heidari, who was arrested without charges in November 2015, was released on parole in May.

Arbitrary and prolonged detentions of dual nationals–that is, individuals who are citizens of both Iran and another country–on politically motivated charges appeared to have increased during the year. Like other Iranians in similar situations, dual nationals generally faced a variety of due process violations, including lack of prompt access to a lawyer of their choosing, and brief trials during which they were not allowed access to evidence against them or the ability to defend them. In some cases courts sentenced such individuals to 10 years or more in prison.

Detainee is Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Detainees are entitled to appeal their sentences in courts of law, but are not entitled to compensation for detention and were often held for extended periods without any legal proceedings.

Pretrial Detention: Pretrial detention was often arbitrarily lengthy, particularly in cases involving alleged violations of national security laws. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), a judge may prolong detention at his discretion, and pretrial detention often lasted for months. Often authorities held pretrial detainees in custody with the general prison population.

Amnesty: According to the Constitution, the Supreme Leader may pardon or reduce the sentences of convicts upon a recommendation from the head of the judiciary. The supreme leader pardoned 705 prisoners on the holiday commemorating the birth of Imam Reza; none was a political prisoner, according to Fars News.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides that the judiciary be “an independent power” that is “free from every kind of unhealthy relation and connection.” The court system was subject to political influence, and judges were appointed “in accordance with religious criteria.” The supreme leader appoints the head of the judiciary. The head of the judiciary, members of the Supreme Court, and the prosecutor general were clerics. International observers continued to criticize the lack of independence of the country’s judicial system and judges, and maintained that trials disregarded international standards of fairness.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

According to the constitution and criminal procedure code, a defendant has the right to a fair trial, to be presumed innocent until convicted, to have access to a lawyer of his or her choice, and to appeal convictions in most cases that involve major penalties. These rights were not upheld. Panels of judges adjudicate trials in civil and criminal courts. Human rights activists reported trials in which authorities appeared to have determined the verdicts in advance, and defendants did not have the opportunity to confront their accusers, meet with lawyers, or have access to government-held evidence. The code of criminal procedure adopted in 2015 restricted the choice of attorneys to a government-approved list for defendants charged with crimes against national security and for journalists.

The government often charged political dissidents with vague crimes, such as “antirevolutionary behavior,” “corruption on earth,” “siding with global arrogance,” “moharebeh,” and “crimes against Islam.” Prosecutors imposed strict penalties on government critics for minor violations. When post-revolutionary statutes did not address a situation, the government advised judges to give precedence to their knowledge and interpretation of “sharia” (Islamic law). Under this method judges may find a person guilty based on their own “divine knowledge,” or they may issue more lenient sentences for persons who kill others considered “deserving of death.” Authorities designed other trials, especially those of political prisoners, to publicize coerced confessions. On August 3, Tasnim News Agency aired video confessions of prisoners from Rajai Shahr Prison, some of whom were subsequently executed.

During the year human rights groups noted the absence of procedural safeguards in criminal trials. Courts admitted as evidence confessions made under duress or torture. In his March 10 report, the UN special rapporteur cited continuing “blindfolding, harassment, ill-treatment, torture, and coerced confessions during pretrial detention and interrogations.” HRANA reported on March 7 that Tehran Chief of Police, Hossein Sajedinia, announced the arrest of more than a hundred “hooligans,” who were jailed for a month without phone calls, visits, or access to a lawyer. Authorities allegedly beat the detainees until they recorded confessions admitting to crimes “disrupting social order.”

The Special Clerical Court is headed by a Shia Islamic legal scholar, overseen by the supreme leader, and charged with investigating alleged offenses committed by clerics and issuing rulings based on an independent interpretation of Islamic legal sources. The constitution does not provide for the court, which operated outside the judiciary’s purview. Clerical courts were used to prosecute Shia clerics who expressed controversial ideas and participated in activities outside the sphere of religion, such as journalism or reformist political activities.

Local media reported on the November 27 sentencing of prominent cleric, Hojjatoleslam Ahmad Montazeri, to 21 years in prison by the Qom branch of the Special Clerical Court for “endangering national security” and “leaking secrets of the Islamic system” after he posted audio recordings of his father, the late dissident cleric, Hossein Ali Montazeri, condemning the 1988 mass execution of political prisoners.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

Statistics regarding the number of citizens imprisoned for their political beliefs were not available. The human rights NGO United for Iran estimates there are 905 prisoners of conscience in Iran, including those jailed for their religious beliefs.

On May 18, the Guardian Council approved a new political crimes bill that defined political crimes and the treatment of political prisoners. The new law defines a political crime as an insult against the government, as well as “the publication of lies.” It also includes any violation of a law governing political parties, trade associations, labor unions, Islamic organizations, election procedures, or religious minority groups. Such acts are defined as political crimes only if they “are committed with the intent of reforming the domestic or foreign policies of Iran” while those with the intent to damage “the foundations of the regime,” are considered national security crimes. The court and the public prosecutor’s office retain responsibility for determining the nature of the crime.

The new political crimes bill grants the accused certain rights during arrest and imprisonment. Political criminals are to be housed in jail facilities separate from ordinary criminals, exempted from wearing prison uniforms, not subject to the rules governing repeat offenses, not subject to extradition, and exempted from solitary confinement unless judicial officials deem it necessary. They also have the right to regularly see and correspond with immediate family and to access books, newspapers, radio, and television. The law came into effect in June; however, many of its provisions have not been implemented and the government continued to arrest and charge students, journalists, lawyers, political activists, women’s activists, artists, and members of religious minorities and with “national security” crimes that did not fall under the political crimes bill.

The government reportedly held some persons in prison for years on unfounded charges of sympathizing with alleged terrorist groups. According to the press, NGOs, and the testimony of former prisoners, authorities often held political prisoners in solitary confinement for extended periods, denying them due process and access to legal representation. Political prisoners were also at greater risk of torture and abuse in detention and often mixed with the general prison population despite the political crimes bill stipulation that they have their own facilities. The government often placed political prisoners in prisons far from their families and denied them correspondence rights. The government issued travel bans on some former political prisoners, barred them from working in their professional sectors for years after incarceration, and imposed internal exile on others. The government did not permit international humanitarian organizations or UN representatives access to political prisoners.

Human rights defender and journalist, Narges Mohammadi, was sentenced to 16 years in prison by a revolutionary court in Tehran in May on charges of “propaganda against the state,” “assembly and collusion against national security,” and “establishing the antisecurity and illegal ‘Step by Step to Stop the Death Penalty’ party.” An appeals court upheld her sentence on September 28. Prison authorities repeatedly denied her medical attention for pulmonary embolism and nerve system paralysis, as well as denying her family visitation and telephone calls, according to media reports.

During the year the government released some political prisoners, including dual Canadian-Iranian citizen, Homa Hoodfar, who was arrested in March on charges of fomenting a “feminist revolution” and released six months later. Authorities occasionally gave political prisoners suspended sentences and released them on bail with the understanding that renewed political activity could return them to prison. The government also tried to intimidate activists by temporarily suspending court proceedings against them, while leaving open the option of rearrest at any time. The government also summoned them repeatedly for questioning and confiscated personal belongings such as phones, laptops, and passports.

Lawyers who defended political prisoners were occasionally arrested. The government continued to imprison lawyers and others affiliated with the Defenders of Human Rights Center advocacy group. The health condition of human rights lawyer with the Center, Abdolfattah Soltani, deteriorated throughout the year. He was granted medical furlough on January 17 for 21 days, and returned to prison prior to full recovery, according to ICHRI. Originally imprisoned in 2011, he is serving a 13-year prison sentence for “being awarded the [2009] Nuremberg International Human Rights Award,” “interviewing with the media about his clients’ cases,” and “co-founding the Defenders of Human Rights Center” with Nobel Peace laureate Shirin Ebadi.

The government has periodically jailed political activist and lawyer, Nasrin Sotoudeh, on various charges, and authorities briefly suspended her license to practice law due to her advocacy for prisoners of conscience. She was most recently summoned to appear in court on September 3 on unknown charges. According to ICHRI while her license to practice law has been reinstated, she is only allowed to take general civil cases and barred from working on any political or security related cases.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Citizens had limited ability to sue the government and were not able to bring lawsuits against the government for civil or human rights violations through domestic courts.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

The constitution allows the government to confiscate property acquired illicitly or in a manner not in conformity with Islamic law. The government appeared to target ethnic and religious minorities in invoking this provision.

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

The constitution states that “reputation, life, property, [and] dwelling[s]” are protected from trespass, except as “provided by law.” The government routinely infringed on this right. Security forces monitored the social activities of citizens, entered homes and offices, monitored telephone conversations and internet communications, and opened mail without court authorization.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression and of the press, except when words are deemed “detrimental to the fundamental principles of Islam or the rights of the public.” According to the penal code, “anyone who engages in any type of propaganda against the Islamic Republic of Iran or in support of opposition groups and associations shall be sentenced to three months to one year of imprisonment.” The law also provides for prosecution of persons accused of instigating crimes against the state or national security or “insulting” Islam. The government severely restricted freedom of speech and of the press and used the law to intimidate or prosecute persons who directly criticized the government or raised human rights problems, as well as to bring ordinary citizens into adherence with the government’s moral code.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: Although the government issued a Citizen’s Rights Charter with protections for free expression that states, “no one can be persecuted merely for his or her beliefs” on December 19, the law continues to limit freedom of speech, including by members of the press. Authorities did not permit individuals to criticize publicly the country’s system of government, supreme leader, or official religion. Security forces and the country’s judiciary punished those who violated these restrictions as well as those who publicly criticized the president, the cabinet, and the Islamic Consultative Assembly (parliament). The government monitored meetings, movements, and communications of its citizens and often charged persons with crimes against national security and insulting the regime based on letters, e‑mails, and other public and private communications. Authorities threatened arrest or punishment for the expression of ideas or images they viewed as violations of the legal moral code.

According to AI retired university professor Mohammad Hossein Rafiee Fanood, who was in prison on charges of “spreading propaganda against the state,” and “membership in an illegal group” was briefly hospitalized in August and returned to prison before full recovery. He was released on medical furlough in September, and has been banned from political and journalistic activities for two years.

Former President Mohamed Khatami remained barred from giving public remarks, and the media remained banned from publishing his name or image.

Press and Media Freedoms: The government’s Press Supervisory Board issues press licenses, which it sometimes revoked in response to articles critical of the government or the regime, or did not renew for individuals facing criminal charges or incarcerated for political reasons. During the year the government banned, blocked, closed, or censored publications deemed critical of officials. The Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance (“Ershad”) severely limited and controlled foreign media organizations’ ability to work in the country by requiring foreign correspondents to provide detailed travel plans and topics of proposed stories before granting visas, limiting their ability to travel within the country, and forcing them to work with a local “minder.”

Under the constitution private broadcasting is illegal. The government maintained a monopoly over all television and radio broadcasting facilities through the government agency, Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB). Radio and television programming, the principal source of news for many citizens (especially in rural areas with limited internet access), reflected the government’s political and socio-religious ideology. Independent print media companies existed, but the government severely limited their operations. There were reports of government “downlink” jamming of satellite broadcasts as signals entered the country. Satellite dishes remained illegal but ubiquitous. Those who distributed, used, or repaired satellite dishes faced fines up to 90 million rials ($2,800). Police launched campaigns to confiscate privately owned satellite dishes throughout the country under warrants provided by the judiciary. According to media reporting, Basij militia destroyed 100,000 confiscated satellite dishes on July 24.

Under the constitution the supreme leader appoints the head of the audiovisual policy agency; a council composed of representatives of the president, the judiciary, and parliament oversees the agency’s activities. The Ministry of Culture reviews all potential publications, including foreign printed materials, prior to their domestic release, and may deem books unpublishable, remove text, or require word substitutions for terms deemed inappropriate.

Violence and Harassment: The government and its agents harassed, detained, abused, and prosecuted publishers, editors, and journalists, including those involved in internet-based media, for their reporting. The government also harassed many journalists’ families. Reporters without Borders estimated that 19 journalists and 15 netizens remained in prison at year’s end. International NGOs reported that authorities forced several citizen journalists into internal exile during the year.

Journalist Reyhaneh Tabatabaee began serving a one-year sentence on January 12 on charges of “propaganda against the regime” and was barred from using social media for two years. She was granted a four-day furlough on June 17.

There were updates in the cases of Issa Saharkhiz, Ehsan Mazandarani, Afarin Chitsaz, and Saman Safarzaie, arrested in 2015 on charges of membership in “an infiltration group connected to the United States and United Kingdom.” Saharkhiz was sentenced to three years in prison on August 8 for “insulting the supreme leader” and “propagating against the state,” and spent time in solitary confinement. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the Prison Medical Examiner’s Office ruled that Saharkhiz be released on medical grounds, but he remained in prison. According to reports on October 9, he has been on several hunger strikes. According to ICHRI Mazandarani was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment, reduced to five years by the appeals court. He was temporarily released for medical treatment in October after suffering a heart attack while on hunger strike. Human Rights Watch reported that Chitsaz was sentenced to 10 years in prison on April 25 on charges of “assembly and collusion against national security,” and “contact with foreign governments.” The appeal court reduced her sentence to two years and a two-year ban from practicing journalism. She received a medical furlough for knee surgery in August. Safarzaie received a five-year imprisonment sentence in April for “assembly and collusion against national security.” Tehran’s appeals court reduced his sentence to two years in August, and according to ICHRI, as of November, he could be eligible for conditional release for lack of prior record and time already served in prison.

Cartoonist Atena Farghadani, imprisoned in 2014 for “spreading propaganda,” “insulting members of parliament,” and “insulting the supreme leader, was released on May 3 after an appeals court reduced her 12-year sentence to 18 months.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law forbids government censorship but also prohibits dissemination of information the government considers “damaging.” During the year the government censored publications–both reformist and conservative–that criticized official actions or contradicted official views or versions of events. “Damaging” information included discussions of women’s rights, the situation of minorities, criticism of government corruption, and references to mistreatment of detainees.

Officials routinely intimidated journalists into practicing self-censorship. Public officials often filed criminal complaints against newspapers, and the Press Supervisory Board, which regulates media content and publication, referred such complaints to the Press Court for further action, including closure, suspension, and fines. According to the IHRDC, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) determined the main topics and types of news to be covered and distributed topics required for reporting directly to various media outlets.

According to media reporting, the Press Supervisory Board temporarily revoked the publishing license of Yalasarat al-Hosein weekly paper in January for an article deemed insulting to the Vice President for Family and Women’s Affairs, Shahindokht Mowlaverdi, and again in July for “offensive” comments about the spouses of prominent artists at an annual Television and Cinema awards ceremony in Tehran.

The Tehran Public and Revolutionary Prosecutor’s office banned the daily Qanun newspaper on June 20 after the IRGC Intelligence Organization brought a case of “defamation” against Qanun for a June 11 article, “Damned 24 Hours,” detailing the treatment of detainees in an unspecified Tehran prison. According to media reporting, the paper resumed publication on October 22 and was acquitted of the charges of “insulting religious sanctities” but found guilty of “publishing falsehoods.”

Libel/Slander Laws: The government commonly used libel laws or cited national security to suppress criticism. According to the law, if any publication contains personal insults, libel, false statements, or criticism, the insulted individual has the right to respond in the publication within one month. According to the new crimes bill passed this year, “insult” or “libel” against the government, government representatives, or foreign officials while they are on Iranian soil, as well as “the publication of lies” with the intent to reform but not undermine the government are considered a political crimes and subject to certain trial and detention procedures (see section 1.e.). The government applied the law throughout the year, often citing statements made in various media outlets or internet platforms that criticized the government, to arrest, prosecute, and sentence individuals for crimes against national security.

INTERNET FREEDOM

Although Twitter is officially banned in the country, the government operated Twitter accounts under the names of Supreme Leader Khamenei, President Rouhani, Foreign Minister Zarif, and various other government-associated officials and entities.

The government restricted and disrupted access to the internet, monitored private online communications, and censored online content. Individuals and groups practiced self-censorship online. The Ministries of Culture, Information, and Communications Technology are the main regulatory bodies for content and internet systems in the country. The office of the supreme leader also houses a Supreme Council on Cyberspace charged with regulating content and systems. The government collected personally identifiable information in connection with citizens’ peaceful expression of political, religious, or ideological opinion or beliefs.

According to the Ministry of Culture, 70 percent of Iranian youth between the ages of 15 and 29 used the internet. NGOs reported the government continued to filter content on the internet to ban access to particular sites and to filter traffic based on its content. The computer crimes law makes it illegal to distribute circumvention tools and virtual private networks, but the law is not clear whether the use of such tools is illegal, according to internet activists.

The ministry must approve all internet service providers. The government also requires all owners of websites and blogs in the country to register with the agencies that comprise the Committee in Charge of Determining Unauthorized Websites, the governmental organization that determines censoring criteria. These include the Ministry of Culture, the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology, the MOIS, and the Tehran Public Prosecutor’s Office.

Local media reported on the launch of Iran’s “National Information Network,” on August 14 to provide a “faster, more secure” service. Internet activists reported many individuals were unable to access Facebook and several other social media outlets, even when using various circumvention tools, after the program was launched. RWB reported that this National Information Network is intended to act like an “intranet,” system, with full content control and user identification. Authorities can disconnect this network from World Wide Web content and reportedly will use it to provide government propaganda while blocking access to independently reported news or freely gathered information.

The same law that applies to traditional media applies to electronic media, and the Press Supervisory Board and judiciary invoked the law to close websites during the year. Six media outlets–BornaMawjBaharPuyeshPersian Khodro9 Sobh, and Memari–were blocked and/or reprimanded in September for reporting on corruption scandals in several Tehran property developments. They received official reprimands for violating the cybercrimes law, according to local media reports.

Authorities continue to block online messaging tools such as Facebook and Twitter. The IRGC Center for Combating Organized Crime website reported on August 23 that IRGC forces had summoned, detained, and warned some 450 administrators of social media groups over “immoral” content.

An estimated 20 million Iranians use the online messaging application Telegram, which has security features that make the content of users’ communications more difficult to be read by a third party. CPJ nevertheless reported in June that users were at risk of being monitored, as had happened with other similar applications in the past. Iran’s Supreme Council of Cyberspace announced on May 29 that Telegram had one year to move all of its data to servers inside Iran or risk being closed entirely. Telegram users in Iran continued to be harassed for content posted through its servers. According to local media reports, the Iranian Cyber Police arrested three Telegram channels administrators on August 9 for publishing material “insulting religious sanctities.”

Government organizations, including the Basij “Cyber Council,” the Cyber Police, and the Cyber Army, which observers presumed to be controlled by the IRGC, monitored, identified, and countered alleged cyber threats to national security. These organizations especially targeted citizens’ activities on social networking websites officially banned by the Committee in Charge of Determining Offensive Content, such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Flickr, and reportedly harassed persons who criticized the government or raised sensitive social problems. Radio Zamaneh reported on April 21 that hackers who may have been associated with governmental security offices hacked Vice President Shahindokht Mowlaverdi’s private e‑mail account and sent spearfishing e‑mails to her contacts.

International media reported that Iranian national soccer team player, Sosha Makani, was suspended from the league in June for “inappropriate conduct” after photos emerged online of him wearing yellow “SpongeBob” pants.

Eight online models were arrested, and an unannounced number of online Instagram, Telegram, and Facebook pages were closed in May for “immoral content” after images were posted that did not adhere to government-sanctioned dress requirements. The Tehran Prosecutor General announced the arrests were part of operations “Spider I” and “Spider II,” which sought to identify illicit modeling activity online.

Ministry of Information and Communications Technology regulations prohibit households and cybercafes from having high-speed internet access. The government periodically reduced internet speed to discourage downloading material; however, in general there were slight improvements to speed as the government expanded access to 3G services for mobile devices.

According to the UN special rapporteur’s reports, serious difficulties persisted, including severe content restrictions, intimidation and prosecution of users, and limitations on access through the intentional slowing of service and filtering. The most heavily blocked websites were in the arts, society, politics, and news categories. RWB reported there were more than 800 cases of censorship since the start of the year.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government significantly restricted academic freedom and the independence of higher education institutions. Authorities systematically targeted university campuses to suppress social and political activism by prohibiting independent student organizations, imprisoning student activists, removing faculty, preventing students from enrolling or continuing their education because of their political or religious affiliation or activism, and restricting social sciences and humanities curricula.

Authorities barred Baha’i students from higher education and harassed those who pursued education through the unrecognized online university of the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education (BIHE) (see International Religious Freedom Report).

The government maintained controls on cinema, music, theater, and art exhibits, and censored those deemed to transgress Islamic values. The government censored or banned films deemed to promote secularism, non-Islamic ideas about women’s rights, unethical behavior, drug abuse, violence, or alcoholism. According to the IHRDC, the nine-member film review council of the Ministry of Culture made up of clerics, former directors, former parliamentarians, and academics, must approve the content of every film before production and again before screening. Films can also be arbitrarily barred from the screen even if all the appropriate permits were received in advance.

According to the IHRDC, Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance Ali Jannati pulled the film Fifty Kilos of Sour Cherries from theaters after its initial screening in Tehran, for promoting the “disintegration and demise of the family and providing an inappropriate example through the actress’s makeup.”

The ministry’s Film Evaluation and Supervision Department banned five filmmakers–Mostafa Kiyai, Alireza Sartipi, Abdollah Alikhani, Sayyed Amir Parvin-Hoseini, and Reza Mirkarmi–and three film companies–Filmiran, Nur-e Taban, and Puya Film–in August from receiving permits or services in response to allegations they had advertised on foreign-based Persian-language satellite TV channels and “hostile networks run by the enemies of the Islamic Republic.”

Filmmaker Kayvan Karimi, initially sentenced in 2015 to six years in prison for “insulting the sanctities” in his documentary film on political graffiti, had his sentence reduced to one year by an appeals court in February. He was also sentenced to 223 lashes for “having illegitimate relations” with a woman who is not a relative.” Authorities originally arrested Karimi on these charges in 2013. He began serving his sentence on November 23.

According to international media reports, authorities released filmmaker Mostafa Azizi in April; he had been sentenced in June 2015 to eight years in prison for “propaganda against the state,” “acting against national security in cyberspace,” and “insulting the supreme leader.”

Officials continued to discourage teaching music in schools. Authorities considered heavy metal and foreign music religiously offensive, and police continued to repress underground concerts and arrest musicians and music distributors. The Ministry of Culture must officially approve a song’s lyrics, music, and album covers as complying with the country’s moral values, although many underground musicians released albums without seeking such permission.

Mehdi Rajabian, Hossein Rajabian, and Yousef Emadi, originally arrested in 2013, were found guilty of “insulting Islamic sanctities,” “spreading propaganda against the system,” and “illegal audio-visual activities” in May for the distribution of unlicensed music. They were sentenced to three years’ detention and fined 200 million rials ($6,178). Authorities shut down their website, and AI reported the three were allegedly beaten and given electric shocks while in detention. According to ICHRI the two Rajabian brothers started hunger strikes on September 8 to protest their separation in different wards and lack of access to medical care for Mehdi Rajabian for symptoms of multiple sclerosis.

Rapper Amir “Tataloo” Hossein Maghsoodloo, was detained by police on August 23 in Tehran for “spreading depravity among youth.”

Authorities in several provinces cancelled concerts they deemed “inappropriate” throughout the year. Local authorities cancelled the concerts of singer Salar Aghili and musicians Shahram Nazeri and Kayvan Kalhor, despite having received the necessary prior permits from the Ministry of Culture. Prosecutor Gholamali Sadeghi of Khorasan Razavi Province announced in August that no more music concerts would be allowed to take place in the province.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

The constitution permits assemblies and marches of unarmed persons “provided they do not violate the principles of Islam.” The government restricted this right and closely monitored gatherings such as public entertainment and lectures, student and women’s meetings and protests, meetings and worship services of minority religious groups, labor protests, online gatherings and networking, funeral processions, and Friday prayer gatherings to prevent anything it considered as antiregime. According to activists the government arbitrarily applied rules governing permits to assemble, with pro-regime groups rarely experiencing difficulty and groups viewed as critical of the regime experiencing harassment regardless of whether authorities issued a permit.

Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reported on the October 30 arrest of organizers of a gathering celebrating the birth of Achaemenid King Cyrus the Great on October 28 in Fars province for “norm breaking and antivalues” slogans. ICHRI reported more than 70 individuals held since October were sentenced in December to serve between three months to eight years for participating in and organizing the event.

According to a report by ICHRI on December 2, security agents arrested Nasser Zarafshan, prominent human rights lawyer and several members of the Writers’ Association of Iran at a commemoration event for victims of the “chain murders” of dissidents in the 1990s.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for the establishment of political parties, professional and political associations, and Islamic and recognized religious minority organizations, as long as such groups do not violate the principles of freedom, sovereignty, national unity, or Islamic criteria; or question Islam as the basis of the country’s system of government. The government limited freedom of association through threats, intimidation, the imposition of arbitrary requirements on organizations, and the arrests of group leaders and members.

Teachers were barred from commemorating International Labor Day and Teachers’ Day, and several teachers’ union activists remained in prison, including Mahmoud Beheshti Langroudi, Esmail Abdi, Mohammad Davari, Mohammad Reza Niknejad, Mehdi Bohlooli, and Mahmoud Bagheri. Esmail Abdi, the general secretary of the Iranian Teachers’ Trade Association, was charged with “propaganda against the Islamic system” and “conspiracy to disrupt the security of the country.” Mahmoud Beheshti Langroudi, spokesperson of the Iranian Teachers’ Trade Association, was sentenced to six years in prison on charges of “colluding against national security” and “propaganda against the state.” Both Langroudi and Abdi, who reportedly did not have access to a lawyer, engaged in hunger strikes to protest prison conditions. Langroudi was released on a temporary medical furlough on May 11 after complications arose from his strike, according to ICHRI. Abdi was also released on bail. Both were ordered back to prison in October after a Tehran Appeals Court upheld their six-year prison sentences.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government restricted these rights. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) with regard to refugees from Afghanistan and Iraq.

In-country Movement: Judicial sentences sometimes included internal exile after release from prison, which prevented individuals from traveling to certain provinces. Women often required the supervision of a male guardian or chaperone to travel and faced official and societal harassment for traveling alone. Refugees faced restrictions on in-country movement and faced restrictions or bars from entering 28 provinces according to UNHCR.

Foreign Travel: The government required exit permits for foreign travel for all citizens. Citizens who were educated at government expense or received scholarships had to either repay the scholarship or receive a temporary permit to exit the country. The government restricted the foreign travel of some religious leaders, members of religious minorities, and scientists in sensitive fields. Several journalists, academics, opposition politicians, human and women’s rights activists, and artists remained subject to foreign travel bans and had their passports confiscated during the year. Married women were not allowed to travel outside the country without prior permission from their husbands.

Exile: The law does not provide for forced exile abroad. Many citizens practiced self-imposed exile to express their beliefs freely or escape government harassment.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

The government had a mixed record in providing support for refugees, mostly from Afghanistan and some from Iraq. The government is responsible for refugee registration and status determination and has granted registration to 960,000 Afghan and 28,000 Iraqi refugees under a system known as “Amayesh,” through which authorities provide refugees with cards identifying them as legally registered refugees. The cards enable refugees to access basic services, and facilitate the issuance of work permits to refugees. Additionally, approximately 1.4 million “non-refugee” Afghans held visas under a Joint Action Plan for formerly undocumented Afghans. A large number of undocumented Afghans lived in the country and were unable to register as official refugees or visa holders. During a visit to Tehran in April, UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner George Okoth-Obbo stated the number of unregistered Afghans was about three million.

Supreme Leader Khamenei stated on November 22 “Iran has for years hosted three million Afghans, and has provided them with the conditions to study and live in Iran, and has, with complete tolerance, adopted a humane attitude towards migrants.” The HRW reported that the government continued its mistreatment of Afghans in the country, including deportations, physical abuse by security forces, and restricted access to education or jobs.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status to qualified applicants. While the government reportedly has a system for providing protection to refugees, UNHCR did not have information regarding how the country made asylum determinations. According to HRW the government continued to block many Afghans from registering to obtain refugee status. Afghans not currently registered under the Amayesh system that had migrated to Iran in the past decades of conflict in their home country continued to be denied asylum or access to register with the United Nations as refugees for resettlement. NGOs reported many of these displaced asylum seekers felt pressured to leave the country but could not return to Afghanistan because of the security situation in their home provinces.

Refoulement: According to activist groups and NGOs, authorities routinely arrested Afghan refugees and sometimes threatened them with refoulement. According to a HRW report, government military recruiters threatened unregistered Afghan refugees with deportation or barred them from registering as refugees if they did not join military forces when asked to do so.

Employment: Only refugees with government-issued work permits as part of the Amayesh system were able to work. NGO sources reported that cards were difficult to renew and were often prohibitively expensive for refugees to maintain due to steep annual renewal fees.

Access to Basic Services: Amayesh cardholders have access to primary education and received primary health care, including vaccinations, prenatal care, maternal and child health, and family planning from the Ministry of Health. Under a 2015 agreement, they also had access to the Salamat Insurance Program and benefit from a health insurance package for hospitalization similar to Iranian nationals, and those with qualifying “special diseases” got comprehensive coverage. The supreme leader announced in 2015 that all Afghans, regardless of status, should have access to school. According to UNHCR’s website, more than 350,000 Afghan and Iraqi students (both registered and unregistered) were enrolled in the 2015-2016 academic year. According to media reporting on schools for Afghan children, however, Afghans continued to have difficulty gaining access to education. The government also sometimes imposed fees for children of registered refugees to attend public schools or required unregistered children to have legal immigration status.

There were barriers to marriage between citizens and displaced Afghans. Authorities require Afghans to obtain documentation from their embassy or government offices in Afghanistan to register their marriage in the country, according to media reporting. The Family Protection Law states, “any foreigner who marries an Iranian woman without the permission of the Iranian government will be sentenced to two to five years in prison plus a cash penalty.” Furthermore, authorities only considered the children born from such unions eligible for citizenship if the child’s father is a citizen and registers the child as his, leaving many children stateless.

Most provinces’ residency limitations on refugees effectively denied them access to public services, such as public housing, in the restricted areas of those provinces.

STATELESS PERSONS

Due to documentation restraints, there are no accurate numbers on how many stateless persons reside in the country. Stateless persons include those without birth documents or refugee identification cards. They are subjected to inconsistent government policies and rely on charities, principally domestic, to provide medical care and schooling. Authorities prohibited stateless persons from receiving formal government support or travel documents.

Women may not directly transmit citizenship to their children or to noncitizen spouses. Under a 2006 amendment to the Nationality Law, only children born to Iranian mothers and non-Iranian fathers who reside in Iran for 18 years and whose parent’s marriage is officially registered with the government are eligible to apply for citizenship. According to media reports, between 400,000 and one million persons lacked Iranian nationality despite having an Iranian citizen mother due to limitations on citizenship transmission.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose the president, as well as members of the Assembly of Experts and Islamic Consultative Assembly (parliament), peacefully through elections based on universal suffrage, but candidate vetting conducted by unelected bodies abridged this right in all instances. The Assembly of Experts, which is composed of 86 popularly elected clerics who serve eight-year terms, elects the supreme leader, who acts as the recognized head of state and may be removed only by a vote of the assembly. The Guardian Council vets and qualifies candidates for all Assembly of Experts, presidential, and parliamentary elections based on criteria that include candidates’ allegiance to the state and Shia Islam. The council consists of six clerics appointed by the supreme leader and six jurists nominated by the head of the judiciary and approved by parliament. There is no separation of state and religion, and certain clerics had significant influence in the government.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The country’s electoral system continued to fall short of international standards for free, fair elections because of the Guardian Council’s preeminent roles in the political process, including determining which individuals could run for office, and removing elected candidates. In February both Assembly of Experts and Islamic Consultative Assembly, elections were held. Prior to the elections, the Guardian Council disqualified 79 percent of the candidates running for the Assembly of Experts (including all female candidates) and 58 percent running for the Islamic Consultative Assembly, with media reporting only 1 percent of registered reformist candidates were allowed to run. Voter turnout for the election was around 62 percent, and runoff elections for those seats where no candidate won an outright majority were held in May. Minoo Khalegi from Isfahan District had her election to the Islamic Consultative Assembly nullified by the Guardian Council after she was deemed “unfit” to hold office. Outside observers were not permitted to monitor the elections, but media reporting indicated that there was no apparent vote tampering.

In 2013 voters elected Hassan Rouhani president. The Interior Ministry announced that Rouhani won 50.88 percent of the votes with a 72 percent turnout of eligible voters. The Guardian Council approved eight candidates for president from 686 individuals who registered as candidates. It did not approve any female registrants. The UN special rapporteur reported that several candidates were excluded because of involvement in postelection protests in 2009.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The constitution provides for the formation of political parties, but the Interior Ministry granted licenses only to parties in adherence with the “velayat-e faqih” system of government embodied in the constitution. Registered political organizations that adhered to the system generally operated without restriction, but most were small, focused around an individual, and without nationwide membership. Members of political parties and persons with any political affiliation that the regime deemed unacceptable faced harassment, violence, and sometimes imprisonment.

The government maintained bans on several opposition organizations and political parties. Security officials continued to harass, intimidate, and arrest members of the political opposition and some reformists (see section 1.e.). Kourosh Zaim, a leading party activist of the banned National Front Party, was arrested on July 16 and sentenced to four years in prison based on a 2015 suspended sentence for “propaganda against the State.” This was his fourth arrest based on his political activity, according to ICHRI.

Participation of Women and Minorities: Women faced significant legal, religious, and cultural barriers to political participation. According to the Guardian Council’s interpretation, the constitution bars women and persons of foreign origin from serving as supreme leader or president, as members of the Assembly of Experts, the Guardian Council, or the Expediency Council, as well as certain types of judges. In 2013 the Guardian Council disqualified all 30 women who registered as presidential candidates. Eighteen women won seats in the 290-member parliament in February’s election, and 17 were sworn in in May. Women served in senior government positions, including the Vice President for Legal Affairs, the Minister of Environmental Protection, and the Vice President of Women and Family Affairs.

Practitioners of religions other than Shia Islam are barred from serving as supreme leader or president and from membership in the Assembly of Experts, the Guardian Council, or the Expediency Council. The law reserves five seats in parliament for members of recognized minority religious groups, although minorities can also be elected to nonreserved seats. The five reserved seats were filled by one Zoroastrians, one Jew, and three Christians. There were no non-Muslims in the cabinet or on the Supreme Court.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, but the government did not implement the law effectively, and corruption was a serious and ubiquitous problem. Officials in all branches of government frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Many officials expected bribes for providing routine services or received bonuses outside their regular work. Individuals routinely bribed officials to obtain permits for illegal construction.

Endowed religious charitable foundations, or “bonyads,” accounted for a quarter to a third of the country’s economy according to some experts. Government insiders, including members of the military and clergy, ran these tax-exempt organizations, which are defined under law as charities. Members of the political opposition and international corruption watchdog organizations frequently accused bonyads of corruption. Bonyads received benefits from the government, but no government agency must publicly approve their budgets.

Numerous companies and subsidiaries affiliated with the IRGC engaged in trade and business activities, sometimes illicitly, in the telecommunications, mining, and construction sectors. Other IRGC entities reportedly engaged in smuggling pharmaceutical products, narcotics, and raw materials. The domestic and international press similarly reported that individuals with strong government connections had access to foreign currency at preferential exchange rates, allowing them to exploit a gap between the country’s black market and official exchange rates.

According to media reports, businessman Babak Zanjani, originally arrested in 2013 on corruption charges, was sentenced to death in March for “corruption on earth.” Iran’s Supreme Court confirmed his death sentence on December 4. His sentence had not been carried out at year’s end.

Local media reported on October 31 that a special court for civil servants had reached a verdict against former Social Security Organization (SSO) Head Saeed Mortazavi for alleged financial wrongdoings. Charges against Mortazavi include selling stakes in 137 SSO-owned companies at a below-market price of more than 32 trillion rials (four billion dollars) to a holding company owned by jailed billionaire Babak Zanjani; giving gift cards to dozens of government officials and members of parliament; and paying 1.5 billion rials ($60,000) to state television to cover the SSO’s 60th anniversary celebrations.

Numerous government agencies existed to fight corruption, including the Anticorruption Headquarters, the Anticorruption Task Force, the Committee to Fight Economic Corruption, and the General Inspection Organization. Parliament’s Article 90 Commission also had authority to investigate complaints of corruption within the government. Information was unavailable regarding these organizations’ specific mandates, their collaboration with civil society, and whether they operated effectively, independently, and with sufficient resources.

Financial Disclosure: Regulations require government officials, including cabinet ministers and members of the Guardian Council, the Expediency Council, and the Assembly of Experts, to submit annual financial statements to the government inspectorate. Little information was available on whether the government effectively implemented the law, whether officials obeyed the law, or whether financial statements were publicly accessible. Government officials capped salaries for public employees and politicians after leaked salary pay slips of government officials exposed high salaries and unregistered bonuses, according to local media.

Public Access to Information: While parliament has a centralized website with the docket of pending legislation, lists of committee representation, and voting patterns, the law does not mandate public access to government information. Some government agencies maintain websites documenting their activities, but they published only those documents they selected, and there is no public mechanism for forcing open records of activity for public review.

Fars News Agency reported on October 26 that journalist, Yashar Soltani, was arrested in September and charged with “publishing a confidential report” by Tehran’s Revolutionary and Public Prosecutor’s office. His news website published a State Inspectorate Organization report that contained a list of officials, mostly Tehran Council members and senior municipal managers, who allegedly bought properties in Tehran’s prestigious districts at “a remarkable discount.” He remained in prison at year’s end and has been denied bail.

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

The government restricted the work of human rights groups and activists and often responded to their inquiries and reports with harassment, arrests, online hacking, and monitoring of individual activists and organization workplaces.

The government restricted the operations of and did not cooperate with local or international human rights NGOs investigating alleged violations of human rights. Legally, NGOs must register with the Ministry of Interior and apply for permission to receive foreign grants. Independent human rights groups and other NGOs faced continued harassment because of their activism, as well as the threat of closure by government officials following prolonged and often arbitrary delays in obtaining official registration.

During the year the government prevented some human rights defenders, civil society activists, journalists, and scholars from traveling abroad. Human rights activists reported intimidating telephone calls, threats of blackmail, online hacking attempts, and property damage from unidentified law enforcement and government officials. Government officials sometimes harassed and arrested family members of human rights activists. Courts routinely suspended sentences of human rights activists, leaving open the option for authorities to arrest or imprison individuals arbitrarily at any time on the previous charges.

In his March report, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Iran expressed concern at the arrest, arbitrary detention, and sentencing of human rights defenders, student activists, journalists, and lawyers. He noted acts of intimidation and reprisals in detention, including torture and mistreatment. He also expressed concern over reports of reprisals against human rights defenders for engagement with the UN Special Rapporteur and for cooperation with other UN mechanisms.

The government continued to deny requests from international human rights NGOs to establish offices in or to conduct regular investigative visits to the country. The most recent visit of international human rights NGO was by AI in 2004 as part of the European Union’s human rights dialogue with the country.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: During the year the government ignored or denied repeated requests for visits from UN special rapporteurs. It participated in the current year’s Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council’s quadrennial universal periodic review of its human rights record, met with the Special Rapporteur in Geneva in 2015, and participated in the Committee on the Rights of the Child periodic review in January. According to NGO sources, including HRW and AI, the government’s rights record and its level of cooperation with international rights institutions remained poor. The most recent visit by a UN human rights agency was in 2005.

During the year the UN Human Rights Commission renewed the resolution establishing the mandate for a human rights rapporteur for the country and appointed Asma Jahangir as the new special rapporteur in September. The previous special rapporteur, Ahmed Shaheed, officially commenced work in 2011, but the government denied his repeated requests to visit the country.

On November 15, for the 14th consecutive year, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution expressing deep concern about the country’s “serious ongoing and recurring human rights violations.” The resolution also noted the government’s lack of cooperation with UN mechanisms, including its poor implementation of the recommendations it accepted during the universal periodic review and its continued failure to allow the UN special rapporteur into the country to investigate human rights abuses. The resolution also cited the government’s failure to approve any request from a UN thematic special procedures mandate holder to visit the country in over a decade.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The High Council for Human Rights, headed by Mohammad Javad Larijani, is part of the judicial branch of the government and lacks independence. The council continued to defend the imprisonment of high-profile human rights defenders and political opposition leaders, despite domestic and international pressure. Larijani continued to call for an end of the position of UN special rapporteur. There was no information available whether the council challenged any laws or court rulings during the year.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is illegal and subject to strict penalties, including death, but it remained a problem. The law considers sex within marriage consensual by definition and, therefore, does not address spousal rape, including in cases of forced marriage.

Cases of rape were difficult to document due to nonreporting. Most rape victims likely did not report the crime because they feared retaliation or punishment for having been raped, including charges of indecency, immoral behavior, or adultery, the last of which carries the death penalty. They also feared societal reprisal or ostracism. For a conviction of rape, the law requires four Muslim men or a combination of three men and two women, two men and four women, to have witnessed a rape. A woman or man found making a false accusation of rape is subject to 80 lashes.

The law does not prohibit domestic violence. The Census Bureau, the government agency responsible for data collection, does not permit international organizations to study domestic violence in the country. Authorities consider abuse in the family a private matter and seldom discussed it publicly.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The penal code criminalizes FGM/C and states “the cutting or removing of the two sides of female genitalia leads to “diyeh” (financial penalty or blood money) equal to half the full amount of “diyeh” for the woman’s life.” Whether there were prosecutions for FGM/C during the year is unknown. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child noted in its January periodic review that despite the criminalization of FGM/C, it continued to occur with impunity, especially in the provinces of Kurdistan, Western Azerbaijan, Kermanshah, Ilam, Lorestan, and Hormozgan. When the mutilation occurred, it was usually performed on girls under the age of 10. A March study on Kermanshah Province suggested that FGM/C was a common practice among women there, with more than 58 percent of girls circumcised; traditional midwives performed 98 percent of the mutilations at the mother’s request.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: There were no official reports of killings motivated by “honor” or other harmful traditional practices during the year, although human rights activists reported that such killings continued to occur, particularly among rural and tribal populations. The penal code reduces punitive measures for fathers and other family members who murder or physically harm children in domestic violence or “honor killings.” Under the law the principal of “qisas” (punishment in kind) does not apply to murders within the family committed by the father. If a man is found guilty of murdering his daughter, the punishment is between three and 10 years in prison rather than the normal death sentence or payment of “diyeh” for homicide cases.

Sexual Harassment: The law addresses sexual harassment in the context of physical contact between men and women and prohibits physical contact between unrelated men and women. There was no reliable data on the extent of sexual harassment, but women and human rights observers reported that sexual harassment was the norm in many workplaces. There were no known government efforts to combat and address this issue. The country’s state-run English language television channel, Press TV, suspended two executives in February after reports emerged they had been sexually harassing female staff.

Reproductive Rights: The law recognizes the basic right of married couples to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of their children. Couples are entitled to reproductive healthcare, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. While government healthcare previously included full free access to contraception and family planning for married couples, state family planning cuts in 2012 reducing the budget to almost zero remained in place.

Discrimination: The constitution provides for equal protection for women under the law in conformity with its interpretation of Islam. The government did not enforce the law, however, and provisions in the Islamic civil and penal codes, particularly sections dealing with family and property law, discriminate against women and restricted women’s economic, social, political, academic, and cultural rights.

Women may not transmit citizenship to their children or to a noncitizen spouse. The government does not recognize marriages between Muslim women and non-Muslim men, irrespective of their citizenship. The law states that a virgin woman or girl wishing to wed needs the consent of her father or grandfather or the court’s permission, even if she is over the age of 18.

The law permits a man to have as many as four wives and an unlimited number of “sigheh” (temporary wives), based on a Shia custom under which couples can enter into a limited time civil and religious contract, which outlines the union’s conditions. The law does not grant temporary wives and any resulting children rights associated with traditional marriage, but the contract is enforceable, and recognized children can obtain documentation and have limited rights.

A woman has the right to divorce if her husband signs a contract granting that right, cannot provide for his family, has violated the terms of their original marriage contract, or is a drug addict, insane, or impotent. A husband is not required to cite a reason for divorcing his wife. Traditional interpretations of Islamic law recognize a divorced woman’s right to part of shared property and to alimony. These laws were not always enforced, and the ability of a woman to seek divorce was limited. According to ISNA if a personal maintenance allowance is not paid, the wife may “reject all legal and religious obligations” to her husband. By law such an allowance may be requested during the marriage as well as after a divorce, and if it is not paid, the woman may sue her former husband in court.

The civil code provides divorced women preference in custody for children up to age seven, but fathers maintain legal guardianship rights over the child and must agree on many legal aspects of the child’s life (such as issuing travel documents, enrolling in school, or the filing of a police report). After the child reaches the age of seven, the father is granted custody unless he is proven unfit to care for the child. Courts determine custody in disputed cases. Once children reach the legal age of maturity, the court must also consider the preference of the child in determining the custody arrangement.

Women sometimes received disproportionate punishment for crimes such as adultery, including death sentences (see section 1.a.). The Islamic penal code retains provisions that value a woman’s testimony in a court of law as half that of a man’s, and a woman’s life as half that of a man’s. According to the penal code, the “diyeh” (blood money) paid in the death of a woman is half the amount of a death of a man, with the exception of car accident insurance payments.

According to 2012 UN statistics, the female youth literacy rate was 98.5 percent, and the adult female literacy rate was 90.3 percent. Women had access to primary and advanced education, although the percentage of female students entering universities decreased from 62 percent in 2007-2008 to 42 percent in the current year as a result gender-rationing policies implemented in 2012. Quotas and other restrictions, which varied across universities, limited women’s undergraduate admissions to certain fields, as well as to certain master’s and doctoral programs.

Social and legal constraints limited women’s professional opportunities, and the unemployment rate for women was nearly twice that for men. Women were represented in many fields, including in government and police forces but the law requires a married woman to obtain her husband’s permission to work. The law does not provide that women and men must be paid equally for equal work. According to a 2015 survey for the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report, women earned on average 58 percent as much money as their male counterparts for similar work. Women may not serve in many high-level political positions or as judges, except as consultants or research judges without the power to impose sentences.

Women faced discrimination in home and property ownership, as well as access to financing. In cases of inheritance, male heirs receive twice the inheritance of their female counterparts. The government enforced gender segregation in many public spaces, including for patients during medical care, and prohibited women from mixing openly with unmarried men or men not related to them. In 2015 the deputy minister for sports announced women would be permitted to enter sports stadiums and attend some sporting events, but authorities did not implement the new policy. Women must ride in a reserved section on public buses and enter some public buildings, universities, and airports through separate entrances. While riding a bicycle is not legally a crime for women in Iran, religious and local authorities in Marivan, Kurdistan banned women from riding bicycles in public. International media reported that several women were arrested and forced to sign pledges that they would cease riding bicycles after being stopped by authorities on July 26.

The law provides that a woman who appears in public without appropriate attire, such as a cloth scarf veil (“hejab”) over the head and a long jacket (“manteau”), or a large full-length cloth covering (“chador”), may be sentenced to flogging and fined. Absent a clear legal definition of “appropriate covering” or of the punishment, women were subjected to the opinions of disciplinary forces, police, security forces, or judges. In September local media reported that police barred 800 shops from selling women’s clothing with controversial slogans like “I am queen” and “no rules.” Iranian media reported on the announcement of the expansion of Tehran’s morality police force to include 7,000 additional undercover agents to police “bad hejab.”

Children

The country established the National Body on the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 2012 to promote the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Iran is signatory. The body, which reviews draft regulations and legislation relating to child rights, is not independent and is overseen by the Ministry of Justice. The country underwent a periodic panel review by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in January. The review noted many concerns, including discrimination against girls; children with disabilities; unregistered, refugee, and migrant children; and LGBTI children. The 2015 updates to the penal code called for the establishment of a separate juvenile court system, and male juvenile detainees were held in separate Rehabilitation Centers in most urban areas. Nevertheless, female juvenile detainees and male juvenile detainees in rural areas were held alongside adults in detention facilities, according to NGO reports presented to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.

Birth Registration: Only a child’s father conveys citizenship, regardless of the child’s country of birth or mother’s citizenship. Birth within the country’s borders does not confer citizenship, except when a child is born to unknown parents. The law requires that all births be registered within 15 days.

Education: Although primary schooling until age 11 is free and compulsory for all, the media and other sources reported lower enrollment in rural areas, especially for girls. According to 2012 UN statistics, the ratio of girls to boys in primary and secondary school is 98 percent. UNHCR stated that school enrollment among refugees was generally higher outside camps and settlements, where greater resources were available. According to NGO reports presented to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, a girl can be denied education if she is pregnant or if her husband so wishes.

Child Abuse: There was little information available to reflect how the government dealt with child abuse, which was largely regarded as a private family matter. The 2002 Law for the Protection of Children and Juvenile states, “Any form of abuse of children and juveniles that causes physical, psychological, or moral harm and threatens their physical or mental health is prohibited,” and such crimes carry a maximum sentence of three months or 10 million rials ($332). The law does not directly address sexual molestation nor provide punishment for it.

In October media reported the alleged rape of juvenile, male religious students by renowned Quran reciter, Mohammad Gandom Toosi. According to reports senior regime figures including Supreme Leader Khamenei attempted to cover up the scandal for four years when the victims and their families filed complaints with the judiciary. Toosi denied the charges, and the judiciary has claimed it is difficult to ascertain the truth in such cases. Journalists have been warned against publicizing the ongoing investigation. While no separate law exists for the rape of a child, the crime of rape, regardless of the victim’s ages, is potentially punishable by death under the country’s Islamic Penal Code.

Despite UN calls for their reopening, the Association for the Defense of Working and Street Children, closed in 2008, and the Society for Endeavoring to Achieve a World Worthy of Children, closed in 2009, remained closed at year’s end. The law permits executions of individuals who have reached the age of criminal maturity, defined as age nine for girls and age 13 for boys, if a judge determines the individual understood the nature and consequences of the crime. According to AI at least 160 juveniles were at risk of execution, and authorities executed one individual during the year for alleged crimes committed under the age of 18 (see section 1.a.).

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage for girls is 13, but girls as young as nine years old may be married with permission from the court and their father. UNICEF’s state of the child report for 2015 estimates 3 percent of girls are married before the age of 15 and 17 percent before the age of 18. UN Committee on the Rights of the Child noted in January that the country continued to maintain practices of child marriage and forced marriage, including thousands of marriages of children below 13 years old.

NGOs reported that many girls committed suicide to escape such marriages and that there were major shortcomings in the country’s legal system that “allows sexual intercourse with girls as young as nine lunar years and that other forms of sexual abuse of even younger children is not criminalized.” The law requires court approval for the marriage of boys younger than 15 years old. Iran’s 2011 national census recorded 11,289 married girls under the age of 18 had at least one child before their 15th birthdays. According to the newspaper Shahrvand, there were more than 40,000 registered marriages for girls under the age of 15 in 2014. The number may be higher because NGOs reported that many families did not register underage marriages. Local media reported on a mass marriage ceremony of 50 high school students in Parsian in February where the local governor congratulated the families with gifts.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: See women’s section above.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The legal age requirements for consensual sex are the same as those for marriage, and sex outside of marriage is illegal. The law prohibits all forms of pornography, including child pornography. There are no specific laws regarding child sexual exploitation with such crimes either falling under the category of child abuse or sexual crimes of adultery. According to ICHRI, the legal ambiguity between child abuse and sexual molestation can lead to child sexual molestation cases being prosecuted under adultery laws. Local media reported a sexual abuse case of a nine-year-old girl, Neda, in May who had been sexually abused by her teacher at the 22 Bahman School in Zanjan. Despite medical reports indicating that the teacher had raped the child, ICHRI reported that the court gave the teacher a lesser sentence of having “illegitimate relations.”

Displaced Children: There were thousands of Afghan refugee children in the country, many of whom were born in the country but could not obtain identification documents. These children were often unable to attend schools or access basic government services and were vulnerable to labor exploitation and trafficking. In its January commission report, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child noted continued “allegations of abuse and ill-treatment of refugee and asylum-seeking children by police and security forces.”

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. For country-specific information, see the Department of State’s website at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

The law recognizes Jews as a religious minority and provides representation in parliament. Siamak Moreh Sedgh is the Jewish Member of Parliament.

Officials continued to question the history of the Holocaust, and anti-Semitism remained a pervasive problem. A cultural institute organized a third international Holocaust cartoon contest in May (authorities held the first in 2005 and the second in 2015).

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law generally prohibits discrimination by government actors against persons with disabilities but the law does not apply to private actors. No information was available regarding authorities’ effectiveness in enforcing the law. Electoral law prohibits those with visual, hearing, or speech disabilities from running for seats in parliament. While the law provides for government-funded vocational education for persons with disabilities, according to domestic news reports, vocational centers were located in urban areas and unable to meet the needs of the entire population.

The State Welfare Organization of Iran, under the Ministry of Cooperation, Labor, and Social Welfare, is the principal governmental agency charged with protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. It was founded in 1980 to assist persons with disabilities and disadvantaged persons financially and through support to 16 government entities. In addition to supporting low-income groups, it is charged with trying to prevent physical disabilities and support rehabilitation.

The law provides for public accessibility to government-funded buildings, and new structures appeared to comply with the standards in these provisions. There were efforts to increase the access of persons with disabilities to historical sites. Government buildings that predated existing accessibility standards remained largely inaccessible, and general building accessibility for persons with disabilities remained a problem. Persons with disabilities had limited access to informational, educational, and community activities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

While the constitution grants equal rights to all ethnic minorities and allows minority languages to be used in the media, minorities did not enjoy equal rights, and the government consistently barred the use of their languages in school as the language of instruction. IRGC forces allegedly controlled security in two provinces, Sistan-va Baluchistan and Kurdistan, home to large ethnic minority Baluch and Kurdish communities, respectively.

The government disproportionately targeted minority groups, including Kurds, Ahvazis, Azeris, and Baluchis, for arbitrary arrest, prolonged detention, and physical abuse. UN Committee on Rights of Child reported “widespread discrimination against children of ethnic minorities,” as well as “reported targeted arrests, detentions, imprisonments, killings, torture and executions against such groups by the law enforcement and judicial authorities” in its January panel review on the country. These groups reported political and socioeconomic discrimination, particularly in their access to economic aid, business licenses, university admissions, job opportunities, permission to publish books, and housing and land rights. Ethnolinguistic minorities are not free to name their children; the country’s civil registry maintains a list of acceptable names, and individuals who wish to choose a name not on this list (in their own language) cannot register the birth of their child. The law, which requires religious screening and allegiance to the concept of “velayat-e faqih” not found in Sunni Islam, impaired the ability of Sunni (many of whom are also Baluch, Ahvazi, or Kurdish) to integrate into civic life and to work in certain fields.

Human rights organizations observed that the government’s application of the death penalty disproportionately affected ethnic minorities. In pretrial detention authorities reportedly repeatedly subjected members of minority ethnicities and religions to more severe physical punishment or torture than other prisoners, regardless of the type of crime for which authorities accused them. In his March report, the UN Special Rapporteur reported the continued indiscriminate, extrajudicial killing of unarmed Kurdish smugglers or border couriers in Kermanshah, Kurdistan, Sistan-va Baluchistan, and West Azerbaijan.

The estimated eight million ethnic Kurds in the country frequently campaigned for greater regional autonomy. The government continued to use security law, media law, and other legislation to arrest and prosecute Kurds for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and association. The government reportedly banned Kurdish-language newspapers, journals, and books and punished publishers, journalists, and writers for opposing and criticizing government policies. Authorities suppressed legitimate activities of Kurdish NGOs by denying them registration permits or bringing security charges against persons working with such organizations. Authorities did not prohibit the use of Kurdish language, but authorities prohibited most schools from teaching it with the exception of the Kurdish language program at the University of Kurdistan.

There were updates in the case of longtime Kurdish rights activist and journalist Mohammad Sediq Kaboudvand, who was originally arrested in 2007 and sentenced to 10 years in prison for “acting against national security” and “propaganda against the state.” ICHRI reported he started a hunger strike on May 8 after his conditional release orders were overturned, and new charges were added to his existing sentence after he spoke out about Kurds fighting in Kobani, Syria.

International human rights observers, including the IHRDC, stated that the country’s estimated two million Ahvazi Arabs, representing 110 tribes, faced continued oppression and discrimination. Ahvazi rights activists reported the government continued to confiscate Ahvazi property to use for government project development by refusing to recognize the paper deeds of the local population from the prerevolutionary era. The Iranian state-run news agency Young Journalists Club reported the execution of three ethnic Ahvazis, Ghais Obidawi, Ahmad Obidawi, and Sajjad Balawi on August 17. Iran Human Rights reported that the three were sentenced to death without a fair trial. HRANA reported intelligence forces arrested 16 Ahvazi civilians and raided their houses in Shahrak-e-Hamzeh in Dezfool, Khuzestan, on August 23. Their whereabouts remained unknown at year’s end.

Ethnic Azeris, who numbered approximately 13 million, or 16 percent of the population, were more integrated into government and society and included the supreme leader among their numbers. IRNA reported the first inclusion of Azeri language and literature majors in universities on August 15. Azeris reported the government, nevertheless, discriminated against them by prohibiting the Azeri language in schools, harassing Azeri activists or organizers, and changing Azeri geographic names. Media reported that 25 protestors were arrested in June after protests erupted in Azeri areas over the publication of lines of poetry in state media that insulted Azeris. HRANA reported the August 18 arrest of Azeri couple, Jalal Shishvani and Shahnaz Tosi, in East Azerbaijan province for their online activism.

Local and international human rights groups alleged serious economic, legal, and cultural discrimination during the year against the predominantly ethnic Baluchi minority, estimated to be between 1.5 and two million persons. Areas with large Baluchi populations were severely underdeveloped and had limited access to education, employment, health care, and housing, with Baluchi rights activists reporting that more than 70 percent of the population lives under the poverty line. According to activist reports, during the summer authorities set many houses on fire in villages in the Chahbahar region, destroying person’s homes. The law limited Sunni Baluchis’ employment opportunities and political participation, which caused them to be underrepresented in government positions. Activists reported that throughout the year, and especially during the month of Moharam, the government sent hundreds of Shia missionaries to areas with large Sunni Baluch populations to try to convert the local population. According to Baluchi rights activists, Baluchi journalists and human rights activists faced arbitrary arrest, physical abuse, and unfair trials. Baluchi rights activists reported that families of those in prison were often pressured to remain silent and threatened with retaliation for speaking out about cases.

Human Rights in Iran website reported on October 19 that MOIS agents arrested Ameneh Issazadeh, a Sunni Baluchi girl from Sirik Township, at her home for criticizing religious ceremonies on social media during the month of Moharam. She contacted her family from a MOIS detention center in Bandar Abbas after several days, but her family was not allowed to see her.

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

The penal code criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual activity, which is punishable by death, flogging, or a lesser punishment. The law does not distinguish between consensual and nonconsensual same sex intercourse, and NGOs reported this lack of clarity leads to both the victim and the perpetrator being held criminally liable under the law in cases of assault. The law does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Security forces harassed, arrested, and detained individuals they suspected of being gay or transgender. In some cases security forces raided houses and monitored internet sites for information on LGBTI persons. Those accused of sodomy often faced summary trials, and evidentiary standards were not always met. Punishment for same-sex sexual activity between men was more severe than between women.

The government censored all materials related to LGBTI issues. Authorities particularly blocked websites or content within sites that discussed LGBTI issues, including the censorship of Wikipedia pages defining LGBTI and other related topics. There were active, unregistered LGBTI NGOs in the country. Hate crime laws or other criminal justice mechanisms did not exist to aid in the prosecution of bias-motivated crimes. International LGBTI NGOs reported that many young gay men faced harassment and abuse from family members, religious figures, school leaders, and community elders.

Those dismissed from mandatory military service due to their sexual orientation received special exemption cards indicating the reason for their dismissal, according to the LGBTI activist group 6Rang. Iranian law requires all male citizens over 18 to serve in the military but exempts gay and transgender men, who are classified as having mental disorders. New military ID cards will list the subsection of the law dictating their exemption on their ID cards, which, according to 6Rang, identifies them as gay or transgender and puts them at risk of physical danger and general discrimination.

The government provided transgender persons financial assistance in the form of grants of up to 45 million rials ($1,454) and loans up to 55 million rials ($1,777) to undergo gender-confirmation surgery. Additionally, the Ministry of Cooperatives, Labor, and Social Welfare requires health insurers to cover the cost of gender-confirmation surgery. Individuals who underwent gender-confirmation surgery may petition a court for new identity documents with corrected gender data, which the government reportedly provided efficiently and transparently. NGOs reported that authorities pressured LGBTI persons to undergo gender-confirmation surgery.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Despite government programs to treat and provide financial and other assistance to persons with HIV/AIDS, international news sources and organizations reported that individuals known to be infected with HIV/AIDS faced widespread societal discrimination, including in schools and workplaces.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

There was societal discrimination on linguistic grounds against groups whose native language was not Persian, and on religious grounds against non-Shia persons (see International Religious Freedom Report). The extent of such discrimination, largely at the individual level, was difficult to determine.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The constitution provides for freedom of association, but neither the constitution nor labor laws specify trade union rights. The law states that workers may establish an Islamic labor council or a guild at any workplace, but the rights and responsibilities of these organizations fall significantly short of international standards for trade unions. In workplaces where workers have established an Islamic labor council, authorities do not permit any other form of worker representation. The law requires prior authorization for organizing and concluding collective agreements. Strikes are prohibited in all sectors, although private-sector workers may conduct “peaceful” campaigns within the workplace. The law does not apply to establishments with fewer than 10 employees.

Authorities did not respect freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining, and the government did not effectively enforce applicable laws. The government severely restricted freedom of association and interfered in worker attempts to organize. The law does not prohibit antiunion discrimination and does not require reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. Antiunion discrimination occurred, and the government imprisoned, harassed, and restricted the activities of labor activists.

The Interior Ministry, the Ministry of Labor, Cooperatives, and Social Welfare, and the Islamic Information Organization determined labor councils’ constitutions, operational rules, and election procedures. Administrative and judicial procedures were lengthy. The Workers’ House remained the only officially authorized national labor organization, and its leadership oversaw, granted permits to, and coordinated activities with Islamic labor councils in industrial, agricultural, and service organizations with more than 35 employees. According to the ICHRI, the labor councils, which consisted of representatives of workers and a representative of management, were essentially management-run unions that undermined workers’ efforts to maintain independent unions. The councils, nevertheless, sometimes could block layoffs and dismissals. Human rights organizations reported that employers routinely fired labor activists for trade union activities. There was no representative workers’ organization for noncitizen workers.

According to international media reports, security forces continued to respond to workers’ attempts to organize or conduct strikes with arbitrary arrests and violence. Strikes and worker protests often prompted a heavy police response, and security forces routinely monitored major worksites. According to ICHRI, workers are routinely fired and risk arrest for striking, and labor leaders are charged with national security crimes for trying to organize workers. On October 15, labor activists Jafar Azimazadeh and Shapour Ehsani-Rad were sentenced to 11 years in prison for their trade union work supporting a strike at the Safa Rolling and Pipe Mills Company after 16 months without pay. On January 28, workers from the Khatunabad Copper Complex were arrested for protesting against unpaid wages and layoffs and were released on bail pending trial.

The government continued to arrest and harass members of the country’s Teachers Association (see section 2.b.). Kurdistan Teachers Association member, Taher Ghaderzadeh, was sentenced to 91 days’ imprisonment in April for “participating in assemblies of teachers,” and his case is currently being appealed, according to a May report by the World Organization Against Torture. According to ICHRI teachers’ activist and board member of the Iranian Teachers Association, Rassoul Boghdadi, was conditionally released on April 29. He was originally set for release after serving a six year sentence in 2015, but a second sentence was added for an additional three years in prison for “insulting Imam Khomeini and the supreme leader” and “propaganda against the state.”

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but the government did not effectively enforce the law. Conditions indicative of forced labor sometimes occurred in the construction, domestic labor, and agricultural sectors, primarily among adult Afghan men. Family members and others forced children to work. The government made no significant effort to address forced labor during the year.

See also the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits employment of minors under the age of 15 and places restrictions on employment of minors under the age of 18, such as prohibiting hard labor or night work. The law does not apply to domestic labor and permits children to work in agriculture and some small businesses from the age of 12. The government did not adequately monitor or enforce laws pertaining to child labor, and child labor remained a serious problem. In its January concluding observations, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child cited a 2003 law that exempts workshops with fewer than 10 employees from labor regulations, as increasing the risks of economic exploitation of children. It also noted serious concerns with the large number of children employed under hazardous conditions, such as in garbage collection, brick kilns, and industrial workshops, without protective clothing and for very low pay.

There were reportedly significant numbers of children, especially of Afghan descent, working as street vendors in major urban areas. The Committee on the Rights of the Child reported problems with street children in particular being subjected to various forms of economic exploitation, including sexual abuse and exploitation by the public and police officers. Child labor also reportedly was used in the production of carpets. Children worked as beggars, and there were reports that criminals forced some children into begging rings.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution bars discrimination based on race, gender, disability, language, and social status “in conformity with Islamic criteria,” but the government did not effectively enforce these prohibitions. According to the constitution, “everyone has the right to choose any occupation he wishes, if it is not contrary to Islam and the public interests, and does not infringe the rights of others.”

Despite this constitutional provision, the government made systematic efforts to limit women’s access to the workplace. In 2015 the Interior Ministry issued an order requiring all officials to hire only secretaries of their own gender. Women remained banned from working in coffee houses and from performing music alongside men with very limited exceptions made for traditional music. Women in many fields were restricted from working after 9 p.m. Hiring practices often discriminated against women, and the Ministry of Labor, Cooperatives, and Social Welfare guidelines state that men should be given preferential hiring status.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

According to the Iranian High Labor Council, the minimum wage is more than 8 million rials (around $259) per month; this figure does not include supplemental allowances for housing, groceries, and child benefits. The minimum wage represented a 14 percent increase in 2015; it did not keep pace with inflation, which was estimated at 35 percent for the same year, according to the Central Bank of Iran. Domestic labor organizations published reports stating workers’ purchasing power eroded during the past few years as yearly increases in the minimum wage did not kept pace with inflation.

The law establishes a maximum six-day, 44-hour workweek with a weekly rest day, at least 12 days of paid annual leave, and several paid public holidays. Any hours worked above that amount entitles a worker to overtime. The law mandates a payment above the hourly wage to employees for any accrued overtime. The law provides that overtime work is not compulsory. The law does not cover workers in workplaces with fewer than 10 workers, nor does it apply to noncitizens. Employers sometimes subjected migrant workers, most often Afghans, to abusive working conditions, including below-minimum wage salaries, nonpayment of wages, compulsory overtime, and summary deportation without access to food, water, or sanitation facilities during the deportation process.

Many workers continued to be employed on temporary contracts under which they lacked protections available to full-time, noncontract workers and could be dismissed at any time without cause. Large numbers of workers employed in small workplaces or in the informal economy similarly lacked basic protections. Low wages, nonpayment of wages, and lack of job security due to contracting practices continued to be major drivers for strikes and protests.

Little information was available regarding labor inspection and labor law enforcement. While the law provides for occupational health and safety standards, the government sometimes did not enforce these standards in the formal and informal sectors. Labor organizations alleged that hazardous work environments resulted in the deaths of thousands of workers annually. Local media reported on a September 25 cement factory accident that killed one worker and injured others. Iran Human Rights reported that workplace deaths continued to be common throughout the year. Workers do not have the right to remove themselves from situations that endangered their health or safety without jeopardizing their employment.

Turkey

Executive Summary

Turkey is a constitutional republic with a multiparty parliamentary system and a president. A unicameral parliament (the Grand National Assembly) exercises legislative authority. Binali Yildirim succeeded Ahmet Davutoglu as prime minister in May.

Civilians at times did not maintain effective control over security forces. On July 15, elements of the military staged an unsuccessful coup attempt that killed more than 240 citizens and injured more than 2,100. The government asserted that cleric Fethullah Gulen and his supporters masterminded the coup attempt and engaged in a pattern of subversion of the judiciary and state institutions.

The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and groups linked to it declared autonomy in some cities in the Southeast and undertook attacks on security forces, sparking government responses. Clashes resulted in the death of more than 600 security forces, at least 200 civilians, and an unknown number of PKK terrorists. The violent conflict displaced an estimated 300,000 persons, many of whom remained displaced at year’s end. The PKK, its subgroups, and Da’esh also conducted terror attacks throughout the country, resulting in hundreds of civilian casualties.

The most significant human rights problems during the year were:

Inconsistent access to due process: Following the July 15 coup attempt, the government on July 20 declared a three-month state of emergency, which was renewed in October, that allowed suspension of some due process protections for those accused of ties to terrorist groups. The government ascribed responsibility for the attempt to the Fethullah Gulen movement, which it defined as a terrorist organization. Courts imprisoned tens of thousands of persons accused of supporting the coup or terrorist groups, in many cases with little clarity on the charges and evidence against them. Government decrees issued under the state of emergency restricted suspects’ access to legal assistance, allowed suspects to be held without charge for up to a month, and in some cases froze the assets of suspended or fired civil servants or their family members. Human rights groups documented some cases in which family members were held or subjected to restrictions on their freedom of movement in lieu of suspects who remained at large. The government suspended and dismissed tens of thousands of civil servants, who generally had little access to legal recourse or appeal, and closed thousands of businesses, schools, and associations.

Government interference with freedom of expression: The government restricted freedom of expression, media, and the internet, intensifying pressure on the media following the failed coup attempt. Authorities arrested at least 140 journalists, most accused of affiliation with the Gulen movement or connections with the PKK. The government also exerted pressure on media, closing media outlets and publishing associations; conducting raids on media companies; confiscating publications with allegedly objectionable material; instigating criminal investigations of journalists and editors for alleged support of terrorist groups; banning books; instigating gag orders on terrorism-related stories; and blocking internet sites. Self-censorship was widespread amid fear that criticizing the government could prompt reprisals. The closure of nearly all Kurdish-language media outlets reduced vulnerable populations’ access to information and alternative viewpoints. The government impeded access by international media and observers to conflict areas, limiting independent reporting about conditions.

Inadequate protection of civilians: In fighting the terrorist PKK, government security forces failed to take sufficient measures to protect civilians. Hundreds of thousands of residents of the Southeast were forced to flee their homes and most remained internally displaced at year’s end. Upwards of 200 civilians were killed in the fighting. Human rights groups reported that security forces killed and injured persons who attempted to cross illegally from Syria into Turkey and documented reports of torture and abuse of prisoners following the coup attempt.

Other human rights problems included prison overcrowding compounded by the influx of tens of thousands of new prisoners after the coup attempt. The government fired more than 3,000 members of the judiciary, creating an atmosphere of fear that further limited judicial independence and complicated or delayed court proceedings. Many refugees lacked access to schools, work, and social assistance. Authorities failed to protect women and children adequately, including by failing to prevent early marriage. Minority groups, including Alevis, Christians, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex (LGBTI) individuals, continued to face threats, discrimination, and violence and reported that the government took insufficient steps to protect them. The worst forms of child labor, especially among the refugee population, persisted. Progovernment media used anti-LGBTI, anti-Armenian, anti-Alevi, and anti-Semitic rhetoric.

Impunity was a problem as the government took limited steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish members of the security forces and other officials accused of human rights abuses. A new law approved in July rendered the prosecution of security officers involved in the fight against terror more difficult.

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

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

There were credible allegations that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings in connection with the violent clashes between government security forces and the terrorist PKK organization in the Southeast (see section 1.g.).

A coup attempt on July 15 resulted in the death of more than 240 individuals and the injury of more than 2,100, most of them civilians who took to the streets to defend their democratically elected government. The government attributed the coup attempt to the Fethullah Gulen movement, which it formally designated as the “Fethullah Gulen Terrorist Organization.” On July 16, angry mobs beat soldiers surrendering following the attempted coup as they tried to leave Istanbul’s Bosporus Bridge, killing at least one.

The PKK continued its nationwide campaign of deadly attacks on government security forces and, in some cases, civilians during the year. According to the government, 208 civilians died and 1,259 were injured in clashes between security forces and the PKK in the first eight months of the year. The government noted that 451 security personnel were killed in the same period, with 2,810 injured.

The Human Rights Association (HRA), a domestic nongovernmental organization (NGO), attributed more than 300 civilian deaths during the first eight months of the year to the security forces, most of them in the fighting with the PKK. Human rights groups alleged that the government took insufficient measures to protect civilian lives in its fight with the PKK in the Southeast (section 1.g.).

A range of groups criticized the government’s slow-moving investigation of the suspicious death of Diyarbakir Bar Association president, Tahir Elci, who was shot and killed at a press gathering in Diyarbakir in November 2015 under unclear circumstances. The investigation continued as of year’s end.

During the year the government tightened control of its border with Syria in response to requests from foreign governments to restrict the entry of Da’esh fighters who were moving through Turkey to commit terrorist acts elsewhere. This border tightening restricted humanitarian access to Turkey for those fleeing the conflict in Syria. Turkey allowed access only to those needing immediate medical assistance. Some Syrians attempting to cross the border illegally were injured or killed during border crossings (see section 2.d.).

Human rights groups documented several suspicious deaths of detainees in official custody following the coup attempt and noted 16 to 23 reported suicides of detainees as of November. On September 16, Seyfettin Yigit in Bursa allegedly committed suicide after being detained for Gulen-related connections. His family claimed he was a victim of police violence. Yigit had been heavily involved in developing the case announced in 2013, alleging high-level official corruption that implicated members of then-prime minister Erdogan’s family and close circle, including four ministers.

Security officers reacted with force to some protests and demonstrations. Human rights groups claimed the use of force might have contributed to civilian deaths during certain protests in the Southeast. Human rights organizations continued to assert that the government’s failure to delineate clearly in the law the circumstances that justify the use of force contributed to disproportionate use of force during protests (see section 2.b.).

In addition to the violence resulting from the coup attempt and attacks perpetrated by the PKK (see section 1.g.), citizens were also affected by five terrorist attacks attributed to Da’esh. On January 7, a suicide bomber in Istanbul’s Sultanahmet Square killed 12 persons and injured 14. On March 19, another suicide bomber targeted tourists in Istanbul’s Istiklal Street, killing five persons and injuring 36. On May 1, a vehicle-borne suicide bomb killed three police officers and injured 21 persons. On June 28, three men attacked Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport, killing 45 persons and injuring more than 200. On August 20, a child suicide bomber killed 54 persons and injured 69 at a wedding in Gaziantep.

b. Disappearance

There were no confirmed reports of politically motivated disappearances during the year.

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

The constitution and law prohibit torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, but there were reports that some government officials employed these tactics. Human rights groups alleged that, although torture and mistreatment in police custody decreased following installation of closed-circuit cameras in 2012, police continued to abuse detainees outside police stations. The Ministry of Justice reported there were 457 investigations into allegations of mistreatment in prison or detention centers through October 20. In 39 cases the investigations resulted in fines, and in two cases the suspects were found guilty and sentenced to imprisonment. There was one allegation of rape or sexual abuse in prison during the year, which was forwarded to prosecutors.

The HRA reported receiving hundreds of requests for assistance in connection with allegations of torture and inhuman treatment both in detention centers and outside police stations during the year, adding that intimidation and shaming of detainees by police were common. The HRA reported that victims hesitated to report abuse due to fear of reprisal. Following the coup attempt in July, detainees regularly reported problems including prison overcrowding and lack of access to legal representation and medical treatment.

Thousands of detainees taken into custody in the initial aftermath of the July 15 coup attempt were held in stadiums, meeting rooms, and other sites without cameras, where some were allegedly subject to mistreatment or abuse. Amnesty International (AI) alleged some detainees in Ankara and Istanbul were tortured and reported widespread use of stress positions, denial of food and water, detention in unsanitary conditions, in addition to beatings and rapes. On July 25, AI reported that an anonymous witness at the Ankara police headquarters gym described the following: “…650-800 male soldiers were being held in the Ankara police headquarters sports hall. At least 300 of the detainees showed signs of having been beaten. Some detainees had visible bruises, cuts, or broken bones. Around 40 were so badly injured they could not walk. Two were unable to stand. One woman who was also detained in a separate facility there had bruising on her face and torso.” Bar Association representatives corroborated the allegations; in some cases before-and-after photos appeared to show evidence of beatings by security forces. Authorities restricted lawyers’ access to the detainees as allowed under decrees passed during the state of emergency.

The UN special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, Nils Melzer, reported following his visit (November 27-December 2) that the government’s changes to due process implemented in response to the July coup attempt created an environment conducive to torture. He interviewed many inmates who reported experiencing torture either in connection with detentions in the immediate aftermath of the coup attempt, or in connection with alleged PKK support in the Southeast. He concluded that in the days and weeks following the failed coup, torture and other forms of ill-treatment were widespread in the initial detention and interrogation phases. Melzer noted that very few of those who reported torture had made any official complaint due to fear of reprisals or mistrust of the institutions meant to prevent torture. Intimidation and distrust prevented not just inmates, but also other sectors of society such as lawyers, doctors, and NGOs, from initiating actions that might be perceived as critical of the government, including complaints about torture.

Two journalists detained on August 16 in connection with the closure of pro-Kurdish news media outlet Ozgur Gundem reported being beaten and threatened with rape by police officers.

On October 25, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that the government’s decrees under the state of emergency facilitated torture by removing safeguards that protected detainees from mistreatment. The report described a pattern of denial of access to legal aid and detainees’ medical reports, which it claimed prevented substantiation of allegations of physical abuse. A provision in the emergency decrees absolved government officials of any responsibility for abuses in connection with duties carried out in the context of the decrees.

The government claimed witness reports described in the AI and HRW reports described above were a smear campaign on the part of Gulenists.

The TNP reported 24 criminal investigations into allegations of torture during the year, all of which led to decisions not to prosecute the officials involved. There were three disciplinary investigations related to torture; all three continued at year’s end.

The newly organized National Human Rights and Equality Institution (NHREI), parliament’s Human Rights Commission (HRC), and the Ombudsman Institution are administratively responsible for investigating reports of human rights violations, including allegations of torture, excessive use of force, or extrajudicial killings (see section 5).

Police harassment of LGBTI persons, particularly transgender sex workers, remained common.

According to the NGO Soldiers’ Rights Platform, some military conscripts endured severe hazing, physical abuse, and torture that sometimes resulted in suicide. The NGO reported that at least five soldiers had committed suicide as of September 27 but claimed the actual number was at least double. The Human Rights Joint Platform (HRJP), a domestic NGO, alleged that hate crimes, sexual orientation, and discrimination based on ethnicity played a role in military suicides and suspicious deaths, but it noted an absence of empirical data because the military did not recognize ethnic minorities or collect data on sexual orientation.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison facilities generally met international standards for physical conditions in many respects, with certain exceptions. Overcrowding, particularly in the wake of wide-scale arrests following the July 15 coup attempt, and lack of access to adequate health care remained problems.

Physical Conditions: In August, Justice Minister Bozdag reported the prison population was 215,000. As of October 20, the Ministry of Justice reported there were 372 prisons in the country with a capacity of 189,269 inmates. As of October 20, the prisons were occupied by 196,415 prisoners. Of these, 66,644 were in pretrial detention while 129,771 were convicted of a crime. Some 80 percent of the pretrial detainees had been in prison for less than a year. Pretrial detainees were held in the same facilities with convicted prisoners.

The government reported it used separate prisons for children where such facilities were available; otherwise, children were held in separate sections within adult prisons.

Human rights organizations asserted that prisoners frequently lacked adequate access to potable water, proper heating, ventilation, and lighting. According to the HRA, prisoners sometimes complained about food quantity and quality.

Through October 17, the Justice Ministry reported 283 inmate deaths from natural causes as well as 48 suicides and 16 deaths from other causes. It reported that 181 seriously ill prisoners had been released during the year.

Although the government asserted that doctors were assigned to each prison, according to Ministry of Justice statistics, 11 doctors served prisons in the country as of March 4, or one doctor for every 33 prisons and 16,839 inmates. Human rights associations expressed serious concern over the inadequate provision of health care to prisoners, particularly the insufficient number of prison doctors. As of September the HRA reported that 926 inmates were sick, including 331 in critical condition, and that three inmates had been released for health reasons during the year.

Chief prosecutors have discretion, particularly under the wide-reaching antiterror law, to keep in prison inmates whom they deem dangerous to public security, regardless of medical reports documenting serious illness.

In August, the Istanbul Prison Monitoring Commission of the Istanbul branch of the Progressive Lawyers Association reported that the state of emergency had negatively affected prison conditions. The report, based on information acquired through complaints received and interviews conducted by the association’s lawyers, identified several alleged violations of prisoners’ rights, including prisoners injured during prison transfers, restrictions on telephone calls and family visits, restricted access to information and reading material, recording of attorney-client meetings, and abuse of sick prisoners.

The HRA reported that political prisoners typically were held in higher-security prisons and only received one to two hours per week of recreational time. The law normally allows prisoners 10 hours of recreational time per week, a provision restricted by government decree following the coup attempt.

Administration: Authorities at times investigated credible allegations of inhuman conditions but generally did not document the results of such investigations in a publicly accessible manner or take action to hold perpetrators accountable. The Ministry of Justice reported 457 investigations (both criminal and administrative) of alleged prison violence or mistreatment through October 20. The ministry did not supply prison monitoring boards reports for the year but stated that in 2015 monitoring boards made 1,302 visits to 358 prisons throughout the country.

The NHREI and the Ombudsman Institution were established to function as a human rights check for prisons as well as for broader human rights and personnel issues. Parliament’s HRC and the Ombudsman Institution had authorization to visit and observe prisons, including military prisons, without advance permission. During the year the HRC issued one report–on prison conditions in Tekirdag.

Independent Monitoring: The government reported it allowed prison visits by some international delegations, the EU, the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT), and UN bodies. A CPT delegation visited the country in April and carried out an ad hoc visit in August-September. The government postponed a visit in September requested by the UN special rapporteur on torture, citing limited government resources to support such a visit, which subsequently took place in late November.

The government did not allow NGOs to monitor prisons. The HRA reported it had received numerous complaints of inhuman treatment and torture by prison wardens or other inmates.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but numerous credible reports, especially in the wake of the failed July 15 coup attempt, indicated the government did not always observe these prohibitions. For example, in the three months following the coup attempt, police detained more than 75,000 individuals and formally arrested more than 41,000. The vast majority were accused of ties to the Gulen movement, as opposed to direct participation in the coup attempt itself. Under the state of emergency, detainees could be held without charge for up to 30 days. There were numerous accounts of persons waiting beyond 30 days to be formally charged. Bar associations reported that detainees had difficulty gaining access to lawyers, both because government decrees restricted lawyers’ access to detainees and prisons–especially those not provided by the state, such as legal aid lawyers–and because many lawyers were reluctant to defend individuals suspected of ties to the coup attempt. A variety of sources reported instances of individuals wrongfully detained for ties to the coup based on poison-pen allegations driven by personal or other rivalries.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Turkish National Police (TNP), under the control of the Ministry of Interior, was responsible for security in large urban areas. The Jandarma, a paramilitary force previously under the joint control of the Ministry of Interior and the military, was moved to strictly civilian control by decree on July 27. It was responsible for rural areas and specific border sectors where smuggling was common, although the military has overall responsibility for border control and overall external security. The Jandarma supervised the “village guards,” a civilian militia historically involved in human rights abuses that provided additional local security in the Southeast, largely in response to the terrorist threat from the PKK. Village guards were renamed “security guards” in an October 29 decree.

Government mechanisms to investigate and punish alleged abuse and corruption by state officials remained inadequate, and impunity remained a problem. National Intelligence Organization members have had legal immunity from prosecution since 2014. On July 14, a new law granted additional, retroactive immunity to security officials fighting terror. The law gave expansive powers to the military and made it harder to investigate human rights abuses by requiring permission from both military and civilian leadership to pursue prosecution.

The Ombudsman Institution, the NHREI, and parliament’s HRC are authorized to investigate reports of security force killings, torture or mistreatment, excessive use of force, and other abuses, but military and civil courts remained the main recourse to prevent impunity.

The Jandarma reported that the Jandarma Human Rights Inquiry and Evaluation Center received 19 complaints of human rights violations during the first eight months of the year. Of those the center found no fault with Jandarma personnel in 16 cases; three cases continued as of year’s end. The TNP reported that, during the same period, 60 personnel were the subjects of internal disciplinary investigations for excessive use of force. As of year’s end, 57 of the investigations continued while three had concluded without finding fault by TNP personnel. There were also 83 TNP criminal cases related to excessive use of force. One case concluded with an acquittal while 82 resulted in decisions not to prosecute.

Prosecutors filed more than 6,000 criminal cases against civilians accused of perpetrating violence against the state during the 2013 Gezi Park protests. Only nine security officials have faced charges for their role in protesters’ deaths. In three cases, courts found police criminally responsible for deaths. In one case an Anatolian court in December concluded a retrial of police officer Ahmet Sahbaz, finding him guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the 2013 shooting death of Gezi Park protester Ethem Sarisuluk. The court sentenced Sahbaz to 16 months in prison, converted to a fine of 10,100 lira ($2,900), a significant sentence reduction compared with the outcome in 2014 of the original trial that was overturned on procedural grounds, which found Sahbaz guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced him to more than seven years in jail. The retrial in one of the other two cases concluded, reaching the same guilty verdict as initially rendered and ruling for the release of the guilty parties after ruling they had served sufficient prison time. In the third case, the appeal remained pending as of year’s end.

Istanbul prosecutors announced on March 3 that they had identified a police officer responsible for firing the tear gas canister that killed 14-year-old Berkan Elvan. Prosecutors indicted the suspect, known only as F.D., on December 7. Prosecutors had not filed charges at year’s end in the case of protester Ahmet Atakan, killed when shot in the head with a tear gas canister in Hatay in 2013. On November 8, a Diyarbakir court acquitted Adem Ciftci, an army private accused of shooting Medeni Yildirim as he allegedly watched a group of protesters throwing stones and Molotov cocktails at soldiers guarding a new police station in Lice district in 2013.

Officials employed the tactic of counterfiling lawsuits against individuals who alleged abuse. Mustafa Yıldız, the father of a nine-year-old with Down syndrome, was fined more than 7,000 lira (about $2,000) on July 11 after his son’s behavior bothered an unnamed police officer at a sporting match in Konya in January. The father filed a complaint against the officer for insulting him and his son, prompting the police officer to counterfile, alleging the man called him “ill-mannered.” A court dismissed the father’s complaint for lack of evidence but found in favor of the police officer, levying a suspended fine against Yildiz.

During the first eight months of the year, the Jandarma reported that more than 2,000 personnel were trained on human rights topics. The TNP reported that more than 8,000 personnel received some human rights training through September.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires warrants issued by a prosecutor for arrests, unless the suspect is detained while committing a crime. Under ordinary circumstances individuals may be detained for up to 24 hours, after which a prosecutor may authorize extending the period to 48 hours, excluding transportation time, before arraigning them with a prosecutor’s warrant before a judge. A chief prosecutor may apply to extend this period of custody up to four days before arraignment under certain circumstances, including cases with multiple suspects and charges. Formal arrest is a later step, separate from detention, and means a suspect will be held in jail until and unless released by a subsequent court order. Authorities must notify suspects of the charges against them within 24 hours, although human rights activists claimed that authorities did not always inform suspects of the basis of a given charge. For crimes that carry sentences of fewer than three years in prison, a judge may release the accused after arraignment upon receipt of an appropriate assurance, such as bail. For more serious crimes, the judge can either release the defendant on his or her own recognizance or hold the defendant in custody (arrest) prior to trial if there are specific facts indicating that the suspect may flee, attempt to destroy evidence, or attempt to pressure or tamper with witnesses or victims. Judges often kept suspects in detention without articulating a clear justification for doing so.

While the law generally provides detainees the right to immediate access to an attorney at any time, laws enacted in 2015 allow prosecutors to deny such access for up to 24 hours. In criminal cases the law also requires that the government provide indigent detainees with a public attorney if they request one. In cases where the potential prison sentence is more than five years or where the defendant is a child or is disabled, a defense attorney is appointed, even absent a request from the defendant. Human rights observers noted that in most cases, authorities provided an attorney where a defendant could not afford one. Judges also may limit a lawyer’s access to the investigation file, should the judge decide the case is confidential. Defense lawyers’ access to their clients’ court files for a specific catalogue of crimes (including crimes against state security, organized crime, and sexual assault against children) may be restricted until the client is indicted.

The state of emergency declared following the July 15 coup attempt provided the government with expanded authorities to detain individuals for up to 30 days without charge and deny access to counsel for up to five days. Decrees gave prosecutors the right to suspend lawyer-client privilege, observe and record conversations between the accused and their legal counsel, and intervene in the selection of defendants’ legal counsel. In October the government used a state-of-emergency decree to reestablish a 24-hour limit for which detainees could be held without access to legal counsel, but legal contacts asserted at year’s end that the five-day rule was still being applied. Following the extension of the state of emergency in October, these provisions remained in place.

Private attorneys and human rights monitors reported irregular implementation of laws protecting the right to a fair trial, particularly with respect to attorney access. Prior to the July 15 coup attempt, human rights groups alleged that authorities frequently denied detainees access to an attorney in terrorism-related cases until security forces had interrogated the suspect.

Arbitrary Arrest: Although the law prohibits holding a suspect arbitrarily or secretly, there were numerous reports that the government did not observe these prohibitions, especially following the July 15 coup attempt. Human rights groups alleged that in areas under curfew or in “special security zones,” security forces detained citizens without official record, leaving detainees at greater risk of arbitrary abuse.

Pretrial Detention: Changes to the law in 2014 reduced from 10 years to five the maximum time that a detainee could be held pending conviction, including for organized crime and terrorism-related offenses. For other major criminal offenses tried by high criminal courts, the maximum detention period is two years plus three one-year extensions, for a total of five years.

The trial system does not provide for access to a speedy trial, and hearings in a case may be months apart. In 2007 police apprehended five individuals for killing three Christians in Malatya, also known as the Zirve Publishing House massacre. The trial concluded at its 115th hearing on September 28 when a court found seven defendants guilty and acquitted 14 others. Emre Gunaydin, Cuma Ozdemir, Hamit Ceker, Salih Gurler, and Abuzer Yildirim were convicted of the 2007 torture and murder of two Turkish converts to Christianity (Necati Aydin and Ugur Yuksel) and a German citizen (Tilmann Geske). The convicts recorded the torture on their cell phones and murdered their victims after police arrived. While the lengthy trial was ongoing, all the suspects were released from pretrial detention in 2014 because they had reached the five-year maximum allowable time in pretrial detention, although the court had discretion to make exceptions for violent crimes.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Detainees’ lawyers may appeal pretrial detention, although the state of emergency imposed limits on this ability. Changes to the country’s judicial process in 2015 introduced a system of lateral appeals for the Criminal Courts of Peace, substituting appeal to a higher court with appeal to a lateral court. Lawyers criticized the move, which rendered ambiguous the authority of conflicting rulings rendered by horizontally equal courts.

In cases of alleged human rights violations, detainees have the right to apply directly to the Constitutional Court for redress while their criminal case is proceeding. On February 25, the Constitutional Court ruled for the release of opposition daily Cumhuriyet editor in chief, Can Dundar, together with Ankara bureau chief, Erdem Gul, on the grounds that their pretrial detention (on charges of revealing state secrets and seeking the violent overthrow of the government) was a violation of their right to liberty and freedom of expression.

Protracted Detention of Rejected Asylum Seekers or Stateless Persons: The Directorate General of Migration Management (DGMM) reported that it operated 18 readmission and removal centers with a capacity of 6,670. The DGMM reported that as of September 18, there were 3,781 individuals in these facilities. The DGMM stated that facilities had shortcomings, largely because they had not been designed to serve as readmission and removal centers. NGOs reported that some detainees were held for extended periods, although many were released within days.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) noted that detention center conditions varied and were often challenging due to limited physical capacity and increased referrals–some of them related to the country’s March agreement with the EU to accept migrant returns from Greece in return for the resettlement of refugees in Turkey to Europe. Refugee-focused human rights groups alleged that migrants placed in detention and return centers were prevented by authorities from communicating with the outside world, including their family members or lawyers, creating a situation of impunity.

Amnesty: To alleviate prison overcrowding, an August 17 government decree under the state of emergency provided for the release of persons convicted of a selected catalogue of nonviolent crimes, who had less than two years remaining on their sentence and at least half of their sentence completed. Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag announced in September that this provision had allowed the release of approximately 34,000 persons from prison, making space for some of the more than 41,000 arrested after the failed coup attempt.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, but the judiciary remained subject to influence, particularly from the executive branch. Parliament in early July approved legislation restructuring two of the country’s high courts, the Court of Appeals and the Council of State. Among other actions the legislation reduced the number of judges on each court and imposed 12-year term limits on newly appointed judges. The government claimed the reform would streamline the judiciary constructively. Critics charged that the move increased executive influence over the judiciary.

Although the constitution provides tenure for judges, the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) controls the careers of judges and prosecutors through appointments, transfers, promotions, expulsions, and reprimands. Broad leeway granted to prosecutors and judges, challenges the requirement to remain impartial, and the judges’ inclination to protect the state over the individual contributed to inconsistent application of criminal laws.

The suspension, detention, firing, and freezing of personal assets of more than 3,000 members of the judiciary after the July 15 coup attempt (representing about 22 percent of the total) accused of affiliation with the Gulen movement had a chilling effect on judicial independence. The government alleged some obtained their positions through collusion with officials or after cheating on professional entrance exams prior to the dissolution of the partnership between the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the Gulen movement. The government in many cases presented little evidence and had not allowed the accused to see or respond to the claims against them. By September most of those who had initially been suspended were fired, in many cases without adequate due process. On October 13, in response to an appeal, the HSYK reinstated 198 judges and prosecutors who had previously been suspended. As of September 2, the government hired 956 new judges and prosecutors.

The country has an inquisitorial criminal justice system.

The country’s system for educating and assigning judges and prosecutors created close connections between them; observers (including the European Commission) claimed this process led to the appearance of impropriety and unfairness in criminal cases. Prosecutors and judges studied together at the country’s Justice Academy before being assigned to their first official posts by the HSYK; after appointment they often lodged together, shared the same office space, worked in the same courtroom for many years, and even swapped positions over their careers. Prosecutors entered courtrooms through doors reserved for judicial officials and sat next to judges throughout court proceedings. Human rights and bar associations noted that defense attorneys generally underwent less rigorous training than their prosecutorial counterparts and were not required to pass an examination to demonstrate a minimum level of expertise.

The constitution provides for the trial of military personnel in civilian courts if their alleged crime was committed against the state or the constitutional order. Decisions of the Supreme Military Council were generally not open to civilian review, although the constitution provides for civilian judicial review when specific circumstances are met.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides for the right to a fair public trial. Increasing executive interference over the judiciary and actions taken by the government under the state of emergency jeopardized this right.

Under the law defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and the right to be present at their trial. Judges can restrict lawyers’ access to defendants’ files during the prosecution phase. Defendants and their attorneys generally have access to government-held evidence relevant to their cases, although the state increasingly made use of a clause allowing cases to be sealed for national security reasons. The European Commission’s current year progress report and other observers noted that indictments often lacked logical reasoning or evidentiary support.

Courtroom proceedings were generally public for all cases except those involving minors as defendants. The state increasingly used a clause allowing closed courtrooms for hearings and trials related to security matters, such as those related to “crimes against the state.” Court files, which contain indictments, case summaries, judgments, and other court pleadings, were closed to everyone other than the parties to a case, making it difficult to obtain information on the progress or results of court cases.

A single judge or a panel of judges decides all cases.

Defendants have the right to be present at trial and to consult with an attorney in a timely manner. Defendants have the right to legal representation in criminal cases and, if indigent, to have representation provided at public expense. Defendants or their attorneys could question witnesses for the prosecution although questions must usually be presented to the judges who will then ask the questions on behalf of counsel. Defendants or their attorneys could, within limits, present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Secret witnesses were frequently used, particularly in cases related to state security. Defendants have the right not to testify or confess guilt and the right to appeal. The law provides for free interpretation to all parties in a case when needed. The HRA alleged that free interpretation was not always provided, leaving some poor, non-Turkish-speaking defendants disadvantaged by the need to pay for interpretation.

Trials sometimes took years to begin, and appeals could take years to reach conclusion. The courts were capable of moving more quickly in certain cases. In March a 54-year-old teacher employed by the Ensar Foundation, an education-focused body associated with the AKP, was implicated in a sexual assault case in Karaman, where he was accused of systematically assaulting at least 10 male students between the ages of nine and 12, who lived in dorms operated by the foundation. The accused perpetrator stood a one-day trial six weeks after the crime was reported (April 20). Although the court found the perpetrator guilty and gave a record 500-year prison sentence, critics charged the speed of the trial and the court’s refusal to expand the investigation to dozens of other potential victims constituted political protection for the AKP-favored foundation.

In April the Supreme Court of Appeals overturned the convictions of all defendants in the Ergenekon case, a large-scale trial that began in 2008 and eventually involved 275 defendants accused of plotting to overthrow the government. A lower court had ruled against most of the suspects in 2013, but most were released from prison in 2014 after the Constitutional Court ruled that their rights were violated on the grounds that the detailed explanation of the judgment against them was not issued within the legal timeframe, precluding appeal. The decision to overturn the convictions was based on lack of concrete evidence proving the existence of the alleged Ergenekon terrorist organization, irregularities in evidence and procedure, and violation of due process. As of year’s end, the case was scheduled to be retried in a lower court.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

The number of political prisoners was not a matter of public record and remained the subject of debate at year’s end. In March media reported that 6,592 prison inmates were alleged members of the PKK, while 518 were alleged members of Da’esh and 366 were alleged members of the Gulen movement. Some observers assessed that many imprisoned after the failed coup attempt could be considered political prisoners, a charge disputed by the government. The Justice Ministry reported that, as of October 20, there were 47,512 prisoners in detention on terror-related charges.

Despite limits placed on the use of the antiterror law during 2013 and 2014 by the Fourth and Fifth Judicial Packages, prosecutors continued to use a broad definition of terrorism and threats to national security to launch criminal charges against a broad range of defendants, including more than 140 journalists and hundreds of mostly pro-Kurdish politicians, party officers, and supporters. Notable detentions and arrests during the year included Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) cochairs Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag, and other HDP parliamentarians in November, as well as several Democratic Regions Party (DBP) local mayors in the months following the coup attempt. At year’s end approximately 70 mayors had been removed from office, detained, or arrested for allegedly supporting terrorism (section 1.g.). Antiterror laws were broadly used against Kurds, suspected PKK sympathizers, and alleged members of the Gulen movement. Human rights groups alleged that many detainees had no substantial link to terrorism and were detained to weaken the pro-Kurdish HDP and DBP or to silence critical voices. Authorities used both the antiterror laws and increased powers accorded to the government under the state of emergency to detain individuals and seize assets, including those of media companies, charities, and businesses, of pro-Kurdish groups accused of supporting the PKK, and of individuals alleged to be associated with the Gulen movement.

Credible media reports claimed that some persons jailed on terror charges were subject to a variety of abuses, including long solitary confinements, severe limitations on outdoor exercise and out-of-cell activity, inability to engage in professional work, denial of access to the library and media, slow medical attention, and in some cases the denial of medical treatment. Media also alleged that visitors to prisoners accused of terror-related crimes faced abuse, including limited access to loved ones, strip searches, and degrading treatment by prison guards.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The constitution provides for an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters, although this differed in practice. Citizens have the right to file a civil case for compensation for physical or psychological harm, including for human rights violations. A 2015 law established new regional appeals courts to act as first-level appellate courts, which became operational in September. The Supreme Court of Appeals (Yargitay) remained the initial appellate body for redress until the regional appeals courts were functional. The law also allows individuals to appeal their cases directly to the Constitutional Court on constitutional and human rights issues, theoretically allowing for faster and logistically easier high-level review of human rights violations within contested court decisions, although the Constitutional Court experienced a backlog that slowed access to justice. The right of citizens to apply directly to the Constitutional Court for redress of human rights issues led to a decrease in recent years in the number of applications made to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) against the country, as applicants to the ECHR must first exhaust all domestic remedies available to them. An ECHR spokesperson in November reported a substantial increase in applications from Turkey in connection with the government’s response to the coup attempt.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

Cabinet decrees in March and April expropriated properties in several districts of Diyarbakir, Sirnak, Hakkari, and Mardin Provinces for the purposes of facilitating government reconstruction of areas damaged in clashes between the government and the PKK. The expropriation decrees provided minimal information about restitution and compensation for property owners. In April the Diyarbakir Bar Association and 750 individual citizens filed applications in court against the expropriation decisions, including by arguing that property owners were not given adequate means to contest decisions. As of year’s end, the courts had not ruled on these cases, but the government had moved forward with the destruction and reconstruction of expropriated properties (see section 1.g.).

After the July 15 coup attempt, the government seized hundreds of businesses and an estimated 15 billion lira ($4 billion) in assets from alleged members of the Gulen movement. In December the Istanbul 11th Criminal Court of Peace authorized the government to seize all personal assets of 54 journalists due their alleged links to the Gulen movement, although they had not been convicted of a crime. Under the state of emergency, these businesses and individuals generally had limited legal recourse to appeal government actions as of year’s end.

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

While the constitution provides for the “secrecy of private life” and states that individuals have the right to demand protection and correction of their personal information and data, the law provides the National Intelligence Organization (MIT) the power to collect information while seriously limiting the ability of the public or journalists to expose abuses. The MIT may collect data from any entity without a warrant or other judicial process for approval. At the same time, the law establishes criminal penalties for interfering with MIT activities, including MIT data collection, for obtaining information about the MIT, or for publishing information about the MIT. Additionally, the law gives the MIT and its employees immunity from prosecution. Only the Prime Minister’s Office has oversight of the MIT and the ability to investigate MIT activities. The Constitutional Court partially revoked the law in 2015 but did not rule on the controversial articles expanding the powers of the institution.

The law gives police and the Jandarma authority without cause to compel citizens to identify themselves, a power expanded by the state of emergency.

The 2015 Internal Security Package of laws provides broader police powers for personal search and seizure. Senior police officials may authorize search warrants, with judicial permission to follow within 24 hours. Individuals subjected to such searches have the right to lodge complaints, but judicial permission occurring after a search has already taken place failed to serve as a check against abuse.

Security forces can conduct wiretaps for up to 48 hours without a judge’s approval. As a check against abuse of this power, the Prime Ministry’s Inspection Board can conduct annual inspections and present its reports for review to parliament’s Security and Intelligence Commission. Human rights groups noted that wiretapping without a court order circumvented judicial control and potentially limited citizens’ right to privacy.

After the coup attempt, the government targeted family members to exert pressure on some wanted suspects. Under the state of emergency, the government cancelled the passports of family members of civil servants suspended from work as well as of those who had fled authorities. In some cases the government cancelled or refused to issue passports for the minor children of accused Gulenists who were outside the country, forcing family separation. In August police detained the wife of editor in chief Bulent Korucu of the now-closed Gulenist daily Zaman and its successor publication, Yarina Bakis. Authorities reportedly detained former AKP parliamentarian Hakan Sukur’s 75-year-old father, Sermet Sukur, on August 12 in lieu of his son. On November 26, the father was reportedly released under house arrest. His son, who was reportedly out of the country at year’s end, was accused of Gulenist ties.

On April 7, parliament approved the Law on the Protection of Personal Data. The legislation stipulates that personal data–information about race, ethnicity, political thought, philosophical beliefs, religious affiliation, appearance, membership in organizations, health, sexual life, and criminal record, as well as security-related information and biometric/genetic data–cannot be processed or transferred abroad without the individual’s explicit consent. Under the law personal data can only be transferred to a foreign country if there is adequate protection in the receiving country, a written assurance of adequate protection, and permission of the country’s newly created data-protection authority. Some legal experts asserted that the law fails to protect personal data adequately, particularly because it introduces a series of exceptions that could give the state flexibility in collecting and using private data.

The European Commission’s current year progress report on Turkey noted the April 7 Law on the Protection of Personal Data was not aligned with EU standards.

Government seizure and closure of hundreds of businesses accused of links to the Gulen movement created ambiguous situations for the privacy of client information. An Istanbul fertility center owned by Aret Kamar, who was accused of Gulenist affiliations, was closed by government decree following the July 15 coup attempt. The government seized personal files of 40,000 patients, and all embryos were transferred to Koc University laboratories, leaving couples in a state of uncertainty about the potential violation of their right to privacy.

Many citizens believed authorities tapped their telephones and accessed their e-mail messages or social media accounts, which led to widespread self-censorship, especially following the coup attempt. Human rights groups assessed that self-censorship due to fear of official reprisal accounted, in part, for the relatively low number of complaints they received regarding allegations of torture or mistreatment.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

Multiple articles in the penal code directly restrict press freedom and free speech (for example, through provisions prohibiting praising a crime or criminals or inciting the population to enmity, hatred, or denigration; and by protecting public order and criminalizing insult). The law provides for punishment of up to three years in prison for “hate speech” or injurious acts related to language, race, nationality, color, gender, disability, political opinion, philosophical belief, religion, or sectarian differences. Human rights groups criticized the law for not including protections based on gender identity and noted that the law was sometimes used more to restrict freedom of speech than to protect minorities.

During the year hundreds of individuals, including journalists and minors, were indicted for insulting the president or prime minister and insulting institutions of the state. On July 29, President Erdogan announced a one-time forgiveness of insults against him, although he and his legal team began filing insult charges again shortly after. Experts estimated there were nearly 4,000 insult-related cases in process as of the end of July.

More than 140 journalists were detained for alleged ties to the PKK or the Gulen movement. Hundreds more lost their jobs as the government closed media outlets allegedly affiliated with the Gulen movement or the PKK.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: Individuals in many cases could not criticize the state or government publicly without risk of civil or criminal suits or investigation, and the government continued to restrict expression by individuals sympathetic to some religious, political, or cultural viewpoints. Many who wrote or spoke on sensitive topics involving the ruling party risked investigation.

On January 8, a caller to a popular television talk program, The Beyaz Show, pled for viewers to “show more sensitivity as human beings” toward citizens in the country’s Southeast, many of whom were displaced and facing violence. The talk show host, Beyazit Ozturk, solicited applause after the call for solidarity, but a national backlash immediately ensued. Ozturk issued an apology the next day, accusing the caller, teacher Ayse Celik, of “provocation” and of misleading call screeners to get on the air. Prosecutors charged her with “praising terrorism and a terrorist organization.” Celik’s case and that of 38 codefendants continued at year’s end.

Within the first several weeks after the failed July 15 coup, human rights activists reported increasing restrictions on freedom of expression as the government arrested dozens of journalists for alleged Gulen or PKK links and closed more than 130 media institutions. Numerous journalists and others described a dwindling independent media under escalating official pressure. By the end of the year, the government had closed nearly 200 media institutions and jailed more than 140 journalists.

Press and Media Freedoms: Print media was privately owned and active. Conglomerates or holding companies, many of which had interests before the government on a range of business matters, owned an increasing share of media outlets. Only a fraction of these companies’ profits came from media revenue, and their other commercial interests impeded media independence, encouraged a climate of self-censorship, and limited the scope of public debate. Private newspapers published in numerous languages, including Armenian, Arabic, English, and Farsi, although most had low circulations. In the months after the failed coup attempt, authorities closed most Kurdish-language newspapers, television channels, and radio stations, citing national security grounds.

The government used its authorities under the state of emergency to close more than 195 media outlets critical of the government as of mid-December. Authorities linked most to either the Gulen movement or PKK. The government issued arrest warrants for more than 200 journalists and blocked dozens of online news media sites. On September 15, a representative of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported that, in the first two months after the July 15 coup attempt, authorities stripped more than 600 members of the press of their credentials. The government also detained family members of journalists and others who fled the country and initiated criminal investigations against journalists for reports written before the coup attempt. These pressures contributed to an atmosphere of self-censorship in which media reporting increasingly standardized along progovernment lines.

On December 13, the CPJ reported there were 81 journalists in jail. The CPJ said dozens more journalists were jailed in Turkey, but it could not confirm a direct link between their work and their imprisonment. The Turkish NGO Platform for Independent Journalism (P24) reported that as of December 30, the number of journalists, editors, or media managers in jail stood at 145. According to P24, 117 of these were arrested as part of a coup-attempt-related probe, while 32 were in jail before the coup attempt.

While the law does not ban particular books or publications, publishing houses were required to submit books and periodicals to prosecutors for screening at the time of publication. The Turkish Publishers Association (TPA) reported that, as a means of censorship, the Ministry of Culture sometimes denied approval of a barcode required for all publications. Police conducted raids and confiscated books on some stands at annual book fairs and also stopped book-delivery trucks at times in the Southeast, confiscating their contents. Local courts banned books without regard to limits in the law that allow banning by the court only in the locality where the book was published. After the coup attempt, 29 Gulen-affiliated publishing companies were closed, and schools avoided the titles they published although the titles were not technically criminalized. The Ministry of National Education undertook to rewrite 58 textbooks after the failed coup attempt to remove alleged “subliminal messages” allegedly inserted by the Gulen movement. Primary, secondary, high schools, and universities became increasingly cautious about the books they allowed students to read.

The TPA reported that publishers often exercised self-censorship, avoiding works with controversial content (including government criticism, erotic content, or pro-Kurdish content) that might draw legal action. The TPA reported that publishers faced publication bans and heavy fines if they failed to comply in cases where a court ordered the correction of offensive content. Publishers were also subjected to book promotion restrictions.

Writers and publishers were subjected to prosecution on grounds of defamation, denigration, obscenity, separatism, terrorism, subversion, fundamentalism, and insulting religious values. Authorities investigated or continued court cases against myriad publications and publishers on these grounds during the year.

Prosecutors considered the possession of pro-Kurdish and Gulenist books credible evidence of membership in a banned organization. In one case police intercepted and detained Esar Dogan Ozturk in Duzce for attempting to eliminate Gulenist literature in his possession by burning it in July. (The AKP and Gulenists were close partners until roughly 2013. Owning Gulenist literature had not previously been criminalized.)

The government restricted access to the internet and regularly blocked selected online content, including online newspapers and journals (see Internet Freedom).

Violence and Harassment: Government and political leaders and their supporters used a variety of means to intimidate and pressure journalists, including lawsuits, threats, and, in some cases, physical attack. President Erdogan and AKP members sometimes verbally attacked journalists by name in response to critical reporting. A study by the International Press Institute, covering the first several months of the year, found that government supporters and Turkish nationalists systematically targeted journalists online for verbal abuse, apparently intending to incite actions against them, damage their credibility, or shame them. Approximately one-third of the abusive messages were sexual in nature. An NGO tracking journalism issues in the country reported there were seven physical attacks against journalists in June, four in July, and three in August.

Prior to the failed coup attempt, the government also regularly filed criminal charges against journalists, prosecuting them on insult and terror-related charges. Human rights groups noted that filing terrorism-related charges was a common tool the government used to target journalists reporting on sensitive issues, particularly PKK terrorism (also see National Security).

On January 28, prosecutors indicted Cumhuriyet editor in chief, Can Dundar, and his Ankara bureau chief, Erdem Gul, (who had been in jail since November 2015) for releasing state secrets and threatening to overthrow the state. The Istanbul prosecutor’s office sought aggravated life imprisonment and a separate life sentence plus 30 years for each. On March 25, the court ruled at their hearing that the remainder of their trial would be closed to the public. On April 25, an Istanbul court found Dundar guilty of separate insult charges, sentencing him to 955 days in jail, commuted to a 28,650 lira ($8,200) fine, for insulting officials in a series of articles. On May 6, the court found Dundar and Gul guilty of releasing state secrets and sentenced them to five years and 10 months’ imprisonment each. As of year’s end, the two remained free pending appeal and continued to face other indictments in connection with separate pending cases. Dundar left the country in June and remained abroad at year’s end. The government reportedly cancelled his wife’s passport following the July 15 coup attempt.

In November authorities detained or arrested more than 10 executives and journalists at Cumhuriyet, for purportedly supporting the activities of the Gulen movement and/or PKK. Editor in chief Murat Sabuncu, who succeeded Can Dundar, and nine colleagues remained in prison as of year’s end.

Persons accused of attacking journalists or independent media institutions often received minimal penalties. At a break in his hearing on May 6, Dundar was attacked by a gunman. Dundar was unhurt but a camera operator was injured. On August 25, the gunman appeared in court, charged with attempted murder. On September 28, an Istanbul criminal court downgraded the charges to attempted injury and threat with a weapon, and on October 21, the gunman was released from pretrial detention.

Journalists reported that media outlets fired some individuals for being too controversial or adversarial with the government out of fear of jeopardizing other business interests. On January 13, the progovernment newspaper Aksam reportedly fired columnist Gulay Gokturk after she used her column to question the AKP’s call for a change to a presidential system. An organization tracking pressure against journalists found that 395 journalists were fired in July and 11 were forced to resign. During the month of August, this organization counted 2,308 journalists who were fired or lost their jobs and three who were forced to resign in the wake of the post-coup-attempt media closures and arrests.

Pro-Kurdish journalists faced significant government pressure, with more than 40 in jail pending trial as of September 5. On June 20, police arrested three temporary editors of the pro-Kurdish daily Ozgur Gundem, while an investigation into 37 others for their support of the publication continued. Human Rights Foundation of Turkey president, Sebnem Korur Fincanci; Reporters Without Borders-Turkey representative, Erol Onderoglu; and journalist/author, Ahmet Nesin, were arrested on charges of creating “propaganda for a terrorist organization” after serving brief tours as “duty” editors of the publication. Fincanci and Onderoglu were released on June 30 and Nesin on July 1. On October 19, Can Dundar was indicted in his absence on charges of “printing and publishing terrorist organizations’ statements” in connection with his service for a day as volunteer editor in chief of the since-closed newspaper. These trials continued at year’s end.

Authorities detained dozens of journalists working for pro-Kurdish DIHA, Azadiya Welat, Jin News Agency (JINHA), and Ozgur Gundemthroughout the year. As of September 26, the CPJ reported that 12 DIHA staff were in prison, with at least 19 others facing charges of creating propaganda for a terrorist organization. DIHA, Azadiya Welat, and JINHA were among 15–mostly Kurdish–media outlets closed by government decree on October 29. The government closed most additional Kurdish-language media during November.

Special operations police reportedly detained Nedim Oruc, a DIHA journalist who had extensively covered the violence in the Southeast, at his home in Silopi in Sirnak Province on the morning of January 5, along with 36 other persons. Oruc’s contacts reported they were unable to receive any information about his whereabouts for several days until a social media campaign resulted in an announcement from the Silopi Security Directorate that Oruc was in custody. On June 10, he was released pending trial on charges of making propaganda for a terrorist organization. His case remained underway as of year’s end.

The government also pressured journalists by employing an otherwise rarely used statute that allows courts to strip parental rights from those found guilty of criminal offenses. On May 18, an Istanbul court found journalist Arzu Yildiz guilty of breaching the confidentiality of a court case (a charge related to her coverage of the 2014 scandal where the government’s intelligence branch appeared to have covertly supplied arms to Syrian rebels) and sentenced her to 20 months in jail. The court also stripped Yildiz of her legal rights over her children. Her lawyer characterized the decision as an act of revenge and noted Yildiz would not be able to register her two children in school, open bank accounts for them, or take them abroad alone.

In addition to criminal charges and arrests, journalists faced verbal harassment, tax investigations, and fines. On March 22, Istanbul prosecutors filed an indictment accusing Aydin Dogan, founder and honorary chairman of Dogan Holding AS, and Ersin Ozince, chairman of the country’s largest publicly traded bank, Turkiye Is Bankasi, of involvement in a criminal scheme to evade taxes on fuel imports. Observers considered the charges linked to political considerations. Dogan’s company, Dogan Holding, was the owner of Hurriyet, CNN Turk, and other media outlets. In 2015 the company was banned from participating in state tenders and became the subject of two criminal investigations after President Erdogan accused Dogan of being a “coup lover,” alleging his involvement in a 1997 coup plot.

Government officials withheld press accreditation and denied entry to several journalists from Germany, the Netherlands, Greece, Russia, Norway, Syria, and the United States. Eleven international journalists reported government interference in their ability to report within Turkey in the first four months of the year. Several international writers and at least one Turkey-based correspondent for an international media organization faced criminal charges during the year, accused either of insulting Turkish officials or of creating propaganda for a terrorist organization.

Extremists have also targeted Syrian journalists who had fled to Turkey. On June 12, two gunmen attacked Syrian journalist, Ahmed Abd al-Qader, outside his home in Sanliurfa. Al-Qader, who survived the attack, was presumably targeted because he founded the exiled Syrian news outlet Eye on the Homeland. On April 10, Syrian journalist, Muhammed Zahir al-Sherkat, was shot in the head on a street in Gaziantep’s Degirmicem neighborhood by Da’esh attackers; he died a day later. Da’esh claimed responsibility for killing three other Syrian journalists in the country since October 2015. Investigations into the cases continued at year’s end.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Government and political leaders occasionally resorted to direct censorship of news media. During the year the government added several events to the list of topics on which media coverage was restricted, including the Ensar child abuse case, accusations of sexual assault of children in Syrian refugee camps, terror attacks, Da’esh shelling of Turkey’s border town Kilis, precoup investigation of the Gulen movement, and others. The government declared media bans on terror attacks or other sensitive issues, although many media outlets disregarded these bans, which were often not enforced.

On September 15, a representative of the CPJ reported that, in the two months after the July 15 coup attempt, authorities censored at least 30 news websites. According to an NGO tracking journalism issues in the country, the government sharply increased its media interference as a consequence of the July 15 coup attempt. The government initiated approximately 200 blocking actions each in March, April, and May, blocking news websites, prohibiting hard-copy news publishing, or blocking television broadcasting. The number of blocking actions increased to 429 in June and 497 in July. After the coup attempt, the number of blocking actions rose to 783 in August.

Progovernment media appeared to coordinate editorial decisions, at times running similar headlines. On September 23, a Red Hack leak of purported e-mails between President Erdogan’s son-in-law (and energy minister) Berat Albayrak and the CEO of the Dogan Media group, Mehmet Ali Yalcindag, showed alleged collusion on the headlines planned for the next day’s Hurriyet newspaper. On September 28, an Ankara criminal court confirmed the hack of Albayrak’s e-mail, although Albayrak denied that the publicized e-mails were legitimate. Despite the seriousness of the allegation of official interference in media, progovernment media did not cover it. The websites and Twitter accounts of those independent media that did cover it were blocked.

On January 26, Istanbul prosecutors initiated an investigation into CNN Turk (owned by Dogan Media) for running a caption connected to President Erdogan’s image reading “Dictator on trial.” The caption appeared in CNN Turk reporting on a criminal case filed against the leader of the opposition Republican People’s Party, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, who called Erdogan a “dictator” at the party’s January 17 convention. At year’s end the investigation had not led to charges, and the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTUK) decided not to fine the station, but it issued directions on how CNN Turk might use different wording in the future.

The RTUK continued a practice of fining broadcasters whose content it considered “contrary to the national and moral values of society.”

Libel/Slander Laws: Observers reported that government officials used defamation laws to stop political opponents, journalists, and ordinary citizens from voicing criticism. The law provides that persons who insult the president of the republic can face a prison term of up to four years. The sentence may be increased by one-sixth if committed publicly and by one-third if committed by the press or media.

Citizens, including children, were charged with insulting Turkish leaders and denigrating Turkishness. On March 1, Justice Minister Bozdag told parliament that since Erdogan became president in 2014, his ministry had allowed the prosecution of 1,845 criminal cases based on alleged insult of the president (the Ministry of Justice must approve criminal prosecution of insult cases against Turkish leaders). In August news media reported there were about 4,000 criminal insult cases underway based on violations, including “denigrating Turkishness” or insulting public leaders.

On February 2, prosecutors demanded a nearly five-year prison sentence against journalist Ozgur Mumcu for insulting President Erdogan in a May 2015 editorial. The item in the opposition daily Cumhuriyet commented on Erdogan’s response to the mother of a Gezi victim, calling Erdogan “a tyrant who oppresses his people, treating them without mercy.”

The government encouraged citizens to report incidents of insult. In one example, in April the Turkish embassy in the Netherlands sent a communication to Turkish citizens in the country asking them to report incidents of insult against Turkish leaders. On April 25, a Dutch/Turkish dual citizen, journalist Ebru Umar, was detained while vacationing in Turkey for sending a tweet critical of the Turkish embassy’s communication. She was eventually allowed to depart Turkey, although her trial on insult charges continued.

Despite enjoying parliamentary immunity against most criminal charges, lawmakers were also the subject of insult-related civil cases. On July 14, an Ankara civil court ordered Republican People’s Party (CHP) Chairman Kemal Kilicdaroglu to pay President Erdogan 50,000 lira ($14,300) for calling him a “sham dictator.” Erdogan’s lawyers argued that the comment constituted “extraordinarily weighty insults” with the intent of attacking Erdogan’s image. In another civil insult case in September 2015, a court ordered Kilicdaroglu to pay 20,000 lira ($5,700).

While leaders and deputies from opposition political parties regularly faced multiple insult charges, free speech advocates pointed out that the law was not applied equally. On February 29, President Erdogan’s spouse described the Turkish nation as a “90-year-old-wreck,” but she was not charged with any crime.

On July 29, President Erdogan announced he would forgive most insult cases his legal team had filed. On September 6, Erdogan’s lawyer told media that the team had filed a petition to withdraw complaints against thousands of defendants. As a result, 10 persons were released from prison and prosecutors dropped 16 cases against opposition CHP leader, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, and one case against Nationalist Movement Party leader, Devlet Bahceli. Prosecutors subsequently filed new insult charges against politicians and citizens.

The laws also allow prosecution for insulting religion or religious values. On April 28, Cumhuriyet journalists, Ceyda Karan and Hikmet Cetinkaya, were each sentenced to two years in prison on charges of “insulting people’s religious values” for reprinting the caricature of the Islamic prophet after the January 2015 attacks on Charlie Hebdo in Paris that killed 12 persons. Cumhuriyet faced security threats after it became one of five international publications that, in a show of solidarity with the Charlie Hebdo victims, printed excerpts from the edition published after the attacks.

National Security: Authorities regularly used the antiterror law and the penal code to limit free expression on grounds of national security. Organizations including the CPJ and Freedom House reported authorities increasingly used the antiterror law and criminal code to prosecute journalists, writers, editors, publishers, translators, rights activists, lawyers, elected officials, and students accused of supporting the PKK. Before the July 15 coup attempt, at least 28 pro-Kurdish and five other journalists whose reporting was generally critical of the government were in jail pending trial. According to the television station T24, another 13 pro-Kurdish journalists and 66 journalists accused of links to the Gulen movement were jailed in the period between the July 15 coup attempt and September 5, bringing the total number of journalists in detention pending trial to 112. Another 54 were under detention but not formally arrested. As of November 15, the International Press Institute estimated that 160 journalists were in jail in Turkey. By year’s end the journalism-focused NGO P24 estimated there were 145 journalists in jail.

Nongovernmental Impact: The PKK used a variety of pressure tactics that limited freedom of speech and other constitutional rights in the Southeast. During the 2015 elections and also in the aftermath of curfews enacted in the spring in response to PKK violence, some residents of the Southeast reported pressure, intimidation, and threats if they spoke out against the PKK or praised government security forces.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government restricted access to the internet and regularly blocked selected online content. The government at times blocked access to “cloud”-based services and to virtual private networks. There was evidence that the government monitored private online communications using nontransparent legal authority.

During the year internet freedom continued to worsen in the country, partly in response to ongoing security challenges, particularly in the Southeast. Internet law allows the government to block a website or remove content if there is sufficient suspicion that the site is committing any of a number of crimes, including insulting the founder of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk; encouraging suicide, the sexual abuse of children, or the use of drugs and stimulants; providing substances dangerous to health; engaging in obscenity or prostitution; providing means for gambling; threatening life or property. Sites may also be blocked to protect national security and public order. In June the internet governing body updated regulations to make it easier to censor internet content.

On August 15, the government issued a decree under the state of emergency dismantling the Turkish Telecommunications Authority (TIB) due to its alleged role in the coup attempt and folding its authorities into the existing Information and Communication Technologies Authority (BTK). The BTK is now empowered, as the TIB was previously, to demand that internet service providers (ISPs) remove content or block websites with four hours’ notice. The regulatory body must refer the matter within 24 hours to a judge, who must rule on the matter within 48 hours. If it is not technically possible to remove individual content within the specified time, the entire website may be blocked. ISP administrators may face a penalty of six months’ to two years’ imprisonment or fines ranging from 50,000 to 500,000 lira ($14,300 to $143,000) for failing to comply with a judicial order.

The law also allows persons who believe a website has violated their personal rights to request the regulatory body to order the ISP to remove the offensive content. Government ministers can also order websites blocked, and the regulatory authority is legally compelled to comply within four hours, followed by a court order within 24 hours.

The declaration of a state of emergency expanded the government’s powers to restrict internet freedom with reduced parliamentary and judicial oversight. Critics charged that the elimination of the TIB and empowerment of the BTK limited oversight of internet surveillance and censorship.

The BTK reported 200,634 complaints regarding offensive internet content through September 22. The institution did not describe how many of the complaints resulted in blocking orders.

The law provides that government authorities may access internet user records to “protect national security, public order, health, and decency” or to prevent a crime. The law also establishes an ISP union of all internet providers that is responsible for implementing website takedown orders. The BTK is not obligated to inform content providers about ordered blocks or to explain why a block was imposed. Content providers, including Twitter and Facebook, were required to obtain an operating certificate for the country.

Government leaders, including the president, reportedly employed staff to monitor the internet and initiate charges against individuals accused of insulting them.

According to the internet freedom NGO Engelliweb, as of November 16, 115,315 websites had been blocked during the year, an increase from 106,198 in 2015 and 58,635 in 2014. Approximately 93 percent of the sites were blocked via a TIB/BTK decision and 2.6 percent were blocked by a court order.

Internet access providers, including internet cafes, are required to use filtering tools approved by the BTK. Additional internet restrictions operated in government and university buildings.

The NGO monitoring project Turkey Blocks reported that the government greatly increased its use of “throttling” during the year, slowing access to specific websites in the aftermath of terror attacks or other sensitive events to the point where they were essentially unusable. This practice restricted information access during crises.

According to Twitter’s internal transparency report, the company received 2,493 court orders and other legal requests from Turkish authorities to remove content in the first half of the year. According to digital news source the Daily Dot, on July 23 and again on July 25, Twitter blocked at least 12 journalists’ and three media outlets’ accounts. As of the end of September, Twitter had blocked 26 media-related accounts in the country at the government’s request. Twitter reported that it received more requests to block or remove content from the government of Turkey than from any other government.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

During the year the government increasingly limited academic freedom, restricted freedom of speech in academic institutions, and censored cultural events.

After the failed July 15 coup attempt, the Ministry of Education suspended 15,000 staff and revoked the licenses of 21,000 teachers at private primary and secondary education institutions. By mid-August the number of suspended teachers rose to 33,000 and revoked licenses to 27,000, representing about 6 percent of the education sector. Just before school resumed in mid-September, an additional 11,000 teachers were summarily purged. On November 25, the Ministry of National Education announced it had reinstated 6,007 of the suspended teachers.

University education was also affected by the postcoup purges. On July 19, the Higher Education Board (YOK) announced that all university deans were asked to resign; on July 20, YOK announced a ban on all academic travel. A decree issued on July 27 closed 15 universities affecting 64,533 students and 2,808 academics. As of December some sources estimated as many as 6,000 academics had been suspended or fired on allegations of terror links. On October 29, a decree issued under the state of emergency changed the process by which university heads (rectors) are named. The decree eliminated the possibility of faculty elections and put both public and foundation universities under a system where the YOK will choose three nominees to present to the president for his choice. If the president rejects all three candidates and if a month elapses with no new nominees, the president may appoint a qualified rector entirely of his own choosing.

Some academics and event organizers stated their work was monitored and that they faced censure from their employers if they spoke or wrote on topics not acceptable to academic management or the government. Many reported practicing self-censorship. Human rights organizations and student groups continued to criticize constraints placed on universities by law and by the actions of the Higher Education Board that limited the autonomy of universities in staffing, teaching, research policies, and practice.

On January 11, a group of 1,128 academics from 89 Turkish universities, along with more than 300 international academics, released a petition calling on the state to “put an end to violence inflicted against its citizens.” The so-called Academics for Peace accused the government of conducting “torture, ill-treatment, and massacres” in the Southeast. A nationalistic backlash ensued, with President Erdogan calling the academics “traitors” and the YOK initiating investigations against the signers. Many faced threats of violence or experienced vandalism of their property. Progovernment media published their photos and personal contact information, leading many to fear for their safety. On September 2, a decree issued under the state of emergency led to the dismissal of many academics, including some of the “Academics for Peace.” On December 22, the president of YOK said 4,797 academics had been dismissed since the coup attempt, with 3,025 suspended, and another 1,079 reinstated. More than 100 “Academics for Peace” signers had been dismissed.

The government’s response to the July 15 coup attempt also affected the arts community. On August 3, Istanbul Municipal City Theaters suspended four actors and two directors for alleged Gulen connections. On August 11, singer Sila Gencoglu was criticized after she described an August 7 rally commemorating Turkish democracy and those lost in the coup attempt as a “show.” Following her remarks, the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality cancelled two concerts, and three other cities followed suit.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

Although the constitution provides for freedom of assembly, the law provides several grounds for the government to limit that right. The 2015 Internal Security Package increased penalties for protesters carrying items that might be construed as weapons, prohibited the use of symbols linked to illegal organizations (including chanting slogans), and criminalized covering one’s face during a protest. The law permits police to use tinted water in water cannons potentially to tag protesters for later identification and prosecution. The law also allows police to take persons into “protective custody” without a prosecutor’s authorization, if there is reasonable suspicion that they are a threat to themselves or to public order.

The government regarded many demonstrations as security threats to the state, deploying large numbers of riot police to control crowds, often using excessive force. At times, the government used its authority to detain persons before protests were held on the premise that they might cause civil disruption. The government selectively restricted meetings to designated sites or dates, particularly limiting access to Istanbul’s Taksim Square and Ankara’s Kizilay Square, and set up roadblocks to prevent protesters from gathering there. The government banned many demonstrations outright if they touched sensitive issues.

Security forces regularly responded with excessive force to protests, resulting in dozens of injuries, detentions, arrests, and even deaths. The government generally supported security forces’ actions.

Human rights organizations remained critical of the violent police response to demonstrations and police use of tear gas. The current year European Commission’s progress report on Turkey noted widespread use of excessive force by authorities against peaceful protesters.

During events commemorating the Kurdish new year holiday of Newroz in March, there were clashes reported between celebrants and police in Batman, Adana, Mardin, Sirnak, Sanliurfa, Mersin, and Bursa. Media reported that at least 160 persons were detained by police nationwide during the celebrations and that police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse celebrants in some cities. Gatherings of as many as a million participants in Diyarbakir and 75,000 in Istanbul were peaceful.

Pro-Kurdish demonstrations of many kinds faced violent police responses throughout the year. On January 9 in Izmir, a group of women protesting in favor of peace in the Southeast were disrupted by police. Police detained 13 members of the group calling itself Women for Peace, including pro-Kurdish Evrensel reporter Eda Aktas, on the grounds that protesters’ press statements insulted the Turkish nation or its institutions. On February 2 in Adana, police allegedly shot and killed 20-year-old Murat Daskan during a protest against the curfews in the Southeast. Eyewitnesses reported police shot Daskan, took his body away, returned later to collect bullet shells, and then reported they “found” his body in the neighborhood. Another 20-year-old, Kadir Caliskan, was injured in the same protest. Police said the PKK shot the protesters. On February 9 in Diyarbakir, 16-year-old Mahmut Bulak was shot in the head while participating in a protest against curfews for Cizre and Sur.

On May 1 (Labor Day), the government took extraordinary security measures in Istanbul, with Taksim Square closed to the traditional annual demonstrations. Police intervened against crowds in Istanbul using tear gas and water cannons and reportedly detained more than 200 protesters. Nail Mavus was killed in Istanbul after being hit by a police water-cannon vehicle, apparently accidentally. After the government announced that Taksim square would be closed, the unions decided to hold their official demonstration in Bakirkoy, another neighborhood, where the event was peaceful. In the Southeast the governors of Adana, Gaziantep, and Sanliurfa cancelled May Day demonstrations, citing security concerns.

On June 19, police dispersed crowds using tear gas when activists attempted to hold a “trans pride” parade. Citing security concerns, the Istanbul Governor’s Office also banned the LGBTI community’s annual pride parade, which had been planned for June 26. Police actively prevented both those who nonetheless gathered for the pride parade and an anti-LGBTI group that had gathered the same day to protest parade participants (see section 6: Acts of Violence).

On September 20, an Ankara court found 45 students of Middle East Technical University guilty of violating the law on meetings and protests, resisting public officers, and obstructing the latter from doing their jobs. The charges related to a 2012 student protest against then prime minister Erdogan while he was visiting their campus. Police used tear gas and water cannons against the peacefully protesting students, injuring some of them. In the scuffle that ensued, several students were detained. Each of the 45 students was sentenced to 10 months in prison.

On November 6, a police officer was killed when PKK supporters threw Molotov cocktails at security forces during an unauthorized demonstration in southern Adana province.

Decrees issued under the state of emergency after July 15 increased the discretion of individual governors to limit citizens’ ability to demonstrate. For example, the government prevented teachers’ groups from demonstrating to protest the suspension and dismissal of tens of thousands of educators after the July 15 coup attempt. On September 23 in Diyarbakir, a group of suspended teachers staged a protest in front of the Ministry of National Education provincial office. Police intervened to stop the protest and detained 17.

On October 18, the Ankara governor’s office banned all demonstrations through November. Several times in November, the municipality allowed demonstrations against EU countries accused of supporting the PKK. Crowds of as many as 500 protesters staged outside of related embassies, with some contacts alleging the government had bused supporters to the demonstrations.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

While the law provides for freedom of association, the government increasingly restricted this right during the year.

In the aftermath of the July 15 coup attempt, the government used its expanded powers under the state of emergency powers to close 1,694 associations and foundations for alleged threats to national security. The Ministry of Interior reported at year’s end that 1,390 had alleged links to the Gulen movement, about 240 to the PKK, 38 to DHKP/C or other leftist groups, and 12 to Da’esh. Many sources reported that the appeals process was opaque and ineffective. Decrees permitted the reopening of nearly 200 shuttered associations/foundations on November 22, although overall numbers of reopened institutions remained unclear at year’s end.

Under the law persons organizing an association do not need to notify authorities beforehand, but an association must provide notification before interacting with international organizations or receiving financial support from abroad and must provide detailed documents on such activities. Representatives of associations stated this requirement placed an undue burden on their operations. Human rights and civil society organizations, LGBTI, and women’s groups in particular complained that the government used regular and detailed audits to create administrative burdens and to intimidate them through the threat of large fines. Bar association representatives reported that police sometimes attended civil society organizational meetings and sometimes recorded them, likely as a means of intimidation.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The constitution provides for freedom of movement within the country, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government limited these rights. The government restricted foreign travel for more than 100,000 citizens accused of links to the Gulen movement or the failed July 15 coup attempt. The government also limited freedom of movement for the 2.75 million persons from Syria as well as for the almost 300,000 persons from Iraq, Afghanistan, and other countries present in Turkey.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Multiple sources reported that authorities denied entry to undocumented Iraqis and Syrians during the year. In late 2015 the government effectively closed its borders to all but extreme humanitarian cases. There were multiple reports during the year of Syrians who were turned back while attempting to enter the country as well as some reports of shootings and beating deaths by Turkish border guards. On May 10, HRW reported that, during March and April, border guards used violence against Syrian asylum seekers and smugglers, killing five persons, including a child, and seriously injuring 14 others, according to victims, witnesses, and Syrian locals interviewed by the organization. According to the HRA, during the first nine months of the year, security forces killed 41 persons and injured 37 at the country’s borders. UNHCR followed up on individual cases in collaboration with the Turkish authorities when it became aware of shooting incidents at the border, noting that it had dealt with five such incidents that had resulted in death of two persons during the year.

While incidents of societal violence directed against refugees and persons in refugee-like conditions remained rare, many refugees faced workplace exploitation. Forced prostitution, bride selling, and child labor also remained significant problems among refugees. Human rights groups alleged conditions in detention and removal centers sometimes limited migrants’ rights to communication with and access to family members and lawyers (also see Refoulement).

As of November UNHCR and its partner organization, the Association for Solidarity with Asylum Seekers and Migrants, reported conducting 12 monitoring visits with government permission to removal centers during the year. Additionally, UNHCR conducted regular visits to the temporary reception center in Duzici/Osmaniye, where migrants readmitted from Greece were referred on temporary basis. UNHCR noted that physical conditions in the removal centers were consistent with international standards.

UNHCR reported more than 1,000 LGBTI asylum seekers and conditional refugees lived in the country, most of them from Iran. According to human rights groups, these refugees faced discrimination and hostility due to their status as members of the LGBTI community. On July 25, Mohammed Wisam Sankari, a gay Syrian under temporary protection, was found dead in Istanbul, the victim of an apparent hate crime. His throat was cut and his body was mutilated. Before his death Sankari had filed a complaint with police over previous assaults. As of year’s end, no suspects were arrested in the killing.

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers awaiting resettlement to third countries (termed “conditional refugees”), stateless persons, and Syrians under temporary protection.

In-country Movement: The constitution provides that only a judge may limit citizens’ freedom to travel and only in connection with a criminal investigation or prosecution. The state of emergency instituted on July 20, after the failed coup attempt, allowed the government to limit citizens’ movement without a court order.

Freedom of movement was a problem in the East and Southeast, where renewed conflict between the government and PKK members and supporters caused authorities to block roads and set up checkpoints, temporarily restricting movement. The government instituted special security zones where civilian entrance was restricted and established curfews in several provinces in response to PKK terrorist attacks (see section 1.g.).

Conditional refugees and Syrians under temporary protection also experienced restrictions on their freedom of movement (see Protection of Refugees).

Foreign Travel: The government placed restrictions on foreign travel for approximately 100,000 citizens accused of alleged links to the Gulen movement or the failed coup attempt. Travel restrictions were applied both to those accused directly of affiliation with the Gulen movement or other terrorist groups as well as to their extended family members. The government maintained these travel restrictions were necessary and authorized under the state of emergency.

Syrians under temporary protection risked the loss of temporary protection status and a possible bar on reentry to Turkey if they chose to travel to a third country. The government issued individual exit permissions for Syrians under temporary protection departing the country for family reunification, health treatment, or permanent resettlement, and required an individual exception for all other reasons. The government sometimes denied exit permission to Syrians under temporary protection for reasons that were unclear.

Non-Syrian conditional refugees accepted by a third country for resettlement through a UNHCR process also needed to obtain exit permission before leaving the country. UNHCR reported that, through the end of October, 5,584 Syrians under temporary protection received exit permission, and another 9,286 non-Syrian, conditional refugees, received exit permission to resettle to a third country.

During the year the government adopted a policy of prohibiting Syrians with education beyond a high school diploma from resettling to third countries. Hundreds of Syrians who had been identified for resettlement to third countries based on internationally defined vulnerabilities were denied permission to depart. For some, the denial occurred just days before planned departures and after the refugees had sold their goods and left their apartments, creating hardship. Despite their higher education, these refugees lacked reasonable employment opportunities in Turkey and, in some cases, were disabled or otherwise incapable of working. Late in the year, the government reviewed some individual cases of exit permission denial based on education.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS

The renewal of conflict in the Southeast in 2015 resulted in a significant increase in numbers of internally displaced persons (IDPs). In February, Health Minister Mehmet Muezzinoglu stated that the renewal of the conflict had displaced an estimated 355,000 persons since July 2015. In April a report prepared by the NGO Mazlumder estimated there were 100,000 displaced persons in Cizre alone.

Persons who were newly displaced in the region joined IDPs remaining from the conflict between security forces and the PKK between 1984 and the early 2000s. According to the Ministry of Interior, 386,360 persons had been displaced in earlier decades, of whom 190,000 eventually returned to their homes. At the end of 2013, the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, an international NGO, estimated there were nearly one million IDPs in the country, most of whom were displaced between 1986 and 1995.

The law allows persons who suffered material losses due to terrorist acts, including those by the PKK or by security forces in response to terrorist acts, to apply to the government’s damage determination commissions for compensation. As of September the government reported it had distributed 123 million lira ($35 million) to the victims of displacement due to terrorism in the past. Since 1999 a total of 208 million lira ($60million) had been allocated from the ministry’s budget for provinces affected by a long-term rehabilitation project related to PKK violence.

In connection with the renewed PKK-government clashes from 2015-16, senior officials announced plans in February to reconstruct localities and properties in the Southeast damaged during clashes. The government did not provide figures for rehabilitation projects undertaken during the year in connection with property expropriations.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

The government took steps during the year to increase services provided to the more than three million refugees in the country. A March agreement between the government and the EU effectively contributed to reducing the flow of migrants via human smugglers into Europe, reducing the number of drownings in the Mediterranean during the year. The International Organization for Migration reported that 434 persons died while attempting to travel from Turkey to Greece, compared with 806 such deaths in 2015.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for standard treatment of asylum seekers countrywide and establishes a system of protection, but limits rights granted in the 1951 UN Refugee Convention to refugees from Europe and establishes restrictions on movement for conditional refugees. While most non-European asylum seekers were not considered refugees under the law, the government granted temporary protection status to Syrians while maintaining conditional/subsidiary refugee status and providing international protection for other asylum seekers. Through July, UNHCR adjudicated refugee status for non-Syrian asylum seekers, while the government of Turkey did so for Syrians. After July a new protocol between the government and UNHCR moved adjudication responsibility for non-Syrian refugees to the government. Authorities offered protection against refoulement to all non-European asylum seekers who met the definition of a refugee in the 1951 convention. Those recognized by the government for temporary protection (Syrians) or conditional/subsidiary refugee status (all other non-Europeans, for example, Iraqis, Iranians, and Somalis) were permitted to reside in the country temporarily.

The law provides regulatory guidelines for foreigners’ entry into, stay in, and exit from the country and for protection of asylum seekers. The law does not have a strict time limit to apply for asylum, requiring only that asylum seekers do so “within a reasonable time” after arrival. The law also does not require asylum seekers to present a valid identity document to apply for status.

UNHCR reported that, as of September, approximately 125,879 Iraqis (of an estimated 300,000) in the country had entered UNHCR’s refugee status determination process. Additionally, as of September there were 113,756 Afghans, 28,534 Iranians, and 12,195 persons of other nationalities in UNHCR’s status determination process. The government reported there were 2,753,696 Syrians registered for temporary protection as of November 3. The government reported that, as of October 8, there were 255,125 Syrians and 6,394 Iraqis residing in government-run camps.

Refoulement: NGOs reported that during the year authorities deported dozens of Afghan and Iraqi migrants to their country of origin, some of them evidently against their will. UNHCR received several reports of persons in detention, including Iraqis and Syrians, who opted for voluntary repatriation, but it was unclear whether all deportations were truly voluntary. In April, AI alleged that authorities had forcibly returned more than 100 Syrian migrants, including unaccompanied children and some who had already registered for protection in the country.

UNHCR reported it had intermittent and not fully predictable access to the detention and removal centers where non-Syrians returned to Turkey from Greece were detained. UNHCR reported that it was unclear if all readmitted persons had access to the asylum procedure, and their access to information, interpretation services, and legal assistance was problematic.

Freedom of movement: Authorities assigned “conditional refugees” to one of 64 cities, where they received services from local authorities under the responsibility of provincial governorates. These asylum seekers were required to check in with local authorities on either a weekly or biweekly basis and needed permission from local authorities to travel to cities other than their assigned city, including for meetings with UNHCR or resettlement country representatives. Syrians under temporary protection were also restricted by a 2015 Ministry of Interior circular from traveling outside of provinces listed on their registration cards. Syrians were eligible for medical and other services and could qualify for a work permit, although these benefits were limited to the province in which they were registered. Syrians and non-Syrians could request permission to travel or to transfer their registration through the DGMM. Indigent Syrians were reportedly, at times, assembled and moved to government-run camps in the country’s South. Syrians living in government-run camps could generally come and go during the day, although authorities sometimes restricted this right.

Employment: On January 15, a law took effect granting Syrians under temporary protection the right to work, putting them in a situation similar to that of other conditional refugees, who could qualify for work permits once they had been resident in the country for six months. Applying for a work permit was the responsibility of the employer, and the procedure was sufficiently burdensome that few employers pursued legally hiring refugees. Consequently, the vast majority of both conditional refugees and Syrians under temporary protection remained without legal employment options. In October the government stated it had issued 3,175 work permits to Syrians since the law took effect. In January, Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus stated that 7,351 Syrians had prior to the implementation of the legislation received work permission through other means, such as qualifying as legal foreign residents of Turkey or via humanitarian residency visas rather than as Syrians under temporary protection. Because permission to work legally was hard to obtain, many refugees remained vulnerable to exploitation, such as withholding of wages and exposure to unsafe work conditions.

Access to Basic Services: The government provided free access to the country’s public medical system to Syrians registered for temporary protection and subsidized medical care to other conditional refugees. The government also provided access to education for school-age children, but had limited resources to help them overcome the language barrier or fund transportation or other costs.

As of March the Ministry of National Education reported that 93 percent of Syrian children in camps and 26 percent of children outside of camps were in school. At the end of November, the Ministry of National Education reported that 160,915 Syrian children were enrolled in regular public schools, while 330,981 were enrolled in temporary education centers, for 491,896 school-age Syrian children in school. An estimated 41 percent (341,000) remained out of school during the 2016-17 school year.

Provincial governments, working with local NGOs, were responsible for meeting the basic needs of refugees and other asylum seekers assigned to satellite cities in their jurisdictions, as well as of the Syrians present in their districts. Basic services were dependent on local officials’ interpretation of the law and their resources. Governors had significant discretion in working with asylum seekers and NGOs, and the assistance provided by local officials to refugees and persons in refugee-like situations varied widely.

Durable Solutions: The law does not provide for durable solutions within the country for Syrians under temporary protection or for conditional refugees, but it allows them to stay until resettled to a foreign country or able to return to their country of origin.

Temporary Protection: The government enacted a temporary protection status regime in response to the arrival of Syrian refugees who did not qualify as refugees due to the European-origin limitation in the law. Authorities required Syrian asylum seekers to register with the DGMM to legalize their temporary stay in the country. Syrians who registered with the government were able to receive an identification card, which qualified them for assistance provided through the governorates, including free health care. Residents of the camps received significantly more assistance, including shelter, education, and food support.

Syrians who officially entered the country with passports could receive one-year residence permits upon registration with the government. UNHCR estimated that only 4 percent of the Syrian population in the country qualified for residency.

STATELESS PERSONS

According to UNHCR there were 780 stateless persons under its mandate as of the end of 2014, the last year for which data was available. Although the government provided documentation for babies born to conditional refugees and Syrians under temporary protection, statelessness remained an increasing concern for these children, who could receive neither Turkish citizenship nor documentation from their parents’ home country. According to the Turkish Health Institute, there were 177,000 babies born to Syrian mothers in the country between the beginning of the conflict in 2011 and November.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to change their government through free and fair elections based on universal and equal suffrage conducted by secret ballot. The government restricted the activities of some opposition political parties and leaders: police detained local party officials and supporters; parliament in May approved a constitutional amendment lifting the immunity from prosecution for a specific group of 148 parliamentarians, potentially enabling their prosecution for insult and other crimes; and the government replaced democratically elected officials with state trustees when local officials were accused of affiliation with terrorist groups. These tactics were most commonly directed against politicians affiliated with the HDP and its sister party, the DBP.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The country held two parliamentary elections in 2015. Candidates were generally able to campaign freely in advance of the June 2015 parliamentary election, although they experienced an uneven campaign playing field, according to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). In its postelection report following the November 2015 parliamentary election, the OSCE expressed concern about restrictions on media reporting and a campaign environment that restricted candidates’ ability to campaign freely, among other problems.

The law requires a party to receive at least 10 percent of the valid votes cast nationwide to enter parliament, which many political parties and human rights groups criticized as excessively high. Four of the 20 parties that competed in the June 2015 general elections crossed this threshold, and all four were again represented following the November 2015 election.

Political Parties and Political Participation: During campaigning for the June 2015 parliamentary election, observers accused President Erdogan of violating the constitutional requirement for the president to remain politically neutral. Opposition political parties applied to the Supreme Election Board to protest the president’s actions. The board rejected the petition, citing lack of jurisdiction. The HDP subsequently petitioned the Constitutional Court, which as of year’s end had not heard the case. Critics expressed similar concerns about President Erdogan’s criticism of opposition parties during the campaign prior to the November 2015 election.

On May 20, parliament adopted a constitutional amendment lifting the immunity of 148 members of parliament, paving the way for their potential prosecution and, if convicted, ouster from parliament. Leaders of all three opposition parties in parliament could face multiple criminal charges related to insult, support for terrorism, or other infractions. As of the end of November, authorities had imprisoned both of the HDP’s leaders and a number of HDP parliamentarians. All were among those whose parliamentary immunity had been lifted in May.

Participation of Women and Minorities: The number of women in politics and the judiciary remained small. The November 2015 election resulted in 81 women in a 550-member parliament, more than had been in parliament previously (79). Prime Minister Binali Yildirim’s cabinet, which took office in May, included one female minister. The State Personnel Organization within the Ministry of Interior reported that as of July there were three female governors (Kirklareli, Yalova, and Sinop Provinces), 12 subgovernors, and 12 deputy governors. There were 37 women out of the 2,146 officials in the Ministry of Interior’s provincial governing structure. Observers noted that the Sinop governor, along with an unknown number of the other female bureaucrats, was removed from her position after the July 15 coup attempt, reducing the numbers of women serving in the State Personnel Organization. Observers also noted that the removal of elected mayors and other officials from the Southeast following the July coup attempt disproportionately affected women because the HDP, which held many elected positions in the Southeast, implemented a 50-percent rule, whereby approximately half of their elected representatives were women.

The November 2015 election also saw the inclusion of several religious and ethnic minorities in parliament. There were three Armenian deputies, one Romani, two Yezidi, and a Syriac Orthodox Christian.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

While the law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, the government did not implement the law effectively, and some officials engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There was no established pattern of or mechanism for investigating, indicting, and convicting individuals accused of corruption, and there were concerns about the impartiality of the judiciary in the handling of corruption cases.

Corruption: During the year the government continued to prosecute at least one judge and four prosecutors involved in pursuing charges against government officials in connection with a major corruption scandal in 2013 that involved then prime minister Erdogan, his children, and close political advisors and business associates. These five were also among the more than 3,000 judges and prosecutors dismissed from their jobs by government decree following the attempted coup. Journalists accused of publicizing the corruption allegations also continued to face criminal charges. No senior government officials faced investigation for the alleged corruption.

Transparency International reported that the corruption perception index in the country for 2015 (released in January) fell three points, from 45 to 42, indicating the public perceived that corruption among public institutions and employees was common and worsening.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires certain high-level government officials to provide a full financial disclosure, including a list of physical property, every five years. Officials generally complied with this requirement. The Prime Ministry’s Inspection Board, which advises the Corruption Investigations Committee, is responsible for investigating major corruption cases. Nearly every state agency had its own inspector corps responsible for investigating internal corruption. Parliament can establish investigative commissions to examine corruption allegations concerning cabinet ministers or the prime minister, but that mechanism was not used during the year. A majority may vote to send such cases to the courts for further action. There was no coordination with civil society on oversight.

Public Access to Information: While the law provides for public access to government information, the government occasionally rejected applications on national security grounds. The law restricts access to information pertaining to state secrets as well as information concerning the privacy of individuals and intellectual property. The law requires institutions to provide requested information within 15 or 30 working days, depending on the volume of the request. If the government needs additional time, the applicant must be informed of the extension and the underlying rationale within 15 working days. Processing fees, which observers considered reasonable, are waived if the information can be obtained and provided via e-mail. Officials and other civil servants who negligently, recklessly, or deliberately obstruct the law are subjected to disciplinary sanctions.

Denials of requests for information are subject to appeal. Within 15 days from the date of official notification, an applicant whose request for information was rejected may appeal to the Board of Review of Access to Information, which then has 30 days to render a decision. Following the board’s decision, individuals may also appeal for judicial review in an administrative court. The government did not release statistics regarding requests for the release of information.

The government restricted oversight of wiretapping to the Prime Ministry’s Inspection Board, creating a closed-loop control system that critics alleged would make it difficult for members of the security forces who uncover evidence of official corruption to illicit active investigations against government officials.

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

Domestic and international human rights groups operated throughout the country. Some had difficulty registering as legal entities with the Ministry of Interior. Others faced government obstruction and restrictive laws regarding their operations, particularly in the Southeast. Human rights groups reported the government was sometimes unresponsive to their requests for meetings and did not include their input in policy formation. Human rights organizations and monitors as well as lawyers and doctors involved in documenting human rights violations occasionally faced detention, prosecution, intimidation, harassment, and closure orders for their activities. Human rights organizations reported that official human rights mechanisms did not function consistently and failed to address grave violations. At times lawyers were detained when they attempted to intervene on behalf of protesters.

International and Syrian NGOs based in the country and involved in Syria-related programs reported difficulty obtaining residency permits for their staff and complained that documentation requirements were unclear.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government signed a host-country agreement with UNHCR on September 1, the first since UNHCR’s operations began in the country in 1950. The agreement enhanced UNHCR’s ability to support the government in its delivery of protection and assistance to refugees. The government did not approve an official observation visit by the UN high commissioner for human rights. A delegation of the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture visited the country in April and carried out a visit in August and September, as well as another visit in late November. In November-December the UN special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment conducted an assessment visit at the government’s invitation.

Government Human Rights Bodies: During the year the government took steps to reorganize its preeminent human rights monitoring body. On April 7, parliament approved legislation disbanding the National Human Rights Institution (NHRI) and creating in its place the National Human Rights and Equality Institution (NHREI). Like its predecessor, the NHREI reports to and is funded by the Prime Ministry, which critics alleged compromised its impartiality. The NHREI subsumed the NHRI’s staff but replaced its leadership, changing the board’s makeup (eight members appointed by the cabinet and three by President Erdogan compared with the NHRI’s seven members appointed by the cabinet, one by the Turkish Bar Association, one by the Council of Higher Education, and two by the president), limiting its ability to act autonomously within the government to protect and promote human rights. Human rights observers reported that, as of year’s end, the government had not named a board of directors for the newly formed NHREI, leaving it nonfunctional.

The Ombudsman Institution operated under parliament but as an independent complaint mechanism for citizens to request investigations into government practices and actions, particularly concerning human rights problems and personnel issues. The Ombudsman Institution had a budget of 19 million lira ($5.4 million) during the year, approximately 11 million lira ($3.1 million) of which was for institutional expenses. As of September 20, it had received 3,390 complaints alleging human rights violations related to public personnel, government training, and labor and social security issues. It reported that an additional 977 cases carried over from the previous year. The institution gave 41 recommendations and 23 partial recommendations and rejected 144 cases as of September. It ruled that 1,310 applications were inadmissible. By comparison in 2014, the institution made 119 recommendations, of which the state institutions implemented 38 percent. Former chief presidential advisor Seref Malkoc became the new head of the Ombudsman Institution in November.

The Ministry of Justice’s Human Rights Department is the ministry’s authority for human rights issues.

Parliament’s Human Rights Commission (HRC) functioned as a national monitoring mechanism. Commission members conducted on-site inspections of detention centers and prisons and maintained dialogue with NGOs. The HRC visited four detention centers during the year and produced one report on prison conditions in Tekirdag (see section 1, Prison Conditions). The HRC’s budget was part of parliament’s general budget.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits violence against women, but human rights organizations claimed the government did not effectively enforce it. The law prohibits sexual assault, including rape and spousal rape, with penalties of two to 10 years’ imprisonment for attempted sexual violation and at least 12 years’ imprisonment for rape or actual sexual violation. The government did not effectively or fully enforce these laws or protect victims, who often waited days or weeks to report incidents due to embarrassment or fear of reprisals, hindering effective prosecution of assailants. Government statistics on violence against women were incomplete, and human rights organizations had little confidence that official statistics were comprehensive or captured the magnitude of the problem. Societal acceptance of domestic abuse in some cases contributed to its underreporting.

The law covers all women, regardless of marital status, and requires police and local authorities to grant various levels of protection and support services to survivors of violence or those at risk of violence. It also requires government services, such as shelter and temporary financial support, for victims and provides for family courts to impose sanctions on perpetrators.

The law provides for the establishment of prevention-of-violence and monitoring centers to offer economic, psychological, legal, and social assistance. As of December 2015, the Ministry of Family and Social Policies reported there were 133 women’s shelters: 101 run by the central government and 32 by local administrations. The shelters had a capacity of at least 2,388. Domestic NGOs also operated a few shelters. An Istanbul-based NGO, Purple Roof, reported that in the first six months of the year, 493 women and children applied for assistance with domestic violence issues.

Regulations call for a state-funded women’s shelter for every 100,000 persons. There were no sanctions for noncompliance. Observers noted an inadequate number of shelters–or no shelters at all–in many cities with populations above 100,000. For example, the Ministry of Family and Social Policies noted three shelters in Ankara, a city with a population of five million.

The government operated a nationwide domestic-violence hotline, but women’s rights NGOs criticized authorities for changing its focus from violence against women to broader issues, including challenges faced by families, women, children, the disabled, and families of martyrs and veterans. NGOs reported the quality of services provided in calls was inadequate for victims of domestic violence.

Violence against women, including spousal abuse, remained a serious and widespread problem both in rural and urban areas. Spousal rape is a criminal offense, and the law also provides criminal penalties for crimes such as assault, wrongful imprisonment, or threats. Despite these measures the number of killings and other forms of violence against women remained high. According to research undertaken by the Ministry of Family and Social Policies, 86 percent of women surveyed stated they had been subjected to physical or psychological violence by their partners or family. Approximately 70 percent of women reported they were physically assaulted by partners, family members, or neighbors.

Courts regularly issued restraining orders to protect victims, but human rights organizations reported that police rarely enforced them effectively. One women’s advocate charged that, following the July 15 coup attempt, the government’s reassignment, suspension, and firing of police officers jeopardized the safety of some women who had been assigned protection. Women’s associations also charged that government counselors sometimes encouraged women to remain in abusive marriages at their own personal risk rather than break up families. During a workshop on women’s issues on April 14, Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag defined domestic violence as a “family matter and internal issue.” He reportedly stated, “How correct is the state’s interference in disagreements between men and women with its police, military, judiciary, psychiatrists, social workers, and experts? Do they really work saving the family…or are such practices carrying it to an irreversible place? We need to discuss this without the fear of the reactions that may come from the civil society organizations.”

A May 16 report by a parliamentary committee aimed at reducing the incidence of divorce advocated reducing the legal age of marriage (from 18 to 15) and reinstating a law that allowed an adult who had sexual relations with a child between the ages of 15 and 18 to escape criminal charges if the victim agreed to marry him. A draft bill was accordingly approved in an initial reading by the parliament on November 17, but it was withdrawn on November 22 after strong public protests. The head of the Supreme Court of Appeals’ 14th Criminal Chamber, which oversees sexual crimes, reported to parliament in May that approximately 3,000 underage marriages had been registered officially, although he did not specify the timeframe. Although the practice is not currently legal, some NGOs reported that the country’s conservative rural populations still used early marriage as a means to preserve a girl’s “honor” after she has had sex, even in some cases of rape.

The Stop Women Murders Now platform reported at year’s end that 328 women had been murdered during the year. NGO groups maintained this number was probably lower than actual occurrences due to underreporting. The Stop Women Murders Now platform assessed that the most common reasons behind women’s killings were women’s attempting to take charge of decisions relating to their bodies, finances, or social relationships (26 percent of all cases) and women’s decisions to end a marriage or relationship (19 percent). It reported that approximately 34 percent of women’s killings went unsolved.

Courts continued to give reduced sentences to some men found guilty of committing violence against women, citing good behavior during the trial or “provocation” by women as an extenuating circumstance of the crime. In one example, a court lessened the penalty given in January to Ibrahim Yilmaz, who stabbed his wife to death in front of their children in Diyarbakır in February 2015. Yilmaz was first sentenced to life imprisonment for “deliberate murder,” but the court lessened his sentence to 24 years after ruling that the crime was committed under “unfair incitement.” Subsequently, the court reduced the sentence to 20 years for the perpetrator’s “respectful stance” during the court hearing.

The Jandarma reported that more than 2,000 personnel were trained on human rights topics, which included training on gender-based violence and domestic abuse. The TNP reported that more than 8,000 personnel received some kind of human rights training through September.

In its July 21 periodic report on the country, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women highlighted gender-based violence as one of a range of problems persisting in the country.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): FGM/C was not a practice in Turkey or among the refugee populations present in the country.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: So-called honor killings of women remained a problem. Media generally did not report on honor killings, and the government did not release statistics on the problem during the year. Human rights activists alleged that the practice continued, mostly in conservative families in the rural Southeast or among families of migrants from the Southeast living in large cities.

Individuals convicted of honor killings may receive life imprisonment, but NGOs reported that actual sentences often were reduced due to mitigating factors. The law allows judges, when establishing sentences, to take into account anger or passion caused by the “misbehavior” of the victim. Local political and human rights representatives noted that society largely downplayed the issue of women killed by family members because there was an underlying assumption that some type of “honor” violation was involved, perhaps justifying the killing.

Family members sometimes pressured girls to commit suicide to preserve the family’s reputation. On September 18, a team of academics reported a study of 60 cases of female suicides occurring in Siirt between 2000 and 2013 indicated many cases were likely forced suicides or effectively honor killings.

Sexual Harassment: The law provides for two to five years’ imprisonment for sexual harassment. If the victim is a child, the recommended punishments are longer. Women’s rights activists reported that authorities rarely enforced these laws.

On September 12, Abdullah Cakiroglu assaulted a 23-year-old Istanbul resident, Aysegul Terzi, on a public bus, kicking her in the face after shouting at her that her shorts were “inappropriate.” On September 17, police detained Cakiroglu, whose actions were recorded by the bus’s security camera but then released him. Cakiroglu told media he had acted in line with Islamic law. A public outcry led to his arrest on September 19 on charges of “spreading hatred and enmity among people.” Prosecutors requested that he be sentenced to prison for more than nine years.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals generally have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and have the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. Women’s rights NGOs criticized the government for unofficial restrictions on, or interference in, the distribution of birth control pills. On November 29, Health Minister Recep Akdag, responding to a parliamentary inquiry, said, “Our ministry has no such outdated methods like birth control.”

Discrimination: While women enjoy the same rights as men under the law, societal and official discrimination were widespread.

Women continued to face discrimination in employment (see section 7.d.).

The constitution permits measures, including positive discrimination, to advance gender equality. To encourage the hiring of women, the state paid social services insurance premiums on behalf of the employer for several months for any female employee over the age of 18 years old.

According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report for 2015, the country consistently fell in the report’s ratings over the previous 10 years due to the government’s failure to recognize the role of women outside the family unit and use the law to provide them with effective protection.

Children

Birth Registration: There is universal birth registration, and births were generally registered promptly. A child receives citizenship from his or her parents, not through birth in the country. Only one parent needs to be a citizen to pass citizenship to a child. In special cases in which a child born in the country cannot receive citizenship from any other country due to the status of his or her parents, the child is legally entitled to receive Turkish citizenship. According to the Disaster and Emergency Management Authority, more than 177,000 babies were born to Syrian mothers in the country since the Syria crisis began in 2011. The government provided documentation of these births, but the citizenship status of these babies was unclear, as their parents could not apply to the Syrian government for birth documentation.

Education: Human rights NGOs expressed concern that the law on compulsory education allows female students to be kept at home and married early. The system, generally referred to as “four+four+four,” divides education into three four-year periods. After the first four years of mandatory elementary education, students can choose to attend general middle school or religious-vocational middle schools, called imam hatip schools. The law also allows parents to homeschool their children starting in the fifth grade. Ministry of National Education statistics from April showed that 194,000 girls who graduated from middle school this year did not continue on to high school. (Based on Ministry of National Education statistics from the previous school year, this figure probably represents approximately one-third of the female student body).

The Ministry of Family and Social Policies) provided conditional cash transfers to support families and children. The ministry reported that these cash transfers incentivized poor families to continue education for their daughters. It did not indicate how many families received the stipend during the year.

The government’s response to the July 15 coup attempt heavily affected children’s education, with more than 39,000 teachers and educators suspended or fired by the end of the September for alleged links to the Gulen movement or PKK. The government used its state of emergency powers to close 1,284 schools on July 27; many additional closures followed over the succeeding months. Approximately 6,000 teachers were reinstated in late November; however, when the 2016-17 school year started in September, children in some school districts were either placed in overcrowded classrooms or unable to attend school. The closures disproportionately affected schools in the Southeast.

Child Abuse: Child abuse was a problem, and comprehensive social services to provide medical, psychological, and legal assistance were limited. The law provides police and local officials authority to grant various levels of protection and support services to victims of violence or to those at risk of violence. It requires the government to provide services to victims, such as shelter and temporary financial support, and empowers family courts to impose sanctions on those responsible for the violence.

On July 14, the Constitutional Court annulled a law criminalizing sexual relations with children under 15 years old, ruling that a more flexible law was necessary to give prosecutors and judges the ability to respond to the individual details of cases. The decision was set to take effect in 2017. On November 24, a law was adopted providing new punishment for child sexual abusers. Under the law if the victim is between the ages of 12 and 18 years old, molestation will result in a three-to-eight-year prison sentence, sexual abuse in an eight-to-15 year sentence, and rape in a sentence of at least 16 years in prison. For children younger than 12 years old, molestation will result in a minimum five-year prison sentence, abuse in a minimum 10-year sentence, and rape in a minimum 18-year sentence.

Some aspects of the country’s laws, such as the requirement that sexual crime complaints be filed within six months, reduced their potential utility to victims.

In response to a query from CHP lawmaker Didem Engin, the Ministry of Family and Social Policies stated there were 16,957 child-abuse cases in process during the year as of September. The Ministry of Family and Social Policies actively participated in 2,345 of the cases.

Early and Forced Marriage: The law defines 18 years old as the minimum age for marriage, although children may marry at 17 with parental permission and at 16 with court approval. Children as young as 12 years old were at times married in unofficial religious ceremonies, particularly in poor, rural regions. Some families applied to courts to change their daughters’ birthdate so that they could “legally” marry. Early and forced marriage was particularly prevalent in the Southeast, and women’s rights activists reported the problem remained serious. In May, Dr. Oguz Polat, an academic at Acibadem University’s Forensic Science Department, reported to parliament that 28 to 35 percent of all marriages in the country were with girls under the age of 18.

On April 19, then minister of family and social policies Sema Ramazanoglu, citing the Turkish Statistics Institute data, announced that since 2010 there were 232,313 girls under the age of 18 years old officially married in the country. Media noted that official marriages only captured a fraction of underage marriages, since many such marriages were concluded as religious marriages only. A May 2015 Constitutional Court decision legalized the right to be religiously married without obtaining a civil marriage. Observers noted that, as a result, official marriage statistics increasingly may not reflect overall numbers of marriages (civil and religious) nationwide.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): See information provided in women’s section above.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The constitution provides that the state shall take measures to protect children from exploitation. The law criminalizes sexual exploitation of children and mandates a minimum sentence of eight years in prison. There were reports that children were subjected to commercial sexual exploitation. The penalty for encouraging or facilitating the entry of children into prostitution is four to 10 years’ imprisonment; if violence or pressure is involved, the sentence may be doubled.

The age of consent for sex is 15 years old. The law provides sentences for statutory rape (without use of force) of from two to five years’ imprisonment. The sentence is doubled if the offender is more than five years older than the victim. The Constitutional Court annulled this law in July, effective in 2017 (see Child Abuse).

The law prohibits producing or disseminating child pornography and provides for a prison sentence of six months to two years as well as a fine for violations.

Incest involving children remained a problem, although official statistics were incomplete, and prosecutions remained minimal. The law provides prison sentences of between two and five years for incest.

A global study of the sexual exploitation of children in travel and tourism conducted by ECPAT International during the year identified Turkey as one of the “major hotspots for the sexual exploitation of children in travel and tourism.”

In March 31 remarks to media, the Lawyers Working for Children network general coordinator, Sahin Antakyalioglu, cited impunity as the main problem in combating sexual exploitation of children in the country and noted that the complexity of legal procedures restricted efforts for children and their families to pursue justice.

Displaced Children: UNHCR estimated that, of the approximately 2.75 million Syrians in the country, 934,000 were school-age children. Of these individuals approximately 110,200 lived in government-run camps, where they had a high rate of access to education (90 percent). Of the other school-age Syrian children in the country living outside of camps, the government and The UN Children’s Fund estimated that only 30 percent were in school during the year. Many worked illegally or begged on the street to help support their families (see section 2.d. and section 7.c.).

It was unclear at year’s end how violence in the Southeast, including internal population displacements, affected children. According to the Diyarbakir-based Gap Municipalities Union, approximately 60 to 70 percent of its estimate of 400,000 IDPs (since August 2015) were women and children.

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 travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

Jewish residents continued to emigrate due to anti-Semitism. According to the Chief Rabbinate in Istanbul, the number of Jews in the country dropped to below 17,000 during the year, from 19,500 in 2005.

Jewish residents continued to express concern about anti-Semitism and increased terrorist threats in the country.

In January vandals spray-painted graffiti on the Istipol Synagogue in Istanbul after a prayer service was held there for the first time in 65 years. The message, “Terrorist Israel, there is Allah,” appeared to link the Jewish community to Israeli policy.

In February social media users accused a Yeni Safak columnist of collusion with Jews and called for his death after he publicly criticized the AKP during a television appearance.

After the March 19 Da’esh suicide bombing attack in Istanbul, Irem Aktas, AKP chairwoman for public relations and media in the city’s Eyup municipality, tweeted, “I wish that the wounded Israeli tourists were all dead.” Media reported that Aktas subsequently resigned from her position.

In May the first Jewish wedding held in more than four decades at the newly renovated Grand Synagogue in Edirne triggered a deluge of anti-Semitic comments on social media. A popular video streaming service that offered a live feed of the wedding, some social media users wrote, “Kill the Jews” and “Such a pity that Hitler didn’t finish the job.”

In August a columnist in the progovernment Yeni Safak newspaper linked July 15 coup plotters with Jews by claiming that the mother of Fethullah Gulen had a Jewish name.

In December progovernment columnist Ersin Ramoglu wrote that Fethullah Gulen “can smell money and power instantly because he is a Jew.” He went on to link Jews to brothels and called them “liars expert at disguise.”

Despite anti-Semitic comments by media and incidents of vandalism against the Jewish community, the government took a number of positive steps during the year. The country has commemorated Holocaust Remembrance Day (January 27) since 2011. In February the country marked the 74th anniversary of the sinking of the Struma off the country’s Black Sea coast, which led to the death of 768 Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany. Istanbul’s governor and Jewish community leaders attended the commemoration. The Chief Rabbinate in Istanbul commended security measures taken by the government in response to reports of specific terror threats against Jewish schools during the year.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution permits positive discrimination favoring persons with disabilities, and the law prohibits discrimination against them in employment, education, air travel and other transportation, access to health care, the judicial system, and the provision of other state services. NGOs that advocate for persons with disabilities asserted the government did not enforce the law effectively.

The law requires all governmental institutions and businesses to provide persons with disabilities access to public areas and public transportation and allows for the establishment of review commissions and fines for noncompliance. The government, nonetheless, continued to make little progress implementing the law, and access in most cities remained extremely limited.

The Disabled and Senior Citizens Directorate General, under the Ministry of Family and Social Policies, is responsible for protecting persons with disabilities. The State Personnel Presidency reported that during the year there were 5,812 personnel with disabilities newly employed in public institutions, while the Ministry of National Education employed 498 persons with disabilities.

The Ministry of Family and Social Policies reported there were 199 social service centers assisting vulnerable individuals, including persons with disabilities. The ministry stated there were 288,489 special education students in schools (prekindergarten through high school). The majority of children with disabilities were “mainstreamed” in public schools. The Ministry of National Education reported there were 1,142 special education centers for students whose disability precluded them from participating in regular public schools.

The law requires all public schools to accommodate students with disabilities, although activists reported instances of such students being refused admission or encouraged to drop out of school. According to disability activists, a large number of school-age children with disabilities did not receive adequate access to education. The Education Reform Initiative, a domestic NGO, stated that, during the 2014-15 school year, only 2.7 percent of preschool-age children with disabilities had access to education services.

The military did not screen for mental disabilities prior to conscription, resulting in both a lack of data and a lack of services for individuals who may need them, according to the HRJP.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The constitution provides a single nationality designation for all citizens and does not expressly recognize national, racial, or ethnic minorities except for three non-Muslim minorities: Armenian Orthodox Christians, Jews, and Greek Orthodox Christians. Other national or ethnic minorities, including Assyrians, Caferis, Yezidis, Kurds, Arabs, Roma, Circassians, and Laz, were not permitted to exercise their linguistic, religious, and cultural rights fully. The HRJP claimed that the government’s failure to recognize national minorities resulted in a failure to identify specific needs, led to discrimination, and left vulnerable populations unprotected.

Although official figures did not exist, more than 15 million citizens were estimated to be of Kurdish origin and to speak Kurdish dialects. Kurdish communities were disproportionately affected by PKK-government clashes. Several communities experienced government-imposed curfews, cuts in services such as electricity or water, and disruptions in medical care, generally in connection with government security operations aimed at ridding areas of PKK terrorists (see section 1.g.).

The law allows citizens to open private institutions to provide education in languages and dialects they traditionally used in their daily lives, on the condition that schools were subject to the law and inspected by the Ministry of National Education. Some universities offered elective Kurdish-language courses, while others had separate departments for Kurdish language. The law also allows reinstatement of former non-Turkish names of villages and neighborhoods and provides political parties and their members the right to campaign and use promotional material in any language. The law restricts the use of languages other than Turkish in government and public services.

Although Kurdish is officially allowed in private education and in public discourse, the government did not extend permission for Kurdish-language instruction to public education. On February 21, the Diyarbakir office of the Ministry of National Education forced the closure of a Kurdish-language primary school operating in the province because public education in languages other than Turkish is not allowed. In October the government used a state-of-emergency decree to close several private Kurdish-language schools, including a school that had been giving parents grade reports in Kurdish since 2014. The closures left some 238 students without a school in the middle of the school year. The schools were reportedly closed for conducting “unauthorized activities.”

Kurdish and pro-Kurdish civil society organizations and political parties reported that they faced increased problems exercising freedoms of assembly and association. Hundreds of Kurdish civil society organizations and Kurdish-language media outlets were closed by government decree after the July 15 coup attempt. On November 11, the Ministry of Interior announced the closure of 370 civil society groups with alleged links to terror groups. Many had alleged links to the PKK and were predominantly located in the Southeast.

Public gatherings on April 24 to commemorate events relating to the Armenian issue and the tragic events of 1915 were peaceful and received police protection where necessary.

On January 19, thousands of persons marched in Istanbul to commemorate the life of Turkish-Armenian journalist and former Agoseditor in chief, Hrant Dink, an ethnic Armenian, and to call for justice in connection with his murder. Dink was killed in Istanbul in 2007. In 2011 the Istanbul Heavy Penal Court convicted a shooter as well as an organizer in connection with Dink’s death. In 2012 members of the Trabzon police department were convicted of criminal negligence, although their case was remanded in 2013 and, in 2014 joined with a case against public officials in Istanbul and Ankara.

In response to a 2014 Constitutional Court ruling that the government’s inadequate investigation of Dink’s killing violated the rights of the Dink family, the government opened several negligence cases against police involved in the investigation. The Istanbul Chief Prosecutor’s Office extended the investigations to include former gendarmerie officials who had allegedly neglected intelligence reports about plans to murder Dink or allegedly had direct contact with the gunman. In August authorities arrested 14 gendarmerie officials as part of the investigation. Four were also arrested for allegedly being members of the Gulen movement. The case against a number of former police officials, including former chief of the Police Intelligence Bureau, Ramazan Akyurek, continued at year’s end. By December 2015 Istanbul courts had indicted 26 persons for their role in the killing, many of them allegedly affiliated with the Gulen movement.

The HRJP alleged that suicides and suspicious deaths in the military most frequently involved Kurdish individuals.

On April 30, the cabinet approved a national strategy on the social inclusion of Roma. The strategy established goals in the areas of education, employment, housing, health, social services, and assistance. Observers estimated there were more than two million Roma in the country, and the need for improvement in areas covered by the new strategy remained strong. Romani communities reported being subjected to disproportionate police violence and continued housing loss due to urban transformation projects that extended into their traditional areas of residence. The Romani community also continued to face problems with access to education, health care, and employment. Roma reported difficulty in taking advantage of government offers to subsidize rent on new apartments due to discriminatory rental practices. Roma also reported workplace discrimination and asserted their children often were singled out in the classroom, leading to high dropout rates. Early marriage also remained a problem in the Romani community.

In line with the new Romani strategy, the government identified 12 provinces in which to begin pilot projects for social inclusion of Romani citizens. The project was in its initial stages at year’s end.

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

The law does not include specific protections based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The law allows for up to three years in prison for hate speech or injurious acts related to language, race, nationality, color, gender, disability, political opinion, philosophical belief, religion, or sectarian differences. Human rights groups criticized the law’s failure to include protections based on gender identity and noted that the law was sometimes used to restrict freedom of speech rather than to protect minorities. The Ministry of Family and Social Policies noted that LGBTI definitions were not included in the law but reported that protections for LGBTI individuals are provided under a general “gender” concept in the constitution. KAOS-GL, a domestic NGO focused on LGBTI rights, maintained that due to the law’s failure to recognize the existence of LGBTI individuals, authorities withheld social protection from them.

The law does not explicitly discriminate against LGBTI individuals; however, legal references to “offenses against public morality,” “protection of the family,” and “unnatural sexual behavior” sometimes served as a basis for discrimination by employers and abuse by police.

During the year LGBTI individuals continued to experience discrimination, intimidation, and violent crimes. LGBTI prostitutes reported that police detained them to extract payoffs. LGBTI advocates accused courts and prosecutors of creating an environment of impunity for attacks on transgender persons involved in prostitution. Human rights attorneys reported that police and prosecutors frequently failed to pursue cases of violence against transgender persons aggressively. They often did not arrest suspects or hold them in pretrial detention, as was common with other defendants. When arrests were made, defendants could claim “unjustifiable provocation” under the penal code and request a reduced sentence. The “unjustifiable provocation” provision states that punishment “will be reduced if the perpetrator commits a crime under the influence of rage or strong, sudden passion caused by a wrongful act.” Judges routinely applied the law to reduce the sentences of those who killed LGBTI individuals. Courts of appeal upheld these verdicts based, in part, on the “immoral nature” of the victim.

Violence against LGBTI individuals continued throughout the year, including several murders. The NGO Red Umbrella reported 227 assaults and murders of LGBTI individuals through October 1. In one example, in August the burned and mutilated body of a transgender sex worker and LGBTI activist, Hande Kader, was found in Istanbul’s Sariyer district. There was no report of an arrest in the case as of year’s end.

Prior to “pride week” in June, the country’s LGBTI community reported receiving hate messages and threats from a variety of sources. Istanbul security officials provided police protection for some pride week events. On June 19, police dispersed crowds using tear gas when activists attempted to hold a “trans pride” parade. The Istanbul Governor’s Office banned the LGBTI community’s annual pride parade, which had been planned for June 26, citing security concerns. Police actively prevented those who gathered, nonetheless, for the pride parade, and also prevented an anti-LGBTI group that had gathered the same day to protest parade participants, arresting two of the protesters. The government did not respond to allegations of disproportionate use of force by police against transgender pride activists, police intimidation, or calls by groups for anti-LGBTI violence.

On November 17, an Ankara court found three persons guilty of assaulting transgender activist and sex worker, Kemalita Ordek. The three were sentenced to 17 years, six years, and four and one-half years in prison, respectively, for sexual assault, physical attack, unlawful confinement, threat, insult, and theft. The charges resulted from a July 2015 attack on Ordek, the chair of an NGO dedicated to transgender issues, in his home in Ankara, after which police subjected him to belittlement, threats, and further abuse for several hours.

There were active LGBTI organizations in Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir, Adana, Mersin, Gaziantep, Eskisehir, and Diyarbakir, and unofficial groups in smaller cities and university campuses. Groups reported harassment by police, government, and university authorities. University groups in small cities complained that rectors had denied them permission to organize. LGBTI organizations reported the government used regular and detailed audits against them to create administrative burdens and threatened the possibility of large fines. They also reported challenges finding office space due to discrimination from landlords.

LGBTI individuals faced discrimination in employment (see section 7.d.).

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Human rights organizations complained the media and medical professionals often did not respect the privacy of individuals with HIV/AIDS. Many persons with HIV/AIDS reported discrimination in access to employment, housing, public services, benefits, and health care. The Positive Living Association noted that the country lacked laws protecting persons with HIV/AIDS from discrimination and that there were legal obstacles to anonymous HIV testing.

Due to pervasive social stigma against HIV/AIDS, many individuals feared that the results of tests for HIV would be used against them and, therefore, avoided testing. Since medical benefits are conditional on employment status, LGBTI persons who were unemployed or unofficially employed due to discriminatory hiring practices had difficulty obtaining treatment for HIV/AIDS.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Armenians, Alevis, and Christians were regularly the subject of hate speech and discrimination. The term “Armenian” remained a common slur. On August 12, two unidentified assailants wrote racist graffiti on the wall of Uskudar Surp Hac Tibrevank high school in Istanbul, an Armenian school and the school of slain ethnic Armenian journalist, Hrant Dink. The school’s walls were scrawled with phrases including, “Torment to Armenians” and “I brought the hate of Kursat.” (Kursat is a Turkic historic figure linked to Turkish nationalism since the 1940s.) The incident received minimal coverage in progovernment media.

On October 18, a member of parliament, Garo Paylan, filed a criminal complaint against President Erdogan concerning his alleged disregard of anti-Armenian chants shouted during a speech in Trabzon on October 15. Paylan directed the complaint to the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, claiming that Erdogan violated a law banning “inciting hatred and hostility among peoples and denigration.” At the October 15 speech, the audience allegedly chanted “Armenian bastards cannot discourage us” throughout the speech, while the president and attending ministers and members organizations did not stop them.

Following the July 15 coup attempt, many Alevis reported threats of violence and reported that police prevented attacks in Alevi neighborhoods. On July 17, protesters entered an Alevi neighborhood in Malatya shouting slogans related to the failed coup and denigrating Alevis. On August 18, an armed group fired several shots in front of the Garip Dede Cemevi (house of worship) in Istanbul’s Kucukcekmece suburb. There were no reported casualties; as of year’s end, police had not identified the attackers.

After the failed coup, progovernment news commentators published false stories alleging links between the vilified Fethullah Gulen movement and the Ecumenical Patriarch, Christian groups, and the Jewish community. Government officials did not dispute the allegations.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes but places significant restrictions on these rights. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and requires reinstatement of workers fired for union activity or payment of a fine equal to one year’s salary.

Certain public employees, such as senior officials, magistrates, members of the armed forces, and police, cannot form unions. The law provides for the right to strike but prohibits strikes by public workers engaged in safeguarding life and property and by workers in the coal mining and petroleum industries, hospitals and funeral industries, urban transportation, energy and sanitation services, national defense, banking, and education. Employees in some of these sectors were able to bargain collectively but were obligated to resolve disputes through binding arbitration rather than strikes.

The law allows the government to deny the right to strike in any situation it determines constitutes a threat to public health or national security. The government maintained a number of restrictions on the right of association and collective bargaining. The law requires unions to notify government officials prior to holding meetings or rallies, which must be held in officially designated areas and allow government representatives to attend their conventions and record the proceedings. A minimum of seven workers is required to establish a trade union without prior approval. To become a bargaining agent, a union must represent 40 percent of the employees at a given work site and 1 percent of all workers in that particular industry. Labor law prohibits union leaders from becoming officers of or otherwise performing duties for political parties or working for or being involved in the operation of any profit-making enterprise. Nonunionized workers, such as migrants and domestic servants, were not covered by collective bargaining laws.

The government did not enforce laws on collective bargaining and freedom of association effectively in many instances, and penalties–generally monetary fines–were insufficient to deter violations. Labor courts functioned effectively and relatively efficiently. Appeals, however, could often last for years. If a court ruled that an employer had unfairly dismissed a worker and should either reinstate or compensate him or her, the employer generally paid compensation to the employee along with a fine.

The government and employers interfered with freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Government restrictions and interference limited the ability of some unions to conduct public and other activities. Police were frequently present at union meetings and conventions, and some unions reported that local authorities declined to grant permission for public activities, such as marches and press conferences. Following the imposition of its state of emergency in July, the government increasingly disallowed public events by unions and other groups in numerous parts of the country. Citing security concerns authorities again restricted traditional May Day rallies in parts of the country and used water cannons and tear gas to disperse participants in Istanbul.

Employers continued to use threats, violence, and layoffs in unionized workplaces. Unions alleged that antiunion discrimination occurred regularly across sectors. Service-sector union organizers reported that private-sector employers sometimes ignored the law and dismissed workers to discourage union activity. Many employers continued to hire workers on revolving contracts of less than a year’s duration, making them ineligible for equal benefits or bargaining rights.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law generally prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but the government generally enforced such laws unevenly. Penalties (generally monetary fines) were insufficient to deter violations. Forced labor generally did not occur, although some families sent their children to work on the streets and in the agricultural or industrial sectors to supplement family income (see section 7.c.).

Women, refugees, and migrants were vulnerable to trafficking. The government and NGOs reported traffickers increasingly used psychological coercion, threats, and debt bondage to compel victims into sex trafficking. The government’s efforts to prevent trafficking were weak, but it made some improvements in identifying trafficking victims. Penalties for trafficking violations range from eight to 12 years’ imprisonment and were sufficiently stringent compared with other serious crimes.

Also, see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law allows children to perform light work that does not interfere with their school attendance from the age of 14 years old and establishes 15 years old as the minimum age for regular employment. The law prohibits children under the age of 16 years old from performing arduous or dangerous work. The government prohibited children younger than 18 years old from working in certain professions or under hazardous conditions (such as working at night or in underground mining).

The government did not effectively enforce child labor laws. Resources and inspections were insufficient to effectively monitor and enforce prohibitions against the use of child labor. In the absence of a complaint, inspectors did not generally visit private agricultural enterprises employing 50 or fewer workers, which reportedly employed significant numbers of child laborers. The Ministry of Labor reported that, as of November, 232 workplaces had received fines for child labor laws over the preceding five years. Penalties, typically monetary fines, were not sufficient to deter the use of child labor.

Illicit child labor persisted, including in its worst forms, driven in part by increasing numbers of Syrian children working in the country. Child labor primarily took place in seasonal agriculture, street work (for example, begging), and small industry (for example, textiles), although overall numbers remained unclear. Government sources maintained child labor had declined considerably in small industries. Parents and others sent Romani children to work on the streets selling tissues or food, shining shoes, or begging. Such practices were a growing problem among Syrian, Afghan, and Iraqi refugees as well. Despite a work-permit system for registered adult Syrian refugees that was introduced in January, many lacked access to legal employment, and refugee children were compelled to work under exploitive conditions to help support their families.

Some sources alleged commercial sexual exploitation of children, one of the worst forms of child labor (see section 6, Children).

In coordination with the International Labor Organization and other partners, the government continued its efforts to combat the worst forms of child labor, with a particular focus on reducing the use of children in seasonal commercial agriculture and street work.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at www.dol.gov/ilab/reports/child-labor/findings/ .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws and regulations prohibit discrimination in employment or occupation with regard to race, sex, age, disability, language, religion or sect, political opinions, or philosophical beliefs. The law does not explicitly address sexual orientation, gender identity, color, national origin or citizenship, social origin, communicable disease status, or HIV-positive status. The labor code does not apply to discrimination in the recruitment phase. The government did not effectively enforce these laws and regulations. Discrimination in employment or occupation occurred with regard to sex, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, HIV-positive status, and presence of a disability. Sources also reported frequent discrimination based on political affiliation/views. Penalties, generally monetary fines, were insufficient to prevent violations.

Women continued to face discrimination in employment and generally were underrepresented in managerial-level positions in business, government, and civil society. According to government statistics, women’s participation in the labor force was at 29 percent during the year, corresponding to more than eight million women. According to the July employment outlook report of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the gender participation rate gap in the country stood at 43 percent.

For companies with more than 50 workers, the law requires that at least 3 percent of the workforce comprise persons with disabilities; in the public sector, the requirement is 4 percent. Despite these government efforts, NGOs reported examples of discrimination in employment.

LGBTI individuals faced particular discrimination in employment. The law includes a clause that allows the dismissal of a government employee who is found “to act in a shameful and embarrassing way unfit for the position of a civil servant.” Other statutes criminalize the vague practice of “unchastity.” Some employers used these provisions to discriminate against LGBTI individuals in the labor market.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The national minimum wage was 1,647 lira ($470) monthly.

The law establishes a 45-hour workweek with a weekly rest day. Overtime is limited to three hours per day and 270 hours a year. The law mandates paid holiday/leave and premium pay for overtime but allows for employers and employees to agree to a flexible time schedule. The Labor Ministry’s Labor Inspectorate effectively enforced wage and hour provisions in the unionized industrial, service, and government sectors. Workers in nonunionized sectors had difficulty receiving overtime pay to which they were entitled by law. The law prohibits excessive compulsory overtime. According to unions government-set occupational safety and health (OSH) standards were not always current or appropriate for specific industries.

The government did not effectively enforce laws related to minimum wage, working hours, and OSH in all sectors. The law did not cover workers in the informal economy. Penalties came in the form of monetary fines, but were not adequate to deter violations.

As of December 5, the Labor Ministry employed 1,002 labor inspectors, to cover all aspects of labor law. The number of inspectors, budgetary resources, and inspections were not adequate to provide for enforcement in all sectors. Authorities could fine violators from 1,560 lira ($445) per violation. At year’s end, the ministry reported that 21,329 labor law inspections had uncovered an unknown number of labor law violations. As of August labor law violations had resulted in fines totaling 57.8 million lira ($16.5 million). Penalties, generally monetary fines, were insufficient to deter violations.

The country retained a large informal economy, which some estimated accounted for as much as 27.8 percent of GDP and 27 percent of the workforce.

OSH remained a major challenge, particularly in the construction and mining industries, where accidents were common and regulations unevenly enforced despite government efforts to improve OSH conditions. The Assembly for Worker Health and Safety reported 1,596 workplace deaths during the first 10 months of the year. In many sectors workers could not remove themselves from situations that endangered their health or safety without jeopardizing their employment, and authorities did not effectively protect vulnerable employees.

Unions continued to report that existing OSH laws and regulations did not sufficiently protect contract workers or unregistered workers. Migrants and refugees working in the informal sector remained particularly vulnerable to substandard work conditions in a variety of sectors (for example, seasonal agriculture, industry, and construction).

Prosecutors continued to pursue those responsible for two major 2014 mine disasters, including the explosion in Soma, which killed 301 miners. The cases continued at year’s end; prosecutors also continued investigating the circumstances surrounding the November 19 collapse of a copper mine in Siirt’s Sirvan that killed at least 16 miners. The government initially attributed the collapse to heavy rains, while critics cited negligence and inadequate enforcement of OSH laws.