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Afghanistan

Executive Summary

Afghanistan is an Islamic Republic with a directly elected president, a bicameral legislative branch, and a judicial branch. Based on the electoral calendar specified in the constitution, parliamentary elections should have taken place in 2015; however, they did not take place in either 2015 or 2016.

Civilian authorities generally maintained control over the security forces, although there were occasions when security forces acted independently.

The most significant human rights problems were widespread violence, including indiscriminate attacks on civilians by armed insurgent groups; armed insurgent groups’ killings of persons affiliated with the government; torture and abuse of detainees by government forces; widespread disregard for the rule of law and little accountability for those who committed human rights abuses; and targeted violence and endemic societal discrimination against women and girls.

Other human rights problems included extrajudicial killings by security forces; ineffective government investigations of abuse and torture by local security forces; poor prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention, including of women accused of so-called moral crimes; prolonged pretrial detentions; judicial corruption and ineffectiveness; violations of privacy rights; restrictions on freedom of speech, press, religion, and movement; pervasive governmental corruption; underage and forced marriages; abuse of children, including sexual abuse; trafficking in persons, including forced labor; discrimination against persons with disabilities; discrimination and abuses against ethnic minorities; societal discrimination based on race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, and HIV/AIDS status; and abuse of workers’ rights, including child labor.

Widespread disregard for the rule of law and official impunity for those who committed human rights abuses were serious problems. The government did not consistently or effectively prosecute abuses by officials, including security forces.

The Taliban and other insurgents continued to kill security force personnel and civilians, including journalists, using indiscriminate tactics such as improvised explosive devices (IEDs), car bombs, suicide attacks, rocket attacks, and armed attacks. The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) attributed 61 percent of civilian casualties (1,569 deaths and 3,574 injured) to nonstate actors. The Taliban used children as suicide bombers, soldiers, and weapons carriers. Other antigovernment elements threatened, robbed, kidnapped, and attacked villagers, foreigners, civil servants, and medical and nongovernmental organization (NGO) workers. Authorities did not effectively investigate or prosecute most of these 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 credible reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. For example, in February UNAMA received a report of Afghan Local Police (ALP) members detaining, torturing, and executing a shepherd after an IED killed two ALP members.

NGOs, UNAMA, and media throughout the year charged progovernment forces with extrajudicial killings. Although the government investigated and prosecuted some cases of extrajudicial killing, an overall lack of accountability for security force abuses remained a problem.

There were numerous reports of politically motivated killings or injuries by the Taliban and other insurgent groups. According to UNAMA’s October 19 report, there were 8,397 conflict-related civilian casualties (2,562 deaths and 5,835 injured) between January 1 and September 30, representing a 1 percent decrease from the same period in 2015. The conflict continued to affect the most vulnerable, including women and children. In this same period, UNAMA documented 2,461 child casualties (639 deaths and 1,822 injured), an increase of 15 percent compared with 2015. UNAMA attributed 61 percent of all civilian casualties to nongovernmental elements and 23 percent to progovernment forces.

In July, Human Rights Watch and UNAMA reported that the Afghan army and Junbesh militia forces carried out an operation against the Taliban in Northern Faryab in June in which militia forces killed 13 civilians and wounded 32 others. Human Rights Watch interviewed villagers who said Junbesh fighters entered the villages and targeted those they believed sided with the Taliban.

b. Disappearance

There were reports of disappearances attributed to security forces, and insurgent groups were reportedly also responsible for disappearances and abductions (see section 1.g.).

On November 25, First Vice President General Abdul Rashid Dostum allegedly kidnapped Uzbek tribal elder and political rival Ahmad Ishchi. Before detaining Ishchi, Dostum let his bodyguards brutally beat him during a traditional “buzkashi” match in Jowzan Province. After being held for a number of days, Ishchi later publicized allegations that he was beaten and tortured by Dostum and his men during his detention. The Attorney General’s Office opened an investigation into the allegations.

On June 1, Taliban militants kidnapped 17 members of the Hazara Shiite minority community in Sar-e-Pul Province. Although all were subsequently freed, the Taliban continued to target and kidnap members of the Hazara ethnic community, executing Hazara hostages in certain instances. On September 1, Taliban members stopped a car in Dawlat Abad district of Ghor Province and kidnapped five Hazara university students. They killed one of the students and released the other four weeks later.

On August 7, two professors, working for the American University of Afghanistan were kidnapped; at year’s end they were still in captivity.

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

Although the constitution prohibits such practices, there were reports government officials, security forces, detention center authorities, and police committed abuses. NGOs reported security forces continued to use excessive force, including torturing and beating civilians.

According to local media reports, on July 30, Afghan National Police (ANP) personnel beat civilians in the Speen Ghebarga area of Qalat district in Zabul Province on the site of a recent explosion. The Ministry of Interior suspended three police personnel for the offense.

According to reports, some security officials and persons connected to the ANP raped children with impunity. NGOs reported incidents of sexual abuse and exploitation of children by the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF); however, cultural taboos against reporting such crimes made it difficult to determine the extent of the problem. UNAMA reported it continued to receive allegations of sexual violence against children. In the first half of the year, UNAMA verified two incidents in which ALP used boys for sexual purposes in Baghlan and Kunduz. In one of the cases, an ALP commander in Kunduz kidnapped a 16-year-old boy from his home, brought him to his ALP checkpoint, and raped him for three days. In another case an ALP unit in Baghlan used at least one boy as a bodyguard and for sexual exploitation. There were reports of other boys being abused in the same unit.

There were reports of abuses of power by “arbakai” (untrained local militia) commanders and their followers. According to UNAMA many communities used the terms ALP and arbakai interchangeably, making it difficult to attribute reports of abuses to one group or the other. Nevertheless, credible accounts of killing, rape, assault, the forcible levy of informal taxes, and the traditional practice of “baad” (the transfer of a girl or woman to another family to settle a debt or grievance) were attributed to the ALP.

There were numerous reports of torture and other abuses by the Taliban and other insurgent groups. In March the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) reported the Taliban killed a woman in Jowzjan Province for committing adultery, after her husband and his family accused her of having an extramarital affair. Due to security concerns, neither the AIHCRC nor the government was able to investigate the case. In May a video appeared in social media of a woman in Jowzjan Province being tried in an informal Taliban court and later shot in the back of the head and killed.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

The General Directorate of Prisons and Detention Centers (GDPDC), part of the Ministry of Interior, has responsibility for all civilian-run prisons (for both men and women) and civilian detention centers, including the large national prison complex at Pul-e Charkhi. The Ministry of Justice’s Juvenile Rehabilitation Directorate (JRD) is responsible for all juvenile rehabilitation centers. The ANP, which is under the Ministry of Interior, and the National Directorate for Security (NDS), under the ANDSF, also operated short-term detention facilities at the provincial and district levels, usually collocated with their headquarters facilities. The Ministry of Defense runs the Afghan National Detention Facilities at Parwan.

There were reports of private prisons run by members of the ANDSF and used for abuse of detainees.

Physical Conditions: Media and other sources continued to report common inadequacies in food and water and poor sanitation facilities in prisons. Some observers, however, found food and water to be sufficient throughout the GDPDC prisons. The GDPDC’s nationwide program to feed prisoners faced a severely limited budget. Many prisoners’ families provided food supplements and other necessary items.

Authorities generally lacked the facilities to separate pretrial and convicted inmates, or to separate juveniles according to the seriousness of the charges against them, with the exception of some juvenile facilities that separately housed juveniles imprisoned for national security reasons. According to the UN April 20 Report on Children in Armed Conflict, security forces detained hundreds of children on suspicion of being Taliban fighters, attempting suicide attacks, manufacturing or placing IEDs, or assisting insurgent armed groups. In the same report, the United Nations stated the Ministry of Justice reported 214 boys detained in juvenile rehabilitation centers on national security-related charges as of December 2015. There were reports the Parwan detention facility, operated by the Ministry of Defense, held 145 children for security-related offenses ay year’s end, a threefold increase compared with the previous year.

Overcrowding in prisons continued to be a serious, widespread problem; 28 of 34 provincial prisons for men were severely overcrowded, based on standards recommended by the International Committee of the Red Cross. As of July men’s prison facilities were at approximately 190 percent of capacity across the country. The Kapisa provincial prison for men was the most overcrowded, housing 340 inmates, more than 10 times the 29 prisoners for which it was designed. The country’s largest prison, Pul-e Charkhi, held 12,398 prisoners as of September, which was more than double the number it was designed to house.

In a March assessment on the country’s prison health services, UNAMA reported that few prisoners had access to medical check-ups or psychiatric services. The report also suggested the 26 provincial prisons did not have the female medical staff necessary to treat female prisoners. As a result, many children, up to the age of seven, accompanied their mothers to prison. In the same assessment, UNAMA reported that 336 children were accompanying female prisoners held in provincial prisons. While many women opted to keep their children with them in prison (ages seven and under), many others enrolled their children in Child Support Centers (CSCs). There were three CSCs: in Kabul, Mazar, and Herat.

In March, after authorities moved the Kabul Female Prison and Detention Center from a renovated building in the city to an allegedly subpar facility in the Pul-e Charkhi prison complex, a group of female prisoners set the facility on fire to protest their new living conditions.

Administration: The law provides prisoners with the right to leave prison for up to 20 days for family visits. Most prisons did not implement this provision, and the law is unclear in its application to different classes of prisoners.

Independent Monitoring: The AIHRC, UNAMA, and International Committee of the Red Cross continued to have access to detention facilities of the NDS and the Ministries of Interior, Justice, and Defense, and NATO Mission Resolute Support had access to NDS, ANP, and Ministry of Defense facilities. Security constraints and obstruction by authorities occasionally prevented visits to some places of detention. UNAMA and the AIHRC reported difficulty accessing NDS places of detention when unannounced. While Resolute Support did not experience the same level of difficulty, authorities denied unannounced access on several occasions at NDS and ANP facilities. The AIHRC reported NDS officials usually required the AIHRC to submit a formal letter requesting access at least one to two days in advance of a visit. NDS officials continued to prohibit AIHRC and UNAMA monitors from bringing cameras, mobile phones, recording devices, or computers into NDS facilities, thereby preventing AIHRC monitors from properly documenting physical evidence of abuse, such as bruises, scars, and other injuries. The NDS assigned a colonel to monitor human rights conditions in its facilities. In February and May, members of parliament visited GDPDC prison facilities to conduct monitoring and oversight of prison conditions, with a focus on conditions for women. The Justice Ministry’s JRD also produced an annual report in March on juvenile justice problems, drafted by the JRD’s Monitoring and Evaluation Office.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest or detention, but both remained serious problems. Authorities detained many citizens without respecting essential procedural protections.

According to NGOs, law enforcement officers continued to detain citizens arbitrarily without clear legal authority or due process. Local law enforcement officials reportedly detained persons illegally on charges not provided for in the penal code. In 2012 the Attorney General’s Office (AGO) ordered a halt to the prosecution of women for “running away,” which is not a crime under the law. Reports indicated that prosecutors instead charged women who had left home with “attempted zina” (extramarital sexual relations) for being outside the home in the presence of nonrelated men, which is also not a crime under the law. In some cases authorities wrongfully imprisoned women because they deemed it unsafe for the women to return home or because women’s shelters were not available to provide protection in the provinces or districts at issue (see section 6, Women).

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Three ministries have responsibility for providing security in the country, the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Defense, and the NDS. The ANP, under the Interior Ministry, has primary responsibility for internal order and also has responsibility for the ALP, a community-based self-defense force. The Afghan National Army (ANA), under the Ministry of Defense, is responsible for external security, but its primary activity is fighting the insurgency internally. The NDS functions as an intelligence agency and has responsibility for investigating criminal cases concerning national security. The investigative branch of the NDS operated a facility in Kabul, where it held national security prisoners awaiting trial until their cases were transferred to prosecutors. In some areas insurgents, rather than the ANP or ANA, maintained control.

There were reports of impunity and lack of accountability by security forces throughout the year. According to observers, ALP and ANP personnel were largely unaware of their responsibilities and defendants’ rights under the law. Accountability of NDS and ANP officials for torture and abuse was weak, not transparent, and rarely enforced. Independent judicial or external oversight of the NDS and ANP in the investigation and prosecution of crimes or misconduct, including torture and abuse, was limited. Police corruption remained a serious problem (see section 4).

NGOs and human rights activists reported widespread societal violence, especially against women (see section 6). In many cases police did not prevent or respond to violence and, in some cases, arrested women who reported crimes committed against them, such as rape.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

UNAMA, the AIHRC, and other observers reported arbitrary and prolonged detention frequently occurred throughout the country. Authorities often did not inform detainees of the charges against them.

The law provides for access to legal counsel and the use of warrants, and it limits how long authorities may hold detainees without charge. Police have the right to detain a suspect for 72 hours to complete a preliminary investigation. If police decide to pursue a case, they transfer the file to the AGO. With court approval the investigating prosecutor may continue to detain a suspect while continuing the investigation, with the length of continued detention depending on the severity of the offense. The investigating prosecutor may detain a suspect for a maximum of 10 additional days for a petty crime, 27 days for a misdemeanor, and 75 days for a felony. The prosecutor must file an indictment or release the suspect within those deadlines, and no further extension of the investigatory period is permitted if the defendant is in detention. Prosecutors often ignored these limits.

Incommunicado imprisonment remained a problem, and prompt access to a lawyer was rare. Prisoners generally were allowed access to their families, but there were exceptions, and access was frequently delayed.

The criminal procedure code does provide for release on bail; however, in practice, the bond system was not always used. Authorities at times continued to detain defendants who had been acquitted by the courts on the grounds that defendants who were released pending the prosecution’s appeal often disappeared. In many cases authorities did not rearrest defendants they released pending the outcome of an appeal, even after the appellate court convicted them in absentia.

According to international monitors, prosecutors filed indictments in cases transferred to them by police, even where there was a reasonable belief no crime was actually committed.

According to the juvenile code, the arrest of a child “should be a matter of last resort and should last for the shortest possible period.” Reports indicated children in juvenile rehabilitation centers across the country lacked access to adequate food, health care, and education. Like adult detainees, detained children frequently were denied basic rights and many aspects of due process, including the presumption of innocence, the right to be informed of charges, access to defense lawyers, and protection from self-incrimination. The law provides for the creation of special juvenile police, prosecution offices, and courts. Due to limited resources, special juvenile courts functioned in only six provinces (Kabul, Herat, Balkh, Kandahar, Nangarhar, and Kunduz). Elsewhere, children’s cases fall under the ordinary courts. The law mandates that authorities handle children’s cases confidentially and, as with all criminal cases, may involve three stages: primary, appeals, and the final stage at the Supreme Court.

Some children in the criminal justice system were victims rather than perpetrators of crime. In some instances authorities chose to punish victims because they brought shame on the family by reporting an abuse. In the absence of sufficient shelters for boys, authorities detained abused boys and placed them in juvenile rehabilitation centers because they could not be returned to their families and shelter elsewhere was unavailable. There were also allegations that authorities allegedly treated children related to a perpetrator as proxies and imprisoned them.

Police and legal officials often charged women with intent to commit zina to justify their arrest and incarceration for social offenses, such as running away from home, rejecting a spouse chosen by her family, fleeing domestic violence or rape, or eloping. Article 130 of the constitution provides that in cases not explicitly covered by the provisions of the constitution or other laws, courts may, in accordance with Hanafi jurisprudence (a school of sharia, or Islamic law) and within the limits set by the constitution, rule in a manner that best attains justice in the case. Although observers stated this provision was widely understood to apply only to civil cases, many judges and prosecutors applied Article 130 to criminal matters. Observers reported officials used this article to charge women and men with “immorality” or “running away from home,” neither of which is a crime. Police often detained women for zina at the request of family members.

Authorities imprisoned some women for reporting crimes perpetrated against them and detained some as proxies for a husband or male relative convicted of a crime on the assumption the suspect would turn himself in to free the family member.

Authorities placed some women in protective custody to prevent violence by family members. They also employed protective custody (including placement in a detention center) for women who had experienced domestic violence, if no shelters were available to protect them from further abuse. The presidential decree on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (EVAW)–commonly referred to as the EVAW law–obliges police to arrest persons who abuse women. Implementation and awareness of the EVAW law was limited, however.

Arbitrary Arrest: Arbitrary arrest and detention remained a problem in most provinces. Observers reported some prosecutors and police detained individuals without charge for actions that were not crimes under the law, in part because the judicial system was inadequate to process detainees in a timely fashion. UNAMA reported police detained individuals for moral crimes, breach of contract, family disputes, and to extract confessions. Observers continued to report those detained for moral crimes were almost exclusively women.

Pretrial Detention: The law provides a defendant the right to object to his or her pretrial detention and receive a court hearing on the matter. Nevertheless, lengthy pretrial detention remained a problem.

Many detainees did not benefit from any or all of the provisions of the criminal procedure code, largely due to a lack of resources, limited numbers of defense attorneys, unskilled legal practitioners, and corruption. The law provides that, if the investigation cannot be completed or an indictment is not filed, within the code’s 10-, 27-, or 75-day deadlines, the defendant must be released. Many detainees, however, were held beyond those periods, despite the lack of an indictment.

Amnesty: The Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration Program, which existed between 2010 and 2016, was a mechanism for bringing combatants off the battlefield. The program document stated the program “is not a framework for pardoning all crimes and providing blanket amnesty,” and reintegration candidates were informed prior to enrollment that entry into the program did not amount to blanket immunity from prosecution.

In September the government concluded a peace accord with the Hezb-e Islami Gulbuddin group. As part of the agreement, the government pledged to release certain prisoners in its custody. At year’s end the government was vetting prisoners for possible release.

As of September 2015, prison industries offered more jobs and vocational training to enhance employment opportunities after release. In December 2015 President Ghani visited Badam Bagh prison in Kabul to inquire about the situation of female inmates. Ghani said he personally oversaw the drafting of pardon and parole decrees and ordered the creation of an impartial delegation composed of female representatives from civil society to look into female prisoners’ cases. The delegation, comprising nine women, was reviewing female inmate cases to ensure those eligible were released. By year’s end, 235 women had been released, and 307 had their sentences reduced.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, but the judiciary continued to be underfunded, understaffed, inadequately trained, largely ineffective, and subject to threats, bias, political influence, and pervasive corruption.

Bribery, corruption, and pressure from public officials, tribal leaders, families of accused persons, and individuals associated with the insurgency continued to impair judicial impartiality. Most courts administered justice unevenly, employing a mixture of codified law, sharia, and local custom. Traditional justice mechanisms remained the main recourse for many, especially in rural areas. There was varying adherence to codified law, with courts often disregarding applicable statutory law in favor of sharia or local custom. Corruption was common within the judiciary, and often criminals paid bribes to obtain their release or a reduction in sentence (see section 4).

The formal justice system was relatively strong in urban centers, where the central government was strongest, and weaker in rural areas, where approximately 76 percent of the population lived. Courts and police forces continued to operate at less than full strength nationwide. The judicial system continued to lack the capacity to absorb and implement the large volume of new and amended legislation. A lack of qualified judicial personnel hindered the courts. Some municipal and provincial authorities, including judges, had minimal training and often based their judgments on their personal understanding of sharia without appropriate reference to statutory law, tribal codes of honor, or local custom. The number of judges who were graduates of law school, many from universities with sharia faculties, continued to increase. Access to legal codes and statutes increased, but their limited availability continued to hinder some judges and prosecutors.

In March 2015 a mob killed Farkhunda Malikzada after a local religious cleric falsely accused her of burning a copy of the Quran. Following protests after Farkhunda’s death, the government promised swift and exemplary justice but showed little progress in holding the attackers accountable. A court prosecuted some of the attackers and sentenced some to the death penalty. In March 2016, however, the Supreme Court voted to reduce the sentences of those convicted. The reasoning was that the death penalty can be imposed only where the accused are found to be the “main perpetrators” of the death. The Supreme Court held it could not find sufficient evidence that any of the four men were the direct cause of Farkhunda’s death.

Following the Supreme Court decision to uphold the reduced sentences, President Ghani established an investigatory committee to look into Farkhunda’s case. More than 40 civil society and women’s organizations formed an alliance to demand that the Supreme Court decision be investigated and revisited. As an example, the Women’s Political Participation Committee, a civil society organization, held a press conference on March 19 to call on the government to reassess the Supreme Court’s decision and ensure more transparency in the process.

There was a widespread shortage of judges, primarily in insecure areas. UNAMA reported Taliban attacks against judicial authorities and prosecutors significantly increased following the government’s execution on May 8 of six Taliban prisoners. Following the executions, the Taliban carried out major attacks against judicial officials. On May 25, a Taliban suicide bomber attacked a government shuttle bus transporting Maidan Wardak provincial court staff members, killing 12 civilians, including two judges, and injuring nine others. On June 1, the Taliban attacked Ghazni’s provincial appellate court and killed four civilians, including two court staff, and injured 15 others, including the head of the court.

In major cities, courts continued to decide criminal cases as mandated by law. Civil cases continued to be frequently resolved using the informal system or, in some cases, through negotiations between the parties facilitated by judicial personnel or private lawyers. Because the formal legal system often was not present in rural areas, local elders and shuras (consultative gatherings, usually of men selected by the community) were the primary means of settling both criminal matters and civil disputes. They also imposed punishments without regard to the formal legal system.

In some areas the Taliban enforced a parallel judicial system based on a strict interpretation of sharia. Punishments could include execution or mutilation. For example, in August in Kapisa Province, the Taliban accused a 20-year-old student of spying, kidnapped him, and killed him a week later. UNAMA reported death sentences, lashings, and beatings resulted in 29 civilian casualties (24 deaths and five injuries) in the first half of the year, a 28 percent increase over the same period in the previous year.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides the right to a fair and public trial, but the judiciary rarely enforced this provision. The administration and implementation of justice varied in different areas of the country. The government formally uses an inquisitorial legal system. By law all citizens are entitled to a presumption of innocence, and those accused have the right to be present at trial and to appeal, although these rights were not always respected. In some provinces public trials were held, but this was not the norm. Three-judge panels decide criminal trials, and there is no right to a jury trial under the constitution. Prosecutors rarely informed defendants promptly and in detail of the charges brought against them. An indigent defendant has the right to consult with an advocate or counsel at public expense when resources allow. This right was applied inconsistently, in large part due to a severe shortage of defense lawyers. Citizens often were unaware of their constitutional rights. Defendants and attorneys were entitled to examine physical evidence and documents related to a case before trial, although observers noted court documents often were not available for review before cases went to trial, despite defense lawyers’ requests.

Criminal defense attorneys reported justice system officials were slowly demonstrating increased respect and tolerance for the role of defense lawyers in criminal trials, but at times defendants’ attorneys experienced abuse and threats from prosecutors and other law enforcement officials.

The criminal procedure code establishes time limits for the completion of each stage of a criminal case, from investigation through final appeal, when an accused is in custody. The code also allows for the accused persons to be released temporarily on bail, but this was rarely used. An addendum to the code provides for extended custodial limits in cases involving crimes committed against the internal and external security of the country. Courts at the Justice Center in Parwan elected to utilize the extended time periods. If the deadlines are not met, the law requires the accused be released from custody. In many cases courts did not meet these deadlines, but detainees nevertheless remained in custody.

In cases where no clearly defined legal statute applied, or where judges, prosecutors, or elders were unaware of the statutory law, judges and informal shuras enforced customary law. This practice often resulted in outcomes that discriminated against women.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports the government held political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Citizens had limited access to justice for constitutional and human rights violations. The state judiciary did not play a significant or effective role in adjudicating civil matters due to corruption and lack of capacity, although the judiciary frequently adjudicated family law matters.

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

The law prohibits arbitrary interference in matters of privacy, but authorities did not always respect its provisions. The criminal procedure code contains additional safeguards for the privacy of the home, prohibiting night arrests and strengthening requirements for body searches. The government did not always respect these prohibitions.

Government officials continued to enter homes and businesses of civilians forcibly and without legal authorization.

There were reports that government officials monitored private communications, including telephone calls and other digital communications, without legal authority or judicial warrant.

Authorities imprisoned relatives, male and female, of criminal suspects and escaped convicts in order to induce the persons being sought to surrender (see section 1.d.).

Insurgents continued to intimidate cell phone operators to shut down operations. Reports of destruction of mobile telephone towers, bribing of guards, and disconnecting of networks at night were particularly common in the southwestern, southern, and eastern provinces.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press, but the government sometimes restricted these rights to varying degrees.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: While the law provides for freedom of speech, which was widely exercised, there were reports authorities at times used pressure, regulations, and threats to silence critics. Freedom of speech was also considerably more constrained at the provincial level, where local power brokers, such as former mujahedin-era military leaders, exerted significant influence and authority to intimidate or threaten their critics, both private citizens and journalists.

Press and Media Freedoms: While media reported independently throughout the year, often openly criticizing the government, full press freedoms were lacking. At times authorities used pressure, regulations, and threats to silence critics. Politicians, security officials, and others in positions of power arrested, threatened, or harassed journalists because of their coverage. Freedom of speech and an independent media were even more constrained at the provincial level, where many media outlets had links to specific personalities or political parties, to include former mujahedin military leaders who owned many of the broadcasting stations and print media and influenced their content.

Print media continued to publish independent magazines, newsletters, and newspapers. A wide range of editorials and dailies openly criticized the government. There were concerns, however, that media independence and safety remained at high risk in light of increased attacks. Due to high levels of illiteracy, television and radio were the preferred information source for most citizens. Radio remained more widespread due to its relative accessibility, with approximately 75 percent radio penetration, compared with approximately 50 percent for television.

The Ministry of Information and Culture has authority to regulate the press and media. In 2015 the ministry dissolved the Media Violations Investigation Commission, whose evaluations of complaints against journalists were criticized as biased and not based on the law. Human Rights Watch reported the ministry routinely ignored officials who threatened, intimidated, or even physically attacked members of the press. While the ministry has legal responsibility for regulating media, the council of religious scholars (the Ulema Council) had considerable influence over media affairs.

In January the information ministry created the Independent Mass Media Commission. The commission is responsible for reregistering all media outlets in the country. Media activists condemned the new reregistration process, citing the high fees to undergo the process would hurt media outlets, particularly the smaller radio and television stations in the provinces. As of September media advocates had been able to delay the implementation of the new reregistration regulation.

In February, after the president issued a decree to implement current media laws and strengthen freedom of expression, the executive created a committee to investigate cases of violence against journalists. The committee met multiple times in the first half of the year and identified 432 cases eligible for investigation. The committee sent the cases to the appropriate government institutions associated with the violations for investigation, including the Ministry of Interior and NDS forces. As of September none of the government institutions had started an investigation or provided a response to the committee.

In May parliament members criticized the lack of full implementation of the 2014 Access to Information law. The Commission on Monitoring Access to Information stated a lack of budget and lack of government support resulted in weak implementation of the law.

Violence and Harassment: Government used threats, violence, and intimidation to silence opposition journalists, particularly those who spoke out about impunity, war crimes, government officials, and powerful local figures. The AJSC reported that 50 percent of 101 incidents of attacks against journalists, including 13 cases of killings, 30 cases of beatings, 35 cases of intimidation, 17 cases of abuse, and six cases of injury, were attributed to government officials. In an October 30 press conference, Nai, an NGO supporting media freedom, reported that violence against media workers had increased to approximately 370 cases, in comparison with 95 cases in 2015. According to Nai, nearly 300 journalists left their jobs during the year due to threats. For example, according to reports, on June 5, police beat a reporter from Kawoon Ghag Radio while he reporting on an event where donations were distributed to poor families.

On August 29, while the president visited Bamyan Province to inaugurate the refurbished provincial airport, progovernment forces, including the president’s protective detail, allegedly harassed and beat protesters and journalists. Some journalists reported government security forces used violence against them and removed film or digital photographs from their equipment. Human Rights Watch received reports of NDS forces detaining journalists and activists for 24 hours. The Presidential Palace first rejected claims of journalists being beaten or detained during the August Bamyan visit, but later the president ordered an investigation.

On August 28, the leading independent daily newspaper, Hasht-e-Subh, intentionally left an entire page empty of content in all Herat city editions to highlight censorship of a news feature detailing corruption and smuggling allegations against Herat provincial council chief Kamran Alizai. The newspaper’s editor in chief, Parwiz Kawa, publicly stated the blank page demonstrated what he termed was a “preventive and protective” protest against an unnamed “powerful official.” He said editors were responding to threats against their regional offices by Alizai, who also maintained an illegal private militia. On the following day, Hasht-e-Subh published an article claiming the AGO assured editors that Alizai was under investigation, had been suspended from his duties, and had been banned from leaving the country. In the meantime the president’s deputy spokesperson, Shah Hussain Murtazawi, told Hasht-e-Subh, “Anyone who challenges independent media would be harshly confronted by the government.”

Prevailing security conditions created a dangerous environment for journalists, even when they were not specific targets. Media organizations and journalists operating in remote areas were more vulnerable to violence and intimidation because of the increased level of insecurity and pronounced fear from insurgents, warlords, and organized criminals. They also reported local governmental authorities were less cooperative in facilitating access to information.

On August 24, the National Security Council approved a new set of guidelines to address cases of violence against journalists. The new initiative entails the creation of a joint national committee in Kabul and separate committees in provincial capitals, a coordination center to investigate and identify perpetrators of violence against journalists, and a support committee to be run by the NDS to identify threats against journalists. The joint committee, to be chaired by the second vice president, was expected to register new cases, call for support from judicial bodies to prosecute perpetrators, and publicly share statistics on cases. Activists welcomed the government’s initiative.

An independent organization focused on the safety of journalists continued to operate a safe house for journalists facing threats. It reported law enforcement officials generally cooperated in assisting journalists who faced credible threats, although limited investigative capacity meant many cases remained unresolved. The Afghan Independent Bar Association established a media law committee to provide legal support, expertise, and services to media organizations.

Women constituted approximately 20 percent of media workers, compared with 30 percent in 2015. Some women oversaw radio stations across the country, and some radio stations emphasized almost exclusively female concerns. Nevertheless, female reporters found it difficult to practice their profession. Poor security, lack of training, and unsafe working conditions limited the participation of women in the media. The AJSC released a special report in March on the situation of female journalists, noting that sexual harassment continued to be wide spread in the media industry. If not subjected to sexual harassment and abuse at work, female journalists often faced pressure by their families to leave the media profession or at least not to show their faces on television.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government reportedly sought to restrict reporting on topics deemed contrary to the government’s messaging.

Some media observers claimed journalists reporting on administrative corruption, land embezzlement, and local officials’ involvement in narcotics trafficking engaged in self-censorship due to fear of violent retribution by provincial police officials and powerful families. Fearing retribution by government officials, media outlets sometimes preferred to quote from foreign media reports on sensitive topics and in some cases fed stories to foreign journalists.

Nai conducted a survey in Kabul and five different provinces that revealed 94 percent of local social media users practiced self-censorship, fearing security threats and intimidation,

Libel Laws: The penal code and the mass media law prescribe jail sentences and fines for defamation. Authorities sometime used defamation as a pretext to suppress criticism of government officials.

National Security: Journalists complained government officials frequently invoked the national interest exception in the Access to Information law to avoid disclosing certain information.

Nongovernmental Impact: Journalists continued to face threats from the Taliban and other insurgents. Some reporters acknowledged they avoided criticizing the insurgency and some neighboring countries in their reporting because they feared Taliban retribution. In February, two Afghan Adib radio workers in Pol-e Khomri in Baghlan Province were brutally attacked, leaving one in a coma. Taliban forces reportedly were behind the attack, although no group claimed responsibility.

The Committee to Protect Journalists reported local and foreign reporters continued to be at risk of kidnapping.

The Taliban continued to threaten journalists associated with two privately owned Afghan television outlets, ToloNews TV, and 1TV. The Taliban’s military commission designated both outlets as “military objectives” due to their perceived disrespectful coverage and claims that they broadcast propaganda, ridiculed religion, and injected the minds of youth with immorality. The Taliban for the first time openly threatened ToloNews in 2015, after the news channel reported allegations of executions, rape, kidnappings, and other abuses by the Taliban when Kunduz fell to the antigovernment group. On January 20, a Taliban suicide bomber in Kabul targeted and struck a minibus carrying Kaboora production staff, an affiliate of ToloNews, killing seven. On June 8, unknown gunmen launched a grenade attack on Enikas Radio in Jalalabad, just three days after an American journalist and a translator embedded in a local security forces convoy were killed by an ambush in Helmand Province on June 5.

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

Media outlets and activists routinely used social media to discuss political developments, and Facebook was widely used in urban areas. The Taliban used the internet and social media (for example, Twitter) to spread its messages. Internet usage remained relatively low due to high prices, inadequate local content, and illiteracy.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were no reports that the government imposed restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events during the year.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The government generally respected citizens’ right to demonstrate peacefully. Numerous public gatherings and protests took place during the year. In May a mass demonstration took place in Kabul over the government’s decision on routing of an electricity line from Turkmenistan to Kabul. Although government forces placed shipping containers to provide security and limited the areas in which the demonstration took place, protesters were allowed to march on the streets of Kabul. On July 23, protesters gathered again to protest the same electricity line but were attacked by insurgents with a bomb that killed 80 and injured an additional 250 protesters. After Da’esh claimed responsibility, the Ministry of Interior banned street protests for 10 days.

In September, Tajik supporters assembled to rebury the remains of a former king on a hill important to the Uzbek community in Kabul, leading to a standoff. After an agreement was reached, the reburial took place, although some criticized the government for not handling the issue properly.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The right to freedom of association is provided in the constitution, and the government generally respected it. The 2009 law on political parties obliges them to register with the Ministry of Justice and to pursue objectives consistent with Islam. By law a political party must have 10,000 registered members to register with the ministry.

In 2012 the Council of Ministers approved a regulation requiring political parties to open offices in at least 20 provinces within one year of registration. The regulation provides for removal of parties failing to do so from the Justice Ministry’s official list. In 2015 the ministry conducted a nationwide review of provincial political party offices. It found 10 political parties not in compliance with the regulation and deregistered all 10 of them. There were a total of 57 political parties registered with the ministry.

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, which the government generally respected, although it sometimes limited citizens’ movement for security reasons.

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration, and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons (IDPs), refugees, returning refugees, and other persons of concern. Government ability to assist vulnerable persons, including returnees from Pakistan and Iran, remained limited, and it continued to rely on the international community for assistance.

In-country Movement: Taxi, truck, and bus drivers reported security forces or insurgents sometimes operated illegal checkpoints and extorted money and goods from travelers.

The greatest barrier to movement in some parts of the country was the lack of security. In many areas insurgent violence, banditry, land mines, and IEDs made travel extremely dangerous, especially at night.

Armed insurgents operated illegal checkpoints and extorted money and goods. The Taliban imposed nightly curfews on the local populace in regions where it exercised authority, mostly in the southeast.

Social custom limited women’s freedom of movement without male consent or a male chaperone.

Emigration and Repatriation: Refugee returns to the country rose in the last half of the year. As of mid-November UNHCR had assisted the return of more than 370,000 registered refugees (99 percent of whom returned from Pakistan), greatly surpassing the 58,460 returns in 2015. According to UNHCR surveys of returnees at arrival centers, many returnees claimed they left Pakistan due to increased rates of harassment and extortion and because they no longer believed they could stay in their homes safely or find jobs. Other reasons they cited included maintaining family unity with undocumented Afghans following their deportation, enhanced border controls, and uncertainty about legal status. Former refugees constituted more than 20 percent of the total country population, yet the government lacked the capacity to integrate large numbers of new arrivals due to continuing insecurity, limited employment opportunities, poor development, and budgetary constraints.

Undocumented Afghan refugees also returned in large numbers. The International Organization for Migration reported that about 230,000 had returned from Pakistan as of mid-November and projected that approximately 300,000 undocumented Afghans would return by the end of 2016. Approximately 391,000 undocumented Afghans returned from Iran during the same period; most of these returns resulted from deportation by Iranian authorities.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

Internal population movements increased, mainly triggered by increasing armed conflict. The United Nations estimated there were 1.2 million IDPs in the country. According to the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 486,000 new IDPs fled their homes from January to November. Most IDPs left insecure rural areas and small towns seeking relatively greater safety and government services in larger towns and cities in the same province. All 34 provinces hosted IDP populations.

Limited humanitarian access caused delays in identifying, assessing, and providing timely assistance to IDPs and led to estimates of the total number of IDPs that were significantly larger than official figures. IDPs continued to lack access to basic protection, including personal and physical security and shelter. Many IDPs, especially in households with a female head, faced difficulty obtaining basic services because they did not have identity documents. Many IDPs in urban areas reportedly faced discrimination, lacked adequate sanitation and other basic services, and lived in constant risk of eviction from illegally occupied displacement sites, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center. Women in IDP camps reported high levels of domestic violence. Limited opportunities to earn a livelihood following the initial displacement often led to secondary displacement, making tracking of vulnerable persons difficult. Even IDPs who had access to local social services sometimes had less access than their non-IDP neighbors, due to distance from the services or other factors.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: Laws do not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees from other countries. Nonetheless, the government worked closely with the international community to protect and respond to the needs of Pakistani refugees, including an estimated 100,000 refugees who remained in UNHCR camps in Khost and Paktika Provinces after being displaced in 2014 following Pakistani military operations against insurgents across the border.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides citizens the opportunity to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. Citizens exercised this ability in the 2014 presidential and provincial elections and the 2010 parliamentary elections. The Taliban and political actors attempted to use violence to intimidate voters during the 2014 presidential elections, which were also marred by allegations of widespread fraud and corruption. Parliamentary elections are mandated by the constitution to be held every five years; however, the regularly scheduled elections were not held in 2015, as the government had yet to complete promised electoral reforms. As a result members of the Wolesi Jirga (lower house of parliament) remained in office past the June 2015 expiration of their five-year terms by virtue of a presidential decree. In November the government replaced the members of its main electoral bodies–the Independent Election Commission (IEC) and the Independent Electoral Complaints Commission–a necessary first step in completing the anticipated reforms and proposing a new electoral calendar.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: According to the IEC, more than 6.8 million voters cast votes in the first round of the April 2014 presidential election. Although security incidents occurred throughout the country, they reportedly had only a modest impact on turnout, and there were no mass-casualty events. Of the eight presidential candidates who competed in the first round, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah and former finance minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai received the most votes, 45 percent and 31.6 percent, respectively. Neither achieved the majority necessary, and a runoff election between the two was held in June 2014.

Allegations of fraud led to a dispute over the accuracy of the preliminary results announced by the IEC following the June 2014 runoff. Those results showed Ghani leading with 56.4 percent, compared with Abdullah’s 43.5 percent. Following a protracted standoff, the two candidates agreed to a 100 percent audit of the ballot boxes and committed to forming a National Unity Government, with the runner-up assuming a newly created chief executive officer (CEO) position in the government. According to media reporting of leaked IEC data, the audit invalidated more than 850,000 fraudulent ballots of an estimated eight million. The IEC completed the election audit and named Ghani the winner in September 2014. In accordance with the National Unity Government agreement, Ghani then created the CEO position by presidential decree and named Abdullah to the position. The audit results were released publicly in February.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Negative associations of past political activity with violent militia groups and the former communist regime, as well as allegations of persistent corruption and inefficiency among political elites, led many citizens to view political parties with suspicion. The Political Party Law granted parties the right to exist as formal institutions for the first time in the country’s history. The law requires parties to have at least 10,000 members from the country’s 34 provinces.

Parties were not always able to conduct activities throughout the country; in some regions antigovernment violence reduced security. As of November, 57 political parties were registered with the Ministry of Justice, and no party was deregistered during the year. According to the ministry, a deregistered party could meet and continue “informal” political activities, but candidates for political office could not run for office under the party’s name until it met the registration criteria.

Provincial party members continued to assert the ministry’s monitoring process was inconsistent. Some parties reported regular interactions with ministry officials and others had none at all. Political parties played a greater role in the 2014 presidential elections than in previous elections, and the organization, networks, and public support of the parties that supported Abdullah and Ghani contributed to their success as presidential candidates.

Participation of Women and Minorities: The constitution specifies a minimum number of seats for women and minorities in the two houses of parliament. For the Wolesi Jirga (lower house), the constitution mandates that at least two women shall be elected from each province (for a total of 68). In 2010 voters elected 69 women to the Wolesi Jirga. In the Meshrano Jirga (upper house), the constitution empowers the president to appoint one-third of the members. One-half of the presidential appointees must be women. Ten seats are also set aside in the Wolesi Jirga for members of the Kuchi minority (nomads). In the Meshrano Jirga, the president’s appointees must include two Kuchis and two members with physical disabilities. In practice, one seat in the Meshrano Jirga is reserved for the appointment of a Sikh or Hindu representative, although this is not mandated by the constitution.

Traditional societal practices continued to limit women’s participation in politics and activities outside the home and community, including the need to have a male escort or permission to work. These factors, in addition to an education and experience gap, likely continued to influence the central government’s male-dominated composition. The 2013 electoral law reduced quotas for women on provincial councils from 25 percent to 20 percent and eliminated women’s quotas entirely for district and village councils. Neither district nor village councils had been established by year’s end.

As did their male counterparts, women active in government and politics continued to face threats and violence and were the targets of attacks by the Taliban and other insurgent groups. In July the director of women’s affairs in Ghazni Province was attacked. She escaped unharmed, but another government employee was killed. Most female parliamentarians reportedly experienced some kind of threat or intimidation, and many believed the state could not or would not protect them.

No laws prevent minorities from participating in political life, although different ethnic groups complained they did not have equal access to local government jobs in provinces where they were in the minority. Individuals from the majority Pashtun ethnic group had more seats than any other ethnic group in both houses of parliament but did not have more than 50 percent of the seats. There was no evidence specific societal groups were excluded.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

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

Reports indicated corruption remained endemic throughout society, and flows of money from the military, international donors, and the drug trade continued to exacerbate the problem. According to public opinion surveys, many citizens believed the government had not been effective in combating corruption. Corruption and uneven governance continued to play a significant role in allowing the Taliban to exert influence and control some areas in the southern, eastern, and some northern provinces, particularly in remote areas.

According to prisoners and local NGOs, corruption was widespread across the justice system, particularly in connection with the prosecution of criminal cases and in arranging release from prison. There were also reports that officials received unauthorized payments in exchange for reducing prison sentences, halting an investigation, or dismissing charges outright. The practice of filing criminal complaints in what would ordinarily be civil matters was commonly used to settle business disputes or extort money from wealthy international investors.

During the year there were reports of “land grabbing” by both private and public actors. The most common type occurred when businesses illegally obtained property deeds from corrupt officials and sold the deeds to unsuspecting “homeowners,” who would then be caught up in criminal prosecutions. Other reports indicated government officials grabbed land without compensation to exchange it for contracts or political favors. Occasionally provincial governments illegally confiscated land without due process or compensation to build public facilities.

Corruption: In June the president signed a decree establishing an independent Anti-Corruption Justice Center with responsibility for prosecuting high-level corruption cases. With collaboration from the Supreme Court, AGO, and Major Crimes Task Force, prosecutors and primary and appellate court judges were assigned to the court, and work began on a permanent facility at Camp Heath. The anticorruption center began trying its first cases on November 12 in temporary facilities. In its first case, a senior-level AGO Military Department prosecutor was convicted for accepting a 43,500 Afghani ($750) bribe and sentenced to 2.5 years in prison and a 43,500 Afghani ($750) fine. In a second case, the deputy branch manager of Azizi Bank in Kandahar was convicted on four separate counts of embezzlement and forgery totaling 8.8 million Afghanis ($152,000), and he was sentenced to imprisonment for 10 years and four months. International media and observers attended the proceedings and reported the trials were procedurally fair, orderly, and professional.

Provincial police sometimes engaged in corruption at police checkpoints and from the narcotics industry. ANP officers reportedly paid higher-level Ministry of Interior officials for their positions and promotions. The justice system rarely pursued corruption cases, especially if they involved police. The ministry continued to be affected by allegations of widespread corruption, poor performance, and abuse of power by officers.

In addition to impunity, low salaries in the public sector and security forces exacerbated corruption by officials. The international community worked with the national and provincial governance structures to address the problem of low salaries, but implementation of grade reform remained slow.

Police reportedly demanded bribes from civilians to gain release from prison or avoid arrest. Citizens bribed corrections and detention officials to obtain release of prisoners who were not discharged at the end of their sentences.

Governors with reported involvement in corruption, the drug trade, or records of human rights violations reportedly continued to receive executive appointments and served with relative impunity.

Financial Disclosure: The High Office of Oversight is responsible for collecting information from senior government officials on all sources and levels of personal income. The office verifies and publishes online and in mass media the personal asset declarations of the most senior officials when they assume office and when they leave. While collection and publication occurred, some officials failed to submit the required reports, and there was only limited progress on the verification of such declarations by independent experts. The absence of legal penalties for omissions or misrepresentations tended to undermine this key tool for identifying wrongdoing.

Public Access to Information: The constitution and law provide citizens the right to access government information, except when access might violate the rights of others. Access to information from official sources continued to be limited due to a lack of clarity regarding citizens’ rights and a lack of transparency among government institutions. NGOs and human rights organizations said the 2014 law on access to information had not yet been fully implemented, and some government officials reportedly failed to disclose information of public interest in an adequate manner. Observers noted concern about some provisions of the law authorities can use to withhold information for national security reasons. NGOs continued to point out that the lack of clear definitions for terms such as national security and national interest could seriously affect and limit access to information. On October 16, President Ghani issued a decree asking government officials not to delay access to information to media and to categorize information properly.

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

Domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. While government officials were somewhat cooperative and responsive to their views, there were cases in which government officials intimidated human rights groups. Human rights activists continued to express concern that war criminals and human rights abusers remained in positions of power within the government.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The constitutionally mandated AIHRC continued to address human rights problems, but it received minimal government funding and relied almost exclusively on international donor funds.

Three Wolesi Jirga committees deal with human rights: the Gender, Civil Society, and Human Rights Committee; the Counternarcotics, Intoxicating Items, and Ethical Abuse Committee; and the Judicial, Administrative Reform, and Anticorruption Committee. In the Meshrano Jirga, the Committee for Gender and Civil Society addresses human rights concerns.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The EVAW law criminalizes violence against women, including rape, battery, or beating; forced marriage; humiliation; intimidation; and deprivation of inheritance, although its implementation remained limited. The law provides for a sentence of 16 to 20 years’ imprisonment for rape. If the act results in the death of the victim, the law provides for a death sentence for the perpetrator. The law provides for imprisonment of up to seven years for the “violation of chastity of a woman…that does not result in adultery (such as sexual touching).” Under the law, rape does not include spousal rape. The law was not widely understood, and some in the public and the religious communities deemed the law un-Islamic. Many authorities lacked the political will to implement the law and failed to enforce it fully.

The AIHRC reported 2,621 cases of violence against women from January through August, including nine killings, 79 cases of sexual violence, 34 sexual harassment cases, 733 beatings, and 44 forced engagements or marriages. Because of the security situation in the country, large numbers of violent crimes committed against women were unreported. In addition to AIHRC’s report, the Ministry of Women’s Affairs also reported 1,465 cases of violence against women within the first six months of the year, with Ghor, Baghlan, Badakshan, Nargarhar, Takhar, and Balkh Provinces showing the highest numbers.

The AGO operated 33 EVAW prosecution units in 33 provinces. In March the AGO held its second national meeting of EVAW prosecutors to facilitate communication between different provincial EVAW units and identify common issues. According to a January report by the Research Institute for Women Peace and Security, a domestic NGO, and the Chr. Michelsen Institute, of 2,958 cases registered with EVAW units in eight provinces studied, 792 or 27 percent resulted in indictments, and of these, 59 percent led to convictions. Among indicted cases, the conviction rate was highest for rape, with 73 percent of indictments leading to a conviction (41 percent of all registered rape cases resulted in convictions).

From March 2014 to March 2015, the government reported 4,541 registered cases of violence against women, with 3,038 registered under the EVAW law. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs, Ministry of Interior, and AGO also registered 1,179 cases of divorce, separation, annulment of engagements, alimony, and child custody, which may or may not have stemmed from domestic violence, bringing the total number of registered cases to 5,720.

Pajhwork News released a report on the role of mediation outside the formal justice system in cases of violence against women. Because mediation takes place at the community level, the male-driven process restricted the reporting of violence against women cases. The same report showed a compilation of data of more than 21,000 of cases of violence against women over the last six years alone. Nearly 70 percent of the cases were registered with the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and the police, but only an estimated 5 percent made it to the courts.

Prosecutors and judges in some remote provinces were unaware of the EVAW law, and others were subject to community pressure to release defendants due to familial loyalties, threat of harm, or bribes. Reports indicated men accused of rape often claimed the victim agreed to consensual sex, leading to zina charges against the victim, or perpetrators made false claims of marriage to the victim.

Rapes were difficult to document due to social stigma. Male victims seldom came forward due to fear of retribution or additional exploitation by authorities, but peer sexual abuse was reportedly common. Female victims faced stringent societal reprisal, ranging from being deemed unfit for marriage to being imprisoned for sexual conduct outside of marriage, or became victims of extrajudicial killing.

According to the 2016 Asia Foundation’s Annual Survey of the Afghan People, only 23.8 percent of women surveyed knew of an organization, institution, or authority in their area where women could go to have their problems resolved. Forced virginity testing remains legal, and police, prosecutors, and judges frequently ordered virginity tests in cases where women or girls were accused of “moral crimes” such as zina. Women who sought assistance in cases of rape often became subjects of virginity tests and in some instances had their cases converted into adultery cases. According to a September 2015 AIHRC report on forced gynecological exams, 48 of 53 female prisoners interviewed had been subjected to virginity tests, and of these, 20 said they had been tested more than once. The AIHRC publicly condemned virginity testing, citing that the practice had no scientific basis and that performing medical tests without the patient’s consent is a violation of the right to freedom and human dignity. Interpretations of sharia also impeded successful prosecution of rape cases.

In February media reported a group of armed kidnappers in Kapisa Province took a 10-year-old from her family’s home and married her to one of the group leaders’ son, a 30-year-old man. In July media reported that family members of a 15-year-old girl in Baghlan Province killed her and a 17-year-old male after accusing them of committing zina. In April a group of armed men gang-raped an 18-year-old in her home in Balkh Province.

The penal code criminalizes assault, and courts convicted domestic abusers under this provision, as well as the beating provision in the EVAW law. According to NGO reports, hundreds of thousands of women continued to suffer abuse at the hands of their husbands, fathers, brothers, in-laws, armed individuals, parallel legal systems, and institutions of state, such as the police and justice systems.

Police response to domestic violence was limited, in part due to low reporting, sympathy toward perpetrators, and limited protection for victims. Some police and judicial officials were unaware or unconvinced that rape was a serious criminal offense, and investigating rape cases was generally not a priority. Even in instances in which justice officials took rape seriously, some cases reportedly did not proceed due to bribery, family or tribal pressure, or other interference during the process. The AIHRC’s 2013 report on rape and honor killing asserted that one-third of cases on rape and honor killings were addressed in accordance with the law. In its study the AIHRC found that 35 percent of rape and honors killings were not appropriately prosecuted. The AIHRC and NGOs contended that due to societal acceptance of the practice, most cases were unreported and never reached prosecutors.

According to the AIHRC, more than 2,579 cases of violence against women were reported between March and September 2015. The AIHRC noted that the majority of reports concerned verbal and psychological violence and noted an increase in the number of reported cases from the same period the previous year. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs reported that up to 600 cases of violence against women were registered in the first three months of the year, the majority of which involved physical violence. Accurate statistics on the extent of violence against women, however, were difficult to obtain. The most recent research done on the prevalence of violence against women (as opposed to reported cases) was conducted by Global Rights and published in 2008. According to that report, 87 percent of women had experienced some form of physical, sexual, or psychological violence in their lives, and 62 percent had experienced more than one type of violence.

Most women did not seek legal assistance for domestic or sexual abuse because they did not know their rights or because they feared prosecution or return to their family or the perpetrator. Women sometimes practiced self-immolation, and the Ministry of Women’s Affairs reported there continued to be cases of suicide as a result of domestic violence. Women continued to turn to NGO-run women’s protection centers (women’s shelters) and associated family guidance centers for assistance, and according to UNAMA’s April 2015 report on women’s access to justice, victims particularly valued the physical protection afforded by these centers, which often represented the only safe refuge for women. According to NGOs that ran women’s protection centers countrywide, police continued to make up the most significant source of referrals, likely reflecting improved ANP training and awareness.

Space at the 28 women’s protection centers across the country was sometimes insufficient, particularly in major urban centers, and shelters remained concentrated in the western, northern, and central regions of the country. Women who could not be reunited with their families or who were unmarried were generally compelled to remain in protection centers indefinitely, because “unaccompanied” women were not commonly accepted in society. The difficulty of finding durable solutions for women compelled to stay in protection centers was compounded by societal attitudes toward the shelters as centers of prostitution, the belief that “running away from home” was a serious violation of social mores, and the continued victimization of women who were raped but perceived by society as adulterers.

Women in need of protection who could not find it often ended up in prison, either due to a lack of a protection center in their province or district, or based on local interpretation of “running away” as a moral crime. Adultery, fornication, and kidnapping are crimes under the law. Women often were convicted of those crimes in situations of abuse, rape, or forced marriage, or on the basis of invalid evidence, including virginity tests. Running away is not a crime under the law, and both the Supreme Court and AGO issued directives to this effect, but women and girls continued to be detained for running away from home or “attempted zina.” As of November 30, approximately 51 percent of female prisoners were incarcerated for moral crimes, according to GDPDC records.

The Ministry of Women’s Affairs, as well as nongovernmental entities, sometimes arranged marriages for women who could not return to their families.

Police units charged with addressing violence against women, children, and families, included female officers. Although trained to help victims of domestic violence, the officers were hindered by instructions to wait for victims to take the initiative and reach out to them.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The EVAW law criminalizes forced, underage, and “baad” marriages (the practice of settling disputes in which the culprit’s family trades a girl to the victim’s family to settle a dispute) and interference with a woman’s right to choose her spouse. According to the United Nations and Human Rights Watch, an estimated 70 percent of marriages were forced. Despite laws banning the practice, many brides continued to be younger than the legal marriage age of 16 (or 15 with a guardian’s and a court’s approval). Some local media reported an increase in child marriages during the year, although it was unclear whether this reflected an actual increase in the practice or rather an increase in reports. A 2014 AIHRC survey found more than 7 percent of respondents reported their daughters were married before the age of 16. Very few marriages were legally registered with the state, leaving forced marriages outside of legal control.

Violence against women is also often a driving factor in cases of suicide and self-immolation. Under the penal code, a man convicted of honor killing after finding his wife committing adultery cannot be sentenced to more than two years’ imprisonment. Honor killings continued, although accurate statistics were difficult to obtain. In July a 14-year-old pregnant girl in Ghor Province died in a local hospital after being burned alive in an honor killing by her husband and his family. When the girl’s father reported the harassment and violence his daughter had suffered to the police, local authorities dismissed him and suggested he should settle the differences with the girl’s in-laws. There were reports of summary justice by the Taliban and other antigovernment elements that resulted in extrajudicial executions. In June a woman in Ghor Province was abducted and shot after cancelling her engagement, and in July the Taliban publicly executed a 19-year-old woman in Sar-e-Pul Province for running away from home after a domestic dispute. UNAMA reported that the Taliban lashed a woman in the Sha Joy district of Zabul Province, citing adultery.

Sexual Harassment: The EVAW law criminalizes harassment and persecution of women but does not define these terms. A Regulation on Prohibition of Women’s Sexual Harassment entered into effect in October 2015, when it was published in the official gazette. The regulation, which was adopted pursuant to the EVAW law, defines harassment against women and establishes and identifies mechanisms for complaint and redress. Women who walked outside alone or who worked outside the home often experienced abuse or harassment, including groping, or they were followed on the streets in urban areas. Women who took on public roles that challenged gender stereotypes (such as lawmakers, political leaders, NGO leaders, police officers, and news broadcasters) continued to be intimidated by conservative elements and received death threats directed at them or their families. NGOs reported violence, including killings, against women working in the public and nonprofit sectors and initiated awareness-raising campaigns to mobilize groups against harassment. Female members of the ANP reported harassment by their male counterparts, and there were reports that female ANP members and their families experienced intimidation and discrimination within their communities. In May a group of female social activists launched a website to help women register and report incidents of violence and seek advice on how to resolve their issues.

Reproductive Rights: Women generally exercised little decision-making authority regarding marriage, the timing, and number of pregnancies, birthing practices, and child education. Couples were free from government discrimination, coercion, and violence to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children, although family and community pressures to reproduce, the high prevalence of child and early marriages, and lack of accurate biological knowledge limited their ability to do so. Women could expect to bear on average 5.1 children in their lifetimes. Oral contraceptives, intrauterine devices, injectable contraceptives, and condoms were available commercially and were provided at no cost in public health facilities and at subsidized rates in private health facilities and through community health workers. The UN Population Fund estimated that 23 percent of women of reproductive age used a modern method of contraception. Between January and August, the AIHRC registered eight cases of forced abortion from women and girls.

According to the World Health Organization’s, UN’s, and World Bank’s Trends in Maternal Mortality Report: 1990-2013, the maternal mortality rate in 2013 was 400 deaths per 100,000 live births. This represented a two-thirds reduction in maternal mortality since 1995. Early marriage and pregnancy put girls at greater risk for premature labor, complications during delivery, and death in childbirth. Postpartum hemorrhage and obstructed labor were key causes of maternal mortality. Only 34 percent of births were attended by a skilled health practitioner, and only 21 percent of girls and women between the ages of 15 and 49 used a modern form of contraception.

Discrimination: Women who reported cases of abuse or who sought legal redress for other matters reported they experienced discrimination within the judicial system. Some observers, including female judges, asserted that discrimination was a result of faulty implementation of law and cultural nuances, rather than the law itself. A woman’s limited access to money and other resources to pay fines (or bribes) and the social requirement for women to have a male guardian affected their access to and participation in the justice system. Local practices were discriminatory against women in some areas, particularly in parts of the country where courts were not functional or knowledge of the law was minimal. Judges in some remote districts acknowledged wide influence by tribal authorities in preempting cases from the formal justice system. In August 2015 a man beheaded his wife in Baghlan Province after she sought a divorce from a local court.

In the informal system, elders relied on interpretations of sharia and tribal customs, which generally discriminated against women. Many women reported limited access to justice in male-dominated tribal shuras, where proceedings focused on reconciliation with the community and family rather than the rights of the individual. Women in some villages were not allowed any access to dispute resolution mechanisms. Lack of awareness of their legal rights and illiteracy also limited women’s ability to access justice. Women’s advocacy groups reported in some cases that the government intervened informally with local courts to encourage them to interpret laws in ways favorable to women. Many cases in remote districts, however, reportedly were resolved according to the local police officer’s or prosecutor’s discretion or interpretation of the law. When legal authorities were aware of the EVAW law and its implementation, women were in some cases able to get appropriate assistance. Prosecutors in some provinces, however, continued to be reluctant to use the EVAW law. Moreover, in cases in which prosecutors brought charges under the EVAW law, judges would sometimes replace those charges with others based on the penal code.

Police, prosecutors, and judges discriminated against women in criminal and civil legal proceedings stemming from violence and forced marriages. Enhanced availability of legal aid, including through female attorneys, provided some relief in formal justice system proceedings.

Cultural prohibitions limiting women’s movement prevented many women from working outside the home and reduced their access to education, health care, police protection, and other social services. In December the head of the council of religious scholars (Ulema Council) in Takhar Province declared women were the “most shameful” persons. He was fired immediately after his statement.

The law provides for equal work without discrimination, but there are no provisions for equal pay for equal work. The EVAW law criminalizes interference with a woman’s right to work. Women faced discrimination in access to employment and terms of occupation. Some educated urban women found substantive work, but many were relegated to menial tasks in the workplace, regardless of qualification. There were 2,834 female police officers as of September 2015, including those in training, constituting less than 2 percent of the total police force. While the government made efforts to recruit additional female police officers, cultural customs and discrimination rendered recruitment and retention difficult. Women in high-profile positions of government service continued to be subjected to threats and violence.

The Ministry of Women’s Affairs and NGOs promoted women’s rights and freedoms. According to the AIHRC, many women in the civil service did not meet the minimum qualification of a bachelor’s degree imposed by the priority reform and restructuring system. The women’s ministry, the primary government agency responsible for addressing gender policy and the needs of women, had offices in all provinces and established gender units in all ministries. Gender units at lower ranks, however, lacked major influence, and men typically dominated their leadership positions. Although the ministry’s provincial offices assisted hundreds of women by providing legal and family counseling and referring women, they could not directly assist relevant organizations. The ministry and provincial line directorates suffered from a lack of capacity and resources.

Despite improvements in health over the past decade, the overall health of women and children remained poor, particularly among nomadic and rural populations and those in insecure areas. As with men, women’s life expectancy was 64 years of age. Rural women suffered disproportionately from insufficient numbers of skilled health personnel, particularly female health workers.

Compared to men, women and children were disproportionately victims of preventable deaths due to communicable diseases. Although free health services were provided in public facilities, many households could not afford certain costs related to medicines or transportation to health-care facilities, and many women were not permitted to travel to health-care facilities on their own.

Children

Birth Registration: A citizen father transmits citizenship to his child. Birth in the country or to a citizen mother alone is not sufficient. Adoption is not legally recognized.

Education: Education is mandatory up to the lower secondary level (six years for primary school and three years for lower secondary), and the law provides for free education up to and including the college level. Many children, however, did not attend school.

According to UNICEF’s April report on health care and education, 369 schools closed in 2015, and 139,000 children were out of school. Military operations and increased levels of violence impeded children’s access to education. Use of school buildings by both ANDSF and militants also affected children’s ability to attend school, especially for young girls. On June 4 and July 4, the Ministry of Education issued two directives asking security forces to stop using schools for military purposes.

In most regions boys and girls attended primary classes together but were separated for intermediate and secondary education. According to a statement by the Ministry of Education on December 18, of the country’s nine million registered schoolchildren, 24 percent did not attend school. The ministry estimated 3.5 million schoolchildren, or 39 percent, were girls. Many students were not enrolled full-time or dropped out early.

According to the Education for All 2015 National Review Report: Afghanistan, in 2013 the gross enrollment rate for girls as a percentage of total enrollment was approximately 41 percent at the primary level, 36 percent at the lower secondary level, and 35 percent at the upper secondary level. According to the same report, the literacy rate for girls and women 15 to 24 years of age was 32 percent as of 2012.

The status of girls and women in education was a matter of grave concern. Key obstacles to girls’ education included poverty, early and forced marriage, insecurity, lack of family support, lack of female teachers, and the long distance to school. Former president Karzai’s 2012 Decree on Governance and Corruption addressed the lack of female teachers, particularly in conservative rural areas, by charging the Education Ministry with recruiting an additional 11,000 teachers and increasing the number of district-level teacher training support centers to provide training opportunities for female teachers. According to the ministry, there were 202,336 teachers in public schools, and 33 percent of them were women as of November. There were 20,337 teachers in private schools, and 52 percent were women.

Violent attacks on schoolchildren, particularly girls, also hindered access to education. Violence impeded access to education in various sections of the country, particularly in areas controlled by the Taliban. The Taliban and other extremists threatened and attacked school officials, teachers, and students, particularly girls, and burned both boys’ and girls’ schools. Between January and June, UNAMA documented 25 incidents of threat and intimidation targeting schools, students, or schools staff. According to reports submitted to UNAMA, on January 7, 15 masked men entered a girls’ high school in Jowzjan Province and warned that female students over 12 must wear burqas. Following the threat, the school’s principal imposed a requirement for all girls over 12 to wear burqas. On April 13, in an attack by Taliban forces in Laghman Province, Taliban insurgents attacked Besram high school near the provincial capital of Mehtar Lam City, leaving two students dead and three students injured when stray bullets hit the school. On April 20, a headmaster in Khwaja Bahauddin district of Takhar Province was killed by a stray bullet in front of his students.

Insecurity, conservative attitudes, and poverty denied education to millions of school-age children, mainly in the southern and southeastern provinces. A representative from the Ministry of Education estimated in November that 140,000 schoolchildren in insecure areas did not have access to education. There were also reports of abduction and molestation. The lack of community-based, nearby schools was another factor inhibiting school attendance.

Child Abuse: NGOs reported increased numbers of child abuse victims during the year, and the problem remained endemic throughout the country. Such abuse included general neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, abandonment, and confined forced labor to pay off family debts. Police reportedly beat and sexually abused children; for instance, Agence France-Presse reported a case of a 13-year-old boy kidnapped by a police commander in southern Helmand. NGOs reported a predominantly punitive and retributive approach to juvenile justice throughout the country. Although it is against the law, corporal punishment in schools, rehabilitation centers, and other public institutions remained common.

Sexual abuse of children was pervasive. NGOs noted girls were more frequently abused by extended family members, while boys were more frequently abused by men outside their families. In November a five-year-old girl in Baghlan Province was allegedly raped by relatives of her older sister’s fiance after her sister ran off with another man. There were reports religious figures sexually abused both boys and girls. NGOs noted families often were complicit, allowing local strongmen to abuse their children in exchange for status or money. The Ministry of Interior tracked cases of rape, but most NGOs and observers estimated the official numbers significantly underreported the phenomenon. Many perpetrators of child sexual abuse were not arrested, and there were reports security officials and those connected to the ANP raped children with impunity. The practice continued of bacha baazi (dancing boys), which involved powerful or wealthy local figures and businessmen sexually abusing young boys trained to dance in female clothes. Reports of the practice increased since 2001.

There were multiple reports and press articles on the rape of young boys who were forcibly kept as bachas. After a June 15 article the Agence France-Presse published on Taliban forces using bacha baazi to infiltrate and carry out attacks against Afghan security forces, President Ghani ordered an investigation of sexual abuse cases in the security forces. The President’s Office stated that anyone, regardless of rank, found guilty of engaging in bacha baazi would be prosecuted. The government did not release a report on the investigation. At year’s end no known prosecutions of perpetrators in the security forces had taken place.

A September 2015 article in the New York Times documented the practice of bacha baazi by progovernment forces in Kunduz Province. Following the report, the Ministries of Interior and Defense and the President’s Office issued statements condemning the practice. The president also ordered the creation of a working committee, including the AIHRC, Interior Ministry, and AGO, to investigate and monitor cases of abuse and create a mechanism to prevent and prosecute perpetrators. There were no reports on the progress of the committee.

The government took few other steps to discourage the abuse of boys or to prosecute or punish those involved. On December 12, President Ghani signed a new trafficking-in-persons law, which includes legal provisions criminalizing behaviors associated with the sexual exploitation of children. In 2014 the AIHRC released its national inquiry on bacha baazi. The report asserted bacha baazi was a form of trafficking already criminalized and called on the government to enforce the law actively. It attributed the root causes of the practice to lack of rule of law, corruption, gaps in the law, poverty, insecurity, and the existence of armed insurgent groups. The report noted the serious psychological and physical harm victims faced and called on the government to provide protective services to victims.

Early and Forced Marriage: Despite a law setting the legal minimum age for marriage at 16 (15 with the consent of a parent or guardian and the court) for girls and 18 for boys, international and local observers continued to report widespread early marriage. A 2014 survey by the Ministry of Public Health showed 53 percent of all women ages 25-49 married by age 18 and 21 percent by age 15. According to the Central Statistics Organization of Afghanistan, 17 percent of girls ages 15 to 19 were married. During the EVAW law debate, conservative politicians publicly stated it was un-Islamic to ban the marriage of girls younger than 16. Under the EVAW law, those who arrange forced or underage marriages may be sentenced to imprisonment for not less than two years, but implementation of the law was limited. The Law on Marriage states marriage of a minor may be conducted with a guardian’s consent.

By law a marriage contract requires verification that the bride is 16 years of age (or 15 with the permission of her parents or a court), but only a small fraction of the population had birth certificates. Following custom, some poor families pledged their daughters to marry in exchange for “bride money,” although the practice is illegal. According to local NGOs, some girls as young as six or seven were promised in marriage, with the understanding the actual marriage would be delayed until the child reached puberty. Reports indicated, however, that this delay was rarely observed and that young girls were sexually violated by the groom or by older men in the family, particularly if the groom was also a child. Media reports also noted the “opium bride” phenomenon, in which farming families married off their daughters to settle debts to opium traffickers.

There were multiple media reports of girls given in baad or sold. In July an elderly mullah was arrested in Ghor Province for marrying a six-year-old girl. The girl’s father was also arrested after the mullah claimed that he was given the girl as a religious offering in exchange for prayers and a few goods. In August an 18-year-old woman in Badghis Province was beheaded by her husband’s family after asking for a divorce. The victim was only three years old when her father arranged her engagement to a local boy.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Girls under age 18 continued to be at risk for honor killings for perceived sexual relations outside of marriage, running away, not accepting a forced marriage, or being a victim of sexual assault. In July 2015 media reported family members of a 15-year-old girl in Baghlan Province shot and killed her and a 17-year-old boy after the two returned home following an elopement.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Although pornography is a crime, child pornography is not specifically identified under the law. Exploiting a child for sexual purposes, often associated with bacha baazi, was widespread, although some aspects of this practice are separate crimes under the penal code.

Child Soldiers: In February the Law on Prohibition of Children’s Recruitment in the Military became effective. There were reports the ANDSF and progovernment militias used children for specific purposes in a limited number of cases, and the Taliban and other antigovernment elements recruited children for military purposes (see section 1.g.). Media reported that local progovernment commanders recruited children under 16 years of age. These children participated in military operations against the Taliban in the Baharak district of Badakhshan. UNAMA documented 15 incidents of recruitment and use of children by pro- and antigovernment groups. Taliban trained at least three boys, including a nine-year-old boy with mental disability, for suicide attacks in Kandahar and Nangarhar.

Displaced Children: The Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, Martyrs, and Disabled and the AIHRC continued to estimate the number of street children in the country at six million, but the National Census Directorate had not conducted a recent survey. Street children had little or no access to government services, although several NGOs provided access to basic needs, such as shelter and food.

Institutionalized Children: Living conditions for children in orphanages were poor. The social affairs ministry oversaw 84 Child Protection Action Network centers and 78 residential orphanages, which were designed to provide vocational training to children from destitute families. Of these, 30 were privately funded orphanages and 48 were government-funded centers operated by NGOs by agreement with the ministry. NGOs reported up to 80 percent of children between ages four and 18 years in the orphanages were not orphans but came from families that could not provide food, shelter, or schooling. Children in orphanages reported mental, physical, and sexual abuse and occasionally were subjected to trafficking. They did not have regular access to running water, heating in winter, indoor plumbing, health services, recreational facilities, or 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 Jewish community in the country, 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

The constitution prohibits any kind of discrimination against citizens and requires the state to assist persons with disabilities and to protect their rights, including the rights to health care and financial protection. The constitution also requires the state to adopt measures to reintegrate and provide for the active participation in society of persons with disabilities. The Law on the Rights and Benefits of Disabled Persons provides for equal rights to, and the active participation of, such persons in society. The Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, Martyrs, and Disabled continued to implement a five-year national action plan through a memorandum of understanding with the Ministry of Information and Culture and the Ministry of Education to implement public awareness programs on the rights of persons with disabilities through national media and to provide scholarships for students with disabilities. There were reports the information ministry was not cooperative regarding implementation of the memorandum of understanding.

During the year there were approximately 80,000 persons with disabilities registered with the ministry who received financial support from the government. Persons with 30 to 60 percent disability received an annual payment of 26,100 Afghanis ($450), and persons with more than 60 percent disability received a total of 52,200 Afghanis ($900) annually.

Disability rights activists reported that corruption prevented some persons with disabilities from receiving benefits. There were reports that government officials redirected scholarship funds for persons with disabilities to friends or family through fraud and identity theft. NGOs and government officials also reported that associations of persons with disabilities attempted to intimidate ministry employees in an effort to secure benefits such as apartments.

Lack of security remained a challenge for disability programs. Insecurity in remote areas, where a disproportionate number of persons with disabilities lived, precluded delivery of assistance in some cases. The majority of buildings remained inaccessible to persons with disabilities, prohibiting many from benefitting from education, health care, and other services.

Persons with disabilities faced barriers such as limited access to educational opportunities, inability to access government buildings, lack of economic opportunities, and social exclusion. NGOs reported persons with disabilities faced difficulties accessing the majority of public buildings, including government ministries, health clinics, and hospitals. Society and even their own families mistreated persons with disabilities, since there was a common perception persons had disabilities because they or their parents had “offended God.”

In the Meshrano Jirga, authorities reserved two of the presidentially appointed seats for persons with disabilities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Ethnic tensions between various groups continued to result in conflict and killings.

Societal discrimination against Shia Hazaras continued along class, race, and religious lines in the form of extortion of money through illegal taxation, forced recruitment and forced labor, physical abuse, and detention. According to NGOs, the government frequently assigned Hazara ANP officers to symbolic positions with little authority within the Ministry of Interior. NGOs also reported Hazara ANSF officers were more likely than non-Hazara officers to be posted to insecure areas of the country.

Multiple kidnappings of Hazara were reported in several provinces, including Ghazni, Zabul, and Baghlan. The abductors reportedly shot, beheaded, ransomed, or released the kidnapping victims. In February 2015 unidentified gunmen abducted 31 Hazara men from a bus in Zabul Province. The abductors released 19 of the men in May and eight others in November. Four of the hostages remained unaccounted for at year’s end.

Sikhs and Hindus faced discrimination, reporting unequal access to government jobs and harassment in school, as well as verbal and physical abuse in public places. According to the Sikh and Hindu Council of Afghanistan, there were approximately 900 members of the Sikh and Hindu community in the country.

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

The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual conduct, and there were reports that harassment, violence, and detentions by police continued. NGOs reported police arrested, detained, robbed, and raped gay men. The law does not prohibit discrimination or harassment based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Homosexuality was widely seen as taboo and indecent. Members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community did not have access to certain health services and could be fired from their jobs because of their sexual orientation. Organizations devoted to protecting the freedom of LGBTI persons remained underground because they could not be legally registered. Members of the LGBTI community reported they continued to face discrimination, assault, rape, and arrest.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

There were no confirmed reports of discrimination or violence against persons with HIV/AIDS, but there was reportedly serious societal stigma against persons with AIDS.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to join and form independent unions and to conduct legal strikes and bargain collectively, and the government generally respected these rights, although it lacked enforcement tools. The law, however, provides no definition of a union or its relationship with employers and members, nor does it establish a legal method for union registration or penalties for violations. The law does not prohibit antiunion discrimination or provide for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. Other than protecting the right to participate in a union, the law provides no other legal protection for union workers or workers seeking to unionize.

Although the law identifies the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, Martyrs, and Disabled’s Labor High Council as the highest decision-making body on labor-related issues, the lack of implementing regulations prevented the council from performing its function. There was an inspection office within the ministry, but inspectors could only advise and make suggestions. As a result the application of labor law remained limited because of a lack of central enforcement authority, implementing regulations that describe procedures and penalties for violations, funding, personnel, and political will.

The government allowed several unions to operate without interference or political influence. Freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively were generally respected, but most workers were not aware of these rights. This was particularly true of workers in rural areas or the agricultural sector, who had not formed unions. In urban areas the majority of workers participated in the informal sector as day laborers in construction, where there were neither unions nor collective bargaining.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The law prescribes penalties, including a “maximum term” of imprisonment for forced labor (between eight and 15 years). Article 515 of the penal code also could be interpreted to criminalize a “foreign party’s” coercive labor practices through fraud or deceit, with a penalty of five to 15 years’ imprisonment.

Government enforcement of the law was ineffective; resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate; and the government made minimal efforts to prevent and eliminate forced labor. Penalties were insufficient to deter violations.

Forced labor occurred. Men, women, and children were forced into poppy cultivation, domestic work, carpet weaving, brick kiln work, organized begging, and drug trafficking. NGO reports documented the practice of bonded labor, whereby customs allow families to force men, women, and children to work as a means to pay off debt or to settle grievances. The debt can continue from generation to generation, with children forced to work to pay off their parents’ debt (see section 7.c.). Labor violations against migrant workers were common, especially the widespread practice of bonded labor in brick kiln facilities.

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 labor law sets the minimum age for employment at 18 but permits 14-year-olds to work as apprentices, allows children who are 15 and older to do “light work,” and permits children 16 and 17 to work up to 35 hours per week. Children under age 14 are prohibited from working under any circumstances. The law prohibits the employment of children in work likely to threaten their health or cause disability, including mining, begging, and garbage collection; work in blast furnaces, waste-processing plants, and large slaughterhouses; work with hospital waste; drug-related work; security guard services; and work related to war.

The government lacked a specific policy on implementing the law’s provisions on child labor. Poor institutional capacity was a serious impediment to effective enforcement of the labor law. Deficiencies included inadequate resources, inspections, remediation, and penalties for violations, and the government made minimal efforts to prevent child labor or remove children from exploitative labor conditions. Reports estimated that fewer than 10 percent of children had formal birth registrations, which further limited authorities’ already weak capacity to enforce laws on the minimum age of employment.

Child labor remained a pervasive problem. The Ministry of Labor declined to estimate the number of working children, citing a lack of data and deficiencies in birth registrations.

Child laborers worked as domestic servants, street vendors, peddlers, and shopkeepers, and in carpet weaving, brick making, the coal industry, and poppy harvesting. Children were also heavily engaged in the worst forms of child labor in agriculture, mining (especially family-owned gem mines), commercial sexual exploitation (see section 6, Children), transnational drug smuggling, and organized begging rings. Some forms of child labor exposed children to land mines. Children faced numerous health and safety risks at work, and there were reports children were exposed to sexual abuse by adult workers. There were reports of recruitment of juveniles by the ANDSF during the year. Taliban forces pressed children to take part in hostile acts (see section 6, Children).

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

The constitution prohibits discrimination and notes that citizens, both “man and woman,” have equal rights and duties before the law. It expressly prohibits discrimination based on language. The constitution contains no specific provisions addressing discrimination based on race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, social origin, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity, age, HIV-positive status, or other communicable diseases. The penal code prescribes a term of imprisonment of not more than two years for anyone convicted of spreading discrimination or factionalism.

Women continued to face discrimination and hardship in the workplace. Women made up only 7 percent of the workforce. According to the 2016 Asia Foundation survey, 74 percent of the population agreed that women should be allowed to work outside the home; nonetheless, only 9.4 percent of women in the survey said they were involved in any activity that involved making money. Many women faced pressure from relatives to stay at home and encountered hiring practices that favored men. Older and married women reported it was more difficult for them than for younger, single women to find jobs. Women who worked reported they encountered insults, sexual harassment, lack of transportation, and an absence of day-care facilities. Salary discrimination existed in the private sector. Female journalists, social workers, and police officers reported they were often threatened or abused.

Ethnic Hazaras, Sikhs, and Hindus were subjected to discrimination in hiring and work assignments, in addition to broader social discrimination (see section 6, National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum wage for permanent government workers was 6,000 Afghanis ($103) per month. There was no minimum wage for permanent workers in the private sector; but the minimum wage for workers in the nonpermanent private sector was 5,500 Afghanis ($95) per month. According to the Central Statistics Organization, 36 percent of the population earned wages below the poverty line of 1,150 Afghanis ($20) per month.

The law defines the standard workweek for both public- and private-sector employees as 40 hours: eight hours per day with one hour for lunch and noon prayers. The labor law makes no mention of day workers in the informal sector, leaving them completely unprotected. There are no occupational health and safety regulations or officially adopted standards. The law, however, provides for reduced standard workweeks for youth, pregnant women, nursing mothers, and miners and workers in other occupations that present health risks. The law provides workers with the right to receive wages, annual vacation time in addition to national holidays, compensation for on-the-job injuries, overtime pay, health insurance for the employee and immediate family members, and other incidental allowances. The law prohibits compulsory work and stipulates that overtime work be subject to the agreement of the employee. The law prohibits women and minors (ages 15 to 18) from engaging in physically challenging work, work that is harmful to health, and night work. The law also requires employers to provide day care and nurseries for children.

The government did not effectively enforce these laws. The labor ministry had only 18 inspectors for 34 provinces, and the inspectors had no legal authority to enter premises or impose penalties for violations. Resources, inspections, remediation, and penalties for violations were inadequate and insufficient to deter violations.

Employers often chose not to comply with the law or preferred to hire workers informally. Most employees worked longer than 40 hours per week, were frequently underpaid, and worked in poor conditions, particularly in the informal sector. Workers were generally unaware of the full extent of their labor rights under the law. Although comprehensive data on workplace accidents were unavailable, there were several reports of poor and dangerous working conditions. Some industries, such as brick kiln facilities, continued to use debt bondage, making it difficult for workers to remove themselves from situations that endangered their health or safety.

Algeria

Executive Summary

Algeria is a multiparty republic whose president, the head of state, is elected by popular vote for a five-year term. The president has the constitutional authority to appoint and dismiss cabinet members and the prime minister, who is the head of government. Presidential term limits, which were eliminated in 2008, were reintroduced in a 2016 revision of the constitution and limit the president to two five-year terms. Voters re-elected President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who has held office since 1999, in the 2014 presidential elections. Foreign observers characterized the elections as largely peaceful but noted low voter turnout and a high rate of ballot invalidity. The 2012 legislative elections did not result in significant changes to the composition of the government.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces.

The three most significant continuing human rights problems were restrictions on the freedom of assembly and association, lack of judicial independence and impartiality, and limits on freedom of the press.

Other human rights concerns were the excessive use of force by police, including allegations of torture; limitations on the ability of citizens to choose their government; widespread corruption accompanied by reports of limited government transparency; and societal discrimination against persons with disabilities, persons with HIV/AIDS, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons. Women faced violence and discrimination, and there was some reported child abuse. Additionally, the government maintained restrictions on worker rights.

The government did not take sufficient steps to investigate, prosecute, or punish public officials who committed violations. Impunity for police and security officials remained a problem, and the government rarely provided information on actions taken against officials accused of wrongdoing.

Abuses by terrorist groups remained a significant problem. Terrorist groups committed attacks against the security services and targeted military personnel in particular.

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. In 2015 the deaths of two individuals in detention raised public concern. In September 2015 several newspapers reported that Benchikh Aissa died in a Ghardaia prison. His lawyers said he suffered from depression, and prison officials refused to provide necessary health services. Afari Baaouchi died several weeks earlier in a Laghouat prison. Authorities arrested both detainees in July 2015 in the wake of the clashes between Mozabite Ibadi Muslims and Arab Sunni Maliki Muslims in Ghardaia. The Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights (LADDH) called for an official investigation into the deaths, but no public information was available at year’s end on whether the government conducted investigations.

Some terrorist groups remained active in the country, including al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb and a Da’esh affiliate, Jund al-Khilafah, and attacked security services personnel. On April 15, terrorists killed four soldiers in Constantine Province. On August 6, an improvised explosive device killed four civilians in Khenchela Province. Da’esh (also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) took credit for the October 28 killing of a police officer in Constantine. Terrorists reportedly killed two police officers and a civilian in a November 13 attack in Ain Defla.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

The government stated it was in discussion with the UN Human Rights Council Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances regarding a visit to the country. The government regarded this as the next step to addressing cases of enforced or involuntary disappearances from the 1990s that the working group submitted to it in 2014.

Government officials declared there were 84 reported cases of child kidnapping in 2015 and 28 in the first half of 2016. Figures on total ransom payments were unavailable, since the government maintained a strict no-concessions policy with regard to individuals or groups holding its citizens hostage.

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

The law prohibits torture, but nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and local human rights activists alleged that government officials sometimes employed torture and abusive treatment to obtain confessions. The government denied these charges. Government agents face prison sentences of between 10 and 20 years for committing such acts, and there were two convictions during the year. There were no other reported cases of prosecution of civil or military security service officials for torture or abusive treatment. Local and international NGOs asserted that impunity was a problem.

On May 12, the UN Human Rights Committee found the country to be in violation of article seven of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which prohibits torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. The decision was based on the government’s failure to contest allegations made in the case of financial consultant Chani Medjoub, who was initially arrested in 2009 in connection with a corruption case and who alleged that members of the judicial police of the Intelligence and Security Department (DRS) tortured him.

On May 25, two police officers were convicted and sentenced to seven and 15 years in prison, respectively, following their May 2015 arrests for raping a woman during her detention in a police station.

In September, LADDH called for an investigation into reports that male police officers in Ain Benian, west of Algiers, forced a detained 29-year-old woman with developmental disabilities to undress in front of them in the local police station. The woman’s family reportedly filed a complaint with the local tribunal, but additional information was unavailable as of September.

The Surete Nationale (DGSN) stated that it did not receive any reports of abuse or misconduct from the public during the year. Information from the National Gendarmerie was not available.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions generally met international standards.

A 2013 presidential decree dissolved the Central Bureau of the Judicial Police under the DRS, removing its authority to detain individuals and hold them in separate detention facilities. A 2014 presidential decree, however, reinstated this authority and permitted the DRS to manage prison facilities. A January 20 presidential decree dissolved the DRS and reorganized the intelligence services. The July 2015 amendment of the penal code prohibits police officers from detaining suspects in any facilities not designated for that purpose and declared to the local prosecutor, who has the right to visit such facilities at any time.

Physical Conditions: According to statistics provided in August, the Ministry of Justice’s General Directorate for Prison Administration and Resettlement (DGAPR) had responsibility for approximately 60,000 prisoners. Convicted terrorists had the same rights as other inmates but were held in prisons of varying degrees of security, determined by whether authorities considered the prisoners highly dangerous or of high, intermediate, or low risk.

The government used specific facilities for prisoners age 27 and younger. With support from the British, Canadian, and French governments, the DGAPR modernized its inmate classification system and maintained different categories of prisons that separated prisoners among facilities according to the general lengths of their sentences. Several detention facilities reportedly operated at 200 to 300 percent of capacity. Some observers, including government-appointed human rights officials, attributed overcrowding in pretrial detention facilities to “excessive use” of pretrial detention.

Authorities generally transferred pretrial detainees, after presenting them before the prosecutor, to prisons and did not hold them in separate detention facilities. In some prisons pretrial detainees were held in cellblocks separate from those that housed the general prison population.

Administration: No ombudsman existed to serve on behalf of prisoners or detainees. Prisoners may submit uncensored complaints to penitentiary administration, doctors, and their judge. It was unclear how frequently prison authorities collected the complaints or requests. Authorities permitted family members to visit prisoners in standard facilities weekly and to provide detainees with food and clothing, although the common practice of holding inmates in prisons very far from their families discouraged visits. In the majority of the prisons, nonfunctional telephones further exacerbated the difficulty for detainees to maintain regular contact with family.

Independent Monitoring: The government allowed the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and local human rights observers to visit regular prisons and detention centers. ICRC staff visited prisons, police and gendarme stations under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Justice, and an administrative detention center operated by the Ministry of Interior. By September the ICRC had visited 32 detention facilities, representing approximately one-third of the total prison population. Delegates paid special attention to vulnerable detainees, including foreigners, women, minors, persons in solitary confinement, and individuals held for security reasons by police and gendarmes. The ICRC provided the government confidential feedback, when applicable, to help authorities improve detainee treatment and living conditions, reinforce respect for judicial protections, and expand access to health care. During the year the ICRC hosted training sessions on human rights–as they relate to arrest, detention, and interrogation procedures–for judicial police from the DGSN and National Gendarmerie and judges.

Improvements: Authorities improved prison conditions to meet international standards. The Ministry of Justice’s Directorate of Penal Affairs and Pardons announced that since 2010, the government opened 31 new detention centers. Of the new facilities, 10 were minimum-security centers that held prisoners in cells and permitted them to work. Intelligent camera systems were installed in some pretrial detention facilities to allow the DGSN to monitor conditions of detention.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

Overuse of pretrial detention remained a problem. Security forces routinely detained individuals who conducted activities against the order of the state such as protesting, striking, or rioting. Arrested individuals reported that authorities held them for four to eight hours before releasing them without charges.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The 130,000-member National Gendarmerie, which performs police functions outside of urban areas under the auspices of the Ministry of National Defense, and the approximately 210,000-member DGSN or national police, organized under the Ministry of Interior, share general responsibility for maintaining law and order. A January 20 presidential decree dissolved the DRS, which had been subordinate to the Ministry of National Defense. It was replaced by three intelligence directorates reporting to a presidential national security counselor and performing functions related specifically to internal, external, and technical security.

Impunity remained a problem. The law provides mechanisms to investigate abuses and corruption, but the government did not always provide public information on disciplinary or legal action against police, military, or other security force personnel. The DGSN conducted a two-week training session for police officers specifically focusing on human rights practices in September and another two-day training session in November.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

According to the law, police must obtain a summons from the Prosecutor’s Office to require a suspect to appear in a police station for preliminary questioning. With this summons police may hold a suspect for no more than 48 hours. Authorities also use summonses to notify and require the accused and the victim to attend a court proceeding or hearing. Police may make arrests without a warrant if they witness the offense. Public lawyers reported that authorities usually carried out procedures for warrants and summonses properly.

If authorities require time beyond the authorized 48-hour period for gathering additional evidence, they may extend a suspect’s authorized time in police detention with the prosecutor’s authorization in the following cases: once, if charges pertain to an attack on data processing systems; twice, if charges relate to state security; three times, for charges concerning drug trafficking, organized and transnational crime, money laundering, and other currency-related crimes; and five times (for a maximum of 12 days), for charges related to terrorism and other subversive activities. The law stipulates that detainees should immediately be able to contact a family member and receive a visit, or to contact an attorney. The 2015 report of the National Consultative Commission for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights (CNCPPDH), a governmental human rights commission, criticized this provision for forcing detainees to choose between contacting their families and consulting an attorney.

The law provides detainees the right to see an attorney for 30 minutes if the time in detention has been extended beyond the initial 48-hour period. In these cases authorities permit the arrested person to contact a lawyer after half the extended time has expired. Authorities may use in court confessions and statements garnered during the period prior to access to an attorney–which a prosecutor’s application to a judge may extend. The court appearance of suspects in terrorism cases is public. At the end of the period of detention, the detainee has the right to request a medical examination by a physician of choice within the jurisdiction of the court. Otherwise, the judicial police appoint a doctor. Authorities enter the certificate of the medical examination into the detainee’s file.

In non-felony cases and in cases of individuals held on charges of terrorism and other subversive activities that exceed a 12-day period plus any authorized extension, the law calls for the release of suspects on provisional liberty, referred to as “judicial control,” while awaiting trial. Under provisional liberty status, authorities subjected suspects to requirements such as reporting periodically to the police station in their district, stopping professional activities related to the alleged offense committed, surrendering all travel documents required to leave the country, and, in some terrorism-related cases, residing at an agreed-upon address. The law provides that foreigners may be required to furnish bail as a condition of release on provisional liberty status.

Judges rarely refused prosecutorial requests to extend pretrial detention, which by law may be appealed. Should the detention be overturned, the defendant has the right to request compensation. Most detainees had prompt access to a lawyer of their choice as accorded by law, and the government provided legal counsel to indigent detainees. There were reports that authorities held some detainees without access to their lawyers and reportedly abused them physically and mentally.

Various press outlets reported that in October 2015 National Gendarmerie officers told a Cameroonian female migrant, who claimed a group of Algerian men assaulted and raped her, that they could not file charges because she was an illegal migrant. The victim reported that several hospitals refused to provide her treatment and to issue her a certificate documenting her sexual assault. After social media and local civil society organizations mobilized over the issue, authorities accepted her complaint and arrested two of the eight alleged actors. As of September the status of the investigation was not known.

Arbitrary Arrest: Although the law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, authorities sometimes used vaguely worded provisions, such as “inciting an unarmed gathering” and “insulting a government body,” to arrest and detain individuals considered to be disturbing public order or criticizing the government. Amnesty International (AI) and other human rights organizations criticized the law prohibiting unauthorized gatherings and called for its amendment to require only notification as opposed to application for authorization. These observers, among others, pointed to the law as a significant source of arbitrary arrests intended to suppress activist speech. Police arrested protesters in Algiers and elsewhere in the country throughout the year for violating the law against unregistered public gatherings.

On July 13, attorney and human rights activist Salah Debouz and six other activists were arrested at a cafe in Ghardaia and detained for eight hours for holding an unlawful gathering. The activists had been meeting near the local courthouse to discuss the case of one of Debouz’s clients. Debouz had also been arrested on February 6 during a meeting with labor union activists and subsequently released the same day.

Authorities arrested Youcef Ouled Dada in March 2014 for “harming a national institution” and “insulting a government body” when he posted a video on Facebook that captured three police officers engaged in looting during riots in the city of Ghardaia. In September 2014 a Ghardaia court reaffirmed the two-year prison term and DZD 100,000 ($916) fine it imposed in June 2014 on Dada. He was released March 27 after two years in prison.

Pretrial Detention: Prolonged pretrial detention remained a serious problem. Nongovernmental observers believed pretrial detainees comprised a significant portion of the total detainee and prisoner population but admitted they did not have specific statistics. The Ministry of Justice said that as of September, the proportion of detainees in preventive detention was 13.85 percent of the total detainee and prisoner population, compared with 15.02 percent during the same period in 2015, and that the proportion in police custody was 5.66 percent. Ministry statistics did not include prisoners whose cases were pending appeal. July 2015 changes to the penal code limit the grounds for pretrial detention and stipulate that before it can be imposed, a judge must assess the gravity of a crime and whether the accused is a threat to society or a flight risk.

AI alleged that authorities sometimes detained individuals on security-related charges for longer than the 12-day prescribed period.

Authorities held KBC TV journalists Mehdi Benaissa and Ryad Hartouf and Ministry of Culture official Nora Nedjai in pretrial detention for 26 days. They were arrested on June 22 in connection with the alleged unauthorized production of satirical television programs that were broadcast in July. All three received suspended prison sentences and were released July 18.

Police arrested Nacer Eddine Hadjadj, former mayor of Beriane municipality and member of the Rally for Culture and Democracy party, in July 2015. Press reports indicated authorities detained Hadjadj for questioning regarding the violent events that took place in Ghardaia, but the government did not confirm this. In August 2015 Hadjadj’s lawyer, Salah Debouz, denounced the government for not notifying him of his client’s hearing for provisional liberty. The judge rejected his request for provisional liberty, and he remained in pretrial detention as of September.

The government implemented changes adopted in 2015 to the criminal procedure code that prohibit the use of pretrial detention for crimes with maximum punishments of less than three years imprisonment. The revised law, however, exempts infractions that resulted in deaths and persons considered a “threat to public order.” In these cases the revised law limits the use of pretrial detention to one month, nonrenewable. The government also amended the criminal procedure code to state that in all other criminal cases, pretrial detention may not exceed four months. Representatives of the CNCPPDH said that the penal code amendments had succeeded in reducing the use of pretrial detention in 2016 but did not maintain their own statistics demonstrating a decrease from the previous year.

Judges rarely refused prosecutorial requests to extend pretrial detention, which by law may be appealed. Should the detention be overturned, the defendant has the right to request compensation. Most detainees had prompt access to a lawyer of their choice as accorded by law, and the government provided legal counsel to indigent detainees. There were reports that authorities held some detainees without access to their lawyers and reportedly abused them physically and mentally.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The Code of Criminal Procedure grants pre-trial detainees the right to appeal a court’s order of pre-trial detention. The appeal must be filed within three days. A person released from custody following a dismissal or acquittal may apply to a civil commission to seek compensation from the government for “particular and particularly severe” harm caused by pre-trial detention. The person must submit an application for compensation within six months of the dismissal or acquittal.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

While the constitution provides for the separation of powers between the executive and judicial branches of government, the executive branch’s broad statutory authorities limited judicial independence. The constitution grants the president authority to appoint all prosecutors and judges. These presidential appointments are not subject to legislative oversight but are reviewed by the High Judicial Council, which consists of the president, minister of justice, chief prosecutor of the Supreme Court, 10 judges, and six individuals outside the judiciary chosen by the president. The president serves as the president of the High Judicial Council, which is also responsible for the appointment, transfer, promotion, and discipline of judges. The judiciary was not impartial and was often subject to influence and corruption.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides for the right to a fair trial, but authorities did not always respect legal provisions that protect defendants’ rights. The law presumes defendants are innocent and have the right to be present and to consult with an attorney provided at public expense if necessary. Most trials are public, except when the judge determines the proceedings to be a threat to public order or “morals.” The July 2015 amendment of the penal code guarantees defendants the right to free interpretation as necessary. Defendants have the right to be present during their trial but may be tried in absentia if they do respond to a summons ordering their appearance.

Defendants may confront or question witnesses against them or present witnesses and evidence on their behalf. There were a few reports that courts occasionally denied defendants and their attorneys’ access to government-held evidence. Defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt, and they have the right to appeal. The testimony of men and women has equal weight under the law.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

International and local observers alleged that authorities used antiterrorism laws and restrictive laws on freedom of expression and public assembly to detain political activists and outspoken critics of the government.

In March 2015 the National Coordination of Families of Political Prisoners called for the release of 160 persons who had remained incarcerated since the 1990s. In April 2015 Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal stated the government held no political prisoners. He declared that courts convicted the detainees in question of violent crimes, making them ineligible for government pardons under the National Charter for Peace and Reconciliation. The government permitted the ICRC to visit detainees held for “security reasons.”

On March 7, a Tamanrasset court convicted Committee for the Defense of the Rights of Unemployed Workers activist Abdelali Ghellam to a year in prison following his December 2015 arrest on charges of taking part in an unauthorized gathering and obstructing traffic. AI reported that seven other men were also arrested in connection with the same protest and received one-year sentences and DZD 50,000 ($458) fines.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The judiciary was neither independent nor impartial in civil matters and lacked independence in some human rights cases. Family connections and status of the parties involved influenced decisions. Individuals may bring lawsuits, and administrative processes related to amnesty may provide damages to the victims or their families for human rights violations and compensation for alleged wrongs. Individuals may appeal adverse decisions to international human rights bodies, but their decisions would not have the force of law.

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

The constitution provides for the protection of a person’s “honor” and private life, including the privacy of home, communication, and correspondence, although government authorities infringed on citizens’ privacy rights. According to human rights activists, citizens widely believed the government conducted frequent electronic surveillance of a range of citizens, including political opponents, journalists, human rights groups, and suspected terrorists. Security officials reportedly searched homes without a warrant. Security forces conducted unannounced home visits.

The government established a new anticybercrime agency charged with coordinating anticybercrime efforts and engaging in preventive surveillance of electronic communications in the interests of national security. Falling under the purview of the Ministry of Justice, the agency has exclusive authority for monitoring all electronic surveillance activities, but the decree did not provide details regarding the limits of surveillance authority or corresponding protections for persons subject to surveillance. The Ministry of Justice said the agency was subject to all existing judicial controls that apply to law enforcement agencies.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, and independent media outlets criticized government officials and policies, but the government restricted these rights. The government’s techniques included harassment of some critics; arbitrary enforcement of vaguely worded laws; informal pressure on publishers, editors, advertisers, and journalists; and control of a significant proportion of the country’s advertising money and printing capabilities. Some media figures alleged the government used its control over most printing houses and large amounts of public sector advertising preferentially, and that the lack of clear regulations over these practices permitted it to exert undue influence on press outlets.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: Individuals were limited in their ability to criticize the government publicly without reprisal. Authorities arrested and detained citizens for doing so, and citizens practiced self-restraint in expressing public criticism. The law criminalizing speech about the conduct of the security forces during the internal conflict of the 1990s remained in force, although there were no cases of arrest or prosecution under the law during the year. The law provides for up to three years’ imprisonment for tracts, bulletins, or flyers that “may harm the national interest” or up to one year for defaming or insulting the president, parliament, army, or state institutions. Government officials monitored political meetings. Authorities used laws against slander of public officials to restrict public discussion.

On August 3, the government published a law passed by parliament that broadens laws on defamation to cover the conduct of retired military officers. The law specifies that retired officers who engage in a “dereliction of duty that harms the honor and respect due to state institutions constitutes an outrage and defamation” and can result in legal action under applicable laws. The law further prohibits speech that damages “the authority and the public image of the military institution.”

In March a court in Tlemcen issued human rights activist Zoulikha Belarbi a DZD 100,000 ($916) fine for posting a photograph on Facebook that was deemed insulting to President Bouteflika. The offending post showed a retouched image of the president and other political figures that made them look like characters from a Turkish television show, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Press and Media Freedoms: The National Agency for Publishing and Advertising (ANEP) controls public advertising for print media. According to the NGO Reporters without Borders, private advertising existed but frequently came from businesses with close links to the ruling political party. In September 2015 ANEP stated it represented only half of the total advertising market, while nongovernmental sources assessed the majority of daily newspapers depended on ANEP-authorized advertising to finance their operations. Minister of Communication Hamid Grine stated in February that ANEP’s budget had been cut by 50 percent. The government’s lack of transparency over its use of state-funded advertising permitted it to exert undue influence over print media.

Activists and journalists criticized the government for criminally prosecuting two KBC TV journalists, Mehdi Benaissa and Ryad Hartouf, for allegedly making false statements in their applications for filming permits and their alleged unauthorized use of a television studio. The studio had previously belonged to Al-Atlas TV, which authorities shut down in 2014. In addition to the arrests of Benaissa and Hartouf, authorities shut down two of KBC’s political satire programs, which were filmed in the studio in question. Benaissa and Hartouf’s suspended sentences were announced on July 18, shortly after a court on July 13 canceled the sale of KBC’s parent company, El Khabar Group, to a subsidiary of a company owned by businessman Issad Rebrab, who has been critical of the government. The Ministry of Communication, which had sued to cancel the transaction, said the ruling was based on the law’s prohibition on one person owning multiple news outlets.

In October 2015 Algiers police raided the headquarters of El-Watan El-Djazairya, a private, foreign-based television station broadcasting in the country, and closed down the station upon orders of the Algiers mayor. Minister of Communication Grine accused the television station of “harming a state symbol” during an interview it transmitted on October 3, 2015, with the former emir of the Islamic Salvation Army, Madani Mezrag. During the interview Mezrag indirectly threatened President Bouteflika after the president affirmed the government would not let Mezrag form a political party due to his connection to terrorist activities. In September, Djaafar Chelli, the former owner of El Watan El-Djazairya, received a DZD 10 million ($91,575) fine for broadcasting the interview with Mezrag.

Many civil society organizations, government opponents, and political parties, including legal Islamist parties, had access to independent print and broadcast media and used them to express their views. Opposition parties also disseminated information via the internet and published communiques but stated they did not have access to the national television and radio. Journalists from independent print and broadcast media expressed frustration over the near impossibility of receiving information from public officials. With the exception of several daily newspapers, the majority of print media outlets relied on the government for physical printing materials and operations.

In January a court reclassified a charge against journalist and LADDH board member Hassan Bouras, resulting in his release from El Bayadh prison after three months in custody. Prosecutors had charged Bouras in October 2015 with insulting a government body and inciting armed conflict against the state. As of November charges against Bouras had not been dropped, according to his lawyer. Separately, in November an El Bayadh court indicted Bouras for producing a video alleging that certain police officials and judges were involved in corruption. The court on November 28 convicted Bouras of complicity in offending a judicial officer, law enforcement officers, and a public body and of unlawfully practicing a profession regulated by law, sentencing him to one year in prison plus fines. Bouras’s appeal remained pending at year’s end.

Organizations wishing to initiate regular publications must obtain authorization from the government. The law requires the director of the publication to hold Algerian citizenship. The law additionally prohibits local periodicals from receiving direct or indirect material support from foreign sources. The CNCPPDH noted in its 2014 annual report that lack of a law controlling advertising was the largest hurdle to improving transparency of the distribution of public advertising (see also section 5). In May CNCPPDH president Farouk Ksentini said that depriving certain newspapers of public advertising revenue was “contrary to democracy and a violation of the constitution.”

In September the Ministry of Communication stated there were 332 accredited written publications, which included 149 daily newspapers, 47 weekly and 75 monthly magazines, and other specialized publications. Of the daily printed publications, the ministry stated six were state-operated.

The ministry’s Media Directorate is responsible for issuing and renewing accreditations to foreign media outlets operating in the country. Although this accreditation is required to operate legally, the vast majority of foreign media were not accredited. While the government tolerated their operations in the past, Minister Grine stated in April the number of private satellite channels that would receive frequencies would be limited to 13. He said in September that foreign-based unaccredited television outlets would be shut down. As of year’s end, however, the government had not shut down any such outlets. On June 20, the government instated the Audiovisual Regulatory Authority (ARAV), a nine-member body that regulates television and radio. In August ARAV published regulations that require the shareholders and managers of any radio or television channel to be Algerian citizens and prohibits them from broadcasting content that offends “values anchored in Algerian society.”

The ministry also issues and renews accreditation of foreign correspondents reporting in the country. According to the ministry, 13 accredited foreign press agencies reported during the year. In addition to five private domestic television channels, 12 foreign broadcasting channels and two foreign radio stations operated throughout the year.

The law mandates that online news outlets must inform the government of their activities but does not require them to request authorization to operate.

Violence and Harassment: News sources critical of the government reported instances of government harassment and intimidation due to their reporting. Government officials arrested and temporarily detained journalists.

On June 27, police arrested Mohamed Tamalt, a freelance journalist and blogger based in the United Kingdom. He was charged with insulting President Bouteflika on Facebook and sentenced to two years in prison and a DZD 200,000 ($1,832) fine. On December 11, Tamalt died following a prolonged hunger strike protesting his arrest and continued imprisonment.

On June 21, police officers encircled the new headquarters of the El Watan daily newspaper and ordered its staff to vacate the building. Local officials said the building did not conform to the construction permits granted by the government. As of September El Watan had not been permitted to take occupancy of the building.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Some major news outlets faced direct and indirect retaliation for criticism of the government.

Some observers viewed the July conviction of two KBC TV journalists and the cancelation of the sale of KBC’s parent company, El Khabar Group, as motivated by the political views expressed in KBC’s programming and by the owner of the company that attempted to purchase El Khabar Group.

On May 3, Minister Grine called on private companies to cease advertising in three unnamed newspapers, widely assumed to be the El KhabarEl Watan, and Liberte newspapers, viewed as critical of the government. In an interview published online that day, the director general of El Khabar said Minister Grine’s opposition to El Khabar was based on the fact that it “does not follow the editorial line that he wishes.”

In a May 23 speech calling for unaccredited foreign satellite channels to be shut down, Prime Minister Sellal criticized channels that “use misleading advertising, violate private life, strike a blow to the dignity of persons, spread disinformation, and worse still, attack the cohesion of Algerian society through calls for hatred, regionalism, and chaos.”

Libel/Slander Laws: NGOs and observers criticized the law on defamation as vaguely drafted and the definitions therein as failing to comport with internationally recognized norms. The law defines defamation as “any allegation or imputation of a fact offending the honor or consideration of a person, or of the body to which the fact is imputed.” The law does not require that the fact alleged or imputed be false or that the statement be made with malicious intent to damage another individual’s reputation. Defamation is not a crime but carries a fine ranging from DZD 100,000 to DZD 500,000 ($916 to $4,579). The Ministry of Justice did not provide information on the percentage of defamation claims that originated from private citizens, as opposed to government officials.

The law criminalizes statements denigrating Islam or insulting the Prophet Mohammed or “messengers of God.” On June 14, the National Gendarmerie published a press release saying it had “dismantled an international criminal network of blasphemers and anti-Muslim proselytizers on the internet.” News reports appeared to reference the case when they reported the arrests of Rachid Fodil and one or two other men in M’Sila Province, but the status of charges against them was unclear as of September. On July 31, police in Setif arrested Slimane Bouhafs, a Christian convert, for posting statements on his Facebook page questioning the morals of the Prophet Mohammed. A court tried and convicted Bouhafs the same day and sentenced him on August 7 to five years in prison, plus a DZD 100,000 ($916) fine. On September 6, his sentence was reduced to three years in prison.

Mohamed Chergui, a journalist for the El-Djoumhouria newspaper, was sentenced to three years in prison and a DZD 200,000 ($1,832) fine in February 2015 for a column he wrote in 2014 that was deemed offensive to the Prophet Mohammed and Islam. In April an appeals court in Oran overturned his conviction and ordered his release.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government impeded access to the internet and monitored certain e-mail and social media sites. On June 18, state-run media reported the government planned to block access to social media sites, including Facebook and Twitter, on June 19-23 during nationwide high school exams. The decision was in response to previous leaks of exam results, which were posted on social media earlier in the month. On June 19-20, internet users reported that access to not only social media, but nearly all websites, was blocked. While internet service returned on June 20, access to social media was not fully restored until June 24.

In January police arrested an activist for the unemployed, Belkacem Khencha, and in May he was sentenced to six months in prison for posting a video on Facebook criticizing the judicial system’s handling of arrests of fellow activists.

In a July statement, the human rights organization Collective of Families of the Disappeared said the government had blocked Radio of the Voiceless, the online radio station it launched in June, making it inaccessible to the public.

Internet users regularly exercised their right to free expression and association online, including through online forums, social media, and e-mail. Activists reported that some postings on social media could result in arrest and questioning; observers widely understood that the intelligence services closely monitored the activities of political and human rights activists on social media sites, including Facebook.

The law on cybercrime establishes procedures for using electronic data in prosecutions and outlines the responsibilities of service providers to cooperate with authorities. Under the law the government may conduct electronic surveillance operations to prevent offenses amounting to terrorist or subversive acts and infractions against state security, pursuant to written authorization from a competent judicial authority.

By law internet service providers face criminal penalties for the material and websites they host, especially if subject matters are “incompatible with morality or public opinion.” The Ministries of Justice, Interior, and Post, Information Technology, and Communication have oversight responsibilities. The law provides sentences of six months to five years in prison and fines between DZD 50,000 and DZD 500,000 ($458 and $4,579) for users who do not comply with the law, including the obligation to cooperate with law enforcement authorities against cybercrime.

In September the government estimated there were 18,583,427 internet users in the country in 2015. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 38.2 percent of the population used the internet in 2015.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

Academic seminars and colloquia occurred with limited governmental interference. The Ministry of Culture reviewed the content of films before they could be shown, as well as books before publication or importation. The Ministry of Religious Affairs did the same for religious publications.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Although the constitution provides for freedom of assembly and association, the government severely restricted the exercise of these rights.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides for the right of assembly, but the government continued to curtail this right. A ban on demonstrations in Algiers remained in effect. Authorities utilized the ban to prohibit assembly within the city limits. Nationwide, the government required citizens and organizations to obtain permits from the government-appointed local governor before holding public meetings or demonstrations. The government restricted licenses to political parties, NGOs, and other groups to hold indoor rallies or delayed permission until the eve of the event, thereby impeding publicity and outreach efforts by organizers. Nonetheless, in many cases authorities allowed unauthorized protests to proceed while negotiations continued regarding the protesters’ demands or when government attempts to disperse protests potentially risked igniting violence.

On March 21, media outlets reported that police shoved and kicked protesters gathered in front of the Central Post Office in Algiers to demand permanent positions for teachers working on fixed-term contracts. Two women sought hospital treatment for injuries, according to HRW. On April 4, police stopped hundreds of protesting teachers in Boudouaou, preventing them from completing the final leg of a 140-mile march from Bejaia to Algiers. Protesters remained camped in Boudouaou until April 18, at which point police grabbed and shoved some protesters and loaded them onto buses.

Hotels in Algiers and other major cities continued their historic practice of refusing to sign rental contracts for meeting spaces with political parties, NGOs, and civil associations without a copy of a written authorization from the Ministry of Interior for the proposed gathering.

Throughout the year police dispersed unauthorized gatherings or prevented marching groups of protesters from demonstrating. Police typically dispersed protesters shortly after a protest began and arrested and detained organizers for a few hours. HRW, AI, and other NGOs criticized the government’s use of the law to restrict peaceful assembly.

In July police reportedly arrested more than 100 communal guards arriving in Algiers en route to a planned demonstration outside of parliament. In June authorities arrested several Movement for the Autonomy of Kabylie (MAK) activists who were preparing to hold an unauthorized meeting in Larbaa Nath Irathen to mark the 15th anniversary of a Berber-led protest in Algiers. Clashes ensued when area residents gathered in the town center to demand the activists’ release, resulting in injuries to police and some demonstrators, according to press reports. In February MAK president Bouaziz Ait Chebib stated to the El Watan newspaper that approximately 100 MAK activists had been briefly arrested in Tizi Ouzou to prevent their attendance at the MAK’s national assembly.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for the right of association, but the government severely restricted this right.

The law’s extensive requirements and uneven enforcement served as major impediments to the development of civil society. The law grants the government wide-ranging oversight of and influence in the day-to-day activities of civil society organizations. It requires national-level civil organizations to apply to the Ministry of Interior for permission to operate. Once registered, organizations must inform the government of their activities, funding sources, and personnel, including notification of personnel changes. The law imposes an additional requirement that associations obtain government preapproval before accepting foreign funds. If organizations fail to provide required information to the government or attempt to operate with or accept foreign funds without authorization, they are subject to fines between DZD 2,000 and DZD 5,000 ($18 and $46) and up to six months’ imprisonment. The law prohibits formation of a political party with a religious platform, but observers stated they knew some political parties were Islamist.

According to the law, associations that apply for accreditation as required by law are entitled to receive a response regarding their application within two months for national organizations, 45 days for interregional-level associations, 40 days for province-level associations, and 30 days for communal organizations. While the Ministry of Interior oversees the accreditation process for most associations, the president of a local assembly approves applications for communal associations.

The Ministry of Interior may deny a license to or dissolve any group regarded as a threat to the government’s authority or to public order, and on several occasions failed to grant in an expeditious fashion official recognition to NGOs, associations, religious groups, and political parties. According to the Ministry of Interior, organizations receive a deposit slip after submitting their application for accreditation, and after the time periods listed above, this slip is legally sufficient for them to begin operating, to open a bank account, and to rent office or event space. The law does not explicitly include this provision, however. If the application is approved, the Ministry of Interior issues a final accreditation document.

Many organizations reported that they never received a deposit slip and that even with the deposit slip it was difficult to conduct necessary administrative tasks without the formal accreditation. Other organizations reported that they never received any written response to their application request. The ministry maintained that organizations refused accreditation or that did not receive a response within the specified time periods were able to submit an appeal to the State Council, the administrative court responsible for cases involving the government.

During the year the Youth Action Movement, a civil society youth organization, was again unsuccessful in renewing its license despite submitting all documentation required by the Ministry of Interior. The ministry also did not renew the accreditations of the NGOs SOS Disparu (Missing) and LADDH, which submitted their renewal applications in 2013. According to members of the National Association for the Fight Against Corruption, the Ministry of Interior refused to approve the organization’s request for accreditation, stating that the application did comply with the law on associations but did not provide any further information. The organization first submitted its application for accreditation in 2012.

The government issued licenses and subsidies to domestic associations, especially youth, medical, and neighborhood associations. According to the Ministry of Interior, there were 108,940 local and 1,293 national associations registered. A 2015 study conducted by several prominent domestic civil society organizations found, however, that nearly two-thirds of the approximately 93,000 associations registered with the government when the law on associations went into force in 2012 were either inactive or no longer operating. Unlicensed NGOs did not receive government assistance, and citizens at times hesitated to associate with these organizations.

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 the exercise of this right.

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

In-country Movement: The government maintained restrictions for security reasons on travel into the southern locales of El-Oued and Illizi, near hydrocarbon industry installations and the Libyan border, respectively. Citing the threat of terrorism, the government also prevented overland tourist travel between the southern cities of Tamanrasset, Djanet, and Illizi. Newspapers reported that the government restricted foreign tourists from traveling through trails in Tassili and Hoggar, as well as certain areas in and around Tamanrasset, due to security concerns. Civil society organizations reported that the authorities prevented sub-Saharan migrants in the areas around Tamanrasset from traveling north toward coastal population centers.

Foreign Travel: The law does not permit those under age 18 to travel abroad without a guardian’s permission. Married women under 18 may not travel abroad without permission from their husbands, but married women over 18 may do so. The government did not permit young men eligible for the draft, who had not completed their military service, to leave the country without special authorization, although the government granted such authorization to students and persons with special family circumstances. The Ministry of Interior affirmed that in 2014 the government ended its requirement for background checks on passport applicants.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

The government provided protection to an estimated 90,000 to 165,000 Sahrawi refugees who departed Western Sahara after Morocco took control of the territory in the 1970s. UNHCR, the World Food Program (WFP), the Algerian Red Crescent, the Sahrawi Red Crescent, and other organizations also assisted Sahrawi refugees. Neither the government nor the refugee leadership allowed UNHCR to conduct registration or complete a census of the Sahrawi refugees. In the absence of formal registration, UNHCR and the WFP based humanitarian assistance on a planning figure of 90,000 refugees with an additional 35,000 supplementary food rations.

Access to Asylum: While the law provides generally for asylum or refugee status, the government has not established a formal system through which refugees can request asylum. There were no reports that the government granted refugee status and asylum to new refugee applicants during the year. According to UNHCR, the government did not accept UNHCR-determined refugee status for individuals. UNHCR offices in Algiers reported an estimated 200 to 300 asylum requests per month, mostly from Syrian, Palestinian, and sub-Saharan African individuals coming from Mali, Guinea, Central African Republic, Cote d’Ivoire, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Those determined by UNHCR to have valid refugee claims were primarily from the DRC, Cote d’Ivoire, Iraq, and the Central African Republic. There was no evidence of any pattern of discrimination toward asylum applicants, but the lack of a formal asylum system made this difficult to assess.

As of September 2015 the Ministry of National Solidarity, Family, and the Status of Women reported that since the start of the conflict in Syria, it accepted more than 24,000 Syrian refugees. Other organizations estimated the number to be closer to 43,000 Syrians. Starting in January 2015 the government instituted visa requirements for Syrians entering the country. Since 2012 UNHCR registered more than 6,000 Syrians, but only approximately 5,000 remained registered with UNHCR as of September. The Algerian Red Crescent, which is subordinate to the Ministry of Solidarity, maintained “welcome facilities” that provided food and shelter for those Syrians without means to support themselves. The facilities were located at a summer camp in the seaside area of Algiers known as Sidi Fredj. The government did not grant UNHCR access to these reception centers but reported that by 2016 most Syrians no longer used the centers.

Since the outbreak of violence in northern Mali in 2012, international observers reported an influx of individuals into Algeria across the Malian border inconsistent with traditional migratory movements.

The Ministry of Interior estimated in August that there were 21,073 illegal migrants residing in the country, while other sources assessed there were 30,000 in Tamanrasset alone and as many as 100,000 in the country. As of July the Algerian Red Crescent had closed all four of the refugee camps it had been managing, including its camp housing 600 migrants, mostly from Mali, near the southern city of Bordj Badj Mokhtar.

Refoulement: The government provided some protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened because of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. In early December, however, the government gathered an estimated 1,400 sub-Saharan migrants in communities outside of Algiers and removed nearly 1,000 of them to Niger. The president of the Algerian Red Crescent said all returns were voluntary, adding that some migrants were permitted to remain in Tamanrasset. The removals followed a period of several years in which the government had largely refrained from deporting sub-Saharan migrants due to security concerns and the instability in northern Mali.

The government, led by the Algerian Red Crescent, repatriated a total of more than 17,000 Nigerien migrants to their country at the request of the government of Niger since 2014, in several repatriation operations. Various international humanitarian organizations and observers criticized the operations, citing unacceptable conditions of transport, primarily on the Niger side of the border, and what they described as a lack of coordination between the Algerian Red Crescent and the government and Red Cross of Niger. Observers also questioned whether all of the migrants were voluntarily repatriated. In August the government arranged the repatriation of approximately 500 Malians per a request from the Malian consulate in Tamanrasset.

Employment: UNHCR provided registered refugees with modest food assistance and lodging support. Because the government does not formally allow refugee employment, many worked in the informal market and were at risk of labor exploitation due to their lack of legal status in the country. Other migrants, asylum seekers, and Malians and Syrians who had a “special status” with the government, relied largely on remittances from family, the support of local family and acquaintances, and assistance from the Algerian Red Crescent and international aid organizations.

Access to Basic Services: Sahrawi refugees lived predominantly in five camps near the city of Tindouf, administered by the Popular Front for the Liberation of the Saguia el Harma and Rio de Oro (Polisario). The Polisario (through the Sahrawi Red Crescent Society), UNHCR, WFP, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and partner NGOs largely provided basic services including food aid, primary health care, and primary and secondary education, while the government invested heavily in developing the camps’ infrastructure and also provided free secondary and university educations, as well as advanced hospital care, to Sahrawi refugees. The remote location of the camps and lack of government presence resulted in a lack of access by police and courts. Other refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants had access to free public hospitals, but independent NGOs reported instances of migrants turned away.

In August 2015 the Ministry of Education instructed all school administrators to allow migrant and refugee children to enroll in primary school through high school and require only that they present their passport and documentation showing their level of schooling from their home country. International organizations reported the children had trouble in their attempts to integrate into the educational system but that migrants’ access to education was improving, particularly in the north of the country. These organizations reported that migrant parents were often reluctant to enroll their children in Algerian schools.

Durable Solutions: The government did not accept refugees from foreign countries for resettlement. The Sahrawi refugees had not sought local integration or naturalization during their 40-year stay in the refugee camps near Tindouf, and their ruling party, the Polisario, continued to call for a referendum on independence in Western Sahara.

Temporary Protection: The law does not address formal temporary protection, but authorities provided informal, temporary protection to groups such as Syrians and Malians.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. Restrictions on freedom of assembly and association as well as restrictions on political party activities greatly inhibited the activity of opposition groups.

Elections and Political Participation

The law states that members of local, provincial, and national assemblies are elected for five-year mandates and that presidential elections occur within 30 days prior to the expiration of the presidential mandate. Presidential term limits, which were eliminated in 2008, were reintroduced in a 2016 revision of the constitution and limit the president to two terms. The Ministry of Interior maintains oversight of the election and voting processes. Legislation passed by parliament in July established an independent electoral monitoring body. The president appointed the head of the monitoring body on November 6, but as of November the other members had not been appointed.

Recent Elections: Presidential elections took place in April 2014, and voters re-elected President Bouteflika for a fourth term. Although he did not personally campaign, Bouteflika won approximately 81 percent of the votes, while his main rival and former prime minister, Ali Benflis, placed second with slightly more than 12 percent.

Several hundred international election observers from the United Nations, Arab League, African Union, and Organization of Islamic Cooperation monitored voting. Foreign observers characterized the elections as largely peaceful but pointed to low voter turnout and a high rate of ballot invalidity. El Watan, an opposition-leaning daily newspaper, reported that almost 10 percent of ballots cast were invalid. The Ministry of Interior did not provide domestic or foreign observers with voter registration lists. The president of the Constitutional Council, Mourad Medelci, announced voter participation in the elections was just under 51 percent, a sharp drop from the slightly more than 74 percent turnout during the previous presidential election in 2009.

Ali Benflis rejected the results and claimed that fraud marred the elections. He appealed to the Constitutional Council without result. A coalition of Islamic and secular opposition parties boycotted the election, describing it as a masquerade and asserting that President Bouteflika was unfit to run due to his health. Several candidates withdrew from the race, claiming that the outcome was a foregone conclusion.

Elections for the lower chamber of parliament were held in 2012 and did not result in significant changes in the composition of the government. The government allowed international observation of the elections but did not permit local civil society organizations to do the same. Several opposition parties subsequently boycotted the opening session of parliament, alleging fraud during the elections.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The Ministry of Interior must approve political parties before they may operate legally.

The government maintained undue media influence and opposition political parties claimed they did not have access to public television and radio. Security forces dispersed political opposition rallies and interfered with the right to organize.

Pursuant to the constitution, all parties must have a “national base.” Under the previous electoral law, a party must have received 4 percent of the vote or at least 2,000 votes in 25 provinces in one of the last three legislative elections to participate in national elections, making it very difficult to create new political parties. The new electoral law adopted by parliament in July requires parties to have received 4 percent of the vote in the preceding election or to collect 250 signatures in the electoral district in order to appear on the ballot. Opposition parties from across the political spectrum criticized the new law for creating a more stringent qualification threshold for parties, as well as for establishing an electoral monitoring body whose members would be appointed by the president and parliament, which is controlled by a coalition headed by the president’s party.

The law prohibits parties based on religion, ethnicity, gender, language, or region, but there were various political parties commonly known to be Islamist, notably members of the Green Alliance. According to the Ministry of Interior, in August there were 71 registered political parties.

The law does not place significant restrictions on voter registration, but implementation of voter registration and identification laws proved inconsistent and confusing during past elections.

Membership in the Islamic Salvation Front, a political party banned since 1992, remained illegal. The law also bans political party ties to nonpolitical associations and regulates party financing and reporting requirements. According to the law, political parties may not receive direct or indirect financial or material support from any foreign parties. The law also stipulates the collection of resources from contributions by the party’s members, donations, and revenue from its activities, in addition to possible state funding.

As of September parliamentarian and founder of the Democratic and Social Union (UDS) party, Karim Tabbou, awaited authorization from the Ministry of Interior to hold his party’s congress. Originally scheduled in 2014, the UDS could not hold its congress because the party had not received the authorization for its required regional congresses.

In August a local government official in Tamanrasset sent the Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD) political party a letter stating it may decline to authorize future RCD meetings after a gathering of RCD youth members turned disorderly. The party denied the allegation of disorderliness, asserting instead that security personnel were displeased because of the presence of an Amazigh flag beside the Algerian national flag and because organizers removed a portrait of President Bouteflika from the meeting hall.

On July 16 and September 17, the media reported that police prevented members of the ruling National Liberation Front (FLN) party, including members of parliament, from gathering. On both occasions party members who opposed the party’s secretary general planned to meet at the home of Senator Boualam Djaafar. The online news site Tout sur L’Algerie reported that Abderrahmane Belayat, a former minister and FLN secretary general who was a member of the group, said the intelligence services regularly monitored the group’s meetings.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and women and minorities did participate.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides for criminal penalties of two to 10 years in prison for official corruption, but the government generally did not implement the law effectively. Corruption remained a problem as reflected in the Transparency International corruption index.

Corruption: The criminal code stipulates that charges related to theft, embezzlement, or loss of public and private funds may be initiated against senior, public sector “economic managers” only by the board of directors of the institution. Critics of the law asserted that by permitting only senior officials of state businesses to initiate investigations, the law protects high-level government corruption and promotes impunity.

The Ministry of Justice declared that as of October, 987 government employees or employees of state-run businesses had been charged with corruption-related offenses. The government brought several major corruption cases to trial, resulting in dozens of convictions. Media reporting and public opinion viewed the absence of charges against the most senior of government officials as an indication of impunity for government officials.

In July the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) published an article based on the “Panama Papers,” leaked documents from Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca, related to allegations of bribery in connection with contracts awarded by Sonatrach, the national oil company. The ICIJ said the documents demonstrated that Mossack Fonseca created 12 of the 17 shell companies established by businessman Farid Bedjaoui for the alleged purpose of funneling bribes to government officials. Former energy minister Chekib Khelil, who had previously been under a 2013 international arrest warrant to face charges in Algeria in connection with the case, returned to Algeria in March after charges were dropped. Former minister of justice Mohamed Charfi claimed he was pressured by FLN secretary general Amar Saadani in 2013 to drop charges against Khelil shortly before he was removed from his post.

On February 2, a court sentenced 12 persons to sentences ranging from 18-month suspended jail terms to six years in prison in a corruption case involving Sonatrach contracting practices. Former Sonatrach CEO Mohamed Meziane received a suspended six-year sentence, and two of his sons were sentenced to five and six years’ imprisonment.

Corruption throughout the government stemmed largely from the bloated nature of the bureaucracy and a lack of transparent oversight. The CNCPPDH stated in its 2014 annual report that public corruption remained a problem and hindered development. The National Association for the Fight Against Corruption noted the existence of an effective anticorruption law but stated that the government lacked the “political will” to apply the law.

Financial Disclosure: The law stipulates that all elected government officials and those appointed by presidential decree must declare their assets the month they commence their jobs, if there is substantial change in their wealth while they are in office, and at the end of their term. Few government officials made their personal wealth public, and there was no enforcement of the law.

Public Access to Information: Lack of government transparency remained a serious problem. Most ministries had websites, but not all ministries regularly maintained them with updated information. Analysts, academics, and other interested parties often had difficulty obtaining even routine and nominally public economic data from government ministries.

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

A variety of domestic human rights groups operated with varying degrees of government restriction and cooperation. The law requires all civil associations to apply for operating permission, and at year’s end several major civil associations remained unrecognized but tolerated.

AI maintained an office and actively reported on human rights issues, but it did not receive official authorization to operate from the Ministry of Interior.

Although the government did not renew the accreditation of LADDH, the organization had members countrywide, received independent funding, and was the most active independent human rights group. The smaller Algerian League for Human Rights, a separate but licensed organization based in Constantine, had members throughout the country monitoring individual cases.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government extended an invitation to the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances in 2014 and again in September 2015, but as of September no visit occurred. The country joined the UN Human Rights Council in 2014 but continued to deny requests for visits from the UN special rapporteurs on extrajudicial executions (pending since 1998) and on human rights and counterterrorism (pending since 2006) and the UN Working Group on arbitrary detention (pending since 2009).

Government Human Rights Bodies: The CNCPPDH plays a consultative and advisory role to the government. It issues an annual report on the status of human rights in the country. Published in July, the 2015 report highlighted government advances in social and legal rights with increased protections for women and children, the introduction of mediation in nonfelony criminal cases, and limits on the use of pretrial detention. The commission identified its principal concerns as public corruption, shortfalls in the recent law on violence against women, heavy bureaucracy, and impediments limiting citizens’ access to justice.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, both spousal and nonspousal, occurred. The law criminalizes nonspousal rape but does not address spousal rape. Prison sentences for nonspousal rape range from five to 10 years, and authorities generally enforced the law. Many women did not report incidents of rape because of societal and family pressures. The CNCPPDH’s 2015 report called on the government to repeal the provision of the penal code that allows someone accused of raping a minor to avoid prosecution if he subsequently marries his victim.

Domestic violence was widespread. The law states that a person claiming domestic abuse must visit a “forensic physician” for an examination to document injuries and that the physician must determine that the victim suffered from injuries that “incapacitated” the person for 15 days. The law also requires that the physician provide the victim with a “certificate of incapacity” attesting to the injuries, which the victim presents to authorities as the basis of the criminal complaint. The government, working with the UN Population Fund, undertook a public awareness campaign to inform women of their rights under the law, encourage reporting of domestic violence, and engage men in conversations on violence against women.

According to statistics released by the Ministry of Justice, between the beginning of 2015 and June 2016, there were 14,366 cases of domestic abuse, of which 12,804 involved male perpetrators. As of October, 10,536 of the cases had resulted in convictions. The government said that most of those convicted received prison time as well as a fine. According to statistics from women’s advocacy groups published in the local press, between 100 and 200 women died each year from domestic violence.

The Information and Documentation Center on the Rights of Children and Women (CIDDEF), a network of local organizations that promoted the rights of women, managed call centers in 15 provinces and reported that each center received 300-400 calls during the year from female victims of violence seeking assistance.

The law provides for sentences of one to 20 years’ imprisonment for domestic violence and six months’ to two years’ incarceration for men who withhold property or financial resources from their spouses. While supporting the law when it was drafted, AI and domestic women’s rights groups criticized its “forgiveness” clause that permits the annulment of charges if the abused spouse pardons her husband.

Sexual Harassment: The punishment for sexual harassment is one to two years’ imprisonment and a fine of DZD 50,000 to DZD 100,000 ($458 to $916); the punishment doubles for a second offense. Women’s groups reported that official statistics on harassment were not available but that the majority of reported cases of harassment occurred in the workplace. Women also reported harassment by men when walking in public. The government acknowledged that street harassment continued to be a problem despite advances in the law.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, timing, and spacing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and have access to the information and means to do so, with limited societal discrimination and coercion. Conservative elements of society challenged the government’s family planning program, including the provision of free contraception. Married and unmarried women had access to contraceptives, although there were reports of pharmacists who refused to sell contraception to unmarried women. A study by a prominent women’s group in 2015 found that approximately 68 to 70 percent of women used contraception, the majority of whom took birth control pills. Women did not need permission to obtain birth control pills, but doctors required permission of the partner for women who sought tubal ligation.

Societal and family pressure restricted women from making independent decisions about their health and reproductive rights.

Discrimination: Although the constitution provides for gender equality, many aspects of the law and traditional social practices discriminated against women. In addition, religious extremists advocated practices that led to restrictions on women’s behavior, including freedom of movement. In some rural regions, women faced extreme social pressure to veil as a precondition for freedom of movement and employment. In September a security guard at a high school in Algiers reportedly prevented unveiled students from entering the school on the first day of classes. The law contains traditional elements of Islamic law. It prohibits Muslim women from marrying non-Muslims, although authorities did not always enforce this provision. Muslim men may marry non-Muslim women. A woman may marry a foreigner and transmit citizenship and nationality to both her children and spouse.

Women may seek divorce for irreconcilable differences and violation of a prenuptial agreement. In a divorce the law provides for the wife to retain the family’s home until children reach age 18. Authorities normally awarded custody of children to the mother, but she may not make decisions about education or take the children out of the country without the father’s authorization. Women were more likely to retain the family’s home if they had custody of the children. In January 2015 the government created a subsidy for divorced women whose ex-husbands failed to make child support payments.

The law affirms the religiously based practice of allowing a man to marry as many as four wives. The law permits polygamy only upon the agreement of the first wife and the determination of a judge as to the husband’s financial ability to support an additional wife. A joint Ministry of Health and UN study from 2013 estimated that 3 percent of marriages were polygamous. It was unclear whether authorities followed the law in all cases.

Amendments to the law supersede the religiously based requirement that a male sponsor consent to the marriage of a woman. The sponsor represents the woman during the religious or civil ceremony. Although the law formally retains the requirement of a sponsor to contract the marriage, the woman may choose any man that she wishes to be her sponsor. Some families subjected women to virginity tests before marriage.

Women suffered from discrimination in inheritance claims and were entitled to a smaller portion of an estate than male children or a deceased husband’s brothers. Women did not often have exclusive control over assets that they brought to a marriage or that they earned. Women may take out business loans and use their own financial resources. Women enjoyed rights equal to those of men concerning property ownership, and property titles listed female landowners’ names.

Women faced discrimination in employment. Leaders of women’s organizations reported that discrimination was common and women were less likely to receive equal pay for equal work or promotions. In urban areas there was social encouragement for women to pursue higher education or a career. Girls graduated from high school and attended university more frequently than boys.

According to a study released by CIDDEF, women represented 19.5 percent of the active workforce, with 61 percent of these women working in the public sector. As of September 2015, female unemployment was higher than that of men, with 16.6 percent of women unemployed compared to 9.9 percent of men, according to a National Office of Statistics report. While the presence of women in the workforce grew, access to management positions remained limited. Women served at all levels in the judicial system. The government employed an increasing number of female police, including approximately 6 percent of DGSN police officers. Women may own businesses, enter into contracts, and pursue careers similar to those of men.

Children

Birth registration: The mother or father may transmit citizenship and nationality. By law children born to a Muslim father are Muslim, regardless of the mother’s religion. The law did not differentiate between girls and boys in registration of birth.

Education: Education was free, compulsory, and universal through the secondary level to age 16. UNICEF reported that the attendance of girls was higher in secondary school due to instances of boys leaving school after the primary level. The United Nations estimated primary school enrollment at more than 97 percent. The government estimated that during the 2014-15 school year, children under the age of six were enrolled in school at a rate of 98.49 percent, with those between the ages of six and 16 enrolled at a rate of 95 percent.

Child Abuse: Child abuse is illegal but was a serious problem to which the government devoted increasing resources and attention. In June the government appointed a national ombudsperson responsible for monitoring and publishing an annual report on the rights of children. The government supported the country’s Network for the Defense of Children’s Rights (NADA). Experts assumed that many cases went unreported because of family reticence. The head of NADA reported that the NGO’s free helpline received more than 23,000 calls requesting assistance as of August. The DGSN reported 1,663 cases of child sexual abuse in 2014, and the National Gendarmerie reported 380 cases.

Kidnapping for any reason is a crime. Laws prohibiting parental abduction do not penalize mothers and fathers differently. In 2014 legislation increased the punishment for convicted kidnappers to include the death penalty. The DGSN commissioner for the National Office of Child Protection reported the kidnapping of 28 children for the period of January through August, compared with 84 in 2015.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 19 for both men and women, but minors may marry with parental consent, regardless of gender. The law forbids legal guardians from forcing minors under their care to marry against the minor’s will. The Ministry of Religious Affairs required that couples present a government-issued marriage certificate before permitting imams to conduct religious marriage ceremonies.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits solicitation for prostitution and stipulates prison sentences of between 10 and 20 years when the offense is committed against a minor under age 18. By law the age for consensual sex is 16. The law stipulates a prison sentence of between 10 and 20 years for rape when the victim is a minor. The law does not call for prosecuting a man accused of raping a female minor if he legally marries the victim, and there were no available reports of this practice during the year. The law prohibits pornography and establishes prison sentences from two months to two years as well as fines up to DZD 2,000 ($18).

A 2015 law created a national council to address children’s issues, improved social services and protection for children, gave judges authority to remove children from an abusive home, and allowed sexually abused children to provide testimony on video rather than in court.

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

Some religious leaders estimated that the country’s Jewish population numbered fewer than 200 persons. Local Jewish community leaders estimated the number to be in the low hundreds. The media did not publish any known derogatory political cartoons or articles directed at the Jewish community, but observers found anti-Semitic postings on social media sites.

Jewish leaders reported that the Jewish community faced unofficial, religion-based obstacles to government employment and administrative difficulties when working with government bureaucracy.

In May a member of parliament affiliated with the Islamist Green Alliance criticized the government for granting a visa to an Israeli journalist accompanying the French prime minister on an April visit to Algeria. An Arabic-language newspaper wrote that the journalist had a “strong Jewish-sounding name” and stated that, in the member of parliament’s view, the government was normalizing relations with “Zionists who make France a door to infiltrate” Algeria. An online news outlet referred to the journalist as an “Israeli Jew” and stated that the visa allowed him to “strut in the streets of Algiers to meet whoever he wants.”

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 disabilities in employment, education, access to health care, or the provision of other state services, although the government did not effectively enforce these provisions. Persons with disabilities faced widespread social discrimination. Few government buildings were accessible to persons with disabilities. Few businesses abided by the law that they reserve 1 percent of jobs for persons with disabilities. Business that did not meet the 1 percent quota received a DZD 140,000 ($1,282) fine. NGOs reported that the government did not enforce payment of fines. The Ministry of National Solidarity, Family, and the Status of Women provided some financial support to health-care-oriented NGOs, but for many NGOs, such financial support represented a small fraction of their budgets. The ministry also provided disability benefits to persons with disabilities who registered with the government. Social security provided payments for orthopedic equipment.

The Ministry of Solidarity reported that it ran 222 centers throughout the country that provided support for persons with intellectual, auditory, vision, and physical disabilities. The ministry stated that it worked in concert with the Ministry of Education to integrate children with disabilities into public schools to promote inclusion. The majority of the ministry’s programs for children with disabilities remained in social centers for children with disabilities rather than in formal educational institutions. Advocacy groups reported that children with disabilities rarely attended school past the secondary level. Many schools lacked teachers trained to work with children with disabilities, threatening the viability of efforts to mainstream children with disabilities into public schools. Numerous private schools existed but, according to advocacy organizations, staff often acted more as caretakers than teachers due to a lack of training.

Many persons with disabilities faced challenges in voting due to voting centers that lacked accessible features.

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

The law criminalizes public and consensual same-sex sexual relations by men or women with penalties that include imprisonment of six months to three years and a fine of DZD 1,000 to DZD 10,000 ($9 to $92). The law also stipulates penalties that include imprisonment of two months to two years and fines of DZD 500 to DZD 2,000 ($5 to $18) for anyone convicted of having committed a “homosexual act.” If a minor is involved, the adult may face up to three years’ imprisonment and a fine of DZD 10,000 ($92).

LGBTI activists reported that the vague wording of laws identifying “homosexual acts” and “acts against nature” permitted sweeping accusations that resulted during the year in multiple arrests for same-sex sexual relations but no known prosecutions.

LGBTI persons faced strong societal and religious discrimination. While some lived openly, the vast majority did not, and most feared reprisal from their families or harassment from authorities. One activist reported that of the 100 LGBTI persons he knew, only three had “come out.” During a May 2015 radio interview, Minister of Religious Affairs Mohamed Aissa said that combatting individuals who promote the deviation of morality and the dismantling of the family (a reference to the behavior of LGBTI individuals) was more important than the fight against Da’esh.

Activists said that the government did not actively punish LGBTI behavior, but it was complicit in the hate speech propagated by conservative, cultural, and religion-based organizations, some of which associated LGBTI individuals with pedophiles and encouraged excluding them from family and society. Trans Homos DZ, a local organization that advocated for the rights of LGBTI persons, published a report on anti-LGBTI hate speech in the media, detailing several incidents from recent years including programs broadcast by Arabic-language media outlets, such as Ennahar TV and Echourouk TV, that demonized LGBTI persons. The report also detailed social media and other online hate speech directed at the LGBTI community between 2013 and 2015. The organization reported in April that two men who used homophobic slurs physically attacked an activist who supported LGBTI rights in Algiers. In another incident a video posted on YouTube in November 2015 showed what appeared to be a group of men surrounding a transgender woman on the street. Several of the men were shown kicking and punching her while others looked on without intervening. The government did not announce investigations into the perpetrators of either alleged attack.

Another report released by Trans Homos DZ in November included allegations by an anonymous former prisoner alleging that prisoners at El Harrach Prison suffered physical and sexual abuse based on their sexual orientation. The former prisoner’s report said prisoners who were perceived as gay or transgender were placed in a specific cellblock near other prisoners who had committed serious crimes. The report said gay and transgender prisoners were frequently victims of sexual assaults, including one incident in which prison guards mocked and initially refused medical treatment to a prisoner who was the victim of a gang rape.

Due to the hacking of one LGBTI organization’s website in 2015 and increased offensive and derogatory media coverage specifically denouncing LGBTI practices, activists reported the need to focus their advocacy on personal safety and minimized their activities during the year. Activists reported that members of the LGBTI community declined to report abuse and thus lessened their capacity to report cases of homophobic abuse and rape due to fear of reprisal by authorities. Reporting that access to health services could be difficult because medical personnel often treated LGBTI patients unprofessionally, activists noted that some organizations maintained a list of “LGBTI-friendly” hospitals, and several NGOs operated mobile clinics specifically for vulnerable communities.

Employers refused jobs to LGBTI persons, particularly men perceived as effeminate. Activists also reported cases of individuals denied drivers licenses due to their perceived sexual orientation. Community members said that obtaining legal assistance was also a challenge due to similar discrimination. Members of the LGBTI community reported that forced marriage was a problem, particularly for lesbians.

Alouen, an Oran-based LGBTI advocacy group, continued cyberactivism on behalf of the LGBTI community.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

HIV/AIDS was widely considered a shameful disease. There were more reported cases in men than women, with the exception of women between ages 15 and 24. The government continued to offer free antiretroviral treatment to all persons, including migrants. Authorities virtually eliminated new HIV infections among children. The Joint UN Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) reported the existence of more than 2,000 centers offering free testing and counseling services, 1,500 of which the government managed. Strong social stigma towards the vulnerable groups in which HIV/AIDS was most concentrated–commercial sex workers, men who have sexual relations with men, and drug users–deterred testing of these groups. A 2014 study found a 5 percent prevalence rate of HIV/AIDS among commercial sex workers in Oran, the country’s second largest city. Another NGO reported the prevalence rate of the same community at nearly 10 percent.

A Ministry of Health report found that there were 740 new cases of HIV/AIDS in 2015, contributing to an official estimate of 9,843 persons with HIV/AIDS. The government provided treatment to 7,915 individuals in 2015. UNAIDS estimated that 8,800 persons had HIV/AIDS in 2015, 300 of whom were under age 15.

Led by the Ministry of Health, the government established the National AIDS Committee, which met twice during the first eight months of the year. The committee brought together various government and civil society actors to discuss implementation of the national strategy to combat HIV/AIDS.

The Green Tea Association, an NGO working in the field of HIV/AIDS treatment, continued to operate an information and orientation center in Tamanrasset, a province known for its large and diverse population of migrants.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Clashes between Algerian citizens and sub-Saharan migrants in March injured dozens of persons in Ouargla and Bechar and prompted the government to relocate more than 1,000 migrants to other locations in the country (see section 2). In Ouargla press reported that Algerians attacked Malian and Nigerien migrants on March 2 after learning that a sub-Saharan migrant had broken into a house and fatally stabbed an Algerian man. On March 25, dozens of reportedly masked men in Bechar threw stones and other objects at migrants in response to allegations that a migrant was involved in an attempted rape of a child.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The constitution provides workers with the right to join and form unions of their choice provided they are citizens. The country has ratified the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) conventions on freedom of association and collective bargaining but failed to enact legislation needed to implement these conventions fully.

The law requires that workers obtain government approval to form a union, and the Ministry of Labor must approve or disapprove a union application within 30 days. To found a union, an applicant must be Algerian by birth or have held Algerian nationality for 10 years. The law also provides for the creation of independent unions, although the union’s membership must account for at least 20 percent of an enterprise’s workforce. Unions have the right to form and join federations or confederations, and the government recognized four confederations. Unions may recruit members at the workplace. The law prohibits discrimination by employers against union members and organizers and provides mechanisms for resolving trade union complaints of antiunion practices by employers.

The law permits unions to affiliate with international labor bodies and develop relations with foreign labor groups. For example, the General Union of Algerian Workers (UGTA), which represented a majority of public-sector workers, is an affiliate of the International Trade Union Confederation. Nevertheless, the law prohibits unions from associating with political parties and receiving funds from foreign sources. The courts are empowered to dissolve unions that engage in illegal activities. The government may invalidate a union’s legal status if authorities perceive its objectives to be contrary to the established institutional system, public order, good morals, law, or regulations in force.

The law provides for collective bargaining by all unions, and the government permitted the exercise of this right for authorized unions. Nevertheless, the UGTA remained the only union authorized to negotiate collective bargaining agreements.

The law provides for the right to strike, and workers exercised this right, subject to conditions. Striking requires a secret ballot of the whole workforce. The decision to strike must be approved by majority vote of workers at a general meeting. The government may restrict strikes on a number of grounds, including economic crisis, obstruction of public services, or the possibility of subversive actions. Furthermore, all public demonstrations, including protests and strikes, must receive prior government authorization. By law workers may strike only after 14 days of mandatory conciliation or mediation. The government occasionally offered to mediate disputes. The law states that decisions reached in mediation are binding on both parties. If mediation does not lead to an agreement, workers may strike legally after they vote by secret ballot to do so. The law requires that a minimum level of essential public services must be maintained during public-sector service strikes, and the government has broad legal authority to requisition public employees. The list of essential services included services such as banking, radio, and television. Penalties for unlawful work stoppages range from eight days to two months’ imprisonment.

The government affirmed there were 101 registered trade unions and employer’s organizations. No new trade unions were registered between January and August. Many trade unions remained unrecognized by the government; they identified delayed processing and administrative hurdles imposed by the government as the primary obstacles to establishing legal status. In June the ILO Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations stated that the lengthy registration process seriously impedes the establishment of new unions.

Attempts by new unions to form federations or confederations suffered similar challenges. Representatives of the National Autonomous Union for Public Administration Personnel (SNAPAP) stated that the union continued to function without official status.

Formed in 2013 but not recognized by the government, the General Autonomous Confederation of Workers in Algeria (CGATA) included public and economic sector unions and committees. In March 2015 the Ministry of Labor refused to register CGATA as a national confederation, thus preventing it from establishing an independent multisector confederation that would include private sector employees. CGATA membership included workers from unions representing government administrators, diplomatic personnel, state electricity and gas employees, university professors, public transport and postal workers, and lawyers. The confederation also included migrants working in the country.

SNAPAP and other independent unions faced government interference throughout the year, including official obstruction of general assembly meetings and police harassment during sit-in protests. Furthermore, unions in multi-national companies, specifically in oil and gas production, were virtually nonexistent due to antiunion practices, threats, and harassment by employers.

In April police stopped hundreds of protesting teachers in Boudouaou, preventing them from completing a union-organized march into Algiers. Authorities reportedly jammed mobile networks in the area and blocked deliveries of food and drink to the protest site. Teachers’ union members said police grabbed and shoved protesters during an attempt to break up the protest.

On February 6, police surrounded a trade union office in Bab Ezzouar, where a meeting was planned to discuss the 2016 finance law. Press reported that police arrested six activists and union members, including Salah Debouz, for assembling without a permit.

The Committee of Experts at the International Labor Conference in June requested that the government reinstate employees that the committee determined were fired based on antiunion discrimination and act expeditiously to process pending trade union registration applications.

Antiunion intimidation was commonplace, and there were several strikes launched in reaction to the government’s refusal to extend official recognition to fledgling new unions and its practice of engaging only with the UGTA. In March the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association urged the government to reinstate two Autonomous National Union of Postal Workers officials, in compliance with a court order. The committee concluded that the governmental postal system improperly dismissed the two officials in 2014 in connection with statements they made to the media and with one official’s role in organizing a work stoppage.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of human trafficking. There were reports from NGOs that such practices occurred. Forced labor conditions existed for migrant workers, and the law did not fully protect them. For example, female migrants were subjected to debt bondage as they worked to repay smuggling debts through domestic servitude, forced begging, and forced prostitution. Prescribed penalties under this statute range from three to 20 years’ imprisonment, which are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Construction workers and domestic workers were reportedly vulnerable. The government made limited efforts to prosecute traffickers and protect victims but created an interministerial committee to coordinate antitrafficking efforts and adopted a national antitrafficking action plan.

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 employment by minors in dangerous, unhealthy, or harmful work or in work considered inappropriate because of social and religious considerations. The minimum legal age for employment is 16, but younger children may work as apprentices with permission from their parents or legal guardian. The law prohibits workers under age 19 from working at night.

Although specific data was unavailable, children reportedly worked mostly in the informal sales market, often in family businesses. There were isolated reports that children were subjected to commercial sexual exploitation (see section 6, Children). According to UNICEF, 5 percent of children ages five to 14 were economically active.

The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing child labor laws and refers violators to the Ministry of Justice for prosecution. There is no single office charged with this task, but all labor inspectors are responsible for enforcing laws regarding child labor. The Ministry of Labor conducted inspections and in some cases investigated companies suspected of hiring underage workers. The ministry’s Labor Inspector Service conducted an investigation into child labor in 2015 of 15,093 businesses from the trade, agriculture, construction, and services industries. It reported the discovery of 97 minors, of whom 47 were under the age of 16. The law for the protection of the child, adopted in 2015, criminalizes anyone who economically exploits a child with a penalty of one to three years’ imprisonment and a fine of DZD 50,000 to DZD 100,000 ($476 to $952); the punishment is doubled if the offender is a family member or guardian of the child. These penalties are neither sufficiently stringent nor commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Monitoring and enforcement practices for child labor were inconsistent and hampered by an insufficient number of inspectors.

The Ministry of Solidarity leads a national committee composed of 12 ministries and NGOs that meets yearly to discuss child labor issues. The committee was empowered to propose measures and laws to address child labor as well as conduct awareness campaigns.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment, salary, and work environment based on age, gender, social and marital status, family links, political conviction, disability, national origin and affiliation with a union. The law does not prohibit discrimination with respect to employment based on sexual orientation, HIV-positive status, or religion. The government did not adequately enforce the law, since discrimination reportedly existed, specifically against migrant workers in the informal economy who lacked a legal means to address unfair working conditions.

Women occupied few decision-making positions. Many unescorted or migrant female youth were exploited as domestic workers and were known to be loaned out to families for extended periods to work in homes and/or exploited as prostitutes (see section 6).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

A tripartite social pact among business, government, and the official union established the national minimum wage of DZD 18,000 ($165) per month in 2012. The World Bank estimated in 2011 that the poverty rate was 5.5 percent, a level that some observers considered too low.

The standard workweek was 40 hours, including one hour for lunch per day. Half of the lunch hour is considered compensated working time. Employees who worked longer than the standard workweek received premium pay on a sliding scale from time-and-a-half to double time, depending on whether the overtime occurred on a normal workday, a weekend, or a holiday.

The law contains occupational health and safety standards that were not fully enforced. There were no known reports of workers dismissed for removing themselves from hazardous working conditions. If workers face such conditions, they may reserve the right to renegotiate their contract or, failing that, resort to the courts. While this legal mechanism exists, the high demand for employment in the country gave an advantage to employers seeking to exploit employees. Labor standards do not protect economic migrants from sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere working in the country without legal immigration status, which made them vulnerable to exploitation. The law does not adequately cover migrant workers employed primarily in construction and as domestic workers.

The government requires employers to declare their employees to the Ministry of Labor and to pay social security benefits. Penalties for noncompliance include a prison sentence of two to six months and a fine ranging from DZD 100,000 to DZD 200,000 ($916 to $1,832) and DZD 200,000 to DZD 500,000 ($1,832 to $4,579) for repeat offenders. In 2015 the director general of social security at the Ministry of Labor stated that employers had not declared 15 percent of workers to the government, down from 40 percent in 2001. Employers who violated the law faced DZD 200,000 ($1,832) fines and between two and six months in prison. An enforcement initiative in 2015 identified 13,473 undeclared workers, all but 3 percent of whom were employed in the private sector. The government allowed undeclared workers to gain credit for social security and retirement benefits for time spent in the informal economy if they repay any taxes owed after registering.

The Labor Ministry employed 624 labor inspectors and approximately 380 supervisors. The ministry generally enforced labor standards, including providing for compliance with the minimum wage regulation and safety standards. Nevertheless, broad enforcement remained insufficient.

Azerbaijan

Executive Summary

The Azerbaijani constitution provides for a republic with a presidential form of government. Legislative authority is vested in the Milli Mejlis. The president dominated the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government. On September 26, constitutional amendments were approved that, inter alia, increased the president’s term in office from five to seven years and expanded the powers of the president. Other amendments included a provision permitting the further restriction of freedom of assembly. The constitutional referendum was marked by widespread credible complaints of irregularities. Legislative elections in November 2015 could not be fully assessed due to the absence of an Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) election observation mission; independent observers alleged irregularities throughout the country. The 2013 presidential election did not meet a number of key OSCE standards for democratic elections.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Separatists, with Armenia’s support, continued to control most of Nagorno-Karabakh and seven other Azerbaijani territories. The final status of Nagorno-Karabakh remained the subject of international mediation by the OSCE Minsk Group, cochaired by France, Russia, and the United States. There was an increase in violence along the Line of Contact and the Armenia-Azerbaijan border April 1-5. The heavy clashes led to the highest death toll since the signing of the 1994 cease-fire agreement. There were allegations of atrocities committed by the sides of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict during an April 1-5 outbreak of violence. The sides in the conflict also submitted to the European Court of Human Rights complaints accusing each other of committing atrocities during this period.

The most significant human rights problems during the year included:

Increased government restrictions on fundamental freedoms: Authorities limited the freedoms of expression, assembly, and association through intimidation, incarceration on questionable charges, and harsh abuse of selected activists and secular and religious opposition figures. The operating space for activists and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) remained severely constrained. There was a continuing crackdown on civil society, including intimidation, arrest, and conviction on charges widely considered politically motivated; criminal investigations into NGO activities; restrictive laws; and the freezing of bank accounts that rendered many groups unable to function. Authorities also restricted freedom of expression by closing a semi-independent television station that had been the country’s sole independent broadcaster until late 2006, when its independence began to decline, and by taking actions that resulted in the end of the print edition of a leading opposition newspaper.

Government use of the judicial system to punish dissent: Authorities arbitrarily arrested and detained activists, engaged in politically motivated imprisonment, conducted trials that lacked due process, and subjected activists to lengthy pretrial detention with impunity. Authorities used different pretexts to decrease the number of defense lawyers willing and able to defend the rights of peaceful activists. While authorities released 17 individuals widely considered to be incarcerated for exercising their fundamental freedoms, they held an even larger number of others.

Government restrictions continued on the ability of citizens to choose their government in free and fair elections.

Other problems reported included physical abuse in the military; alleged torture and abuse of detainees, at times leading to death; police violence against peaceful citizens; abuse of inmates in prisons; harsh and sometimes life-threatening prison conditions; detentions without warrants; and incommunicado detention. Authorities often failed to provide due process, including with regard to property rights. There were reports of arbitrary government invasions of privacy, incarceration of religious figures, and restrictions on the religious freedom of some unregistered groups. Authorities restricted freedom of movement for a growing number of journalists and activists. Constraints on political participation persisted. While the government took continued measures towards reducing low-level corruption in government services, allegations of systemic corruption at all levels of government continued. Violence against women, gender-biased sex selection, and trafficking in persons were reported. Societal intolerance, violence, and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity remained problems, as did societal stigma against persons with HIV/AIDS. Authorities did not effectively enforce laws prohibiting discrimination in employment or occupation.

The government did not prosecute or punish most officials who committed human rights abuses; impunity remained a 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

Separatists, with Armenia’s support, continued to control most of Nagorno-Karabakh and seven other Azerbaijani territories. The final status of Nagorno-Karabakh remained the subject of international mediation by the OSCE Minsk Group, cochaired by France, Russia, and the United States. There was an increase in violence along the Line of Contact and Armenia-Azerbaijan international border April 1-5. The heavy clashes led to the highest death toll since the signing of the 1994 cease-fire agreement. There were allegations of atrocities committed by the sides of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict during an April 1-5 outbreak of violence. The sides in the conflict also submitted to the European Court of Human Rights complaints accusing each other of committing atrocities during this period.

Both the government and human rights monitors reported a drop in harmful hazing practices in the military. As of November 20, local human rights organizations reported at least 36 noncombat-related deaths in security forces, including suicides and soldiers killed by fellow service members. On February 20, for example, another conscript shot and killed State Border Service (SBS) member Sanan Mehdizade. The SBS refused to comment on the death to media outlets. No further details were available.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

As of July 5, the State Committee on the Captive and Missing reported that 3,866 citizens were registered as missing persons because of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) processed cases of persons missing in connection with the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and worked with the government to develop a consolidated list of missing persons. According to the ICRC, more than 4,496 persons remained unaccounted for because of the conflict.

The ICRC assisted prisoners of war and civilian internees and conducted regular visits throughout the year to ensure protection of prisoners under international humanitarian law. The ICRC regularly facilitated the exchange of messages between them and their families to help them re-establish and maintain contact.

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

While the constitution and criminal code prohibit such practices and provide for penalties for conviction of up to 10 years’ imprisonment, credible allegations of torture and other abuse continued. In 2014, the most recent year for which data was available, domestic human rights monitors reported receiving 324 complaints of such abuse by security forces.

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention reported receiving a large number of statements during its May 16-25 visit to the country from current and former juvenile, female, and male detainees it interviewed alleging that they had been subjected to torture and mistreatment. According to the working group, interviewees “described having a gun pointed at their head, severe beatings, sometimes lasting several hours, verbal abuse and psychological pressure, practices such as standing on one’s knees for long hours, threats of physical and sexual abuse as well as threats to arrest family members.”

Human rights defenders and media outlets reported at least four cases of torture or other physical abuse during the year that led to death. There was no single source to confirm the exact number of such cases. On April 27, for example, Sumgayit City police detained 37-year-old Rashad Mehdiyev, who died two days later, reportedly from abusive treatment at the police station. Police claimed Mehdiyev died due to a head injury incurred when he accidentally fell. Mehdiyev’s family refuted the claims and released photographs of him with multiple bruises on his body, which they alleged indicated torture. There were no reports on the results of a subsequent investigation.

Reports from the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and human rights activists indicated that most mistreatment took place while detainees were in police custody, where authorities reportedly used abusive methods to coerce confessions. In one prominent example, on August 12, police arrested N!DA youth activist Elgiz Gahraman for alleged drug possession after he disparaged a proposed constitutional change that would remove the age limit for presidential candidates. Gahraman was held incommunicado for six days at the Ministry of Internal Affairs’ Organized Crime Department. Gahraman later stated that during his detention he was subjected to torture and forced to sign a confession.

In November 2015 law enforcement forces arrested a large group of religious individuals in Nardaran, including the head of the Muslim Unity Movement, Taleh Baghirzada, on charges of alleged involvement in an effort to overthrow the government and put in place an Islamic state. During the trial of 17 of the individuals, Baghizada and 16 other Nardaran residents charged in the case informed the court they were tortured while police interrogated them at the Ministry of Internal Affairs’ Organized Crime Department. The defendants specifically claimed that police officer Shahlar Jafarov beat detainee Farahim Bunyadov to death in custody and subjected them to physical abuse. Authorities did not investigate the claims.

Authorities reportedly maintained a de facto ban on independent forensic examinations of detainees who claimed mistreatment and delayed their access to an attorney, practices that made it easier for officers to mistreat detainees with impunity. For example, imprisoned Muslim Unity Movement leader Taleh Baghirzada and his lawyers stated that police tortured him for days in an attempt to force him to renounce his beliefs and provide false accusations against secular opposition leaders Dr. Jamil Hasanli and Ali Kerimli. The Ministry of Internal Affairs’ Organized Crime Unit reportedly denied him access to his attorney for more than a month.

In another prominent case, imprisoned N!DA youth movement activists Bayram Mammadov and Giyas Ibrahimov stated during their trial that police subjected them to torture while in custody. The two youths claimed that officers beat them, forced them to disrobe, and threatened to rape them with truncheons and bottles if they did not confess to charges of drug possession after closed-circuit television footage showed them painting graffiti on a statue of former president Heydar Aliyev. Their attorney reportedly was only able to meet with them after they had signed the coerced drug possession confessions. Despite physical evidence of abuse displayed by Mammadov and Ibrahimov during the trial and appeals to the Prosecutor General’s Office and Ombudsman’s Office in Baku, authorities failed to investigate their allegations.

There were media reports of police violence against citizens not involved in political activity. For example, Bakhtiyar Ismayilov reported that police from the Barda Police Department detained and subjected him to inhumane treatment on the night of September 16 for mistakenly stopping a police car instead of a taxi. He showed numerous bodily injuries after allegedly being beaten at the police department and claimed that police employees warned him not to report the incident. After his public statements, media outlets reported additional allegations of abuse at the same police department from individuals who previously were afraid to speak.

According to official data, the Prison Service investigated 334 complaints against prison system officials for torture or mistreatment between 2009 and 2013. The Ministry of Internal Affairs received 984 such complaints between 2010 and 2013, and the Office of the Prosecutor General received 678 similar complaints between 2010 and 2013. According to the UN Committee against Torture, this was a strong indication that torture investigations were not conducted in a prompt, efficient, and impartial manner.

Although there were reports of a decrease in abusive hazing practices, local observers reported bullying and abuse in military units during the year. The Ministry of Defense set up a telephone hotline for soldiers to report incidents of mistreatment in order to hold unit commanders responsible, which reportedly resulted in improved conditions throughout the armed forces.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

According to a reputable prison-monitoring organization, prison conditions were sometimes harsh and potentially life threatening due to overcrowding, inadequate nutrition, deficient heating and ventilation, and poor medical care. While the government continued to construct facilities, some Soviet-era facilities still in use did not meet international standards. Gobustan Prison, Prisons 3 and 14, and the penitentiary tuberculosis-treatment center reportedly had the worst conditions. Former prisoners and family members of imprisoned activists reported that prisoners often had to pay bribes to use toilets or shower rooms or to receive food. Detainees also complained of inhumane conditions in the crowded basement detention facilities of local courts where they awaited trial. They reported those facilities lacked ventilation and proper sanitary conditions.

Physical Conditions: Authorities held men and women together in pretrial detention facilities in separate blocks, but housed women in separate prison facilities after sentencing. Local NGO observers reported that female prisoners typically lived in better conditions than male prisoners, were monitored more frequently, and had greater access to training and other activities, but that women’s prisoners suffered from many of the same problems as prisons for men. Human rights monitors reported four cases of children under the age of seven living in adult prison facilities with their incarcerated mothers. Convicted juvenile offenders may be held in juvenile institutions until they are 20.

During the year the Ministry of Justice reported 122 deaths in ministry facilities, 81 of which occurred in medical treatment facilities. The ministry reported the majority of death cases occurred from various illnesses including cancer, cardiovascular pathology, and tuberculosis. The Ministry of Internal Affairs reported one death by suicide in its detention facilities in 2016. According to the ministry, as a result of an internal investigation, two police officers were dismissed for neglect of their official duties and one person was subjected to disciplinary action.

Prisoners at times claimed they endured lengthy confinement periods without opportunity for physical exercise. They also reported instances of cramped, overcrowded conditions; inadequate ventilation; poor sanitary facilities; and insufficient access to medical care. Although the law permits detainees to receive daily packages of food to supplement the food officially provided, authorities at times reportedly restricted access of prisoners and detainees to family-provided food parcels. Some prisons and detention centers did not provide access to potable water.

Human rights advocates reported that guards punished prisoners with beatings or by holding them in isolation cells. Local and international monitors reported markedly poorer conditions at the maximum security Gobustan Prison.

Administration: While most prisoners reported that they could submit complaints to judicial authorities and the Ombudsman’s Office without censorship, prison authorities regularly read prisoners’ correspondence, and domestic NGOs reported some prisoners in high-security facilities experienced difficulty submitting complaints. While the Ombudsman’s Office reported conducting systematic visits and investigations into complaints, NGOs reported that the office was insufficiently active in addressing prisoner complaints by, for example, failing to investigate allegations of torture by N!DA activists Bayram Mammadov and Giyas Ibrahimov.

Authorities at times limited visits by attorneys and family members, especially to prisoners widely considered to be incarcerated for political reasons.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted some prison visits by international and local organizations, including the ICRC, the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture, the president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, and parliamentarians and diplomats from European countries. Authorities generally permitted the ICRC access to prisoners of war and civilian internees held in connection with the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict as well as to detainees held in facilities under the authority of the Ministries of Justice, Internal Affairs, and the National Security Services.

A joint government-human rights community prison-monitoring group known as the Public Committee was allowed access to prisons without prior notification to the Penitentiary Service. On some occasions, however, other groups that reportedly gave prior notification experienced difficulty obtaining access.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

Although the law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, the government generally did not observe these prohibitions, and impunity remained a problem. On May 25, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Arrests expressed concern about the conditions in the special facilities for persons with disabilities and over the ongoing prosecution of human rights defenders, journalists, and political opposition.

In one of the more prominent examples of arbitrary arrest during the year, according to activists, authorities detained 185 individuals prior to, during, and after authorized rallies held on September 11, 17, and 18 in opposition to the September 26 referendum on amending the constitution.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Ministry of Internal Affairs and the State Security Service are responsible for security within the country and report directly to the president. The Ministry of Internal Affairs oversees local police forces and maintains internal civil defense troops. In December 2015 the Ministry of National Security, which oversaw intelligence and counterintelligence activities and had a separate internal security force, was dissolved by presidential order. Its functions were split between the State Security Service, dealing with domestic matters, and the Foreign Intelligence Service, focused on foreign intelligence and counterintelligence issues. NGOs reported that both services detained individuals who exercised their rights to fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression. The State Migration Service and the State Border Service are responsible for migration and border enforcement.

Police crowd-control tactics varied during the year. In some cases police detained peaceful protesters and used excessive force against them.

While security forces generally acted with impunity, the Ministry of Internal Affairs stated that in the first nine months of the year, it took administrative disciplinary action against 259 employees for violation of human rights and freedoms(197 cases), unjustified detentions (12 cases), and rude treatment (62 cases).

Corruption among law enforcement officers was a problem. Low wages contributed to police corruption. In the first nine months of the year, the Ministry of Internal Affairs reported it took disciplinary action against 16 employees in connection with eight cases of corruption, dismissing seven from their institutions, and reassigning nine others. It did not hold any of the employees criminally liable, however.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law provides that persons detained, arrested, or accused of a crime be accorded due process, including being advised immediately of their rights and the reason for their arrest. The government did not always respect these provisions.

According to the law, detainees are to be brought before a judge within 48 hours of arrest and the judge may issue a warrant placing the detainee in pretrial detention, place the detainee under house arrest, or release the detainee. The initial 48-hour arrest period may be extended to 96 hours under extenuating circumstances. During pretrial detention or house arrest, the Prosecutor General’s Office is to complete its investigation. Pretrial detention is limited to three months but may be extended by a judge up to 18 months, depending on the alleged crime and the needs of the investigation. Authorities at times detained individuals for several days without warrants, and legal experts asserted that judges sometimes issued warrants after a person was detained. There were reports of detainees not being promptly informed of the charges against them.

On March 22, Sumgayit city police mistakenly detained Rashad Abbasov and used physical force against him until he falsely confessed to stabbing another person. Police later identified the true perpetrator of the crime and released Abbasov, who was immediately hospitalized due to numerous bodily injuries. Abbasov’s family stated that police also used electric shock to force him to admit to the crime. Authorities did not investigate the mistreatment.

The law provides for access to a lawyer from the time of detention, but there were reports that authorities frequently denied lawyers’ access to clients in both politically motivated and routine cases. Access to counsel was poor, particularly outside Baku. Although entitled to legal counsel by law, indigent detainees often did not have such access. In one case, attorneys for arrested youth activists Bayram Mammadov and Giyas Ibrahimov reported they were denied access to their clients for two days, from their May 10 detention until minutes before their May 12 trial. During this period police held the two activists incommunicado.

Police at times held politically sensitive and other suspects incommunicado for periods that ranged from several hours to several days. On August 18, for example, authorities detained opposition Popular Front Party (PFP) youth activist Fuad Ahmadli and held him incommunicado for approximately 10 days. In another notable example, in November 2015 law enforcement forces arrested a large group of religious individuals, including the head of the Muslim Unity Movement, Taleh Baghirzada, (see section 1.c.). Following Baghirzada’s arrest, authorities detained more than 70 persons in different parts of the country. As of November 25, a working group of 24 activists considered 52 of those detained to have been arrested arbitrarily due to lack of evidence provided during court proceedings and were reviewing an additional 20 cases as possible arbitrary arrests.

Prisoners’ family members reported that authorities occasionally restricted visits, especially to persons in pretrial detention, and withheld information about detainees. Days sometimes passed before families could obtain information about detained relatives. Authorities sometimes used family members as leverage to put pressure on individuals to turn themselves in to police or to stop them from reporting police abuse.

A formal bail system existed, but judges did not utilize it during the year.

Arbitrary Arrest: Authorities often made arrests based on spurious charges such as resisting police, illegal possession of drugs or weapons, tax evasion, illegal entrepreneurship, abuse of authority, or inciting public disorder. Local NGOs and international groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch criticized the government for arresting individuals exercising their fundamental rights and noted that authorities frequently fabricated the charges against them. In particular, police detained individuals who peacefully sought to exercise freedom of expression. For example, on November 7, police in Agstafa District detained PFP youth activist Vusal Zeynalov and charged him with resisting police. The local court sentenced Zeynalov to 30 days of administrative detention. The party headquarters reported that Zeynalov’s critical posts on social networking sites prompted authorities to detain him.

Pretrial Detention: According to the Ministry of Justice, the prison population numbered 23,311 persons, including 730 women. Of these, 3,102 were in pretrial detention. Authorities held persons in pretrial detention for up to 18 months. The Prosecutor General’s Office routinely extended the initial three-month pretrial detention period permitted by law in successive increments of several months until the government completed an investigation.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: By law, persons arrested or detained, regardless of whether 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.

Amnesty: On March 18, the president pardoned 148 prisoners. NGOs considered 14 to have been political prisoners, including Anar Mammadli, chairman of the Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies Center; N!DA activists Rashadat Akhundov, Rashad Hasanov, Mammad Azizov, and Omar Mammadov; journalists Hilal Mammadov and Parviz Hashimli; human rights activist Rasul Jafarov; and the deputy chairman of Musavat Party, Tofig Yagublu. Also released were activists Taleh Khasmammadov, Nemat Panahli, Yadigar Sadigov, and Siraj Karimov. There were reports that authorities pressed some of the released prisoners to write letters seeking forgiveness for past “mistakes” as a condition of their pardon. Several prisoners, such as the chair of the opposition REAL movement, Ilgar Mammadov, reported that authorities used physical abuse, placement into isolation cells, assaults by other prisoners, and threats to family members to extract such letters.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, judges did not function independently of the executive branch. The judiciary remained largely corrupt and inefficient. Many verdicts were legally insupportable and largely unrelated to the evidence presented during the trial. Outcomes frequently appeared predetermined. Courts often failed to investigate allegations of torture and inhumane treatment of detainees in police custody.

The Ministry of Justice controlled the Judicial Legal Council. The council appoints a judicial selection committee (six judges, a prosecutor, a lawyer, a council representative, a Ministry of Justice representative, and a legal scholar) that administers the judicial selection examination and oversees the long-term judicial training and selection process.

Credible reports indicated that judges and prosecutors took instruction from the Presidential Administration and the Ministry of Justice, particularly in cases of interest to international observers. There were credible allegations that judges routinely accepted bribes.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for public trials except in cases involving state, commercial, or professional secrets or confidential, personal, or family matters. The law provides for: the presumption of innocence in criminal cases; the right to be informed promptly of charges; the right to free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals; the right to review evidence, confront witnesses, and present evidence at trial; the right of indigent defendants to a court-approved attorney; the rights to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense; the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt; and the right of both defendants and prosecutors to appeal. Authorities did not always respect these provisions.

Judges at times failed to read verdicts publicly or to give the reasoning behind their decisions, leaving defendants without knowledge of the reasoning behind the judgment. Judges also limited the defendant’s right to speak. In the trial of Bayram Mammadov, for example, judges ordered Mammadov to stop speaking and left the chamber when Mammadov asserted his right to make a final statement.

The courts often limited independent observation of trials. Civil society activists and defendants asserted that authorities filled the courtroom with paid agents to occupy more seats. Information regarding trial times and locations was generally available, although there were some exceptions, particularly in the Baku Court of Grave Crimes.

Although the constitution prescribes equal status for prosecutors and defense attorneys, judges often favored prosecutors when assessing motions, oral statements, and evidence submitted by defense counsel, without regard to the merits of their respective arguments. Lawyers for the accused in the Nardaran case noted that judges and prosecutors left the courtroom together to discuss a defense motion before it was denied. Judges also reserved the right to remove defense lawyers in civil cases for “good cause.” In criminal proceedings, judges may remove defense lawyers because of a conflict of interest, such as the placement of defense lawyers onto the witness list, or if a defendant requests a change of counsel.

The law limits representation in criminal cases to members of the country’s government-influenced Collegium (bar association). The number of defense lawyers willing and able to accept sensitive cases reportedly declined during the year due to various measures taken by authorities, including by the Collegium’s presidium, its managing body. Such measures included disbarment or threats of disbarment. For example, the Collegium disbarred lawyer Muzaffar Bakhishov after he criticized Supreme Court chairman Ramiz Rzayev. There were reports of Collegium pressure on lawyers. On April 1, the Collegium strongly reprimanded lawyers Bahruz Bayramov and Elchin Sadigov for “disrespect” when they objected to the court hearing the case of their client, Parviz Hashimli, in his absence. There were also reports of police physically intimidating lawyers, pressure from prosecutors and police, and occasional harassment of family members. Most of the country’s human rights defense lawyers practiced in Baku, which made it difficult for people living outside of Baku to receive timely and quality legal service.

The constitution prohibits the use of illegally obtained evidence. Despite some defendants’ claims that authorities obtained testimony through torture or abuse, courts did not dismiss cases based on claims of abuse, and there was no independent forensic investigator to substantiate allegations of abuse. Human rights monitors reported judges often ignored claims of police mistreatment. Examples during the year of judges ignoring such claims included the “Nardaran case” and the case against N!DA activists Bayram Mammadov and Giyas Ibrahimov (see section 1.c.). According to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, whereas it received “a large number of testimonies” of torture and mistreatment during its May visit to the country, none of the country’s officials or detainees with whom the group met indicated that a judge had questioned a detainee on his/her treatment in custody.

Investigations often focused on obtaining confessions rather than gathering physical evidence against suspects. Serious crimes brought before the courts most often ended in conviction, since judges generally sought only a minimal level of proof and collaborated closely with prosecutors.

With the exception of the Baku Court of Grave Crimes, human rights advocates also reported courts often failed to provide interpreters despite the constitutional right of an accused person to interpretation. Courts are entitled to contract interpreters during hearings, with expenses covered by the state budget.

There were no verbatim transcripts of judicial proceedings. Although some of the newer courts in Baku made audio recordings of proceedings, courts did not record most court testimonies, oral arguments, and judicial decisions. Instead, the court recording officer generally decided the content of notes, which tended to be sparse.

The country has a military court system with civilian judges. The Military Court retains original jurisdiction over any case related to war or military service.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

In addition to the presidential pardons of 14 individuals widely considered political prisoners (see section 1.d.), authorities released three others in the spring: journalists Rauf Mirkadirov and Khadija Ismayilova, and defense lawyer Intigam Aliyev. Despite the release of these 17 individuals, local NGO activists estimated the number of political prisoners and detainees to range from 119 to 160. According to Human Rights Watch, at least 25 government critics remained incarcerated for politically motivated reasons at year’s end. NGO lists included the following incarcerated individuals, many of whom Amnesty International considered prisoners of conscience (also see sections 1.f., 2.a., 2.c., 3, 4, and 5).

On June 28, the Baku Court of Grave Crimes sentenced Rufat Zahidov and Rovshan Zahidov to six years in prison on charges of alleged possession of illegal drugs. Human rights activists and their lawyer stated that both defendants were imprisoned for being relatives of exiled opposition journalist and former political prisoner Ganimat Zahid. Editor in chief of Azadliq newspaper Zahid resided in France and published articles critical of Azerbaijani authorities on his online news outlet, Azerbaycan saati (Azerbaijan hour).

On April 19, authorities allowed prominent activists Leyla and Arif Yunus to leave the country for medical treatment after a number of court appeals. In August 2015 the Baku Court of Grave Crimes sentenced Leyla Yunus to eight and one-half years in prison for fraud, tax evasion, illegal entrepreneurship, and forging official documents, and her husband, Arif Yunus, to seven years in prison for fraud.

On October 25, the Baku Court of Grave Crimes sentenced N!DA youth activist Giyas Ibrahimov to 10 years’ imprisonment for alleged drug possession. Authorities had arrested him and fellow youth activist Bayram Mammadov in May, after closed-circuit television footage showed them defacing a monument of former president Heydar Aliyev with graffiti. NGOs reported that, while in custody, they were tortured into confessing to drug possession charges (see section 1.c.). On December 9, the Court of Grave Crimes sentenced Mammadov to 10 years on similar charges.

Individuals considered by activists to be political detainees included Muslim Unity Movement leader Taleh Baghirzada (see section 1.c. and the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report, www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/) and deputy chairman of the opposition Popular Front party Fuad Gahramanli (see section 3). NGO lists also included individuals convicted in previous years, including REAL movement chair Ilgar Mammadov, who remained incarcerated despite a 2014 ruling by the European Court of Human Rights calling for his release; N!DA activist Ilkin Rustamzade; and journalist Seymur Hazi.

By law political prisoners are entitled to the same rights as other prisoners, although restrictions on them varied. Authorities provided international humanitarian organizations access to political prisoners.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Citizens have the right to file lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights violations. The law does not provide for a jury trial in civil matters; a judge decides all civil cases. District courts have jurisdiction over civil matters in their first hearing; the Court of Appeals and then the Supreme Court address appeals. As with criminal trials, all citizens have the right to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) within six months of exhausting all domestic legal options, including an appeal to and ruling by the Supreme Court.

Citizens exercised the right to appeal local court rulings to the ECHR and brought claims of government violations of commitments under the European Convention on Human Rights. The government’s compliance with ECHR decisions was mixed. For example, it implemented the part of one 2014 ECHR judgment requiring it to pay 22,000 euros ($24,200) in compensation to Ilgar Mammadov for violating his rights but failed to release Mammadov as stipulated by the judgment.

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

The law prohibits arbitrary invasions of privacy and monitoring of correspondence and other private communications. The government generally did not respect these legal prohibitions.

While the constitution allows for searches of residences only with a court order or in cases specifically provided for by law, authorities often conducted searches without warrants. It was widely reported that the State Security Service and the Ministry of Internal Affairs monitored telephone and internet communications, particularly those of foreigners, youth figures active online, some political and business figures, and persons engaged in international communication. There were indications the postal service monitored certain politically sensitive mail. For example, the postal service reportedly twice “lost” Popular Front deputy chairman Fuad Gahramanli’s appeal of his case to the European Court of Human Rights.

Police continued to intimidate, harass, and sometimes arrest family members of suspected criminals, independent journalists, political opposition members and leaders, as well as employees and leaders of certain NGOs. For example, Elnur Seyidov, opposition Popular Front Party chairman Ali Kerimli’s brother-in-law, remained incarcerated since 2012 on charges widely viewed as politically motivated. In February the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic threatened to arrest the family members of exiled businessman Mammad Gurbanov if he did not stop criticizing authorities. Gurbanov left Nakhchivan after reportedly experiencing long-standing harassment and physical abuse by police.

There were several examples of the use of politically motivated incarceration of relatives as a means of pressuring exiles. In the summer of 2015, authorities arrested Rufat and Rovshan Zahidov, relatives of the exiled editor of the opposition newspaper Azadliq, Ganimat Zahidov. In November the two incarcerated relatives publicly denounced Ganimat Zahidov, but he had not been released as of year’s end. In July 2015 authorities also incarcerated Nazim Aghabeyov, the brother-in-law of well-known journalist in exile Emin Milli. Aghabeyov was conditionally released on April 22. On September 29, opposition leader Jamil Hasanli’s daughter, Gunel Hasanli, was released from prison after serving nine months on charges that activists considered were politically motivated.

In September, prior, during, and after rallies against the referendum on constitutional amendments, police interrogated and reportedly intimidated family members of political and human rights activists as well as of independent journalists.

There were also reports that authorities fired individuals from their jobs or had individuals fired in retaliation for the political or civic activities of family members.

NGOs reported that authorities did not respect the laws governing eminent domain and expropriation of property. Homeowners often received compensation well below market value for expropriated property and had little legal recourse. NGOs also reported that many citizens did not trust the court system and were therefore reluctant to pursue compensation claims.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

While the law provides for freedom of speech and press and specifically prohibits press censorship, the government habitually violated these rights. The government limited freedom of speech and media independence. Journalists faced intimidation and at times were beaten and imprisoned. NGOs considered at least six journalists and bloggers to be political prisoners or detainees as of year’s end. During the year authorities continued pressure on media, journalists in exile, and their relatives.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: The constitution provides for freedom of speech, but the government continued to repress subjects considered politically sensitive. For example, in the period leading up to the September constitutional referendum, authorities arrested selected activists who criticized the referendum. Arrests included that of opposition activist and economist Natig Jafarli, the executive secretary of the opposition REAL Movement, on August 12. Activists who were arrested were secular democratic opposition figures, although authorities cited alleged ties to Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who was accused by Turkey of having organized the failed July 15 coup attempt there, to justify some of the arrests. Activists whose arrests were based on such alleged ties included Fuad Ahmadli of the opposition Popular Front Party, and Faiq Amirov, the financial director of opposition newspaper Azadliq, who was also the assistant to Popular Front Party chair Ali Karimli.

In October Human Rights Watch reported the government continued to crack down on critics and dissenting voices, including through the politically motivated arrests of at least 20 political and youth activists during the year. The incarceration of persons who attempted to exercise freedom of speech raised concerns about authorities’ use of the judicial system to punish dissent. In addition, the government attempted to impede criticism by threatening some peaceful activists who spoke out against politically motivated imprisonments–including those in the Nardaran case (see section 1.c.)–and by monitoring political and civil society meetings.

The constitution prohibits hate speech, defined as “propaganda provoking racial, national, religious and social discord and animosity.” Under the September constitutional referendum, “hostility based on any other criteria” also is prohibited.

Press and Media Freedoms: A number of opposition and independent print and online media outlets expressed a wide variety of views on government policies. Newspaper circulation rates remained low, not surpassing 5,000 in most cases.

Beginning in 2014 the government blocked the sale of newspapers in the metro and on the street, limiting sales to government-approved kiosks. During the year the government restricted the sale of opposition newspapers at such kiosks. Credible reports indicated opposition newspapers were available outside Baku only in limited numbers due to the refusal of a number of distributors to carry them. In September the opposition newspaper Azadlig discontinued its print edition when it was unable to conduct banking operations following the arrest of its financial director, who was also an active member of the Popular Front Party. Authorities then prevented the newspaper from continuing payment on loans.

The law allows authorities to close media outlets deemed to be broadcasting extremist propaganda or discriminating on ethnic grounds, among other offenses. On July 29, the Baku Court of Appeals revoked the license of the semi-independent privately owned ANS television station based on a lawsuit filed by the National Television and Radio Council (NTRC). The lawsuit was initiated after ANS announced its intention to air an interview with exiled Turkish religious figure Fethullah Gulen and Turkish authorities protested the planned broadcast after accusing Gulen of plotting the July 15 coup attempt in Turkey. The NTRC accused ANS of propagating terrorism and violating the law. ANS appealed; on September 21, the Supreme Court upheld the Court of Appeals verdict, resulting in the closure of what had been the country’s sole independent television station until late 2006, when its independence began to decline. It had operated for 25 years.

Foreign services, including Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), and the BBC, remained prohibited from broadcasting on FM radio frequencies, although the Russian service Sputnik was allowed to broadcast news on a local radio network.

While authorities released six journalists and bloggers during the year, local NGOs considered at least seven journalists and bloggers and two writers/poets to be political prisoners or detainees as of year’s end. For example, on January 29, the Absheron District Court sentenced opposition Azadlig newspaper journalist Seymur Hazi to five years in prison. Authorities continued exerting pressure on leading media rights organizations similar to that applied to other NGOs in the country.

During the year authorities continued pressure on independent media outlets outside the country and those associated with them in the country. For example, authorities continued the criminal case against Meydan TV initiated in August 2015. The Prosecutor General’s Office investigated more than 15 individuals in the case for alleged illegal entrepreneurship, tax evasion, and abuse of power. Official pressure on journalists also included the incarceration of relatives of journalists in exile, including Azadliq editor in chief Ganimat Zahidov’s nephew and cousin, and bans on an increasing number of journalists and some relatives of journalists in exile from traveling outside the country (see section 2.d.).

Violence and Harassment: Local observers reported 33 physical assaults on at least 21 journalists during the year. The attacks mainly targeted journalists from Radio Liberty, Azadliq and other newspapers, Meydan TV, and Obyektiv Television. For example, on November 26, police detained journalist Teymur Karimov from internet-based TV Kanal 13 after an unknown person attacked Karimov while he was preparing a video report on water supply problems in the Barda District. Police threatened the journalist with filing a criminal case on charges of assault if he did not erase all his recordings.

Impunity for assaults against journalists remained a problem. The Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) reported in August that more than nine out of every 10 cases of physical attacks on journalists remained unsolved. There were no indications authorities held police officers accountable for physical assaults on journalists in prior years.

Journalists and media rights leaders continued to call for full accountability for the August 2015 beating and death of journalist and IRFS chairman Rasim Aliyev, who reported receiving threatening messages three weeks earlier; the 2011 killing of journalist Rafiq Tagi, against whom Iranian cleric Grand Ayatollah Fazel Lankarani issued a fatwa; and the 2005 killing of independent editor and journalist Elmar Huseynov.

Lawsuits suspected of being politically motivated were used also to intimidate journalists and media outlets. During the year approximately 29 court cases were initiated against journalists or media outlets, with plaintiffs demanding 1.3 million manat ($720,000) in compensation; courts ultimately imposed 95,000 manat ($53,000) in fines.

The majority of independent and opposition newspapers remained in a precarious financial situation and experienced problems paying wages, taxes, and periodic court fines. Most relied on political parties, influential sponsors, or the State Media Fund for financing.

The government prohibited some state libraries from subscribing to opposition and independent newspapers, prevented state businesses from buying advertising in opposition newspapers, and put pressure on private businesses not to advertise in them. As a result, paid advertising was largely absent in opposition media. Political commentators noted these practices reduced the wages that opposition and independent outlets could pay to their journalists, which allowed progovernment outlets to hire away quality staff. In addition, international media monitoring reports indicated that intimidation by Ministry of Taxes authorities further limited the independence of media.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Most media practiced self-censorship and avoided topics considered politically sensitive due to fear of government retaliation. The NTRC required that local, privately owned television and radio stations not rebroadcast complete news programs of foreign origin.

On June 12, police seized the work of the Ganun Publishing House in Baku under the pretext of having received a bomb threat to the building. Civil society activists reported that authorities raided the publishing house after it printed posters advocating the release of imprisoned head of the REAL democratic movement, Ilgar Mammadov. The director of the publishing house, Shahbaz Khuduoghlu, reported that police took some published materials and printing molds from the office.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel is a criminal offense and covers written and verbal statements. The law provides for large fines and up to three years’ imprisonment for persons convicted of libel. Conviction of defamation is punishable by fines ranging from 100 to 1,000 manat ($55.60 to $556) and imprisonment for six months to three years.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The websites of Voice of America, RFE/RL, and Germany-based opposition media outlet Meydan TV were intermittently blocked during the year.

Radio Liberty and the opposition newspaper Azadlig reported denial of access to their Internet-based resources on November 28 and December 2 for publicizing critical online articles on proposed legislative amendments in the parliament. These outages became chronic by mid-December, with Voice of America and RFE/RL becoming only sporadically available inside Azerbaijan. Although the government denied involvement, the outages originated from within Delta Telecom, a company with close ties to the government that controlled over 90 percent of Internet traffic in Azerbaijan. The government also required internet service providers to be licensed and have formal agreements with the Ministry of Communications and High Technologies. According to International Telecommunication Union statistics, approximately 77 percent of the country’s population used the internet in 2015.

The law imposes criminal penalties for conviction of libel and insult on the internet. On November 29, the Milli Mejlis passed new articles to the criminal code that expand those penalties. Article 148-1, stipulates fines of from 1,000 to 1,500 manat ($556 to $833), or public works from 360 to 480 hours, or corrective work up to two years or one year imprisonment for insults and slander through using fake web nicknames or Internet profiles. A second new provision, Article 323, stipulates fines from 1,000 up to 1,500 manat ($556 to $833) or imprisonment up to three years for insulting the honor and dignity of the president.

There were strong indications that the government monitored the internet communications of democracy activists. For example, after detaining Popular Front deputy chairman Fuad Gahramanli in December 2015, authorities prosecuted him on charges related to his exercise of freedom of expression on Facebook (see section 1.e.). In addition, many youth activists who were questioned, detained, or jailed frequently had posted criticism of alleged government corruption and human rights abuses online. The activists included video blogger Husseyn Azizoghlu, who had posted videos online that mocked police officers for planting drugs and falsifying evidence and was detained for 15 days on January. Other cases involved Popular Front Party member Fizuli Huseynov, who received 30 days’ detention on January 27 after having criticized the government on Facebook, and blogger Mehman Huseynov, who was briefly detained in September and threatened with physical abuse if he did not stop posting video and images of police violence.

The Freedom House annual Freedom on the Net report, covering the period June 2015 through May, stated that the government “demonstrated its willingness to shutdown connectivity in times of civil unrest, disconnecting the entire village of Nardaran from the internet for several days following police clashes.” The report acknowledged that the government did not extensively block online content, while noting that “netizens” (citizens of the net) and their families faced arrest and intimidation.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government on occasion restricted academic freedom. Opposition party members continued to report difficulties finding jobs teaching at schools and universities. Authorities fired most known opposition party members teaching in state educational institutions in previous years. NGOs reported local executive authorities occasionally prevented the expression of minority cultures, for example, by prohibiting cultural events at local community centers and the teaching of local dialects.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

While the law provides for freedom of assembly, the government severely restricted the right. Authorities at times responded to peaceful protests and assemblies by using force and detaining protesters.

While the constitution stipulates that groups may peacefully assemble after notifying the relevant government body in advance, the government continued to interpret this provision as a requirement for prior permission. Local authorities required all rallies to be preapproved and held at designated locations, often at inconvenient sites, although a site often used in the outskirts of Baku was easily accessible by metro and bus. Most political parties and NGOs found the requirements unacceptable and believed them to be unconstitutional. Authorities throughout the country routinely refused to acknowledge notifications of planned public rallies, thereby effectively denying the freedom to assemble.

As modified by the September 26 referendum, the constitution provides that public gatherings not disrupt “public order and public morals.” The Venice Commission’s September 20 preliminary opinion on the proposed constitutional amendments noted that it is “almost inevitable” that peaceful gatherings may disrupt public order (for example, by disturbing traffic) or disturb someone’s views on morality and yet be permissible under the European Convention on Human Rights. The commission concluded, “The State should allow such gatherings and even facilitate them provided that those disturbances are not excessive and help convey the message of the public event.”

Early in the year, the devaluation of the local currency (manat) and worsening economic conditions sparked protests in different parts of the country, beginning on January 6 in the town of Saatli. On January 12, after dispersing a protest in Lankaran, police detained opposition Popular Front Party activist Nazim Hasanov and Musavat Party activist Imanverdi Aliyev. Both were sentenced to 30 days’ detention on charges of inciting people to public disorder. On January 13, Interior Ministry security forces used tear gas to disperse protesters in Siyazan. Police later reported that 55 persons were detained for participation in the various protests.

Activists reported that police harassed and/or detained 185 persons before, during, and after authorized rallies on September 11, 17, and 18 against the referendum on constitutional amendments. The courts subsequently sentenced 12 opposition activists to administrative detention that ranged from eight to 30 days, allegedly for resisting police, and fined one opposition activist 200 manat ($111) for violating public order.

The law permits administrative detention for up to three months for misdemeanors and up to one month for resisting police. Punishment for those who fail to follow a court order (including failure to pay a fine) may include fines of 500 to 1,000 manat ($278 to $556) and punishment of up to one month of administrative detention.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for freedom of association, but the law places some restrictions on this right, and amendments enacted during 2014 severely constrained NGO activities. Citing these amended laws, authorities conducted numerous criminal investigations into the activities of independent organizations, froze bank accounts, and harassed local staff, including incarcerating and placing travel bans on some NGO leaders. Consequently, a number of NGOs were unable to operate.

A number of legal provisions allow the government to regulate the activities of political parties, religious groups, businesses, and NGOs, including requiring NGOs to register with the Ministry of Justice if they seek “legal personality” status. Although the law requires the government to act on NGO registration applications within 30 days of receipt (or within an additional 30 days, if further investigation is required), vague, onerous, and nontransparent registration procedures continued to result in long delays that limited citizens’ right to associate. Other laws restrict freedom of association, for example, by requiring deputy heads of NGO branches to be citizens if the branch head is a foreigner. Authorities routinely rejected the registration applications of NGOs whose names contained the words “human rights,” “democracy,” “institute,” and “society.”

Laws affecting grants and donations imposed a de facto prohibition on NGOs receiving cash donations and made it nearly impossible for NGOs to receive anonymous donations or to solicit contributions from the public.

In 2014 the president approved a number of amendments to the administrative code and the laws on NGOs, grants, and registration of legal entities that imposed additional restrictions on NGO activities and closed several loopholes for the operations of unregistered, independent, and foreign organizations. The laws make unregistered and foreign NGOs vulnerable to involuntary dissolution, intimidated and dissuaded potential activists and donors from joining and supporting civil society organizations, and restricted their ability to provide grants to unregistered local groups or individual heads of such organizations.

A resolution detailing new grant registration implementing regulations, enacted by the Council of Ministers in June 2015, sets a 15-day limit for NGOs to register their grants with the appropriate ministry, 15 days for the ministry to approve or deny the registration, and an extension of 15 days if further investigation by the ministry is needed. Based on extensive authority provided in the 2014 amendments, the Ministry of Justice put into effect new rules on monitoring NGO activities in February. The rules empower the ministry to conduct intrusive inspections of NGOs, with few provisions protecting the rights of NGOs and the potential of harsh fines if they do not cooperate.

A far-reaching criminal investigation opened in 2014 into the activities of numerous domestic and international NGOs and local leadership continued during the year. The investigation covered prominent independent organizations focused on human rights and transparency in natural resource governance, as well as international organizations providing assistance to citizens. As a result of the investigation, at least 32 organizations closed rather than subject their staff to continued pressure and the prospect of incarceration. Authorities froze dozens of NGO bank accounts as well as the personal accounts of a number of organization heads. Domestic and international NGOs described the criminal investigations, arrests, bank account closures, and other pressure as a crackdown on civil society unprecedented for the country (see section 5). A few activists affiliated with the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (a civil society coalition) reported that the government lifted the freeze on their bank accounts. Others affiliated with the coalition reported government constraints on their ability to operate.

The government continued to implement rules pursuant to a law that requires foreign NGOs wishing to operate in the country to sign an agreement and register with the Ministry of Justice. Foreign NGOs wishing to register a branch in the country are required to demonstrate they support “the Azerbaijani people’s national and cultural values” and commit not to be involved in religious and political propaganda. The decree does not specify any time limit for the registration procedure and effectively allows for unlimited discretion of the government to decide whether to register a foreign NGO. As of year’s end, no foreign NGOs had been able to register under these rules.

The Ministry of Justice reported it registered 99 NGOs and did not observe the practice of nonacceptance of applications during the year. The Ministry of Justice registered the human rights-focused NGO of Oktay Gulaliyev immediately before the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative board meeting in October, but it changed its name and removed all references to human rights. Some experts estimated 1,000 NGOs remained unregistered.

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; however, the government limited freedom of movement for an increasing number of activists and journalists.

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

Foreign Travel: The number of activists and journalists whom the authorities prevented from traveling outside the country increased compared to the previous year. Examples included Popular Front Party chairman Ali Kerimli (since 2006), blogger Mehman Huseynov, investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova, lawyers Intigam Aliyev and Asabali Mustafayev, opposition REAL members Natig Jafarli and Azer Gasimli, Emin Milli’s brother-in-law Nazim Agabeyov, and at least 15 freelance journalists who filed material with Meydan TV.

The law requires men of draft age to register with military authorities before traveling abroad. Authorities placed some travel restrictions on military personnel with access to national security information. Citizens charged with or convicted of criminal offenses but given suspended sentences were also not permitted to travel abroad.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS

UNHCR reported 613,129 registered IDPs in the country as of December 31, including persons in IDP-like situations. The vast majority fled their homes between 1988 and 1993 as a result of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

The IDPs were initially required to register their places of residence with authorities and could live only in approved areas. This “propiska” registration system, which formally ceased to exist after the breakup of the Soviet Union, was enforced mainly against persons who were forced from their homes after separatists, with Armenia’s support, took control of Nagorno-Karabakh and seven surrounding Azerbaijani territories. The government asserted that registration was needed to keep track of IDPs to assist them.

According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, many IDPs who resided in Baku were unable to register their residences or gain access to formal employment, government assistance, health care, education, or pensions and had difficulty buying property.

Significant numbers of IDPs remained in overcrowded collective centers, where they were socially marginalized with limited employment opportunities and high rates of poverty. The law requires IDPs to register in the districts where they reside, and registration is necessary to obtain IDP status. Temporary registration where IDPs reside does not restrict migration within the country.

According to the government, it allocated 290 million manat ($161 million) to the State Committee for IDPs during the year. UNHCR reported that during the year the government rehoused 1,620 families, representing approximately 7,000 individuals, primarily in Fizuli, Sabirabad, Baku, Gazakh, and Zagatala.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to some refugees through the Refugee Status Determination Department at the State Migration Service, which is responsible for all refugee matters. Although UNHCR noted some improvements, the country’s refugee-status determination system did not meet international standards. International NGOs continued to report that the service remained inefficient and did not operate transparently.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: According to UNHCR, the country did not allow Russian citizens fleeing the conflict in Chechnya access to the national asylum procedure. UNHCR noted, however, that the country tolerated the presence of Chechen asylum seekers and accepted UNHCR’s role in providing for their protection and humanitarian needs.

Access to Basic Services: The estimated 1,193 refugees in the country lacked access to social services.

STATELESS PERSONS

Amendments to the constitution adopted by referendum on September 26 allow Azerbaijani citizenship to be removed “as provided by law.” Previously, the constitution explicitly prohibited the loss of citizenship.

According to UNHCR statistics, there were 3,585 persons in the country under UNHCR’s statelessness mandate at the end of the year. According to the State Migration Service, 245 foreigners and stateless persons were granted citizenship during the year, and citizenship was restored to two persons. The vast majority of stateless persons were ethnic Azeris from Georgia or Iran. NGOs stated there were many other undocumented stateless persons, with estimates ranging from hundreds to tens of thousands.

While the law provides for the right to apply for stateless status, some persons could not obtain the documentation required for the application and therefore remained formally unrecognized. The law on citizenship makes it difficult for foreigners and stateless persons to obtain citizenship.

For the most part, stateless persons enjoyed freedom of movement. The law permits stateless persons access to basic rights, such as access to health care and employment. Nevertheless, their lack of legal status at times hindered stateless persons’ access to these rights.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

Although the constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government through free and fair elections based on universal and equal suffrage, held by secret ballot, the government continued to restrict this ability by interfering in the electoral process. While the law provides for an independent legislative branch, the Milli Mejlis exercised little initiative independent of the executive branch.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) cancelled its observation of the November 2015 legislative elections when the government refused to accept ODIHR’s recommended number of election observers. Without ODIHR participation, it was impossible to assess properly the fairness of the elections.

Independent local and international monitors who observed the election alleged a wide range of irregularities throughout the country, including blocking observers from entering polling stations, ballot stuffing, carousel voting, and voting by unregistered individuals; opposition monitors also alleged such irregularities. The country’s main opposition parties boycotted the election.

The 2013 presidential election fell short of international standards. In their joint statement of preliminary findings and conclusions on the election, ODIHR and the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly highlighted serious shortcomings that needed to be addressed for the country to meet its OSCE commitments fully. On election day, OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and ODIHR observers noted procedural irregularities, including ballot box stuffing, serious problems with vote counting in 58 percent of observed polling stations, and failure to record the number of ballots received. The ODIHR report noted that, prior to election day, the government maintained a repressive political environment that did not provide the fundamental freedoms of assembly, association, and expression necessary for a free and fair electoral competition. Authorities interfered with the media and civil society routinely, sometimes violently interrupted peaceful rallies and meetings before and occasionally during the 23-day campaign period, and jailed a number of opposition and youth activists. Neither the election administration nor the judiciary provided effective redress for appeals. Credible NGOs reported similar shortcomings.

On September 26, the government conducted a referendum on 29 proposed constitutional amendments, with voters having the option to vote on each proposed amendment separately. Amendments included provisions extending the presidential term from five to seven years, permitting the president to call early elections if twice in one-year legislators pass no-confidence measures in the government or reject presidential nominees to key government posts. The amendments also authorized the president to appoint one or more vice presidents, designating the senior vice president as first in the line of presidential succession in place of the prime minister, who is approved by parliament.

After polls closed, the Central Electoral Commission (CEC) announced that all 29 amendments were approved by 69.8 percent of registered voters. While observers from the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly reported the referendum was well executed, independent election observers who were unaccredited identified numerous instances of ballot stuffing, carousel voting, and other irregularities, many of which were captured on video. They also observed significantly lower turnout than was officially reported by the CEC.

Political Parties and Political Participation: While there were 50 registered political parties, the ruling Yeni Azerbaijan Party dominated the political system. Domestic observers reported that membership in the ruling party conferred advantages, such as preference for public positions. The Milli Mejlis has not included representatives of the country’s main opposition parties since 2010.

Opposition members were more likely than other citizens to experience official harassment and arbitrary arrest and detention. Members of the N!DA youth movement and the Youth Committee of the Popular Front Party were arrested and sentenced to administrative detention after making social media posts critical of the government. Authorities also attempted to smear the Popular Front Party by insinuating that the PFP was connected to extreme Shiism during the prosecution of the party’s deputy chairman, Fuad Gahramanli, for his support of the rights of Muslim Unity Movement members. Authorities similarly alleged ties to Sunni Gulenism when they arrested PFP chairman Ali Karimli’s assistant, Faig Amirli.

According to domestic NGOs’ joint list of political prisoners, several political detainees or prisoners were opposition party or movement members. At least 12 opposition members were considered to be political prisoners, such as REAL movement chairman Ilgar Mammadov, who was convicted in 2015 and sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment for allegedly inciting civil unrest (see section 5). At least 10 opposition figures were considered to be political detainees, including Popular Front deputy chairman Fuad Gahramanli, who was detained in December 2015 on charges that appeared connected with his exercise of freedom of expression (see section 2.a.).

Regional party members often had to conceal the purpose of their gatherings and held them in remote locations. Opposition party members reported police often dispersed small gatherings at teahouses and detained participants for questioning. Opposition parties continued to have difficulty renting office space, reportedly because landlords feared official retaliation; some parties operated from their leaders’ apartments.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and women and minorities did participate.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for conviction of corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. While the government made some progress combatting low-level corruption in provision of government services, high-level corruption remained a problem. Transparency International and other observers described corruption as widespread during the year.

There were continued reports that authorities targeted some whistleblowers seeking to combat government corruption. For example, activists stated former Zardab district prosecutor Rufat Safarov was framed for extortion after speaking out against corruption in the prosecution service. On September 8, he was convicted in the Lankaran Grave Crimes Court and sentenced to nine years in prison. Local NGOs considered him a political prisoner.

Corruption: There continued to be reports that the families of several high-level officials were beneficiaries of monopolies. Authorities initiated some criminal cases related to bribery and other forms of government corruption during the year, although few senior officials were prosecuted.

Following the October 2015 dismissal of the national security minister Eldar Mahmudov and other ministry officials, in December 2016 the Baku Court of Grave Crimes began a criminal trial against several former high-ranking officials of the now defunct National Security Ministry, accusing them of abuse of power, illegal inspection of businesses, extortion, bribery, and blackmail. The case’s investigation had led to the removal of officials from other ministries on related charges of corruption, including the former communications minister Ali Abbasov and nine ministry and public telecommunications employees.

There was widespread belief that a bribe could obtain a waiver of the military service obligation, which is universal for men between the ages of 18 and 35. Citizens also reported military personnel could buy assignments to easier military duties for a smaller bribe.

The president and Presidential Administration continued a well-publicized program to decrease corruption at lower levels of public administration. The State Agency for Public Service and Social Innovations (ASAN) service centers functioned as a one-stop location for government services, such as birth certificates and marriage licenses, from nine ministries.

The Prosecutor General’s Office includes an Anticorruption Department that took 201 cases involving 313 persons to court during 2016. The department also sought recovery of proceeds from crime, made recommendations, and issued mandatory instructions to eliminate conditions conducive to corruption.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires officials to submit reports on their financial situation, and the electoral code requires all candidates to submit financial statements. The process of submitting reports was complex and nontransparent, with several agencies and bodies designated as recipients, including the Anticorruption Commission, the Milli Mejlis, the Ministry of Justice, and the Central Election Commission, although their monitoring roles were not well understood. The public did not have access to the reports. The law contemplates administrative sanctions for noncompliance, but the sanctions were not imposed.

The law prohibits the public release of the names and capital investments of business owners. Critics claimed the amendments were an attempt to curb investigative journalism into government officials’ business interests and could decrease public access to information.

Public Access to Information: The law provides for public access to government information by individuals and organizations, but the government often did not allow it. Various ministries routinely denied requests, claiming not to possess information, although the ministries also claimed to have separate procedures on how to request information. Individuals have the right to appeal denials in court, but the courts generally upheld ministry decisions.

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

The government continued to limit severely the operations of domestic and international human rights groups during the year. Application of restrictive laws to constrain NGO activities, and other pressure continued at the high level of recent years. Leading human rights NGOs faced a hostile environment for investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. As a result, some activists left, others stayed outside the country, and a number of NGOs remained unable to operate. While authorities released at least four human rights defenders, their ability to work was constrained by the overall restrictions on NGO activities. Prominent human rights defender Aliabbas Rustamov remained incarcerated and was widely considered a political prisoner. In addition, authorities imposed restrictions such as travel bans on some of the defenders, including on prominent human rights lawyer Intigam Aliyev, and had not returned Aliyev’s case files or his organization’s office equipment as of year’s end.

While the government maintained ties with some human rights NGOs and responded to their inquiries, on numerous occasions it criticized and intimidated other human rights NGOs and activists. The Ministry of Justice continued to deny registration or placed burdensome administrative restrictions on human rights NGOs on arbitrary grounds. Activists also reported that authorities refused to register their organizations or grants, continued investigations into organizations’ activities, froze their personal and organizational bank accounts, and did not return previously seized office equipment. Some NGO representatives also reported that they or a family member suffered physical assault with impunity. Many representatives reported difficulty locating office or event space, particularly in hotels and especially for events occurring outside Baku.

Senior government officials engaged in ad hominem attacks on human rights activists. State-run media outlets accused Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Freedom House, and Reporters without Borders of supporting “antinational elements.” On multiple occasions, Presidential Administration officials accused local and foreign NGOs of representing foreign interests seeking to destabilize the country and, therefore, of subversive activity, naming specific democracy and human rights groups and activists who had been incarcerated.

During the year a government council provided 5.25 million manat ($2.9 million) to 520 NGOs. While observers considered many of the NGOs to be progovernment or politically neutral, some NGOs that criticized the government also received grants.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government viewed with suspicion statements from such organizations, claiming these international bodies had no right to act in ways authorities saw as interfering in the country’s internal affairs.

On September 22, the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst, stated, “civil society of Azerbaijan faces the worst situation since the independence of the country” and called on authorities to rethink their “punitive approach to civil society.” He also noted arrests and detentions of individuals prior to a peaceful protest on September 17 as well as administrative and legal pressure being applied to NGOs and called on the government to establish a dialogue with human rights defenders.

Following the government’s July 2015 closure of the OSCE’s Baku office, the OSCE remained unable to re-establish operations in the country.

Government Human Rights Bodies: Citizens may appeal violations committed by the state or by individuals to the Ombudsman’s Office of the Republic of Azerbaijan for human rights, Elmira Suleymanova, or the ombudsman for human rights for the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic, Ulkar Bayramova. The ombudsman may refuse to accept cases of abuse that are more than a year old, anonymous, or already being handled by the judiciary. Human rights NGOs criticized the Ombudsman’s Office as lacking independence and effectiveness in cases considered politically motivated.

The Ombudsman’s Office of the Republic of Azerbaijan reported receiving 18,740 complaints in 2016, an increase of 22.3 percent from 2014. The majority of complaints involved alleged violations of property rights, court provisions for the protection of rights and freedoms, social benefits, and labor rights. The Ombudsman’s Office reportedly resolved 63.6 percent of complaints accepted for consideration.

The Ombudsman’s Office of the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic reported receiving 37 complaints in 2016. The main subjects of the complaints were on labor and social protection rights. The Ombudsman’s Office stated that 10 complaints were resolved successfully and violations of the law were not identified in 27 cases.

Human rights offices in the Milli Mejlis and the Ministry of Justice also heard complaints, conducted investigations, and made recommendations to relevant government bodies.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is illegal and carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison. During the year the Ministry of Internal Affairs reported 31 cases of rape and 62 cases of violence of a sexual nature. The ministry stated that 54 persons had been brought to trial for these offenses.

The law establishes a framework for the investigation of domestic violence complaints, defines a process to issue restraining orders, and calls for the establishment of a shelter and rehabilitation center for survivors. Some critics of the domestic violence law asserted that a lack of clear implementing guidelines reduced its effectiveness. Female members of the Milli Mejlis and the head of the State Committee for Family, Women, and Children Affairs (SCFWCA) continued their activities against domestic violence. The committee conducted public awareness campaigns and worked to improve the socioeconomic situation of domestic violence survivors.

Women had limited recourse against assaults by their husbands or others, particularly in rural areas.

The government and an independent NGO each ran a shelter providing assistance and counseling to victims of trafficking and domestic violence.

Sexual Harassment: The government rarely enforced the prohibition of sexual harassment. The SCFWCA worked extensively on women’s problems, including organizing and hosting several conferences that raised awareness of sexual harassment and domestic violence.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and had access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. Contraception was widely available, but demographic surveys showed low levels of use. Patriarchal norms based on cultural, historical, and socioeconomic factors in some cases limited women’s reproductive rights.

Discrimination: Although women nominally enjoyed the same legal rights as men, societal discrimination was a problem. Traditional social norms and lagging economic development in rural regions restricted women’s roles in the economy, and there were reports women had difficulty exercising their legal rights due to gender discrimination. There was discrimination against women in employment (see section 7.d.). The SCFWCA conducted public-media campaigns to raise awareness of women’s rights.

Gender-biased Sex Selection: The gender ratio of children born in the country was 114 boys for 100 girls, according to the UN Population Fund. Local experts reported that gender-biased sex selection was widespread, predominantly in rural regions. The SCFWCA conducted seminars and public media campaigns to raise awareness of the problem.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship by birth within the country or from their parents. Registration at birth was routine for births in hospitals or clinics. Some children born at home (for example, to Romani or impoverished families) were not registered, and statelessness for those children was a problem. The Ministries of Internal Affairs and Justice registered undocumented children after identifying them as a population vulnerable to trafficking.

Education: While education was compulsory, free, and universal until the age of 17, large families in impoverished rural areas sometimes placed a higher priority on the education of boys and kept girls in the home to work. Some poor families forced their children to work or beg rather than attend school. Although the country scored well in adult literacy and achieving gender parity indexes in the UNESCO Education for All Global Monitoring Report, it fell either “very far from target” or “far from target” in preprimary, primary, and lower secondary education enrollment projections for the year.

Child Abuse: During the year the Ministry of Internal Affairs reported 179 cases of violence against minors, including six cases of rape involving underage victims, 47 cases of minors subjected to sexual acts, and two cases of forced prostitution. According to the ministry, 139 persons were brought to trial in connection with these cases.

Early and Forced Marriage: The law provides that a girl may marry at the age of 18 or at 17 with local authorities’ permission. The law further states that a boy may marry at the age of 18. The Caucasus Muslim Board defines 18 as the marriage age, but the fatwa failed to have much effect on religious marriage contracts (kabin or kabin-nama).

The criminal code establishes fines of 3,000 to 4,000 manat ($1,670 to $2,220) or imprisonment of up to four years for conviction of the crime of forced marriage with underage children. According to the UN special rapporteur, in 2014 forced marriages of underage girls remained a problem and continued to endanger their lives. A 2014 UN Population Fund report stated that 12 percent of girls were married by the age of 18.

NGOs reported that the number of early marriages continued to increase. Girls who married under the terms of religious marriage contracts were of particular concern, since these were not subject to government oversight and do not entitle the wife to recognition of her status in case of divorce. The Social Union of Solidarity among Women reported numerous instances in which men moved to Russia for work, leaving their underage wives in the country.

The SCFWCA conducted activities in IDP and refugee communities to prevent early marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits pornography; its production, distribution, or advertisement is punishable by three years’ imprisonment. Statutory rape is defined as “the sexual relations or other actions of a sexual nature, committed by a person who has reached 18, with a person who has not reached 16” and is punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment. Recruitment of minors for prostitution (involving a minor in immoral acts) is punishable by three to five years in prison, although the presence of aggravating factors, such as violence, could increase the potential sentence to five to eight years.

A Baku group working with street children reported that boys and girls at times engaged in prostitution and street begging.

Displaced Children: A large number of refugee and internally displaced children lived in substandard conditions. In some cases, these children were unable to attend school.

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 country’s Jewish community was estimated to be between 20,000 and 30,000 individuals. 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, air travel and other transportation, access to health care, or the provision of other state services, but the government did not enforce these provisions effectively. Employment discrimination remained a problem (see section 7.d.).

A common belief persisted that children with disabilities were ill and needed to be separated from other children and institutionalized, but specific educational facilities were available to children with some disabilities, for example, those with vision disabilities. Children with certain disabilities, including autism, received no education benefits or allowances. A local NGO reported there were approximately 60,000 children with disabilities in the country, of whom 6,000 to 10,000 had access to specialized educational facilities, while the rest were educated at home or not at all. The ability of children with disabilities to attend school was based on several factors, such as an evaluation by a medical committee, the type of disability, and the resources and physical structure of the family and the desired school. No laws mandate access to public or other buildings, information, or communications for persons with disabilities, and most buildings were not accessible.

Conditions in facilities for persons with mental and other disabilities varied. Qualified staff, equipment, and supplies at times were lacking.

The Ministries of Health and of Labor and Social Welfare are responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Citizens of Armenian descent reported discrimination in employment (see section 7.d.). Some groups reported sporadic incidents of discrimination, restrictions on their ability to teach in their native languages, and harassment by local authorities. These groups included Talysh in the south, Lezghi in the north, and Meskhetians and Kurds.

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

Antidiscrimination laws exist but do not specifically cover lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals.

Societal intolerance, violence, and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity remained a problem. A local NGO reported that there were numerous incidents of police brutality against individuals based on sexual orientation and noted that authorities did not investigate or punish those responsible. There were also reports of family-based violence against LGBTI individuals and hostile Facebook postings on personal online accounts. A local organization reported that in the first eight months of the year, one gay and two transgender persons were killed and one transvestite committed suicide. In October media reported an attack on a group of LGBTI persons in the Baku City metro.

LGBTI individuals refused to file formal complaints of discrimination or mistreatment with law enforcement bodies due to fear of social stigma or retaliation. An NGO reported police indifference to investigating crimes committed against the LGBTI community.

There was societal prejudice and employment discrimination (see section 7.d.) against LGBTI persons.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

In the country’s most recent demographic and health survey (2006), 80 percent of women and 92 percent of men reported discriminatory attitudes towards persons with HIV. The World Health Organization’s Review of the HIV Program in Azerbaijan (2014) noted that discriminatory attitudes and overall lack of information about HIV/AIDS remained high. The issue was addressed in the Azerbaijan National Strategic Plan for HIV 2016-2020.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for freedom of association, including the right to form and join independent labor unions. Uniformed military and police and managerial staff are prohibited from joining unions. While the law provides workers the right to bargain collectively, unions could not effectively negotiate wage levels and working conditions because government-appointed boards ran major state-owned firms and set wages for government employees.

The law provides most workers the right to conduct legal strikes. Categories of workers prohibited from striking include high-ranking executive and legislative officials; law enforcement officers; court employees; fire fighters; and health, electric power, water supply, telephone, railroad, and air traffic control workers.

The law prohibits discrimination against trade unions and labor activists and requires the reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. The law also prohibits retribution against strikers, such as dismissal or replacement. Striking workers who disrupt public transportation, however, could be sentenced to up to three years in prison.

The Azerbaijan Trade Unions Confederation (ATUC) was the only trade union confederation in the country. The trade union registration process was cumbersome and time consuming. Although ATUC registered as an independent organization, some workers considered it closely aligned with the government. ATUC reported that it represented 1.6 million members in 27 sectors at the start of the year. Regardless of whether a company was a member of ATUC, a labor inspector appointed under the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection could investigate labor-related grievances.

The government did not effectively enforce laws regarding freedom of association and collective bargaining. Administrative penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. Administrative and judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals. There were some restrictions, such as increased bureaucratic scrutiny on the right to form unions and conduct union activities. Most unions were not independent, and the overwhelming majority remained tightly linked to the government, with the exception of some journalists’ unions. Both local and international NGOs claimed that workers in most industries were largely unaware of their rights and afraid of retribution if they initiated complaints. This was especially true for workers in the public sector.

Collective bargaining agreements were often treated as formalities and not enforced. Although the labor law applies to all workers and enterprises, the government may negotiate bilateral agreements that effectively exempt multi-national enterprises from it. For example, production-sharing agreements between the government and multi-national energy enterprises did not provide for employee participation in a trade union. While the law prohibits employers from impeding the collective bargaining process, employers engaged in activities that undercut the effectiveness of collective bargaining, such as subcontracting and using short-term employment agreements.

The state oil company’s 65,200 workers were required to belong to the Union of Oil and Gas Industry Workers, and authorities automatically deducted union dues (2 percent of each worker’s salary) from paychecks. Many of the state-owned enterprises that dominated the formal economy withheld union dues from workers’ pay but did not deliver the dues to the unions. Employers officially withheld a quarter of the dues collected for the oil workers’ union for “administrative costs” associated with running the union. A complete lack of transparency made it impossible to determine exactly how the union spent the dues. Unions and their members had no means of investigating the matter.

On April 2, a group of laborers of the Baku-based Azimport company protested the nonpayment of salaries. Protesters reported that the company employed them for more than a year to overhaul buildings and facilities in the city and failed to pay salaries. Sporadic complaints of nonpayment of salaries often became impromptu small-scale protests throughout the country. For example, employees of Azerinsaatservis LLC frequently complained to media about nonpayment of salaries.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, except in circumstances of war or in the execution of a court decision under the supervision of a government agency. The government did not effectively enforce applicable laws. Resources and inspections were inadequate. Penalties for violations, including imprisonment, were generally sufficient to deter violations. A report of the International Labor Organization on the application of international labor standards urged the government to stop the use of compulsory labor as punishment against those expressing their political or ideological views.

During the year authorities directed many government employees outside of the capital to participate in the autumn cotton harvest. Migrant workers were at times subjected to conditions of forced labor in the construction industry. Forced begging by children was a problem, and domestic servitude was an emerging problem. Men and boys at times were subjected to conditions of forced labor within the country, for example, in construction (see section 7.c.). The Ministry of Internal Affairs reported that it identified five cases of forced labor in the first nine months of the year. During the year the antitrafficking department in the Ministry of Internal Affairs inspected construction and agricultural sector sites but did not identify any victims of labor trafficking.

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 minimum age for employment depends on the type of work. In most cases the law permits children to work from the age of 15; children who are 14 may work in family businesses or, with parental consent, in daytime after-school jobs that pose no hazard to their health. Children under the age of 16 may not work more than 24 hours per week; children who are 16 or 17 may not work more than 36 hours per week. The law prohibits employing children under the age of 18 in difficult and hazardous conditions and identifies specific work and industries in which children are prohibited, including work with toxic substances and underground, at night, in mines, and in nightclubs, bars, casinos, or other businesses that serve alcohol.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Security is responsible for enforcing child labor laws. The law provides for a fine or imprisonment as punishment for employing individuals without an effective employment agreement, providing protection to children working without a contract. The SCFWCA trained regional Labor Inspection Service representatives, police inspectors, and local authorities in preventing child labor exploitation. Several labor NGOs not designated as labor organizations focused on child labor in the industrial and agricultural sectors.

Government enforcement of the laws prohibiting child labor and setting a minimum age for employment was inconsistent. Resources and inspections were inadequate and penalties for violations, including fines, did not always deter violations. Although the ministry conducted inspections during the year, a local NGO reported there was a need for increased monitoring.

There were few complaints of abuses of child labor laws during the year, although there were anecdotal reports of child labor in agriculture, forced begging, and street work and that children were subjected to commercial sexual exploitation (see section 6, Children).

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

The labor code prohibits discrimination with respect to employment and occupation on the basis of citizenship, race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, social origin, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity, age, language, affiliation with trade unions or other public associations, or professional standing. The law does not specifically prohibit discrimination based on HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases, but there were no media or NGO reports of such discrimination. The government did not always enforce these laws effectively, and employment discrimination remained a problem.

Individuals under the implied protection of law against discrimination reported the law was not applied. Employers generally hesitated to hire persons with disabilities; citizens of Armenian descent reported discrimination in employment as well. Discrimination in employment and occupation also occurred with respect to sexual orientation. LGBTI individuals reported employers found other reasons to dismiss them because they could not legally dismiss someone because of their sexual orientation.

The law excludes women from certain occupations with inherently dangerous conditions, such as working underground in mines. Women were underrepresented in high-level jobs, including top business positions. Traditional practices limited women’s access to economic opportunities in rural areas.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

As of August 21, the national minimum wage was 105 manat ($58) per month. The average poverty line was 136 manat ($76) per month, with 146 manat ($81) the poverty level for able-bodied persons, 115 manat ($64) for pensioners, and 117 manat ($65) for children. The law requires equal pay for equal work regardless of gender, age, or other classification.

The law provides for a 40-hour workweek; the maximum daily work shift is 12 hours. Workers in hazardous occupations may not work more than 36 hours per week. The law requires lunch and rest periods that are determined by labor contracts and collective agreements. Information was not available on whether local companies provided the legally required premium compensation for overtime, although international companies generally did. There is no prohibition on excessive compulsory overtime. The law provides equal rights to foreign and domestic workers.

Ministry of Labor and ATUC officials inspected worksites for compliance, particularly in the construction, energy, and oil sectors, and recommended improvements in labor conditions to employers. Most individuals worked part time in the informal sector (unregistered businesses), which accounted for between 10 and 30 percent of the economy, and where the government did not enforce contracts or labor laws.

The government did not effectively enforce the laws on acceptable conditions of work. Local human rights groups, including the Oil Workers Rights Defense Council, an NGO dedicated to protecting worker rights in the petroleum sector, maintained that employers, particularly foreign oil companies, did not always treat foreign and domestic workers equally. Domestic employees of foreign oil companies reportedly often received lower pay and worked without contracts or health care. Some domestic employees of foreign oil companies reported violations of the national labor code, noting they were unable to receive overtime payments or vacations.

Inspection of working conditions by the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection’s labor inspectorate was weak and ineffective. The ministry’s 267 labor inspectors were insufficient to monitor worksites, and penalties for violations were seldom enforced. Although the law sets health and safety standards, employers widely ignored them. Violations of acceptable conditions of work in the construction and oil and gas sectors remained problematic. In December 2015 a total of 31 oil workers died in a Caspian Sea deep-water oil rig fire started by a gas pipeline explosion that burned for several weeks. The Prosecutor General’s Office opened a criminal case but did not release its findings to the public. The Oil Workers Rights Protection Organization (OWRPO) reported that the state oil company managers broke safety laws for the sake of continuing production and that workers did not have life jackets when they attempted to evacuate the platform. Families of missing oil workers complained about mistreatment by state officials when they tried to obtain information following the accident. A special commission led by Prime Minister Artur Rasizade was tasked to investigate the incident. The commission’s report was presented to the Presidential Administration but not made public.

On December 15, strong winds destroyed part of pier related to oil operations, resulting in the death of 10 workers. The OWRPO stated the infrastructure was old and had not been properly maintained.

During the year there were reports of Azerbaijan Airlines workers forced to work longer hours for less pay. There were also reports that senior executives required airline crews to forgo hotel rooms for rest and instead remain onboard their planes.

ATUC reported good cooperation with Russian and Georgian authorities on measures to protect Russian and Georgian migrant workers’ rights and the safety of working conditions. The Ministries of Labor and Internal Affairs reportedly monitored the labor rights of other workers in hazardous sectors and in the informal economy. Workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety, but there is no legal protection of their employment if they did so.

Bahrain

Executive Summary

Bahrain is a constitutional monarchy. King Hamad Bin Isa al-Khalifa, the head of state, appoints the cabinet, consisting of 26 ministers; 12 of those ministers were members of the al-Khalifa ruling family. Parliament consists of an appointed upper house, the Shura (Consultative) Council, and the elected Council of Representatives, each with 40 seats. Approximately 52 percent of eligible voters participated in parliamentary elections held in 2014. Turnout was significantly lower in opposition districts, due in part to a decision to boycott the elections by the main opposition political societies and a lack of confidence among opposition communities in the electoral system. The government did not permit international election monitors. Domestic monitors generally concluded the authorities administered the elections without significant procedural irregularities. There were, however, broader concerns regarding voting-district boundaries.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

The most serious human rights problems included limitations on citizens’ ability to choose their government peacefully, including due to the government’s ability to close arbitrarily or create registration difficulties for organized political societies; restrictions on free expression, assembly, and association; and lack of due process in the legal system, including arrests without warrants or charges and lengthy pretrial detentions–used especially in cases against opposition members and political or human rights activists. Beginning in June government action against the political opposition and civil society worsened these problems.

Other significant human rights problems included lack of judicial accountability for security officers accused by the government and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) of committing human rights violations; defendants’ lack of access to attorneys and ability to challenge evidence; prison overcrowding; violations of privacy; and other restrictions on civil liberties, including freedom of press and association. Societal discrimination continued against the Shia population, as did other forms of discrimination based on gender, religion, and nationality. The government imposed travel bans on political activists to prevent travel to participate in international fora. The government maintained the revocation of citizenship for 103 individuals whose citizenship it revoked in previous years, and it revoked citizenship from others during the year–including prominent Shia cleric Sheikh Isa Qassim, whose citizenship was revoked on June 20. There were reports of domestic violence against women and children. Despite government efforts at reform, the rights of foreign workers, particularly domestic workers, continued to be restricted, leaving them vulnerable to labor abuses and human trafficking.

Beginning in 2011 the country experienced a sustained period of unrest, including mass protests calling for political reform. The government has taken steps since then to implement recommendations by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), which the government tasked to review widespread allegations of police brutality, torture, arrests, disappearances, and violence by both security forces and demonstrators that year. International and local human rights organizations viewed the BICI report as the standard against which to measure the country’s human rights reforms and noted that the government had not fully implemented the report’s recommendations, particularly those involving reconciliation, safeguarding freedom of expression, and accountability for 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 some reports government security forces committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

The Ministry of Interior Ombudsman’s annual report detailed its investigations into seven detainee deaths that occurred from May 2015 to May. Investigators determined one prisoner died of a drug overdose, one committed suicide, four died from complications to preexisting medical conditions, and one died from injuries sustained when police attempted to arrest the individual. The government’s investigations into the death of 17-year-old Ali Abdulghani during arrest and 35-year-old Hassan al-Hayki in police custody continued as of year’s end (see section 1.c.).

Violent extremists perpetrated dozens of attacks against security officers and government officials during the year, killing one and injuring other security officers. On June 30, a remotely detonated bomb planted on Sitra highway near the village of Eker killed a woman and injured three of her children; no group claimed responsibility for the bombing.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

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

The constitution prohibits “harm[ing] an accused person physically or mentally.” Some domestic and international human rights organizations, as well as former detainees, reported instances of torture, abuse, and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. Human rights groups reported prisoner accounts alleging security officials beat them, placed them in stress positions, humiliated them in front of other prisoners, deprived them of sleep and prayers, insulted them based on their religious beliefs, and subjected them to sexual harassment, including removal of clothing and threat of rape. Officials reportedly kept some detainees in solitary confinement, sometimes in extreme temperatures; poured cold water on them; and forced them to stand for long periods. Human rights organizations also reported authorities prevented some detainees from using toilet facilities, withheld food and drink, and denied medical treatment to injured or ill detainees and prisoners. Detainees also reported that security forces committed some abuses during searches, arrests at private residences, and during transportation. Detainees reported intimidation took place at the Ministry of Interior’s Criminal Investigation Directorate (CID). In a report based on an unannounced visit to Jaw Prison in November 2015, the Commission on Prisoner and Detainee Rights (PDRC) confirmed allegations that prison staff had physically assaulted prisoners. The ministry denied torture and abuse were systemic. The government reported it had equipped all interrogation rooms, including those at local police stations and the CID, with closed-circuit television cameras monitored at all times. The PDRC repeatedly noted in reports released 2014-16 that many facilities had areas without video monitoring.

Some detainees at the CID reported security officials used physical and psychological mistreatment to extract confessions and statements under duress or to inflict retribution and punishment. The PDRC made an unannounced visit to the CID in 2014 and found that officials kept some prisoners handcuffed for the duration of their time at the facility, provided food at irregular times, and restricted prisoner access to a single toilet. It has not been made public whether the PDRC visited the facility since 2014.

The Ministry of Interior’s ombudsman reported it received 68 complaints against the CID and 65 against Jaw Prison from May 2015 to May. The ombudsman referred 28 of the cases against the CID and 23 against Jaw Prison for criminal or disciplinary procedures; 37 additional cases were still under investigation.

Human rights groups reported authorities subjected children, sometimes under the age of 15, to various forms of mistreatment, including beating, slapping, kicking, and verbal abuse. The age of majority in the country is 15 years old, and the law considers all persons over this age to be adults. Authorities held detainees under the age of 15 at the Juvenile Care Center. The Ministry of Interior reported police arrested 31 children under the age of 15 from January to September; as of September there was one child at the Juvenile Care Center awaiting trial and 11 more serving their sentences. The PDRC visited the CID in 2014 and found that staff was not trained to treat special needs suspects or to treat those between the ages of 15 and 18 differently than adults.

On April 4, 17-year-old Ali Abdulghani died in the hospital from head injuries sustained during his March 31 arrest in the village of Shahrakkan. The government reported that police pursued Abdulghani based on a five-year sentence he had received in his absence. During the pursuit the government claimed Abdulghani entered a building under construction and either fell or jumped to his death. Critics disputed the government’s version of events and alleged a police car had intentionally hit Abdulghani. According to press reports, the ombudsman and Special Investigative Unit (SIU) investigated and determined police acted appropriately.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Human rights activists reported conditions in prisons and detention centers were harsh and sometimes life threatening due to overcrowding, physical abuse, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care. Detainees and human rights organizations also reported abuse in official pretrial detention centers, as well as in Jaw Prison and Dry Dock Detention Center.

Physical Conditions: Human rights organizations and prisoners reported gross overcrowding in detention facilities, which placed a strain on administration and led to a high prisoner-to-staff ratio. Observers reported that from 2013 to year’s end, the Jaw Prison population increased, perhaps to as high as 3,600 at times, while the ombudsman reported the number of prison guards remained the same, at 23 for the day shift. In October 2015 the Ministry of Interior reported it had opened four new buildings at Jaw Prison during the year and transferred inmates under the age of 21 to new buildings for convicted youth at the Dry Dock facility. PDRC reports from 2015 detailed concerns about prison conditions including overcrowding, unsanitary conditions, and lack of access to basic supplies. Human rights organizations noted their concern about the health of prisoners with chronic medical conditions, including cancer.

Social media estimated there were up to 400 school-age youth in prison. The ministry held detainees under the age of 15 at the Juvenile Care Center, which, according to a PDRC report, was under capacity at the time of the commission’s unannounced visit in January 2015. As of June 2015, convicted males between the ages of 15 and 21 were housed in newly constructed buildings located on the grounds of the Dry Dock facility, but they were kept separate from pretrial detainees. The ministry separated prisoners under the age of 18 from those between the ages of 18 and 21. Upon reaching the age of 21, prisoners are transferred to the general population at Jaw Prison. In September 2015 the Royal Charity Organization opened a branch of the Nasser Center for Rehabilitation and Vocational Training at Jaw Prison with space for 50 inmates to participate; this program continued to operate.

The ombudsman’s annual report detailed its investigations into the seven detainee deaths that occurred from May 2015 to May. Investigators determined one prisoner died of a drug overdose, one committed suicide, four died from complications to preexisting medical conditions, and one died from injuries sustained when police attempted to arrest the individual.

The ombudsman and the SIU also reported their investigations into the July 31 death of 35-year-old Hassan al-Hayki. Authorities announced he died of a heart attack shortly after arriving at a hospital from the Dry Dock pretrial detention facility; opposition activists alleged al-Hayki was mistreated following his arrest. Al-Hayki had been in custody since his July 13 arrest on suspicion of involvement in the June 30 bombing in Eker (see section 1.a.).

Although the government reported potable water was available for all detainees, and there were water coolers in all detention centers, there were reports of lack of access to water for drinking and washing, lack of shower facilities and soap, and unhygienic toilet facilities. There were also reports of air conditioning units not running in extremely hot weather. Human rights organizations reported food was adequate for most prisoners; however, those prisoners needing dietary accommodations due to medical conditions had difficulty receiving special dietary provisions. Other detainees reported physical abuse, verbal assault, and threats of sexual assault, as well as denial of sleep, prayer, and bathroom access.

There were no accommodations for persons with disabilities in prisons and detention centers. Human rights groups reported prisoners who became physically or mentally disabled while in custody relied on fellow prisoners for their care.

Prisoners needing medical attention reported difficulty in alerting guards to their needs, and medical clinics at the facilities were understaffed. Prisoners with chronic medical conditions including sickle-cell anemia, diabetes, and gout had difficulty accessing regular medical care. Those needing transportation to outside medical facilities reported delays in scheduling offsite treatment, especially those needing follow-up care for complex or chronic conditions. The PDRC noted numerous deficiencies with health services at most facilities. There were outbreaks of communicable diseases that spread quickly and severely, due to overcrowded conditions, lack of sanitation, and understaffed medical clinics.

In March 2015 hundreds of prisoners at Jaw Prison participated in a riot that caused significant damage to the prison and injured 245 inmates and police. The prison kept some prisoners in tents in the yard for up to three months after the riot, with limited access to showers. There were also reports authorities partially shaved prisoners’ heads to humiliate them, placed them in stress positions, made them mimic animals, and beat them. Detainees reported police who abused them self-identified as Jordanian Special Police Force (known as the Darak). Prosecutors charged more than 50 inmates in connection with the rioting. Although authorities reported the SIU continued to investigate alleged abuse, as of years’ end, it had not brought any disciplinary or criminal proceedings against police or security forces allegedly involved in abuses during and after the riot.

Administration: The Ministry of Interior reported authorities registered the location of detainees from the moment of arrest. Authorities generally allowed prisoners to file complaints to judicial authorities without censorship, and officials from the ombudsman were available to respond to complaints. Human rights groups, however, reported some prisoners faced reprisals from prison staff for lodging complaints. Prisoners had access to visitors at least once a month, often more frequently, and authorities permitted them 30 minutes of calls each week, although authorities reportedly denied prisoners communication with lawyers and family members at times. Authorities generally permitted prisoners to practice their religion, but there were reports authorities sometimes denied prisoners access to religious services and prayer time.

Independent Monitoring: Authorities permitted access for the quasi-governmental National Institution for Human Rights (NIHR) and PDRC, as well as the government’s ombudsman and SIU. Some local and international human rights organizations expressed concern regarding the degree of independence of the domestic groups.

The SIU, formed in 2012, acted as a mechanism for the public to complain about prisoner mistreatment or conditions in prisons and detention facilities. The SIU reported it received 137 complaints through August, five of which it referred to court; the others remained under investigation. The ombudsman began monitoring prisons and detention centers in 2013, conducting announced and unannounced visits and accepting written and in-person complaints. From May 2015 until May, the office received 305 complaints and an additional 687 requests for assistance. The ombudsman had complaint boxes at most Ministry of Interior detention facilities and staffed a permanent office at Jaw Prison to receive complaints. The ombudsman reported it was able to get evidence preserved on more than one occasion after receiving a complaint about mistreatment.

In December 2015 the NIHR published its third annual report, which covered 2015. The NIHR reported it received 88 complaints representing 119 complainants for 2015 and an additional 124 requests for assistance and legal advice. Separately, the NIHR reported it visited Jaw prison and interviewed more than 40 prisoners, and it had followed complaints from inmates’ families regarding alleged denial of medical treatment.

From the end of 2014 throughout the year, the PDRC conducted unannounced visits at a number of detention facilities, including Jaw Prison, the CID, Juvenile Care Center, Women’s Detention Center, Women’s Reformation and Rehabilitation Center, and four police directorates; it posted reports on these facilities on its website.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, although local and international human rights groups continued to report the practice of detaining individuals without notifying them at the time of the arrest of the legal authority of the person conducting the arrest, the reasons for the arrest, and the charges against them. Human rights groups claimed the Ministry of Interior conducted many arrests at private residences without either presenting an arrest warrant or presenting an inaccurate or incomplete one, but government sources disputed these claims.

In 2013 the king tightened penalties for those involved in terrorism, banned demonstrations in the capital, allowed for legal action against political associations accused of inciting and supporting violence and terrorism, and granted security services increased powers to protect society from terrorism, including the ability to declare a State of National Safety. Human rights groups asserted the 2013 laws conflicted with protections against arbitrary arrest and detention, including for freedom of speech.

In 2014 authorities detained leading opposition society Wifaq secretary general Sheikh Ali Salman over concerns about political statements. Authorities charged him with four crimes: inciting a change of government by force, inciting hatred of a segment of society, inciting others to break the law, and insulting the Ministry of Interior. In June 2015 a criminal court acquitted Salman of inciting political change by force but sentenced him to four years on the other three charges. Both Salman and the prosecution appealed. On May 30, the appeals court convicted him on all charges, including the one on which the lower court had acquitted him, and sentenced him to nine years in prison. In October the Court of Cassation threw out the appeals court decision and sent the case back to have another appeals court review the case. At that review on December 12, the appeals court reinstated Salman’s nine-year sentence; Salman remained in custody at Jaw Prison at year’s end. His legal team claimed the prosecution entered falsified evidence, including altered transcripts of speeches, and that prison officials had prevented the team from passing legal documents to Salman, complicating their ability to mount a defense. Evidence presented against Salman in court consisted solely of public statements he made in sermons or speeches. In November 2015 the UN working group on arbitrary detention determined that authorities had arbitrarily detained Salman. On September 15, police questioned Salman at the CID in connection with a letter submitted with his name to the UN high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein (see section 5), but as of year’s end, no new charges have been filed.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Ministry of Interior is responsible for internal security and controls the public security force and specialized security units responsible for maintaining internal order. The coast guard is also under its jurisdiction. The Bahrain Defense Force is primarily responsible for defending against external threats, while the Bahrain National Guard is responsible for both external and internal threats. Security forces effectively maintained order and generally responded in a measured way to violent attacks.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over security forces during the year, although impunity remained a problem. In 2012 the government established the SIU to investigate and refer cases of security force misconduct to the appropriate court, which includes civilian criminal courts, the ministry’s Military Court, and administrative courts. As of August the SIU reported it had received and investigated 137 new complaints since the beginning of the year. The SIU submitted five of these cases, with a total of 11 defendants, to civilian criminal court, and had one officer and two enlisted men convicted, with one sentenced to a year in prison. The SIU also referred some cases to the ministry’s administrative and military courts. As of September the ministry reported 41 police officers were in jail, another nine were in detention awaiting trial, and 190 had received reprimands. The ministry generally did not release the names of officers convicted, demoted, reassigned, or fired for misconduct. Many human rights groups asserted that investigations into police abuse were slow and ineffective.

Unidentified individuals conducted numerous attacks aimed at security personal during the year, which the perpetrators often filmed and posted to social media. These videos showed attackers using Molotov cocktails and other improvised weapons against police patrols and stations, including in close proximity to bystanders. Police avoided responding with deadly force.

In 2012 the king ordered the creation of the Bahrain National Security Agency’s (BNSA) Office for the Inspector General and the Ministry of Interior Ombudsman. While both offices were responsible for addressing cases of mistreatment and abuse, there was little public information available about the BNSA inspector general’s activities.

In 2012 the minister of interior approved a new police code of conduct that requires officers to abide by 10 principles, including limited use of force and zero tolerance for torture and mistreatment. According to government officials, the code forbids the use of force “except when absolutely necessary.” The Royal Police Academy included the code in its curriculum in 2012 and provided new recruits with copies in English and Arabic. The ministry reported it took disciplinary action against officers who did not comply with the code.

The Ombudsman maintained a hotline for citizens to report police abuse, but human rights groups reported many citizens hesitated to report abuse for fear of retribution. As of September, the police hotline had received 260 calls. The Ombudsman reported a reduction in the number of complaints it received about the riot police from 15 in the 2014-2015 reporting cycle to two in 2015-2016.

Local activists and human rights organizations claimed that the demographics of the police and security forces were not representative of Bahrain’s communities. To address these concerns and in response to a BICI recommendation on integrating Shia citizens into the police force, the government established the community police program, which recruits individuals to work in their own neighborhoods, in 2012. In 2012, the government graduated 577 new police from its academy and said that the majority would be “working in the community.” In October 2015, the government reported 504 community police officers graduated from the same community policing program in 2015, bringing the total number of community police that have graduated from the Royal Police Academy to 1500. As of September, the government reported it had not hired any additional community police in 2016, leaving the total number of community police at approximately 1,400, of which 320 were women. Community members have confirmed that Shia have been among those integrated into the community police and the police cadets, but not in significant numbers; information is not available on recruitment rates of Shia into other security forces.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law stipulates law enforcement officials may arrest individuals without a warrant only if they are caught committing certain crimes for which there is sufficient evidence to press charges. Local activists reported police sometimes made arrests without presenting a warrant.

By law the arresting authority must interrogate an arrested individual immediately and cannot detain the person for more than 48 hours, after which authorities must either release the detainee or transfer the person to the Public Prosecution Office (PPO) for further questioning. The PPO is required to question the detainee within 24 hours, and the detainee has the right to legal counsel during questioning. To hold the detainee longer, the PPO must issue a formal detention order based on the charges against the detainee. Authorities may extend detention up to seven days for further questioning. If authorities require any further extension, they must bring the detainee before a judge, who may authorize a further extension not exceeding 45 days. The High Criminal Court must authorize any extensions beyond that period and any renewals at 45-day intervals. In the case of alleged acts of terror, law enforcement officials may detain individuals for questioning for an initial five days, which the PPO can extend up to 60 days. A functioning system of bail provides maximum and minimum bail amounts based on the charges; however, judges often denied bail requests without explanation, even in nonviolent cases. The bail law allows the presiding judge to determine the amount within these parameters on a case-by-case basis.

Attorneys reported difficulty in gaining access to their clients in a timely manner through all stages of the legal process, including reports defense attorneys had difficulty registering themselves as a detainee’s legal representative because of arbitrary bureaucratic hurdles, had their qualifications arbitrarily questioned by police, were not notified of their client’s location in custody, were directed to seek a court order to meet with their client, were prohibited from meeting their client in private, were prohibited from passing legal documents to their client, were told at short notice when their client would be questioned by the PPO, were not allowed to be present during questioning by police or prosecutor, and were not provided access or allowed to consult with their clients in court. While the state provides counsel to indigent detainees, there were reports detainees never met with their state appointed attorney before or during their trial.

According to reports by local and international human rights groups, authorities held some detainees for weeks with limited access to outside resources. The government sometimes withheld information from detainees and their families about the detainees’ whereabouts for days.

On October 24, Sayed Alawi Hussain Alawi from Diraz went missing, and his family filed a missing person’s report with police that night. The family then received a call from an individual who identified himself as being from the CID, who said police had arrested Alawi. According to social media reports, police prevented Alawi’s lawyer from meeting with his client and prevented Alawi from calling his family until December 1.

In August 2015 authorities arrested former opposition member of parliament, Sheikh Hassan Isa, at the airport upon his return from abroad. According to Wifaq CID investigators prohibited Isa’s lawyers from speaking to him and from being present during his questioning. Authorities allowed Isa to meet with his lawyers only after the lawyers filed multiple requests. As of year’s end, his trial continued.

Arbitrary Arrest: Human rights groups reported the Ministry of Interior sometimes arrested individuals for activities such as calling for and attending protests and demonstrations, expressing their opinion either in public or on social media, and associating with persons of interest to law enforcement. Some of these detained individuals reported arresting forces did not show them warrants. Authorities arrested dozens of participants in a nonviolent, long-term sit-in protesting the revocation of Sheikh Isa Qassim’s citizenship outside of his residence in Diraz (see Section 2.b., Freedom of Assembly). The government maintained that police only summoned, questioned, and detained individuals who had broken the law.

In July 2015 police summoned former president of the capital governorate’s municipal council, Majeed Milad, to the Houra Police Station and arrested him. A criminal court found him guilty of “incitement of hatred against the regime,” during a speech he gave at a Ramadan gathering, and gave him a one-year sentence. Authorities released him from prison on July 1. (See section 2.a, for information about the arrest and detention of human rights activist Nabeel Rajab.)

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, although local and international human rights groups continued to report the practice of detaining individuals without notifying them at the time of the arrest of the legal authority of the person conducting the arrest, the reasons for the arrest, and the charges against them. There were reports that authorities sometimes delayed or limited an individual’s access to an attorney. There were no reports of courts finding individuals to have been unlawfully detained and recommending compensation.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, the judiciary remained vulnerable to political pressures, especially in cases involving political opposition figures. The judiciary has two branches: the civil law courts deal with all commercial, civil, and criminal cases, including family issues of non-Muslims, and the sharia law courts handle personal status cases of Muslims. The government subdivided the sharia courts into Sunni and Shia sharia courts. Many of the country’s approximately 160 judges were foreign judges serving on limited-term contracts (which are subject to government approval for renewal and residence in the country). The Supreme Judicial Council is responsible for supervising the work of the courts, including judges, and the PPO.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution presumes defendants are innocent until proven guilty. By law authorities should inform detainees of the charges against them upon arrest. Civil and criminal trial procedures provide for a public trial. A panel of three judges makes the rulings. Defendants have the right to consultation with an attorney of their choice within 48 hours (unless the government charges them pursuant to counterterrorism legislation); however, there are reports that defendants and their lawyers have had difficulty getting police, public prosecutor, and courts to recognize or register representation by an attorney. The government provides counsel at public expense to indigent defendants. No law governs defendants’ access to government-held evidence, and such evidence was available at the discretion of the court. Defendants have the right to present witnesses and evidence on their behalf. While defendants have the right to question witnesses against them, the judges can declare the questions to be irrelevant and prohibit a line of questioning without providing reasoning. Prosecutors rarely present evidence orally in court but provide it in written and digital formats to judges in their chambers. In criminal trials prosecutors and judges walk into the courtroom together. Defendants are not compelled to testify or to confess guilt and have the right to appeal. The government frequently tries defendants in their absence.

Family status law varied according to Shia or Sunni interpretations of Islamic law, especially for women (see section 6).

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

The government denied holding any political prisoners, although it acknowledged holding several dozen high-profile individuals, including leaders or prominent members of political societies and organizations and others who were publically critical of government institutions or government actions prior to their arrests. Human rights organizations and opposition groups asserted there were more than 4,000 political prisoners in the country, but this number could not be confirmed. According to the PDRC, the total number of individuals in custody charged with all types of crimes is 3,700 and includes 700 foreigners. Authorities held some high-profile prisoners separately from the general prison population. Activist Nabeel Rajab remained in detention as the only prisoner held at the East Riffa Police Station, and human rights organizations raised concerns that he was not consistently provided prompt access to medical care (see section 2.a.). There were some reports authorities held political prisoners in better conditions compared to other prisoners and detainees.

In March 2015 the Ministry of Interior arrested Fadhel Abbas, secretary general of the Democratic Unity Gathering Society (al-Wahdawi), in relation to a tweet sent by the al-Wahdawi political society that criticized the country’s military involvement in Yemen. A criminal court sentenced him in June 2015 to five years in prison for “spreading false information that could harm the military operations of Bahrain and its allies.” On October 27, an appeals court reduced his sentence to three years, and at year’s end he remained in Jaw Prison.

Authorities released several prominent politicians and activists arrested in 2011 from prison at the completion of their prescribed sentences, including Mohammed Ali al-Mahfoodh on April 30, Mahdi Abu Deeb on April 1, and Salah al-Khawaja on March 19. In June 2015 authorities pardoned and released former Wa’ad secretary general Ibrahim Sharif, but police rearrested him on new charges 23 days later, and he spent another year in jail (see section 2.a.).

(See section 1.d. for information about the arrest and detention of Wifaq secretary general Sheikh Ali Salman. See section 2.a. for more information about the arrest and detention of activists Nabeel Rajab and Zainab al-Khawaja.)

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Citizens may bring civil suits before a court seeking cessation of or damages for some types of human rights violations. In many such situations, however, the law prevents citizens from filing civil suits against security agencies.

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

Although the constitution prohibits such actions, the government violated prohibitions against interference with privacy, family, home, or correspondence. Human rights organizations reported security forces sometimes entered homes without authorization and destroyed or confiscated personal property. The law requires the government to obtain a court order before monitoring telephone calls, e-mail, and personal correspondence. Many citizens and human rights organizations believed police used informer networks, including ones that targeted or used children under 18 years of age.

Reports also indicated the government used computer programs to spy on political activists and members of the opposition inside and outside the country.

According to local and international human rights groups, security officials sometimes threatened detainees’ family members with reprisals for the detainee’s unwillingness to cooperate during interrogations and refusal to sign confession statements.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, “provided that the fundamental beliefs of Islamic doctrine are not infringed, the unity of the people is not prejudiced, and discord and sectarianism are not aroused.” In practice the government limited freedom of speech and press through active prosecution of individuals under libel, slander, and national security laws that targeted civilian and professional journalists and by passing legislation to limit speech in print and social media.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: The law forbids any speech that infringes on public order or morals. While individuals openly expressed critical opinions regarding domestic political and social issues in private settings, those who publicly expressed such opinions often faced repercussions. During the year the government took steps against what it considered acts of civil disobedience, which included critical speech, under charges of unlawful assembly or “insulting the king.” A 2014 amendment to the penal code increased penalties to no less than one year and no more than seven years in prison, plus a fine, for anyone who “offends the monarch of the Kingdom of Bahrain, the flag, or the national emblem.”

On June 13, police arrested Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) president Nabeel Rajab for tweets released in April 2015 criticizing Saudi-led coalition’s military operations in Yemen and treatment of prisoners in Jaw Prison. Police initially arrested Rajab on these charges in April 2015 but released him from prison in July 2015 when he received a pardon in connection with a previous arrest. Rajab’s trial on the latter charges began in July and continued as of year’s end. At his hearing on December 28, the judge ordered Rajab released on bail; however, on the same day, the public prosecutor announced that Rajab would remain in detention under investigation on separate charges stemming from “publishing false news and statements” for statements in a New York Times op-ed published in Rajab’s name on September 4 and another article attributed to Rajab that was published in the French newspaper Le Monde on December 19. That case had not gone to trial as of year’s end, and Rajab remained in custody.

In July 2015 authorities arrested Ibrahim Sharif after he delivered a speech calling for reforms and making reference to the “embers of revolution.” This arrest came 23 days after the king pardoned him for a conviction stemming from involvement in the 2011 unrest, for which Sharif had spent more than four years in prison. In the 2015 case, the prosecutor charged Sharif with “promoting political change through forceful means.” On February 24, a criminal court found him guilty of “inciting hatred against the regime” and sentenced him to one year in jail. The authorities released him on July 11. On November 7, the appeals process concluded with no additional jail time for Sharif, although a travel ban remained in effect at year’s end. Authorities also brought charges of “inciting hatred and contempt against the regime” against Sharif on November 13 after he gave an interview to the Associated Press in which he said that the November visit by United Kingdom Prince Charles and wife Camilla could “whitewash” the ongoing crackdown on dissent. Sharif was not taken into police custody, and the charges were dropped on November 24.

On June 21, an appeals court upheld a one-year jail sentence against women’s rights activist Ghada Jamsheer in conjunction with a series of tweets about corruption at a local hospital and a physical altercation that happened when she was in pretrial detention in 2014. Authorities arrested Jamsheer on August 15 when she returned from a trip abroad. She was released from prison on December 14 under the agreement that she would perform community service in lieu of serving the remaining time on her sentence.

On February 2, an appeals court upheld a nine-month sentence issued against activist Zainab al-Khawaja in June 2015 for trespassing. In October 2015 a different appeals court reduced a separate sentence against her for tearing up a picture of the king in court from three years to one year. Al-Khawaja claimed she tore up the picture as a political statement, while the government maintained the charge against her was for contempt of court. Police took al-Khawaja into custody on March 14 to serve these two sentences, but authorities released her on May 31 for “humanitarian reasons” after she served 2.5 months of her 21-month sentence. She subsequently left the country and at year’s end remained abroad.

Press and Media Freedoms: The government did not own any print media, but the Ministry of Information Affairs and other government entities exercised considerable control over privately owned domestic print media.

The government owned and operated all domestic radio and television stations. Audiences generally received radio and television broadcasts in Arabic, Farsi, and English from countries in the region, including by satellite, without interference. The ministry reviewed all books and publications prior to issuing printing licenses. The Ministry of Justice and Islamic Affairs reviewed books that discussed religion.

The Ministry of Information Affairs did not renew the accreditation of three journalists who worked for international media agencies, Nazeha Saeed, Reem Khalifa, and Hasan Jamali. The ministry did not give reason for its decision, nor was recourse available. It brought criminal complaints against journalists who continued to work without accreditation.

Violence and Harassment: According to local journalists, authorities harassed, arrested, or threatened journalists and photographers due to their reporting. Authorities claimed, however, that some individuals who identified themselves as journalists and photographers associated with violent opposition groups and produced propaganda and recruiting videos for these groups. International media representatives reported difficulty in obtaining visas to work as journalists. The government arrested or deported individuals who were in the country on other types of visas and who engaged in even limited journalistic activities. The government sentenced several journalists and bloggers arrested in 2015-16 to prison for social media postings.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Government censorship occurred. Ministry of Information Affairs personnel actively monitored and blocked stories on matters deemed sensitive, especially those related to sectarianism, national security, or criticism of the royal family, the Saudi royal family, or the judiciary. Journalists widely practiced self-censorship. Some members of media reported government officials contacted editors directly and told them to stop writing about certain subjects or told them not to publish a press release or story.

The press and publications law prohibits anti-Islamic content in media and mandates imprisonment for “exposing the state’s official religion for offense and criticism.” The law states, “any publication that prejudices the ruling system of the country and its official religion can be banned from publication by a ministerial order.”

Index on Censorship, an international NGO that supports freedom of expression, reported the ministry’s Press and Publications Directorate banned and confiscated all copies of the book, Political Organizations and Societies in Bahrain, coauthored by Bahraini writer Abbas al-Murshid, and another book by al-Murshid, Bahrain in the Gulf Gazetteer. Additionally, a number of books remained banned from 2010, including the Arabic translation of The Personal Diary of Charles Belgrave and Unbridled Hatreds: Reading in the Fate of Ancient Hatreds, by Bahraini author Nader Kadim.

Libel/Slander Laws: The government enforced libel and national security-related laws restricting freedom of the press. The penal code prohibits libel, slander, and “divulging secrets”; and it stipulates a punishment of imprisonment for no more than two years or a fine of no more than 200 dinars ($540). Application of the slander law was selective.

National Security: National security-related law provides for fines of as much as 10,000 dinars ($27,000) and prison sentences of at least six months for criticizing the king or inciting actions that undermine state security, as well as fines of up to 2,000 dinars ($5,400) for 14 related offenses. Punishable activities include publicizing statements issued by a foreign state or organization before obtaining ministry approval, publishing any reports that may adversely affect the dinar’s value, reporting any offense against a head of a state that maintains diplomatic relations with the country, and publishing offensive remarks about an accredited representative of a foreign country due to acts connected with the person’s position.

INTERNET FREEDOM

More than 90 percent of citizens had access to the internet. The government restricted internet freedom and monitored individuals’ online activities, including via social media, leading to degradation of internet and mobile phone services for some neighborhoods and to legal action against some internet users.

On January 4, police arrested optometrist, Dr. Saeed al-Samahiji, for tweets critical of Saudi Arabia’s execution of Shia cleric and political activist Nimr al-Nimr. On April 7, a criminal court sentenced him to a one-year prison term for “insulting a neighboring country.” The appeals court upheld the conviction on September 7. He remained in Jaw Prison at year’s end.

Three days after a sit-in outside of Sheikh Isa Qassim’s house in Diraz began in late June, residents complained that mobile phone networks and internet services were significantly reduced each evening. The offshore-based Bahrain Watch organization concluded two of the three main Internet Service Providers in the country deliberately restricted access for some users each day during certain times.

In 2013 the Ministry of Communication blocked 70 websites in accordance with laws passed following parliament’s recommendations. The government stated that it took this action to prevent access to “terrorist materials,” but NGOs asserted many of the websites featured only political speech. As of year’s end, the websites were intermittently accessible.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government restricted academic freedom and cultural events. Some academics engaged in self-censorship, avoiding discussion of contentious political issues.

Human rights advocates claimed government officials unfairly distributed university scholarships and were biased against Shia, for both political and religious reasons, when admitting students into certain programs. In 2011 the government instituted interviews into the university selection process, partially to correct for grade inflation, as there is no national standardized test to account for different grading practices across secondary schools; however, students reported authorities asked them about their and their families’ political beliefs as part of the interviews. The government maintained it distributed all scholarships and made all placements based on merit.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides for the right of free assembly, but the law restricts the exercise of this right. The government limited and controlled political gatherings and denied permits for organized demonstrations. For the second year, there were no authorized demonstrations, although the Ministry of Interior generally did not intervene in peaceful, unauthorized demonstrations. The ministry reported it did not approve any major demonstrations during the year due to past failures by organizers to control their own events. Political societies, however, reported the ministry refused even to accept permit requests, whether delivered by hand, by registered post, or by fax. The opposition group Wifaq reported that despite many new requests, its last approval for a march came in 2014.

According to the Ministry of Interior, three persons from the locality where an event will take place must submit a signed request to the chief of public security three days in advance, to receive permission to hold a public gathering. The law outlines the locations and times during which it prohibits functions, including areas close to hospitals, airports, commercial locations, security-related facilities, and downtown Manama. In addition to the locations listed in the law, the chief of public security may change the time, place, or route of the event if there is a possibility that it would cause a breach of public order. The law states mourners may not turn funeral processions into political rallies, and that security officials may be present at any public gathering.

The law states every public gathering shall have a committee consisting of a head and at least two members. The committee is responsible for supervising and preventing any illegal acts during the function. According to the law, the Ministry of Interior is not obligated to justify why it approves or denies requests to allow protests. The penal code penalizes any gathering “of five or more individuals” that is held for the “purpose of committing crimes or inciting others to commit crimes.” Lawyers asserted authorities should not prevent demonstrations in advance based on assumptions crimes would be committed. Authorities prohibited the use of vehicles in any demonstration, protest, or gathering unless organizers obtained special written permission from the head of public security.

Organizers of an unauthorized gathering faced prison sentences of three to six months. The minimum sentence for participating in an illegal gathering is one month, and the maximum is two years. Authorities gave longer sentences for cases where demonstrators used violence in an illegal gathering. The maximum fine is 200 dinars ($540). The law regulates election campaigning and prohibits political activities at worship centers, universities, schools, government buildings, and public institutions. The government did not allow individuals to use mosques, maatams (Shia religious community centers), or other religious sites for political gatherings. During the year authorities questioned and detained some political society officials for discussing political matters in religious venues.

Police arrested or summoned several dozen individuals, including Shia clerics, in relation to their alleged participation in the Diraz sit-in, which began June 20 following the revocation of Sheikh Isa Qassim’s citizenship. On July 30, police arrested Shia cleric Sheikh Sayed Majeed al-Mashaal, head of the banned Islamic Ulema Council, on allegations he participated on June 30 in the sit-in. On August 31, a court sentenced al-Mashaal to two years in prison on these charges and transferred him to Jaw Prison. On December 1, an appeals court reduced an additional one-year sentence he received on October 7 on other charges stemming from his participation in the sit-in on July 19.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for freedom of association, but the government limited this right. The government required all groups to register: civil society groups with the Ministry of Social Development, political societies with the Ministry of Justice and Islamic Affairs, and labor unions with the Ministry of Labor. The government decided whether a group was social or political in nature, based on its proposed bylaws. The law prohibits any activity by an unlicensed society, as well as any political activity by a licensed civil society group. A number of unlicensed societies were active in the country (see also section 3).

A civil society group applying for registration must submit its bylaws signed by all founding members, together with minutes of the founding committee’s meetings containing the names, professions, places of residence, and signatures of all founding members. The law grants the Ministry of Social Development the right to reject the registration of any civil society group if it finds the society’s services unnecessary, already provided by another society, contrary to state security, or aimed at reviving a previously dissolved society. Associations whose applications the authorities rejected or ignored may appeal to the High Civil Court, which may annul the ministry’s decision or refuse the appeal.

Many NGOs and civil society activists asserted the Ministry of Social Development routinely exploited its oversight role to stymie the activities of NGOs and other civil society organizations. While some local NGOs asserted bureaucratic incompetence characterized the ministry’s dealings with NGOs, many others stated officials actively sought to undermine some groups’ activities and imposed burdensome bureaucratic procedures on NGO board members and volunteers. The Ministries of Justice and Interior must vet funding from international sources, and authorities sometimes did not authorize it.

(For information on the closure of the Wifaq political society, see section 3, Political Parties and Political Participation.)

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. The government did not always respect these rights.

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

Foreign Travel: The law provides the government may reject for “reasonable cause” applications to obtain or renew passports, but the applicant has the right to appeal such decisions before the High Civil Court. Individuals, including citizens of other countries, reported authorities banned them from travel out of the country due to unpaid debt obligations or other fiduciary responsibilities with private individuals or with lending institutions. The government launched an online website during the year that allowed individuals to check their status before they traveled. Authorities relied on determinations of “national security” when adjudicating passport applications. During the year the authorities prevented a number of activists from leaving the country without providing options for legal recourse.

Starting in June approximately 40 individuals, including activists and opposition figures, reported customs agents stopped them from leaving the country. Individuals reportedly under “travel bans” claimed the government had not informed them of the ban, provided them with an official document citing the reason, or allowed them to present an appeal. In November police summoned some of these individuals to question them regarding allegations they participated in the Diraz sit-in. Critics alleged the authorities tried to build cases against the individuals retroactively to give the travel bans the appearance of legality. Observers noted the travel bans prevented activists from participating in UN Human Rights Council (HRC) sessions and other international events. In July the NIHR urged the government to stop issuing travel bans without a judicial order.

On November 10, authorities charged human rights lawyer, Mohamed al-Tajer, with insulting government institutions, inciting hatred of a religious sect, and misusing a telecommunications device, in part based on statements critical of the government that he made on a social media network. Al-Tajer had been banned from travel to the June HRC session. He was not detained, and the case had not gone to trial as of year’s end.

Exile: There were no reports the government prohibited the return of individuals whom the government maintained were Bahraini citizens. The government, however, prohibited the return of those whose citizenship it formally revoked, or those it no longer considered citizens. There were reports of individuals who lived in self-imposed exile, often to avoid jail time for convictions imposed in their absence.

Citizenship: As a punitive measure, the government continued to revoke citizenship for both criminal and political cases. The minister of interior may also request that the cabinet approve revoking citizenship from a naturalized citizen who has violated specific conditions. The government has not implemented a comprehensive legal review process concerning citizen revocation, as recommended by the NIHR in 2015, to assure the government protected the rights of individuals and their family members. The government did not consider whether individuals may become stateless by these actions and has at times threatened to halt payments of pensions, or remove families from government-assisted housing if a head-of-household loses his citizenship. Some family members, especially females and minor children, reported difficulties renewing their passports and residence cards and obtaining birth certificates for children. During the year the government issued a number of individuals, whose citizenship it had revoked, limited validity Bahraini passports and deported them to Iraq, Iran, and Lebanon. There is no procedure for accused persons to mount a defense prior to having their citizenship revoked.

On June 20, the Bahrain News Agency (BNA) announced the government had revoked Shia cleric Sheikh Isa Qassim’s citizenship. Government sources reported Qassim had the right to appeal the decision, but he declined to do so. On that same day, authorities raided his offices and froze his bank accounts. Authorities indicted him and two staff, Mirza al-Dirazi and Sheikh Hussain al-Mahrous, on money laundering charges citing large transfers of funds overseas that allegedly bypassed banks to avoid detection. Qassim denied the charges and has not attended any court proceedings. His supporters claimed the government targeted Qassim because of his status in the Shia community and asserted Qassim’s office collected the funds and spent them according to Shia customs and obligations. As of December Qassim remained at his home in the village of Diraz. Supporters maintained a sit-in/vigil outside of his house in response to fears police would arrest him. Security forces have limited entrance into and egress out of the village to Diraz residents.

In January 2015 the BNA named 72 individuals who had their citizenship revoked but did not specify what violation each committed. The BNA instead provided a list of violations that may have led the authorities to act, including defaming the image of the regime and defaming brotherly countries. Authorities did not notify these individuals, who learned about the decision from the press. Some of the individuals had previously been involved in activism or in the political opposition. During the year the authorities gave at least three of these individuals limited validity passports and immediately deported them, including Sheikh Mohammed Khojasta on February 22, Hussein KhairAllah Mahood on February 24, and Masaud Jahromi on March 7.

In 2014 the Interior Ministry’s Nationality, Passports, and Residence Directorate summoned 10 Bahrainis, whose citizenship the government revoked for politically motivated reasons in 2012 and against whom it filed criminal lawsuits, requesting them to defend their legal status and indicate whether they had found other citizens willing to sponsor them. Later in 2014, a court found them guilty of being in the country without sponsors and fined each 100 dinars ($270). Their appeal hearing continued in December 2015. On April 17, they lost their appeal. Authorities deported Taimoor Karimi to Iraq on June 26. Human rights organizations reported the remaining nine were at risk to be deported.

In 2014 a court adjourned an appeal brought by Ibrahim Karimi, who filed a constitutional challenge to his citizenship revocation–the only one to do so among the 31 whose citizenship was revoked in 2012. In September 2015 authorities arrested him on new charges related to social media postings and searched his house; authorities also again charged him with living in the country illegally. His trial on the new charges began January 31, and on March 31, he was sentenced to two years in prison. His appeal continued at year’s end. Separately, on March 8, the appeals court upheld the original deportation order against him, putting him at risk of deportation once he completes his current sentence.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. The government at times provided protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion; however, this was mostly limited to those who had been able to obtain and maintain employment in the country. Such individuals generally had access to health care and education services while employed but were at risk of being deported if they became unemployed or if their country of origin revoked their passports. The foreign minister told media in September 2015 that Bahrain had accepted “thousands” of Syrian refugees; however, UNHCR reported that as of June, there were 355 refugees registered with the agency.

STATELESS PERSONS

Individuals generally derive citizenship from the father, but the king may confer or revoke it. Since the government only considers the father’s citizenship when determining citizenship, it does not grant children born to a non-Bahraini father citizenship, even if they were born in Bahrain to a Bahraini mother. Likewise, the government does not provide a path to citizenship for foreign men married to Bahraini women, unlike the process by which foreign women married to Bahraini men may become citizens. Human rights organizations reported that these laws have resulted in stateless children, particularly when the foreign father is unable or unwilling to pursue citizenship from his country of origin for his children, or when the father himself was stateless, deceased, or unknown. It was unknown how many stateless persons resided in the country. Stateless persons had limited access to social services, education, and employment. There were reports authorities refused applications for birth certificates and passports for children whose Bahraini fathers were in prison because the fathers were not able to submit the applications in person (see section 6, Children).

The government charged individuals whose citizenship it revoked with violating immigration law.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

Citizens have limited ability to choose their government and their political system. The constitution provides for a democratically elected Council of Representatives, the lower house of parliament. A constitutional amendment ratified in 2012 permits the king to dissolve the Council of Representatives, but it requires that he first consult the presidents of the upper and lower houses of parliament as well as the head of the Constitutional Court. The king also has the power to amend the constitution and to propose, ratify, and promulgate laws.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Approximately 52 percent of eligible voters participated in parliamentary elections held in November 2014. Turnout was significantly lower in opposition districts, due to a decision to boycott by the main opposition political societies, who expressed a lack of confidence that the elections would produce a parliament that they believed would address their concerns in a fully representative way. Among these concerns the opposition contended the government delineated voter districts to provide for its desired electoral outcomes and marginalize opposition-majority districts. Prior to the election, in January 2014 the government relaunched the National Dialogue, which served as a forum for the government, legislature, and political societies to discuss political solutions to such issues, but it ended eight months later with little progress.

The government did not permit international election monitors. Domestic monitors generally concluded that authorities administered the elections without significant irregularities. There were, however, broader concerns regarding voting district boundaries and limitations on freedom of expression and association.

Violent oppositionists intimidated candidates, including through arson attacks on their personal property and businesses. Boycotters pressured other candidates to withdraw from the race.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The government did not allow the formation of political parties, but more than a dozen “political societies” developed political platforms, held internal elections, and hosted political gatherings. To apply for registration, a political society must submit its bylaws signed by all founding members, a list of all members and copies of their residency cards, and a financial statement identifying the society’s sources of funding and bank information. The society’s principles, goals, and programs must not run counter to sharia or national interest, as interpreted by the judiciary, nor may the society base itself on sectarian, geographic, or class identity. A number of societies operated outside of these rules, and some functioned on a sectarian basis.

The government authorized registered political societies to run candidates for office and to participate in other political activities. On May 22, parliament passed an amendment to the political societies’ law, which banned serving clerics from membership in political societies (including in leadership positions) and involvement in political activities, even on a voluntary basis.

In 2013 the justice minister issued an order stipulating political societies should coordinate their contacts with foreign diplomatic or consular missions, foreign governmental organizations, or representatives of foreign governments with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which can elect to send a representative to the meeting. In 2014 the government actively enforced the order when it summoned two leaders of Wifaq for questioning for meeting a visiting foreign official without seeking government permission. There were no further reports of government enforcing this order.

On June 14, the Ministry of Justice filed a motion against the Wifaq political society, requesting the administrative court issue an emergency order to shut down the group and accusing the society of creating “an environment for terrorism, extremism, and violence.” The judge agreed to the immediate suspension of Wifaq’s activities. Authorities sealed Wifaq’s buildings, removed its signs, froze its bank accounts, and blocked its website. Days later, the ministry announced an additional motion to dissolve Wifaq on an expedited basis. On June 28, judges denied Wifaq’s legal team access to records at its headquarters and additional time to prepare its defense. Wifaq’s lawyers resigned in protest, but the case continued before the court. On July 17, the judges formally ordered Wifaq closed and its assets seized, which the administrative appeals court upheld on September 22. On October 26, the ministry announced it would auction off items seized from Wifaq’s headquarters on November 7; but it then put the auction on hold when Wifaq appealed the case to the Court of Cassation on October 30. As of year’s end, the Court of Cassation had not set a date for the hearing.

Individuals active with opposition political society groups also faced repercussions during the year (see section 1.e., Political Prisoners).

Participation of Women and Minorities: The 2014 elections selected three women to parliament’s 40-member lower elected house. Also in 2014 the royal court appointed nine women to the Shura Council, the appointed 40-member upper house, and the prime minister appointed a woman to the 26-seat cabinet. During the year the government appointed two additional women as judges, bringing the total to eight. There were also five female prosecutors.

Shia and Sunni citizens have equal rights before the law, but Sunnis dominated political life, while the majority of citizens are Shia. The 2014 elections brought 13 Shia members to parliament. The appointed Shura Council included 17 Shia members, one Jewish member, and one Christian member. Five of the 26 appointed cabinet ministers were Shia, including one of the deputy prime ministers.

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 adequately, and some officials reportedly engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. The law subjects government employees at all levels to prosecution if they use their positions to engage in embezzlement or bribery, either directly or indirectly. Penalties can be up to 10 years’ imprisonment.

Corruption: The Bahrain National Audit Office is responsible for combating government corruption. In November the government released segments of its report to the press, which published parts of it; however, the full report was not published or made available online as of year’s end. The report noted the government’s failure to stay within allocated budget amounts. On May 31, parliamentarians discussed items mentioned in the 2015 report, but they did not release the full report to the public.

Significant areas of government activity, including the security services and the Bahrain Defense Force, lacked transparency, and the privatization of public land continued to be a concern among opposition groups.

Financial Disclosure: The law does not require government officials to make financial disclosures.

Public Access to Information: Through its e-government portal, launched in 2007 but recently expanded, the government provided information about a variety of public stakeholders. For example, individuals were able to access information on travel bans, court cases, utility bills, student exam results, the government’s budget, and other information. Individual ministries also maintained websites of varying qualities, which provided a wide range of information specific to that ministry.

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

Government officials sometimes met with local human rights NGOs but generally were not responsive to the views of NGOs they believed were politicized and unfairly critical of the government.

Domestic human rights groups operated with some government restrictions. These groups included the Bahrain Human Rights Society, the primary independent and licensed human rights organization in the country; the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, which the government officially dissolved in 2004 but continued to operate and maintained an online presence; and the unlicensed Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights. The unlicensed umbrella human rights organization Bahrain Human Rights Observatory also issued numerous reports and had strong ties to international human rights NGOs. The licensed Bahrain Human Rights Watch continued to issue numerous reports.

Some domestic human rights groups faced significant difficulties operating freely and interacting with international human rights organizations. The government sometimes harassed and deprived local NGO leaders of due process. Local NGO leaders and activists also reported government harassment including the imposition of travel bans (see section 2.c.), police surveillance, delayed processing of civil documents, and “inappropriate questioning” of their children during interviews for government scholarships.

Individuals affiliated with international human rights and labor organizations, or who were critical of the government, reported authorities indefinitely delayed or refused visa applications, or at times refused entry to the country for individuals who possessed a valid visa or qualified for the country’s visa-free entry program.

In April authorities denied a Solidarity Center representative entry into the country although the individual possessed a valid visa. The purpose of the trip was to meet with a domestic labor organization.

Government Human Rights Bodies: In 2011 the government convened the BICI, chaired by Cherif Bassiouni, whose staff included international human rights experts, and tasked it with investigating allegations of human rights violations–including reports of police brutality, arrests, disappearances, and torture, along with reports of violence by demonstrators against police–in early 2011. It presented recommendations for reform in late 2011, describing a “culture of impunity” in the security services and documenting excessive use of force, including torture and a range of other human rights violations by security forces during the unrest. On May 9, Bassiouni returned to Bahrain on an unannounced visit to meet with the king and the national commission and received an award. The BNA reported that Bahrain had fully implemented the recommendations of the BICI report and suggested Bassiouni concurred. On June 5, Bassiouni published a statement on his website recognizing Bahrain’s accomplishments on BICI implementation, but he made clear his view that the country has not yet fulfilled all of the recommendations of the BICI report. Among outstanding recommendations, Bassiouni said that Bahrain should prioritize the release of prisoners convicted on the basis of their political beliefs and expression and emphasize accountability for those responsible for deaths resulting from torture.

In line with the 2011 BICI report recommendations, the king issued a royal decree in 2013 to re-establish the country’s National Human Rights Organization, now called the NIHR, to receive complaints and investigate allegations of human rights violations. Throughout the year the NIHR conducted numerous human rights workshops, seminars, and training sessions, as well as prison visits, and referred numerous complaints to the PPO. It issued its latest annual report in December 2015 and contributed to PDRC, ombudsman, and SIU investigations. Also in December an amendment to the law strengthened the NIHR by giving it the right to conduct unannounced visits to police facilities and increasing its financial independence. Although many observers viewed the NIHR as effectively resourced and independent, other human rights groups doubted the government would implement most of its recommendations and doubted its impartiality.

During the year the government also maintained the Ombudsman’s Office within the Ministry of Interior, the SIU within the PPO, and the PDRC in response to the BICI report’s recommendations. These organizations worked with each other throughout the year.

Local and international observers and human rights organizations continued to view the BICI report as a standard against which to measure the country’s progress on human rights reforms. They expressed concern the government did not make significant progress on other BICI recommendations, including dropping charges against individuals engaged in nonviolent political expression, criminally charging security officers accused of abuse or torture, integrating Shia into security forces, and creating an environment conducive to national reconciliation.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is illegal. The law does not address spousal rape. Penalties for rape include life imprisonment and execution in cases where the victim is a minor younger than 16 years old or in cases where the rape leads to the victim’s death. From January through August, the PPO referred 73 cases of sexual harassment, which can include rape, to courts. The Migrant Workers Protection Society (MWPS) temporarily sheltered approximately 150 women, most of whom were domestic workers, including at least one woman who reported rape. The MWPS estimated hundreds of cases went unreported because domestic workers had difficulty leaving their places of work, or might not possess their passports or other identification needed to open a case.

No government policies or laws explicitly address domestic violence. Human rights organizations alleged spousal abuse of women was widespread. According to the BCHR, 30 percent of women had experienced some form of domestic abuse. Women rarely sought legal redress for violence due to fear of social reprisal or stigma. Authorities devoted little public attention to the problem. The government maintained the Dar al-Aman Shelter for women and children who were victims of domestic violence. The shelter had 16 apartments with accommodations for two women in each apartment. The shelter accommodated citizens and noncitizens and provided transportation for children to attend schools. Authorities stationed a policewoman at the shelter, which authorities did not identify on its exterior, to provide security. Victims of domestic violence had difficulty knowing who to contact or how to proceed when filing a complaint. Procedures required interviews of both the victim and the accused at the same police station; there were no provisions in place to prevent accused family members from having access to their victims.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: “Honor” killings are punishable under the law, but the penal code provides a lenient sentence for the killing of a spouse caught in the act of adultery, whether male or female. There were no reports of honor killings during the year.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, including insulting or committing an indecent act towards a woman in public, with penalties of prison and fines. The government reported that from January through August, there were 268 cases of reported sexual harassment, and the PPO transferred 73 to court. Of those cases 25 resulted in convictions; the remaining cases were pending at year’s end. Although the government sometimes enforced the law, sexual harassment remained a widespread problem for women, especially foreigners employed as domestic workers and in other low-level service jobs.

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. Health centers required women to obtain spousal consent to undergo sterilization; this consent requirement did not apply for provision of other family planning services.

Discrimination: Women faced discrimination under the law. A woman cannot transmit nationality to her spouse or children (see section 2.d., Stateless Persons). Women have the right to initiate divorce proceedings, but both Shia and Sunni religious courts may refuse the request, although the refusal rate was significantly higher in Shia courts than in Sunni courts, with Shia courts often refusing to grant the divorce due to differences in legal codes. In divorce cases the courts routinely granted mothers custody of daughters younger than age nine and sons younger than age seven. Custody usually reverted to the father once girls and boys reached the ages of nine and seven, respectively. Regardless of custody decisions, the father retains guardianship, or the right to make all legal decisions for the child, until a child reaches the age of 21. A noncitizen woman automatically loses custody of her children if she divorces their citizen father “without just cause.”

The basis for family law is sharia as interpreted by Sunnis and Shia. Only Sunni family law is codified, while Shia maintain separate judicial bodies composed of religious jurisprudents charged with interpreting sharia. It was not always clear which courts have jurisdiction in Sunni-Shia marriages.

Women may own and inherit property and represent themselves in all public and legal matters. In the absence of a direct male heir, Shia women may inherit all of their husband’s property, while Sunni women inherit only a portion, as governed by sharia, and the brothers or other male relatives of the deceased divide the balance. Better-educated families used wills and other legal tools to mitigate the discriminatory effects of these rules.

Labor laws prohibit discrimination against women, but discrimination against women was systemic, especially in the workplace (see section 7.d.). The law prohibits wage discrimination based on gender. Although women held positions of authority in the government and private sector, they did not have proportional representation. Cultural barriers and religious tradition sometimes hampered women’s rights.

On April 5, parliament passed a royal decree lifting all reservations on the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

Children

Birth Registration: Individuals derive citizenship from one’s father or by decree from the king. Women cannot transmit their nationality to their children, rendering stateless some children of citizen mothers but noncitizen fathers (see section 2.d., Stateless Persons). Authorities do not register births immediately. From birth to the age of three months, the mother’s primary health-care provider holds registration for the children. Upon reaching three months, authorities register the birth with the Ministry of Health’s Birth Registration Unit, which then issues the official birth certificate. The birth certificate does not include the child’s religion. Children not registered before reaching their first birthday must obtain a registration by court order. The government does not provide public services to a child without a birth certificate.

The wife of imprisoned Wifaq secretary general Sheikh Ali Salman was unable to get a passport and other civil documents for their young child while her husband was in prison. She reported that various authorities told her Salman would have to come into each of their offices in person to sign the applications. The Ministry of Interior did not facilitate transportation of prisoners to government offices to address administrative or financial matters, nor did it make these types of services available in detention facilities.

Education: Schooling is compulsory for children until age 15 and provided free of charge to citizens and legal residents through grade 12. Authorities segregated government-run schools by gender, although the schools educated girls and boys with the same curricula and textbooks. Islamic studies based on Sunni doctrine are mandatory for all Muslim public school students and are optional for non-Muslim students; however, there is little provision for parents to request alternate religious instruction, including for the large population of Shia enrolled in public schools.

Child Abuse: NGOs reported an increase in child abuse cases in recent years, but they were unsure whether it reflected increases in abuse or greater willingness to report it. Sharia courts, not civil courts, address crimes involving child abuse, including violence against children. NGOs expressed concern over the lack of consistently written guidelines for prosecuting and punishing offenders and the leniency of penalties in child abuse cases. As of August the PPO reported 67 sexual harassment cases registered where the victim was a child. In August the Ministry of Social Development reported it had helped 335 children since the beginning of the year, and its child abuse hotline had received 1,200 calls.

There were reports police approached children outside of schools and threatened or coerced them into becoming police informants.

Early and Forced Marriage: According to the law, the minimum age of marriage is 15 years old for girls and 18 years old for boys, but special circumstances allow marriages below these ages with approval from a sharia court. The government made concerted efforts to draw attention to the dangers of early marriage for girls and the adverse effect on children’s health.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits exploitation of a child for various crimes, including prostitution. Penalties include imprisonment of no less than three months if the accused used exploitation and force to commit the crime and up to six years if the accused exploited more than one child, as well as penalties of at least 2,000 dinars ($5,400) for individuals and at least 10,000 dinars ($27,000) for organizations. Penalties vary depending on the specific law involved. The law also prohibits child pornography. There is no minimum age for consensual sex, as the law assumes there is no consensual sex outside of marriage.

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

According to community members, there were between 36 and 40 Jewish citizens (six families) in the country. Some anti-Jewish political commentary and editorial cartoons occasionally appeared in print and electronic media, usually linked to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, without government response.

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 stipulates equal treatment for persons with disabilities with regard to employment, and violations of the law are punishable with fines. It was unclear whether the government enforced these laws. According to the government, it re-established in 2012 a committee originally formed in 2011 to care for persons with disabilities and included representatives from all relevant ministries, NGOs, and the private sector. The committee is responsible for monitoring violations against persons with disabilities; it was unclear whether the committee acted on any incidents during the year.

Authorities mandated a variety of governmental, quasi-governmental, and religious institutions to support and protect persons with disabilities. New public buildings in the central municipality must include facilities for persons with disabilities. The law, however, does not outline specific criteria for what authorities required for facilities to be accessible for persons with disabilities. The law does not mandate access to other nonresidential buildings for persons with disabilities. There was no information available regarding a law providing access for persons with disabilities to information and communication.

There was no information available on the responsibilities of government agencies to protect the rights of persons with disabilities or on actions taken by government agencies to improve respect for their rights. According to anecdotal evidence, however, such persons routinely lacked access to education and employment. The one government school for children with hearing disabilities did not operate past the 10th grade. Some public schools had specialized education programs for children with learning disabilities, physical disabilities, speech disabilities, and Down syndrome, but the government did not fund private programs for children who could not find appropriate programs in public schools.

Eligible voters can vote either in their regular precincts or in a general polling station. The local precincts, which are mostly in schools, sometimes offered problems to those with mobility disabilities; however, the general polling stations are in public spaces such as malls, which allow for assistance devices. One candidate with disabilities in the 2014 parliamentary election complained that access restrictions separated him from the other candidates at a function, as there was no ramp for him to access the stage as a wheelchair user. There were also complaints there were no provisions made for those who were restricted to their house or a hospital to vote, as there was no absentee ballot system.

The law requires the government to provide vocational training for persons with disabilities who wish to work. The law also requires employers of more than 100 persons to hire at least 2 percent of its employees from the government’s list of workers with disabilities. The government did not monitor compliance. The government placed persons with disabilities in some public-sector jobs.

In 2013 the minister of social development and chairperson for the High Committee for Persons with Disabilities, Fatima Mohammed al-Balooshi, announced the launch of a National Strategy for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in cooperation with the UN Development Program. At year’s end the Ministry of Labor and Social Development continued to work with the UN agency on support activities connected to the strategy.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The law grants citizenship to Arab applicants who have resided in the country for 15 years and non-Arab applicants who have resided in the country for 25 years. There was a lack of transparency in the naturalization process, and there were numerous reports authorities did not apply the citizenship law uniformly. There were allegations the government allowed foreign Sunni employees of the security services who had lived in the country for fewer than 15 years to apply for citizenship. There were also reports authorities had not granted citizenship to Arab Shia who had resided in the country for more than 15 years and non-Arab foreign residents who had resided more than 25 years. There were reports of general discrimination, especially in employment practices, against Shia citizens of Persian ethnicity (Ajam).

Although the government asserted the labor code for the private sector applies to all workers, the International Labor Organization (ILO) and international NGOs noted foreign workers faced discrimination in the workplace (see section 7).

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

The law does not criminalize same-sex sexual activity between consenting persons who are at least 21 years of age. Society did not accept lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) activities, such as same-sex relationships and same-sex sexual activity, and discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity occurred. There were no open manifestations of LGBTI activity in the country, such as gay pride parades. On rare occasions courts approved the issuance of new legal documents for those who have undergone gender reassignment surgeries. In September, Bahrain TV aired a program discussing the legal rights and procedures of transgender individuals who wish to transition.

In April, two female students were arrested and sentenced to one-month in jail for kissing in a car. In September police raided a private party in Sanad and arrested 54 men for engaging in “obscene acts.” In November the court acquitted 26 and sentenced 26 to one-month and two to three-months in jail.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The media reported few cases of HIV/AIDS. There were no known reports of societal violence or discrimination against persons based on HIV/AIDS status, but medical experts acknowledged publicly that discrimination existed. The government mandated screening of newly arrived migrant workers for infectious diseases, including HIV/AIDS. At times in the past, the government deported migrant workers found to be HIV/AIDS positive, but the status of deportations during the year was unclear.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

The Ministry of Social Development continued to implement its national social and economic reconciliation plan Wi’da Wa’da. The ministry funded 20 local NGOs to promote reconciliation and solidarity and organized periodic workshops related to national unity and communication between all parties. The ministry established a High Committee for Advising Youth and Resolving Criminal Cases for youth involved in violent activity. The committee sought to limit children’s participation in violent protests. Its strategy included organizing family consultations, assuring that students attend school, and holding parents responsible for their children’s behavior.

The government’s 2013 BICI follow-up report noted the Ministry of Education continued to work with UNESCO experts on incorporating human rights principles in textbooks. The report also indicated the ministry had signed cooperation agreements with the International Bureau of Education in Geneva.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The constitution and labor code recognize the right to form independent trade unions and the right to strike, with significant restrictions. The law does not provide for the right to collective bargaining.

The law prohibits trade unions in the public sector. Public-sector workers may join private-sector trade unions and professional associations, although these entities cannot bargain on their behalf. The law also prohibits members of the military services and domestic workers from joining unions. Foreign workers, who comprised approximately 60 percent of the workforce, may join unions if they work in a sector that allows unions, although the law reserves union leadership roles for citizens. The law prohibits unions from engaging in political activities and requires all trade unions to affiliate with one of the country’s two legal federations, the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions (GFBTU) or the Bahrain Free Labor Union Federation (BFLUF).

The law specifies only a trade union can organize and declare legal strikes and imposes excessive requirements for legal strikes. The law prohibits strikes in 10 “vital” sectors–the scope of which exceeds international standards–including the oil, gas, education, telecommunications, transportation, and health sectors, as well as in pharmacies and bakeries. The law makes no distinction between “vital” and “nonvital” employees within these sectors. Workers must approve a strike with a simple majority by secret ballot and provide 15 days’ notification to the employer before conducting a strike.

A 2012 law significantly amended the labor code as it pertains to trade unions and federations. The law allows multiple trade union federations but prohibits multisector labor federations and bars individuals convicted of violating criminal laws that lead to trade union or executive council dissolution from holding union leadership posts. The amendment gives the minister of labor, rather than the unions, the right to select the federation to represent workers in national-level bargaining and international forums. In 2014 authorities amended the private-sector labor law, replacing “GFBTU” wherever it appeared in the legislation with the phrase “the appropriate federation designated by the minister of labor.” The law does not prohibit antiunion discrimination, nor does it require reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.

The government generally respected freedom of association for workers. Relations between the main federations and the Ministry of Labor were publicly contentious at times. The government sometimes interfered in GFBTU activities. The GFBTU alleged that the government intended the legal amendments allowing the minister of labor to select a representative union to undermine its position as the country’s representative labor federation.

Following a revision to the law, which provides for multiple trade union federations, in 2012 authorities established a second federation, BFLUF. The ministry had consistently designated the GFBTU as the country’s representative, but in 2015 it designated the BFLUF to represent the country before the Arab Labor Organization. Some workers and union affiliates complained union pluralism had resulted in company management interfering in union dues collection and workers’ chosen union affiliation and in management choosing to negotiate with the union they found most favorable–to the detriment of existing collective bargaining agreements and the legitimate voice of workers.

During the year the government made efforts to provide for the reinstatement of workers dismissed or suspended during the 2011 State of National Safety. It continued working with the tripartite committee, formed in 2011 and consisting of a representative from the Ministry of Labor, the Bahrain Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and GFBTU, to address dismissals and reinstatements as part of the government’s response to recommendations set forth in the 2011 BICI. In 2014, after signing a second tripartite agreement, the ILO dismissed the complaint filed in 2011. This agreement identified 165 cases to be resolved, and all parties reported positive progress on those reinstatements. Some reinstated workers, however, alleged some companies insisted they sign loyalty pledges and agreements to not strike, despite such requirements being illegal. Workers reported many cases of discrimination in hiring and promotion, including in the public sector. Some civil service employees, including in the Ministry of Education, reported authorities questioned them about their outside activities.

On July 17, hundreds of foreign construction workers went on strike over unpaid salaries. The Ministry of Labor and Social Development intervened and announced on July 24 that the situation had been resolved with the company providing its employees the money they were owed.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor except in national emergencies, and the government did not always enforce the law effectively. There were reports of forced labor in the construction and service sectors. The labor law covers foreign workers, except domestic workers, but enforcement was lax, and cases of debt bondage were common. There were also reports forced labor practices occurred among domestic workers and others working in the informal sector; labor laws did not protect most of these workers. In 2012 the government amended the labor law to provide domestic workers the right to see their terms of employment.

In many cases employers withheld passports, restricted movement, substituted contracts, or did not pay wages; some employers also threatened workers and subjected them to physical and sexual abuse. The Ministry of Labor reported complaints from domestic workers, mostly of unpaid wages. In 2013 the Ministry of Social Development took steps to fulfill its legal obligation under the trafficking in persons law to identify and protect foreign victims of trafficking, including by creating comprehensive guidelines and training government officials on the framework to protect trafficking victims.

Estimates of the proportion of migrant workers in the country under illegal “free visa” arrangements–a practice that can contribute to debt bondage–ranged from 10 to 25 percent. In numerous cases employers withheld salaries from foreign workers for months or years and refused to grant them permission to leave the country. Fear of deportation or employer retaliation prevented many foreign workers from complaining to authorities.

The Labor Market Regulatory Authority (LMRA) took steps to reduce the vulnerability of foreign workers. It instituted procedures that allowed workers to change the employer associated with their visa either without permission from their old employer or without being in possession of their passport. LMRA threatened employers who withheld passports with criminal and administrative violations, and prohibited at-fault employers from hiring new workers.

On January 3, the LMRA announced that the amnesty from July through December 2015, aimed at allowing workers without work permits to legalize their presence in Bahrain or return home without being “blacklisted,” had succeeded in helping more than 40,000 workers. Of those who submitted documents, 30,000 opted to stay in Bahrain and found new employers to sponsor them, while 10,000 returned to their home countries.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The minimum age for employment is 15 years, and the minimum age for hazardous work is 18. Children under 18 may not work in industries the Ministry of Health deemed hazardous or unhealthy, including construction, mining, and oil refining. Minors under the age of 18 may work no more than six hours a day–no more than four days consecutively–and may be present on the employment premises no more than seven hours a day. The Ministry of Labor made rare exceptions on a case-by-case basis for juveniles age 14 or 15, who had an urgent need to assist in providing financial support for their families. Child labor regulations do not apply to family-operated businesses in which the only other employees are family members.

A 2012 labor law requires that before the Labor Ministry makes a final decision on allowing a minor to work, the prospective employer must present documentation from the minor’s guardian giving the minor permission to work, proof the minor underwent a physical fitness examination to confirm suitability, and assurance from the employer the minor would not work in an environment the ministry deemed hazardous. Generally, the government effectively enforced the law.

There were some non-Bahraini children employed as domestic servants. Observers believed some Bahraini children worked in family-run businesses, but the practice did not appear widespread.

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

The constitution provides for equality between men and women in political, social, cultural, and economic spheres without breaching the provisions of Islamic canon law. There are no specific protections regarding race, disability, language, sexual orientation and/or gender identity, HIV-positive status or having other communicable diseases, or social status. The government lacked any specific implementing regulations or processes to identify proactively cases of discrimination or to address and seek remedy for any cases of which they might become aware.

The government took steps to promote women’s participation in the workforce, although women continued to face discrimination there, especially in fields traditionally dominated by men, including leadership positions. Women reported having to work harder than men to be recognized at work; they often faced hiring discrimination because of a perception they would become pregnant or their family lives would interfere with their work.

The Ministry of Social Development continued to fund the Disabled Services Center, which helped train and find work for Bahrainis with disabilities. It remained rare, however, for persons with disabilities to find employment in positions of responsibility. Many workplaces remained difficult to access for those needing assistance due to a lack of ramps, narrow doorways, and unpaved parking lots.

Many of the workers in the country were foreign workers. There are no provisions to provide for equality in the hiring process. It was common for employers to advertise positions for specific nationalities or languages without justifying why only persons from that specific nationality or language group would be acceptable. Even for blue-collar jobs, such as those in fast-food restaurants, it was common for employers to hire lower-level employees from one nationality and managerial staff from a second nationality.

Government institutions sometimes based their hiring decisions on a person’s nationality, often without regard to qualifications. Some Bahraini teachers complained authorities ignored them for public school teaching jobs because authorities hired foreign teachers instead. Well-qualified Bahrainis reported being paid less than certain foreign workers because those workers were of a preferred nationality.

Lack of transparency in hiring processes, especially for government positions, led to many complaints of discrimination based on sect or ethnicity. Human rights organizations reported managers sometimes did not hire qualified applicants because of the neighborhoods where they lived or their family names.

Shia reported unemployment in their communities was much higher than government estimates. Several international firms reported pressure not to promote Shia to positions of responsibility within their companies. Shia perceived that employers subjected them to different standards and that employers were more likely to fire them. Sunni citizens often received preference for employment in sensitive government positions, notably in the managerial ranks of the civil service and the military. Shia asserted they were unable to obtain government positions, especially in the security services, because of their religious affiliation. There were reports during the year that Shia were also discriminated against when they applied for medical positions at institutions associated with the military such as the Bahrain Defense Force and King Hamad hospitals.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

There is no national private-sector minimum wage. A standardized government pay scale covers public-sector workers, with a set minimum of 300 dinars ($810) per month. Citizens who earned less received a government stipend to offset the difference. There is no minimum wage for foreign workers in the public sector, although the government issued “guidelines” advising employers in the public and private sectors to pay a minimum of 150 dinars per month ($405). There was no official poverty level.

Subject to the provisions of the private-sector law, employers may not employ a worker for more than 48 hours per week. Employers may not employ Muslim workers during the month of Ramadan for more than six hours per day or 36 hours per week. The standard workday is eight hours, with a maximum of 10 hours allowed. Overtime rates are time-and-a-quarter during the day and time-and-a-half during the evening. It is mandatory for workers to receive 24 consecutive hours off per week, and the day set for weekly rest is Friday. If employers require a worker to work on a mandatory rest day, employers will pay the worker at time-and-a-half. A worker may not work on mandatory rest days for two consecutive weeks without personal written consent.

The Ministry of Labor sets occupational safety and health standards. The labor law and relevant protections apply to citizens and noncitizens alike, with the exception of domestic workers. The revised labor law improved the legal situation for many workers as it pertains to access to contracts and additional holidays, although it excludes domestic workers from the majority of protections.

The Labor Ministry is responsible for enforcing the labor law and mandating acceptable conditions of work. During the year the government employed 23 labor inspectors and eight safety inspectors. The ministry enforced occupational safety and health standards; it also used a team of eight engineers from multiple specialties primarily to investigate risks and standards at construction sites, which were the vast majority of worksites.

Several circumstances prompt inspections: a complaint made to the ministry, notification of a new worksite made to the ministry, a media article about a new worksite, or discovery of a new worksite by an inspector in an assigned geographic area.

Inspectors have the authority to levy fines and close worksites if employers do not improve conditions by specified deadlines. Penalties for violators range from 500 dinars ($1,350) to 1,000 dinars ($2,700) per violation or per worker affected, or both, as determined by a judge. A judge may also sentence violators to a minimum of three months in prison. For repeat violators the court may double the penalties. The ministry reported an unspecified number of violators were serving sentences related to labor condition violations during the year.

Despite the improvements, NGOs feared resources for enforcement of the laws remained inadequate for the number of worksites and workers, that many worksites would not be inspected, and that the regulations would not necessarily deter violations.

A ministerial decree prohibits outdoor work between noon and 4 p.m. during July and August because of heat conditions. Authorities enforced the ban among large firms but, according to local sources, violations were common among smaller businesses. After inspecting 10,053 work sites, the Ministry of Labor reported 106 violations with 235 workers as victims. Employers who violated the ban are subject to up to three-months in jail, and a fine of 1,000 dinars ($2,700) fine; however, no information was made public about which employers violated the law, or what fine they were accessed, if any.

The government and courts generally worked to rectify abuses brought to their attention. Workers could lodge complaints with the Ministry of Labor. The ministry reported it received 2,684 complaints in 2015, the last year information was available. Labor officials stated they resolved most cases through mediation. By law authorities who cannot settle complaints through arbitration must refer them to the court within 15 days. The vast majority of cases involving abused domestic workers did not reach the ministry or the public prosecutor.

In February the Ministry of Labor reported it had taken legal action against 112 labor accommodations since 2012 and that employers corrected 436 irregularities after inspections and warnings. In April 2015 the Ministry of Labor reported there were more than 3,000 registered labor camps housing more than 150,000 workers in the country. In 2015 the ministry inspected 1,300 accommodations and recorded 70 violations, but it did not make public its enforcement actions. Many workers lived in unregistered accommodations that ranged in quality from makeshift accommodations in parking garages, to apartments rented by employers from private owners, to family houses modified to accommodate many persons. Inspectors do not have the right to enter houses or apartment buildings not registered as work camps to inspect conditions. The Labor Ministry advised the Ministry of Works, Municipalities Affairs, and Urban Planning and the Ministry of Housing when it received complaints of poor conditions in such housing. The Migrant Workers Protection Society reported it visited unregistered camps and accommodations, including ones that were potentially dangerous, such as places with 35 persons sharing three rooms.

The government continued to conduct workers’ rights awareness campaigns. It published pamphlets on foreign resident workers’ rights in several languages, provided manuals on these rights to local diplomatic missions, and operated a telephone hotline for victims.

Violations of wage, overtime, and occupational safety and health standards were common in sectors employing foreign workers, such as construction, automotive repair, and domestic service. Unskilled foreign workers, mostly from South and Southeast Asia, constituted approximately 60 percent of the total workforce (76 percent of the private-sector workforce). These workers were also vulnerable to dangerous or exploitive working conditions. According to NGOs, workplace safety inspection and compliance were substandard.

Local sources reported that lack of awareness of terms of employment remained a problem. Some foreign workers arrived in the country at the invitation of an employer who sponsored their visas but then switched jobs. Some of these workers continued to pay a portion of their salaries to their former employer who continued to be legally responsible for their visas.

The labor law does not fully protect domestic workers, and this group was particularly vulnerable to exploitation. In 2012 the government amended the labor law to expand the rights of domestic employees, not covered under the previous law. The labor law requires domestic employees have an agreement with their employer with “clear contractual terms” and provides penalties for violators. The amendments, however, do not accord domestic employees many of the rights the law provides to other private-sector workers, including limits on daily and weekly working hours, and rest days.

There were credible reports employers forced many of the country’s 70,000 domestic workers, most of them women, to work from 12- to 16-hour days and surrender their identity documents to employers. Employers permitted very little time off; left them malnourished; and subjected them to verbal and physical abuse, including sexual molestation and rape. Reports of employers and recruitment agents beating or sexually abusing foreign women working in domestic positions were common. The press, embassies, and police received numerous reports of abuse.

The vast majority of cases involving abused domestic workers did not reach the Ministry of Labor or PPO for a variety of reasons. Most victims were too intimidated to sue their employers, although they had the right to do so. Some NGOs and activists reported that workers involved in a dispute with their employer were given the option to either leave the country or face jail time if the employer filed a counter-suit against them; in many cases the worker left the country, and the potentially abusive employer was able to bring in additional domestic workers with no repercussions. NGOs also reported the court system made it difficult for workers, who frequently did not have permanent home addresses in the country, to receive notices about their cases once they filed them. Additionally, if employees needing visa sponsorship filed a case against their employers, they were unable to request a transfer of their sponsorship to a new employer. If employees stayed in the country, they could work for other employers unofficially. Once they departed the country, however, they could not get a work visa with a new sponsor until authorities resolved the case with the previous employer.

During the year the MWPS shelter provided more than 150 female domestic workers with temporary housing and assistance with their cases. The majority of women in these cases sought assistance with unpaid wages and complaints of physical abuse. The MWPS continued to support victims who took their cases to court, but by law victims can receive only outstanding unpaid wages; no criminal damages are possible unless the victim has alleged a crime found in the criminal penal code has occurred, such as physical abuse or rape. While NGOs confirmed some cases were successful, compensation was meager. The government-run Dar al-Aman shelter moved to a new facility co-located with a branch of the LMRA and an office that runs a multilingual 24-hour help line for domestic workers who are abused.

The Ministry of Labor did not make public the number of deaths or injuries in workplace accidents. There were social media and press reports throughout the year, however, including the March 4 death of a cleaner on board a ship, and March 31 and November 9 reports on the deaths of two construction workers. Worker deaths generally were due to a combination of inadequate enforcement of standards, violations of standards, inadequate safety procedures, worker ignorance of those procedures, and inadequate safety standards for equipment. According to NGO sources, most accidents were in the construction sector, which employed more Bangladeshis and Pakistanis than other nationalities.

The MWPS noted suicide attempts were common among Indian workers but claimed the media underreported them.

Conditions in the many unregistered or illegal worker camps were often poor. Safety of accommodations and quality of life for workers were problems that continued to be a major concern at source-country embassies.

While some workers can remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardizing their employment, the level of freedom workers enjoyed directly related to the type of work they do. Foreign laborers and domestic workers have the most difficulty removing themselves from dangerous situations and have the fewest protections from firing. Both sets of workers relied on employers not just for housing but also for food, clothing, and transportation. They were also the least equipped to file a complaint due to language barriers, level of education, and inability to produce a government-issued identification card, which many employers retain.

Bangladesh

Executive Summary

Bangladesh is a secular, pluralistic, parliamentary democracy. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and the Awami League (AL) have retained power since the January 2014 parliamentary elections, which most international observers characterized as controversial and falling short of international standards.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Extremist organizations claiming affiliation with Da’esh and al-Qaida in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) increased their activities in the country, executing high-profile attacks on religious minorities; academics; foreigners; human rights activists; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community members; and other groups. The government responded with a strong anti-militancy drive, which human rights groups claim has resulted in increased extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detentions for the purpose of extortion, enforced disappearances, torture, and other abuses of human rights. The government further used counterterrorism efforts to justify restrictions of civil and political rights.

The most significant human rights problems were extrajudicial killings, arbitrary or unlawful detentions, and forced disappearances by government security forces; the killing of members of marginalized groups and others by groups espousing extremist views; early and forced marriage; gender-based violence, especially against women and children; and poor working conditions and labor rights abuses.

Other human rights problems included torture and abuse by security forces; arbitrary arrests; weak judicial capacity and independence; lengthy pretrial detentions; politically motivated violence; official corruption; and restrictions on online speech and the press. Authorities infringed on citizens’ privacy rights. Some nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) faced continued legal and informal restrictions on their activities. Discrimination against persons with disabilities was a problem, especially for children seeking admission to public school. Instances of societal violence against religious and ethnic minorities persisted. Discrimination against persons based on their sexual orientation increased.

There were reports of widespread impunity for security force abuses. The government took limited measures to investigate and prosecute cases of abuse and killing by security forces, including through the Internal Enquiry Cell of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB). Public distrust of police and security services deterred many from approaching government forces for assistance or to report criminal incidents. In several instances, the government blamed victims of extremist attacks, increasing the impunity of attackers.

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 constitution provides for the rights to life and personal liberty. Media and local and international human rights organizations reported the government or its agents committed numerous arbitrary or unlawful killings.

Suspicious deaths occurred during raids, arrests, and other law enforcement operations. Often security forces claimed they took a suspect in custody to a crime scene or hideout late at night to recover weapons or identify conspirators and that the suspect was killed when his conspirators shot at police. The government usually described these deaths as “crossfire killings,” “gunfights,” or “encounter killings,” terms used to characterize exchanges of gunfire between RAB or police units and criminal gangs, although the media sometimes also used these terms to describe legitimate uses of police force. Human rights organizations and media outlets claimed many of these “crossfire” incidents actually constituted extrajudicial killings (EJKs), In some cases, human rights organizations claimed that law enforcement units would detain, interrogate, and torture suspects, bring them back to the scene of the original arrest, execute them, and ascribe the death to lawful self-defense in response to violent attacks. One human rights organization reported that 150 individuals were killed in “crossfire” incidents in the first nine months of the year, including 34 by RAB, 11 by the Detective Branch of police, one by the Bangladesh Border Guard (BGB), three in a joint SWAT operation, and 61 by other police forces. Another human rights organization reported that security forces killed 118 individuals in the first nine months of the year.

Authorities claim that on August 5 a suspected Islamic extremist named Shafiul Islam Don was killed in a gunfight that occurred when attackers fired on a RAB vehicle transporting the suspect. RAB officials claim that Don confessed in custody to participating in a July 7 attack on an Eid ceremony in Sholakia. Similarly, Ghulam Faijullaha Fahim died in police custody on June 18 when officers allegedly took him to capture his associates, who then attacked police. Local persons had apprehended Fahim when he attempted to attack a mathematics teacher on June 15, and they turned him over to police. Other suspects were killed when police tried to apprehend them. For example, on June 19 police killed Shariful Islam Shihab, a suspect in the murder of the blogger Avijit Roy. Authorities stated that Shariful and two accomplices opened fire on the police as they tried to flee on a motorbike; the two accomplices reportedly escaped.

Although not as numerous or widespread as 2015, politically motivated killings continued by both members of the ruling and opposition parties. A human rights organization reported that political violence resulted in 209 deaths. Violence committed by student and youth wings of political parties was a problem. Violence also occurred between supporters of the ruling party. In July, one person died when two factions of the Bangladesh Chhatra League clashed at Comilla University over placing wreaths at the portrait of founding leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

As of October, groups claiming affiliation with transnational terrorist organizations, including Da’esh and AQIS, claimed to have killed 39 individuals, including members of religious minorities, academics, foreigners, LGBTI activists, and members of security forces. Another 31 attacks were unclaimed. Members of the Hindu minority population constituted a significant portion of the victims.

b. Disappearance

Human rights groups and media reported that multiple disappearances and kidnappings continued, some committed by security services. The government made limited efforts to prevent or investigate such acts. The United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances contacted the government on March 9 concerning the “reportedly alarming rise of the number of cases of enforced disappearances in the country” and had 34 outstanding cases under review as of May 18, but the working group did not receive a response. Following alleged disappearances, security forces released some individuals without charge, arrested some, some were found dead, and others were never found. A human rights organization claimed that individuals in law enforcement uniforms or claiming to be law enforcement “kidnapped” 84 individuals in the first 11 months of the year. Targets of disappearances included individuals affiliated with opposition political parties.

On the night of August 22, Abdullahil Amaan Azmi, son of convicted war criminal and former Jamaat leader Ghulam Azam, was allegedly abducted from his Dhaka apartment by men in plain clothes who reportedly identified themselves as members of the Detective Branch. Unlike his father, Azmi was never an official member of Jamaat. He is a known figure in Bangladesh politics and active on social media, however, and his Facebook posts were often critical of the government. Similarly, on August 9, Mir Ahmed Bin Quasem, son of top Jamaat leader and convicted war criminal Mir Quasem Ali, was allegedly abducted. Mir Ahmed had been serving as the legal representative for Jamaat until his abduction. On August 4, Hummam Quader Chowdhury, son of senior Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) leader and executed war criminal Salauddin Quader Chowdhury, was also reportedly picked up by unidentified men. They are widely reported to remain in government detention.

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

Although the constitution and law prohibit torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, local and international human rights organizations and the media reported security forces, including RAB, intelligence services, and police, employed torture and physical and psychological abuse during arrests and interrogations. Security forces reportedly used torture to gather information from alleged militants although members of political opposition parties claimed that security forces also targeted activists within their parties. Security forces reportedly used threats, beatings, kneecappings, and electric shock, and law enforcement officers sometimes committed rapes and other sexual abuses. Two prominent human rights organizations stated that security forces tortured eight persons to death in the first nine months of the year.

The law contains provisions allowing a magistrate to place a suspect in interrogative custody, known as remand, during which questioning of the suspect can take place without a lawyer present. Human rights organizations alleged that many instances of torture occur during this remand period as a means of obtaining information from the suspect. On November 10, the Supreme Court issued guidelines for arrest without warrant and interrogation of suspects on remand, aimed at preventing legal detention of citizens not charged with a crime. In its bid to reduce custodial torture, the court issued guidelines for law enforcement personnel as well as the courts regarding medical checks for detainees on remand and probes into allegations of torture. The court also asked the government to amend certain sections of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) to reduce police abuse of citizens (see section 1.d).

A human rights organization claimed that law enforcement personnel shot 16 detainees in the legs during the first 11 months of the year. A Human Rights Watch report released in September detailed the cases of 25 individuals shot in the legs by security forces since 2013, including one case in 2016 when a news reporter and human rights organization volunteer Mohammad Afzal Hossain was shot in the leg by security forces while reporting on voting irregularities in an election between two Awami league candidates in Rajapur. On January 15, Anwar Hossain Mahbub, Joint Secretary of a ward-level BNP unit, was arrested and allegedly tortured in prison, leading to his death on February 16. Idris Ali, a madrassa teacher and two-time local council chairman candidate for Jamaat, was reportedly kidnapped by plain-clothes security officials on August 4 and found dead on August 12 with alleged signs of torture, including broken hands and legs and cut tendons. On June 8, police in Jessore reportedly tortured a 16-year-old boy named Ainul Haque Rohit for allegedly stealing a motorbike. A human rights organization stated that police detained Rohit for 30 hours during which they blindfolded him; beat his joints, fingers, toes, and soles of his feet with a wooden rod; stuffed his vest in his mouth; and poured water in his nose for 10 minutes. The police reportedly released Rohit after receiving a bribe from his family. There was no accountability for these specific actions, and the government rarely charged, convicted, or punished those responsible for similar abuses.

Security forces at times committed rape and other sexual abuse of detainees and others. On May 22, assistant sub-inspector Delwar Hossain of Dagonbhuiyan Police Station, with assistance from officer Abdul Mannan, raped a woman who went to the station to file a complaint over a family dispute. The woman later filed a case under the Women and Children Repression Prevention Act and the authorities brought the two men to court, where they were found guilty and sent to prison.

Starting in January, the government investigated allegations that two Bangladeshi peacekeepers sexually abused a minor in the Central African Republic in 2015. One was dismissed from service and sentenced to one year in prison, and the allegations against the second peacekeeper were found to be unsubstantiated. The government continues to investigate an allegation, which came to light in February 2016, that a Bangladeshi peacekeeper sexually exploited an adult in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in late 2015/early 2016. The government made the example of the peacekeeper sentenced for sexual abuse in the Central African Republic available as part of an awareness-raising campaign and incorporated it into the pretraining peacekeeping deployment curriculum.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions remained harsh and at times life threatening due to overcrowding, inadequate facilities, and lack of proper sanitation. Odhikar stated these conditions contributed to custodial deaths, with 54 prisoners dying in prison in the first 11 months of the year.

Physical Conditions: According to the Department of Prisons, in October there were 78,578 prisoners in a system designed to hold 36,614 inmates. Authorities often incarcerated pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners.

Due to overcrowding, prisoners slept in shifts and did not have adequate toilet facilities. According to GIZ, the prisons do not meet minimum standards for adequate light, air, decency, and privacy. Human rights organizations and the media stated some prisoners did not receive medical care or water although prison authorities stated that each prison has access to water. Water available in prisons was comparable with water available in the rest of the country, which was frequently not potable. Human Rights Commission Chairman Kazi Reazul Hoque told the media on August 23 after visiting the newly built Dhaka Central Jail in Keraniganj that human rights are being violated in the prison. He further said, “We will visit the prison every three months to improve the situation.” Despite the new facility, there were still problems there. Prisoners at the new Dhaka Central Jail told the media in May that they must pay approximately 30,000 taka ($381) per month for food, bathing and toilet use, places to sleep, and other services. Authorities reportedly charged additional fees for visits with family members.

Conditions in prisons, and often within the same prison complex, varied widely, because authorities lodged some prisoners in areas subject to high temperatures, poor ventilation, and overcrowding. The law allows individuals designated as VIPs to access “division A” prison facilities with improved living conditions and food, more frequent family visitation rights, and provision of a poorer prisoner to serve as an aide in their cell.

While the law requires holding juveniles separately from adults, many juveniles were incarcerated with adults. Children were sometimes imprisoned (occasionally with their mothers) despite laws and court decisions prohibiting the imprisonment of minors.

Authorities routinely held female prisoners separately from men. Although the law prohibits women in “safe custody” (usually victims of rape, trafficking, and domestic violence) from being housed with criminals, officials did not always provide separate facilities. Women were not permitted to leave this custody without permission from the authorities.

Although Dhaka’s new central jail has facilities for people with mental disabilities, specific provisions generally do not exist for people with disabilities. Judges may, however, reduce punishments for persons with more significant disabilities on humanitarian grounds and jailors may make special arrangements, for example, transferring inmates with more significant disabilities to the prison hospital. The prison hospital accommodates people with physical disabilities, the elderly, and those with broken limbs and cardiac problems, among other issues.

Administration: There were no prison ombudsmen for prisoners to submit complaints. Prison authorities indicated that they are constrained by significant staff shortages. The scope for retraining and rehabilitation programs was extremely limited.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted visits from the International Committee of the Red Cross and assistance from some international donors. The government allowed the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society to visit foreign detainees. Government-appointed committees composed of prominent private citizens in each prison locality monitored prisons monthly but did not publicly release their findings. District judges occasionally visited prisons.

Improvements: On July 29, prison authorities transferred 6,511 inmates from the 200-year old Dhaka Central Jail to a new location in Keraniganj on the outskirts of Dhaka. The new facility was built to accommodate 4,590 inmates, meaning the new facility was immediately overcrowded, but less so than the old jail. Those on trial are housed in six buildings while convicts are in two similar structures. Four buildings house more dangerous criminals, such as those convicted of violent crime, militants, and terrorists. There are 16 special cells for VIP prisoners, which include current and former ministers, members of parliament, senior civil servants, and individuals of similar status.

The new jail has facilities for 200 female inmates, 100 male adolescents, 40 female adolescents, 30 male prisoners with mental disabilities, and 20 female prisoners with mental disabilities. The jail has 60 classified wards and 400 cells for dangerous prisoners. The new jail also has a 200-bed hospital and a daycare center.

Other facilities, such as the Old Dhaka Central Jail, have poorer light, sanitation, ventilation, and other conditions and do not meet UN/Mandela standards.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention. The law permits authorities to arrest and detain persons suspected of criminal activity without an order from a magistrate or a warrant. Authorities sometimes held detainees without a charge sheet, without divulging their whereabouts or circumstances to family or legal counsel, or without acknowledging having arrested them in the first place.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Police, who fall under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MOHA), have a mandate to maintain internal security and law and order. The Police Special Branch enforces immigration law while the BGB and the Bangladesh Coast Guard (BCG)–also under MOHA–enforce the country’s borders. Both Dhaka Metropolitan Police’s Detective Branch and the Criminal Investigation Department conduct investigations. The Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime Unit, which began operating during the year under the Dhaka Metropolitan Police but has now nationwide jurisdiction, has taken a leading role in counterterrorism efforts. RAB, composed of forces drawn from the police and military, also has a counterterrorism role in addition to other duties. The military, organized under the Prime Minister’s Office, is responsible for external security, but it can be called to help as a back-up force with a variety of domestic security responsibilities when required in aid to civil authority. This includes responding to instances of terrorism. For example, elite military units based in Chittagong and Sylhet traveled to Dhaka to support local police to end an 11-hour terrorism hostage incident on July 1. The Directorate General of Forces Intelligence and National Security Intelligence are the primary means by which the government gathers information on topics of interest, including national security matters.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the military and other security forces, and the government has mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption within the security forces. These mechanisms were not regularly employed, however. The government took steps to improve police professionalism, discipline, training, and responsiveness and to reduce corruption. Police basic training continued to incorporate instruction on the appropriate use of force as part of efforts to implement community-based policing.

According to police policy, all significant uses of force by police, including actions that resulted in serious physical injury or death, trigger an automatic internal investigation, usually by a professional standards unit that reports directly to the Inspector General of Police (IGP). The government, however, neither released statistics on total killings by security personnel nor took comprehensive measures to investigate cases despite previous statements by high-ranking officials that the government would show “zero tolerance” and fully investigate all extrajudicial killings by security forces that occurred in 2016. Some human rights groups expressed skepticism over the independence of the professional standards units conducting these assessments. In the few known instances in which the government brought charges, those found guilty generally received only administrative punishment. Some members of the security forces acted with impunity. For example, authorities did not make progress in a case regarding the alleged rape and murder of Sohagi Jahan Tonu, a second-year student of Comilla Victoria College, whose body was discovered March 20 in the Comilla military cantonment, a military base where she lived with her family. Tonu’s parents alleged that an army sergeant and a soldier committed the act. Despite two autopsies including DNA samples, authorities have not arrested the perpetrators, which sparked widespread condemnation and student protests. In another case, on November 13 a court in Kushtia issued arrest warrants for three policemen, including an officer in charge, for allegedly killing a farmer in a “crossfire” in 2007 after they tried unsuccessfully to extort money from his family.

Despite such efforts, security forces, including RAB, continued to commit abuses with impunity. Plaintiffs were reluctant to accuse police in criminal cases due to lengthy trial procedures and fear of retribution. Reluctance to bring charges against police also perpetuated a climate of impunity. Officers loyal to the ruling party occupied many of the key positions in the law enforcement agencies.

The government continued support of an Internal Enquiry Cell (IEC) within the paramilitary unit RAB that investigates cases of human rights abuses. The IEC investigated 12 cases during the year compared to 16 the previous year. The most common complaints in the 63 cases investigated since 2012 were “abuse of authority,” physical harassment, and bribery. Of the 63 cases since 2012, the IEC confirmed the truth of allegations of abuse in 20 cases. As of December 2016, RAB has two cases under active review, including one investigation the IEC self-initiated following media reporting.

Security forces failed to prevent societal violence (see section 6).

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Police may arrest individuals on a court-issued warrant, on observation of a crime in progress, or in an attempt to preserve security and public order under the Special Powers Act. The government or a district magistrate may order a person detained for 30 days to prevent the commission of an act that could threaten national security; however, authorities sometimes held detainees for longer periods. A magistrate must inform a detainee of the grounds for detention within 15 days, and regulations require an advisory board to examine a detainee’s case after four months. Detainees have the right to appeal.

On May 24, the Appellate Panel of the Supreme Court upheld an April 7, 2003, High Court decision ordering the government to amend sections 54 and 167 of the CrPC, which permit arrests without warrant and interrogation in custody known as “remand.” The Appellate Panel in its full verdict released on November 10 issued guidelines for application of these sections, which will be binding on all courts and authorities (see Section 1.d and 1.c). Pending issuance of the guidelines, government security forces continued to detain citizens without a warrant and subordinate courts granted “remand” for interrogation without following safeguards established by the High Court in its 2003 verdict.

The highest court’s guidelines issued on November 10 for the law enforcement agencies include preparation of a memorandum of arrest with signature of the arrested person with date and time. Police must inform a relative or a friend of the arrest within 12 hours, and enter in a diary the ground of the arrest, the name of the relative or friend who has been informed, and the name of the officer who has custody of the arrested person. The officer must show his/her identity card to the person arrested and others present during the arrest. The guidelines made official registration of a criminal case with the court essential for holding a detainee in law enforcement or judicial custody and specifically ordered a halt to arrest under Section 54 for the purpose of detention under the Special Powers Act. Under the guidelines, the officer who makes the arrest must record any visible injury on the person arrested and reasons for such injury, take the person to the nearest hospital for treatment, and obtain a certificate from the attending doctor. The guidelines stipulate a written report be given to an arrestee’s relative or friend within 12 hours of arrest. If an investigation cannot be completed within 24 hours, the officer must explain why not if they want to continue to hold a suspect without a court order, and why the accusation or information against the person is considered well founded. The officer must also transmit a copy of the relevant case diary to the court.

The guidelines for judicial magistrates require them to release an arrested person if he/she is produced before the court with a petition for detention without producing a copy of the entries in the diary made during the arrest. Magistrates are required to reject the petitions of police officers if the arrested person is not produced before the court or if the allegations were not “well founded.” The magistrates cannot allow remand of any arrested person for more than 15 days and could prosecute law enforcement officers under the Torture and Custodial Death (Prohibition) Act 2009 if a medical board finds evidence of custodial torture or death (see section 1.c)

There is a functioning bail system in the regular courts. Authorities granted criminal detainees charged with crimes access to attorneys. The government sometimes provided detainees with state-funded defense attorneys. The few legal aid programs for detainees that existed were underfunded. Authorities generally permitted defense lawyers to meet with their clients only after formal charges were filed in the courts, which in some cases occurred weeks or months after the initial arrest.

Despite a May 9 explicit directive from the Supreme Court’s Appellate Division prohibiting rearrest of accused persons when they are released on bail and arresting them in new cases without producing them in court, police routinely used these mechanisms to detain suspects indefinitely. Media report that Jamaat’s assistant secretary for Dhaka city Shafiqul Islam Masud was originally arrested in August 2014, and rearrested at the gate of Dhaka Central Jail twice, on December 25, 2015 and April 24, 2016, immediately after having received bail in more than 50 cases relating to violence during general strikes.

Arbitrary Arrest: Arbitrary arrests occurred, often in conjunction with political demonstrations, or as part of security force responses to terrorist activity, and the government held persons in detention without specific charges, sometimes in an attempt to collect information about other suspects. Police engaged in a mass arrest campaign from June 10 to 16 before the Eid holidays during which security forces reportedly arrested 14,000 individuals, including a purported 2,000 opposition-party activists. Although some government spokespersons justified the effort as an anti-militancy drive following killings of secular bloggers and religious minority leaders, security forces reportedly detained approximately 150 confirmed militants. Human rights organizations and other observers asserted that the arrest campaign largely served as a means for police to raise money through bribes and bail from arrested individuals, and to intimidate members of political opposition groups. Following the July 1 terrorist attack on Holey Bakery, security forces detained two of the released hostages, Hasnat Karim and Tahmid Khan, for their alleged role in the attack. Human rights organizations assert that unknown security forces secretly detained the two individuals for interrogation for 34 days before police officially arrested them although the government denied this allegation.

Pretrial Detention: Arbitrary and lengthy pretrial detention continued to be a problem due to bureaucratic inefficiencies, limited resources, lax enforcement of pretrial rules, and corruption. According to court sources, approximately three million civil and criminal cases were pending in 2016. In some cases, the length of pretrial detention equaled or exceeded the sentence for the alleged crime. Seventy-four percent of detainees were in pretrial detention or undergoing trial. A media report in October stated that more than 500 prisoners have spent more than five years in prison without trial. For example, authorities detained a prisoner named Shipon for more than 17 years without trial in a murder case until he was finally released on November 15 due to media attention to his case.

Observers further stated that a high-level government official pressured lawyers to decline to represent the individuals due to government interest in the case. Tahmid was granted bail on October 2, but Hasnat remained in prison at the end of the year. Authorities denied Hasnat temporary bail to attend the funeral of his father in November.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, but corruption, political interference, and a substantial backlog of cases hindered the court system. A provision of the constitution that accords the executive branch authority over judicial appointments to lower courts and over compensation and assignments for judicial officials undermines full judicial independence. The 16th constitutional amendment giving parliament impeachment power over high court judges was passed in 2014, but in August the High Court found it to be unconstitutional.

Corruption and a substantial backlog of cases hindered the court system, and the granting of extended continuances effectively prevented many defendants from obtaining fair trials due to witness tampering, victim intimidation, and missing evidence. Human rights observers stated that magistrates, attorneys, and court officials demanded bribes from defendants in many cases, or ruled based on influence by or loyalty to political patronage networks. Observers noted that judges who made decisions unfavorable to the government risked being transferred to other jurisdictions. There were allegations of political influence over court decisions.

The Bangladeshi International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) continued to prosecute individuals indicted for committing war crimes during the 1971 independence war. On May 11, authorities executed Matiur Rahman Nizami, Amir (president) of Jamaat, the country’s largest Islamist party, at Dhaka central jail. On September 3, authorities executed another Jamaat leader, Mir Quasem Ali, at Kashimpur prison in Gazipur. The defendants claimed that the court process was tainted by irregularities, and that the judges ignored exculpatory evidence. In total, five individuals were executed by the ICT since it was established in 2010–four from Jamaat and one from BNP.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair public trial, but the judiciary did not always protect this right due to corruption, partisanship, and weak personnel and institutional capacities. Lower court judges received base pay from 30,935 taka ($386) to 78,000 taka ($975) per month, depending on seniority. A High Court division judge of the Supreme Court receives a monthly base pay of 95,000 taka ($1,213) and an appellate division judge is paid 100,000 taka ($1,277). Lower court prosecutors’ low monthly retainer of 3,000 taka ($37.50) plus 200 taka ($2.50) per day spent in court led some to accept bribes to influence the outcome of a case.

Defendants are presumed innocent and have the right to appeal and to see the government’s evidence. Defendants also have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them. The Speedy Trial Act was intended to prevent undue delay of proceedings for certain offenses, such as murder, sexual assault, and robbery, but frequent adjournments contributed to the backlog of cases. The accused are entitled to be present at their public trial where judges decide cases. Indigent defendants have the right to a public defender. Trials are conducted in the Bengali language and free interpretation is not provided by the government. Defendants also have the right to adequate time to prepare a defense. Accused persons have the right to representation by counsel, review accusatory material, call and question witnesses, and appeal verdicts. The government frequently did not respect these rights, and some government officials reportedly discouraged lawyers from representing defendants in controversial cases important to the state.

Mobile courts headed by executive branch magistrates rendered immediate verdicts that often included prison terms to defendants who were not afforded the opportunity for legal representation. In a July 26-28 conference in Dhaka, Deputy Commissioners from all 64 districts requested that the government expedite the passage of an amendment to the Mobile Court Act of 2009 giving the executive magistrates increased judicial powers. The act had not moved forward by the end of the year.

On September 20, the High Court summoned an executive magistrate and the officer in charge of a police station in Tangail district to investigate their use of a mobile court to jail a boy using the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Act, which is not within the jurisdiction of the mobile courts. Media had reported that the boy was sentenced to prison for two years for a Facebook posting criticizing a local AL Member of Parliament (MP). Appearing before the High Court on September 27, the boy said the MP hit him, the officer in charge beat him, and the executive magistrate kicked him. Under the threat of being killed in “crossfire,” the boy admitted to threatening the MP in the Facebook post. On October 18, the High Court declared the mobile court’s decision illegal, acquitting the boy of charges and directing the secretaries of Public Administration and Home Affairs and the police to withdraw the officer in charge and the executive magistrate so they could be investigated. On October 26, the Supreme Court stayed the order to withdraw the individuals after they petitioned the court.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were reports of political prisoners or detainees. Political affiliation at times appeared to be a factor in the arrest and prosecution of members of the opposition parties, including through spurious charges under the pretext of responding to national security threats. Former prime minister Khaleda Zia, chairperson of the largest opposition political party, was charged with sedition for her public comment on the number of individuals people killed during the 1971 War of Independence. The government has not detained her pending trial. Opposition party members claimed that security forces arrested approximately 2,000 of their members during mass arrests in early June, although in general they were not charged or imprisoned; some were reportedly released after paying bribes.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals and organizations may seek administrative and judicial remedies for human rights violations; however, the civil court system was slow, cumbersome, and marked by public distrust, deterring many from filing complaints. The government did not interfere with civil judicial procedures. Corruption and outside influence were problems in the civil judicial system. Alternative dispute resolution for civil cases allowed citizens to present their cases for mediation. According to government sources, the wider use of mediation in civil cases accelerated the administration of justice, but there was no assessment of its fairness or impartiality.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

The government did not amend the 2001 Vested Property (Return) Act to accelerate the process of return of land to primarily Hindu individuals (see section 2.d.). The Vested Property Act allows the government to confiscate property of anyone that the government declares to be an enemy of the state. It was often used to seize property abandoned by minority religious groups when they fled the country, particularly after the 1971 independence war.

Minority communities reported many land ownership disputes that disproportionately displaced minorities, especially in areas near new roads or industrial development zones where land prices had recently increased. They also claimed that local police, civil authorities, and political leaders were sometimes involved or shielded politically influential land grabbers from prosecution (see section 6.). In August, the government amended the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) Land Dispute Resolution Commission Act, which may allow for land restitution for indigenous people living in the CHT (see section 2.d).

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

The law does not prohibit arbitrary interference with private correspondence. Intelligence and law enforcement agencies may monitor private communications with the permission of MOHA. In practice, police rarely obtained warrants from the courts to monitor private correspondence, and authorities did not punish officers who violated these procedures. Human rights organizations alleged the Special Branch of police, the National Security Intelligence, and the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence employed informers to conduct surveillance and report on citizens perceived to be critical of the government. The Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) tracked online content through its monitoring unit, and on November 6 it announced a decision to require internet cafes to install CCTV cameras to prevent “offensive content” from being uploaded. The government also routinely conducted surveillance on opposition politicians. Human rights organizations and news outlets reported police sometimes entered private homes without judicial or other appropriate authorization.

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 sometimes failed to respect these rights. There were significant limitations on freedom of speech. Some journalists self-censored their criticisms of the government due to harassment and fear of reprisal.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: The constitution equates criticism of the constitution with sedition. Punishment for sedition ranges from three years’ to life imprisonment. Several high profile individuals were charged with sedition, including BNP leader Khaleda Zia, TV personality Mahmudur Rahman Manna, and reporter Kanok Sarwar, but the government did not proceed with prosecutions. The law limits hate speech but does not define clearly what constitutes hate speech, leaving the government with broad powers of interpretation. The government may restrict speech deemed to be against the security of the state; against friendly relations with foreign states; and against public order, decency, or morality; or that constitutes contempt of court, defamation, or incitement to an offense.

Press and Media Freedoms: Both print and online independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views; however, media outlets that criticized the government experienced negative government pressure. For example, independent journalists alleged that intelligence services influenced media outlets in part by withholding financially important government advertising and pressing private companies to withhold their advertising as well.

The government maintains editorial control over the Bangladesh public television station (BTV), and private channels were mandated to air government content at no cost. Civil society said that there was political interference in the licensing process, as all television channel licenses granted by the government were for stations supporting the ruling party.

Violence and Harassment: Authorities, including intelligence services on some occasions, subjected journalists to physical attack, harassment, and intimidation. In February, members of the ruling party initiated 79 sedition and defamation cases in multiple courts against Mahfuz Anam, editor of The Daily Star, for publishing reports of corruption involving Prime Minister Hasina in 2007 and 2008. Hasina publicly stated Anam’s newspaper and its sister media outlet, Prothom Alo, would be punished for publishing the reports.

The government imprisoned several prominent editors affiliated with the BNP, including the arrest of 81-year-old journalist Shafiq Rehman in April on charges relating to his alleged role in a plot to cause harm to Hasina’s son. On September 6, the Supreme Court granted him three-month conditional bail after four and a half months of detention. The government continued to pursue charges against the editor of Amar Desh, Mahmudur Rahman, whom police arrested in 2013 for publishing Skype conversations between the Chairman of the ICT and a private consultant on ICT cases. Although the High Court granted Rahman bail on September 8, the Appellate Court chamber judge stayed his bail until October 30, further prolonging his detention of nearly four years. Rahman was released on bail on November 23.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Privately owned newspapers usually enjoyed broad freedom to carry diverse views. Political polarization and self-censorship in an atmosphere of fear remained a problem, however. The media generally favored one of the two major political parties. Ownership of the media is influenced by politics, and both the government and big businesses used advertising as a weapon to control the media.

The government sought to censor the media indirectly through threats and harassment. On multiple occasions, government officials asked privately owned television channels not to broadcast the opposition’s activities and statements. One talk show host reported overt censorship from Directorate General of Forces Intelligence personnel, who intimidated and threatened the host and the channel until owners finally cancelled the program. When the host continued working on another program, he reported receiving word for word instructions from security forces for behavior on air and being subject to surveillance and death threats via text, letter, and voice messages. The host was ultimately forced to flee the country. The well regarded newspapers Prothom Alo and Daily Star were denied access to prime-ministerial events because they published reports critical of the government and prime minister.

Both the government and businesses used the threat of pulling advertising dollars to pressure the media to avoid unfavorable coverage.

According to some journalists and human rights NGOs, journalists engaged in self-censorship, particularly due to fear of security-force retribution. Although public criticism of the government was common and vocal, some media figures expressed fear of harassment by the government.

The government did not subject foreign publications and films to stringent review and censorship. Some international media outlets reported delays and difficulties in obtaining visas. One television producer reported that the government would only issue a visa if the government were allowed to review and approve their coverage. A government-managed film censorship board reviewed local and foreign films and had the authority to censor or ban films on the grounds of state security, law and order, religious sentiment, obscenity, foreign relations, defamation, or plagiarism, but it was less strict than in the past. In January the Bangladesh Censor Board upheld a ban on the movie “Rana Plaza,” originally set to premier in September 2015. The film told the story of a garment factory worker’s 17-day fight to survive under debris following the April 24, 2013 eponymous factory collapse. Video rental libraries and DVD shops stocked a wide variety of films, and government efforts to enforce censorship on rentals were sporadic and ineffective.

The government at times censored objectionable comments regarding national leaders. In April, the government refiled a criminal defamation complaint against news editor Probir Sikder for “tarnishing the image” of a minister.

National Security: In some cases, the government criticized media outlets for reporting that allegedly compromised national security. The prime minister and other government officials criticized local media for their live telecast of government counter terrorism efforts during the July 1 Holey Bakery terrorist attack and, following the incident, the government enacted a blanket ban on live television news coverage of terrorist attack and disaster rescue operations.

Nongovernmental Impact: Atheist, secular, and LGBTI writers and bloggers reported they continued to receive death threats from extremist organizations. Following his inclusion in a “hit list” of 34 individuals published online by Ansar al-Islam (a purported AQIS affiliate) in November 2015, one blogger reported frequent threats via Facebook messenger and persistent surveillance, including an incident in April when four masked individuals with weapons followed him before being scared away by police. On April 7, blogger Najimuddin Samad was killed in Dhaka; investigation into the murder was ongoing.

A journalist at a prominent newspaper reported receiving frequent death threats since September 2015, including from persons claiming affiliation with Da’esh. The journalist reported receiving almost daily text messages with threats and passages from the Quran describing death, such as “consider doomsday as if tomorrow,” and “all will see the Prophet at the graveyard.” Several other outlets experienced similar threats, some of which culminated in bias-based murders.

INTERNET FREEDOM

There were isolated incidents of government restriction and disruption of access to the internet and censorship of online content. Approximately 14.4 percent of the population has access to the internet according to the International Telecommunication Union. The BTRC reported approximately 63.9 million internet subscriptions in July, including roughly 60 million mobile internet subscriptions (one individual may have more than one subscription). Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) and Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) telephony were illegal, but the laws were rarely enforced against individuals.

There were several incidents of government interference in internet communications, filtering or blocking of access, restricting content, and censoring websites or other communications and internet services. Many websites were suspended or closed based on vague criteria, or with explicit reference to their pro-opposition content in violation of legal requirements. The BTRC is charged with the regulation of telecommunications. It carries out law enforcement and government requests to block content by ordering internet service providers to take action. In May the BTRC blocked encrypted communication applications Threema and Wickr as well as several blogs and Facebook posts it deemed to be crafted in “malice to Islam.” The BTRC Chairman later stated that the BTRC only blocks websites or services upon the request of law enforcement or MOHA and does not take independent action to block any websites or services. In July, the BTRC carried out a directive of the Dhaka Metropolitan Police to block 30 websites and Facebook pages for allegedly inciting militancy or running anti-religion propaganda. On August 2, the BTRC initiated a temporary shutdown of internet and mobile telephone services in a section of Dhaka city. BTRC officials stated that the exercise, the first in a series of temporary shutdowns, was to test the agency’s ability to restrict access to communications to protect public safety in the event of an emergency, such as a terror attack. On August 4, the BTRC carried out a directive to block 35 news websites that had published material critical of the government and current political leaders or were perceived to feature overt support for political opposition groups. Many of the sites remained blocked at the end of the year.

Facebook’s “biannual government requests report” for January to June 2016 showed the government made nine requests for data pursuant to legal process regarding eight users or accounts and one emergency request for data regarding one user or account in that period. Facebook reported producing some data in response to one request pursuant to legal process and one emergency request. The 10 total requests for data regarding nine users or accounts made by the government in the first half of 2016 is a slight decrease from the 12 requests for data regarding 31 users or accounts made in second half of 2015. Facebook further reported that two pieces of content were restricted at the BTRC’s request in the first half of 2016, due to alleged violation of local law regarding blasphemy and the Bangladesh Information and Communications Technology Act.

Google’s biannual transparency report for July to December 2015 showed the government made two requests for removal of two YouTube videos in that period. One request was related to alleged defamation and the other was related to alleged copyright violation. Google, which owns YouTube, did not comply with either request. Twitter’s biannual Transparency Report for January to June 2016 showed no requests for data or content removal from the government. In Twitter’s July to December 2015 report, the government made 10 requests for account information regarding 25 accounts, all pursuant to emergency disclosure requests. Law enforcement officers may submit an emergency disclosure request to Twitter on the basis of an exigent emergency that involves the danger of death or serious physical injury to a person that Twitter may have information necessary to protect. Twitter provided some information in response to six of those requests.

Individuals and groups generally engaged in the expression of views via the internet, although some activists stated that fear of prosecution under the Information and Communication Technology Act (ICTA) limited their online speech. The government used the ICTA and the threat of sedition charges, which carry a possible death penalty, to limit online activity and curtail freedom of expression online. The Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission filtered internet content that the government deemed harmful to national unity and religious beliefs. The ICTA was amended in 2013 to increase penalties for cybercrime, make more offenses ineligible for bail, and give law enforcement officers broader authority to arrest violators without a court order. Opponents of the ICTA stated that section 57, which criminalizes the posting online of inflammatory or derogatory information against the state or individuals, stifles freedom of speech and is unconstitutional. The High Court previously rejected pleas challenging the constitutionality of section 57. The Cabinet approved a draft of the controversial digital security act in August, which includes a provision for life imprisonment for spreading negative propaganda through digital devices regarding the country’s independence war and founding leader. The law was under review by the Law Ministry at the year’s end.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

Although the government placed few restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events, media groups reported authorities discouraged research on sensitive religious and political topics that might fuel possible religious or communal tensions. Academic publications on the 1971 independence war were also subject to scrutiny and government approval. Appointment of teachers in universities continued to be politicized, and in September the Ministry of Education suggested that police or intelligence agencies should review teachers’ personal information to ensure that they are not involved in antigovernment or criminal activities.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for the freedoms of assembly and association, but the government did not respect these rights for opposition political parties. The government limited both freedom of assembly and association for political reasons, ostensibly in the interest of national security.

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

The government generally permitted rallies of nonpolitical entities and its political allies, but on occasion, it prevented political opposition groups from holding meetings and demonstrations. The law authorizes the government to ban assemblies of more than four persons. A Dhaka Metropolitan Police order requires advance permission for gatherings such as protests and demonstrations. According to human rights NGOs, authorities increasingly used this provision, and preemptively banned gatherings around the election anniversary. Occasionally, police or ruling party activists used force to disperse demonstrations.

On April 4, police fired upon a crowd after an alleged attack by demonstrators gathered to protest the planned construction of a coal-fired power plant to Chittagong District, killing four villagers and injuring 60. Following the protest, local authorities filed a legal case against 6,000 protesters for attacking the police and obstruction of law enforcers. The government, including the prime minister, supported construction of the power plant despite local concerns regarding economic and environmental impacts to the region. On July 28, police in Dhaka dispersed a march toward the prime minister’s office to protest similarly the planned Rampal power plant near the ecologically sensitive Sunderbans. Police used tear gas and batons, injuring more than 50 individuals.

Police prevented opposition party members from holding events in several cases. For example, police allegedly stopped BNP rallies on July 27 in four sub-districts of Narayanganj, which were organized to protest the sentencing of BNP’s senior vice chairman, Tarique Rahman, on corruption charges. Police prevented another BNP rally on October 2 to protest a government action against a BNP leader despite having given initial permission for the event.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The law provides for the right of citizens to form associations, subject to “reasonable restrictions” in the interest of morality or public order, and the government generally respected this right. The government’s NGO Affairs Bureau sometimes withheld its approval for foreign funding to NGOs working in areas the bureau deemed sensitive such as human rights, labor rights, indigenous rights, or humanitarian assistance to Rohingya refugees (see sections 2.d., 5, and 7.a.).

On October 5, Parliament passed the Foreign Donations (Voluntary Activities) Regulation Act, which places additional restrictions on the receipt of foreign funds by NGOs or government officials and provides for punishment of NGOs making any ‘derogatory’ comments regarding the constitution or constitutional institutions (see section 5).

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 movement within the country, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights, except in two sensitive areas–the CHT and Cox’s Bazar. The government enforced some restrictions on foreigners’ access to the CHT.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: UNHCR reported cases of refugee abuse, including rape, assault, and domestic violence, deprivation of food, arbitrary detention, and documentation problems. From January to September, UNHCR reported a total of 168 cases of sexual and gender-based violence in the two official camps, including 129 cases of domestic violence and 14 cases of rape. According to a June IOM report, 53.5 percent of those surveyed in Rohingya populations living in makeshift settlements also experienced violence. Of those, 50.5 percent said they experienced physical violence, 6.5 percent said they experienced sexual violence, 3.8 percent said they experienced mental abuse, and 2.8 percent said they experienced food deprivation. These reports continued at year’s end.

The government did not fully cooperate with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) or other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. For example, the government did not allow UNHCR access to all individuals whom UNHCR deemed persons of concern, particularly the undocumented Rohingya population living in the towns and villages outside of the two official refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar district. UNHCR was also not allowed unrestricted access to a new influx of Rohingya migrants during the last three months of the year although the International Organization for Migration (IOM) was allowed to provide services.

Foreign Travel: Some senior opposition officials reported extensive delays in getting their passports renewed; others reported harassment and delays at the airport when departing the country. Authorities barred one BNP official from leaving the country to attend a party event in Bahrain while another was detained at the airport before being allowed to board a plane. Another opposition leader required High Court intervention in order to obtain his passport from the government after nearly a year of delays.

The international travel ban continued on war-crimes suspects from the 1971 independence war.

The country’s passports are invalid for travel to Israel according to Bangladesh policy.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS

Societal tensions and marginalization of indigenous people continued in the CHT as a result of a government policy during the 1973-1997 low-level armed conflict there of relocating landless Bengalis from the plains to the CHT with the unstated objective of changing the demographic balance in the CHT toward a Bengali majority, which displaced tens of thousands of indigenous persons.

The internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the CHT had limited physical security. Indigenous community leaders maintained that settlers’ violations of indigenous persons’ rights, sometimes with the involvement of security forces, were widespread.

The IDPs in the CHT also lacked sufficient access to courts and legal aid. The CHT Commission composed of experts from inside and outside the country, who sought to promote respect for rights in the CHT, found that a lack of information and lawyers to assist indigenous persons hindered IDP access to justice. The commission reported settlers expropriated indigenous land using false titles, intimidation, force, fraud, and manipulation of government eminent-domain claims (see section 6).

In August the government amended the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) Land Dispute Resolution Commission Act curtailing the unilateral authority of the commission chair to make decisions on behalf of the commission and harmonizing the provisions with the CHT Peace Accord signed between the government and the Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS), a political party representing indigenous and tribal people of the CHT. Some Bengali groups, however, observed general strikes in CHT to protest the amendment, saying that it failed to recognize their rights as citizens of the country. They demanded inclusion of their representatives in the commission.

The number of IDPs in the CHT remained disputed. In 2000, a government task force estimated the number to be 500,000, which included nonindigenous as well as indigenous persons. The CHT Commission estimated that there were slightly more than 90,000 indigenous IDPs. The prime minister pledged to resolve outstanding land disputes in the CHT to facilitate the return of the IDPs and to close the remaining military camps, but the task force on IDPs remained unable to function due to a dispute over classifying settlers as IDPs. The commission reported that authorities displaced several indigenous families to create border guard camps and army recreational facilities. No land disputes were resolved during the year.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

As of August, the government and UNHCR provided temporary protection and basic assistance to 32,967 registered Rohingya refugees from Burma living in two official camps (Kutupalong and Nayapara). The government and UNHCR estimated that an additional 200,000 to 500,000 undocumented Rohingya lived in various villages and towns outside the two official refugee camps. Most of these undocumented Rohingya lived at unofficial sites among the local population in Teknaf and Ukhyia subdistricts of Cox’s Bazar District. These sites included approximately 35,000 at the Kutupalong Makeshift site adjacent to the official Kutupalong refugee camp, 15,000 at a site called Leda, and 10,000 at the Shamlapur site. Starting in October, a new wave of more than 34,000 migrants entered Bangladesh, seeking refuge from violence in Rakhine state. Led by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the government continued to implement a national strategy on Rohingya with six key elements: border management, addressing security threats, humanitarian assistance, strengthened engagement with Burma, internal coordination on Rohingya problems, and surveying the undocumented Rohingya.

Starting in May, the government funded and implemented a survey of the undocumented Rohingya population in the six districts where they are most populous. As part of an awareness-raising campaign, the government stated that the survey would be used to improve services available to the undocumented Rohingya population. Other key messages of the awareness-raising campaign included that the survey was voluntary, would not lead to refugee status, and would not be used to force repatriation. Some NGOs and donor countries expressed concerns regarding how the survey will affect some portions of the undocumented Rohingya population, particularly children with one Bangladeshi and one Rohingya parent. The government stated its intent to issue “information cards” to those enumerated through the process, which can be used as proof of identity to authorities.

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, nor has the government established a formal system for providing protection to refugees. The government provided some protection to Rohingya refugees from Burma already resident in the country, but it continued to deny asylum to the undocumented Rohingya, whom it categorized as illegal economic migrants. The government cooperated with UNHCR in providing temporary protection and basic assistance to registered refugees already resident in two official camps. Although significant protection problems remained, delivery of humanitarian assistance to the undocumented Rohingya has continued through implementation of the national strategy.

Refoulement: Continued violence and human rights abuses against the Rohingya in Burma prevented them from safely and voluntarily returning to their homes. Between January and September, according to UNHCR, Bangladeshi authorities forcibly turned back an estimated 3,487 Rohingya to Burma, compared with 4,719 during the same period in 2015. According to UNHCR, which maintained a field presence in both countries, many of these individuals were likely entitled to refugee status and protection. Despite these expulsions, the border remained porous, and UNHCR noted the existence of considerable daily cross-border movement for trade, smuggling, and illegal migration. The government of Bangladesh, including Prime Minister Hasina, engaged Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi regarding a durable solution to the Rohingya issue although these diplomatic efforts have not resulted in increased cooperation.

Freedom of movement: There were restrictions on refugees’ freedom of movement. By law, refugees are not permitted to move outside of the two camps. Police can punish with detention any movement without valid documentation, including illegal entry and departure from the country.

Employment: The government did not authorize Rohingya refugees living in the country to work locally. Despite their movement restrictions, some refugees worked illegally as manual laborers or rickshaw pullers in the informal economy. Undocumented Rohingya also worked illegally, mostly in day-labor jobs.

Access to Basic Services: Working with UNHCR, the government continued to improve some aspects of the official refugee camps following findings in recent years that sanitation, nutrition, and shelter conditions had fallen below minimum international standards. Some basic needs remained unmet, and the camps remained overcrowded, with densities on par with the country’s urban slums. A 2014 nutrition survey report from UNHCR and World Food Program stated the prevalence of malnourished (stunted) and underweight children in refugee camps remained higher than in the rest of the country and above the emergency threshold levels set by the World Health Organization.

Public education, while mandatory as of 2010 through eighth grade throughout the country, was offered only through seventh grade in the camps, compared with fifth grade in previous years. The government agreed to allow international NGOs to provide Rohingya outside the camps with access to informal education, starting with a group of 10,000 students. Government authorities did not allow refugees outside the camps to attend school, but some did so.

Government authorities did not allow registered or unregistered Rohingya formal and regular access to public health care. Instead, UNHCR and NGOs provided basic health services in the official camps to registered refugees, and IOM provided health services to the unregistered Rohingya in the makeshift sites. Although NGOs provided humanitarian assistance to registered Rohingya refugees, undocumented Rohingya, and the local population, the government’s restrictions on NGO activities outside the camps limited the unregistered population’s access to basic medical care and other services.

Four international NGOs provided basic services to undocumented Rohingya and to surrounding impoverished host communities. As with other NGOs, these organizations faced challenges working with the NGO Affairs Bureau. Some reported delays as long as three or four months in obtaining necessary permits for working with the Rohingya, which required coordinating with government officials at the local and national level.

Registered refugees did not have access to the formal legal system although they were able to take legal complaints to a local camp official who could mediate disputes. Members of the unregistered population had no legal protection and were sometimes arrested because the government viewed them as illegal economic migrants. Rohingya were sometimes harassed by security forces due to a perception among some groups, including the government, as well as members of indigenous groups in the CHT, that the Rohingya were responsible for perpetrating a range of criminal and terrorist activities in Southeastern Bangladesh, including through the Rohingya Solidarity Organization (RSO). For example, following the May 13 attack on security forces near the Nayapara official camp, authorities responded by detaining and questioning five Rohingya refugees, including an NGO volunteer.

STATELESS PERSONS

The Rohingya in Bangladesh are legally stateless. Government and UNHCR estimates indicate that between 200,000 and 500,000 undocumented Rohingya are present in Bangladesh. They cannot derive citizenship from birth in the country, marriage with local citizens, or any other means.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage, but recent elections were marred by government tampering and violence. Government restriction on freedom of expression and freedom of assembly limited the ability of opposition party members to participate effectively in the democratic process.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: BNP, the main opposition party, boycotted the January 2014 parliamentary elections, leaving more than half of all seats uncontested and many more only nominally contested, thereby decreasing the people’s access to meaningful electoral choice. Prime Minister Hasina and the ruling AL party retained power with 235 of 300 elected seats. After its boycott of the elections, the BNP held no seats in parliament. The official opposition party, the Jatiya Party, which had 36 elected seats, was also part of the ruling coalition. Parties that supported the government held most of the remaining seats. Sheikh Hasina’s cabinet included representatives from the other parties in her coalition. Most international observers regarded these elections as flawed.

During the year, in six rounds of union council elections in May and June, more than 126 people were killed and approximately 9,000 were injured as a result of electoral violence. Opposition parties and independent observers repeatedly challenged the credibility of the Election Commission. In October, the general secretary of the AL rejected the prospect of dialogue with the BNP on creation of an independent election commission. On November 29, the Election Commission publicly apologized to the high court for not investigating any of the grievances associated with this year’s local elections, demonstrating a pronounced lack of independence.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The government mobilized law enforcement resources to level civil and criminal charges against opposition party leaders, including BNP leader Khaleda Zia and Senior Vice Chairman Tarique Rahman. Jamaat leaders could not operate openly, as they were harassed by law enforcement and were blamed by the AL for the recent increase in terrorism. Media outlets critical of the government and AL were subject to government intimidation, lawsuits, and forced closure. AL-affiliated organizations (such as the student wing) reportedly carried out violence and intimidation around the country, including against individuals affiliated with opposition groups.

In some instances the government interfered with the right of opposition parties to organize public functions and restricted the broadcasting of opposition political events. Jamaat’s appeal of a 2012 Supreme Court decision cancelling the party’s registration continued in the midst of new draft legislation banning any organization found guilty of war crimes, pending at year’s end.

Participation of Women and Minorities: There is no provision to reserve parliamentary seats for minorities. Women have 50 reserved parliamentary seats out of a total of 350. Those who hold the 50 seats are appointed by the parties rather than directly elected by constituents.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively. Officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Human rights groups, the media, the Anticorruption Commission (ACC), and other institutions reported government corruption.

Corruption remained a serious problem within the judiciary and was a factor in lengthy delays of trials, which facilitated witness tampering and intimidation of victims. Several reports by human rights groups and corruption watchdog groups indicated continued public dissatisfaction with the perceived politicization of the judiciary. The government subjected the judiciary to political pressure (see section 1.e.), and cases involving opposition leaders often proceeded in an irregular fashion.

Corruption: Some in civil society stated the government was not serious about fighting corruption and that it used the ACC for politically motivated prosecutions. A 2013 amendment to the ACC Law removed the ACC’s authority to sue public servants without prior government permission. The ACC reported that the defendant was convicted in 32 percent of adjudicated cases, which is an increase of 10 percent from last year. The court started to pursue some cases against lower-level government officials and some higher-level officials. A large backlog of cases remains, however. As of November, the ACC filed 266 new graft cases in addition to the 3,097 cases that were pending at the end of 2015.

The ACC continued to pursue a case filed in 2007 against Housing and Public Works Minister Mosharraf Hossain for amassing illegal wealth worth 30 million taka ($383,000). In July, the High Court allowed the ACC to continue investigation of the case and directed Mosharraf to surrender to a lower court. In October, Mosharraf told media that the ACC would face trouble if it continued to investigate two senior officials in the Capital Development Authority for misappropriation of funds. The ACC also continued its case against MP Abdur Rahman Bodi from Cox’s Bazar, who was released on bail, for amassing illegal wealth. Bodi was implicated in at least 23 cases, including human trafficking and drug smuggling, and was present during a meeting between alleged terrorists and a Saudi national that was disrupted by the Bangladesh Border Guard in July. On November 2, a Dhaka court convicted Bodi of concealment of wealth and sentenced him to two years in prison, fined him one million taka and sent him to jail. Bodi, however, filed an appeal with the High Court, which released him on bail.

In some cases, the ACC was used by the government as a political tool. In July the High Court convicted Tarique Rahman, senior vice chairman of the BNP, of money laundering following the ACC’s appeal of a lower court verdict acquitting him of charges. Rahman was sentenced to seven years in prison and fined 200 million taka (more than $2.5 million), and in November the High Court asked authorities to start trials for two tax evasion and three extortion cases against him from 2007 and 2008.

The government took steps to address widespread police corruption. The IGP continued to train police to address corruption and create a more responsive police force. A current year report from the Asia Foundation found that public trust in the police was lower than any other public institution with 45 percent of respondents believing them to have low or very low integrity.

According to a June report from Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB), 58 percent of households surveyed paid a bribe in 2015, amounting to more than 88 trillion taka ($1.1 billion) of bribes paid in the service sector. The NGO asserted that the highest levels of graft were related to passport services, law enforcement, education, the road transport authority, and the land administration.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires candidates for parliament file statements of personal wealth with the Election Commission. The ACC has responsibility for investigating related complaints to illegally gained wealth, but it dropped investigations of some politicians for amassing wealth unexplained by known sources of income after the politicians stated they made mistakes on their wealth affidavits.

Public Access to Information: The law provides for public access to government information, but it was not effective. The Information Commission is responsible for implementing the law, which lists a few exceptions (e.g., national security) and establishes nominal processing fees. The commission has the authority to issue summonses compelling individuals who do not comply with a request for information to give oral or written evidence under oath. Observers noted that the commission filed few cases during the year due to citizens’ limited understanding of the law and limited capacity to file and pursue requests for information. The commission conducted public outreach and training of public officials to encourage effective use of the law.

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 independently, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Although human rights groups often sharply criticized the government, they also practiced some self-censorship. Observers noted that a “culture of fear” had diminished the strength of civil society, exacerbated by threats from extremists and an increasingly entrenched leading political party. Even civil society members affiliated with the ruling party reported receiving threats of arrest from the security forces for their public criticism of government policies.

The government continued to restrict the funding and operations of the human rights organization Odhikar since the 2013 publication of an Odhikar report that many independent observers believed significantly exaggerated the government’s use of force during a Hefazat-e-Islam rally. The report included a count of resulting deaths that differed considerably from the official number and other independent estimates. Although the ACC dropped its case against Odhikar in June, Odhikar representatives continued to report harassment by government officials and security forces, including disruption of their planned events. Odhikar reported investigations into its finances that it regarded as harassment and the blockage by the NGO Affairs Bureau of foreign funds, including a grant from the European Union. Family members and Odhikar staff reported additional harassment and claimed their telephone calls, e-mails, and movements were under constant surveillance by security officers.

The government required all NGOs, including religious organizations, to register with the Ministry of Social Welfare. Local and international NGOs working on sensitive topics or groups, such as religious issues, human rights, indigenous people, LGBTI communities, Rohingya refugees, or worker rights, faced both formal and informal governmental restrictions. In July, the State Minister for Social Welfare Nuruzzaman Ahmed told parliament that his ministry would investigate and cancel the registration for any NGO involved in “anti-state activities.” International NGOs that assist Rohingya refugees and work with organized labor reported difficulties in meeting stringent government administrative requirements. Some of these groups claimed intelligence agencies monitored them. The government sometimes restricted international NGOs’ ability to operate through delays in project registration, cease-and-desist letters, and visa refusals. Some civil society members reported repeated audits by the National Board of Revenue. The government countered NGO criticism through the media, sometimes with intimidating or threatening remarks, and through the courts (see section 1.e.). In October, NGOs discovered that the NGO Affairs Bureau posted on its public website detailed information for foreigners employed by NGOs in the country, including names, passport numbers, local addresses, e-mail addresses, and local telephone numbers, creating a significant security risk.

Following a two-year drafting process, parliament passed the Foreign Donations (Voluntary Activities) Regulation Act on October 5, placing stricter control over the foreign funding of NGOs and enacting punitive provisions for those NGOs that make “derogatory” comments regarding the constitution of the country, its founding history, or constitutional bodies (i.e., government institutions and leaders). NGO leaders stated that the bill infringes on their constitutional right to freedom of expression, to which prominent MP Suranjit Sengupta responded that NGOs are not entitled to freedom of expression. NGOs also stated that the law was unclear, autocratic, subject to interpretation, and contrary to the constitution.

The law also includes a provision that will require NGOs to obtain preauthorization for obtaining funds from foreign individuals, and for NGOs’ sub-grantees to do the same, which will negatively affect the ability of some organizations to operate. The bill will also require approval and monitoring of each project by the NGO Affairs Bureau and give the director general of the bureau the authority to impose sanctions, including fines up to three times the amount of the foreign donation or closure of an NGO. Some NGOs reported that the NGO Affairs Bureau had pushed them toward service delivery and away from rights-based awareness raising or NGO capacity building.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The NHRC has seven members, including five honorary positions. Observers noted that the NHRC’s small government support staff was inadequate and underfunded. The NHRC’s primary activity was educating the public about human rights and ostensibly advising the government on key human rights issues. The International Coordinating Committee of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights found that the NHRC did not fully comply with international standards for such bodies. Specifically, the coordinating committee focused on the lack of transparency in selecting NHRC commissioners and the NHRC’s lack of hiring authority over its support staff. In August, the government appointed Kazi Rezaul Haque as the new chairman of the NHRC through a process that lacked transparency and limited civil society participation.

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

Women

The law specifically prohibits certain forms of discrimination against women, provides special procedures for prosecuting persons accused of violence against women and children, calls for harsh penalties for these offenses, provides compensation to victims, and requires action against investigating officers for negligence or willful failure of duty. Enforcement was weak. Laws regarding marriage, divorce, custody, and inheritance differed according to an individual’s religion and were often discriminatory toward women and girls.

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape and physical spousal abuse, but it does not criminalize marital rape. Rape can be punished by life imprisonment or the death penalty. Gender-based violence remained a serious challenge. The Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) Report on Violence Against Women Survey 2015 released in October found that 80.2 percent of women were abused by a husband or male partner at least once in their lifetime, a finding lower than the 2011 survey in which 87.1 percent of women reported abuse. While the government operated a confidential helpline for reporting abuse, nationally only 2.4 percent of women and girls knew about it and only 2.6 percent took legal action according to the survey. Human rights organization Ain O Shalish Kendro (ASK) documented 101 killings of women by their husbands between January and June. Of the 442 rape cases recorded from January to August, 107 victims were between the ages of seven and 12 years of age. Twenty-three victims were killed after being raped, and six rape victims committed suicide. Admissions to treatment centers for victims of GBV indicated a 10 percent increase in rape and other violence against women in the third quarter of the year.

According to human rights monitors, many victims did not report rapes due to lack of access to legal services, social stigma, or fear of further harassment and the legal requirement to furnish witnesses. As a result, the prosecution of rapists was weak and inconsistent. Media reported that between 2001 and 2015, 22,386 women and children received treatment for rape and other violence at the government-run One Stop Crisis Centers located at 10 government hospitals. Of these, 5,003 cases were filed, resulting in 820 verdicts, and punishment for only 101 perpetrators.

A 2013 UN multiagency study on violence against women surveyed almost 2,400 men between the ages of 18 and 49 in one urban and one rural area of the country. According to the study, 55 percent of urban male respondents and 57 percent of rural respondents reported they themselves had perpetrated physical and/or sexual violence against women. The study concluded that the low prosecution rate of rapists supported a culture of impunity and encouraged further criminal acts by respondents who admitted to perpetrating rape. In total, 88 percent of rural respondents and 95 percent of urban respondents reported they faced no legal consequences for rape charges.

In October, 23-year-old Khadiza Begum Nargis, a student at Sylhet Government Women’s College, was hacked repeatedly on her head with a machete by Badrul Alam, a fourth-year student at Shahjalal University of Science and Technology (SUST) and the senior assistant secretary of SUST’s Bangladesh Chatra League unit. The attack was carried out on the campus of Murari Chand College where the victim had gone to take an exam. The attack was partially videotaped by a bystander with a mobile phone, and the clip went viral on social media, prompting outrage. While it appears that no one intervened during the attack, according to media reports, some bystanders chased Badrul when he tried to flee following the assault. Badrul confessed to hacking Khadiza with the intent to kill her after she refused his advances. Murari Chand College students formed a human-chain to protest the killing, while others took to Facebook and other social media platforms to vent their anger at the brutality of the attack and demand justice for Khadiza. The SUST administration expelled Badrul and formed a three-member committee to probe the incident. Badrul is in police custody and his trial was ongoing in December. Nargis survived the attack after emerging from a coma and continued to receive medical treatment at the end of the year.

The government operated a confidential hotline and 68 hospital-based crisis centers for survivors of domestic violence at the divisional, district, and sub-district levels where domestic violence survivors receive health care, police assistance, legal advice, and psychosocial counseling. There were some support groups for survivors of domestic violence. The number and capacity of legal aid services and shelter homes were inadequate compared to the need and were unsustainable given their reliance on project funding, according to the September Citizens’ Initiatives on the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women–Bangladesh (CIC-BD) Alternative Report.

In August, following advocacy by Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST) and other human rights groups, the High Court Division of the Supreme Court directed forensics experts to submit their opinions on the so-called “two-finger” rape test. During the test, a doctor assesses whether a woman has had sexual intercourse by inserting two fingers into her vagina to determine her “vaginal laxity” by checking for presence of the hymen. Human rights organizations and the broader medical community contend that the test is unscientific, has no forensic value, and retraumatizes survivors. Human rights organizations viewed the directive as a sign of progress toward ending the practice. Despite recent development of The National Action Plan to Prevent Violence Against Women and Girls (2013-2025), human rights monitors, including CIC-BD, noted concern about the plan’s limited focus on prevention and resource allocation. In consultation with NGOs, the government established a committee to implement the plan.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Some NGOs reported violence against women related to disputes over dowries. In a current year report, the organization Bangladesh Mahila Parishad documented 302 women who were tortured due to dowry issues in the first nine months of 2015 and another 161 who were killed. In July, media reported that a husband beat his wife because he received a dowry of 80,000 taka ($1,016) and not the 100,000 taka ($1,270) that he had demanded. Police later arrested the man, and there was no further information about the outcome of the arrest at year’s end.

A Supreme Court Appellate Division ruling allows the use of fatwas (religious edicts) only to settle religious matters; fatwas may not be invoked to justify punishment, nor may they supersede secular law. Islamic tradition dictates that only those religious scholars with expertise in Islamic law may declare a fatwa. Despite these restrictions, village religious leaders sometimes made such declarations. The declarations resulted in extrajudicial punishments, often against women, for perceived moral transgressions. In August, following advocacy from BLAST, the Ministry of Local Government, Rural Development, and Cooperatives ordered district commissioners to mandate local councils to prevent extrajudicial punishments in their areas.

Incidents of vigilantism against women occurred, sometimes led by religious leaders enforcing fatwas. The incidents included whipping, beating, and other forms of physical violence. In August, media reported that a local council member in Rangpur named Aktar Hossain directed that a local woman and man be punished for an “extramarital affair” that occurred when the man broke into the woman’s house while her husband was gone. Without hearing testimony from the woman, the council member determined that she be caned 101 times by her husband before 400 assembled villagers while the council member caned the man 20 times.

Acid attacks, although less common than in the past, remained a serious problem. Assailants threw acid in the faces of victims–usually women–leaving them disfigured and often blind. Acid attacks were often related to a woman’s refusal to accept a marriage proposal or in connection with land disputes. A prominent local NGO reported 36 acid attacks harming 42 victims from January through September. In January, a court in Sylhet sentenced Muhammed Laike Ahmed to 14 years in prison for throwing acid on a teenage girl in 2012 after she spurned his numerous proposals.

The law seeks to control the availability of acid and reduce acid-related violence directed toward women, but lack of awareness of the law and poor enforcement limited its effect. The Commerce Ministry restricted acid sales to buyers registered with relevant trade organizations; however, the government did not enforce the restrictions universally. To facilitate speedier prosecution of acid-throwing cases, the law provides special tribunals and generally does not allow bail. According to the Acid Survivors Foundation, the special tribunals were not effective, and conviction rates remained low.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment in public and private, including in educational institutions and workplaces, is prohibited by a 2009 High Court guideline. The Bangladesh National Woman Lawyers’ Association noted in June that harassment remained a problem and monitoring and enforcement of the guidelines were poor, which sometimes prevented girls from attending school or work. The formation of complaints committees and the installation of complaints boxes at educational institutions and workplaces required by the Court’s directive were rarely enforced, according to the CIC-BD Alternative Report. Between January and June, ASK documented 148 cases of sexual harassment against women with three victims committing suicide. According to NGOs and media reports, cyber sexual harassment is also a growing problem.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals had the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; to manage their reproductive health; and to have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. Civil society organizations, however, reported that victims of child marriage often lacked the means to access services. According to the 2014 Bangladesh Demographic and Health Survey (BDHS), the total fertility rate for women aged 15 to 49 was 2.3 children per woman, and 62.4 percent of married women used any method of contraception (54.1 percent used any modern method); 12.1 percent of women had unmet family planning needs. Weaknesses in the public health system, such as lack of trained providers and equipment in hard-to-reach and hard-to-staff areas, resulted in inequitable access to information and services around the country. A full range of contraceptive methods, including long-acting reversible contraception and permanent methods, were available through government, NGO and for-profit clinics and hospitals. Pharmacies and social marketing kiosks carried a wide range of family planning options and sold 41 percent of the family planning supplies distributed in the country, according to the 2014 BDHS. Most low-income families relied on public family planning services offered free of cost. The survey indicated that low levels of income and education, some religious beliefs, and traditional family roles sometimes served as barriers to access.

According to a 2015 estimate by the World Bank, during the preceding twenty-five years, maternal mortality ratio declined from 569 to 176 deaths per 100,000 live births.

Discrimination: The constitution declares all citizens equal before the law with entitlement to equal protection of the law. It also explicitly recognizes the equal rights of women “in all spheres of the state and of public life.” Nevertheless, women do not enjoy the same legal status and rights as men in family, property, and inheritance law. Under traditional Islamic inheritance law, daughters inherit only half of what sons do. Under Hindu inheritance law, a widow’s rights to her deceased husband’s property are limited to her lifetime and revert to the male heirs upon her death.

Women faced sexual harassment at work, as well as difficulties in being promoted in factory jobs, obtaining access to credit, and other economic opportunities. The government’s National Women’s Development Policy included commitments to provide opportunities for women in employment and business.

Children

Birth Registration: The law does not grant citizenship automatically by birth within the country. Individuals become citizens if their fathers or grandfathers were born in the territories that are now part of the country. If a person qualifies for citizenship through ancestry, the father or grandfather must have been a permanent resident of these territories in or after 1971. Birth registration is required to obtain a national identity card or passport

Education: Primary education was free and compulsory through fifth grade, and the government offered subsidies to parents to keep girls in class through 10th grade. While teacher fees and uniforms remained prohibitively costly for many families, the government distributed hundreds of millions of free textbooks to increase access to education. Enrollments in primary schools showed gender parity, but educational attainment was low for both boys and girls. The completion rates fell in secondary school with more girls than boys at the secondary level. The 2010 Education Policy extended compulsory primary education to the eighth grade; however, in the absence of legal amendments to reflect the policy, it remained unenforceable. Government incentives to families who sent children to school contributed significantly to increased primary school enrollments in recent years, but hidden school fees at the local level created barriers to access for the poorest families, particularly for girls. Many families kept children out of school to become wage earners or to help with household chores, and primary school coverage was insufficient in hard-to-reach and disaster-prone areas. Early and forced marriage was a factor in girls’ attrition from secondary school.

Child Abuse: Despite strong children’s rights legislation, there was a general lack of enforcement due to limited resources and capacity to implement and monitor these laws. Governance remained weak with responsibility for children held by one of the least-resourced ministries, the Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs. Many forms of child abuse, including sexual abuse, physical and humiliating punishment, child abandonment, kidnapping, and trafficking, continued to be serious and widespread problems. Children were vulnerable to abuse in all settings: home, community, school, residential institutions, and the workplace. In October, the government, with support from UNICEF, launched “Child Helpline–1098,” a free telephone service designed to help children facing violence, abuse, and exploitation.

According to the ASK, 683 children were victims of violence from January to August, with 51 victims aged six or younger and 234 victims aged seven to 12 years old. One hundred seventy-three children were raped, 33 were sexually harassed by stalkers, 14 were tortured by law enforcement agencies, 277 were tortured by teachers, and 87 experienced other types of physical torture. This followed a year in which such cases increased 161 percent between 2014 and 2015. The Prime Minister expressed concern about the surge in child murders in her speech at the Parliament in February.

Girls were especially vulnerable to violence and abuse. Findings from the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics’ Report on Violence Against Women Survey 2015 indicated that 34.2 percent of girls aged 10-14 years have been raped at least once. The rate is 39.7 percent for those aged 15-19 years. In August, Suraiya Akter Risha, a 14-year-old eighth grader at Willes Little Flower School in Dhaka, was attacked in broad daylight by a knife-wielding assailant as she was leaving the school premises. Her death three days later sparked protests by students, teachers, and parents.

Despite advances, including establishing a monitoring agency in the Ministry of Home Affairs, trafficking of children and inadequate care and protection for survivors of trafficking continued to be problems. Child labor and abuse at the workplace remained problems in certain industries, mostly in the informal sector, and child domestic workers were vulnerable to all forms of abuse at their informal workplaces (see section 7.c.).

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal age of marriage is 18 for women and 21 for men, according to the Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929, but the law is poorly enforced, and early and forced marriage remained a serious problem. According to 2016 UNICEF data, 52 percent of girls were married by age 18, and 18 percent were married by age 15. The median age of first marriage and first sexual intercourse, according to the 2014 BDHS, was 15.8 and 15.9 years old, respectively.

The Bangladesh Government drafted a new Child Marriage Restraint Act in 2015, which was the subject of intense national debate. The Act increases penalties for those arranging underage marriages but drafts included a clause that will allow marriage of children below the age of 18 under special circumstances. Despite assurances from the Government of Bangladesh not to reduce the legal age of marriage under any circumstance in the wake of intense advocacy on the part of human rights advocates and development donors protesting the clause, the cabinet approved the draft law, which was pending with parliament at year’s end. The Prime Minister publicly defended the draft act despite criticism from domestic sources and the international community. In an effort to reduce early and forced marriages, the government offered stipends for girls’ school expenses beyond the compulsory fifth-grade level. The government and NGOs conducted workshops and public events to teach parents the importance of their daughters waiting until age 18 before marrying. The average age of marriage for females was less than 18, and as such children were among the victims of dowry and other marital violence.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The penalty for sexual exploitation of children is 10 years’ to life imprisonment. The 2013 Children’s Act defines a child as anyone under age 18. Child pornography and the selling or distributing of such material is prohibited. The Pornography Control Act sets the maximum penalty at 10 years in prison and a fine of 500,000 taka ($6,250). In 2009, the most recent year for such data, the International Labor Organization (ILO) and BBS completed a baseline survey on commercial sexual exploitation of children. According to the survey, of 18,902 child victims of sexual exploitation, 83 percent were girls, nine percent were transgender children, and eight percent were boys. The survey reported that 40 percent of the girls and 53 percent of the boys were under age 16, the age of consent when the survey was conducted. The age of consent is 18 for women and 21 for men.

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 Jewish community in the country, but politicians and imams reportedly used anti-Semitic statements to gain support from their constituencies. In one high profile case, ruling party politicians leveraged anti-Semitic sentiment for political gain by accusing an opposition leader of colluding with Israeli intelligence services.

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 Rights and Protection of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2013 provides for equal treatment and freedom from discrimination for persons with disabilities; however, persons with disabilities faced social and economic discrimination. The law focuses on prevention of disability, treatment, education, rehabilitation, social protection, employment, transport accessibility, and advocacy.

The law requires persons with disabilities to register for identity cards to track their enrollment in educational institutions and access to jobs. It allows them to be included in voter lists, to cast votes, and to participate in elections. It states that no person, organization, authority, or corporation shall discriminate against persons with disabilities and allows for fines up to 500,000 taka ($6,250) or three years’ imprisonment for giving unequal treatment for school, work, or inheritance based on disability, although implementation of the law is uneven. Support programs tended to push people living with disabilities toward vocational training instead of formal education. The law also created a 27-member National Coordination Committee charged with coordinating relevant activities among all government organizations and private bodies to fulfill the objectives of the law.

According to the Ministry of Public Administration, 1 percent of civil service first- and second-class jobs–gazette officers with more power and responsibilities than other classes–are reserved for persons with disabilities. According to the Center for Disability in Development, 148 union parishads (local government councils) have disability inclusion initiatives.

According to the NGO Action against Disability, 90 percent of children with disabilities did not attend public school. The government trained teachers about inclusive education and recruited disability specialists at the district level. The government also allocated stipends for students with disabilities.

The law contains extensive accessibility requirements for new buildings. Nevertheless, authorities approved construction plans for new buildings that did not meet these requirements.

The law affords persons with disabilities the same access to information rights as nondisabled persons, but family and community dynamics often influenced whether these rights were exercised. The law contains provisions for information and communications technology to be accessible to persons with disabilities through video subtitling, sign language, screen readers, or text-to-speech systems in public and private media outlets. The state television channel used sign language, but general practice by the media did not meet the requirements of the law.

The law identifies persons with disabilities as a priority group for government-sponsored legal services. The Ministry of Social Welfare, Department of Social Services, and National Foundation for the Development of the Disabled are the government agencies responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. Due to problems of accessibility and to discrimination, persons with disabilities were sometimes excluded from mainstream government health, education, and social protective services. The government reduced taxes on several hundred items, such as wheelchairs, hearing aids, Braille machines, orthotics, and prostheses, designed to assist persons with disabilities.

Government facilities for treating persons with mental disabilities were inadequate. The Ministry of Health established child development centers in all public medical colleges to assess neurological disabilities. Several private initiatives existed for medical and vocational rehabilitation as well as for employment of persons with disabilities. National and international NGOs provided services and advocated for persons with disabilities. The government established service centers for persons with disabilities in all 64 districts, where local authorities provided free rehabilitation services and assistive devices. The government also promoted autism research and awareness.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Violent attacks against religious minority communities continued, apparently motivated by transnational violent extremism as well as economic and political reasons. Attackers purporting to be affiliated with Da’esh and AQIS claimed to kill eight Hindus, two Christians, two Buddhists, as well as one Sufi and one Shi’a adherent. Four Hindus and two Buddhists were seriously injured in other attacks by religious extremists.

On October 30, 150-200 people vandalized 200 homes and at least five temples in the eastern Bangladesh subdistrict of Nasirnagar, reportedly injuring 150 people and setting fire to eight shops. The attack followed a Facebook post by a local resident showing a doctored photo with a Hindu deity pasted over the Kaaba in Mecca. A National Human Rights Commission fact-finding mission to the district reported on November 2 that the attacks were deliberate and aimed at driving out Hindus so as to grab their land. The Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council (BHBCUC) asserted that the local administration and the local Member of Parliament were responsible for failing to prevent the attacks. A police investigation found that a feud between ruling party members precipitated the attacks. Government officials, students, Hindu organizations, and others condemned the attacks, although there was disagreement on the cause. Police detained approximately 100 people, including the owner of the internet café where the photo was uploaded; many had tenuous links to the incident.

Religious minority advocacy groups, including the BHBCUC, criticized the government for not adequately protecting the country’s religious minorities. In June, Hindu leaders decried attacks that disproportionately targeted Hindus, imploring Indian authorities to intervene.

Some members of religious minorities reported private discrimination in employment and housing. Urdu-speaking minority communities reported systemic discrimination, including lack of access to employment and land. Discrimination against minorities in land tenure, combined with the lack of witness protection, at times made it difficult to stem land grabbing and to prosecute detained suspects.

Minority communities reported many land ownership disputes that disproportionately displaced minorities, especially in areas near new roads or industrial development zones where land prices had recently increased. They also claimed that local police, civil authorities, and political leaders were sometimes involved or shielded politically influential land grabbers from prosecution (see section 6.). In August, the government amended the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) Land Dispute Resolution Commission Act, which may allow for land restitution for indigenous people living in the CHT (see section 2.d).

NGOs reported that national origin, racial, and ethnic minorities faced discrimination. For example, some Dalits (lowest-caste Hindus) had restricted access to land, adequate housing, education, and employment.

Indigenous People

The indigenous community experienced widespread discrimination and abuse, despite government quotas for participation of indigenous CHT residents in the civil service and higher education, as well as provisions for local governance as called for in the 1997 CHT Peace Accord. Indigenous persons from the CHT were unable to participate effectively in decisions affecting their lands due to disagreements regarding the structure and policies of the land commission. Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti, a political party formed to represent the people and indigenous tribes of the CHT, alleged that the ruling party, with support from local administration and security forces, used violence, intimidation, and vote-rigging to establish control over the CHT during the local council elections in June. Strict security measures prevented some indigenous individuals and activists from combating discrimination.

Indigenous persons also suffered from societal violence, including rape and murder. This violence was sometimes associated with land grabbing. According to a current year report from the Kapaeeng Foundation, an indigenous rights NGO, in 2015 134 indigenous people, including 101 from the CHT, were physically assaulted by Bengali nonstate actors, complicit with law enforcement agencies. Kapaeeng reported that 85 indigenous women and girls were sexually or physically assaulted in 2015, including 26 cases of rape, and 13 indigenous people were killed. In 2015, 84 houses belonging to indigenous people were vandalized and 35 were burned to the ground.

The government recognized indigenous people living in the CHT as having special status, and the constitution allows for affirmative action in favor of indigenous people, but indigenous groups reported that effective affirmative action did not occur. Some NGOs reported discrimination against indigenous people in government hiring and promotions. According to the CHT Commission, fewer than half of indigenous children ages six through 10 were enrolled in school in part due to a lack of indigenous-language instruction. Indigenous people at times lacked access to adequate housing and health care.

Indigenous groups and NGOs reported monitoring by civilian and military intelligence agencies, especially in the CHT, which had a pronounced military presence.

The central government retained authority over land use. The land commission, designed to investigate and return all illegally acquired land, did not resolve any disputes as of October. Bengalis and indigenous persons questioned the structure and impartiality of the commission. An August amendment to the CHT Land Dispute Resolution Commission Act was designed to address this issue, but it has been challenged by Bengali settlers to the area who feel it does not represent their interests (see section 2.d). Some indigenous people reporting losing land as a result of implementation of the recent Land Border Agreement with India.

Indigenous communities in areas other than the CHT reported the loss of land to Bengali Muslims, and indigenous peoples’ advocacy groups reported continued land encroachment by Rohingya settlers from Burma. The government continued construction projects on land traditionally owned by indigenous communities in the Moulvibazar and Modhupur forest areas.

On November 6, members of the Santal community, a mostly Christian indigenous group which numbers approximately 500,000 in Bangladesh, clashed over land ownership with the workers of a sugar mill and police in the northern district of Gaibandha. According to media reports, three people were killed and 25 were injured in the clash during which Santal protesters fired bows and arrows at police who returned fire with teargas and rubber bullets. Police and ruling party activists evicted approximately 2,500 Santal families and looted and set fire to their houses during the incident. The conflict emerged when a hundred Santal protesters tried to reoccupy land the government had acquired in a 1952 agreement with their ancestors to grow sugarcane. Santal protesters claimed local authorities breached the agreement by leasing out part of the land for cultivation of crops other than sugarcane. On November 7, police filed criminal charges against 42 named and some 400 unnamed people for alleged involvement in the attack on the police. In December, video footage posted online of police seeing fire to Santal houses during the November 6 event sparked public outrage. Police stated that they were reviewing the evidence at the year’s end.

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

Consensual same-sex sexual activity is illegal under Section 377 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, but the law was not enforced. LGBTI groups reported police used the law as a pretext to bully LGBTI individuals, including those considered effeminate regardless of their sexual orientation, as well as to limit registration of LGBTI organizations. Some groups also reported harassment under a suspicious behavior provision of the police code. The Hijra population has long been a marginalized, but recognized, part of society, but faced elevated levels of fear, harassment, and law enforcement contact in the wake of violent extremist attacks against vulnerable communities. The government acknowledged the existence of the LGB population in its April 2013 Universal Periodic Review, contrary to its stance in the 2009 review, during which the foreign minister stated there were no LGB individuals in the country.

Members of LGBTI communities regularly received threatening messages via telephone, text, and social media, and some were harassed by the police. During the Bengali New Year (Pohela Boishakh) celebration, police prevented members of the LGBTI community from participating in a parade, ostensibly to protect them from rumored attacks, by detaining and reportedly humiliating them–including by divulging their LGBTI status to their family members. Following the parade, members of the community reported both online and in person harassment. On April 25, assailants allegedly linked to AQIS killed human rights activist Xulhaz Mannan and his friend Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy in Mannan’s home using machetes. The two killings generated a chilling effect within the LGBTI activist community, according to contacts. Following the event and continued harassment, many members of LGBTI communities, including the leadership of key support organizations, reduced their activities and sought refuge both inside and outside of the country. This resulted in severely weakened advocacy and support networks for LGBTI persons. Organizations specifically assisting lesbians continued to be rare. Strong social stigma based on sexual orientation was common and prevented open discussion of the subject.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Social stigma against HIV and AIDS and against higher-risk populations could be a barrier for accessing health services, especially for the transgender community and men who have sex with men. Gender norms sometimes prevented women from accessing HIV information and services. According to the People Living with HIV Stigma Index, HIV-positive persons at times faced social ostracism, detention, and denial of inheritance rights. The overall HIV infection rate was less than 0.1 percent. Funding for HIV projects declined leading to closure of some service centers.

There were limited reports of violence against HIV/AIDS patients. NGOs said this was partly a function of fear if victims identified themselves and an absence of research due to the relatively low rate of HIV/AIDS in the country.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Vigilante killings occurred. Local human rights organizations acknowledged the number of reported cases probably represented only a fraction of the actual incidents. Illegal fatwas and village arbitration, which a prominent local NGO defined as rulings given by community leaders rather than religious scholars, also occurred. In April, villagers in Khulna district assaulted two Hindu teachers for allegedly insulting the Prophet Muhammed and locked them in a school. The teachers were sentenced to six months in prison for “hurting religious sentiments.”

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right to join unions and, with government approval, the right to form a union, although labor rights organizations said that cumbersome requirements for union registration remained. The law requires a minimum of 30 percent of an enterprise’s total workforce to agree to be members before the Ministry of Labor and Employment may grant approval for a union, and the ministry may request a court to dissolve the union if membership falls below 30 percent. The law allows only wall-to-wall (entire factory) bargaining units. The labor law definition of workers excludes managerial, supervisory, and administrative staff. Firefighting staff, security guards, and employers’ confidential assistants may not join a union. Civil service and security force employees are prohibited from forming unions. The ministry may deregister unions for other reasons with the approval of a labor court. The law affords unions the right of appeal in the cases of dissolution or denial of registration. Export Processing Zones (EPZs), which currently do not allow trade union participation, are a notable exception to the national labor law (see below).

Prospective unions continued to report rejections based on reasons not listed in the labor law. The Ministry of Labor and Employment (MOLE) reports that there are 7,659 trade unions in Bangladesh, covering nearly 3 million workers, with 507 unions in the garment sector, including 375 new unions since 2013. MOLE reported that there were 16 unions in the shrimp sector and 13 unions in the leather and tannery sector. According to the Solidarity Center, a significant number of the unions in the readymade garment (RMG) sector were no longer active during the year due to factory closures or alleged unfair labor practices on the part of employers. After a rise in applications in February, the trade union application rate decreased over the course of the year. MOLE reported a better acceptance rate of RMG unions in Dhaka in the current year than in the prior year, with 52 percent of RMG unions successfully registering compared to 27 percent in 2015. The acceptance rate decreased in Chittagong to 41 percent (11 accepted and 16 rejected as of August) compared to 75 percent in 2015. Notably, the number of unions applying for registration significantly decreased in 2016. According to the Solidarity Center, MOLE had registered 47 RMG unions (36 in Dhaka and 11 in Chittagong) and rejected 41 (24 in Dhaka and 17 in Chittagong) as of December, compared with 61 registrations and 148 rejections in all of 2015. Solidarity Center also reported that 347 RMG factories have unions, and some of these factories have more than one union.

Workers at Dhaka Dyeing Garments attempted to register their union three times. The labor ministry rejected the application twice for what workers said were illegal grounds. After the third registration attempt, Ministry officials visited the factory and allegedly tried to turn workers against the union. Workers also publicly claimed the Joint Director of Labor in Dhaka offered the organizing trade union federation money to cease registration efforts. In November 2015, the employer fired more than 100 workers, workers protested, and the employers closed the factory for an illegal work stoppage, with approval from MOLE. After the factory closure, the federation and owners signed a Memorandum of Agreement, which outlined severance for the workers. In 2016, MOLE transferred the Joint Director of Labor in Dhaka, who faced corruption complaints from federations, to another jurisdiction.

The law provides for the right to conduct legal strikes but with many limitations. For example, the government may prohibit a strike deemed to pose a “serious hardship to the community” and may terminate any strike lasting more than 30 days. The law additionally prohibits strikes for the first three years of commercial production or if the factory was built with foreign investment or owned by a foreign investor. Starting December 11, 59 factories in Ashulia, an industrial suburb of Dhaka, experienced work stoppages when thousands of workers went on strike to demand wage increases. The country’s major labor federations did not organize the strike; however, at least 11 labor leaders were detained and arrested by local authorities following the incident for a range of allegations, including charges under the Special Powers Act. Following reported harassment from the industrial police, several labor federations operating in Ashulia and other areas closed their offices, as well as worker community centers supported by the Solidarity Center.

Legally registered unions are entitled to submit charters of demands and bargain collectively with employers; this occurred rarely, but instances were increasing. The law provides criminal penalties for unfair labor practices such as retaliation against union members for exercising their legal rights. Labor organizations reported that in some companies, workers did not exercise their collective bargaining rights due to their unions’ ability to address grievances with management informally or due to fear of reprisal. According to the Solidarity Center, as of October, garment sector unions and their management reached 22 collective bargaining agreements in factories with active unions.

Workers seeking to form a union at Reliance Denim Industries Ltd. (Reliance), a factory in Chittagong, were able to address grievances with management following two violent assaults in January. On January 13, 20 men reportedly attacked a union organizer on his way home from a labor-management meeting and the next day 40 men, including a factory manager, attacked employees within the factory. Factory managers blamed union leaders for the attack in the factory, had the organizer arrested and then refused to allow at least seven people to enter the factory on January 16, effectively causing their suspension. After receiving pressure from at least one brand, on January 25, the union reached an agreement with management to drop criminal charges, allow workers to return to the factory with back-pay for time missed, make a statement to the workforce regarding freedom of association, and start regular labor-management meetings.

The law includes provisions protecting unions from employer interference in organizing activities; however, employers, particularly in the readymade garment industry, often interfered with this right. Labor organizers reported acts of intimidation and abuse, the termination of employees, and scrutiny by security forces and the intelligence services. Labor rights NGOs alleged that some terminated union members were unable to find work in the sector because employers blacklisted them. The BGMEA reported that some factory owners complained about harassment from organized labor, including physical intimidation, but statistics and specific examples were unavailable.

Workers at the Azim Group, a Bangladeshi manufacturer operating multiple factories, have met repeated intimidation, retaliation, and physical violence in their efforts to exercise their associational rights. Following violent attacks on union organizers in Azim-owned factories in 2014, workers at three Azim-owned factories worked to form unions affiliated with the Bangladesh Independent Garment Worker Union Federation (BIGUF) in late 2015. Factory managers retaliated by suspending nine workers involved in the organizing effort. The Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) reported that factory managers and supervisors threatened to kill worker activists for organizing a union. On March 31, the JDL rejected all three registration applications with minimal rationale. In May, following intense pressure from buyers contacted by BIGUF and WRC, Azim Group reinstated the nine suspended workers, who have continued their organizing efforts and will refile their applications for union registration.

Managers of Panorama Apparels Ltd. (Panorama) in Gazipur stifled workers’ efforts to organize with assistance of local ruling party politicians. According to WRC, management coerced five workers seeking to form a union to resign on February 29 while the JDL reviewed their application. The JDL then rejected the union registration application on suspect grounds, including the fact that the union’s President and Secretary did not work at the factory (as management had just coerced them to resign). Following pressure from brands, management agreed to several meetings in April with the union leaders to discuss reinstatement of the five individuals and protection of their right to organize. Using a combination of pressure and intimidation from AL politicians and coercion (e.g., denying union leaders the opportunity to consult legal counsel and presenting them a written agreement in English, which they do not understand), however, management convinced the workers not to return to the factory. MOLE reported that five workers voluntarily quit their jobs at Panorama and received their due compensation; MOLE has reported these complaints resolved.

At Friends Stylewear Ltd., factory management terminated all active union members, and in response to several Unfair Labor Practice complaints, the JDL has filed 18 cases against the factory owner according to the WRC. As of August, the cases are pending in the Labor Court.

According to 2013 Amendments to the labor law, every factory with more than 50 employees is required to have an elected Workers’ Participation Committee (WPC). In September 2015, the government passed the Bangladesh Labor Rules called for in the amended law. The rules include an outline of the process for WPC elections. As of August, the government reports that approximately 236 WPCs were formed with the majority in the RMG sector.

A separate legal framework under the authority of the Bangladesh Export Processing Zone (EPZ) Authority (BEPZA) governs labor rights in the EPZs, where approximately 458,000 Bangladeshis work. EPZ law specifies certain limited associational and bargaining rights for Worker Welfare Associations (WWAs) elected by the workers, such as the rights to bargain collectively and represent their members in disputes. According to BEPZA, 231 WWAs were formed as of September. The law prohibits unions within EPZs. While an earlier provision of the EPZ law banning all strikes under penalty of imprisonment expired in 2013, the law continues to provide for strict limits on the right to strike, such as the discretion of the BEPZA’s chairman to ban any strike he views as prejudicial to the public interest. The law provides for EPZ labor tribunals, appellate tribunals, and conciliators, but those institutions were not established. Instead eight labor courts and one appellate labor court heard EPZ cases. The BEPZA has its own inspection regime with labor counselors that function as inspectors. WWAs in EPZs are prohibited from establishing any connection to outside political parties, unions, federations, or NGOs.

There were no reports of legal strikes in the EPZs. Parliament continued to defer action on a draft EPZ law, which, along with the Bangladesh Labor Act, does not meet international labor standards according to the ILO. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Ministry of Law, Justice, and Parliamentary Affairs held several hearings on the draft law, including one on September 29 where the committee solicited feedback from the international community. Following the September 29 meeting, the committee chair assigned a subcommittee the task of reviewing comparable practices in neighboring countries. The committee had not reported back at the end of the year.

With the exception of limitations on the right of association and worker protections in the EPZs, national labor law prohibits antiunion discrimination. A labor court may order the reinstatement of workers fired for union activities, but this right was rarely exercised.

The government did not always enforce applicable law effectively or consistently. For example, labor law establishes mechanisms for conciliation, arbitration, and dispute resolution by a labor court and workers in a collective-bargaining union have the right to strike in the event of a failure to reach a settlement. In practical terms, few strikes followed the cumbersome legal requirements, and strikes or walkouts often occurred spontaneously.

Penalties for violating the law increased in 2013, enabled by the issuance of implementing rules. The maximum fine for a first violation is 25,000 taka ($313); the fine doubles for a second offense. The law also allows for imprisonment of up to three years. If a violation results in death, the law allows a fine of up to 100,000 taka ($1,250), four years’ imprisonment, or both. Administrative and judicial appeals were subject to lengthy delays.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Penalties for forced or bonded labor offenses are five to 12 years’ imprisonment and a fine of not less than 50,000 taka ($625). Inspection mechanisms that enforce laws against forced labor did not function effectively. Resources, inspections, and remediation efforts were inadequate. The law also provides that victims of forced labor have access to shelter and other protective services afforded to trafficking victims.

Some individuals recruited to work overseas with fraudulent employment offers subsequently were exploited abroad under conditions of forced labor or debt bondage. Many migrant workers assume debt to pay high recruitment fees, imposed legally by recruitment agencies belonging to the Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies (BAIRA) and illegally by unlicensed sub-agents.

Some instances of bonded labor and domestic service were reported, predominately in rural areas. Children and adults were forced into domestic servitude and bonded labor that involved restricted movement, nonpayment of wages, threats, and physical or sexual abuse (see section 7.c.).

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 regulates child employment, and the regulations depend on the type of work and the child’s age. The minimum age for work is 14, and the minimum age for hazardous work is 18. The law allows for certain exceptions, permitting children who are ages 12 or 13 to perform restricted forms of light work. Minors can work up to five hours per day and 30 hours per week in factories or up to seven hours per day and 42 per week in other types of workplaces. By law every child must attend school through fifth grade.

The labor Ministry’s enforcement mechanisms were insufficient for the large, urban informal sector, and there was little enforcement of child labor laws outside the export-garment and shrimp-processing sectors. Agriculture and other informal sectors that had no government oversight employed large numbers of children.

Under the Ministry’s 2012-2016 Child Labor National Plan of Action, the National Child Labor Welfare Council is charged with monitoring child labor. The council has only met twice, however, since its inception. The government mandated child protection networks at district and subdistrict levels to respond to a broad spectrum of violations against children, including child labor; to monitor interventions; and to develop referral mechanisms.

The law specifies penalties for violations involving child labor, including nominal fines of less than 5,000 taka ($63). These penalties were insufficient to deter violations. The government occasionally brought criminal charges against employers who abused domestic servants. MOLE filed 40 child labor cases in 2015; in general, resources, inspections, and remedial action were inadequate.

On July 10, a 10-year-old boy named Sagar Barman was killed at Zobeda Textile and Spinning Mills where he worked with his father. His father accused management in the factory of beating him and killing his son by using an air compressor to pump air into his son’s rectum; similar murders occurred in August 2015 and December 2016. The boy’s death led to discovery of 24 children working at the factory, aged between 10 and 15 years old. The Department of Inspections of Factories and Establishments (DIFE) reportedly filed a case against the factory in court, and police arrested the supervisor.

Child labor was widespread, particularly in the informal sector and in domestic work. According to a 2016 Overseas Development Institute report based on a survey of 2,700 households in Dhaka’s slums, 15 percent of 6- to 14-year-old children were out of school and engaged in full-time work. These children were working well beyond the 42-hour limit set by national legislation. The ready-made garment industry was the main employer of these children and accounted for two thirds of female child labor.

According to the ILO, agriculture is the primary employment sector for boys and services is the main sector for girls. According to the BBS 2015 Bangladesh Child Labor Report, 3.45 million children are working and 1.28 million are employed in hazardous jobs. The BBS estimates that 17.1 percent of working children suffered verbal abuse, 1.2 percent suffered beatings, and 2.5 percent suffered sexual abuse. A recent UNICEF survey in Keranigaj found that 59 percent of an estimated 185,000 workers in the area were under the age of 18 and worked up to 17 hours per day during peak production. According to Young Power in Social Action, an NGO working to protect the rights of shipbreakers in Chittagong, 11 percent of the shipbreaking workforce is under the age of 18. NGOs, such as Shipbreaking Platform, report laborers work long hours without training, safety equipment, holidays, adequate health care, or contractual agreements. At least 16 workers died in the industry in 2015.

Children were engaged in the worst forms of child labor, primarily in dangerous activities in agriculture. Children working in agriculture risked using dangerous tools, carrying heavy loads, and applying harmful pesticides. Children frequently worked long hours, were exposed to extreme temperatures, and suffered high rates of injury from sharp tools. Children also worked in such hazardous activities as stone and brick breaking, dyeing operations, blacksmith assistance, and construction. Forced child labor was present in the fish-drying industry, where children were exposed to harmful chemicals, dangerous machines, and long hours of work. In urban areas, street children work pulling rickshaws, garbage picking, recycling, vending, begging, repairing automobiles, and working in hotels and restaurants. These children were vulnerable to exploitation, for example, in forced begging or being used to smuggle or sell drugs.

Children frequently worked in the informal sector in areas including the unregistered garment, road transport, manufacturing, and service industries.

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

The labor law prohibits wage discrimination on the basis of sex or disability, but it does not prohibit other discrimination based on sex, disability, social status, caste, sexual orientation, or similar factors. The constitution prohibits adverse discrimination by the state on the basis of religion, race, caste, sex, or place of birth and expressly extends that prohibition to government employment; it allows affirmative action programs for the benefit of disadvantaged populations.

The lower-wage garment sector has traditionally offered employment opportunities for women. Women represented the majority of garment sector workers, making up approximately 56 percent of the total RMG workforce according to official statistics although statistics varied widely due to a lack of data. The ILO estimates that women make up 65 percent of the RMG workforce. Despite representing a majority of total workers, women were generally underrepresented in supervisory and management positions. Women were subjected to abuse in factories, including sexual harassment. There were gender-based wage disparities in the overall economy, including in the garment sector.

Some religious, ethnic, and other minorities reported discrimination, particularly in the private sector (see section 6.).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The National Minimum Wage Board established minimum monthly wages on a sector-by-sector basis. The board may convene at any time, but it is supposed to meet at least every five years in a tripartite forum to set wage structures and benefits industry by industry. By law, the government may modify or amend existing wage structures through official public announcement in consultation with employers and workers. In the garment industry, the board set the minimum monthly wage at 5,300 taka ($66) in 2013. Wages in the apparel sector often were higher than the minimum wage, and wages in the EPZs typically were higher than general wage levels–5,500 taka ($70) per month according to BEPZA. Among the lowest minimum wages were those for tea packaging set in 2013 at 69 taka ($0.86) per day established by a Memorandum of Understanding. None of the set minimum wages provided a sufficient standard of living for urban dwellers. The minimum wage was not indexed to inflation (which averaged 7 to 8 percent annually), but the board occasionally made cost-of-living adjustments to wages in some sectors.

By law, a standard workday is eight hours. A standard workweek is 48 hours but may be extended to 60 hours, subject to the payment of an overtime allowance that is double the basic wage. Overtime cannot be compulsory. Workers must have one hour of rest if they work for more than eight hours a day or a half-hour of rest for more than five hours’ work a day. Factory workers are supposed to receive one day off every week. Shop workers receive one and one-half days off per week. The law establishes occupational health and safety standards, and recent amendments to the law created mandatory worker safety committees. The law says that every worker should be allowed at least 11 festival holidays with full wages in a year. The days and dates for such festivals may be fixed by the employer.

Labor law implementing rules outline the process for the formation of occupational safety and health (OSH) committees in factories, and the government reports that approximately 133 safety committees were formed as of August. The committees will include both management and workers nominated by the union or the factory’s WPC. Where there is no union or WPC, the labor ministry will arrange an election among the workers for their representatives.

The government did not effectively enforce minimum wage, hours of work, and occupational safety and health standards in all sectors. Although increased focus on the garment industry improved compliance in some garment factories, resources, inspections, and remediation were generally not adequate across sectors, and penalties for violations were not sufficient to deter violations.

MOLE resources were inadequate to inspect and remediate problems effectively, and the Ministry lacked authority to sanction employers directly without filing a court case. The Ministry nonetheless took steps to increase its staff and technical capacity. The government increased the Ministry’s budget by 370 percent in the 2014-2015 fiscal year and a further 72 percent to $4.1 million in 2015-2016. As of April, the Ministry had 277 active inspectors of which 235 had been hired after Rana Plaza. As of June 2016, MOLE reported it had approval and was in the process of hiring an additional 169 inspectors. The Public Service Commission was in the process of hiring 89 of these new inspectors at the year’s end. MOLE reported receiving 66 allegations of anti-union discrimination, of which it resolved 32. The Ministry stated in August that it received approval from the Ministry of Public Administration to upgrade the Directorate of Labor to the Department of Labor, which will increase its staff from 712 to 1,043. The upgrade is now pending approval from the Ministry of Finance.

The 2013 Rana Plaza building collapse killed 1,138 workers and injured more than 2,500. In the aftermath of the collapse, private companies, foreign governments, and international organizations worked with the government to inspect more than 3,660 garment factories, leading to 39 full and 42 partial closures of factories for imminent danger to human life as of August. Many factories began to take action to improve safety conditions, although remediation in many cases has proceeded slowly due to a range of factors, including failure to access adequate financing. The court case against Sohel Rana, the owner of Rana Plaza, and 40 other individuals on charges including murder began on July 18. Witness deposition started on September 18. The trial was ongoing at year’s end.

A trial against those implicated in the 2012 Tazreen Fashions fire started on January 9 after charges were brought against 13 people, including chairman Mahmuda Akhter and managing director Delwar Hossain, in September 2015. Media reported that the trial was stalled at the end of the year.

Workers’ groups stated that OSH standards established by law were sufficient and that more factories took steps toward compliance. The law provides for a maximum fine of 25,000 taka ($313) for noncompliance, but this did not deter violations.

Legal limits on hours of work were violated routinely. In the RMG sector, employers often required workers to labor 12 hours a day or more to meet export deadlines, but they did not always properly compensate workers for their time. According to the Solidarity Center, workers often willingly worked overtime in excess of the legal limit. Employers commonly delayed workers’ pay or denied full leave benefits. Labor Ministry inspections did not report any overtime violations.

Safety conditions at many workplaces were extremely poor, but the Solidarity Center and others reported significant safety improvements in the RMG sector. The Bangladesh Fire Service and Civil Defense upgraded its inspection unit from 55 to 265 inspectors, who received training on developing fire safety management plans for fire, building and electrical issues in garment factories. Formal sector factories outside of the RMG industry remain largely outside the scope of safety inspectors. On September 10, an explosion and fire at Tampaco Foils factory in Gazipur killed 35 people, demonstrating continued shortcomings in safety and proper facilities oversight despite improvements made since the Rana Plaza disaster.

Few reliable labor statistics were available on the large informal sector in which the majority of citizens worked, and it was difficult to enforce labor laws in the sector. The BBS 2010 Labor Force Survey reported the informal sector employed 47.3 million of the 56.7 million workers in the country.

Bhutan

Executive Summary

Bhutan is a democratic, constitutional monarchy. King Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck is the head of state, with executive power vested in the cabinet, headed by Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay. In July 2013 the country held its second general elections, in which the former opposition People’s Democratic Party gained a majority of the seats in the National Assembly, resulting in the country’s first democratic transfer of power to the opposition. International election observers reported the elections were generally free and fair.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Principal human rights problems included discriminatory treatment of religious and ethnic minorities and the government’s refusal to readmit certain refugees that asserted claims to Bhutanese citizenship.

Other human rights problems included continued incarceration of Nepali-speaking political prisoners arrested for alleged participation in antigovernment protests in the early 1990s, domestic violence, restrictions on freedom of assembly and association, social stigma against persons with disabilities, laws prohibiting consensual same-sex sexual activity, and reports of abuse of domestic workers.

There were no reports of impunity by government security forces. There have been cases of police personnel charged under civil and criminal procedures. There have been no reports of criminal charges against military personnel.

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.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

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

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

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions generally met international standards.

Physical Conditions: According to police, there were no separate prisons designated for women and children.

Administration: Police administer the prison system; there was no available information regarding recordkeeping on prisoners.

Independent Monitoring: No international human rights groups sought access to monitor prisons during the year. The International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) has not renewed its memorandum of understanding with the Government of Bhutan since 2012 and did not request access to prisons during the reporting period.

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 Royal Bhutan Police (RBP) is responsible for internal security. The Royal Bhutan Army (RBA) is responsible for defending against external threats but also has responsibility for some internal security functions, including counterinsurgency operations, protection of forests, and security for prominent persons. The RBP reports to the Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs, and the king is the supreme commander in chief of the RBA.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the army and police, and the government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. There were no reports of impunity involving security forces during the year. The army and police have procedures to conduct internal investigations of alleged personnel misconduct. Official courts of inquiry adjudicate the allegations. The king or a senior official makes the final determination on the outcome of a case.

By law the Police Service Board, made up of senior police personnel and a Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs representative, investigates cases of abuse. Police officers can face criminal prosecution for human rights violations. The RBP has institutional reviews, human rights training, and accountability procedures for its personnel. The Civil and Criminal Procedure Code (CCPC) also provides an avenue to check on any abuse of power in criminal investigations by an investigating officer of the RBP.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Under the law, police may only arrest a person with a court-issued warrant or probable cause. Police generally respected the law. Police may perform “stop and frisk” searches only with a reasonable suspicion that a crime has been committed. Arresting authorities must issue an immediate statement of charges and engage in reasonable efforts to inform the family of the accused. The law requires authorities to bring an arrested person before a court within 24 hours, exclusive of travel time from the place of arrest. The law provides for prompt access to a lawyer and government provision of an attorney for indigent clients. Bail is available depending on the severity of charges and the suspect’s criminal record, flight risk, and potential threat to the public. In addition, bail can be granted after the execution of the bail bond agreement. Remanded suspects can be held in police custody for 10 days pending investigation, which the court can extend to 49 days, and then again to 108 days in cases involving “heinous” crimes, should the investigating officer show adequate grounds. The law expressly prohibits pretrial detention beyond 108 days. Detainees may pursue a writ of habeas corpus to obtain a court-ordered release. Under the Anticorruption Act of Bhutan, an Anticorruption Commission is empowered to arrest without a warrant any person upon reasonable suspicion of the person having committed or about to commit an offense. The arrested individual must make a court appearance within 24 hours.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law stipulates that defendants must receive fair, speedy, and public trials, and the government generally respected this right. A preliminary hearing must be convened within 10 days of registration of a criminal matter with the appropriate court. Before registering any plea, courts must determine whether the accused is mentally sound and understands the consequences of entering a plea. Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence, have the right to confront witnesses, and cannot be compelled to testify; cases must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt to obtain convictions. The government has prescribed a standing rule for all courts to clear all cases within a year of the case filing. The country has an inquisitorial judicial system, and there is no trial by jury.

Defendants have the right to appeal to the High Court and may make a final appeal to the king, who traditionally delegates the decision to the Royal Advisory Council. Trials are conducted publicly although a court can order that press and the public be removed from the courtroom for part or all of the trial in the interest of justice. The law grants defendants and their attorneys access to state evidence. The court must provide the opportunity for the parties to present relevant evidence, including witness testimony. Prosecutors and defendants are allowed to conduct direct and cross-examination.

Cases are tried pursuant to the CCPC. State-appointed prosecutors for the attorney general generally are responsible for filing charges and prosecuting cases for offenses against the state. In some cases other government departments, such as the Anticorruption Commission (ACC), file charges and conduct prosecutions.

The law provides for the right to representation. Although this occurred frequently in criminal cases, in civil cases most defendants and plaintiffs represented themselves. The law states that criminal defendants may choose legal representation from a list of licensed advocates. The government promoted the use of judiciary websites for legal information as a means of self-help for defendants. There were no reports that the courts denied any groups the right to trial.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) claimed that 28 political prisoners remained in Chamgang Central Jail in Thimphu. Most political prisoners were Nepali-speaking persons associated with protests in the early 1990s. Bhutanese officials claim those remaining in prison were convicted of violent crimes during demonstrations. The government reported that as of December 2016, there were 57 prisoners serving sentences resulting from convictions under the National Security Act or its related penal code provisions. No international monitors sought access to these prisoners. Since 2010 the government has released 47 political prisoners, including one granted amnesty by the king.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The CCPC governs the resolution of criminal trials and civil litigation and states that a suit may be initiated by a litigant or a member of the litigant’s family. The CCPC also provides for compensation to those detained or subjected to unlawful detention but later acquitted. Often local or community leaders assisted in resolving minor disputes. As plaintiffs and defendants often represented themselves in civil matters, judges typically took an active role in investigating and mediating civil disputes. The CCPC does not include a provision for appeal to regional human rights bodies.

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

The constitution states that a person “shall not be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his or her privacy, family, home, or correspondence, or to unlawful attacks on the person’s honor and reputation.” 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. Citizens could publicly and privately criticize the government without reprisal.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: The constitution provides for freedom of speech including for members of the press. Defamation can carry criminal penalties, and citizens were cautious in their expression, especially as it related to criticism of the royal family or government practices.

Press and Media Freedoms: The media law does not provide specific protections for journalists or guarantee freedom of information. The media law also prohibits media outlets from supporting political parties. Media sources suggested that while there was commitment to media freedom at the highest levels, some media professionals continued to find bureaucrats unwilling to share information, especially on issues of corruption and violations of the law. Independent media outlets relied heavily on government advertisements for revenue, and most news outlets struggled to generate sufficient revenue to operate.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: In its Freedom in the World 2016 report, Freedom House reported that a 2015 survey of 119 current and former Bhutanese journalists revealed general concerns about press freedom and access to information. Local contacts reported increased use of social media to raise complaints of official misconduct or abuse.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government generally permitted individuals and groups to engage in peaceful expression of views via the internet. Government officials stated the government did not block access, restrict content, or censor websites. Freedom House reported the government occasionally blocked access to websites containing pornography or information deemed offensive to the state. Such blocked information typically did not extend to political content. The Annual Statistics 2015 of the Ministry of Information and Communications estimated the number of internet users at 61.15 percent of the population.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

While the constitution provides for the right to assemble peacefully, the government restricted this right. The 1992 National Security Act permits the government to control the public’s right to assembly “to avoid breaches of the peace” by requiring licenses, prohibiting assembly in designated areas, and declaring curfew. The penal code prohibits “promotion of civil unrest” as an act that is prejudicial to the maintenance of harmony among different nationalities, racial groups, castes, or religious groups.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for freedom of association, and the government permitted the registration of some political parties and organizations that were deemed “not harmful to the peace and unity of the country.” Many of the NGOs in the country maintained formal or informal connections to members of the royal family. In its Freedom in the World 2016 report, Freedom House stated the government did not permit the operation of NGOs working on the status of Nepali-speaking refugees. Under the law, all NGOs must register with the government. In order to register an NGO, an individual must be a Bhutanese citizen, disclose his or her family income and assets, disclose his or her educational qualifications, and disclose any criminal records.

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 limited freedom of movement and repatriation. Freedom of movement often was restricted along ethnic lines. Rules established differences in citizenship categories and determined whether a person may be granted a “route permit” to travel internally or obtain a passport for international travel. (Bhutanese citizens are required to obtain a security clearance certificate to obtain a passport.)

Foreign Travel: The law establishes different categories of citizenship under which foreign travel is restricted. NGOs reported these restrictions primarily affected ethnic Nepalis although children of single mothers who could not establish citizenship through a Bhutanese father were also affected.

Exile: The law does not address forced exile, and there were no reported cases of forced exile during the year. In the early 1990s, the government reportedly forced between 80,000 and 100,000 Nepali-speaking residents to leave the country, following a series of decisions taken during the 1970s and 1980s establishing legal requirements for Bhutanese citizenship.

As of September after years of international resettlement efforts, approximately 10,000 Nepali-speaking refugees remained in two refugee camps in Nepal administered by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). In its Freedom in the World 2016 report, Freedom House stated, 18,000 Nepali-speaking refugees remain in Nepal as of late 2015. The Bhutanese government claimed UNHCR failed to screen individuals who originally entered these camps to determine whether they had any ties to Bhutan.

Emigration and Repatriation: There continued to be delays in government consideration of claims to Bhutanese citizenship by refugees in Nepal.

Citizenship: Under the constitution, only children whose parents can both be proven to be citizens of Bhutan can apply for citizenship up to their first birthday, after which a petition must be filed with the king to be granted citizenship. NGOs reported that approximately 9,000 applicants have received citizenship since 2006. In May, 163 persons from Tashichhodzong and in August, 93 from Mongar were granted citizenship by the king. The law provides for revocation of the citizenship of any naturalized citizen who “has shown by act or speech to be disloyal in any manner whatsoever to the king, country, and people.” The law permits reapplication for citizenship after a two-year probationary period. The government can restore citizenship after successful completion of the probation and a finding that the individual was not responsible for any act against the government.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees.

The Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) reported that since the 1960s the country had sheltered Tibetan refugees who were initially located in seven settlements. The government reported that the Tibetans were integrated into society and that approximately 1,600 had applied for and received citizenship. As of July, there were 2,583 Tibetan refugees as per records maintained by the Department of Immigration. There are no current records of these refugees holding work permits. The CTA did not have an official presence in the country and did not provide social and economic assistance to Tibetans in Bhutan. The country’s border with China was closed, and Tibetans generally did not transit the country en route to India. The Tibetan population in the country appears stable. It is decreasing as Tibetan refugees adopt Bhutanese citizenship according to the Department of Immigration.

Employment: There were unconfirmed reports that some Tibetan refugees and some Nepali-speaking Bhutanese citizens could not obtain security clearances for government jobs, enroll in higher education, or obtain licenses to run private businesses. According to the government, all Bhutanese citizens are eligible for security clearances provided they do not have criminal records.

Access to Basic Services: The government stated that Tibetan refugees have the same access to government-provided health care and education as citizens, and access was given routinely. According to the CTA, 13 Tibetan refugees have received licenses to run businesses. The CTA also said that while Tibetan refugees are not eligible for government employment, a few Tibetan refugees worked as teachers and health-care providers under temporary government contracts. They reportedly have difficulties traveling within and outside the country.

Durable Solutions: Tibetan refugees could travel to India although many faced obstacles in obtaining travel permits. There were also reports the government did not provide the travel documents necessary for Tibetan refugees to travel beyond India. The government continued to delay implementing a process to identify and repatriate refugees with claims to Bhutanese residency or citizenship.

STATELESS PERSONS

A nationwide census in 1985 resulted in a determination that many Nepali-speaking persons in Bhutan were not citizens, effectively rendering them stateless. The government alleged that they were not citizens because they could not prove they had been resident in the country in 1958. The census was repeated in 1988-89 in the southern districts. During the second round of the census, those who were deemed not to be citizens in 1985 could apply for citizenship provided they met certain conditions. Those who did not meet the new criteria were categorized by the government as illegal immigrants and expelled. According to NGOs, an unknown number of Nepali-speaking stateless persons remained in the country, mainly in the south.

NGOs and media sources also highlighted the existence of stateless children born to unwed mothers who were unable to prove the identity of the father of the child. According to 2014 NGO reports, more than 700 children born in the country were not recognized as Bhutanese citizens because the nationality of their fathers was undocumented. Nonetheless, the Bhutanese government claimed that 20 children in the kingdom fell into this category.

Stateless persons cannot obtain “no objection certificates” and security clearance certificates, which are often necessary for access to public healthcare, employment, access to primary and secondary education, enrollment at institutions of higher education, travel documents, and business ownership. According to contacts, approximately 1,000 families are stateless. The National Commission for Women and Children stated children without citizenship were eligible for public educational and health services.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides citizens the right to choose their government peacefully, and citizens exercised this right through periodic, free, and fair elections based on universal and equal suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The government successfully held national elections in July 2013. Voters elected the country’s second National Assembly, the lower house of parliament. The opposition People’s Democratic Party won 32 of 47 seats, ousting the former ruling party, the Druk Phensum Tshogpa. International observers generally considered the elections free and fair; there were no reports of significant irregularities during the election process.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The constitution states that political parties shall promote national unity and shall not resort to regionalism, ethnicity, or religion to incite voters for electoral gain. Political parties are required to be broad-based, have a national membership, not be limited to a particular regional or other demographic constituency, and not receive money or other assistance from foreign sources. To run for office, party candidates must possess a university degree and resign from a civil service job if held. Individuals who resign from the civil service cannot re-enter the service. While only two political parties contested the 2008 national elections, five parties contested the 2013 elections. The government provided funding only for general elections and maintained rigid guidelines on party financing.

Participation of Women and Minorities: As part of the country’s strict separation of religion from politics, the law barred ordained members of the clergy, including Buddhist monks and nuns, from participating in politics, including voting and running for office. There were no other laws limiting the participation of women and members of minorities in the political process.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented these laws effectively. There were isolated reports of government corruption during the year. The 2011 Anticorruption Act, which is based on the UN Convention against Corruption, expands the mandate of the ACC to cover the private sector and enhances the ACC’s investigatory powers and functions.

Corruption: The government took an active role in addressing official corruption through the Public Accounts Committee in the National Assembly and the Royal Audit Authority, which monitored the use of government funds. The ACC is authorized to investigate cases of official corruption and allows citizens to post information on its website regarding corrupt practices. The ACC reportedly faced resource constraints. The constitution enables the ACC to act as an independent body although its investigative staff was primarily civil servants answerable to the Royal Civil Service Commission. In July 2015, the prime minister removed the foreign minister from his post due to a corruption scandal related to a charge of embezzlement of public property during Foreign Minister’s Rinzin Dorje past tenure as governor of Haa Province. Freedom House stated that Dorje was convicted and sentenced to one year in prison on September 2015. He was acquitted on July 28 of all charges by the Supreme Court.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires public servants, and persons working for NGOs using public resources, their spouses, and dependents to declare their income, assets, and liabilities.

Public Access to Information: The constitution mandates a right to information; however, no law provides for public access to government information. Several ministries publish laws, regulations, budgets, and other relevant information on websites to enhance transparency.

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

According to international NGOs, local civil society organizations practiced self-censorship to avoid issues perceived as sensitive by the government. Sensitive issues included women’s rights and environmental issues. The government reportedly did not permit human rights groups established by the Nepali-speaking community to operate, categorizing them as political organizations that did not promote national unity.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: An agreement between the government and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) allowing the ICRC to make prison visits to persons detained for crimes against the security of the state expired in 2013 and was not renewed. The ICRC continued to engage with the government to facilitate prison visits for Bhutanese refugees living in Nepal. The UN has a resident coordinator in Bhutan, and UN organizations, including the UN Development Program and UN Children’s Fund, have a strong presence.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The National Assembly Human Rights Committee (NAHRC) conducted human rights research on behalf of the National Assembly. The Civil Society Organization (CSO) Authority has the legal authority to regulate civil society operations. Forty-seven CSOs were registered, of which 35 were categorized as Public Benefit Organizations and 12 Mutual Benefit Organizations.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law defines criminal sexual assault and specifies penalties. In cases of rape involving minors, sentences range from five to 15 years in prison. In extreme cases a person convicted of rape may be imprisoned for life. According to NGOs, cultural taboos and a lack of rights awareness among survivors resulted in underreporting of rapes. Spousal rape is illegal and prosecuted as a misdemeanor. The government criminalized the traditional practice of “night hunting” (bomena), practiced mainly in the eastern parts of country, in which a man climbs into a single woman’s window to have sex with her. According to the National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC), through the efforts of the Royal Police of Bhutan, and the NGO Respect, Educate, Nurture, and Empower Women ( RENEW), the prevalence of night hunting incidents declined significantly. There were no reported incidents of the practice during the reporting period.

The law prohibits domestic violence. Penalties for perpetrators of domestic violence range from a prison sentence of one month to three years. Offenders are also fined the daily national minimum wage for 90 days. Police stated that they encouraged women to reconcile with their allegedly abusive husbands and couples to pursue mediation before they file criminal charges for domestic violence. Three police stations across the country housed women and child protection units to address crimes involving women and children and eight police stations housed desks with officers specifically devoted to women and children’s issues. The government passed rules and regulations clarifying the Domestic Violence Act, trained police on gender issues, and allowed civil society groups to undertake further efforts, including operation of a crisis and rehabilitation center. The UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) expressed concern about reports of violence against women by their spouses or other family members and at work. According to the 2010 Bhutan Multiple Indicator Survey (BMIS), 68 percent of women believed certain behavior justified domestic violence. RENEW operated a domestic violence center in the capital. The Domestic Violence Prevention Act authorized the National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC) to develop and implement programs to prevent domestic violence, rehabilitate survivors, and conduct studies.

Sexual Harassment: The Labor Employment Act has specific provisions to address sexual harassment in the workplace. NGOs reported that these provisions were generally enforced.

Reproductive Rights: The country has no legal restrictions regarding the number, spacing, or timing of children, and there were no reports of coercion regarding reproduction. Modern contraception was available and legal. The UN Population Division estimated that 66 percent of women of reproductive age used a modern method of contraception in 2015. Women’s rights NGOs noted that there were generally no prohibitions against women accessing sexual and reproductive healthcare. The World Bank reported that access and equity to medical care for pregnant women was a challenge because of difficult terrain, leading to disparities in access to skilled birth attendants linked to geography and wealth. According to the World Bank, World Health Organization, and other UN agencies, the maternal mortality ratio in 2015 was 148 and increased from 120 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2013. According to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), 75 percent of births were attended by skilled health personnel.

Discrimination: The law provides for equal inheritance for sons and daughters. Traditional inheritance laws stipulate that inheritance is matrilineal and that daughters inherit family land and daughters do not assume their father’s name at birth or their husband’s name upon marriage. According to NGO and government sources, within the household, men and women enjoyed relatively equal status.

The law mandates the government take appropriate measures to eliminate all forms of discrimination and exploitation of women, including trafficking, abuse, violence, harassment, and intimidation, at work and at home, and the government generally enforced the law. CEDAW expressed concern that the constitution does not include prohibitions on both “direct and indirect” forms of discrimination. CEDAW also noted that the government failed to adopt implementing legislation for its international treaty obligations related to women’s rights. The government said that provisions had been made in already existing legislation.

The NGO National Women’s Association worked to improve women’s living standards and socioeconomic status. RENEW, another NGO, also promoted and advocated for women’s rights and political participation. The NCWC actively defended the rights of women and children during the year, working closely with the Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs, the judiciary, and the police.

Children

Birth Registration: Under the constitution, only children whose parents are both citizens of Bhutan acquire Bhutanese citizenship at birth. The birth must be registered before the child turns one year old. According to the Bhutanese Refugee Support Group, existing citizenship laws caused certain children to be categorized as “non-nationals” (see section 2.d.). Births in remote areas were less likely to be registered. Children who do not acquire citizenship before turning one year old are able to petition the king for citizenship. The government provides health and education services for children without citizenship. However, children in this situation are not able to acquire nonobjection certifications, citizenship identification cards, and passports.

Education: The government provides 11 years of universal free education to children although education is not compulsory. While gender parity at the primary level has been achieved, distances to the country’s secondary and tertiary schools, lack of adequate sanitation, and transportation difficulties contributed to girls’ unequal access to secondary and higher education. The law requires proof of birth registration for children to attend school. Children of non-Bhutanese residents may enroll with a copy of a parent’s work permit, employer letter, and documentation from the Department of Immigration.

Child Abuse: The law prohibits child abuse and provides for a minimum penalty of one year’s imprisonment for perpetrators. Corporal punishment is banned in schools, and there were no reported incidents in monasteries. Reports of child abuse were rare.

Early and Forced Marriage: The statutory minimum age of marriage for both men and women is 18. Statistics from the 2010 BMIS (the latest available) indicated that 31 percent of marriages occurred before age of 18 and 7 percent before age of 15. In 2010, 15 percent of girls and young women between the ages of 15 and 19 were either married or in a civil union. The National Health Survey of 2012 found that 24 percent of girls and young women between the ages of 10 and 24 were married or in a civil union, of which 3.7 percent were adolescents (age 10-19). The average age for a first pregnancy was reported between the ages of 20 and 22. While child marriage has become less common in urban areas, in remote villages there were reports of secret marriage ceremonies involving girls younger than 15. Child marriage took place in all regions, but the incidence was higher in the western and central areas of the country.

The government initiative Youth Friendly Health Services sought to prevent child marriage. It conducted community outreach and awareness campaigns to alert communities to the dangers of child marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits sexual exploitation, including child pornography, child prostitution, the sale of children, and child trafficking. The legal age of consent is 16 for both boys and girls.

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

Anti-Semitism

The country does not have a 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

The constitution specifically protects the rights of citizens with disabilities. Legislation directs the government to attend to the security of all citizens in the “event of sickness and disability.” The law stipulates that new buildings be constructed to allow access for persons with disabilities, but the government did not enforce this legislation consistently. There were reports that hospitals were generally accessible to persons with disabilities, but residential and office buildings were not.

Under the Disability Prevention and Rehabilitation Program, the government seeks to provide medical and vocational rehabilitation for persons with all types of disabilities, promote integration of children with disabilities in schools, and foster community awareness and social integration. There was no government agency specifically responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities.

There were special-education institutes for students with disabilities, including the National Institute for the Disabled in Khaling, which educates children with vision disabilities, and an education resource unit in Paro for persons with hearing disabilities. Children with disabilities often attended mainstream schools although the resources needed to accommodate them varied among school districts. There also were special education facilities in Thimphu designed to meet the needs of children with physical and mental disabilities. Although there were no government-sponsored social welfare services available for persons with disabilities, the National Pension and Provident Fund granted benefits to such persons. Three NGOs, the Disabled Persons’ Association of Bhutan, Ability Bhutan Society, and Drakstsho Vocational Center for Special Children and Youth, seek to change the public perception of disability and assisting persons with disabilities and their families.

According to the Bhutan Observer, in rural areas there was widespread discrimination against persons with disabilities, and some parents did not send children with disabilities to school.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Organizations in Nepal claimed that employers discriminated against Nepali-speaking Bhutanese seeking employment (see section 7.d.). The government claimed Nepali speakers were proportionally represented in civil service and government jobs.

English was the medium of instruction in all government schools. Dzongkha, the national language, was taught as an additional subject. Sharchopkha, Bumpthapkha, Khenkha, Nepali, and Tibetan were also spoken in the country. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child expressed concern about the ability of minority children, specifically the Nepali-speaking minority, to maintain their cultural practices, observe their religion, or use their language.

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

The constitution guarantees equal protection of the laws and application of rights but does not explicitly protect individuals from discrimination for sexual orientation or gender identity. Laws against “sodomy or any other sexual conduct that is against the order of nature” exist. The penal code imposes penalties of up to one year in prison for engaging in prohibited sexual conduct. In response to recommendations to decriminalize same-sex sexual conduct during the country’s Universal Periodic Review, the government stated the law “has never been evoked since its enactment for same-sex acts between two consenting adults. These provisions can be reviewed when there is a felt need for it by the general population.”

The lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) population has historically remained out of public view without an organized advocacy community. In 2014 several LGBTI groups established a public presence via social media. There were no NGOs in the country explicitly associated with LGBTI issues. There were no reports of violence directed against members of the LGBTI community although social bias occurred. In May, 13 LGBTI community members observed the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT) and discussed their issues. An LGBTI community coordinator noted LGBTI Bhutanese continued to face stigmatization and discrimination. However, RENEW observed there had been a reduction in social stigma over the years.

A small transgender community existed, and transgender individuals faced social stigma although the community is gradually increasing its public visibility. The law does not provide any distinct legal status to transgender individuals, nor does it provide explicit protections.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

While NGOs claimed that there was no widespread HIV/AIDS-related stigma, observers noted that persons with HIV/AIDS did suffer from self-stigmatization and feared being open about their condition. One NGO, Lhak-Sam, was formed in 2010 and provides a network for persons with HIV/AIDS while working to reduce social stigma. Youth Development Fund, RENEW, and Chithuen Phendey Association work on this issue in collaboration with the Ministry of Health.

Persons with HIV/AIDS received free medical and counseling services, and the government maintained programs meant to prevent discrimination.

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. Workers can form a union with the participation of at least 12 employees from a single workplace. There is no national trade union. The law does not mention the right to conduct legal strikes. Most of the country’s workforce engages in agriculture, a sector that is not unionized.

The law provides for the right of workers to bargain collectively with employers. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and requires reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. Violators may face misdemeanor charges and be compelled to pay damages.

The government effectively enforced applicable laws. Resources, inspections, and remediation were adequate, and penalties for violations were sufficient to deter violations. The law grants workers the right to pursue litigation.

Freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively were respected although there were few employee unions. No unions were formed during the year.

The Ministry of Labor and Human Resources encouraged employee organization by conducting awareness-raising activities about employee rights during routine labor inspections. The government stated that associations of professional taxi drivers, truck drivers, and tour guides existed.

The Ministry of Labor and Human Resources, in its Annual Report 2015-2016, noted the areas of improvement on working conditions included an increase in the number of and conditions for labor inspectors.

The Ministry of Labor and Human Resources, in its Annual Report 2015-2016, noted that 24 labor inspectors conducted 2,434 inspections, issued 418 improvement and prohibition notices, and imposed 40 penalties. A total of 190 complaints were received, of which 185 resolved and five were pending at year’s end. Nature of complaints received ranged from nonpayment of wages, termination without notice, resignation without notice, nonpayment of benefits, and other issues.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits most forms of forced or compulsory labor, and the government effectively enforced applicable laws. The law makes exceptions with regard to prison labor, work that might be required during an emergency, and work required for “important local and public” celebrations. The penal code criminalizes trafficking for illegal, but not exploitative, purposes. Violations of the labor law with respect to worst forms of child labor, forced and compulsory labor, improvement notice, prohibition notice, nonpayment of compensation, minimum age of admission into employment, employing foreigners without permit, and not complying with permits issued by the government are felonies subject to three to five years’ imprisonment. Resources, inspections, and remediation were adequate, and penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

Government officials acknowledged there may be forced labor among domestic servants working in private homes where the Ministry of Labor and Human Resources has no jurisdiction. Officials relied on citizens to report forced labor of domestics directly to the police. Government officials acknowledged the rise of cross border human smuggling through illegal agents.

Migrant workers from India who worked in the country’s construction and hydropower sectors and Indian women and girls who worked in domestic service or as caregivers were vulnerable to forced labor. Ministry of Labor and Human Resources noted there are approximately 54,000 migrant workers in the country, mostly from India. Young, rural citizens were transported to urban areas, generally by relatives, for domestic work, and some of these individuals were subjected to domestic servitude. There were unconfirmed reports that girls who worked as domestic servants and entertainers in “drayungs” (karaoke bars), were subjected to labor trafficking through debt and threats of physical abuse. The NAHRC conducted an investigation into “drayungs” and found no evidence of trafficking or forced labor.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The minimum age for employment is 13 and the minimum age for hazardous work is 18. Children under the age of 18 are prohibited from working in dangerous occupations, including mining, construction, sanitary services, carpet weaving, or serving in bars. Under the Labor and Employment Act 2007, Section 9, on the prohibition of worst forms of child labor, violations are a felony offense with penalties ranging from with five to nine years’ imprisonment.

Labor inspectors operating under the Ministry of Labor and Human Resources generally enforced child labor laws effectively. Resources, inspections, and remediation were adequate, and penalties were sufficient to deter violations. Under the Labor and Employment Act 2007, Section 9 on the prohibition of worst forms of child labor, a person guilty of that offense would be punished with five to nine years of non-bailable imprisonment.

Children performed agricultural and construction work, completed chores on family farms, or worked in shops and restaurants after school and during holidays. Child labor also occurred in hotels and automobile workshops. Girls were employed primarily as domestic workers, where they were vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. An estimated 19.6 percent of children between the ages of five and 14 were engaged in some form of child labor in 2011, which are the most current statistics. The BMIS established that 18.4 percent of the labor force in 2010 consisted of children under the age of 18. The 2013 Labor Force Survey undertaken by the Ministry of Labor and Employment counted 53,436 children between the ages of five and 17 employed in some form of labor.

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

The law prohibits employment discrimination for employees and job applicants with respect to recruitment, dismissal, transfer, training, and demotion, but there were no distinctions of protected classes. The law also prescribes equal pay for equal work. In most cases, the government enforced these provisions. Employers who are convicted of discrimination are liable to pay a fine ranging from 360 to 1,080 times the daily national minimum wage (approximately $568 to $2,138). These penalties were generally sufficient to deter violations. Nepal-based organizations representing refugees claimed that Nepali-speaking Bhutanese were subject to discrimination with respect to employment and occupation (see section 6).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The national minimum wage ranged from Nu 100 to Nu 125 ($1.58 to $1.98) per day. According to the government, all workers were above the minimum wage. The law defined the workday as eight hours per day with a one-hour lunch break, and employers were required to grant regular rest days. Work in excess of the legal workday must be paid at 1.5 times the normal rate. The official national poverty level was Nu 1,705 ($28) per month.

Occupational safety and health (OSH) standards are current and appropriate. Labor regulations grant workers the right to leave work situations that endanger their health and safety without jeopardy to their employment. All citizens are entitled to free medical care. At its expense the government transported persons who could not receive adequate care in the country to other countries (usually India) for treatment. Workers are eligible for compensation in the case of partial or total disability. Upon the death of a citizen, family members are entitled to compensation. The Ministry of Labor and Human Resources, in its Annual Report 2015-2016, noted monitoring of seven Health and Safety Committees was conducted and training on OSH imparted to 19 OSH Committees. An assessment of good OSH best practices was held for 55 committees of which 27 did not meet the standards.

The government generally enforced minimum wage, work hours, and occupational health and safety standards effectively in the formal sector. The law states that employers who fail to pay employees the correct amount of wages will be fined 90 times the national minimum wage for each violation (approximately $157). Employers who do not comply with work hours regulations will be fined 30 times the national minimum wage for the first violation (approximately $52), 90 times for the second violation (approximately $157), and 360 times for the third and each subsequent violation (approximately $630). Noncompliance with OSH standards is a felony and punishable by three to five years’ imprisonment. These penalties were generally sufficient to deter violations. The lack of sufficient labor inspectors was a problem. The government employed 25 labor inspectors appointed to posts in Thimphu and four permanent regional offices that were assisted by technical experts. The government also posted labor inspectors to field offices located at major construction sites such as hydropower plant projects. According to a 2012 Ministry of Labor and Human Resources report compiled with the assistance of the World Health Organization, there were insufficient labor inspectors to cover the country’s industries. In August five workers were buried in a landslide at the Mangdechu hydropower project when one side of the construction pit for the dam collapsed. The Ministry of Labor and Human Resources, in its Annual Report 2015-2016, noted a total of 60 accidents took place during the period, of which 24 were fatal, four led to complete disability, and 32 partial disability. Work place of accidents took place in the construction, hydropower, manufacturing and production, mining, and trading services sectors. Compensation was fully recovered in two cases, paid in three, under process in seven, partially done in one, partial payment in five, and there was no progress in three cases at year’s end.

Burkina Faso

Executive Summary

Burkina Faso is a constitutional republic led by an elected president. In November 2015 the country held peaceful and orderly presidential and legislative elections, marking a major milestone in the country’s transition to democracy. President Roch Mark Christian Kabore won with 53 percent of the popular vote, and his party–the People’s Movement for Progress–won 55 seats in the 127-seat National Assembly. The Union for Progress and Change won 33 seats, and the former ruling party, the Congress for Democracy and Progress (CDP), won 18 seats. National and international observers characterized the elections as free and fair.

Since the November 2015 presidential and legislative elections, civilian authorities have maintained effective control over security forces. Following an attempt to seize power in September 2015, the government dismantled the Presidential Security Regiment (RSP) and integrated former RSP members into the regular army, except those at large or previously arrested for involvement in the putsch attempt. The unit subsequently responsible for presidential security included police officers, gendarmes, and soldiers.

The most significant human rights problems included reports of torture and killing by vigilante groups; life-threatening detention conditions, including long detention periods without trial; and violence against women and children, including female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C).

Other human rights problems included judicial inefficiency and lack of independence; restrictions on freedoms of speech, expression, and assembly; official corruption; trafficking in persons; discrimination against persons with disabilities; societal violence; discrimination against members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex community; discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS; and forced labor and sex trafficking, including of children. Unlike in prior years, there were no reports of arbitrary arrest or violence against journalists.

Impunity remained a problem. The government investigated alleged violations of former officials but in most cases did not prosecute them.

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

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

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

Following the September 2015 attempt to seize power, RSP members shot and killed 14 protesters and bystanders, including two children. None of those killed was armed or posed any threat to security forces, according to Amnesty International.

On June 9, an investigative commission submitted its report on the killing of 28 persons and injuring of 625 in 2014 during protests against former president Blaise Compaore’s efforts to force a National Assembly vote to change presidential term limits. The report recommended the prosecution of 31 persons, including former president Compaore and former transition prime minister Yacouba Isaac Zida. Most of the others recommended for prosecution were former RSP members, but their identities had not been released by year’s end.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices, and in 2014 the National Assembly adopted a law to define and prohibit torture and all related practices. Nevertheless, the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Burkinabe Movement for Human Rights and People reported that members of the security forces tortured, threatened, beat, and otherwise abused individuals (see section 1.a.).

For example, in April, Bokoum Salif, a 31-year-old driver in Dedougou arrested for stealing a computer at the house of the head of the local gendarme unit, died in gendarme custody. His relatives visited him while in custody and alleged after his death that he showed signs of physical abuse.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in prisons and detention facilities were harsh and at times life threatening due to overcrowding and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care.

Physical Conditions: Authorities held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners. Female prisoners had better conditions than those of men, in large part due to less crowding. Although regulations require the presence of a doctor and five nurses at the Ouagadougou Detention and Correction Center’s (MACO) health unit, only three nurses were on duty to treat detainees, and a doctor was present once a week. Prisoners’ diets were inadequate, and inmates often relied on supplemental food from relatives. Prison infrastructure throughout the country was decrepit. In MACO and other prisons, severe overcrowding exacerbated inadequate ventilation, although some cells had electricity and some inmates had fans. Sanitation was rudimentary.

On April 6, diplomatic representatives visited MACO to verify compliance with standards of detention and human rights. Their report cited overcrowding, malnutrition, sanitation, and health problems.

According to human rights organizations, deaths occurred in prisons and jails due to harsh conditions and neglect. Human rights activists estimated one or two inmates died monthly because of harsh prison conditions.

There were no appropriate facilities or installations for prisoners or detainees with disabilities, who relied on other inmates for assistance.

Physical abuse was a problem in many detention centers across the country. For example, human rights organizations alleged that in May gendarmes tortured and killed two suspects. Investigations in these cases had not led to any arrests or prosecution by year’s end.

Food, potable water, sanitation, heating, ventilation, lighting, and medical care were inadequate in the majority of detention facilities across the country, including the MACO. Conditions of detention were better for wealthy or influential citizens. For example, a former official charged with corruption reported he was held at MACO with other former officials charged with criminal offenses in an air-conditioned building that had refrigerators, televisions, and cooking facilities.

Administration: There were no reports prisons lost inmate files or authorities failed to investigate credible allegations of inhuman prison conditions.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by independent nongovernmental observers. Prison authorities regularly granted permission to representatives of local and international human rights groups, media, foreign embassies, and the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit prisons without advance notice.

Improvements: To deal with overcrowding, the government completed construction of a detention facility in Koupela and took action to improve living conditions throughout the prison system. With international donor support, the government built an outdoor recreation area at MACO and multipurpose recreation centers at other prison facilities. Authorities also initiated literacy and other programs for prisoners during the year.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, but security forces did not always respect these prohibitions.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The National Police and municipal police, under the Ministry of Territorial Administration, Decentralization, and Internal Security, and the gendarmerie, under the same ministry as well as the Ministry of Defense, are responsible for internal security. The military, under the Ministry of Defense, is responsible for external security but sometimes assisted with missions related to domestic security. Use of excessive force, corruption, a climate of impunity, and lack of training contributed to police ineffectiveness. Inadequate resources also impeded police effectiveness.

The Military Justice Administration examines all cases involving killings by military personnel or gendarmes to determine whether they occurred in the line of duty or were otherwise justifiable. The administration refers cases deemed outside the line of duty or unjustifiable to civilian courts. Civilian courts automatically handle killings involving police. The gendarmerie is responsible for investigating abuse by police and gendarmes, but the results of their investigations were not always made public.

NGOs and the Ministry of Justice, Human Rights, and Civic Promotion conducted training activities on human rights for security forces. On April 14, the ministry held a workshop on civics and the promotion and protection of human rights for armed forces trainers. The ministry also organized a workshop for police and gendarmes on legal prohibitions against child trafficking, prostitution, and pornography.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

By law police and gendarmes must possess a court-issued warrant based on sufficient evidence before apprehending a person suspected of committing a crime, but authorities did not always follow these procedures. Authorities did not consistently inform detainees of charges against them. By law detainees have the right to expeditious arraignment, bail, access to legal counsel, and, if indigent, access to a lawyer provided by the government after being charged. A judge may order temporary release pending trial without bail. Authorities seldom respected these rights. The law does not provide for detainees to have access to family members, although authorities generally allowed detainees such access through court-issued authorizations.

The law limits detention without charge for investigative purposes to a maximum of 72 hours, renewable for a single 48-hour period. Police rarely observed the law, and the average time of detention without charge (preventive detention) was one week. Once authorities charge a suspect, the law permits judges to impose an unlimited number of consecutive six-month preventive detention periods while the prosecutor investigates charges. Authorities often detained defendants without access to legal counsel for weeks, months, or even years before the defendant appeared before a magistrate. There were instances in which authorities detained suspects incommunicado.

Pretrial Detention: Authorities estimated 48 percent of prisoners nationwide were in pretrial status. In some cases authorities held detainees without charge or trial for longer periods than the maximum sentence for conviction of the alleged offense. A pretrial release (release on bail) system exists, although the extent of its use was unknown.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The law provides persons arrested or detained the right to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention. Prisoners who did so, however, reportedly faced difficulties due to either judicial corruption or inadequate staffing of the judiciary.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but the judiciary was corrupt, inefficient, and subject to executive influence, according to NGOs. There were no instances in which the outcomes of trials appeared predetermined, and authorities respected court orders. In April, following a strike organized by the magistrates’ union, the government increased magistrate salaries. Legal codes were outdated, there were not enough courts, and legal costs were excessive. Citizens’ poor knowledge of their rights further weakened their ability to obtain justice.

Military courts try cases involving military personnel charged with violating the military code of conduct. Rights provided in military courts are equivalent to those in civil criminal courts. Military courts are headed by a civilian judge, hold public trials, and publish verdicts in the local press.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law presumes defendants are innocent. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges, with free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals. Trials are public but may be delayed. Judicial authorities use juries only in criminal cases. Defendants have the right to be present at their trials and to legal representation, consultation, and adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Defendants have the right to provide evidence and to have access to government-held evidence. Defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt, but a refusal to testify often resulted in harsher decisions. Defendants may challenge and present witnesses and have the right of appeal. In civil cases where the defendant is destitute and files an appeal, the state provides a court-appointed lawyer. In criminal cases court-appointed lawyers are mandatory for those who cannot afford one. The law extends these rights to all defendants, but the government did not always respect these rights, due in part to popular ignorance of the law and a continuing shortage of magistrates and court-appointed lawyers.

The Ministry of Justice, Human Rights, and Civic Promotion claimed courts usually tried cases within three months, although human rights organizations reported major case backlogs. The 2011 “processing of criminal penalties in real time” reform to shorten pretrial detention allows the prosecutor and investigators (police and gendarmerie) to process a case prior to the criminal hearing. This countrywide approach allows authorities to inform defendants of the charges and trial date before authorities release them pending trial.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees during the year, although some arrests and detentions may have been politically motivated.

In October 2015 gendarmes arrested Leonce Kone, interim CDP president, and Hermann Yameogo, president of the National Union for Democracy and Development, for refusing to condemn the September RSP attempt to seize power. Authorities granted provisional release to Kone in July and released Yameogo in October.

On January 23, authorities arrested CDP President Eddie Komboigo and charged him with involvement in the preparation of the 2015 attempted putsch. Komboigo was granted provisional release in June for “medical reasons.”

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

There is an independent judiciary in civil matters, but it was often inefficient, corrupt, and subject to executive influence. As a result citizens sometimes preferred to rely on the Office of the Ombudsman (see section 5, Government Human Rights Bodies) to settle disputes with the government.

The law provides for access to a court to file lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, a human rights violation, and both administrative and judicial remedies were available for alleged wrongs. Victims of human rights violations may appeal directly to the Economic Community of West African States Court of Justice, even before going through national courts. For civil and commercial disputes, authorities may refer cases to the Abidjan Common Court of Justice and Arbitration. The courts issued several such orders during the year.

There were problems enforcing court orders in sensitive cases involving national security, wealthy or influential persons, and government officials.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such actions, and the government generally respected these prohibitions. In cases of national security, however, the law permits surveillance, searches, and monitoring of telephones and private correspondence without a warrant.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, and the government generally respected these rights. In September 2015 the government adopted a law decriminalizing press offenses. The law replaces prison sentences with penalties ranging from one million to five million CFA francs ($1,718 to $8,591). Some editors complained that few newspapers or media outlets could afford such fines.

Despite the advent of the 2015 law, journalists occasionally faced criminal prosecution for libel and other forms of harassment and intimidation.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: The law prohibits persons from insulting the head of state or using derogatory language with respect to the office. Individuals generally criticized the government without reprisal, but security forces arrested political leaders for their statements during the year (see sections 1.e. and 3).

Press and Media Freedoms: There were numerous independent newspapers, satirical weeklies, and radio and television stations, some of which strongly criticized the government. Foreign radio stations broadcast without government interference. Government media outlets–including newspapers, television, and radio–sometimes displayed a progovernment bias but allowed significant opposition participation in their newspaper and television programming. On June 17, the minister of communications stated that government-owned national television news broadcasts should begin with the activities of government officials and that journalists employed by government media should either support the government or resign. On July 21, the journalists’ union denounced the minister for his statement, and in September the journalists’ union launched strikes and demanded that the government end “intimidation and pressure.”

All media are under the administrative and technical supervision of the Ministry of Communications, which is responsible for developing and implementing government policy on information and communication. The Superior Council of Communication (CSC) monitored the content of radio and television programs, newspapers, and internet websites to enforce compliance with standards of professional ethics and government policy. The CSC may summon journalists and issue warnings for subsequent violations. Hearings may concern alleged libel, disturbing the peace, inciting violence, or violations of state security. On February 19, the CSC suspended private newspaper L’Evenement for one month following its February 10 publication of information the CSC categorized as military secrets. On February 22, L’Evenement published a statement denouncing the CSC decision describing it as an attack on press freedom. The newspaper took the case to the Administrative Court of Ouagadougou; the court reversed the suspension.

Violence and Harassment: According to the Association of Burkina Journalists, on June 9, gendarmes threatened and verbally assaulted William Somda of BF1 Television, a private broadcasting company, as he was filming a peaceful event. The head of the gendarmerie apologized for the incident, but no disciplinary or judicial actions were taken against the gendarmes.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: In addition to prohibitions on insulting the head of state, the law also prohibits the publication of shocking images or material that demonstrates lack of respect for the deceased. Journalists practiced self-censorship. On February 26, police ordered the Burkina Information Agency to remove an article from the agency’s website that it considered offensive, entitled, “Fara: Bandits shut down police station before robbing it.” Police stated that the report was false and forced the agency to issue a denial of the story.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict access to the internet, although the CSC monitored internet websites and discussion forums to enforce compliance with regulations. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 11.4 percent of the population used the internet in 2015.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly, but the government did not always respect this right. Authorities sometimes banned or violently dispersed demonstrations.

For example, RSP soldiers used force, including gunfire, to disperse and prevent public gatherings following the September 2015 attempt to seize power (see section 1.a.) and during a 2014 popular uprising. In October 2015 an independent commission was created to investigate RSP use of force during the 2014 uprising. The commission cited more than 30 individuals, including former president Blaise Compaore and former prime minister Yacouba Isaac Zida, as responsible for RSP-inflicted injuries and homicides. Legal action had yet to be taken against the accused by year’s end.

Political parties and labor unions may hold meetings and rallies without government permission, although advance notification and approval are required for public demonstrations that may affect traffic or threaten public order. If a demonstration or rally results in violence, injury, or significant property damage, penalties for the organizers include six months’ to five years’ imprisonment and fines of between 100,000 and two million CFA francs ($172 and $3,436). These penalties may be doubled for conviction of organizing an unauthorized rally or demonstration. Demonstrators may appeal denials or imposed modifications of a proposed march route or schedule before the courts.

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

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The Ministry of Women, National Solidarity, and Family, aided by the National Committee for Refugees (CONAREF), is the focal point for coordination of national and international efforts to assist 34,000 refugees in the country. The government assistance to Malian refugees totaled 240 million CFA francs ($412,371) during the year.

According to the ministry, following intercommunal conflict in Bouna, Cote d’Ivoire, 2,167 persons fled to Burkina Faso and took refuge in the southwestern province of Noumbiel. The government designated them as returnees, because the majority of them were Burkinabe citizens. The government provided them with an estimated 125 million CFA francs ($215,000) in food and other assistance.

In 2012 fighting resumed in northern Mali between government forces and Tuareg rebels, resulting in the flight of more than 250,000 Malians to neighboring countries, including Burkina Faso. According to UNHCR approximately 50,000 Malians–most of them Tuaregs and Arabs–fled across the border to Burkina Faso and registered with local authorities as displaced persons. Authorities granted all displaced persons from Mali prima facie refugee status, pending the examination of all applications individually. Authorities settled most of the refugees in Soum and Oudalan Provinces in the Sahel Region. The ministry, aided by CONAREF, was the government focal point to help coordinate all national and international efforts to assist more than 32,000 Malian refugees remaining in the country at year’s end. During the year the refugees received 240 million CFA francs ($412,371) in assistance from the government.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Presidential and legislative elections were held in November 2015. On May 22, elections to replace municipal and regional councils dissolved by the transitional government in 2014 were held. Voter turnout was lower than usual. Voting did not occur in three of the 368 communes. In several areas of the country, the postelectoral selection process of mayors by municipal councils was marred by clashes among political party activists, resulting in at least three deaths and dozens of injuries in Karangasso and Kantchari. The government condemned the violence and promised swift judicial action. By year’s end no legal action was taken against anyone involved in the violence.

The April 2015 electoral code approved by the National Transitional Council (CNT) stipulates the exclusion of certain members of the former political majority. The code states that persons who “supported a constitutional change that led to a popular uprising” are ineligible to be candidates in future elections. In addition to exclusion from the 2015 legislative and presidential elections, a number of candidates were also excluded from the municipal elections in May. In April administrative courts rejected appeals filed by political opponents of the former ruling party against a number of its candidates.

Participation of Women and Minorities: There are no laws limiting the participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and women and members of minorities did participate. Although the gender quota law requires political parties to name women to fill at least 30 percent of the positions on their candidate lists in legislative and municipal elections, no political party met this requirement during the municipal elections. Parties that did not comply with the law received only a portion of their electoral grants from the Ministry of Territorial Administration, Decentralization, and Internal Security. In contrast 39 of the 99 parties that participated in the November 2015 legislative elections adhered to the gender quota law.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Local NGOs criticized what they called the overwhelming corruption of senior civil servants. They reported pervasive corruption in the customs service, gendarmerie, tax agencies, national police, municipal police, public health service, municipal governments, education sector, government procurement, and the Ministry of Justice, Human Rights, and Civic Promotion. NGOs categorized procurement as the most corrupt government sector. They reported a lack of political will to fight corruption, citing the appointment by the current administration of individuals to higher positions who were previously the subjects of corruption cases.

Corruption: In June 2015 the Ouagadougou Court of Appeals sentenced former director of customs Ousmane Guiro to a two-year suspended prison term in connection with a 2012 corruption case involving 900 million CFA francs ($1.5 million). The court ordered the confiscation of Guiro’s assets and fined him 10 million CFA francs ($17, 182). The prosecutor appealed Guiro’s suspended sentence to the Court of Cassation, which accepted the case but had not brought it to trial by year’s end.

Financial Disclosure: In March 2015 the CNT adopted an anticorruption law that requires government officials–including the president, lawmakers, ministers, ambassadors, members of the military leadership, judges, and anyone charged with managing state funds–to declare their assets and any gifts or donations received while in office. The Constitutional Council is mandated to monitor and verify compliance with such laws and may order investigations if noncompliance is suspected. Disclosures are not made public, however, and there were no reports of criminal or administrative sanctions for noncompliance.

On June 28, the Higher Authority for State Control and the Fight against Corruption extended the requirement to declare assets to include government officials’ spouses and minor children. Infractions are punishable by a maximum jail term of 20 years and fines of up to 25 million CFA francs ($43, 000). The law also punishes persons who do not reasonably explain an increase in lifestyle expenditures beyond the 5 percent threshold set by regulation in connection to lawful income. Convicted offenders risk imprisonment for two to five years and a fine of five to 25 million CFA francs ($8,591 to $42,000). In April a law was passed limiting the value of a gift a government official could receive to 35,000 CFA francs ($60).

Public Access to Information: In August 2015 the CNT adopted a law establishing the right of access to public information and administrative documents. In the past, ministries generally did not respond to requests for information, citing national security and confidentiality.

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

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were generally cooperative and responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Office of the Ombudsman addresses citizen complaints regarding government entities, public institutions, and other bodies entrusted with a public service mission. The ombudsman, whom the president appoints for a nonrenewable five-year term and who may not be removed during the term, was generally viewed as effective and impartial. During 2014, the most recent year for which statistics were available, the office registered 560 complaints, approximately 59 percent of which it resolved.

The Ministry of Justice, Human Rights, and Civic Promotion is responsible for the protection and promotion of human and civil rights and conducts education campaigns for security force members to raise their awareness of human rights.

The government-funded National Commission on Human Rights provides a permanent framework for dialogue on human rights concerns. Its members include representatives of human rights NGOs, unions, professional associations, and the government. The Burkinabe Movement for Human and People’s Rights, which did not participate on the commission, charged that it was subject to government influence. Although inadequately funded, the commission continued to be more effective and visible in promoting human rights than in previous years.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: In September 2015 the government passed the Law on the Prevention and Repression of Violence Against Women and Girls and Support for Victims. Conviction of rape is punishable by five to 10 years’ imprisonment, but the new law includes fines of 100,000 to 500,000 CFA francs ($172 to $859). Police generally investigated reports of rape, but victims often did not file reports due to cultural barriers and fear of reprisal. According to human rights NGOs, rape occurred frequently. Although authorities prosecuted rape cases during the year, no statistics were available on the number of cases reported or prosecuted. Several organizations–including Roman Catholic and Protestant missions, the Association of Women Jurists in Burkina Faso, the Association of Women, and Promo-Femmes (a regional network that worked to combat violence against women)–counseled rape victims.

Domestic violence against women occurred frequently, primarily in rural areas. For example, on April 13, a man killed his wife in the rural community of Dapelgo after accusing her of adultery. An outraged mob later killed the husband. According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, 33.9 percent of women had experienced physical violence, committed in 68 percent of cases by their husbands. Victims seldom pursued legal action due to shame, fear, or reluctance to take their spouses to court. For the few cases that went to court, the Ministry of Justice, Human Rights, and Civic Promotion could provide no statistics on prosecutions, convictions, or punishment. There were no government-run shelters in the country for victims of domestic violence, but there were counseling centers in each of the 13 regional “Maison de la Femme” centers. In Ouagadougou the Ministry of Women, National Solidarity, and Family assisted victims of domestic violence at four centers. The ministry sometimes provided counseling and housing for abused women.

The ministry has a legal affairs section to educate women on their rights, and several NGOs cooperated to protect women’s rights. The ministry organized a number of workshops and several sensitization campaigns to inform women of their rights. According to the ministry, more than 5,800 persons received instruction on women’s and family rights and combatting domestic violence, including 60 radio journalists and 60 judiciary police who also received instruction on caring for victims of domestic violence and documenting their cases.

The law makes conviction of “abduction to impose marriage or union without consent” punishable by six months to five years in jail. Conviction of sexual abuse or torture or conviction of sexual slavery is punishable by two to five years in prison. Conviction of the foregoing abuses may also carry fines of 500,000 to one million CFA francs ($859 to $1,718).

The law requires police to provide for protection of the victim and her minor children and mandates the establishment of chambers in the High Court with exclusive jurisdiction over cases of violence against women and girls. The law requires all police and gendarmerie units to designate officers to assist female victims of violence–or those threatened by violence–and to respond to emergencies; however, some units had not complied by year’s end. It also mandates the creation of care and protection centers in each commune for female victims of violence and a government support fund for their care. The centers receive victims on an emergency basis, offer them security, provide support services (including medical and psychosocial support), and, when possible, refer the victims to court.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C, but it was practiced widely, particularly in rural areas, and usually performed at an early age. According to UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) statistics from 2013, the incidence of FGM/C fell 27.5 percent in the 12 years preceding the report. Seventy-six percent of girls and women between ages 15 and 49 and 13 percent of girls under age 15 reported being subjected to FGM/C, however. Perpetrators, if convicted, are subject to a fine of 150,000 to 900,000 CFA francs ($258 to $1,546) and imprisonment of six months to three years–or up to 10 years if the victim dies. Despite the high incidence of FGM/C, according to UNICEF, authorities received only 72 reports of FGM/C in 2015 and 13 reported cases through September of the year.

Security forces and social workers from the Ministry of Women, National Solidarity, and Family arrested several FGM/C perpetrators and their accomplices, some of whom were serving prison sentences at year’s end. According to the ministry, all victims were minors ages 18 months to eight years. The ministry collaborated with security forces on a multidimensional approach. This included financial support to the security forces for the investigation and arrest of FGM/C perpetrators and training in educative and dissuasive enforcement techniques.

For example, in July police in Ouagadougou arrested a woman and man for FGM/C of a girl age six. A religious leader who allegedly encouraged the parents to perform FGM/C and an accomplice involved in the crime remained at large at year’s end.

Through the National Committee for the Fight against Excision, the government conducted awareness campaigns, training, and programs to identify and support FGM/C victims. It operated a toll-free number to report FGM/C cases. Through regional committees to combat excision, it worked with local populations to end FGM/C. These committees included representatives of government ministries, police, the gendarmerie, and local and religious leaders. The government also integrated FGM/C prevention in prenatal, neonatal, and immunization services at 35 percent of public health facilities. Government measures taken during the year to combat FGM/C included: the establishment of mobile courts in Tuy Province to try persons accused of FGM/C; creation of a public education Facebook page; distribution to public and private health centers of 322 treatment kits; training 164 Ministry of Education and Literacy officials on ending FGM/C; establishing five high school social networks to address FGM/C in Houet, Kadiogo, and Sanmatenga Provinces; and holding an international day of “zero tolerance for FGM/C.”

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The law makes the conviction of physical or moral abuse of women or girls accused of witchcraft punishable by one to five years in prison and/or a fine of 300,000 to 1.5 million CFA francs ($515 to $2,577). Elderly women without support, living primarily in rural areas and often widowed, sometimes were accused of witchcraft by their neighbors and banned from their villages. Villagers accused such women of “eating” the soul of a relative or a child. Victims seldom took legal action due to fear of repercussions to their families and sought refuge at centers run by governmental or charitable organizations in urban centers. For example, on May 16, in the village of Pilimpikou (Passore Province), three elderly persons were accused of witchcraft involving the death of a young man. Seventy elderly persons fled the village for safety. Although some of the victims sought assistance from authorities, many that fled remained unable to return at year’s end. An estimated 600 elderly persons accused of witchcraft were lodged in 13 solidarity centers nationwide. Actions taken by the government to protect elderly persons accused of witchcraft included financial support of 111 million CFA francs ($191,000) and the organization of a national campaign against the social exclusion of persons accused of witchcraft.

Sexual Harassment: The law provides for sentences of three months to one year in prison and a fine of 300,000 to 500,000 CFA francs ($515 to $859) for conviction of sexual harassment; the maximum penalty applies if the perpetrator is a relative, in a position of authority, or if the victim is “vulnerable.” The government was ineffective in enforcing the law, in large part because many considered sexual harassment culturally acceptable. There were no statistics available on the number of cases reported, prosecutions, or convictions.

Reproductive Rights: The law entitles couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of their children free from discrimination, coercion, or violence, but persons often lacked the information and means to exercise these rights. Government and private health centers were open to all women and offered reproductive health services, skilled medical assistance during childbirth (essential obstetric and postpartum care), and diagnosis and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases. Remote villages, however, often lacked these facilities or did not have adequate transportation infrastructure to permit easy access.

According to the 2010 Demographic and Health Survey, 95 percent of women received prenatal care from skilled personnel, and skilled personnel attended 67 percent of births. The UN Population Division estimated that 17.8 percent of girls and women ages 15 through 49 used a modern method of contraception. Cultural norms that left decisions regarding birth control to husbands contributed to the limited use of contraceptives. The World Health Organization attributed the maternal mortality ratio of 371 per 100,000 live births in 2015 to lack of access to health care in rural areas. Amnesty International reported maternal deaths also resulted from inadequate training of health-care workers. Emergency health care, including services for the management of complications arising from abortion, were generally available in urban areas but often not in rural areas.

Discrimination: Although the law generally provides the same legal status and rights for women as for men–including under family, labor, property, and inheritance laws–discrimination frequently occurred. Women occupied a subordinate position in society and often experienced discrimination in education, jobs, property ownership, access to credit, management or ownership of a business, and family rights. Labor laws provide that all workers–men and women alike–should receive equal pay for equal working conditions, qualifications, and performance. Women nevertheless generally received lower pay for equal work, had less education, and owned less property. The law permits polygyny, but a woman must agree to it prior to marriage. A wife may oppose further marriages by her husband if she provides evidence he abandoned her and their children. Each spouse may petition for divorce, and the law provides for granting custody of a child to either parent, based on the child’s best interest. Mothers generally retained custody of their children until age seven, at which time custody reverted to the father or his family.

Women represented approximately 45 percent of the labor force in the formal sector and were primarily concentrated in low-paid, low-status positions. Although the law provides equal property and inheritance rights for women and men, land tenure practices emphasized family and communal land requirements more than individual ownership rights. As a result authorities often denied women the right to own property, particularly real estate. This condition was exacerbated by the fact that the law defined 75 percent of marriages as common-law unions (with only a religious or traditional ceremony) and not legally binding. For example, in rural areas land owned by a woman becomes the property of the family of her husband after marriage. Many citizens, particularly in rural areas, held to traditional beliefs that did not recognize inheritance rights for women and regarded a woman as property that could be inherited upon her husband’s death.

The government conducted media campaigns to change attitudes toward women. The Ministry of Women, National Solidarity, and Family is responsible for increasing women’s awareness of their rights and worked to facilitate their access to land ownership. The government sponsored a number of community outreach efforts and awareness campaigns to promote women’s rights. For example, the ministry organized an information and education session on combatting gender inequalities and disparities in the education system for approximately 160 teachers in public and private schools in the Center North, Center South, Center West, and Sahel regions.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship derives either by birth within the country’s territory or through a parent. Parents generally did not register many births immediately, particularly in rural areas, where registration facilities were few, and parents were often unaware of the requirement to register. Lack of registration sometimes resulted in denial of public services, including access to school. To address the problem, the government periodically organized registration drives and issued belated birth certificates.

Child Abuse: Authorities tolerated light corporal punishment, and parents widely practiced it. The government conducted seminars and education campaigns against child abuse. The penal code mandates a one- to three-year prison sentence and fines ranging from 300,000 to 900,000 CFA francs ($515 to $1,546) for conviction of inhuman treatment or mistreatment of children.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. For example, the Ministry of Women, National Solidarity, and Family had a toll-free number to enable persons to report cases of violence against children anonymously. At year’s end, 6,652 calls were received. None of these calls led to an arrest or prosecution.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal age for marriage is 17 for girls and 20 for boys, but early and forced marriage was a problem. According to UNICEF, 10 percent of women ages 20 to 24 were married or in a union before age 15, and 52 percent were married before age 18; 55 percent of girls ages 12 to 14 were victims of early marriage in the Sahel region, and 67 percent of girls married before age 18 as compared with 17 percent of boys. The law prohibits forced marriage and prescribes penalties of six months to two years in prison for violators, and a three-year prison term if the victim is under age 13. There were no reports of prosecutions during the year. A government toll-free number allowed citizens to report forced marriages.

The Ministry of Women, National Solidarity, and Family initiated a cooperative program to prevent early marriage during the year involving state services, financial and technical partners, NGOs, and other civil society associations. As part of the ministry’s national strategy to promote the elimination of early marriage and the three-year action plan, 300 traditional, religious, and community leaders from 10 provinces of the East, Boucle du Mouhoun, and Sahel regions received training on fighting early marriage, and 300 scholarships were provided to victims or children at risk of early marriage in these regions.

According to media reports, the traditional practice persisted of kidnapping, raping, and impregnating a virgin minor girl and then forcing her family to consent to her marriage to her violator. For example, in May a girl age 14 was reportedly kidnapped and raped by her father’s cousin in the village of Potiamanga in the East region. At year’s end police had yet to locate her or her abductor. The victims of this practice seldom report their cases due to fear of persecution by the perpetrators.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): See section 6, Women.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law provides penalties for conviction of child prostitution or child pornography of five to 10 years’ imprisonment, a fine of 1.5 to three million CFA francs ($2,577 to $5,155), or both. The minimum age of consensual sex is 15. In 2014 the National Assembly enacted a law criminalizing the sale of children, child prostitution, and child pornography. There were no government statistics on child prostitution, but government services and human rights associations believed it was a problem. According to a 2014 study conducted by the international NGO End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography, and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes, there were at least 243 children exploited in commercial sex, among whom 63 percent were Burkinabe. Children from poor families were particularly vulnerable to sex trafficking. According to the study, the average age for girls in prostitution was 16–most of the victims worked in bars where they were subjected to prostitution as part of their duties.

Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: The law provides for a sentence of 10 years’ to life imprisonment for infanticide. No statistics were available on the number of cases reported or prosecuted during the year. Newspapers, however, reported several cases of abandonment of newborn babies. For example, on April 14, a woman reportedly left her newborn infant on a street in Kilwin (a district of Ouagadougou) where it was dead when discovered. National police investigated the incident but made no arrest.

Displaced Children: There were numerous street children, primarily in Ouagadougou and Bobo-Dioulasso. Many children ended up on the streets after their parents sent them to the city to study with an unregistered Quranic teacher or to live with relatives and go to school. According to the Ministry of Women, National Solidarity, and Family, 6,427 children lived on the streets during the year. Ministry action to contain the increase in children living on the streets and to achieve their social reintegration included implementation of an education and protection action strategy. According to the ministry, it removed 300 children living on the streets and reintegrated them through its reinforcement and social protection project.

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

There was no known 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

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, air travel and other transportation, access to health care, the judicial system, or the provision of other government services, but the government did not effectively enforce these provisions. There is legislation to provide persons with disabilities less costly or free health care and access to education and employment. The law also includes building codes to provide for access to government buildings. Authorities did not implement all of these measures effectively.

Persons with disabilities encountered discrimination and reported difficulty finding employment, including in government service. Exacerbating these problems was the common societal perception that persons with disabilities should be under the care of their families and not in the labor force.

The Multisectorial National Council for the Promotion and Protection of Persons with Disabilities is composed of 76 members from different ministries, NGOs, and civil society organizations. During the year the council organized workshops on the rights of persons with disabilities in two regions of the country. It also organized a workshop to review the African Charter of Human and Peoples’ Rights and to amend it to address more fully the rights of persons with disabilities. Government-owned television provided newscasts in sign language for persons with hearing disabilities.

The government had limited programs to aid persons with disabilities, but NGOs and the National Committee for the Reintegration of Persons with Disabilities conducted awareness campaigns and implemented integration programs. High commissioners, teachers, and NGOs worked together to inform citizens about the rights of persons with disabilities, specifically the rights of children with disabilities. A number of NGOs provided vocational training and equipment to persons with disabilities.

The government continued to arrange for candidates with vision disabilities to take the public administration recruitment exams by providing the tests in Braille. Additionally, authorities opened specific counters at enrollment sites to allow persons with disabilities to register more easily for public service admission tests.

The Ministry of Women, National Solidarity, and Family provided 90 million CFA francs ($154,639) to 600 persons with disabilities in financial support and donated wheelchairs and other mobility devices valued at 75 million CFA francs ($128,866) to 586 persons with disabilities. The ministry also assisted in the registration and financial support of 100 young persons with disabilities in professional training schools.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Longstanding conflicts between Fulani herders and sedentary farmers of other ethnic groups sometimes resulted in violence. Herders commonly triggered incidents by allowing their cattle to graze on farmlands or farmers attempting to cultivate land set aside by local authorities for grazing. The number of such incidents averaged 700 yearly between 2005 and 2011 but dropped significantly after 2012, according to the Ministry of Animal and Hydraulic Resources. According to the ministry, government efforts at dialogue and mediation contributed to the decrease. Conflict between ethnic groups also occurred because of disputes regarding the designation of local traditional chiefs. For example, on June 20, violence erupted between the residents of Kougri and Dawaka in the Central region following the enthronement of a traditional chief. According to media reports, one person was killed, more than 10 were injured, and property was destroyed during the violence.

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

Societal discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons was a problem and was exacerbated by religious and traditional beliefs. LGBTI individuals were occasionally victims of verbal and physical abuse, according to LGBTI support groups. There were no reports the government responded to societal violence and discrimination against LGBTI persons.

The country has no hate crime laws or other criminal justice mechanisms to aid in the investigation, prosecution, or sentencing of bias-motivated crimes against the LGBTI community.

LGBTI organizations had no legal status in the country but existed unofficially. The Ministry of Territorial Administration, Decentralization, and Internal Security did not approve repeated requests by LGBTI organizations to register, and it provided no explanation for the refusals. There were no reports of government or societal violence against such organizations, although incidents were not always reported due to stigma or intimidation.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Societal discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS was a problem, and persons who tested positive were sometimes shunned by their families. Families sometimes evicted HIV-positive wives from their homes, although families did not evict their HIV-positive husbands. Some property owners refused to rent lodgings to persons with HIV/AIDS. The government distributed free antiretroviral medication to some HIV-positive persons who qualified according to national guidelines.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Vigilante groups across the country operated detention facilities. Media reported cases of torture and killing that took place in these facilities. For example, on May 10, a suspected thief named Moussa Boly and three of his comrades were detained by a local vigilante group in the village of Benwourgou. Boly’s remains were found the following day, and police stated there were signs he had been tortured. Authorities had not arrested or charged anyone for the killing by year’s end.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law allows workers to form and join independent unions of their choice without prior authorization or excessive requirements, but essential workers, such as magistrates, police, military, and other security personnel, may not join unions. The law provides unions the right to conduct their activities without interference.

The law provides for the right to strike, although it stipulates a narrow definition of this right. For strikes that call on workers to stay home and that do not entail participation in a rally, the union is required to provide eight to 15 days’ advance notice to their employer. If unions call for a march, three days’ advance notice must be provided to the city mayor. Authorities hold march organizers accountable for any property damage or destruction that occurs during a demonstration. The law also gives the government extensive requisitioning powers, authorizing it to requisition private- and public-sector workers to secure minimum service in essential services.

The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and allows a labor inspector to reinstate immediately workers fired because of their union activities, although in private companies such reinstatement was considered on a case-by-case basis. Relevant legal protections cover all workers, including migrants, workers in the informal sector, and domestic workers. There were no reports of antiunion discrimination during the year.

The law provides for freedom of association and collective bargaining. The government effectively enforced the law. The law listed sanctions for violations, including warnings, penalties, suspension, or dissolution. Penalties consist of imprisonment and fines and vary depending on the gravity of the violation. In October 2015 the CNT adopted amendments to the law. The amendments award a legal existence to labor unions of NGOs, create a commission of mediation, and require that associations abide by the law concerning funding terrorism and money laundering. The law also states that no one may serve as the head of a political party and the head of an association at the same time.

Despite limitations on the right to strike, the government generally respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Private-sector employers did not always respect freedom of association, especially in the gold mining sector.

The government generally respected the right of unions to conduct activities without interference. Government resources to enforce labor laws were not sufficient to protect workers’ rights.

Unions have the right to bargain directly with employers and industry associations for wages and other benefits. Worker organizations were independent of the government and political parties. There were no reports of strikebreaking during the year.

There were no reports of government restrictions on collective bargaining during the year. There was extensive collective bargaining in the formal wage sector, but this sector included only a small percentage of workers. Employers sometimes refused to bargain with unions. In the private sector, particularly in mining and other industries, employers’ use of subcontracting made it difficult to enforce worker rights systematically.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The law considers forced or compulsory any labor or service provided by an individual under the threat of any type of sanction and not freely offered. The government did not effectively enforce applicable laws. Forced child labor occurred in the agricultural (particularly cotton), informal trade, domestic labor, restaurant, and animal husbandry sectors, as well as at gold panning sites and stone quarries. Educators forced some children sent to Quranic schools by their parents to engage in begging (see section 6, Children). The government did not have a significant, effective program in place to address or eliminate forced labor. Women from other West African countries were fraudulently recruited for employment in the country and subsequently subjected to forced prostitution, forced labor in restaurants, or domestic servitude in private homes. The government continued to conduct antitrafficking advocacy campaigns and operated a toll-free number for individuals to report cases of violence and trafficking.

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 sets the minimum age for employment at 16 and prohibits children under age 18 from working at night, except in times of emergency. The minimum age for employment was consistent with the age for completing educational requirements, which was 16. In the domestic labor and agricultural sectors, the law permits children who are 13 and above to perform limited activities for up to four and one-half hours per day.

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor, including the commercial sexual exploitation of children, child pornography, and jobs that harm the health of a child. The government was implementing the National Action Plan (NAP) to combat the worst forms of child labor and to reduce significantly exploitative child labor. In 2015 the CNT adopted a revised mining code that includes new provisions prohibiting child labor in mines. The amendment establishes a penalty of two to five years in prison and a fine of five million CFA francs ($8,200) to 24 million CFA francs ($41,000) for violators. Antitrafficking legislation provides penalties of up to 10 years for violators and increases maximum prison terms from five to 10 years. The law also provides terms as long as 20 years’ to life imprisonment under certain conditions.

The NAP against the worst forms of child labor coordinated the efforts of several ministries and NGOs. Its goals included greater dissemination of information in local languages, increased access to services such as rehabilitation for victims, revision of the penal code to address the worst forms of child labor, and improved data collection and analysis. During the review period, the National Coordination Committee adopted a monitoring tool to aid in data collection and analysis. The country enacted a law in 2014 to criminalize the sale of children, child prostitution, and child pornography.

Punishment for violating child labor laws includes prison terms of up to five years and fines of up to 600,000 CFA francs ($1,031). The government did not consistently enforce the law. The Ministry of Civil Service, Labor, and Social Security, which oversees labor standards, lacked sufficient inspectors, transportation, and other resources to enforce worker safety and minimum age laws. No data were available on number of prosecutions and convictions during the year.

The government organized workshops and conferences to inform children, parents, and employers of the dangers of exploitative child labor.

Despite efforts by the government and several NGOs, violence against children, child labor, and child trafficking occurred. According to 2011 statistics compiled by the National Institute of Statistics, 76 percent of children between ages five and 17 engaged in some form of economic activity, 81 percent of whom worked in the agricultural sector. Children commonly worked with their parents in rural areas or in family-owned small businesses in villages and cities. There were no reports of children under age 15 employed by either government-owned or large private companies.

Children also worked in the mining, trade, construction, and domestic labor sectors. According to a 2012 UNICEF study, more than 20,000 children between ages eight and 18 worked at gold mining sites as servants, gold washers, or diggers. Some children, particularly those working as cattle herders and street hawkers, did not attend school. Many children under age 15 worked long hours. A study by the International Labor Organization reported that children working in artisanal mining sometimes worked six or seven days a week and up to 14 hours per day. Street beggars often worked 12 to 18 hours daily. Such children suffered from occupational illnesses, and employers sometimes physically or sexually abused them. Child domestic servants earned from 3,000 to 6,000 CFA francs ($5 to $10) per month and worked up to 18 hours per day. Employers often exploited and abused them. Criminals transported Burkinabe children to Cote d’Ivoire, Mali, and Niger for forced labor or sex trafficking.

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

The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment and occupation based on race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, social origin, gender, disability, language, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases, or social status. Penalties for conviction of violations range from 50,000 to one million CFA francs ($86 and $1,718). The government did not effectively enforce the laws and regulations. Discrimination occurred based on the above categories with respect to employment and occupation. The government took few actions during the year to prevent or eliminate it.

By law persons with disabilities may receive a disability card allowing them to benefit from lower health-care costs and access to education and employment. The law also includes building codes to provide for their access to government buildings. The government did not consistently enforce these rights. Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to persons with disabilities and persons with HIV/AIDS (see section 6). The government took some actions during the year to prevent or eliminate discrimination with respect to employment and occupation. These actions included distribution across the country of copies of the law dealing with the protection of persons who are HIV-positive, education of the population against discrimination against workers and students, and psychological support to HIV-positive persons through hospital visits.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law mandates a minimum monthly wage of 32,218 CFA francs ($55) in the formal sector, which does not apply to subsistence agriculture or other informal occupations. Approximately 46 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. Poverty remained higher in rural areas. Compared to the poverty income level, the minimum wage was insufficient.

The law mandates a standard workweek of 40 hours for nondomestic workers and a 60-hour workweek for household employees. The law provides for overtime pay, and there are regulations pertaining to rest periods, limits on hours worked, and prohibitions on excessive compulsory overtime.

The government sets occupational health and safety standards. There were explicit restrictions regarding occupational health and safety in the labor law. Employers must take measures to provide for safety and protect the physical and mental health of all their workers and assure that the workplace, machinery, materials, substances, and work processes under their control do not present health or safety risks to the workers.

The law requires every company with 30 or more employees to have a work safety committee. If an employee decides to remove himself due to safety concerns, a court rules on the relevancy of the decision.

The Ministry of Civil Service, Labor, and Social Security is responsible for enforcing the minimum wage and hours of work standards. Ministry inspectors and labor tribunals are responsible for overseeing occupational health and safety standards in the small industrial and commercial sectors, but these standards do not apply in subsistence agriculture and other informal sectors.

These standards were not effectively enforced. The Labor Inspector Corps, which according to the latest figures employed 155 inspectors and 133 controllers, lacked sufficient resources, including offices and transport. There were no reports of effective enforcement of inspection findings during the year.

Employers often paid less than the minimum wage. Employees usually supplemented their income through reliance on extended family, subsistence agriculture, or trading in the informal sector. Mining sector companies generally respected hours of work, overtime, and occupational safety and health standards. Employers subjected workers in the informal sector, which makes up approximately 50 percent of the economy, to violations of wage, overtime, and occupational safety and health standards.

Cameroon

Executive Summary

Cameroon is a republic dominated by a strong presidency. The country has a multiparty system of government, but the Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement (CPDM) has remained in power since it was created in 1985. In practice the president retains the power to control legislation. In April 2013 the country conducted the first Senate elections in its history, which were peaceful and considered generally free and fair. In September 2013 simultaneous legislative and municipal elections were held, and most observers considered them to be free and fair. In 2011 citizens re-elected CPDM leader Paul Biya president, a position he has held since 1982, in a flawed election marked by irregularities, but observers did not believe these had a significant impact on the outcome.

Civilian authorities maintained some control over security forces, including police and gendarmerie. President Biya is the commander in chief of security forces. Ministers-Delegate lead security and defense forces on a day-to-day basis but do not exercise total authority.

The most significant human rights violations continued to be killings and other abuses by Boko Haram in the Far North Region. These included child soldiering, abductions, beheadings, and burnings of persons and property. Other major concerns included involvement of security force members in torture and abuse; prolonged and sometimes incommunicado arbitrary detentions, often of suspected Boko Haram members; and denials of fair and speedy public trials.

Additional human rights abuses included disappearances, arbitrary arrests and detention, life-threatening prison conditions, use of unofficial detention facilities, restrictions on freedom of expression, including detention and harassment of and violence against journalists, and restrictions on movement. Corruption continued to be a severe challenge at all levels of government. Opposition and civil society activists were harassed, detained, and denied the right to assemble or operate by the government. Gender-based violence and discrimination, child abuse, and trafficking in persons remained problems, and harassment of and discrimination against members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community, as well as the Baka and Mbororo minorities, continued. Violations of workers’ rights were recurrent, and child labor remained a problem, especially in the informal sector.

Although the government took some steps to punish and prosecute officials who committed abuses in the security forces and in the public service, it did not often make public actual sanctions, and offenders often continued acting with impunity. The antiterrorism law was often used as justification by security forces to act with greater autonomy and less oversight by civilian authorities, at times leading to abuses with impunity.

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

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

There were several reports security force members committed arbitrary and unlawful killings through excessive use of force in the execution of official duties, as a result of personal grievances, or through torture or other abuse of detainees. A June report by Amnesty International (AI) documented the deaths of six persons in custody following torture or mistreatment and the deaths of an additional four individuals in custody whose cause of death was unknown. Civil society organizations and newspapers generally blamed members of the three primary security forces–the Rapid Intervention Battalion (BIR), the Motorized Infantry Battalion, and the gendarmerie–as being responsible for the deaths.

On March 25, Moupen Moussa, a motorbike rider, allegedly died at a Secretary of State for Defense (SED) detention facility after gendarmes severely beat him for failing to produce his national identity card. According to reports, Moussa and another motorbike rider were returning from work late at night when a gendarme from the joint control unit stopped them and asked for identification. The officer physically abused Moupen and took the two to an SED facility, where gendarmes allegedly stripped them and beat them with a belt and baton. The gendarmes eventually released the second man after Moupen died. As of April 5, the responsible gendarmerie officer was allegedly in custody awaiting trial.

The terrorist network Boko Haram continued killing civilians, including members of vigilance committees and members of defense and security forces in the Far North Region. As of September 30, Boko Haram carried out at least 113 attacks in the Far North Region, which killed at least 262 civilians, 30 vigilance committee members, and at least six soldiers. There were numerous examples of abuses, such as the following: on January 13, a suicide bomber killed 13 during prayers at the Kouyape mosque, Kolofata subdivision, in the Far North Region.

Some abuses committed in 2014 and 2015 became public during the year. According to AI’s June report, at least five of the 15 men arrested and brought to the Salak military base following a raid in Bornori in November 2014 died in custody, some as a result of torture inflicted by the BIR.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances. Nevertheless, there continued to be reports of arrests and disappearances of individuals by security forces in the Far North Region. In its June report, AI reconfirmed earlier reporting that since December 2014 at least 130 individuals arrested in Magdeme and Double remained unaccounted for. As of September 30, there was no news of the whereabouts of most of them. In its 2016 report, AI stated it had documented 17 additional cases of suspected enforced disappearances of persons accused of supporting Boko Haram committed by security forces in the Far North Region between April 2015 and February. As of June AI had not received a response to requests submitted to authorities about their whereabouts.

Boko Haram insurgents kidnapped civilians, including women and children, during numerous attacks in the Far North Region. Some of the victims remained unaccounted for.

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

Although the constitution and law prohibit such practices, there were reports that security force members tortured, beat, harassed, or otherwise abused citizens. According to credible nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), soldiers, police, and gendarmes tortured persons inside and outside detention facilities. Police, gendarmerie, and BIR officials reportedly detained and tortured persons in temporary holding cells in police, gendarmerie, and BIR facilities, and in cells located at the Directorate General for External Research (DGRE).

Police reportedly tortured detainees. For example, on February 4, Eyebe Levodo died while in detention at the legal department of the court of first instance in Yaounde. According to newspaper and NGO reporting, members of the regional delegation of judicial police arrested Eyebe on January 30 in the Yaounde neighborhood of Tongolo on suspicion of membership in a criminal gang. Police officers detained Eyebe on February 4 and referred him to the public prosecutor, a few hours prior to his death. At the mortuary of Yaounde central hospital, observers reported seeing bruises on his neck, wrists, shoulders, arms, ankles, and legs. In addition, they noticed Eyebe’s mouth was swollen and there were other injuries to the head and other parts of the body, in addition to many other signs of trauma. The victim’s sister allegedly told a journalist from Kalara weekly newspaper she received a telephone call from her brother who claimed that he had suffered horrific violence and that police used force to extort information from him. The public prosecutor opened an investigation shortly after the death. As of year’s end, there was no publicly available update on the investigation.

On May 28, in Nom-Kandi, Ngan-Ha subdivision, Adamawa Region, four members of the fifth BIR tortured to death two young men named Abdou and Moussa. According to reports, villagers witnessed the torture but did not intervene because the soldiers were armed. The incident occurred after a woman accused Moussa of stealing 5,000 CFA francs ($9). Four BIR soldiers rushed to the suspect’s residence, where they found him and Abdou. Moussa allegedly acknowledged the theft but pointed out that Abdou was not involved. The soldiers ordered both of them to get down on their knees and beat them. After Abdou and Moussa died, regional authorities, including the governor, confirmed the incident and claimed they had ordered an investigation. No information was released as of year’s end.

AI’s July report documented 29 cases of torture at the BIR military bases in Salak and Mora and at the headquarters of the DGRE in Yaounde. For example, Radio France International journalist Ahmed Abba was stripped and beaten while detained at the DGRE. Fifteen men arrested in Bornori were brought to Salak, where many of them were tortured and one died; four others later died in custody in Maroua prison. Other torture victims documented by AI described being beaten for long periods with sticks, whips, and machetes and stomped with boots, often with their hands tied behind their backs, as well as being slapped and kicked. AI documented the cases of six persons who died in custody following such torture.

Other government employees, including one teacher, abused children with disabilities placed under their custody (see section 6). During the year Mbuaye Manga Emmanuel, a staff member of the Bulu Rehabilitation Institute for the Blind in Buea, allegedly raped a dozen children with vision disabilities at the center. According to credible organizations, both public and nongovernmental, the victims were boys and girls ages seven to 17. They told police on May 28 Mbouehe had been sexually abusing them since 2014 and on several occasions he had forceful anal intercourse with them. Children said they had informed the director of the center, Jerome Nkwelle Ewang, but he did not act to help them. According to reports, barrister Mfontem Ozongashu eventually uncovered the abuses and filed a criminal complaint against the perpetrator with consent of the victims’ parents. Preliminary investigations suggested the director helped the offender escape. The prosecutor remanded the director in custody for alleged complicity but granted him bail a few days later, and Ewang was able to resume work. As of September 10, the case was still open.

The United Nations announced in March that in 2015 there were 69 allegations of sexual abuse by peacekeepers in 10 peacekeeping missions around the world. At least one of these was committed by a Cameroonian peacekeeper in the Central African Republic (CAR). Reportedly new Cameroonian peacekeepers are required to sign individual commitment forms not to engage in sexual abuse as proof of the government’s resolve in ensuring missions are carried out in good conditions, but their binding nature under the law remained unclear.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions remained harsh and potentially life threatening due to gross overcrowding, inadequate food and medical care, and poor sanitary conditions.

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding was pervasive in most prisons, especially in major urban centers. Officials held prisoners in dilapidated, colonial-era prisons, where the number of inmates was as much as four to five times the intended capacity. Sanitation, food, and medical care were wholly inadequate. Authorities stated sick persons were detained separately from the general population; this was often not the case.

In January the country’s prisons, which had an intended capacity of 17,000, held 27,997 inmates, according to the Ministry of Justice. Prisons in the Centre Region, with an intended capacity of 4,270, held 7,304 inmates. Those in the Littoral Region with a designed capacity for 1,550 held 4,250, while prisons in the North Region with a combined capacity of 1,300 held 2,776 inmates. At the individual prison level, for example, the Yaounde Kondengui Central Prison, with an intended capacity of 1,500, held 4,210 inmates; Maroua Central Prison, with an intended capacity of 400 inmates, held 1,486; and the Garoua Central Prison, with an intended capacity of 500, held 1,758 inmates.

Prisons generally had separate wards for men, women, and children. Unlike in previous years, there were no reported cases of officials routinely holding women in police and gendarmerie facilities with men.

As in 2015 physical abuse by prison guards and prisoner-on-prisoner violence were problems. In addition, “disciplinary cells” were often used to enforce discipline. Prison overcrowding led to a riot in one prison. According to media outlets and NGOs, on March 12-13, inmates of Garoua Central Prison launched a protest that developed into a mutiny. The prisoners were reportedly protesting life-threatening overcrowding, as there were nearly 2,000 inmates in the 500-capacity prison. Prisoners denounced lack of potable water and other inhuman conditions. Some detainees besieged the main prison courtyard and refused to return to their cells because of excessive heat and poor ventilation. The protest allegedly became violent when security force members attempted to return forcibly the prisoners to their cells. Three inmates died, according to official sources, and more than 40 wounded.

Overall, the quantity and quality of medical care, hygiene, and medicines was inadequate. Disease and illness were widespread, and sick inmates were not systematically and promptly separated from the general population due to lack of facilities. Malnutrition, tuberculosis, bronchitis, malaria, hepatitis, scabies, and numerous other untreated conditions, including infections, parasites, dehydration, and diarrhea, were rampant. In the Buea Central Prison, for instance, the infirmary contained four beds and a staff of four, including a doctor, a nurse, an assistant nurse, and a lab technician, some of whom were also expected to provide services to other prisons. Potable water and food were inadequate. Prisoners generally had one meal a day, and officials expected prisoners’ families to provide additional food. There were reports of detainees using buckets as latrines in some temporary holding cells within police or gendarme facilities.

Corruption among prison personnel was reportedly widespread. Visitors were forced to bribe wardens to access inmates, and prisoners bribed wardens for special favors or treatment, including temporary freedom, beds, and transfers to less crowded areas of the prisons. Due to inability to pay fines, some prisoners remained imprisoned after completing their sentences or receiving court orders of release.

Many citizens in the North and Far North Regions turned to traditional chiefs for dispute resolution. In contrast with previous years, there were no reports of persons held in private detention facilities. There were, however, reports of the use of unofficial military detention facilities in the Far North Region, including on the BIR bases at Salak and Mora.

Administration: Recordkeeping on prisoners remained inadequate, especially in holding cells at police and gendarmerie premises where detainees often were not registered. Independent authorities often investigated credible allegations of inhuman conditions. Visitors needed formal authorization from the state counsel, failing which they had to bribe prison staff to communicate with inmates. In addition visits to Boko Haram suspects were highly restricted. Some detainees were held far from their families, reducing the possibility of visits.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted international humanitarian organizations access to prisoners in official prisons; observers did not have access to prisoners held in unofficial military detention facilities. The National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms and NGOs, including the Commission for Justice and Peace of the Catholic Archdiocese, made infrequent unannounced prison visits. The government continued to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross to make more regular prison visits. As in 2015 there were no reports human rights activists attempting to visit prisoners were required to pay bribes to prison officials.

Improvements: On July 12, the president enacted a law to amend the existing penal code, providing for alternatives to detention, including community service and reparative sentences to reduce prison overcrowding. Under the amended penal code, a person convicted of an offense punishable by a maximum of two years or a fine may be allowed to work for a public entity or compensate victims as alternatives to incarceration. Human IS Right, a Buea-based civil society organization, in partnership with Operation Total Impact, implemented a formal education and reformation education program in Buea and Kumba principal prisons.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention. The law states that, except in the case of an individual discovered in the act of committing a felony or misdemeanor, the officials making the arrest shall disclose their identity and inform the person arrested of the reason. The law also provides that persons arrested on a warrant shall be brought immediately before the examining magistrate or the president of the trial court who issued the warrant, and that the accused persons shall be given reasonable access to contact their family, obtain legal advice, and arrange for their defense. The government occasionally did not respect these provisions.

There were several reports the government arbitrarily arrested and detained innocent citizens. In April, 63 individuals, including leading members of the opposition, were detained until late into the evening without charge, and at least one senior member of an opposition party sustained injuries from police handling. Government officials unofficially accused them of rebellion and inciting revolt, reportedly for organizing a campaign to wear black and distributing pamphlets. In October, 54 opposition members were again arrested at a political party meeting and detained for more than eight hours without being informed of the reason for their detention.

AI’s July report indicated arbitrary arrests and detentions continued on a large scale in the Far North Region, and even the basic legal safeguards concerning arrest and detention were rarely respected.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The national police, DGRE, Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Territorial Administration, and, to a lesser extent, Presidential Guard, are responsible for internal security. The Ministry of Defense–which includes the gendarmerie, army, and the army’s military security unit–reports to an office of the Presidency, resulting in strong presidential control of security forces. The army is responsible for external security; the national police and gendarmerie have primary responsibility for law enforcement. The gendarmerie alone has responsibility in rural areas. The national police–which includes the public security force, judicial police, territorial security forces, and frontier police–report to the General Delegation of National Security (DGSN), which is under the direct authority of the presidency.

The government took some steps to hold police accountable for abuses of power. Police remained ineffective, poorly trained, and corrupt. Impunity continued to be a problem.

Civilian authorities maintained some control over the police and gendarmerie, and the government had somewhat effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. The DGSN and gendarmerie investigate reports of abuse and forward cases to the courts. Lesser sanctions are handled internally. The DGSN, Ministry of Defense, and Ministry of Justice claimed members of security forces were sanctioned during the year for committing abuses, but the government provided few details.

On August 26, Captain Hamadjam Hamadjida Rene, commander of the Mokolo gendarmerie, Mayo-Tsanaga Division, Far North Region, was allegedly remanded in custody at the Kaele prison on a warrant issued by the government commissioner at the Maroua military tribunal. Captain Hamadjam allegedly played a role in a series of armed robberies targeting traders. He was relieved of his duties and immediately replaced.

The National Gendarmerie and the army have special offices to investigate abuse. The secretary of state for defense and the minister-delegate at the presidency are in charge of defense of sanctioned abusers. The minister-delegate of defense refers cases involving aggravated theft, criminal complicity, murder, and other major offenses to the military courts for trial.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires police obtain a warrant before making an arrest, except when a person is caught in the act of committing a crime, but police often did not respect this requirement. The law provides that detainees be brought promptly before a magistrate, although this often did not occur. Police may legally detain a person in connection with a common crime for up to 48 hours, renewable once. This period may, with the written approval of the state counsel, be exceptionally extended twice before charges are brought. Nevertheless, police and gendarmes reportedly often exceeded these detention periods. The law permits detention without charge for renewable periods of 15 days by administrative authorities such as governors and civilian government officials serving in territorial command. The law also provides for access to legal counsel and family members, although police frequently denied detainees access to both. The law prohibits incommunicado detention, but it occurred, especially in connection with the fight against Boko Haram. The law permits bail, allows citizens the right to appeal, and provides the right to sue for unlawful arrest, but these rights were seldom respected.

Arbitrary Arrest: Police, gendarmerie, and government authorities reportedly continued to arrest and detain persons arbitrarily, often holding them for prolonged periods without charge or trial and at times incommunicado. “Friday arrests,” a practice whereby individuals arrested on a Friday typically remained in detention until at least Monday unless they paid a bribe to be released earlier, continued. There were several reports police or gendarmes arrested persons, without warrants, on circumstantial evidence alone, often following instructions from influential persons to settle personal scores. There were also reports police or gendarmes arbitrarily arrested persons during neighborhood sweeps for criminals and stolen goods or arrested persons lacking identification cards, especially in connection with the fight against growing insecurity, including the Boko Haram threat.

On April 22, in Esu, Mentchum Division, Northwest Region, at approximately 2 a.m., four gendarmes allegedly forced open the door to the home of Redemption Godlove, a high school teacher, seized him without warrant, and secretly detained him in Bamenda at the gendarmerie. On May 2, the gendarmerie referred Godlove to the state counsel of Mezam, who prepared a holding charge accusing him of “depredation by band” along with eight others and sent the accused to the examining magistrate of Mezam, who remanded Godlove in custody while conducting preliminary inquiries. The arrest was allegedly orchestrated by Baba Ahmadou Danpullo, owner of the Elba Ranch, who claimed the accused committed the alleged offenses. Godlove had served as spokesperson for Esu during a meeting with administrative authorities over a protracted land conflict with Danpullo. On May 31, the magistrate declined jurisdiction, claiming the state counsel of Mezam could not have jurisdiction since the alleged offense was committed in Mentchum Division, which has a high court, state counsel, and examining magistrate. The magistrate of Mezam canceled the remand warrant. The state counsel, however, kept Godlove in detention until July 14 when he complied, allegedly following the intervention of the attorney general of the Northwest Region.

Pretrial Detention: The law provides for a maximum of 18 months’ detention before trial, but many detainees waited years for a date in court. In January the Ministry of Justice indicated that of a prison population of 27,977 inmates, 15,616 were in pretrial detention. Some pretrial detainees had been waiting for trial for more than two years. The increase in prison population was attributed to staff shortages, lengthy legal procedures, and administrative and judicial bottlenecks, including procedural trial delays and corruption.

For example, Oben Maxwell, an activist, remained in pretrial detention in Buea Central Prison, Southwest Region, as of August 31, where he had been detained since his arrest in 2014. The cited reason for his detention was holding an illegal meeting. The military tribunal initially handled the case; it was then assigned to the Buea court of first instance.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: By law persons arrested or detained, whether on criminal or other grounds, are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis of their detention and obtain prompt release and compensation if found to have been unlawfully detained. There were no reported cases of challenges.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary. While the judiciary demonstrated impartiality and independence at times, it was often corrupt and subject to political influences. Individuals reportedly accused innocent persons of crimes or caused trial delays to solve personal disputes. As in 2015 there were no reliable reports that authorities disregarded court orders.

Over the past several years, Alhadji Baba Danpullo, a politically influential businessperson, used the judicial system to harass Musa Usman Ndamba, the senior vice president of the Mbororo Social and Development Association. The most recent episode of harassment was on April 27, when the examining magistrate at the Bamenda court of first instance committed Usman Ndamba and two others for trial over an issue that the court earlier dismissed in 2014. The magistrate charged them with propagation of false information and defamation of character, despite irrefutable evidence that he was not linked to the alleged offense.

The court system is subordinate to the Ministry of Justice. The constitution designates the president as “first magistrate,” thus “chief” of the judiciary, making him the legal arbiter of any sanctions against the judiciary, although he has not played this role publicly. The constitution specifies the president is the guarantor of the legal system’s independence. He appoints all judges, with the advice of the Higher Judicial Council. While judges hearing a case should be governed only by the law and their conscience as provided for by the constitution, in some matters they are subordinate to the minister of justice. For example, the Special Criminal Court must have approval from the minister of justice before it may drop charges against a defendant who offers to pay back the money he/she was accused of having embezzled. Despite the judiciary’s partial independence vis-a-vis the executive and legislative powers, the president appoints all members of the bench and legal department of the judicial branch, including the president of the Supreme Court, and may dismiss them at will.

The legal system includes statutory and customary law, and many criminal and civil cases may be tried using either one. Criminal cases generally were tried in statutory courts.

Customary courts served as a primary means for settling domestic cases, including succession, inheritance, and child custody cases. Customary courts may exercise jurisdiction in a civil case only with the consent of both parties. Either party has the right to have a case heard by a statutory court and to appeal an adverse decision by a customary court to the statutory courts.

Customary court convictions involving alleged witchcraft are automatically transferred to the statutory courts, which act as the courts of first instance. The law provides for sentences of between two and 10 years’ imprisonment and fines of between 5,000 and 100,000 CFA francs ($9-$170). There were no arrests or trials for alleged witchcraft reported during the year.

Customary law is deemed valid only when it is not “repugnant to natural justice, equity, and good conscience,” but many citizens in rural areas remained unaware of their rights under civil law and were taught they must abide by customary law. Customary law partially provides for equal rights and status; men may limit women’s rights regarding inheritance and employment. Customary law practiced in rural areas is based on the traditions of the predominant ethnic group and is adjudicated by traditional authorities of that group. Some traditional legal systems regard wives as the legal property of their husbands.

Military tribunals may exercise jurisdiction over civilians when the president declares martial law and in cases involving civil unrest or organized armed violence. Military tribunals also have jurisdiction over gang crimes, banditry, and highway robbery if such crimes are committed with firearms.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair public hearing, without undue delay, in which the defendant is presumed innocent, but authorities did not always respect the law. For instance, trials of Boko Haram suspects were sometimes not public. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges, with free interpretation as necessary from the moment they are charged through all appeals. They have the right to a presumption of innocence, but the government often did not respect that right, resulting in many pretrial suspects being treated as if they were convicted. Defendants have the right to be present and to consult with an attorney of their choice or have one provided at public expense, and the government generally respected this right, especially in criminal matters. Authorities generally allowed defendants to question witnesses and to present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Defendants have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense and not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants have access to government-held evidence relevant to their cases, although in some cases the government did not make the evidence available in timely fashion. Defendants may appeal a conviction. The law extends these rights to all citizens, although they were not always extended in the cases of suspected Boko Haram affiliates.

On August 24, barrister Mohamad Al Amine of Maroua stated persons suspected of complicity with Boko Haram or being likely to compromise the security of the state were consistently tried by military court. He said the accused typically had no legal counsel and noted that, while the government commissioner assigned lawyers to defend them, the lawyers in turn assigned the cases to trainee lawyers, who received 5,000 CFA francs ($9) for legal fees. Often these designated lawyers were not allowed to access case files or visit their clients, which contributed to the poor quality of legal assistance. There were more than one hundred capital punishment sentences issued by the courts in the Far North Region between July 2015 and July 2016.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

No statistics were available on the precise number of political prisoners. Political prisoners were detained under heightened security, often in the SED. Some were allegedly held in the DGRE and at the Yaounde central and principal prisons, and the government did not permit access to such persons on a regular basis, or at all, depending on the case.

Former minister of state for territorial administration Marafa Hamidou Yaya, convicted in 2012 on corruption charges and sentenced to 25 years’ imprisonment, remained in detention. On May 18, the Supreme Court reduced the sentence to 20 years. On June 2, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued a decision qualifying Marafa’s detention “a violation of international laws” and asked the government to immediately free and compensate him for damages suffered. The United Nations made it clear there were multiple irregularities in the judicial procedure.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Citizens and organizations have the right to seek civil remedies for human rights violations through administrative procedures or the legal system; both options involved lengthy delays. There were a few reports the government failed to comply with a court decision on labor issues. For example, despite a court order, the government continued to work with the Cameroon Confederation of Trade Unions’ former leader, who no longer represented the organization, to the detriment of newly elected officials.

Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic decisions to regional human rights bodies. In 2012, for example, Jean-Marie Atangana Mebara, former secretary general at the presidency, filed a complaint against the government with the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Mebara complained the government was keeping him imprisoned on the basis of the Operation Sparrow Hawk Affair even though the Mfoundi High Court ordered his release. The commission delivered its verdict in April in Banjul, The Gambia. The commission directed the government of Cameroon to release Mebara immediately, compensate him 400 million CFA francs ($681,000) for damages, and punish all officials involved in the violations perpetrated on Mebara. The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights has no ability to compel a state to comply with its decisions.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

Over the past few years, to implement infrastructure projects, the government seized land occupied or used by civilians. The government failed to resettle or compensate those displaced in a prompt manner, leading them to protest in the streets on several occasions. In a few cases, corrupt officials misappropriated the money the government had earmarked for compensation. The government identified some offenders and opened cases against them. No particular group was reported to have been intentionally targeted for discriminatory treatment.

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

Although the constitution and law prohibit arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home, or correspondence, these rights were subject to restriction for the “higher interests of the state,” and there were credible reports police and gendarmes harassed citizens and conducted searches without warrants.

The law permits a police officer to enter a private home during daylight hours without a warrant if he is pursuing a criminal suspect. Police and gendarmes often did not comply with this provision. A police officer may enter a private home at any time in pursuit of a person observed committing a crime.

An administrative authority, including a governor or senior divisional officer (SDO), may authorize police to conduct neighborhood sweeps without warrants, and this occurred.

Police and gendarmes sometimes sealed off a neighborhood, systematically searched homes, arrested persons, sometimes arbitrarily, and seized suspicious or illegal articles. In Wum, Northwest Region, on February 17, during an early morning raid following arson at the military barracks a few days earlier, police detained citizens without identification cards until identity could be established. There were several complaints police arbitrarily confiscated motorbikes and electronic devices.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law provides for freedom of speech and press but also criminalizes media offenses, and the government restricted speech and press.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: Government officials penalized individuals or organizations that criticized or expressed views at odds with government policy. Individuals who criticized the government publicly or privately sometimes faced reprisals. The government occasionally used the law requiring permits or government notification of public protests to stifle discourse, and many civil society and political organizations reported increased difficulty in obtaining approval to organize public gatherings. The government attempted to impede criticism by monitoring political meetings.

Antiterrorism legislation was also used to exercise government control over public and private expression. In November the military court of Yaounde sentenced three men to 10 years in prison for exchanging private text messages that joked about Boko Haram. The three